An Exile from Croydon

 Posted by at 10:39 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Nov 292011

A picture of Thesiger, all skin and bones, taken from off his death bed, and out of a smoke filled 'tobacco trance' room… I feel myself being firmly shaken and somebody is shouting in my ear, over and over the same words, but I can't understand their meaning. There must be an electric light swinging from the ceiling too, the shadows are leaping up and down the wall, and a bell is ringing somewhere too.

Overdose of excitements, and exotic like Bulgakov's story titled 'Morphine', where the diary entry runs:
"Vomiting in the morning.
Three syringes of 4% solution at dusk.
Three syringes of 4% solution late at night."

Except the eccentric is also a form of protest in a situation where the courts of the land have long ago pronounced their judgements. No antigonal voices are permitted to speak, muffled that well-known story which is an intergenerational tragedy, where the bad stuff is working itself out. Taboo to tell.

I light up another one:
"… Puff. Cigarettes are bad. That is why they are good – not good, not beautiful, but sublime." (Richard Klein, Cigarettes are Sublime [1993], P 3). And nobody can make me stop! Cough.

Sick humour. Quite unlike Mr Wilfred, this one is stood round gawping and slack faced flicking ash, far from the Empty Quarter where the traveller's firm set jaw was razor edged and pointed sharp for going on journeys and heading in certain directions with deep eyes glinting like coals under hooded brows. These ones are decidely blank. Lobotomy comes to mind. Ah yes, when all were to be anaesthetised by order? This one looked so dim, perhaps it was thought a waste to use up a dose on him.

That's so eccentric, says one of the soldiers passing the time of day.

10%? 10% of what?

 Posted by at 6:29 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Nov 252011

To do what? What’s the problem? Solvents, solutions, mucoid, sticky, sticky and slimy: a list plucked from your post ‘The 10% solution. A tithe perhaps? 10% of your language must be donated once a week, but if that’s the case then you owe us a lot more than four or five hundred words. And you confess to being 90% self aware – WOW! – the remaining 10% must be in the realms of sticky, slimy stuff that you keep out of sight. The place where you go to. But it’s magnificent to be 90% self-aware; that is almost pure radiance. Something that would push Gautama into the shade of his banyan tree . . .  oh honoured disciple. And the word is eccentric. Ummm let me get a taste of that. One of those English eccentrics. I always think of somebody tall and willowy, with an obligatory bow tie – something with spots on – a mischievous twinkle in his eye. I know who comes to mind, Wilfred Thesiger. Tough as old boots and a boxer when the need arose. Wikipedia tells me he was born in Addis Ababa, Abyssinia and that the Emperor Haile Selassie invited him to attend his coronation in 1930. In between he managed to fit in Eton and Magdalen College where he represented the university in boxing and was captain of the boxing team. He apparently died in Croydon which perhaps could be seen as an eccentric place in which to die.

    Where do I go then? You ask and then ask again. Well if you were Wilfred Thesiger you would have gone to the Empty Quarter. But I suppose whilst Thesiger literally went to the Empty Quarter those of us more mundane chaps dim the lights and go into what Eliot refers to as a ‘tobacco trance’ or some other sort of non-state, drug induced or not. Life on hold, waiting for something more interesting to happen which may suggest an argument against drug induced anything except anaesthetics when undergoing an operation, you would miss the more interesting thing that happens along.

    Though no doubt I should be intent on making that first billion. Then one could get out of it full time; simply let all that dosh make more dosh, meanwhile living in some paradise. But what about the front line, what about the occupation, the barricades – should I be pushing my way on to the barricades and making a stand with the other comrades. Mind you, it’s good to have a nap now and again and I wouldn’t like to be come so agitated that I couldn’t sleep at night.

    The New Labour project ran out of energy. Did Blair sense that and hand over to the sulky Brown bear something that was already well on the way to dying. The present “coalition” wants to turn the clock back to 1979 and do it all over again. It’s as though nobody has grasped what actually needs to be brought into consciousness. It is like waiting for a birth _ what sort of baby is it going to be?? What is to emerge? And when?

    It seems impossible to see beyond economic growth and yet that seems to imply ecological disaster. The US and Europe, with the UK (the City of London) strung on a thread between the two, in a mess still addicted to being world leaders and the wolves are at the door and the ammunition has long since run out.

