Monday, 31 December 2007


A circle cannot cast a shadow from its own circumference.

A circle need not be a circle; there are, after all, an infinite number of closed curves of fixed radius. In this sense, and this sense only, the cosmos is circular.

Sunday, 30 December 2007


We treat whalesong as a rune, to be decoded (for we ask: but what are the whales saying to one another?) But we should think rather of whalesong as a tide, a flow, not A-to-B but A and A in a circularity that communicates by communing. Whalesong is a medium, not a message.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

The Good Life

In What I Believe Bertrand Russell said: "the good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. " He gets this exactly the wrong way round, for of course the good life is the life inspired by knowledge and guided by love.

Friday, 28 December 2007

The baby

The baby sleeps, mostly; or feeds; but sometimes he stares about him with poorly-focussed and mute astonishment, an expression that borders on a kind of comical outrage. Sometimes he bleats like a little goat, and sometimes makes a series of rapid running-on e-e-e noises, for all the world like a dolphin. Occasionally he cries, which though never loud (his lungs are still tiny) is nevertheless one of the most penetrating noises I think I have ever heard. Unignorable. Then again, when he sleeps he looks more peaceful than any human I have seen; and sometimes his open eyes seem to articulate a kind of rolling bliss, an uncontending contententness, happy simply to look. Particularly to look at bright lights.

Thursday, 27 December 2007


George Santayana's most famous line is from The Life of Reason (1905-06): "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But which lesson from history are we to learn? Before Iraq (say), politicians had to choose between remembering Vietnam, or remembering the appeasement of Hitler. That we have been condemned to repeat the former is not a function of a failure to remember, but rather of remembering, perhaps in good faith, the wrong thing. But Santayana's apothgem doesn't help us with this ...

Wednesday, 26 December 2007


Philosopher R G Collingwood, in The New Leviathan (1942), commented upon his own profession: 'I seem to remember something that Bernard Bosanquet once said about the loss to professional thought from the fact that it is always done by cowards' [v]. There's something in this, isn't there? Not so much that professionals become over-cautious for fear of losing the comfort of their positions and salaries (although of course that may be a problem), as the fact that professionalisation itself enshrines a set or system that a braver individual may need to discard, or even to kill.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007


That violet quality of the dusk that is not, or is not only, a function of colour. We are tired, but the river is not tired. It moves its waters slowly, lowly, with enough buoyancy not to sink into the earth but not so much that it flies into the air to turn, like distant hills breaking from the horizon and floating upwards, away, into clouds.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Pity the readers

One of Vonnegut's pieces of advice for aspiring writers was 'pity the readers'. Perhaps he meant 'don't make the going too hard on your readers'; but that's commercial, not aesthetic or writerly-ethical, advice. The truth is that readers do not need pity; generally speaking they are able to look after themselves very nicely, thank you, and writers affecting to 'pity' them are just being condescending. What readers need is writers who treat them as adults ... as, indeed, equals.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Lace poem

St Peter's Hospital, the Labour ward
Six a.m. In-between contractions
Rachel breathing like Darth Vader
On gas and air, I stand looking
Through the sheet glass
At the empty carpark, the grass bank,
And the winter trees sharp
Against the membraneously paling sky,
And I am struck by: how little winter trees
Resemble skeletons; and how much
Lace, something precious weaving into life.

Friday, 21 December 2007

A fourteen hour labour ...

But let's, say, imagine a forty-eight hour labour. Where is it written that the child's birthday must be the day on which he actually appeared? Why not on the day on which labour starts?It is easy, after all, is note the date when a birthing began; and what is birth if not a beginning?

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Rivers at dawn

Thames is a river. Its surface is a million intermingling worms of light and dark.

The horizon is another river. The soft laminations of purples, blues, pinks and yellows, and blobby clouds, of a warm oil-and-water dawn.

