Sunday, September 23, 2007

from Herman Hesse's 'The Glass Bead Game'

"Doesn't the history of thought, of culture and the arts, have some kind of connection with the rest of history?"

"Absolutely not," his friend exclaimed."That is exactly what I am denying. World history is a race with time, a scramble for profit, for power, for treasures. What counts is who has the strength, luck or vulgarity not to miss his opportunity. The achievements of thought, of culture, of art, are just the opposite. They are always an escape from the serfdom of time, man crawling out of the muck of his instincts and out of his sluggishness, and climbing to a higher plane, to timelessness, liberation from time, divinity. They are utterly unhistorical and antihistorical."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Active Life Versus Contemplative Life

Since coming to China on May 4th:

Swam in the South China Sea. Hunted for flammable materials in the dark and the following morning, walked the length of the beach and back several times.

Probably averaged 2 hours a day of Chinese-language study, I'm now transposing the book I used to learn conversational Chinese from pinyin into characters.

Got up at 8 am to meet somebody by the Li Jiang River where it's at its deepest. Tried to catch fish with my bare hands and dived in several times as my companion sat and watched. I did drop my watch in there but managed to David Hasselhoff it out of the riverbed.

Wondered about the hypocrisy and indifference of institutional education, yet decided that the real reason why I won't end up a part of it is because I'm ot sufficiently fond of kids.

At the moment I'm reading Herman Hesse's The Glass Bead Game , which is largely about the artificiality of such distinctions. Anyway, I've seen base animal instinctiveness and life-affirming insight in the most unexpected places.

In other news:

I got very drunk on National Teacher's Day. An entire evening of gan bei-ing and then several whiskeys just about did for me.

I've been promising it for a while, but I've made a big step towards making more music videos by finally buying a laptop.

The school has resumed Chinese lessons after a month and a half without. I have been placed in the advanced group (actually I just placed myself there) and my teacher is also my teaching buddy who sits in the classroom while I'm teaching and intervenes whenever necessary.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

RIP Tony Wilson

hopefully I'll be able to form a longer post on why Tony Wilson and his contribution to Madchester matter to me.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

In "The Town I Loved So Well," Phil Coulter sings:

and when times got rough,
there was just about enough,
and we saw it through without complaining"

In recent weeks I've met plenty of people who see it through without complaining. I've been teaching kids a language spoken in countries that few will ever visit, helping them to a certificate in one of the world's least meritocratic societies.

Throughout my formal education, I was taught that cliches are a bad thing, but it's only meeting people who are incapable of defying cliche on any level that I have begun to understand the importance.

The cliche of hard-work being the only key and cause that success has is the particularly grating one at the moment.

I can't sum up the time I've had since my last post briefly, but one thing this (until recently, peasent) society has to its advantage is that people are aware that hard-work is just a fact of existence and doesn't guarantee or entitle one to anything.

This is by no means a perfect place to be, I ordered a milk-tea three times this morning, the first time it came with beans in it, the second time with a cocktail stick and a cherry and the third time with ice. And the etiquette is simply abysmal, more than can be corrected in the one year before the Olympics, but knowing how little there is for me in the UK, I haven't once itched to be home.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I'm not neglecting this blog. It just takes time to formulate a response to everything that's happening here.

Also, I'm working on learning the language which takes a lot of time but I don't really consider it work.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Robert McKee wrote in Story, , some people believe that there is a direct correlation between happy endings and success at the box office, but more importantly it has to be truthful. Some people don't go to see films that face up to truths about bad things because they associate movies with leisure time, but if you take a look at those people's lives, they probably avoid dark thoughts in general, and never feel emotions with any real intensity.

At my place of work, in a country where death is never talked about without the utmost sobriety, there has been no avoiding it over the past ten days. So firstly, I would like to post Simon Armitage's poem about 'life' and how some people experience those intensities where they're least expect them:

It ain't what you do, it's what it does to you.

