Posted by at 11:54 am  Atelier, IN Conversation  Comments Off
Mar 222007

A WAVEREQUIEM: at the end of this week I travel to Sri Lanka to continue the charity work that I am involved with there. I will be away from the weblog for a week.

One task I have in Sri Lanka is to take up writing the waverequiem. The title ‘waverequiem’ arose shortly after 26th December 2004, post-tsunami.

What is a wave? A wave is an agent of action and desire (scientists argue about the difference between wave form and wave energy).

What is a requiem? A requiem is a ritual of worship, in remembrance for all those summoned by the sea.

Together, waverequiem may be followed here.


Borders and New Territories

 Posted by at 10:53 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Mar 222007

I’d like to start by quoting four lines from Seamus Heaney’s poem, Rilke: After the Fire (in his collection, District and Circle):

To make them realise what had stood so.
For now that it was gone, it all seemed
Far stranger: more fantastical than Pharaoh.
And he was changed: a foreigner among them.

“ . . . what had stood so. . . . it all seemed far stranger . . . and he was changed: a foreigner . . . “
And those last two lines, I have to repeat them, to taste them more fully: “Far stranger; more fantastical than Pharaoh./And he was changed: a foreigner among them.” Here we have the sense of coming up against a boundary, a border, and beyond which lies a new land, a foreign territory of loss and bereavement.

Borders are breaks in the onward flow of life. We ask ourselves, what am I going to find on the other side? The traveller, the refugee, even the tourist, must have moments of greater or lesser anxiety about what lies beyond the border. What is this new country going to be about? What (mis)adventures await my arrival?

Last year, on a train journey London to Istanbul passing from Serbia to Bulgaria, from Bulgaria to Turkey there was the ritual of crossing the border. The train came to halt on one side of the border, police, passport and customs officials made their way through the train, looking for reasons to prevent our ongoing journey, then after about forty minutes the train trundled across the border and stop once more for the police, passport and customs officials from the new country would make their way through the train. All these officials were armed of course. The final border Bulgaria/Turkey came at three o’clock in the morning, so we were woken and had to pile on clothes over pyjamas and make our way to the border control where we had to purchase a visa (fifteen euros I think It was) and have our passports checked and stamped.

Borders are breaks in the onward flow of life. Seamus Heaney is writing into the experience of breaks; breaks that lead to a loss of continuity. The thread is broken: maybe a fracture that can be mended, maybe not. We are invited into the world of trauma. Traumatic events have the effect of significantly ‘breaking’ the flow between past and future, events from which endless questions flow and proliferate. Questions such as:
What are the rules of trauma?
How does the psyche heal?
How do defences, toughness, inner strength and networks of support, conflict or work together?
How does the psyche, the self, rework, reconfigure, expand and develop new patterns of thought and behaviour?
What are the necessary raw materials?
And will I survive?

GIFT ECONOMIES: Charis, Publishing

 Posted by at 1:41 pm  Atelier, IN Conversation  Comments Off
Mar 192007

IS THIS A BOOK? Some ten days ago Cassandra my publishing agent and I paid a visit on the three Hetairai at the Publishing House in the West Country we are with. Hetairai is one of the names we give to three of the women who are senior fiction editors there. The possibility of publishing mmj’s writing was being discussed, and the topic of this weblog was raised – "Is this a book?" they asked.

Hetairai is a word you may be unfamiliar with. I will explain it. It is the ancient Greek word for ‘female friend’. Hetairai is a close female companion, a trusted intimate, in some sense (according to Sappho) a beloved. The relationship may also be sexual, but Cassandra assures me that in her case it is not. When money comes into it, the Greek word the ancients used for women was porne (the e at the end is ‘long’, probably pronounced – "ay"; as in hay). Our relationship with the Hetairai is not of that kind. Neither is it commoditised.

Money does not change hands between us. So a visit was not ‘paid’ on them by Cassandra and I (as I put it at the outset), it was made. Money does not change hands. Gifts change hands. It is an important distinction. No payment, no price on the relationship. Only gifts.

Hetairai is one of the secret nicknames we give to the three women fiction editors. The other secret name Cassandra and I give them is ‘The Grand Inquisition’, and that felt the better given name for them ten days ago when they were giving us quite a hard time of it asking – "Is this a book?".