    Oh, I know, I’ll read that new book* about the quantum universe. It’s all a dance,

mate, don’t fuss yourself.

*The Quantum Universe: Everything that Can Happen Does Happen by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. It was reviewed in The Guardian 19.11.11.


The 10% Solution

 Posted by at 8:30 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Nov 232011

I am exploring the efficacy of solvents, searching for one that is neither so strong that it is destructively corrosive, nor too weak that it is ineffective, but somewhere in between: the 10% solution seems about right.

Melancholic thoughts were spilling over from the previous few days in a pervasive way. Of death, and indeed especially of the moments before death, and “death anxiety” (as it is sometimes referred), mucoid and sticky thoughts arose in the form of questions, such as how will it be for me when the chips are down? Will I be paying attention? Or, perhaps better put, will I be there in any sense at all?

However, over last weekend with friends these impenetrable questions of future dying began to turn towards the living and the present, and to another question, but still equally sticky and slimy: How does it happen that, even when I am with those who I love and cherish more than any others in the world, I sometimes find myself giving them far less than my full attention, and where do I go then?

Being generally disinclined to beat myself up too badly with a perfectionist rod, I regard myself as being good-enough-present with my attention perhaps 90% of the time. Not bad you may think, but the personal horror is in the other 10%; those times when I can fall into a kind of desperation, often in the presence of an intense feeling such as love (or it could equally be grief, or even fear) that I yearn with a childlike passion to express… but I find myself 100% stuck somewhere else with my attention. In a word, absent. ‘Where do I go then?’.

Absent: the tenacity of being stuck somewhere else, in an experience of all pervading exile, both internal and external, personal and collective – (I happen to read the same just now in W G Sebald’s Campo Santo [2005] P 114, in his essay titled ‘Constructs of Mourning’, quoting Benjamin concerning “the darker aspect of the melancholy… its tenacity”) – that is an exile involving a judgment, both a sentence of guilt and a punishment of shame.

‘Where do I go then?’ indeed… The rest of the weekend opened up an exploration of this question, around the rim of this quaking heart space, and more than once I was reminded of the “active volcano” Vulcano, which I had walked up only six weeks before on one of the Mediterranean Aeolian Islands, vertigo instilling steep slopes bereft of any form of life, and foul smelling sulphurous hot smoke emitting from dark pits located within the lip of the crater, some of them close to the footpath which circled the rim, the sign at the bottom of the volcano warning against approaching any of the smoking pits too close because of the great danger of ‘intoxication’ and falling in.Intoxication Vulcano 2011 039

And more than once over the last weekend I also fell into dark pits exploring the question ‘Where do I go then?’, as I revisited the prominent traumas of my past and the tenacious judgments which had been passed upon me, on each occasion for a time falling into a kind of desperate ‘intoxication’.

“You are an eccentric!”, an Australian friend said to me at one moment during the weekend, as I spoke out, describing another circuit of my past life, speaking with him and another. I truly had not considered the possibility before.

Eccentric! That I had survived exile, and become a survivor of past judgments, in lighthearted excursus dissolving, since by this time we were all laughing loudly together.

Out of the Woods and into the Weirdness

 Posted by at 11:24 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Nov 182011

At CERN, I understand, the Large Hadron Collider, is examining some incredibly tiny fragment of a second after the BIG BANG. Oh look here there’s a funny little item that Google picked up – Eloi Cole, a strangely dressed young man (presumably not over 50) said he had travelled back in time to prevent the LHC from destroying the world. As a response to your collective ruminations around DEATH and the FALL in the midst of momentary minglings with men (over 50) in the majestic woodlands, I wonder about that equally tiny moment of time prior to our removal from life.

    I suppose the hungry bear of autumn is in trouble, she should be stuffing her guts for all she’s worth in preparation for her months of living off her fat. A bit like how the Osborne/Cameron combo expect us to do exactly that. It is probably some sort of punishment for not having been to the right schools.

    And why would death have a purse? Surely it’s a one-way freebie.

    And then there’s this Hansel and Gretel image of opening the door of the witch’s cottage. Oooooh and what does this taste like! Yummy yummy! Entering death with a wide-eyed curiosity.

    Coincidentally, in a moment of crazy joy, half an hour or so before reading Rethinking the Fall I had one of those thought flashes – I hope I die laughing.

