Posted by at 4:38 pm  Anti-Gravity Surgery  Comments Off
Feb 282013


Not everybody gets to to vomit violently at 37,000 feet even when propelled by watching Lincoln and Daniel Day-Lewis as the man himself. He wasn’t playing the part; he was  Lincoln. I don’t know what photographs you were looking at but when I opened the  Wikipedia page on Lincoln there was DDL aka Lincoln staring out at me. Perhaps I’m easily persuaded but I certainly was persuaded and it was interesting that DDL got best actor but Argo got best film. Perhaps DDL was so good the rest of the film didn’t look so good. By the way I felt a concern for your fellow passengers; did they receive the dubious blessings of your vomit or were you able to get to the toilet in time. It’s the bits you miss out which might be the most important. Do you know your censor or does that all happen out of sight in some back office you know nothing about.

And there is another film to see back to back with Lincoln and that is Django Unchained. I didn’t quite see them back to back, that would have been six hours of movie so as it turned out there was a couple of weeks between the two. Meanwhile I had seen the Pina Bausch company at Sadlers Wells and they, as usual, had jumped straight into direct communication with what I might call my (my!?) unconscious mind, so I was more than ready to enjoy Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering. We are told the story is set in 1858, two years prior to the outbreak of the Civil War and it covers the same territory of slavery but this time without the same level of well meaning all powerful white guy, though there is a Dr Schulz, a dentist turned bounty hunter, who provided the means for Django to be unchained and to wreak bloody revenge on quite a number of the Southern White slave owning class and their sadistic hired hands. The power of language and the language of power.

Both great movies in their very different ways.

In what way, I could ask myself, do I (or might I) wish to wield power or even touch it. There must be a way of looking at my life in which I have mostly done my best to avoid, walk away from, the dreaded P word. So I suppose the power of language is an attractive idea, an option to the actual wielding of power. The way it might frame views, ideas, feelings and touch others, make possible certain sorts of connections. The pen might be mightier than the sword BUT what if I antagonise somebody who may have a sword hidden about their person.

Paying attention as I was to to the Italian elections I became increasingly interested in what Beppe Grillo had achieved and how he had achieved it – although perhaps one should be cautious about the use of the word achieve. We will have to see how he and his movement can make use of the seats gained in the two houses. But I did download the app for Beppe Grillo and so look forward to seeing how it works and at the same time it gives me some extra practise at Italian which is . . . well, how can I put it, proceeding slowly. No evidence of undue haste there.

Feb 272013
Angelus Novus Klee

In- flight entertainment at thirty seven thousand feet and across several time zones, the Oscar winning film Lincoln is being shown, but I prefer reading an abandoned copy of the New Statesman magazine (“Free thinking since 1913″: 15-21 February 2013) which I had picked up from off a table in the departure lounge before we left London . It is easier reading than the London Review of Books, but the writers are a familiar cast of characters; Will Self and others. And the same topics for discussion;  “Iraq, Ten years on… Was it worth it?” .

I dwell over a book review under the title “Existential Jazz” by Richard Holloway (own last book: Leaving Alexandria: a memoir of Faith and Doubt). The review is of John Gray, The Silence of Animals: on Progress and other Modern Myths. Richard Holloway calls it a companion work to Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and other Animals  (2002) by the same difficult to classify but forever interesting John Gray. The works explore  the origins of myth in the written word, and especially  the modern myths of human progress and purpose in the latest book. Gray traces these back to the origin of writing and via Plato and antiquity, through Christianity of the last two thousand years in western thought, and to modernity and today. From our first marks.

Back in the unimaginably smooth winging Boeing 777 in flight to The Great Abstraction, the breathtaking Richard Rogers terminals at Dubai airport, I begin to become drawn into the film Lincoln. The Spielberg film appears to offer a closely observed documentary of President Lincoln’s last month in office during 1864 and 1865. These are the dark and violent closing months of mass slaughter and destruction of the American Civil War, and the terrible violence is offered on screen by the deep shadows and glowing fires of the White House in which Lincoln’s progress and purpose, and determination to pass the 13th Ammendment to the Constitution before the end of the war, an ending which will also terminate the loss of his extraordinary executive powers as president during the state of emergency over the last four years of the Civil War. The undoubted good; the progressive and purposeful, final and absolute abolition of slavery.

On screen Daniel Day-Lewis plays the great man with wry humour, homespun wisdom, physical stoop and sunken eyes, and has earned his Oscar well. But as I recall my memory of  the in the matching photographic portraits in 1860 and 1864, the actor does not appear made up to express the suffering of the man  the pain, weariness and confusion in his deeply lined face in the latter, all the worry of losing and terrors the triumph of Evil, and the modern echoes reminiscent of the kind of progressive and purposeful war effort in Iraq ten years ago.

