The Great Derangement

 Posted by at 10:13 am  Echo Effects, Exodus, IN Conversation  Comments Off
Mar 092016

Words! It took only a little verbal cunning in India to acquire the copy of the River of Smoke (Amitav Ghosh’s 2nd volume of his ‘Ibis’ trilogy) from the beloved. She had already started the book, but her visual cortex was so filled with the colours and patterns of cloth and textiles which are to be found everywhere as we were travelling in Rajahstan over the last three weeks, that she had little time and energy for reading and so she gave it up easily to me. I hardly had to plead.

Being in India for three weeks and falling into the colours and patterns of their words, I had raced through the 1st volume Sea of Poppies and was eager for more, my desire being roused further by the multiple languages which Ghosh employs in the service, as Indian people constantly are, of ‘a continuing exchange of words between generations’. He marks out the place of this exchange in The Chrestomathy, being a lexicon to be found as a pdf on his website  (

Then there is the not insignificant matter of the lecture series at Chicago University which Ghosh delivered in 2015 (akin to the ‘Reith Lectures’, a speaker is invited to develop a theme in a series of four lectures). Ghosh’s title was “The Great Derangement: Fiction, History, and Politics in the Age of Global Warming” and the four lectures can be watched on line via the above link. While this celestial decentering manifests itself, Ghosh seems to be saying, words are also not to be wasted…

…And so finally there is the economy of the ’Chrestomather’, which is the Ghosh blog. Posts are infrequent, and in them words and languages are transgressed (not infrequently over fabulous meals involving the cooking of dishes from different cultures and regionalities). There is also a complexity of named categories, and then a large number of ‘Uncategorised’ posts, which may feel familiar to us as we likewise consider our place in countries such as Italy or Ukania, or localities such as Tuscania or Dorset or Devon, or cities such as Firenze or Exeter. And the meals we consume there. As well as our place in Europe of course.

Ghosh comes from Calcutta, and as well as his fiction, he writes critical essays on India as a place from a social science perspective. He will be 60 years old this year. It seems that an ancestor of his was called Neel, and he happens to fall into the narrative of the ‘Ibis’ trilogy. Neel was also the founder of The Chrestomathy in his later life according to the claim of his descendant, who is described as the family’s present ‘wordy-major’.

Not in Our Life Times!

 Posted by at 6:08 pm  Anti-Gravity Surgery, Echo Effects, OVER and BEYOND  Comments Off
Dec 042013

The lost book has been found, the last writings of Walter Benjamin! It is out: Charles Baudelaire: Un poeta lirica nell’ eta del capitalismo avanzato (in Italian and edited by Giorgio Agamben and others). I gasped as I read that it has been out since December 2012, (London Review of Books Vol 35, No 22 (21 November 2013), P 21-22).

I am even more shocked to read that the missing manuscript was found over 30 years ago, since Uncle Wally for many years was wont to whisper in my ear that it was in the black briefcase which he always carried with him. And there were plenty of other eye-witness reports who would swear an oath to say that was true, and that they saw him with it when he fled Paris and on his way to the Pyrenees. That was Susan Sontag’s view too as I have it from what she wrote, and the idea of the loss of his briefcase in which were contained his last written words in 1940 had entered into a kind of folklore of our imaginations that had added to the poignancy of his failed walk to freedom, and the desolation of his subsequent suicide on the border between France and Spain.

I am shocked with the cold water of disillusionment, and the awakening to the ‘now of knowability’, as Uncle Wally is wont to say .

The allegorical element of history does provide us with a necessary context (Theses on the Philosophy of History) and corrective – the hare drinking pauses to observe. But that hysteria over, another expands as I realize that there is no English translation, nor likely to be one soon (apart from the Italian version, the German edition is not now expected until 2016 at the earliest). I begin to calculate my years, and distantly consider how the delay to the ‘now of readability’ for the anglophone world of this last book may continue long past my own sell by/read by date.

So I die and I don’t die.  Slowly re-awakening to life the hare resumes drinking from the “common pond”.

What is meant by the phrase “common pond”? One might say that the pond is no larger than a tea saucer or even less, sufficient to be scooped up and fill the palm of our left hand. Tradition, as Uncle Wally might have added if he were here at this moment, has it that we are extending the fingers of our hand in a gesture where simultaneously the index finger points towards a recollection of death, Momento Mori, the middle finger is reaching forward in vulnerability to meet with you in the strangeness of all our differences, the ring finger is for the recollection of our breath, and the last finger is for the recollection of our bodies, including the elements of earth, air, fire and water.

Here begins ducks and fishes and all creation. And it is equally right to say that we will not be here to see the end of this beginning.

Mar 302013

More or less gloom these days, being political or more political, we attempt to excavate the radical tradition and expose those who lay claim it: is it  the radical right, or the radical left? Both stake claim to the space and rhetoric, both claiming in the radical tradition to be the political providers of our happiness.

