Feb 262015

As usual this morning I managed to get myself out of bed about 07.30 and return to its warmth with a cup of tea to start the day with some reading. There were just a couple of Kindle pages left of Sloterdijk’s The Art of Philosophy: Wisdom as Practice, and he finishes with a quotation from an old friend Fernando Pessoa which I must repeat here:

‘The nocturnal glory of being great without being anything! The somber majesty of unknown splendour . . . and all at once I experience the sublime state of the monk in the wilderness or of the hermit in his retreat, acquainted with the substance of Christ in the stones and in the caves of withdrawal from the world. And at this table in my room I’m less of a petty, anonymous employee. I write words as if they were the soul’s salvation and I gild myself with the impossible sunset of high and vast hills in the distance, and with the status I received in exchange for life’s pleasures and with the ring of renunciation on my evangelical finger, stagnant jewel of my ecstatic disdain.’

Great stuff! And then having finished Sloterdijk I turn to another book I am currently reading: Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman and read:

‘That’s not all, though. In The Book of Disquiet, Pessoa writes: “The only attitude worthy of a superior man is to persist in an activity he recognises as useless, to observe a discipline he knows is sterile, and to apply certain norms of philosophical and metaphysical thought that he considers utterly inconsequential.”

A little later Alameddine writes:

‘Whether we find Walter Benjamin’s lost suitcase, civilisation will march forward and backward, people will trot the globe, wars will rage, lunches will be served. Whether anyone reads Pessoa. None of this art business is of any consequence. It is mere folly.’

So? Yes it must be true that my writing which is only published on this blog and maybe is glanced at by one or two people is of no consequence; yet . . . yet it feels like vital work and, yes, which simultaneously is a stupid waste of time.

On we go!

Mahash Masan (The Great Crematorium)

 Posted by at 11:32 am  Exodus, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Feb 222015

We are told that Varanasi and is a city of feeling, rather than looking.

First here are the facts from the riverside ghats:- c. 300 corpses are burnt every day, some 360kg of wood are required to consume each body, and the average cost of cremation is about £ 3,300 (30,000 rupees).

There are also said to be more than 100,000 temples in the city and the majority are dedicated to Maha Shiva, the principal deity of the city. Morning and evening Puja are focussed around around the great river Ganga Gi (Ganges) and more pujad continue throughout the entire day and night, as do the cremations.

Arriving from the city airport we felt unnerved and out of our depth; surely there was nowhere like this city on earth. Except there is since the poison (‘vishi’) experience of life conditioned by fear is spread throughout the world. Shiva the destroyer consumes, hence his throat turns blue.

This work of manifesting the fearless may appear to proceed slowly, slowly – diri, diri. The skilled weaver in the image produces 2cm of woven fabric each day.

Feb 192015

How real I am; such an intensity of existing. It surprises me that Descartes based his existence on thinking rather than simply the avalanche, the torrent of pre-thought feeling. Somehow or other he used doubt to undermine his exuberance for life and decided that his thought must take precedence. If Socrates had his absences, when he would stand “lost” in thought, apparently absent from the world about him, then would he retain awareness of his body. Was his “lost in thoughtness” more real to him than his physical existence? To what degree do I know what his absences might have felt like? You see I bring feeling into it. Feeling I see as being more embodied than thought. Does thinking necessarily fight its way up towards abstraction. And because of our love of hierarchy which determines that up is better than down, heaven is up there somewhere and hell always down beneath us. The body that will be buried in the earth, to rot, to break down in a riot of bacterial joy. Perhaps the soul or spirit freed from its burden flies free up into the heavens. The upward march towards ever greater rationality and abstraction reached excitable heights in the so-called enlightenment of the eighteenth century and from our perch in the early twenty first century we can see the rocks that the great ship hit in the twentieth. I rest awhile on my ledge and survey the damage and crushed hopes with the rest of my fellow survivors with a sage nod to the orgy of consumerism and economic growth which knows no end. 

What will be born out of this? What use will I be? This individual being well on into his life span, more drawn to contemplation than activism. There was this phrase that comes to mind from the sixties/seventies, if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. Dodgy . . . in those days it was enough to be young to see oneself as part of the solution. It can be seen that being old is necessarily to be part of the problem. But we never know where the solutions are going to come from. When he was elected Pope, Papa Francesco, said that the Church had to come to the ends of the earth of find him. And that’s the sense now, the solutions are going to emerge from the most unexpected quarters. 