The “great abstraction”; somewhere between the face of Lincoln in the photographs in the 1860′s and on screen now, progress and purpose has been mytholigized. In the backdrops the film does not show the hospital tent city of Washington filled with the wounded men – the crowds (capacity was 70,000 beds) of amputees in the first modern “war of arms and legs”. It does not show the agony of Whitman, a hospital orderly beginning to reflect in his poetry the discovery of inner damage, the first records of which would go on to be called  post-traumatic stress injury. The film’s dark atmosphere and orange coal fires reminds me more of the ghastly nineteenth/twentieth century Italian poet and proto-fascist Gabriel d’ Annunzio, all guts and glory in the nation making of young men’s blood. At least that it is how the first half of the film appears.

The second half of the film will have to wait if I get to see it, because suddenly my own guttering candle spews forth and I am violently sick in mid flight!  Call it jet lag if you like. Or escaping the great abstraction call me pilgrim. As it happens I am on my way to India again, and in this formation of Wordstall writing equally lacking progress and purpose, I am again and again reminded of the response by the sage Theta to the question why do pilgrims go wandering: “In order to fail”.

(I am however encouraged to see Life of Pi outscored Lincoln at the Oscars !)

Eyeing the Queen

 Posted by at 3:11 pm  Anti-Gravity Surgery  Comments Off
Feb 212013

18092012029I sit here in the cafe, as far as I can tell, on the edge. On the edge. Edgy. Is it that I’m simply waiting for the words and sense to appear, energising my fingers, sending them skittering over the keys. The trouble is I’ve no idea what to write or at least how to start. Andthis description of not knowing what to write or where to start is a rubbish way of starting. But let’s be clear there are few readers out there so it’s already deeply suspicious to be on edge about the possible outcomes of this process. Does anybody care? I care, so that is at least one person. That will have to do for now.

Hilary Mantel, who by the way must be fabulously wealthy by now, mining the Tudors’ gold hoard, has turned her terrifying gaze to the current royal family. In particular she has run into a barrage of criticism for daring to exclaim that there is a lack of decent covering and by the way there is nothing much inside to write home about. The phrase smoke and mirrors comes to mind. In her piece in the current LRB she sees the emptiness at the heart of it all: the stacked chairs, not quite out of sight; Prince Charles’ impeccable suiting but is there anything else; and Kate Middleton aka the Duchess of Cambridge – Kate who somehow forces Mantel to remember Diana and Kate does not come out well from the comparison. The emotional dynamics become unbearable once they are exposed to our ever curious gaze. We want somebody to love but hatred will do when disappointed. Somebody will have to be torn to pieces. I hope Hilary has not walked into storm that will be beyond her strength to fight her way through.

Half way through her LRB piece she describes how needing a rest, from her needling examination of the queen, when at the Palace to receive an award for dissecting the Tudors (I assume) she sits down behind a sofa – to rest, to think, or perhaps to scribble a few notes on some royal or other.

Wonderful! I’m very happy to picture her sitting behind that sofa peeking out from what was presumably a restricted view. Almost from the corgi level of being.

Maps to Arrive With

 Posted by at 8:17 am  Anti-Gravity Surgery, Exodus, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Feb 202013
tripe stew131

What do we mean, spiritual?  Our attention is constantly caught by the flow of the yellow brown waters rushing past our tiny WordStall encampment, and we are strangely mesmerised as we watch the surface patterns of swirling froth and bubbles. With the same apparently effortless ease I find my mind able, while morning shopping for an hour today on my local High Street, to move between a consideration of the efficiencies  of capitalist political economy as I draw some notes from the cash machine, the practical concerns of my body as a pull a scrumpled piece of paper from out of my pocket and try to read the shopping list I came into town with, and simultaneously consumed  with feelings and thoughts and the presence of others as I roam the streets.

As I walk the pedestrianised street I recognise am old man I used to sing in a local community choir with for a couple of years. We used to sit together and he would sometimes tell me of his cancer and how he is managing since the death of his wife. He is standing in conversations some other town’s people who I don’t know, and I move along. The Pope resigns.  Infirmity. He begins to fail. Soon, like all living persons, he will be consumed by death.  The end of life.

And what do we mean, spiritual? Do we still mean, we come in with nothing and we go out with nothing – as the Bible wisdom saying of Jesus has it – Terra Nulla, unmapped? Or do we come in and go out encrusted with physical, moral and inicipient environmental formations in our bones and sinews; mapped out in a strange kind of way for life at its beginning, middle and end – as in the Kamma teaching of the Buddha? The prescripted map I have a sense of is neither nothing nor everything. It is more a kind of meshwork reminiscent of the maps of pre-modernity, lands surrounded by oceans in which whales and magical sea monsters swim, and filled with places of habitation and wilderness, locations known and unknown (Terra Incognita – one of whose components also being these turbid waters rushing by Wordstall here).

