Saturday, 30 June 2007

The locomotive

The black unfaced locomotive doing endless pressups with its greased wheel-pistons.

The steam-locomotive, dark-faced with effort, was repeatedly punching the ground and repeatedly missing, as if the ground were a masculine friend with whom it was playing mock-pugilistic games.

Friday, 29 June 2007

The brain

We might say ‘my brain produces consciousness’ (let's say it generates consciousness; or let's say it defecates or excretes consciousness). On the other hand, we might, if we are religiously inclined, prefer to say ‘my brain receives or transmits or channels consciousness’. But I wonder if it mightn't be closer to the truth to say ‘my brain consumes consciousness’ ... as a candle burns wax, or an animal devours its food.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Whole numbers

I'm imagining a world in which fractions decimals are taboo; whole numbers divided into whole numbers are holy--whole sight (as a modern-day fundamentalist once put it) or all the rest is desolation. Even numbers are good. Duodecimals constitute the monetary system. But how to halve odd numbers? The answer is clear enough: the unacceptable 'and a half' becomes the acceptable euphemastic 'and some'. 'And some' covers all fractions; and human sensibilties need never be offended by the frayed-edges of broken numbers ever again.

The theological issue of the day; is pi a whole number, or not?

Wednesday, 27 June 2007


We seem happy enough to countenance the death of our inner organs--our smokey lungs, our drink-scratched livers--provided only that this death does not manifest itself on our outsides. Perhaps we consider that landscape of viscera and darkness, that inward landscape, to be already, in a sense, dead; life happens at the level of skin, of face, of secondary sexual characteristics, of hands, of appearance, of that endless convulted surface called brain.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

This unhappy consciousness

Hegel thought that the root of das ungluckliches Bewusstsein was internal division. Here is what he says:

This unhappy consciousness, divided and at variance within itself, must, because this contradiction of its essential nature is felt to be a single consciousness, always have in the one consciousness the other also; and thus must be straightway driven out of each in turn, when it thinks it has therein attained to the victory and rest of unity. Its true return into itself, or reconciliation with itself, will, however, display the notion of mind endowed with a life and existence of its own, because it implicitly involves the fact that, while being an undivided consciousness, it is a double-consciousness. It is itself the gazing of one self-consciousness into another, and itself is both, and the unity of both is also its own essence; but objectively and consciously it is not yet this essence itself — is not yet the unity of both.

The terminology here is always alert to the possibility of undoing this internal separation--'return or reconciliation' as Hegel puts it--as if the severance is no differend, but that between two rational agents who have, unaccountably, fallen out. But this isn't our experience, of course. It's the unified consciousness that is the unhappy one: the monomaniac, the man or woman of fundamentalist faith and Dalek-eyed certainty, the obsessive. Their consciousness is unhappy; they're just too myopic to realise it. Or perhaps a better way of putting it would be that, like any distracting agent, Dalek-eyed certainty obscures one's own unhappiness from oneself.

Of course, an understanding not of the doubleness but the quadrupleness of our consciousnesses is the route to a healthier psyche. Hegel wants to suggest this latter case, by reserving a properly dialectical consciousness to happiness ('an undivided yet double-consciousness')--a weirdly non-violent version of the dialectic, surely ... 'the gazing of one self-consciousness into another'. But its precisely the turbulence of that wavefront, the immiscibility of consciousness with consciousness, that determines what subjectivity is. Not gazing, but intervening, invading, interpenetrating. Revolution, not neutral observation. Sex, not voyeurism.

Monday, 25 June 2007


The clouds look like a gallon of black ink poured into a tub of clear water.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Zero-sum theology

There must be an eternal unchanging God because we live in a mutable, corruptible world. This core transcendental logic sees the cosmos in terms of a sort of meta-zero-sum: there must be somebody happy somewhere because I am sad; there must be ultimate goodness because we witnessed the Holocaust and Darfur; I am wealthy because somebody else is impoverished. There's something heroic, actually, about the resistence to the reality-principle involved--the insistance that the Fantasy must be the true Reality because Reality is so resistant to the Fantasy.

Saturday, 23 June 2007


Consideration, condescension, a difference of degree.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Speak your mind!

Telling someone to 'speak their mind' takes its force from an implied contrary ('don't speak somebody else's mind' ... don't, in other words, merely parrot received opinion). But it's the other contrary that interests me; the one at the heart, actually, of all creative writing. Don't speak your mind, and don't speak another person's mind either; speak a mind that's neither yours nor someone else's.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

From dust thou art

70% water, 30% dust; which is to say, less than a third of us is truly us. Or to put it another way, most of us is the fluid principle, the divine principle, the leaven, the magic ingredient that fashions Adam from dirt. (The spirit of God moved over the waters--but the spirit of God was also the waters. And we can be precise: the spirit of God was 70% water, 30% dust.)

What does Palmer Eldritch tell us? 'I mean, after all: you have to consider we're only made out of dust. That's admittedly not much to go on and we shouldn't forget that. But even considering, I mean, it's a sort of bad beginning, we're not doing too bad.'