    Another common thought I have is the wish to be aware in those split seconds before the death event. But generally speaking my attempts to pay attention, say to my breath, do not last long – say three or four breaths – then something more interesting comes along. Backwards and forwards, reaching in, getting flung back, like trying to swim in a rough sea.

    Oh dear. I want to giggle again

    I often imagine that death is rather like falling asleep: I know nothing about it. And then “later” (though time is not part of the experience) I, (or somebody vaguely related to me) is in some rather weird, more or less connected movie. This (though I don’t think this whilst in it) could be some sort of bardo state. And would it matter if I never woke up BUT instead remained in that bardo/dream state. Occasionally there is the consciousness of dreaming but mostly not and often when I do wake, it is a shock. What am I doing here! What is this place!

    One of the books I’m currently reading is Murakami’s latest offering, 1Q84. It’s very gripping. The usual Murakami weirdness about isolated individuals plus an examination of cults. Presumably based on his research of a few years ago into the people behind the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo tube.


Rethinking the Fall

 Posted by at 11:15 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Nov 162011

I spent the weekend with a group of older men in a wood. We had two windless days of radiant sun which allowed us to spend a lot of the daytime outside under the diminishing bronze leaf canopy of beech and oak trees. It was uncommonly warm too for the November time of year, and by the end of Sunday the sense of male companionship and community was strong.

Inside, the fall was equally well held, the sense of falling. The falling word was in fact spoken several time by different men, both marking the transition of the season and the essence of autumn, and also the changes going on in our own hearts. As it was used, the word seemed to be pulling two ways at once. There were those of us who were determined to celebrate, desirous of engaging with the beauty around us, the turning falling and fallen leaves, for the purposes of song and dance. And there were those of us who were determined to close our eyes to the light and only see the dark.

Or so it seemed. I myself was split, being pulled both ways at once for most of the two days; a trembling lightness of spirit and a trembling dread at night. At one point early on one of the men recited by heart a poem:

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like that cottage of darkness?

Rethinking the rest of the  poem (by Mary Oliver - perhaps surprisingly I had not heard it before), today I watch myself falling the rest of the weekend: twisting both ways, the rest of the weekend falling, both engaging with and withdrawing from the hightened awareness of the natural world as this realm of fear – such is our solidarity as humans to experience – our finitude.

And full of curiosity, like the poem, the falling not yet ceased or ceasing, continuing to turn.

By the way, the weekend workshop was held under the auspices of Men Beyond 50, a new project with which I am collaborating. Bundles of words are being amassed, collected and distilled. Fragments and fragrances of text (for instance, watch two men in conversation about work on  YouTube) are being wafted towards social media outlets. And the older men are meeting in woods. You have been warned!

Falling Away

 Posted by at 11:44 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Nov 112011

Rather like Von Trier’s movie your quote from the Butler is at first sight rather indigestible, so I began to pull it apart:


‘ . . . a melancholia that attends living and loving


                        outside the livable


            and outside the field of love , , ,


 . . . overcome, in part, precisely


                        through the repeated scandal


by which the unspeakable nevertheless makes itself heard


through borrowing and exploiting the very terms


                        that are meant to enforce its silence.’


Perhaps the gaps could be even greater. Digestion should never be hurried.

Silence, perhaps, is an unknowingness until some

Thing emerges, something like an awareness of loss.


A sharp expelling of breath

Then more silence

Comforting silence – if only we could stay here –


But life intervenes, a clock strikes and it’s time to catch a bus.

Melancholy was always more accessible before we all had cars to hide away in.

The silent melancholy of the lone passenger wiping at the misted-up window

Where are we?

Yet in the loss does it matter as all journeys approach the timeless


For some reason I picture this bus heading away from Trafalgar Square down Whitehall halfway between Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square and it is probably less than half full. It’s about 8.30 on a rainy November evening. Working people heading home.


The driver is taking care of us through the wild country of government


No More Friends Please

 Posted by at 10:02 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Nov 082011

Fellow traveler Judith (aka Judith Butler) also announces she no longer wants to be my friend! She doesn’t hold back either in what she says, less of an Australian broom handle up my backside kind of experience, the words she used were more direct and far reaching.