I have not bummed across America
with only a dollar to spare, one pair
of busted Levi’s and a bowie knife.
I have lived with thieves in Manchester.

I have not padded through the Taj Mahal,
barefoot, listening to the space between
each footfall, picking up and putting down
its print against the marble floor. But I

skimmed flat stones across Black Moss on a day
so still I could hear each set of ripples
as they crossed. I felt each stone’s inertia
spend itself against the water; then sink.

I have not toyed with a parachute cord
while perched on the lip of a light aircraft;
but I held the wobbly head of a boy
at the day centre, and stroked his fat hands.

And I guess that the lightness in the throat
and the tiny cascading sensation
somewhere inside us are both part of that
sense of something else. That feeling, I mean.

and attending a Taoist funeral reminded me of a Hymn I have no recollection of not knowing. It's probably because the temple was between four mountains through which a river ran and was truly isolated:

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

I, who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them.
They turn away.

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my words to them.
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

I, the Lord of wind and flame,
I will send the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them.
My hand will save.

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

Finest bread I will provide,
'Til their hearts be satisfied.
I will give my life to them.
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Piqnique a la plage

Monday was my weekly day off.
On sunday evening after work, eleven of us set off by bus to the South China Sea. It was 90 minutes away and (I think) quite close to the border with Vietnam.

The beach was dark hen we arrived, but after we'd pitched our tents we managed to get the nearby restaurant to reopen. We ordered our dinner while it was still swimming or nestling at the bottom of the tank.

Before going to bed we managed to steal enough wood and dead greenery (and some discarded clothing) to get a fire going. It was like getting back to my primitive side, in rythm with the earth with a lighter and a can of Nivea for Men.

I didn't want to ast any of my beach time by going to sleep.

On monday I managed to alk the length of the beach and back three times, having some of the locals asking to have their photo with me along the way.

Swimming in the South China Sea is electrifying. The phosphorescence is like nothing I've ever experienced, and in parts, the warmth wouldn't disgrace a bathtub.

We also managed to whoop some Chinese lads in football six a side.

Altogether, the beach camping trip as worth the sunburn and the mozzie bites.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Orange-Drink Lemon-Drink Man

In Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, Rahel suggests that Ammu marry the villainous but outwardly charming drinks vendor. Instead of getting angry with her, Ammu explains that she is just going to love her less for the rest of their lives.

I've been wondering (mostly in solitude) whether it is just paranoia and propaganda to say that a decline in articulacy and a stifling of communicability have changed our society. For me, there have always been Priests who reduce inexpressible feelings to stale sentimentalities; barroom philosophers who preach all the more agressively because they know how clueless they are; people engaging in "banter" that's a transparent attempt to destroy each another's self-worth (the give away is that it isn't funny).

Since I've been out of academia, I've accepted that time spent enriching and time spent socialising are mostly seperate.

Last night I walked through some woods that I'd only half dicvovered before. I got to the point where I'd always thought there was a dead-end, but it split into two paths. There was a flat surface that I ha to throw a stone into to figure out it was a pond, plus I love the sound of footsteps on wood over water. Eventually, the path led onto a road that was closed late last year because of an inevitable fatality.

I took my shoes and socks off and felt the soil, bark and shrubs between my toes, remembering why we evolved toes. Running beside this path are new flats and houses and appartment, so despite the almost complete lack of a moon there were few shadows to dive into if anybody caught me and thought me mad. But nobody was around.

I'm glad I don't have to crave human contact too often.

Friday, April 20, 2007

More Alastair McIntosh

In his Chapter, 'The Womanhood of God', Alastair McIntosh argues that post-Reformation theology in these islands has been necrophilic: obsessed with death, and what would happen thereafter. It hasn't been about seeing death as reuniting us with the soft soil from which new life can grow, but has been the outcome of fear-driven, victim-blaming, dominator-wins history. This is 'a politically constructed churchianity rather than the spiritual dynamics of cosmic love that Jesus actually taught.'