It was the UK Budget last week, in case you missed it, and the turn of the radical right to have a go at staking their claim. Chancellor Oblong was offering a give away, Give away what? you interrupt, Not a lot to the likes of you, I admit, although he was being careful to avoid upsetting the voting oldies. But at least he gave away a few secrets, Giving away secrets? you interrupt again in incredulous voice, Yes, secrets, I continue, exposing himself in friendly fashion the day after on the BBC Today programme.

We must create new industries, Chancellor Oblong said on the BBC radio, We must create new industries not reliant on from consumer spending, we must create new industries a distance from supermarkets, and we must create away from London, create away from the capital city jungles and create away from the corporate HQ’s and bonus culture. And new industries, Chancellor Oblong added, We must create away from the public sector, (signalling of course the radical right’s continuing political agenda to maintin the destruction of the welfare state).

We must create around the train Lines, Chancellor Oblong announced more strangely,  We must create in the other great cities of our nation…  Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool… (I noticed Oblong’s vision of Ukania omitted Wales and Scotland but seemed to be attempting to echo the spirit of those robust nineteenth century traditional radicals such as Chamberlain, Cadbury et al). And I’ll tell you how, Oblong continued, By being creative we’ll keep progress and purpose are alive, let us create to be creative,  By being, Creative.

Oblong went on breathlessly to give his list. We must create creative media hubs, and creative money making schemes (“based on YouTube” he added), creative life sciences (cutting through all that tiresome moral and ethical red tape I thought), and of course we must create all those creative green technologies.

Which will add £400 to all our energy bills, the BBC interviewer finally managed to interupt Oblong’s shameless give away. But by then the misty isles’ grey and gloomy mist had descended even further over the air waves, and it was time for the News Circus to move on to the sports report (Cricket – England in a thrilling Test Match in New Zealand, another draw).

Mar 302013

Meanwhile after the continental shift of the hierarchy following the death of Hugo Chavez four weeks ago on March 5th -Our leader is never dead, los Pueblos Unidos announce – those of the left wishing to  lay claim to the radical tradition must now speak in Spanish. Think Latin America (ex-Europa). Consider the “Pink Tide” :

- 1998, Hugo Chavez (immortal.. or until 2030 at least), President  of Venezuela

- 2000, Ricardo Lagos (socialist), President of Chile

- 2002, Lula da Silva (centre left), President of Brazil… and his successor

… so that by 2009, 17 out of 20 of Latin America’s democratic republics left or centre-left (although these days Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia are back-peddling hard), and Argentina…

Republics of Hope: radical tradition and the space and rhetoric of Latin America. There are two strands of the strange overgrowth claiming to be ushering in happiness for its peoples, the new freedoms, the championing the poor, and the overthrowing of the old elitist patterns of culture and economic life; algae and jellyfish. The algae are the more productive strand of the radical left, pragmatic, technocratic, and social democratic (radical tradition) whose priority is to meet the social needs of los Pueblos Unidos and to provide economic stability. The aim and purpose of the more dangerous jellyfish is revolution, rooted in populism, continuing class struggle, and the distribution of land and hand-outs to the poor. By the $$$ measures of happiness  the algae appear to be being the more successful of the two strands  – but we wish to question the measuring instrument of happiness: as one Spanish speaking commentator put it, “Hope, a feeling of being listened to… you can’t put a dollar figure on that. It is a revolution of the mind”.

And hope in Argentina… as equivocal as us two naughties – los escualidos (a chavismo turn of phrase), the “squalid ones”- and the city of Buenos Aires… where cowds of earth spirit women (like LULU) stride the streets. And we also await how Papa Francesco will articulate the “Pink Tide”  at the Vatican. But is it not a strange coincidence that we spent so many months last year in the literary tragi-comedy and moral irony space and rhetoric in the pampas of Argentina on foot, horse and train, and in Buenos Aires (returning to the Villa Miserias of that city only recently)?

Mar 302013
tripe stew131

Spanish speaking: there is the further coincidence of the recent publication of the latest “Australian Novel” by JM Coetzee, The Childhood of Jesus (Harvill Secker, 2013). It is a late style work, but unlike the Edward Said critical model of either pragmatic or revolutionary unresolved contradictions, it appears to travel across an altogether different continental (Australian… Or Argentinian) space and  rhetoric – “almost Buddhist” according to one reviewer.

The book describes a journey to a new world where everyone is required to speak Spanish and those who arrive are all exiles “washed clean of all memories”. They live in a city called Novilla (a Buenos Aires mix Nuevo and Nowhere). David, a young boy, is one such new arrival. He is taken in as an orphan and begins to display extraordinary, one might say non-human or divine, gifts.

But in the city of Novilla whose inhabitants are wiped clean of all memories, so that there is no record of Jesus Christ, no knowledge of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and indeed no history at all,  David’s behaviour is considered to be freakish. Fitting neither developmental model of either pragmatic or revolutionary progress, he is sent to a school for children with special educational needs (children in the autistic spectrum and so on). There Coetzee writes, “He searches for the irony but there is none, as there is no salt”.