I wish the old Pope many happy moments and hours of anonymity as he is out and about on the streets of his home town when he returns there, and that even if I were to be there myself too walking one day and recognise him I would not feel obliged to go up and talk with him and interrupt his composure.

And what do you mean, spiritual?

 Posted by at 2:58 pm  Holy Fool/Hero, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Feb 122013

18092012038Don’t you think capitalism is amazing? The way it infiltrates each and every tiny corner of our lives. Nothing can be left uncommodified – it must be turned to profit. But sometimes I react with resistance – I should just write poetry – wait for the pressure to build into words, wait until I’m feeling that old low grade illness, even though at the time I’ve no notion of what afflicts me – only aware in that unnamed way that there is this grudging discomfort. And then slowly discover, as the first few words emerge and the writing begins its flow to the ocean – freely or awkwardly – that, oh yes, this is what I needed to do.

Of course, capitalism seems quite efficient (and efficiency is a key justification for apologists of capital terrorism) at moving goods and money around. We do our best to turn a blind eye because indulging our desires for new and wondrous goodies is more often than not too difficult to resist but at the same time it is hard to disguise the fact that most of the circulating money ends up travelling in one direction – into the gargantuan pockets of the super-wealthy. It is apparently necessary that we are left gasping for breath and asking ourselves and anybody else who happens to be around, is the cost too great? And is our current gangster capitalism the best we can do as it wreaks moral and ecological havoc? And, are we here again? How did they do this to us, again?

Though there is always that residual awareness that the left hand knows not what the right hand is doing; that we will always be subjected to unintended consequences; that the cunning and the clever will always find legal (or illegal, come to that) ways of ripping off the majority – those of us who are too slow, too disinterested, too impoverished, too ground into the dust to demand the validity of our own resistance.

And in the light of the Pope’s resignation (I didn’t even know that it was allowed!) what do you mean, spiritual?

The Banishing of Death

 Posted by at 10:52 am  Anti-Gravity Surgery, OVER and BEYOND  Comments Off
Feb 092013

16062012021The tables are empty, the chairs are waiting but how are we to banish death from the world? We don’t quite believe in an immortal spirit any longer – well, some of us do, but many of us have signed up to unrelieved materialism with a dash of atheistic Tabasco. So the task might be seen as either using white hot science to push death ever further into the future, understanding and countering the mechanisms of ageing, staying hopeful.

“We must never let it happen again.” This a near constant refrain these days. If only we can perfect the system so that the possibility of something going wrong is reduced to almost nothing. No chance! We’ve got all the variables covered.

Jacqueline Rose wrote: ‘in the words of Walter Benjamin, the storyteller used to ‘borrow his authority from death’ (there used to be no house, hardly a room, in which someone had not once died’). But in the course of modern times, dying has been pushed more and more out of the perceptual world of the living.’ (On Not Being Able to Sleep)

Beckett’s Endgame occupies a boundary space. Four characters, two of whom might be dead, or are likely to be dead very soon, and of the other two, one, the father Hamm, appears to be heading in the same direction and the other Clov, cannot leave the job he has of caring for his father and presumably trying his hand at having a life. Get a life, as we say these days.

So much death. So much 20th century death and Beckett has a stab at describing the, well, I want to call it spiritual, the spiritual place we were in before we discovered the joys of the Market and the reinvention of a slave underclass as being a desirable option and even managing to upend history and persuade enough voters that it is a good wheeze not just for the super wealthy but for ordinary folk like you and me.

Where are we now? As Bowie sings. A good question!

May I quote from Jacqueline Rose again? (I’m finding her On Not Being Able to Sleep a very thought provoking piece of work) – ‘may I be permitted my speculation that the opening of The Waste Land looks at spring from the point of view of a corpse? As Levenson goes on to discuss, this is a corpse that sprouts. Life is breathed back into the body through a redemption which Eliot struggled towards and eventually reached.’

What sort of thing might redemption or resurrection, or rebirth be? Is that the sort of place we are trying to reach?

I suppose the great thing about the Market (our new capital G God) is that there is absolutely no need for these weird notions or any ethics because we are all rational economic units, bodies with a bit of rationality added, that will make all the appropriate decisions based on self interest. We can ditch the last forty thousand years of human life, forget about everything except making money or working as a (sort of mindless) slave.