12 pages later, he quotes Sophia in Proverbs 8 (philosophy: philo - sophia means "lover of the Godess of wisdom").

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth -
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world's first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens,
I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him like a master worker
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.

And now, my children, listen to me:
happy are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.
Happy is the one who listens to me,
waching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favour from the Lord;
but those who miss me injure themselves;
all who hate me love death.

McIntosh himself said that some of the sentiments expressed in his books would be dismissed by Christians as too Pagan, and dismissed by Pagans as too Christian. But when we celebtrate things, whether our religion, culture or anything else, we often underestimate its unexceptionality. The similarity, and possible universality, is illustrated by the poem that Robert Graves asserted should be the beginning of the study of Englsih Literature, The Song of Amergin. According to legend, it was recited by the Milesians as they first landed in Ireland from Spain to defeat the Tuatha de Danaan and banish them to the world of the invisible (think the line from the Corinthians that's quoted in
Pilgrim's Progress, "that which is seen is temporal, that which is unseen is eternal"). For the second time in the history of this blog, I'll quote the text of the Song of Amergin (there are several translations, this comes from Chet Raymo's essay The Music of What Happens.

I am the wind on the sea.
I am the ocean wave.
I am the sound of the billows.
I am the seven-horned stag.
I am the hawk on the cliff.
I am the dewdrop in sunlight.
I am the fairest of flowers.
I am the raging boar.
I am the salmon in the deep pool.
I am the lake on the plain.
I am the meaning of the poem.
I am the point of the spear.
I am the god that makes fire in the head.
Who levels the mountain?
Who speaks the age of the moon?
Who has been where the sun sleeps?
Who, if not I?

I am the god that makes fire in the head.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

It's a cloudless mid-May Sunday afternoon in 2004. Two boys, all biceps, and two girls, all chest, are watching their two housemates have a casual kickabout.
Without warning, one of them smashes the ball as hard as he humanly can. It lands inches away from the glass wall of the nearest pub and bounces to safety. As the giels recover from the shock, the boys offer their amused assessment of what they've just witnessed:

"No go" repeated in a caricatured Northern accent.
"That was like the John Smith's advert: 'ave it!"
"It was like something off Jackass."
"It was like a Roy Keane pile-driver."

It would be absurd to compare such a harmless incident to Monday's shootings in Virgina. However, having skimmed through James Delingpole's How to be Right in Waterstones yesterday, I've been thinking about some of the issues he brings up: liberalism, egalitarianism, indiscipline, the youth of today. I thought an incident that involved staggering inarticulacy, complacency, callousness, and indifference that can all be partly blamed on the forces in question, was a good place to start.

Instead of being a guide, as the title suggests, it is actually an A-Z, not unlike a disproportionately politicised riposte to the decidedly leftist Is It Just Me or is Everything Shit? It rants about many predictable things: pro-Eurpoean and pro-Palestinian bias at the BBC; Britain becoming the world's endearingly dippy rich uncle over the Make Poverty History campaign; and a supposedly limp-wristed egalitarianism that has allowed Polytechnics to call themselves Universities without raising their standards.

The book is, unsurprisingly mean-spirited and distortive. But just as the third point is lent some credence by the afore-mentioned incident, it begs questions. If the Right has such a love affair with Free-Trade that unashamedly swallows everything, why is it the left that perverts tradition? Hasn't the undermining of education at least partly been down to the valuelessness of the Free Market? Hasn't the Market been responsible for the decline of traditional pillars of the curriculum like Classics, Latin and Greek and the rise of less 'academic' courses like Media Studies and Sociology? The main point against the BBC seems to be a lack of patriotism in war-time, but don't you just have to view Fox News to see how self-proclaimed patriots make poor journalists?

The most interesting subject to discuss though is Britain's perceived over-generosity. In The Myths We Live By, Mary Midgely argues that Enlightenment ideas of human rights and the social contract are horribly outdated. It made sense at the time that human-tights were the result of mutual obligation, yet this moral tradition has no place in a less manageable, globalised world. Our behaviour impacts far away people in ways that were until recently, impossible.