One reviewer, noting Coetzee’s equation between the lack of irony and salt, finds the book too bland and flat, like travelling endlessly across a colourless and empty landscape towards an endlessly receding horizon. Like Pampas.

Mar 302013

Like an inhabitant of Novillas (or Buenos Aires), I have begun reading Jacqueline Rose, On Not Being Able to Sleep. In dialogic mode it was only a matter of time before I would begin doing so, but like an inhabitant of Novillas I have lost my memories of why I should have to. Somebody must have mentioned it in passing somewhere. I suppose. I only know I feel compelled.

At the beginning I note the inverted commas in the title to the Introduction: ‘Shame’ . ‘Signifying what?’ I wondered (equally in inverted commas), ‘Including us two naughties, and other literary devices, such as that all us men should be ashamed of ourselves and our history (if we hadn’t forgotten it all)’. Rose’s introduction gives the examples of the 1998 Australian ‘race’ election where the opposing parties competed in shameful exposure, and then all describes the similar process of the South African Truth and Reconcilliation Commission.

I also began to think of the 1973 Commission set up in Buenos Aires 1973 under the chair of Ernesto Sabato to preside over the investigation of the fate of the 30,000 disappeared, and the further shameful exposures as/when the bodies buried on the Pamapas came to light (if they ever did).

When we speak our shame, Rose tells us to keep a triptych in mind: shame, disgust and guilt. And not to short circuit the process, stay alert in the tragi-comedy to the moral irony through the full 3 Acts of the opera:  the LULU (say) a free earth spirit woman. Stick with it Rose suggessts, and neither grasp at melancholy (self-abasement as a matter of pride), nor rash acts generally speaking (survival for as long as possible rather than suicide – if possible).

Jan 092013
VIA 2008

Es fugt sich: It Happened – It happened some weeks ago looking back over my shoulder that I saw in the distance the presence of the fifteenth century vagabond, sometime pauper, sometime wealthy merchant, knight and diplomat of princes (Burger und Hoffmann), poet, composer and musician Oswald von Wallenstein (1377-1445).

The three main topics of his work were Travel, God, and Sex. The songspiel -Es Fugt Sich (It Happened) tells his life story and is made up of VII stanzas (each 16 lines long). From the CD Songs of Myself performed by Andreas Scholl (2010) here are some following “vaguenings” of the written words:

# 1. It happened, when I was ten years old,
that I wanted to see what the world was.
I have been in warm and cold places, in misery and poverty,
with Christians, Greek-Orthodox, and heathens…

…I had three cents in my pocket,..

# II. To Prussia, Lithuania, Turkey, Turkey over the Sea, to France…

- I’ve sailed seas high and low -

… the Black Sea taught me how to cling to a barrel,
when my brigantine…

(I was a merchant then, and survived, me and an Russian.)

# III. Before the Queen of Aragon-so beautiful and tender-

I knelt down…

# IV. Mein tummes lebenwolt ich verkeren, das is war
und ward ein halber beghart wol zwai ganze jar

(Truthfully, I wanted to start a new life,

for a good two years I was a half begging monk)

… in truth, never before or after were girls so friendly…

# V. It would take too long if I told all my sorrows,

still, ravishing lips infatuate me especially…

# VI. Four hundred women and more…

# VII. I have lived…

mit toben, wuten, tichten, singen manger lai

(being wild, celebrating, making poems, and singing songs)

Ich Walkenstein, leb sicher klain vernunftlichlt

das ich der welt also lang begin zu hellen.


Time and Relative Dimensions of Space

 Posted by at 9:55 pm  Catastrophe Games, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jan 022013

“Broken time and the relative dimensions of space”  (broken time… and/or… time travel) was first explained by Susan Foreman in 1963/1964 (on BBC TV).

We would like to claim the Triple Entry System belongs to the Radical Tradition, but we realise that the sandwich kiosk fabric of WordStall is fragile, and that phrase – ‘The Radical Tradition’ – is full of a strangeness which continues to bring both the black and red shirts out on to the street. We are not looking for any trouble…

Or are we? Strange Cases indeed!

For instance, there is the strange case of the Radical Tradition philosopher Julius Evola (Sicilian nobleman 1898-1974) who discontinued his education at a young age because he “did not want to be bourgeoisie”. Evola joined the Italian army in the first World War and fought bravely on the Asiago plateau. Postwar he was anti-fascist, but even more vehemently anti-communist (anti- egalitarian, anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-popular), and later became a supporter of El Duco, fleeing to Austria after Mussolini’s fall in 1943. Living in Vienna he walked the streets during air raids “pondering his destiny” (as he wrote later), and was eventually wounded by a piece of bomb shrapnel which left him permanently paralysed from the waist down. In the 1950’s he wrote his famous trilogy on the Kali Yuga (Dark Age), and developed a deep interest in tantra, sexual magic and spiritual practice. Evola leaves an ambiguous legacy, claimed both by the “black terrorists” of the far right, and the apocalyptic “deep green” occultists, and many others who claim certainty as regards the meaning of changeability and austerity also claim him.