Friday, 30 November 2007


The dark green tongue-shaped wedge of each tree against the twilight.

The grassy odour of olive oil.

A swimming pool, ten metres across, filled, it seems, with green tea.

The breeze tackles him like a footballer, burlies against him, tries to knock him over. His hair flies but his legs are set firm. Like a tree he thinks. He thinks; green. Impossible to strengthen green to green. He thinks.

Thursday, 29 November 2007


A problem with 'religion' is the profound, structural difficulty it has shedding its own mistakes. In this respect at least, science is much better positioned. And this is the particular--relatively little discussed, it seems to me, but vital--upon which the future of religion hinges. This is why homosexuality is such a crucial issue for the big monotheisms at the moment. Not because it is inherently important, for it isn't; but for cultural and historical reasons it has become a major blot in the cultural discourse of religion. It's axiomatic that the condemnation of consensual homosexual sex, or of a homosexual orientation, is, simply, an error. The extent to which Christianity and Islam persist in this error is the index of their pathology. Finding ways of moving religion past its mistakes may well be the great challenge of the age. Inerrant is one of the most terrible terms of dispraise in the lexicon, though often taken otherwise.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007


Self-reflexively, re-reading of Bellow's Herzog (1964) makes me a little uneasy about a blog such as this ... which is to say, leads me to wonder whether blogging these sorts of apothgems, daily doesn't constitute a sort of Herzogification. A manner of Herzogging. Evidence of a man gone Herz-a-gogo. On the other hand, it has also caused me to wonder why it takes Herzog so long (the sorts of lengths of time Bellow stipulates) to jot down the rather sparse epistolary fragments he includes in the novel. Ah well.

There are also strangely misfiring grace-notes. 'Beauty is not a human invention,' the novel says; but not only is beauty a human invention, it may be the only human invention--since wheels-and-axles and writing predate humanity.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


You can't skip breakfast. It's an impossibility. Whichever meal you next eat will be the meal that breaks your fast.

Monday, 26 November 2007


Craig Raine argues that the appeal of erections is in their subjectivity: 'This is how erections feel--larger than life. That is why men like them. They enlarge us.' [TLS 23 Nov 2007, p.3]. But ... really, though? The same might be said of eating an excess of pastries. 'Look at my flabby belly! How wonderful it is! It enlarges me!'

Sunday, 25 November 2007


We're all smoke, eventually. It all depends on the timescale.

Saturday, 24 November 2007


The thing that puzzles our souls about radiation poisoning is the way the very word contradicts its message. We are deeply habituated to think of poison as a product of darkness, of dirt and putrescence, of secrecy and shadows. But radiation is a form of light, and it is very hard for us to think of light as poison. (Light can blind, of course; and it can of course burn; we know that; we comprehend that; it correlates to our sense of its essence. But poison us?) What is more alarming than the thought that poison can radiate?

Friday, 23 November 2007


And this the rational clear-eyed resolution:
to bring a visual mind to the profane séance,
an argus-eyed mind, burnished with thinking,
peeping and shining its rapturous decadence
(because thinking is ageing, and ageing is decay)
Because, you see.
You see.
It's all in what you cannot see, a séance;
and once unseen it will not be forgotten.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


It seems uncontentious to assert that tyranny makes people unhappy. More insightful, perhaps, was Kierkegaard's notion that too much freedom generates anxiety. From this it might be deduced (and often is deduced by people) that a via media is necessary; that a middle way between authoritarian and anarchistic value-structures will maximise our felicity. But it doesn't require too much thought to realise that too much mediocrity creates surer and more profound anxiety than either of the other two alternatives. Which all seems designed to hem humanity into misery. But not so; the trick is to uncouple happiness from notions of choice, option, compulsion or freedom altogether.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007


Of course John Updike famously called America 'a vast conspiracy to make you happy'. One objection would be to retort 'happy in material terms only; America gives you the opportunity to shop yourself happy, and there's no true or lasting felicity there'. But this isn't it, I think. Religion is a much bigger deal in the States even than shopping; and religiously committed folk want to spread the bliss of Jesus around the population even more earnestly than car-dealers want to sell cars. It's hard to know how to resist this, except by saying, I prefer not to share in your happiness, and perhaps conspiracy to commit happiness upon other people ought to be a criminal offense. Which is how I choose to read the tenor of Updike's original statement.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The Ancient Mariner at the Sermon on the Mount

There's an ancient Greek proverb, or saying, 'a socrpion for a perch' (anti perkees scorpion) that, the scholars tell us, found its way somehow into the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:9-10: 'Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?' I suppose, though, that we're entitled at least to wonder at the logic here. It's possible--isn't it?--to imagine a situation in which, though a son wants some bread, what he, and we, need is for him to finish laying that stone wall first; or in which the glass case he possesses is not watertight enough to serve as home for a fish, but with a few sticks and leaves would perfectly suit our gift to him of a snake. Of course, it's also possible to imagine son and father bickering ('I want a fish!' ... 'you'll take the snake and you'll like it!' ... 'never! a fish or nothing!' ... 'snake I say!') and the mother interceding, like the Ancient Mariner at the Sermon, with: 'here, a compromise: water-snakes.'

