Mr Democracy & Mrs Science

 Posted by at 11:59 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Apr 272010

I am told, my friend tells me, that he believes.


In democracy that is. Mr Democracy also believes, or so he says.


And as for science, I have previously ‘told tales’ of his liaison with Marina Columbina. Mrs Science that is, or so we sometimes affectionately like to call her, in recognition of the PhD she was awarded (which contributed significantly to a theory of social knowledge according to certain citations), alongside our other more personal and private terms of affection which we have also given her, some more passionate and desirous to do with her bella figura, others more shadowy and cautious to do with her Neapolitan familial links to an underworld of violence and crime.


A WORD here about our exploratory method to “walk a path between”: AS is our habit, we are leaping a vast continental landscape of twentieth century historical argument and evidence, foreshortening, and foreshortened in this instance to Mr Democracy and Mrs Science (in remembrance perhaps of the similar catchwords adopted by the Chinese ‘May 4th Movement’ in 1919), without consciously or otherwise attempting to fill all the space.


What kind of democracy is that, I asked, One grounded in secular reason, and whose legitimacy is based on appeals to popular sovereignty, and, normatively, resting on the rule of law, came the instant reply, but spoken in a monotone so that I had the impression I was being read to, and could not be sure the answer was my friend’s own.


And the will of God plays no part.


At least, since the 1848 Year of Revolutions in Europe, that has been the general consensus, but whether it remains so I am now become uncertain, since my friend tells me, as I said at the outset, that he also believes.


And we have known for some time, in Europe at any rate, our good intentions, Mr Democracy and Mrs Science, are no guarantee against Evil, and things going badly wrong.

About Categories

 Posted by at 11:59 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Apr 202010

I don’t know who invented the idea that the apolitical poet is a myth, or where the idea originated.


“It’s a myth, of course that poets are apolitical, though tone-deaf commentators may only hear polemic as politically engaged”, I read last week at the beginning of the editorial in the latest copy of the Poetry Review , and hesitated mid-sentence, brought up short and split-second unsure, as I always am when confronted by the myth word, as to whether its use is intended to take me towards, or away from, the belief in this Ur-idea.


Uncle Wally taps me on the shoulder in those fractionary moments. “Urgeschichte”, he whispers in my ear, correcting my English with this untranslatable word (‘primal history’ being as close as it comes).


It speaks something of our process. Along we are sauntering, first thing on a bright April morning, out on the open road, sunshine and spring flowers, the promise of freshness, and not a vapour trail in the sky. Then something descends from the sky, an iron axe as it often seems to appear to me, so far as I am able to describe this momentary shift at all, size impossible to gauge, as I catch a glimpse of a heavy and dense falling object.


Brought up short, and often in the form of a word or phrase. ‘Myth’. ‘Baroque’. Or ‘Working Class’ for that matter. Where is and what is the working class, ak asks in the last post. It is well known that in 1842 the twenty two year old Friedrich Engels came to Manchester, and that the terrible conditions which met his eyes inspired him to write Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England (first published in Germany in 1844). As for the novel term, proletariat, he unearthed the Latin word from the German lecture notes of the renowned scholar of ancient Rome, Barthold Georg Niebuhr (1776-1831), who had invented it in order to describe those people of Rome who had no property, and relied on the bartering of their labour in order to survive. Thence applied by Engels without historical reference, and confusing citizens and slaves, in order to describe those people who are also apparently ripe for revolt. History equally tells us that the first English translation only appeared in England in 1892.


So we go on, less sauntering now, more like staggering as we probe forward, attempting to feel our way around these stumbling blocks, or scandles,  as I have referred to them before, defining the meaning of these obstacles in the road more accurately (and quoting Frank Kermode).


When people give categories like Baroque, I dont know what they mean, a friend said to me, as we walked together mid-morning last weekend. I was relieved to find a kindred spirit. Or Working Class, I might have replied. Or, as my friend went on to say, Roman à Clef.


Sometimes, when the iron axe falls falls from the sky, nothing can be seen, and all that can be detected is the softest sigh.

Oh, where shall I plant my cross

 Posted by at 2:28 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Apr 172010

It's a surprise to see the coming general
election making an appearance on these pages. In our meandering conversations
(aka walking) we don't often bump into the gripes and screams of the political
class – but there it is, you've shouted it from the rooftops: 'vote, don't
vote, our votes, Election Day, opinion polls.' though you do add that magic
ingredient, irony, in the form of one of our heroes José Saramago, plus the
malign glowering Uncle Wally who looks like he may be trying to decide who to
spit at first.

In obedience to the ancestors I must vote
Labour BUT a question comes to mind, where is the Labour Party? And furthermore
where is or what is the working class in our 21st century wonderworld?