My heart is another river.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Hugo addresses his Muse

You loved Juvenal, bubbling with lava picante,
Your clarity shone in the fixed eye of Dante,
Muse Indignation! Come now, show your temper,
Lay it out on this ‘happy’ and ‘radiant’ empire,
And from ‘victory’, struck like a thunderclap home,
Give me pillories enough to make—an epic poem!

Toi qu'aimait Juvénal, gonflé de lave ardente,
Toi dont la clarté luit dans l'œil fixe de Dante,
Muse Indignation! Viens, dressons maintenant,
Dressons sur cet empire heureux et rayonnant,
Et sur cette victoire au tonnerre échappée,
Assez de piloris pour faire une épopée!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007


We sometimes think of the soul 'inhabiting' the body as a person might inhabit a house. Of course, the soul does not really inhabit the body in this way; but then neither, actually, does a person 'inhabit' a house in this way.

Monday, 17 December 2007


That loping run, with little skips intermixed, by which the unfamiliarly lengthy limbs attempt to accomodate themselves to the rhythm, that is so characteristic of adolescents.

Sunday, 16 December 2007


Fishscale silver, bruised,
Clouds ashamed of the ground.

The clouds are painted.
You can see the brushstrokes.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Selfhelp slogans

Again is not always a gain.
The race is not always to the swift; though the flight may be.
It's good ethics to be ethnice.
Expect miracles from falling water.
We make a cult of difficult; but where is our easicult?
Do you have the nerve for verve?
A story has a beginning, a middle and an end; life only a beginning.
'Call no man happy until he is dead'; but don't call him sad either.
Soul is old; we need new.
Zero-sum is handsome.
God died honourably, and deserves honest burial.
Last days last all day.
Each of us is a slave to our need to lave.
Neither courage nor fear is our unique property.

Friday, 14 December 2007

The gods

This is what my friend the Ancient Greek says: 'the gods are the people who do the labour that makes the cosmos work. Phoebus, for instance, toiling across the sky with his horses, tugging the sun. In my culture, there's a name for those people who do the work that makes things run. We call those people slaves.'

Thursday, 13 December 2007


There, spermatozoon comet; here mundus-ovum. Consummation: a mode of replication overwriting existing life.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

The Plough

The constellation Ursa Major, the Bear. I saw it last night, from a moving car, its whitelit axes so clear in the ink-coloured sky that they almost joined one another up. It was tipped on its handle, the blade straight upright, which made me think: if that is ploughing the sky, then the soil of the sky is turned ninety-degrees through the terrestrial axis. Which made me think: we're at right angles to the stellar horizontal. We're out of kilter, says the Plough.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007


Swearing ... it isn't big, it isn't clever. It's immature. But isn't that a puzzling way of putting it? Swearing is something adults do, after all, to a much greater degree than children; we might say it is precisely mature, if deplorable. After all, much swearing refers to sexual activities that are by definition adult, not childish.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Baba Yaga at Baba Yar

This house has no doors or windows
You don't go in; do as you're told;
Instead it goes after you
On its chickenstepping legs.

This house without doors or windows,
This mudwallhouse, is death.
Only the chime of shovels into dirt
The chime and rustle of shovelling

She says: It's roofed over with dirt
A rifletube the chimney. The feathers
All pulled off from its goosebumpy legs
Walking to this spot and no other.

Puffs of smoke from the chimney
Shaped like souls jolted upwards
Thrown down and up at once.
She says: baba. The guns say: bababa.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Caravaggio's famous painting of Saint Thomas: it has a weird, unsettling quality to it, which I had always assumed (doubting Thomas thrusting his finger in the vaginal slit in Christ's side) had to do with its uncomfortable-looking quasi-sexual emphasis. After all, who is it that penetrates Christ's body? Only his enemies (crucifying him) and those of his disciples who doubt him; not his devout followers. And yet his followers today devour him whole--he penetrates them, not the other way around. There's something unnerving about thinking the reverse (the penetratable Christ). Which leads to a flip-about interpretation of Caravaggio's image; Thomas passsive, not active; Christ's torso, active, not passive. The strange angle of Christ's head on his body disconnects it, visually speaking; and then we're looking at one of those Bosch-y devils without heads, but with faces embedded in their chests: Christ's nipples for eyes, his wound now a hungry mouth, gobbling and devouring Thomas's hand. Thomas becomes the eucharist; Christ internalises him.