“What emerges is a melancholia that attends living and loving outside the livable and outside the field of love…

… produced and reproduced at a cultural level. And it is overcome, in part, precisely through the repeated scandal by which the unspeakable nevertheless makes itself heard through borrowing and exploiting the very terms that are meant to enforce its silence.” (Judith Butler, Antigone’s Claim. Columbia Univ Press 2000, P78).

The loosen-up scandal she had in mind seemed to me at first to be similar to that done by a large planet named Melancholia colliding with earth, along the lines of the Von Trier film of that name, the scandal of total destructiveness. But I quickly began to have an even worse feeling that Judith was shoving her words further up, as it were, both reversing and bringing to cultural life a new kind of meaning, one which was also being repeated over and over.

So that I was of course forced to cry out in tears!

It happened apparently by chance, as it so often does with melancholic coincidences, that today I was in Bridport attending an event in the town’s Literary Festival titled, ‘W G Sebald 1944-2001 A Celebration’. After some of Sebald's poems were read out by Cheryl Campbell from the new translation done by Iain Galbraith (Across the Land and Water, Selected Poems, 1964-2001), Anthea Bell began to speak of her experience in 1999 working with Sebald on Austerlitz simultaneously translating his German into English; “Which Max was writing at the time all the way through”, she said.

I am not sure this is any good, he modestly wrote on several occasions in the letters she regularly received from him along with the latest drafts; “We had discussions which went on for a very long time. He always wrote in his beautiful handwriting, and I typed”, she said. “Because we would always take a close interest in each other’s writings”, she said.

The road traffic accident in which Sebald died took place two months after the simultaneous publications of the German and English versions of Austerlitz in 2001.

“I was on my own and I felt very sad”, she said as she later undertook the translation of some of his essays for the book titled Campo Santo in 2005. The collection includes the essay called ‘Constructs of Mourning’, an extended exploration by way of Dürer’s Melancholia, Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy and other ‘inhospitable regions’ where Melancholia is also known to reside.

There’s nothing there

 Posted by at 3:46 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Nov 052011

What’s all this ‘my friend’ stuff? An image comes to mind of us being members of a panel on a stage in front of a polite audience. At least it is polite so far – when are they going to liven up? And we address each other in some sort of cod parliamentary speakese. Weird!

    Loosen up a bit mate, as an Australian might say – at least the phrase came to my mind with an Australian accent – remove that broom handle from out of your back passage!!

    I have to admit a lack of research regarding Von Trier though news of his dalliance with Nazi ideology has reached me and it does have the effect of making me ask myself, do I need/want to see this stuff from some Nazi apologist?! I had decided some months ago that I didn’t need to see his previous film review accounts of overwhelming violence embedded in it.

    He doesn’t hold back does he!

    But on the other hand do we hold back too much? Are we too reticent, too careful?

    Or to approach it from another angle, do I (we) want to attract attention? Make a splash, create a fuss? Quite quickly I’m scared.

    Briefly in London this week I had the idea to go to St Paul’s to show my support for anti-capitalist camp . . . but a tight time schedule and a certain shyness when it comes to showing my face at a demonstration meant that I didn't get there. I think the last demonstrations I went on were the anti-Vietnam War demos of 67/68. There remains the memory of how easily I was pulled in the direction of what I now watch on the TV as the blackblockers up to their tricks. Not that I went that far, but the impulse was there. What else? The size of the police horses in Grosvenor Square, the pushing and pulling as the hemmed in crowd sought a way forward. And I seem to remember journeying to London on a double-decker bus with the rest of a contingent from Southampton where I was living at the time.

Paul Muldoon, reading some of his poems at the LRB bookshop on Wednesday last, talked of the spaghetti western movies, Clint Eastwood and his (Muldoon’s) early and significant relationship with cinema growing up in rural Ireland. That reminded me of my own responses to the laconic man-with-no-name, coming out of and returning to whatever mysterious place that our imagination might have come up with – an image of a man as potent and free. Perhaps my fear of demonstrations now is that I would both be impotent and trapped. Just think of the Metropolitan Police strategy of kettling and everybody filming everybody else.

And yet, and yet . . . how to stand up and be counted!! That’s the thing about standing up to be counted is it means having to leave the place of mystery. It’s not a million miles from the professional persona of the psychotherapist. A mirror.

What is the slogan branded on my forehead? When I look in the mirror there’s nothing there.