I'm interested in exploring the links, economic, spiritual, social, between us and those who've experienced things we can't imagaine. And reading another example of the left and the right tossing insults at one another encourages me to look beyond mainstream commentary to find the answers.

The pleasure is in the digging (eg the summer I spent digging to Australia when I was 9), and it's failing to seek an answer that leads to the kind of impotence, confusion and rage described at the beginning of this entry. I should know, I've been there.

Friday, April 13, 2007

This piece by Alastair McIntosh is an inspiration in light of last night's Channel 4 Drama The Mark of Cain . I think a lot about the Military with a mixture of distaste for Army Culture and guilt that I've never had to face hardships on the same scale: the pressures placed on soldiers and their families; the internal politics; what it must take to motivate oneself. The programme (although only a work of contentious drama)confirmed some of my worst preconceptions about the army and the people who make it up: mindlessly obedient, Machiavellian, politically motivated, and every character was either a moral coward or a bully.

My time in America taught me that some organizations are very good at convincing people that to disagree with their institutional values, is to be a weaker person. I think this is especially true of the military. I saw a picture in a Facebook group two days ago of General Tommy Franks with a speech bubble saying something like: "Next time you're home, and you see an anti-war protestor, shake his hand, and as you walk away, wink at his girlfriend because she knows she's dating a pussy." Then there is the cartoon that draws a scrawny crop-haired young man alongside a hulking, fully-kitted soldier. The young man has PEACE written on his t-shirt and the flower in his hand is drooping because of the stink lines coming off him. The soldier is carrying a little, dark-skinned girl (presumably away from danger) and the caption reads "Who has done more for world peace"?

Here are two of my favourite extracts from McIntosh's essay. These should lend insight into why he's such an inspiration.

"Violence, it is true, only understands violence, and it gets confused and has to think twice when faced with the opposite."

"If violence is the absence of love, nonviolence is about the presence of relationship. It is the means of connection with that which gives life.

That is why it's hard to explain in prosaic language why nonviolence matters and from where it derives its power. It's why many of those who argue for peace have difficulty in completing their arguments. The argument starts in this world, but doesn't end there. The suffering that we voluntarily take on is a birth pang, and you have to trust to life beyond life to get to full delivery. You have to remember that the greater part of our being can never be killed, and that God is always on the side of the suffering."
For somebody who didn't go to a 'proper' University to do my Undergrad, and didn't do a 'solid traditional' course for my MA, I feel alienated about most of the discourse that exists around Higher Education and the people who navigate the system. This has been compounded by three articles published in the Daily Telegraph over the last two days: one by Boris Johnson on Grade Inflation; one by Bryony Gordon on a generation of young men; and this morning's article by Jeff Randall on the cheapening of degrees

Certain things never get mentioned: a chosen course should be the subject that one finds most interesting and stimulating, not most difficult; many young people are imaginative, innovative and irrepressible, exams are always stressful, but to be able to sit in a library and study all day is, to some, a pleasure and a privilege; most so-called "serious" courses of what many Conservatives believe to be the Golden-Age of education (the 50s to the 70s) are more impractical for industry than much-maligned courses like Media Studies and Sociology.

Here is an article from The Times that I cut out 2 days before A-Level results day 2004. It was a time when I was absorbed in my studies and other disciplines but knowing that a hard rain was gonna fall.

The Times Tuesday August 17 2004

Good luck, kids. There’s a lot more to making the grade than A-Levels.
Libby Purves

It’s A-Level results week. Rituals will take place. Newspapers will carry pictures of girls in tight, strappy tops, shrieking attractively. Education pundits will chunter about grade inflation. Ministers will say that whatever happens just proves what a good job the Government is doing.