Interestingly a bit further on Jacqueline Rose brings in Keynes:

‘Above all, what classical economics ignores, according to Keynes, is the problem of time. In his 1937 article on The General Theory of Unemployment, he wrote:

We have, as a rule, only the vaguest ideas of any but the. Most direct consequences of our acts . . . our knowledge of the future is fluctuating, vague and uncertain . . . The senses in which I am using the term (uncertain) is that in which the prospect of a European war is uncertain,or the price of copper and the rate of interest twenty years hence, or the obsolescence of a new invention, or the position of private wealth-owners in the social system in 1970. About these matters there is no scientific basis on which to form any calculable probability whatever. We simply do not know.

Knowledge with a foretaste of its own ignorance, or knowledge brushing at its limits, would be one way of defining the unconscious.’

Coming to that final word, unconscious, as Rose does feels like coming home. A place to stay for a while. The unconscious and the way that we might know (or not know) anything at all.

Queer Stuff (Part 2)

 Posted by at 2:57 pm  Echo Effects, IN Conversation  Comments Off
Feb 072013

I met Maurice on Friday evening. We were at the Wellcome Collection symposium on “What makes a Good Death?”, and sinking free drinks which were on offer after we had heard a literary talk about Death chaired by Prof Steven Connor. The professorial choice was mostly very polite and Anglo-dignified, but at the end (at last) there was a reading from Mallone Dies (Samuel Beckett):

“I shall soon be quite dead. I have that feeling… and I credit it. I shall be neutral and inert… almost lifeless.”

Back to Maurice. He was sitting by himself at a table so I asked if I could join him and we got talking. He told me his partner was an archivist (they both work within Manchester University). Maurice told me that his partner (the archivist) says we shouldn’t throw anything away, and that somebody will want our collections… when we are almost lifeless.

What Maurice’s partner (the archivist) said about collections gave me heart. For one thing, one day when I am almost lifeless I don’t want to be a trouble to the children, and my collection of notebooks and papers and scribblings could be a burden for them. They need to go somewhere; into the bonfire at the bottom of the garden perhaps, or somewhere. If Maurice’s partner (the archivist) wants them that would save my kids a bit of bother and worry.

Then there’s another thing: the Wordstall Collection – and the Rules of the Journey – and the queer hope that Maurice’s partner (the archivist) might also want to have these one day too. When we are both almost lifeless, and ready to switch off, or be switched off.

As I am writing… I am sitting under another quote from Malone Dies up on the wall of the Bike Shop (Exeter), waiting to get a ticket for Endgame tonight. It is fully booked but who knows I might get lucky – or not. It is Ok to be waiting:

“Decidedly it will never have been given to me to finish anything, except perhaps breathing. One must not be greedy”. Yes, we could use that principle for the Rules for the Journey too.

So did you listen to Will Self last 4th Feb on BBC Radio 3 Modernism Redux? It is a Podcast and you will be able to ‘catch up’ and listen to it for ever. That is the point of collections isn’t it? That they are there for ever. And it was also the idea which Will Self was exploring with the help of a BBC radio engineer: the creation of ‘remitter machine’ for the task of recovering of everything ever broadcast (everything since radio transmission began in the 20th century). You see – we are not alone in realising that not only will never finish anything, but also there will now never be time for us to re-enact everything either. We will never ‘catch up’ and… when we are almost lifeless, we will have been broadcast everywhere.

Feb 012013


‘Memory is not exactly the site of freedom, but the layering of identity and memory is the only basis for moving forward through time.’ (Jacqueline Rose On Not Being Able to Sleep)


The zone is that place behind the barbed wire.


Proposition 1


The first step of the journey is away from and towards home.


Proposition 2


On the journey the place (zone, if you like) of transformation has to be opened up, entered, embraced and the work completed.


Is this distasteful to you?

The volume of the music stayed the same although I expected it to get louder. Much louder.

Do you always behave like this? Is this what you do?

The path of transformation is littered with wrecks. Twisted metal. And rats. Scavengers. And as always the promises of politicians.


I have to say, I just wanted a quiet life. Nothing special. But then. But then other things intervened. I suppose what I mean is other people intervened. Or should that be other, extraneous ideas or if you like, thoughts. Because.


Well because boundaries can be fluid – people and ideas interpenetrate.


Just because there are 6 billion of us, doesn’t let any of us off the hook. And when the hook pulls it hurts and when it hurts we have to do something about it. I have little tolerance for pain. It pulls me towards action of some sort. Is this pain sufficient for me to take an aspirin? Or even to go along to my local GP surgery demanding surgery?


Or get back on the road?


Shivering, apparently, is allowed, even encouraged. On the other hand death is frowned upon. Though there is a time and a place for everything. Endings are generally held to be difficult. A cessation of consciousness is rarely helpful.


Stay mindful the Buddha of the road had a habit of saying. So why didn’t we nail him to the cross?


‘If we can say that language is circumscribed by doubt, is there a way of placing that insight at the heart of our politics?’ (Jacqueline Rose On Not Being Able to Sleep).