Or to put it another way: 'If I were called in, to construct a religion ...'

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Persistence of vision

The persistence of vision, that founding principle of cinematography, has a wide range of possible applications. We might talk, pace Dennett, of ‘the persistence of consciousness’ as a kind of enabling illusion of motion and continuity in the mind; even (pace ontologists) of ‘persistence of being’, the sense that the striated and atomised constituent elements of existence sort-of blur and coalesce in our experience of them.

It is, in other words, a question of that enabling blindness to gaps (or perhaps that motion of the ground) and the partial fogging of our senses that enables us to see as flow and continuity what is not-flow and discontinuous. ‘Persistence’ is a good word in this context; existence, subsistence, sursistence, all set in place by the persistence.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007


The point of art is neither to represent reality, nor invent it; art is there to fix reality, in every sense.

Monday, 18 June 2007

The limits of comfort

Hegel, in The Philosophy of Right [add. to para 191], has this to say about comfort:

What the English call comfort is something inexhaustible and illimitable. Others can reveal to you that what you take to be comfort at any stage is discomfort, and these discoveries never come to an end.

But comfort, here, is really another word for untroubled passivity; and passivity is like temperature in that there is an absolute zero of passivity, a state so passive that comfort superconducts though consciousness with deadly rapidity. There can't be such a thing as illimitable comfort.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

A latitudinal God

The Qu'ran says: 'to God belongs the East and West' (The Cow, 115). A latitudinal God, then, happy to leave the North and the South to others ...

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Real magic

We talk about ‘real magic’ to distinguish it from ‘stage magic’, which, as illusion, is actually not magic at all: a ‘false magic’. But the irony here is that real magic is the kind of magic that can’t actually be done; where the 'unreal' stage magic is the kind that can really be performed. This is a nice irony, but it's more than that. It’s symptomatic of the way performance—under which rubric we might include stage, screen, book, song—upends the logic of actuality.

Friday, 15 June 2007


True wisdom lies in ignorance of the limits of wisdom.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Hugo poem

Victor Hugo, 'The Captive' (1829)

If I weren’t a captive
I could love this place,
These seas so plaintive,
These fields of maize,
These stars without number—
If the wall’s long somber
Shadow didn’t glimmer
With the sabres of Spahis.

I’m no female Tartar
For a eunuch to pass
Me up my guitar
Or hold my looking glass.
Far away from this Sodom
In the land that I come from
Are those young men with whom
I talked once, under stars.

Yet I do love this beach: it
Never knows winter
Cold winds never reach it,
Rooms chills never enter
Summer rain never cold
The green bug prowling, bold,
Glows, a live emerald
Amongst grass’s green splinters.

Smyrna’s a princess
With its beautiful chapel;
The happy Spring perfects
Itself to resound her bells.
Like a laughing bright set
Of flowers in a pot
Its seas are all dotted
With archipelago whorls.

I love those scarlet towers,
Those flags triumphant!
Golden houses and bowers
Like toys for an infant.
How well it soothes thinking:
The most gentle swinging
Of these tents built clinging
High up on elephants.

In these palaces of fairies
My heart inner concert
Believes these bare cries
Floating in from the desert
All contain Genies
Blending harmonies
The infinite serene is
Sung under spare skies.

These contraries are best:
The sweet perfumes burning
In the windows gold-set
Foliage twist and turning
Spring water bright churning
Under plain-trees down-bending
And the white storks are standing
On white minarets.

On a lovely bed of moss
I sing songs from my soul
While my sweet friends all toss
Their feet, leap and roll.
My happy good vagabonds
Whose smiles are all around
Dancing a merry-go-round
Beneath fine parasols.

Best of all, when the breeze
Kisses me with its mouth
The night lounging at ease
And I dream of the south
Across a sea unshallow
Where, pale and yellow
The moon's starting to swell: a
White fan opening out.

La captive
Si je n'étais captive,
J'aimerais ce pays,
Et cette mer plaintive,
Et ces champs de maïs,
Et ces astres sans nombre,
Si le long du mur sombre
N'étincelait dans l'ombre
Le sabre des spahis.

Je ne suis point tartare
Pour qu'un eunuque noir
M'accorde ma guitare,
Me tienne mon miroir.
Bien loin de ces Sodomes,
Au pays dont nous sommes,
Avec les jeunes hommes
On peut parler le soir.

Pourtant j'aime une rive
Où jamais des hivers
Le souffle froid n'arrive
Par les vitraux ouverts,
L'été, la pluie est chaude,
L'insecte vert qui rôde
Luit, vivante émeraude,
Sous les brins d'herbe verts.

Smyrne est une princesse
Avec son beau chapel ;
L'heureux printemps sans cesse
Répond à son appel,
Et, comme un riant groupe
De fleurs dans une coupe,
Dans ses mers se découpe
Plus d'un frais archipel.

J'aime ces tours vermeilles,
Ces drapeaux triomphants,
Ces maisons d'or, pareilles
A des jouets d'enfants ;
J'aime, pour mes pensées
Plus mollement bercées,
Ces tentes balancées
Au dos des éléphants.