Meanwhile, university admissions officers will sweat over figures praying that they were not so over-generous with offers that they end up with insufficient tutors or accommodation. In families where someone didn’t make their grades, determined parents will stand over sons and daughters while they phone the faculty in quavering voices to beg for clemency. There will be a political row about private schools.

And, most dispiriting of all, there will be a rush for “clearing”. This is a grim business whereby universities – desperate to get bums on seats – publish lists of vacancies, and students with bruised egos calculate whether Business with American film at Grubthorpe will prove an adequate replacement for Modern American History at Rummidge. Actually, it might. But it might not: and such decisions are over-hasty. You are 18 and terrified at being left out of the loop and not at “uni” like your mates, so you plunge. One in six of you then drops out, in debt and still without a degree.

By and large, it ought to be a hopeful week, a mass launching of keen teenagers into the first phase of adult life. Sadly, it often isn’t. There is unease in the air, born of the widespread questioning of exam standards, university admissions and degrees themselves. There is also healthy, but depressing, scepticism about the Government’s unsupported conviction that however much you expand Higher Education, a degree will confer higher earnings. In the name of this belief it insouciantly throws young people into enormous debt, and some cases endorses three years of drifting and dissipated idleness.

Moreover, hanging over even the happiest students is the uncomfortable knowledge that, on present trends, some eight million will be back home in three years’ time, living with weary parents and applying for even duller jobs.

It is not education politics I want to focus on, but something more primitive and individual. If the difficulties and decisions of this week make anything plain, it is the need for those setting out in life to have the best sort of confidence. This does not mean the insanely high self-esteem, all too familiar to employers, in which children are so overpraised that they come to believe that the world owes them a fabulous job just because they passed some exams. I mean a realistic confidence: self-knowledge, balance, a quiet awareness of what natural talents you have and how much you need to refine them.

It means intelligent observation of the real world – not the TV screen – and respect for the experience of your elders. It means a willingness to go on learning. It means being steady enough in your own emotional life, even during interludes of broken-heartedness, to endure slights at work without internalising them and wailing that you are a failure.

Real confidence means – well, just about the whole of Kipling’s If, really. It’s a lot to as. But you do see it from time to time, and its owners are blessed. They will not collapse in tears over their A-level results, or sign up for some pointless course and spend the next three years lying in till noon, alternately despising themselves and fantasising about being discovered by Steven Spielberg. They will stand aside, think carefully, then take their own path.

How can we grow such realistically confident people, willing to step away from the lemming mainstream, and trust both themselves and life? When I look around at the way we manage children from birth onwards, it seems to me that almost every trend makes us less likely to produce such steady beings. We have our babies in an atmosphere of febrile anxiety over everything from IVF to MMR; then we bombard them with material goods but with ever less parental time.

We send them, increasingly in their earliest infancy, into day nurseries whose basic flaw is demonstrated in that horrible BBC undercover film last week. It showed that where you have low-paid, low-status, pig-stupid employees, who don’t love your children, they will treat them badly. There have been various defences attempted – claims that the filming was unrepresentative, that hygiene flaws were no worse than many homes and that many mothers shout. But the sound of those girls’ loveless, contemptuous barking at confused babies was so real and frightening that even our dog got seriously upset, and came to sit shivering next to my chair for the whole programme.

What are these infants learning? That you must conform, sit on the correct mat, eat and sleep at the correct time, and never express your fear or loneliness.

Then we send them to school. Where we repeatedly test them on a rigid curriculum; this has its advantages, but conducted in large class groups it means that teachers are hampered in their instinct to respond with joyful humanity to children’s individual curiosity. Lessons are “delivered”, increasingly often by untrained classroom assistants, so there is less scope for questioning than there should be. Yet it is permission and time to question which best breeds confidence.

We lightly cause them grief by divorcing; yet at the same time we are so terrified for their physical safety that we barely trust them to go out alone, certainly not to converse with interesting strangers. Trash TV and aggressive computer games are their companions. Small wonder if fantasy grips adolescents as the family erodes. I sometimes think that the best hope for the next generation is that this lot watch The Simpsons: they at least do family life con brio and con amore.