Monday, 19 November 2007

Thematically consistent day names

Sunday, Moonday, Starsday, Planetday, Cometday, Wayday, Skyday.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Ye, eye

The Chaucerian word for eye, 'ye', has a much more attractive look to it than our word 'eye'; and it is indeed strange to consider how the '[e]ye' homophone has shifted from you to I, given that the ye is instrinsically about looking at others, not about contemplating I-selfhood. Or are we to consider the possibility that this shift has coincidentally mirrored a change of emphasis from ocular objectivity to self-reflexive subjectivity? But that would be too large a coincidence.

Saturday, 17 November 2007


Do autumn trees shed their leaves with regret, or delight? Or do their leaves leave them? Have we got autumn all the wrong way about?

Friday, 16 November 2007


Rónán McDonald thinks the distinctive quality of Beckett's art is 'a pitiless urge to strip away, to expose, to deal in piths and essences.' It would be better to say that Beckett, in his coolly pitying manner, strips away in order not to expose 'piths and essences', but rather to reveal that there's no such thing as pith or essence. To say that the dismantling of the epiphenomena surrounding a man or woman, if taken far enough, eventually resolves men and women into--embodiments of nothingness.

Thursday, 15 November 2007


The sky has gone into mourning. The moon is sliced exactly in half, the nearest it can come to halfmast. A barcode of vertical creases and shadowlines codes something in the drawn curtains.

The dead are everywhere, he says. The great weight of the multitudinous dead bears down upon us. But this isn’t true, she says. The dead are nowhere, the dead have stopped existing. The living outnumber the dead in the same way that a million is bigger than zero.

Still, there’s almost no limit to the amount of suffering we can allow other people to bear.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007


No tragedy except hope destroyed.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Landscape poem

This balance of nearing hedgerows
These uppity poplars, the
maiden tableau of these broad

fields, broad skies.
Clouds rollcalling for
the imminent solar curfew.

The landscape stoops.
Those birds move crabwise.
That wind makes them.

The wind is sky-coloured.
The camoflage is perfect.

Monday, 12 November 2007

The Devil

Since despair is the greatest of sins, and since the Devil embodies the greatest sinfulness, it follows that the Devil must be the single most melancholic, depressed and gloom-wracked entity in the Christian cosmos. In the same way that an ordinary person may be simply too depressed even to get out of bed and go to work, so Satan is too depressed to get up out of hell and walk about the world.

Sunday, 11 November 2007


Sarcasm. From the Latin, which in turn is from the Greek: Lewis and Short:"Sarcasmos, m., a keen or bitter jest, a taunt, jibe, sarcasm, a figure of speech. Charis p.247 P (in Quint. 8, 6, 57) and Diom p.458, written as Greek." Derived from (to quote Liddell & Scott) "sarkisdo", 'to strip off the flesh, scrape it out'.

You can see why. But the etymological connection to flesh ('sarcophagus', a stone coffin which swallows flesh; or 'sarcoma' a fleshly tumour) is pretty interesting, and would be 'profound' if I adhered to that Nietzschean or Heideggerian faux-argument-by-etymology thing. We tend to think of sarcasm as an aggressive discursive tic, more or less deplorable for that reason. But (as per Civilisation and its Discontents) it's actually something the reverse, the manifestation of fleshly scar-tissue (hence: scarcasm), an idiom symptomatic of an organism under attack rather than initiating it. A verbal histamine response.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Believing in things

One of the many witty things that Chesterton is supposed to have said has acquired the status of an axiom. It's this: "When a man stops believing in God he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes in anything."