The Grand Inquisition felt the better name because material value had come into it. Price. It is hard not to do this in publishing, that is after all a business. If there is a book in it, there is likely value in it. If there isn’t a book in it, there likely isn’t value. Cassandra and I were being weighed up and measured by the three women fiction editors. And the weblog, they needed to know, is it gold, or is it mock-gold. – "Is this a book?" they asked.

Yes, I thought when I first started writing this weblog six months ago, this is a book. In fact, THISISABOOK was one of the ways I had of describing the walkingtalkingwriting weblog to other people early on. But now I am not so sure. Weblog writing is so porous, so full of forgettings. Who remembers last week’s Post? Not even I most of the time, so what hope for lurkers on the weblog trying to connect one Post with another, as if they were readers of a book. The Posts appear haphazardly, episodic and disjointed, without a narrative. Add to that two authors on the same weblog, ak and mmj, occassionally in step but mostly at odds with each other. Viewed that way, it seems improbable that this is a book, more like mock-gold than the real stuff.

Not that I told The Grand Inquisition that. – "Oh yes", I said, "there is a book in the weblog. Just you wait and see". Cassandra and I kept smiling the rest of the meeting, and somehow we made it to the end without the three women fiction editors being able to pin us down further.

But, Cassandra reminded me later, for the Hetairai at the Publishing House, we still have the intention. The idea that this is a book is still there.


RITUAL FICTION: Crime and Error, Simone Weil

 Posted by at 1:22 pm  Atelier, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Mar 162007

BADNESS: the subject is badness, our wicked ways.

Yesterday you walked (with mmj) from Tarquinia to the Tomb of the Augurers. Last week (with mmj) you were in conversation with Professor Dworkin, Professor of Jurisprudence, in London listening to him discuss the topic of Democracy and Freedom.

Your attendance at both events of course were Ritual Fictions. This is what we do here; walking on the road out of Tarquinia, the conflict at the cleft, and the salty taste of the wrestler’s sweat; sitting on our chairs in a London bookshop, hearing when tolerance and respect break down for each other… – "You are wrong!", he says you have to say. Both these events are Ritual Fictions. Both deal with how to handle events that lead us astray. Or ‘Badness’, as Simone Weil would put it.

ABOUT Ritual Fictions – "How simply charming", you might say (to mmj), "we so enjoy your stories!".

You are not advised to take them so lightly. Some 500 years ago the Ritual Fiction concerning the spiritual presence in the bread during the Mass caused you and I to argue. – "Real", one of us said. – "Representation", the other replied.

The argument was potent enough to split the church, Protestant against Catholic, the Reformation, a War of Words throughout Europe that quickly escalated into grim and relentless violence, the slaughter on a mass scale reaching its crescendo a 100 years later with the terrible ‘Thirty Year War’.

Such badness had to stop. In 1648 the representatives of the sovereign states of Europe came together and signed the Treaty of Westphalia, itself another Ritual Fiction of course, but one which successfully put and end to the killing; henceforth nation and nation, not required to tolerate or even respect one another’s religion, but now grudgingly required to accept the sanctity of the frontiers between nations. Upon which Ritual Fiction, international Professors of Jurisprudence have built their reputations, and both you and I have accepted the atrocities that tyranical governments and dictators visit on their peoples in other countries even down to the present day.

Except the instances when the power of the Ritual Fiction no longer holds… as they say happened in Kososvo, when NATO invaded there in 1999, and perhaps also when the Coalition invaded of Iraq in 2003, although some argue the other way… so that our winding way returns us to the Wilderness, and a War of Words – "You are wrong", conflict at the cleft, that leads to something worse.

A War of Words, conflict at the cleft: last week ak wrote about Simone Weil, beginning with her quote on Crime and Error:
“Everything belonging to creatures is limited except the desire within us which is the mark of our origin. The yearnings which make us seek the unlimited here on earth are therefore for us the only source of crime and error.” Page 271 in Simone Weil: An Anthology (published in the Penguin Modern Classics series)
In other words, unlimited desire, properly speaking, is desire for God, for all things heavenly and when that desire is, mistakenly, applied to things here on earth, then the result is crime and error.
UNPACK THAT, I wrote as a comment. It was another way of saying. – "You are wrong!".