As they grow older, we do allow them out, there to be exploited by cynical pop and fashion industries. We kowtow to an ersatz teen “culture” which is heavily sexualised. Many, in consequence, have full sex too early, assisted by sex educators handing out condoms and morning-after pills; again there is damage to developing confidence. You might think that such affair would be a maturing experience, and maybe where true love is concerned, they sometimes are. But social research proves that boys do it to prove they aren’t gay, and girls do it because the boys put pressure on. The result is that before the age of 18many children have suffered at least one full scale sexual betrayal, given themselves totally and then been dumped and traduced as a bad lay. This emotional battering may harden them outwardly, but I do not think it builds the kind of realistic, relaxed confidence which carries you happily through the transition from to adult life.

These are social trends; of course there are exceptions. There are happy, preoccupied geeks, swots, bookworms, nerds, Goths and hippies; there are children whose upbringing has been steady – or eccentric – enough to make them immune to the cruelties of fashion. There are adolescents lucky enough to have adult mentors who help them to real satisfying mastery – whether of a guitar or of a boat or a charity fundraising effort or a poetic form. There are young people who would please Kipling: who fill the unforgiving minute, trust themselves, can dream without making dreams their master, handle disasters and keep their heads – even about A-level results – when all around are losing theirs.

Of course there are. May they flourish. All I am saying is that an awful lot of verifiable social trends militate against the rising generation turning out that way. Our culture reflected in our media, is nervous, materialistic, petulant, self-indulgent, emotionally incontinent, ignorant of its roots and morbidly obsessed with appearances.

To emerge from it calm, graceful, generous, modest and hardworking is quite an achievement. More than any A grades. Good luck, kids: it’s you that count, not the label.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

My attempts at writing fiction as an undergrad....

the first drafted piece I handed in of my dissertation had a response consisting of five words(and five punctuation marks) at the bottom:
Plot? Psychological insight? Social insight?

The characters were based on various Warringtonians (mostly bar-room philosophers) and teachers I'd had in my life. They tended to involve imagined relationships between people from entirely different compartments of my life.

I had to go back almost a year to a response to a novel I'd begun to find the key as to how to turn things around. I must have written 2000 words (of 6000) in one sitting, and in the middle of this was a paragraph that wasn't revised or particularly thought about, was highly elliptic but was apparently bursting with yearning and pathos.

Then, a short story called Drizzle was my first wholly successful piece in writing about vacuousness and banality in a way that wasn't vacuous and banal. It had three main characters, an alcoholic, living in his brother's house in Suburbia and struggling to find inspiration for his poetry; a young piano teacher, teaching the daughter of the man who was her favourite school teacher, and an eleven year-old boy playing football on his own, and what's going on in their, in various ways, limited imaginations is infinitely more vivid than the outer world: the lazy canal that the ball nearly rolls into; the garage door that it thunders into; the Grade 1 piece that the girl is teaching.

In the two and a half years since I wrote 'Drizzle', I have gained immeasurable insight into this vacuousness. About eighteen months before I wrote it I was having a conversation in somebody's basement and after about half an hour of being there he started to giggle and tell me that a mutual acquaintance of ours had jumped off a bridge and died. I've learned since that, while this guy is an extreme example, he is a mere microcosm of an indifference and an arbitrary cruelty that is very common in the world.

In an atmosphere that generally resists scholarly thought, whose idea of 'making conversation' is actually the opposite of mutual communication, and resists imaginative activities that aren't passive, I feel as if I'm making progress.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Marvellous Toy

When I hear the word 'enough' a variety of things flash through my mind: Kurt Cobain groaning "Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be"; the (literally) rooms in my (parents') house that are clogged with disused possessions, most of which are in inadequate condition to sell; and, most vividly, a present I got when I was younger.