That could be a reason to be hopeful.

I Could be Anywhere

 Posted by at 12:01 pm  Echo Effects, Exodus, Hitting the Potholes  Comments Off
Feb 172015

Midpoint in Ayurvedic immersion in Kerala. Hardships? I can’t say my ample tummy has reduced so far as to be pressing against my spine. Ascetic is rather a word that conjours up excess for me, and a practice for the few. Whereas hardships come to us all sooner or later in life regardless of our practice.

Still it is worth the question : How do we withdraw the energy we habitually invest in the world and our dependence on the external? Put another way is what stops us our greater fear (greater than the fear of death even) to reveal ourselves as we truly are?

Next week we head north for India’s two great cities of the dead and dying: Varanasi and Calcutta. Cutting through old illusions of Calcutta as a ‘city of culture’ with the writer Amit Chaudhuri (‘…ery’ I misspelt it). He returned to the city which he calls dead in 1999, to write, and his book Calcutta is the perfect guide:

- where the CPI Marxist party ran the city and state of Bengal continously from 1977 to 2012

- and where regardless the old villas and palaces of the once wealthy but now absentee are being torn down and cleared for new shoping malls and apartment blocks by out of city developers

- and where the old absentees (parents of Amit Chaudhuri generation) have returned to live their last years and then to die.

There is a cosmopolitan shape and an idea of underlying form  ”I could be anywhere” he writes) in the writer’s mind, the lost illusions of the past and the dead facsimile’s of the present. Nevertheless in 1999 he chose Calcutta rather than Oxford (he still lectures periodically at Norwich Uni) to live in.Why?

P 98: “I remember thinking that, though Calcutta was now to all purposes dead, it possessed some secrets, and that there were discoveries for me to chance on here amidst the deceptive nullity – which, for whatever reason I could no longer in England”

Torn Memories

 Posted by at 12:17 pm  Atelier, Catastrophe Games  Comments Off
Feb 082015

I like the line: ‘An unusually hot summer stripped the memories from our bodies’ that you quote from Michael Kruger. I like ‘unusually’ and ‘stripped’ and ‘our’; it’s those words from which we can glimpse their story. There was something different about that summer, something uncanny that took us into a new situation. Memories are stripped from our bodies, like  clothing, the memory clothing that identifies how we see each other and who we think we are, held together by shared and reshared narratives.

A bit more Sloterdijk: ‘”Man” comes about from the small number of ascetic extremists who step out from the crowd and claim that they are actually everyone.’

How do we know what we are? Are we a nothing from which we seek to be saved? Is that the trajectory of my life? Scrabbling with my broken finger nails in the the ungiving nothing that Sartre established as the ground of our freedom. My freedom was to start out on a barely noticed track that beckoned, that looked interesting.

I hesitate, slip down and somehow or other I’m bounding along on all fours, rather joyful it seems to me, perhaps even barking, pellmell down through the woods, free at last. A dog! Well I guess that’s ok; I’ll catch rabbits and tear their memories from their bones and then curl up under a bush and sleep through the dark times until the light of dawn returns.

Late Kick Off

 Posted by at 12:47 pm  IN Conversation, Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Feb 042015

About five minutes before the football classifieds results and all we could see on the tv screen was the teleprinter golf ball ticking away. Pulse. Pulse. Pulse. The seconds ticked away slowly as we lay horizontal on the sofa a rug drawn up over us to keep us warm. Central heating was an irregular business in those days too.

Finally, the golfball sprang into life and the Saturday afyernoon match results began to spew out. Resuscitated until the dread phrase ‘Late kick off’.

Unexpected Encounter by Michael Kruger (poems Last Day of the Year)

‘We knew each other at a time / When the brightness was still our own. / In those days we wrote dark poems / about the invasion of the light / that we learned off by heart. / And every evening we made / an outing to the empty terrain / of philosophy, right outside our door. / We bumped into each other at the post office. / He wanted to get shot of a letter / that he had written at the time, / I was looking for his phone number. / The queue swallowed us up / and tore us apart with a woman and child / who wanted to hand themselves in. / An unusually hot summer stripped the memories from our bodies. / The rest would fit on a postcard.’