Saturday, 8 December 2007


A: Height is not a scale.
B: Not a scale?
A: Height is not a scale without depth.
B: You're wrong: height is not a scale without breadth.

Friday, 7 December 2007


The snagged fly snores in the spider's web

Thursday, 6 December 2007


She gripped the rail. She could not think about letting go the rail. The sea thrashed and quaked like the end of the world. She held on for her very life. The deck would tip alarmingly, and heave back, and forward again; and she would grimace and nod. He was still talking. She struggled to pay attention to him. To pay him attention. She had to bear in mind. He was telling her she had to bear in mind.

‘Bear,' he yelled. 'In mind—is—they’re—not,’ and he jabbed a thumb at his own brow, tapping the forehead between his straggleweedy eyebrows, ‘thinking beings. Not like humans.’ And the deck angled angrily, and both his hands went back to the rail to steady himself.

'You say so,' she shouted, trying to make herself heard above the cacophony. She had no idea if he could hear her.

His hands, clasping the deckrail, were blue and white. The sea blew torrent after torrent of spray over him, over them both, like clouds of wet sparks. Foam sloshed across the deck and sucked out through the drainholes.

Away below them both down the metal cliff-face of the ship, where the waves frenzied, she could see the winches tightening the net’s mouth. Within, shrieking so piercingly that it could be heard even over the boisterous noise of the winds, was a crowd of seapeople; a mass of them. A clutch of them. They tangled together, clasping one another, struggling, a confusion of arms and faces and scaled muscle; of slick white skin; of muscular grey and purple and black tails.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007


Poetry: from poesis, a making, a shaping. Except that poetry now, even in its broadest sense, is a actually kind of creative unmaking; a breaking-down of the calcified whole-habits of the reader's sensorium so as to bring newness into perception. Not a Heideggerean 'bringing forth', but a Deleuzian novelty; not poesis, but (neos, new) neotry.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007


The reason why time seems to pass more slowly for children than adults--why summer holidays appear to last forever, the way time drags for children--is that they are better at paying attention to the world than adults are. Adults get distracted, and the time slips past them. Children are immersed in the world, and the time stretches.

Monday, 3 December 2007

The Techonological Uncanny

Phones? But phones don't spook us anymore (do they?) The ghost rocket? The spectral iPod? The haunted laptop?

Sunday, 2 December 2007


The practice today is to translate everything, from Homer to Euripides to the New Testament, into a clear contemporary English. But this has the effect of flattening out the respective historical and linguistic idioms of the texts concerned. So here's what to do: pick a date as a notional 'contemporary' (let's say, first century AD). Then assemble an anthology of Greek Literature in English. Translate the Homer and Hesiod into Chaucerian English; translate the Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes into Elizabethan English; translate passages from the N.T. and Lucian's novels into contemporary English.

There would be plenty of scope for individual variation to reflect the particular styles of individual authors (Sophocles could be rendered Shakespearian, Aristophanes as Jonsonian comedy, Plato translated into the style of Francis Bacon and so on); and writers from other periods could be slotted into other periods: Apollonius Rhodius translated with Shelleyan flourishes, for instance.

It would be a winner.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

On lying

We need an ethics of lying, for very few of us are strong enough actually to live strictly by the maxim: 'always truthful!' Given that this is the case, we are then in the situation either of believing the moral absolute implied in that maxim even as we fall short of it (which is to say, of putting ourselves to the inconvenience of having always to lie), or, more ethically, or finding a ground that will help us distinguish between those times when a lie is the wrong thing to utter and the times when it is the right thing. I'm not sure what that ground is; except that it cannot be expediency.