Once upon a time a bright young singer/song
writer penned and wrenched out that he was most definitely NOT going to work on
Maggie's farm no more. Then, in the way that these sorts of things occur along
came Maggie to set us work or preferably slavery. For this wicked witch of the
Midlands believed that any form of human cooperation was utterly disastrous for
the righteous ambitions of the wealthy to become even more sickenly wealthy. I
mean, where's the harm in that!! And just in case there was any signs of a
conscience in her 2 am fevered brain, some sharp advisor slipped her the 'fact'
that there was no such thing as society.

It wasn't long (well, actually it was)
before another bright young thing but this time a gushing lawyer decided that
he was the one to square the circle; it was indeed possible to have the wealthy
making even more money than they had under Maggie (who had been taken out and
quietly shot; only to be replaced by a sereies of ragdolls). New Labour, he
called it. The tax bonanza from all the wealth creation (well, bits of it)
would be ploughed into education and health and going to war. After all it had
worked for Maggie.

And here we are: a rather pink in the face nephew of
Maggie and poor old dour Brooon from the Treasury . . . plus a walk-on cast of
thousands. So where must I place my poor flimsy little cross, my cross that I
must bear, my illiterate X. I see you mention that 'the apolitcal poet is a
myth' and in aid of clarity could you elaborate on this mythical apolitical
poet – is this somebody I could vote for?

Our Possible Conversations

 Posted by at 11:59 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Apr 132010

One thing leads to another, he said, it is our culture. And our history, a history of walkingtalkingwriting that is, which he was also giving.


Certain implicit methodological restraints that need immediate spelling out: We are ignorant (or agnostic if you prefer) from the standpoint of causality. Walking leads to talking leads to… there is a progression but it isn’t what we mean by causality. Whatever it is that happens emerges, and mostly without us knowing it.


At this moment old-fashioned Uncle Wally, always correctly dressed in white shirt, jacket and tie, and wearing his thick soled leather brogue walking shoes, pauses to nod his head, then bending forward, he stoops and extends his left hand as if about to pick a spring meadow flower of stunning brightness, “My thinking is related to theology as blotting paper is related to ink. It is saturated with it. Were one to go by the blotter, however, nothing of what is written would remain.” WB, Arcades Project, Passagen-Werk, # N7, a7.


We are also ignorant in our methodology (but not agnostic in this instance) of any archaic ‘essence’, which could determine a hierarchy or underlying order. Things come in the order we make, that is, all our possible conversations.


Vote, Don’t vote, for example. It is doubtful that we regard any of those who are currently asking for our votes on Election Day on May 6th as people with whom it is possible to have a conversation. That is what the opinion polls are currently saying at any rate. So the accusation is of voter apathy, and the exhortation is for citizens to do their duty. But apathy of course is far from the right word, as José Saramago vigorously agrees (Seeing, Ensiao sobre a Lucidez).


Radical losers; she or he who does not vote. Hans Magnus Enzenberger, also somewhat formally dressed as central European poets generally still are, especially the older generation, but without a tie, points me towards certain sentences in an essay he wrote in 2005 (Der Spiegel, November 7th) with the title ‘The radical loser’. One thing is certain: the way humanity has organized itself – "capitalism", "competition", "empire", "globalization" – not only does the number of losers increase every day, but as in any large group, fragmentation soon sets in. In a chaotic, unfathomable process, the cohorts of the inferior, the defeated, the victims separate out. The loser may accept his fate and resign himself; the victim may demand satisfaction; the defeated may begin preparing for the next round. But the radical loser isolates himself, becomes invisible, guards his delusion, saves his energy, and waits for his hour to come.”


What hour might that be for her or him? The Enzenberger essay unhappily goes on to lose itself in causality, and a search for archaic ‘essence’, but it reminded me at the outset that the idea of the apolitical poet is a myth. Might the community of those without the community at a certain hour join together in possible conversation? Stunning brightness leads to Leuchten leads to Lucidez.

It’s a Simple Life – Sometimes . . .

 Posted by at 11:04 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Apr 092010

Dipping: it’s the sort of motion that some birds indulge in,
pigeons for example, and some wading birds. And for that matter old men with
one foot, one eye in the gutter where they (used to?) look for dog-ends. Old
men, street people, rough sleepers – I see them in small assemblies conversing
in bird yelps and hollow bear growls; dead eyed they want my money. Patiently
they dip this way and that, their dogs curled at their feet, waiting with some hidden anticipation for Armageddon, the righting of wrongs.

Seeing your reference to Summers-Bremner reminds me that
some years ago I read a couple of books by Rebecca Solnit: Wanderlust – A
History of Walking
and A Field
Guide to Getting Lost
. Certainly both worth
dipping into. This was a few years after coming upon, as it were, by the
wayside, the three words – walking, talking and writing – and stringing them
together into walkingtalkingwriting. Strung together like that opened up a
field of enquiry, a practice and a life style. Lights went on and continue to
shine brightly even if habit appears to relegate them to the edges. An
attractive quality that serves as a shorthand definition of what it is to be
human. Walking leads to talking leads to mark making leads to culture . . .

The author is born; no authority could be without it. Not
any more. Simple, i’n’it!