[BADNESS: The subject is about Badness, our wicked ways]

Crime and error… for those of us who locate desire within, and those of us who locate desire elsewhere. Voices are raised in argument.
- "There is this other greater love".
- "Yes, in here".
- "Yes, out there".
- "You are wrong!".

That God is and we are not. That we are, but God is not. Both ways is crime and error, since either way the love we feel is largely self-love. Corrupt. But anger is being stirred, and the Professor has already lead us over the limits of the black and the white squares so that the Ritual Fiction powers of Jurisprudence no longer hold.

In contradiction, we are spilled off the road and into the Wilderness (Are we lost? Nearly all the time. Do we stumble? Frequently!). But thrown into the dust at least the moment of badness ends. We come, if only momentarily, to our senses and walking on, past the old familiar Ritual Fictions, there is the possibility that we may resist the impulses to taste the sweat on the cheeks of the wrestling men, to lick the ink on ones fingers or to eat the pages upon which the words are written, and that we may walk on, in the compassionate company of those whose extended hands exert a restraint over present time, waiting for the cessation of views.


[TIMELESS] TIME, Clefts, Prescience

 Posted by at 2:45 pm  Atelier, OVER and BEYOND  Comments Off
Mar 152007

Walking one afternoon along a road out of the ancient city you come to an ancient crossroads, P0571_2from which one way continues on the road south towards Rome and the other leads up to a bare rocky outcrop. You take the road up to the ridge and the eye begins to take in a what appear to be the remains of a number of low buildings. As you come closer you see that each building has a stairway cut down into the rock, the stairs leading down into what appear to be cellars.

Approach carefully, it is easy to scratch ones arm or leg on the thorny vegetation and rough volcanic tufi rock as you make your way down, or to slip on the worn steps. Go in. Here – A035_4  

- you are stepping into another world, and what might not have been expected as you came down the steps to enter this chamber under the ground, you are also entering a zone of conflict. Immediately in front of you two naked men grip each other by the wrist over a large vessel. Their front feet are firmly planted on the ground. Legs are tensed. Battle has been joined and both of them are bringing all their strength into their hunched shoulders, from where the fight will be won or lost.

How will the contest end? How will the conflict be resolved? You do not know, nor do you know about the vessel they fighting ‘over’, or what it contains. All you know is that in a large bowl of distinctive shape and design, there is a liquid, but whether it will bring harm or well, you do not know. The liquid within the bowl could be something that brings the contestants a great benefit, perhaps it is even a reward for the victor. Or it might be something that could result in great harm. Perhaps the liquid has been brought to boiling within the second metalic vessel that is being heated below by a charcoal fire, a dangerous mix into which the victor will press down the loser’s arm and hand, from which terrible scarring neither arm nor hand will ever heal nor function ever be restored. Or worse, at the end of the contest, a fight to the death, a ritual sacrificial killing, the blood of the loser will be collected in the bowl.

You approach to look. The bowl you now see is filled with liquid mercury, but you cannot tell if it is hot or cold, nor whether harm or healing will come from touching it. The liquid is still, motionless, a silver screen in which all you will see is the perfect reflection of your own face. You must make your own decision whether to dare to touch this liquid or not.

When you have decided,A012_4 then raise your eyes to look at the great sealed door on the far wall of the chamber you are standing in.

Here in this place, that is also called the Tomb of the Auguries, La Tomba degli Auguri, arms have always been locked in conflict. Perhaps, this comes as a surprise, here in this solemn underground place, where you stand before your God or whatever name you choose to give to the mystery that is hidden behind those great red closed doors.

Not that you are free to choose names. As you are not always free to go peacably, which is why at clefts in the road conflicts always arise. You had been warned, or should have been, when you first came to the crossroads, the point when one turns into two, and you were asked to decide which way to go. Were you going to continue on the straight road to Rome, or were you going to make your winding way up on to this rocky outcrop and enter this chamber? You chose the winding way. Perhaps you will try to say, you were sidetracked or seduced by this story. Real or apparant choices, the choices you made to imagine the liquid in the vessel, the decisions you made to approach it and look in, and then to raise your eyes and look towards the great read door – Crimes and errors! – every cleft produces conflict, a war of words that always ends in trouble. The young man on the road to Thebes falls into an argument with a stranger. Where? Where the road crosses the river, another kind of crossroads, and the two men argue over who has the right to cross the river first. First a War of Words, the argument becomes a struggle, and eventually in the fight the younger man wins out over the older, slowly pushing him down under the water until he drowns. Only much later does the young man find out that the older man was his own father. What does he do then? Puts out his eyes so that he can never see beyond those great red doors. So the tragic story of Oedipus ends.