Dans ce palais de fées,
Mon coeur, plein de concerts,
Croit, aux voix étouffées
Qui viennent des déserts,
Entendre les génies
Mêler les harmonies
Des chansons infinies
Qu'ils chantent dans les airs !

J'aime de ces contrées
Les doux parfums brûlants,
Sur les vitres dorées
Les feuillages tremblants,
L'eau que la source épanche
Sous le palmier qui penche,
Et la cigogne blanche
Sur les minarets blancs.

J'aime en un lit de mousses
Dire un air espagnol,
Quand mes compagnes douces,
Du pied rasant le sol,
Légion vagabonde
Où le sourire abonde,
Font tournoyer leur ronde
Sous un rond parasol.

Mais surtout, quand la brise
Me touche en voltigeant,
La nuit j'aime être assise,
Etre assise en songeant,
L'oeil sur la mer profonde,
Tandis que, pâle et blonde,
La lune ouvre dans l'onde
Son éventail d'argent.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007


A table of green fields is so enormously superior, as poetry, to any of the proposed emendations that I find myself astonished anybody ever thought it worth their while tinkering with it.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Life as chess game

‘I feel like a piece in a game of chess when my opponent says of it: That piece cannot be moved’ says Kierkegaard. The yearning to leave the prison of the chessboard! So: lifted by a giant hand--is the piece actually removed into freedom? Surely it goes into a realm in which literally none of the laws that make chess chess apply; a pure situation of chess-chaos—unstructured, unpurposive, unmeaning. A strange version of heaven, that, for a chess-lover.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Natural history poem

The hiss of cicadas like steam escaping,
Wild rhubarb white as picked-bones curling
in amongst masses of racing green nettles.

At this distance the motorway sounds
like a wide-load animal grumbling, lowing,
baying to its mate in its seasonless pasture

behind those trees, those gesturing branches
whose solicitous hey! over here! invites us:
Come see the Traffic, you natural-historians!

Sunday, 10 June 2007


From the old school: freedom is an individual and metaphysical good, but a social and religious evil.

I'm not sure that the new school has got itself untangled from this. I'm not sure I see how it could.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

The wind

‘What becomes of the wind when it dies?’
‘It dies. But it always starts up again.’
‘But when it starts up, is it a different wind?’
‘It’s always the same wind.’
'When it dies, does the wind lose weight?'
'It sinks down. It gains weight.'
'Isn't that the opposite of dying?'
'What the opposite of dying? There's no such thing as the opposite of dying. Dying is not something that admits of opposition.'

Friday, 8 June 2007


I wonder if Freud’s desire to read dreams isn't actually an attempt to locate sleep as another mode of being awake (one more in touch with the subconsious, naturally, but otherwise …) But this is surely not how sleep actually is.

Thursday, 7 June 2007


Religious myth is the son of time.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Common sense

It is supposed to be common sense to think that the earth is flat. Yet commonality by nature englobes: which is to say, it clusters around a few core ideas, it doesn’t spread itself endlessly about a mathematically ideal plane …

Tuesday, 5 June 2007


'The darkness surrounds me' is fair enough, since we might say this is a dark that seeps down from above. But 'the darkness surrounds my thoughts' is something else again, and calls for a different word, a word, even, that we don't have: that darkness comes up from inside-beneath, not from outside-above. We need to be able to say: 'the darkness subrounds my thoughts'.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Psychoanalysis is science fiction

'Psychoanalysis is detective work,' says Peter Brooks (giving voice to a common perspective on the matter) 'seeking to reconstruct from clues scattered in the present a past story that explains a scene of crime or suffering.' It's time to let this notion go. It's a misreading of Freud, this emphasis on the past. The point of psychoanalysis, if we can put it like that, is not the past but the present and future. Or to put it another way, the past is relevant to the psychoanalyst only insofar as it can figure as a trope for the future--like Philip K Dick's 1950s settings that turn out to be 21st-century futures, or Star Wars's WWII fighters and bombers that actually zip through outer space. Nor is detection the key thing here, so much as imaginative creation and recreation, the metaphorical apprehension of what happens to be the case in order to project an imaginatively coherent otherness. Which is to say, psychoanalysis is not detective work; it is science fiction.

Sunday, 3 June 2007


Speaking personally, I don’t mind people being insane. I mind their being recklessly insane.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

The experience of boredom

We can talk of experience as the remedy for boredom; and we can talk of boredom as a wished-for escape from experience—boredom, in other words, as a kind of haven or refuge from an exhausting and over-hectic world. But neither of these fully captures the extent that, in a world free from the more visceral fears of a hunted creature amongst predators (a world most people—a few addicts to Russian roulette excepted—are happy not to live in) all experience is grounded in a surfeit of boredom, just as all boredom is grounded in a surfeit of experience.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Grey life

In Island Huxley talks about 'the great twentieth century plague. Not the Black Death this time; the Grey Life.'

As if the medievals weren't already living the Grey Life! As if our greyness isn't silver, pearl and cream, the translucent shining grey of a beautiful morning, compared to their grey!