Now, it turns out this isn't found in Chesterton's works, although there are a couple of quotations from the Father Brown stories that seem to constellate the notion: 'It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense.' ['The Oracle of the Dog' (1923)]; 'You hard-shelled materialists were all balanced on the very edge of belief - of belief in almost anything.' ['The Miracle of Moon Crescent' (1924)]

So, not actually Chesterton (I'd like to think he was too clever to say anything so foolish), but regardless of that, this allegedly Chestertonian sentiment has acquired a life of its own. Don DeLillo's Mao II insists that 'when the Old God leaves the world what happens to all the unexpended faith? When the Old God goes they pray to flies and bottletops.' Martin Amis agrees, taking Chesterton's apocryphum to the next level: 'It is not that people will start believing in anything: they will start believing in everything.'

It's not just that this sentiment is wrongheaded (although it is spectacularly wrongheaded: it was, for instance, at the time of the widest spread of Christian belief in European that people believed any old nonsense at all: astrology, witchcraft, tales of men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders, alchemy, the selling of papal indulgences, that pigs could meaningfully be tried in court on charges of murder, and so on). It's that it functions as one more example of a patricularly malign modern-day mental habit; making oneself comfortable with ridiculous or damaging views by telling oneself 'but the alternative is much worse!' It's a kind of credo-indolence; the more deplorable since it doesn't really take much energy to think through what the alternative probably does entail (not much energy, but the terrible risk that you might then have to abandon your starting position ...) An equivalent example: endorsing the war on terror not out of sadism or idiocy, but because you believe that without such a war Islam would make slaves of you and your daughters. How to counter such an attitude?--except by saying: don't be silly.

Friday, 9 November 2007


The sacredness of certain numbers, and not others, is a curious thing: 1 is holy, 3 is holy, 5 is holy, 7 is holy; 12 is holy ... a prime-heavy sequence. But why? What (we might ask) is wrong, or mundane, about those splendid numbers 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10...?

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Return of the Repressed

Freud's insistence that the repressed always returns is more a statement of faith than an evidence-based assertion. But it is a good faith. It says: nothing stays secret for ever, you cannot bury anything permanently, your true nature will eventually emerge, that affair you had will eventually come to light, those memories you are distracting yourself from don't go away just because you are distracting yourself from them. This is a worthwhile ethos by which to live life. It is not true, though. Memories, it seems, are not only sometimes lost, the default position for memories is to lose them, or rather it is to overwrite the memories with simplified neural tags or thumbnail versions of the memory. We do this to stop our minds exploding, but it means that it is not repressed memory that always returns, but repressed desire (the desire that shaped the recasting of the memory in the first place). That sounds truer; short of neural-surgical intervention, repressed desire always does return ... it just doesn't necessarily return at the same strength.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Plan for a New Manner of Dictionary

As it might be:


tones, a word.

tonetics, a word.

tong, a word.

tonga, a word.

tonger, a word.

tongue, a word.

tongueless, a word.

tonic, a word.

tonier, a word.

tonight, a word.


... and so on.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

The Dandy

From Baudelaire's Journaux Intimes [2:ii]: 'Le Dandy doit aspirer à être sublime sans interruption; il doit vivre et dormir devant un miroir.' Did Christopher Isherwood translate this? He did: 'the Dandy should aspire to be uninterruptedly sublime. he should live and sleep in front of a mirror.' True today, save for one alteration: for 'mirror' read 'the internet'.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Blue sky

The sky was a kind of famished blue, insufficiently dressed with a few stretches of muslin clouds.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

The knight is ...

'The knight is the only piece able to leave the chessboard and return again to it ...' But this is wrong, on several levels. It's wrong in point of fact (rooks? Kings?), and in point of play (very often a player must pick up a bishop, say, in order to be able to trace out, in the air, the piece's diagonal between close set pieces and place it down again). But there's a more important point here. The knight piece is a stylised horse; its ability to 'leap over other pieces' is a function of a curiously literal approach to metaphorisation: it can leap over things because, in real life, horses can leap over things ... which is the same logic that prevents Gradgrind from papering his rooms with horsey wallpaper ('you wouldn't paper a room with representations of horses. Do you ever see horses walking up and down the sides of rooms in reality - in fact? Do you?') In that sense the knight does not leave the chessboard; it is, indeed, more closely tied to the symbolic logic supposedly underpinning the chessboard than other, freer-flying pieces ... the rook itself; the all-powerful queen, or best of all the eight sphere-topped spires we call pawns.

Saturday, 3 November 2007


There's a rightness about the similarity between the sounds of applause and rainfall.

Friday, 2 November 2007


We have been in the habit of talking about nature versus nurture, but it's not a very good way of framing the question. Perhaps we should talk about essence versus sense.

Thursday, 1 November 2007


Questioning, as process, ought to be a process of detail, density, nuance and shrinkage.