In the Tomb of the Auguries, it is also a War of Words that is being engaged in through the physical struggle of the two men, but their struggle is held in a different way to the tragic father and son Oedipus story. Behind the younger of the naked men (the one without a beard) two older bearded men raise one arm, wrists extended, hands open to the sky. These are the Augurers. They watch the flight of birds, through which flight they are told among other things the outcome of the struggle between the two men. Prescient, their extended hands exert a restraint over present time, so that the struggle between the two men never advances because its outcome is already known. No crime. No error. So violence is never done.

You are free to approach the two naked men. Let your eyes wander over their tensed and slightly trembling bodies. Observe how their muscles groups are locked in struggle. If you look closely, you will see the sweat beginning to show on their skin and a drip forming on the younger man’s chin. Put out your finger to touch it, and then bring your finger to your tongue to taste the salty tang.


Apologia – WalkingTalkingWriting

 Posted by at 10:39 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Mar 152007

What else can you do but commit to the struggle to make sense, to have a go at writing what is there; wrestling with this strange, lumpy thing we call language; hitting out against ideas and prejudices that come snaking in; falling back under the full force of associations and memories and miscreant thoughts.

The starting point was a half-way-through-wilderness; life had happened in the way that life happens:

A stumbling through darkened quarters, bogs and tussocks, dead ends, wide boulevards, twisting lanes; jostling with the curious and the indifferent, the rich and the poor; visiting the banks and the markets, the churches, the temples and the mosques; so many books to read, so much talking to engage in . . .

Mesmerised and in awe . . . shocked as though beaten black and blue . . .

Impelled by the arising need to make marks on rocks and walls as we pass . . .

And to travel hopefully.

Barely a Meeting But . . .

 Posted by at 10:34 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Mar 152007

On my way to buy milk at the corner shop this morning, I wait at the door as an elderly man negotiates the step on his way out, and I notice his Berghaus fleece and his aluminium stick.
Paying for the milk I hear something about Dougie, the man I had just met at the door, who is ninety four (I had thought, maybe eighty), who still grows his vegetables on an allotment and keeps it watered by fetching water from the river that runs by the allotments (a tricky procedure even for the somewhat younger) and goes for four hour, presumably gentle, rambles.

Shared Prisons

 Posted by at 10:31 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Mar 152007

Late afternoon sun glistens on the slick road, saturated by a brief but torrential downpour. If it was summer the tarmac would be steaming but at this time of year there’s still a chill in the air although the sun is now sharp and intrusive, chasing away the final drops.
One or two minutes remain before the bell rings for the end of school, before the children are rushing out to waiting parents. Most of the mothers plus a sprinkling of fathers continue to sit in their steamed-up cars recovering their wits from the roof battering rain. A few parents stand glumly under umbrellas not quite trusting the storm to have finished with them, damply regretting their decision to walk and there must be one or two bemoaning their misfortunes at not owning a car.
Plus one other mother, or is she a mother–she looks very young, perhaps not much more than twenty, standing apart from the others, with no umbrella and only a thin pale green jacket for protection. Her hair plastered to her skull, her face colourless, even her lips drained of colour.
Now the bell rings and children begin to appear at doors looking apprehensively at the last few drops of rain–I’m reminded of Hansel and Gretel in the witches house, wanting to escape, fearing the consequences, knowing that they’ll have to be back inside the next day–then judging it safe, they give whoops and dash through the puddles for the freedom beyond the school gates.
The soaked woman doesn’t move. A father getting out of his Audi says something to her as he passes. She looks at him with hurt eyes, his step slows as if in appreciation of some difficult fact about her life, and she says:
–Why not,
and if it’s possible she retreats even further into herself and her lips echo,
–Why not,
barely a sound, an unrealised intention.