It's not like me to unremember the exact age I was at when a significant thing happened, but I might not be right when I say I was 8 when I received this. The toy I wanted most was something my neighbour had. It was a ring where we could place our Wrestling figures against one another, bought from Toys 'R' Us. It had ropes to bounce off, corner-posts to pounce off, and steps that one's opponent's head coud be smashed into repeatedly.

Instead of buying me one of my own, my dad went out to the garage, sawed out a board of plywood, about 12" x 8". He hammered four nails into the corners and wrapped two strings around the outsides, and the only finishing touch required from there was for me to write WWF in the centre.

Much of my reading, and therefore much of my writing, over the past two years has explored the possibility of a reacquaintance with our past, not as a form of conservatism, but a way of combating a Jungian neurosis and the modern ill of (Mc)meaninglessness. And parts of this are notions like 'digging where we stand' and exploring the concept of enough.

When I was nine, my brother and I spent the entire summer at my grandmas while our house in England was having an extension built. As a break from stacking turf at the bog and going to the cattle market, we dug a hole to Australia. Well, it was supposed to go to Australia, only we were digging sideways into a bank. It's where I met the term (and the concept) key-stone. It was a suggestion put across in Alistair McIntosh's Soil and Soul and will definitely play a part in my next book. It is a hyperbolic way of examining how the truth lies beneath our feet.

Anyway, that was an aside, I've already tried my hand at travelling salesmanship, and heard some disturbing accounts at what goes on in call-centres. I am diturbed at the lengths to which highly capable people, in super-rich countries sometimes go to to "pay their way", and wonder whether a gentler, more interdependent life is attainable.

This is a somewhat tangential post with no central message, but I'll leave you with the words of Bill Hicks , that are part commentary on our consumer-society and part identification of those who are to blame.

Well, somebody somewhere is fucked and there's little doubt we're all being fucked. I don't agree with Hicks but I find solace in the fact that he said it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Why I Write

This blog is suppposed to be a gaze into the blinkered mind of one who would write a book in a world of such a kind. A recent artice in the New Statesman gave me some reminder as to why. It is about how evangelism in America is to many, not just an irrational dogma or another form of nihilism. Chet Raymo, who has written extensively about the subject, drew the comparison with Ancient Greece.

In The Greeks and the Irrational ER Dodds points out that during the third century BC, Greece was the closest thing to an 'open' society the world would see until modern times. It was an economically accomplished society confident of its powers. Aristotle had urged his fellow citizens to recognize the divine spark within themselves. Zeno had asserted that God's true temple is the human intellect. Soon however, supernaturalism would return, and rationalists would be scapegoated:

As the intellectuals withdrew further into a world of their own, the popular mind was left defenseless...and left without guidance, a growing number relapsed with a sigh of relief into the pleasures and comforts of the primitive...better the rigid determinism of the astrological fate than the terrifying burden of daily responsibility

I've found enormous inspiration in Soil and Soul by the poet, human ecologist and activist Alistair McIntosh. He describes the Celtic bard who, like Thomas the Rhymer in The Faerie Queen has been granted, and must not betray, the 'tongue of truth.'

To the bard, historical truth is a psychological and spiritual reality rather than an absolute. He must help his people understand who they are, and that their lives are part of the deft weaving of history.

Bardism is an alternative to the irrational dogmatism that attempts to resist the bulldozing of history. As an (unintentional) explanation for Bardism, here's a long quote from Memories, Dreams and Reflections by CG Jung. For now I have nothing to add to this quote:

Our souls as well as our bodies are composed of individual elements which were all already present in the ranks of our ancestors. The "newness" in the individual psyche is an endlessly varied recombination of age-old components. Body and soul therefore have an intensely historical character and find no proper place in what is new, in things that have just come into being. That is to say, our ancestral components are only partly at home in such things. We are very far from having finished completely with the Middle Ages, classical antiquity and primitivity as our modern psyches pretend. Nevertheless, we have plunged down a cataract of progress which sweeps us on into the future with ever wilder violence the further it takes us from our roots. Once the past has been breached, it is usually annihilated, and there is no stopping the forward motivation. But it is precisely the loss of connection with the past, our uprootedness, which has given rise to the "discontents" of civilisation and to such a flurry and haste that we live more in the future and its chimerical promise of a golden age than in the present, with which our whole evolutionary background has not yet caught up.

