Sep 302014

Here we are, at least here I am – a week to go and I will be back in Florence. Count down . . . 

How long until sunrise? How long is a piece of string?

About this long . . . Look here’s one end and here (somewhere here, where’s it gone) is (was a few minutes ago) the other.

Really, it’s not very far at all.

Equaliberty (l’egaliberté in the French) combines, brings closer in intimate embrace, equality and liberty. An apparently simple and with no necessary conflict arising from this engagement, one can see it (them) as basic tenets of ‘our’ democracy. Equal in being; equal in law – after all those who came before us struggled heroically for the right to have rights. But then we have these last forty years in which social advances have been turned back on themselves all in the name of the rich becoming richer and of necessity the poor becoming poorer. Liberty is for the few and inequality for the many. Equaliberty on the other hand should be a marriage that must never be dissolved; its divorce must never be countenanced.

Where is the ground I can stand on? Will I still be able to see the sun summiting the headland? We can grant rights to each other, but can see necessarily make use of them? Each day I must claim my life and my rights. Has this life been willed to me? Claim my body back from my dreams or should that be ‘the’ dreams, after all it is unclear who they belong to; they hardly ‘belong’ to me. They riot through me through the night.

It seems to me that rights and citizenship belong together – as in the right to vote. One could add (witha twinkle in one’s eye) the right to pay taxes. Payment of taxes and voting; the twin fundamentals of citizenship. In the recent Scottish referendum 80% of those eligible to vote voted – claimed their citizenship. 

As power shifts, say to global corporations who make use of a professional clique of politicians to order a passive population to their will and convenience, so ‘the people’ withdraw their confidence in the democratic process (except in certain situations such as the above mentioned referendum) but at the same time refrain from extra-parliamentary struggle. Perhaps there are enough of the population who are transfixed by the upward value of their property to ignore the less agreeable facts of what goes on – climate change, social exclusion of the poor, numerals wars, the degrading of public services – so we lurch on claiming ignorance to be a virtue.

I watch the sun summiting the headland, claiming its right to the lighten the darkness of the night.

(Some words taken from Kathleen Jamie and some thoughts arising from the current issue of Radical Philosophy)

Sep 152014

Writing is a form of presentation. A gathering of words, a collection of possible meanings, charged marks that contain the endeavour to form the future. 

What are you talking about, they say.

“It is no accident that one of the co-founders of molecular biology, Francois Jacob, described the process of the experimental sciences as a ‘machine for making the future’.” (Radical Philosphy 187 p 13) A play of the possible. And the play is interminable but subject to shocks and accidents and to the efforts of the writers who give shape to the imagination.

Is it what we want to say or is it rather the happy accidents, the shock of seeing what we did not have in mind? The future is being made but not what we had in mind. Can we safely assume that Bush/Blair, those two halves of the pantomime donkey, did not rush to leave their piss trails in history because they saw that their actions would lead to Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL.

We have to attempt to discover reality. We have been driven to the edges of madness by the lies and deceits of global corporations and their political poodles so we seek other views of what reality might be. Might I mention this week’s referendum in Scotland? Like the seesawing polls, my unvotable views edge both ways but I tend towards supporting the YES vote simply so that something happens to break the mould we are trapped in. After all we all want to have a say, have a hand in creating the future.

I can see myself as ill organised fragments, each bit having its own dynamic and pattern and demands, but do they cohere into some self? Some well organised and functioning thing? A person? Have we all become more complex? As I picture my parents, they appear to lead relatively simple lives. That might not be true! They lived through the shock of WWII: reality visited them. It forced them to focus on what was important. Family. Recovery. A safe future. But then we (my post-war generation) came along full of the intention of upsetting things, upsetting the apple cart, in order to see what was hidden and to see what could be made of the future: more fun, more possibilities, more freedom . . . we would discover the nature of reality . . . with little thought as to the ensuing wreckage. Wreckage tends to produce fragments. And dreams perhaps. And so here I am, a bundle of ill organised fragments, sort of functioning . . . actually it comes to mind that the experience is rather like that of a character out of Beckett’s oeuvre, shuffling forward, in love and on the edge of love, but with a mind full of fragments of a life, ghosts and other assorted animals who press in curious and excited.

Sep 052014

L’Eremo di Monte Siepe: Wordstall could meet here early in the new year – next January (say), as we seek to find our new axis mundi and point of balance. After all we seem to be facing eviction and need to look beyond our familiar meeting places. From Totnes to Tuscany?

Monte Siepe is a small oak wooded hill which rises out of a flat plain through which the river Merse flows in southern Tuscany about 50 km from the west coast of Italy. It is also where a man called Galgano (1148-1181) lived. He came from the nearby town of Chiusdino, and chose to retire and live as a hermit for the second half of his life close by on the hill.

For the first half of his life Galgano was a knight and presumably spent quite a bit of his time at war, fighting to keep the peace, as we now say. Then at a certain moment he decided to give up his soldier life and bury his sword, literally in a stone outcrop on the top of the hill.20140903_131235

So this is a sword in the stone story, but different from the King Arthur version. Having been brought to the point where he had buried his sword up to the hilt into the stone, Galgano spent the rest of his life as a hermit, practicing being at peace with himself. By contrast Arthur from the west country of England was chosen for his role by the act of drawing the sword out of the stone, and spent the rest of his life as king. Both were trying to keep the peace and spread it, it could be said.

Two ways of healing splits: Putting a sword into the stone, or drawing one out.

Of course we don’t actually know what Galgano and Arthur were really trying to get up to in their lives, and we should also probably avoid snap judgements that the way of the hermit is in every case superior to the way of the warrior king. Mostly it is romantic myth making of course.

What happened in the south of Tuscany after Galgano’s death? 20140903_131954A beautiful circular chapel was built on top of the Monte Siepe where the hermit had lived and at some point soon afterwards he was made a saint. San Galgano. The Cistercians then quickly arrived a few years later and set about building a huge abbey ‘L’Abbazia di San Galgano’. It took them sixty years to do it (from 1218 to 1288). All to the glory of God.

Of course this also all cost a lot. However, it seems to have been a generally prosperous and peaceful time in this part of Italy, thanks to the influence of San Galgano we might like to think. However, another good reason was that the monks were not only adept at long-term construction projects, they also were extremely good at organising farming and agriculture, taking over land and forming numerous ‘granges’ in the plains and surrounding valley areas. And they were also good at industry smelting iron and and building other factories some to manufacture things for the new abbey like glass. And they were good at trade, using their location at an important crossroads for all routes through the Maremma as a hub for making money.

The Cistercians in fact worked more or less like a multi-national corporation does today, and used the ‘brand’ of San Galgano to maximum effect. Only the local towns-people of Chiusidino where San Galgano had come from objected, keeping their own shrine to San Galgano behind their strong town walls , and refusing to join in the pax, monopoly tax and profit system the monks were creating.

What happened after 1288? World events intervened in the following 50 years: first the plague, then famine leading on to economic and social crisis, the breakdown of law and order, and fighting. War, war, war was back again, and notwithstanding the presence of San Galgano, within a 100 years the Cistercians abandoned their abbey at Monte Siepe and went to live in Siena… 20140903_135407leaving the towns- folk of Chiusidino more or less exactly where they were 200 years previously.

However, we wish to ‘read’ this story of a sword in a stone at Monte Siepe… we can look forward to drawing the parallel lines from 1288 (plague, famine, war) towards the distant horizon and vanishing points*, as we look forward to meeting here in early 2015.
* and long straight roads: I am glad to report that the roads along flat river Merse plain are mostly straight and excellent for bicycle riding, but I do advise thick woolly mittens in January.