I told myself I'd get serious about this blogging business. I can't promise I'll try, but I'll try to try in the near future.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


I was going to write an essay on the Physics of Time. This is what I came up with:

Is there a place where the shapes of our lives
make sense to a higher form of right and wrong?
There is one thing we all try to defy
as the clock never stops slugging on-
to the morning when the life-insurance cheque
comes padding down on the carpet
And the neighbours sit sighing and remembering back
Over sandwiches, tea and crumpet.

Is the past just a realm in the mirror of today?
Or buried like bones underground?
Is the future just a void where living things fade?
Or where the woman in a white silk gown
Shows the boy who ws buggered and strangled in the woods
The vinegar-soaked cloth that will cleanse all blood
As is, was and will be, and as grows the apple tree.

Friday, January 05, 2007

In the first chapter of ´Story´by Robert McKee, he argues that story has replaced traditional ideologies as our main source of an answer to Aristotles´s question: "how should a man lead his life?"
Science, once the great explicator, garbles life with complexity and perplexity. Who can listen without cynicism to economists, sociologists, politicians? Religion, for many, has become an empty ritual that masks hypocrisy. As our source for traditional ideologies diminishes, we turn to the source we still believe in: story.

I´ve been considering the role of storytelling, its possibilities and its limitations. Everybody has a story to tell. It might be a story of love achieved or failed. It might be a story of confrontation faced or shrunken from. But whatever it was, it taught them about themselves and their societies. And whatver it is, different versions of many people have had a similar experience.Maybe the reason why so many people think that their lives are passing through history like a field-mouse, not leaving a trace, is not that they feel they have never had stories to tell, but they lacked an interested audience. This brings me onto the idea of ´myth´.

A myth is a story that in some sense, happened once, but is also happening all the time. It is of unknown origin, is never closed to thoughtful revision, and instead of a specific historical context, it tends to have taken place in the sacred time of everywhen. The reason why so many myths of the twentith century failed is that they were narrowly ideological (Leninism), ethnic (Nazism), dogmatic (Islamism) or selfish (neo-liberalism/consumerism).

According to Karen Armstrong, a successful myth is a story that all human beings can relate to their own lives. The perilous journey through the mines of Lascaux is comparable to the journey we all took out of the amniotic bliss of the womb and into this world. The myth of the Odyssey taken by Ulysses teaches us that to reach the end of our journey is to arrive at the beginning and know the place for the first time. CP Cavafy illustrated the evolution of this myth in his poem Íthaca´ stating that if you should find her bare (Ithaca) shall not have deceived you. You will be rich with everything you have gained on the journey itself.There are obvious differences between a novel and a myth. A novel has a known author. A novel is a commodity. Societies have survived without novels but never without myths. But in Á Short History of Myth´, Armstrong concludes that as religion, with other traditional ideologies, fails to do its job, it might be the task of novelists to bring fresh insight into our lost and damaged world.

As writer John Berger pointed out in the introduction to his Ínto Their Labours´trilogy, the most noble ideologies can dwarf death "Rivoluzione O La Morte", the most trivial can only ignore it "consumerism". In his Theses on the Philosophy of History, Walter Benjamin wrote:
For every image of the past that is not recognised by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably.

Maybe this is the danger of allowing our stories to go untold. And maybe the novel, where the footprints of the present can fit into those of the past; where the dead can live alongside the living; where dreams can become manifest alongside the everyday; and the relationship between private lives and the great historical events that they coincide with, is more vivid than in ordinary modes of thought. Maybe that is how fresh insight canbe brought and death be dwarfed.