Monday, 31 March 2008

Poets and priests

In Symbolic Exchange and Death Baudrillard notes that 'historically we know that sacerdotal power is based on a monopoly over death and exclusive control over relations with the dead ... Power is established on Death's borders' [130]. Assume a shift now in the way we apprehend death (the prospect of our own, and the fact of others') from theology to art and culture. The symbolic exchange becomes no longer life and death, but rather secular and religious. Or as we might put it, a poet is not the same as a priest. A priest is almost never a poet. (Manley Hopkins wrote poetry, of course; but his religious superiors made him give it up. We can understand why).

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Spread poem

Spread and spread.
The verb, the noun,
cloud fills sky as water cup

Assemble, not the weak-
ness of pronoun reference,
Assemble, spread

Sky interpenetrates cloud
pushes the water out
Rainfall spreads.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Complex faith

Modern theologians, especially those inspired by recent theory, often consider Dawkins et al to be simply beneath contempt, not even worth commenting upon. 'It is an attack characterised by its crudity, that's all: it is clumsy. Atheists who attack my belief in God do so in the belief that my belief in God is a simplistic belief. But in fact, as any reading of contemporary theological writing will confirm, many people have a belief in God that is enormously complex and subtle, capable of generating an immense body of intellectually challenging and stimulating discourse.' This is true, of course; and the Dawkinsite response (that he is not attacking the minority faith of university academic theologians, but the majority faith of most people in the world), though also valid, isn't quite to the point. The point surely is that the valorisation of complexity is itself problematic. Human beings are complex; human philosophical enquiry is complex; complexity is intensely satisfying to certain sorts of minds. A complex theology is a sort of discursive anthropomorphism, rendering the proper discussion of God in man's image, a fancy version of gifting the divine principle fingers and toes, arms and legs, a beard of white.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Being good at

The dream of human beings is: being good at something. We don't mind being bad at things, even being bad at everything else in our life, provided we can claim to be good at one thing, no matter how trivial or insubstantial that one thing is. Indeed, being bad at everything else becomes a bonus; we can tell ourselves that we're bad at everything else because we have devoted ourselves so assiduously to the one thing we're good at (watching telly, say; drinking; sleeping; whatever it is). It's never true, this; but we tell it to ourselves anyway.

Thursday, 27 March 2008


'If Poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.' But why leaves? Not bark? Not fruit? A metaphorical halfway house between the idea that poetry is integral to the poet, like a skin, and poetry is a detachable offering by the poet. Unless Keats is getting at the notion that poetry sustains the poet; that one's poems perform a sort of photosynthesis for one's own soul?

Wednesday, 26 March 2008


And as the day has died so let us sleep
To sleep an hour or to sleep for ever
And lose the always-setting sun.
That place where endlessness has gone
To there we'll go to go to sleep.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008


Poet W S Merwin wrote: 'so that is what I am,/a creature to run from,/who has always believed too much in words.'

But why must a poet believe in words? Especially believe too much in words? Does a chef believe in pigs?

Monday, 24 March 2008


A: The meal between breakfast and lunch is called brunch. I intend to introduce a new meal, between lunch and supper, to be called lupper.
B: Lunner, I think you mean.
A: Let's split our differenece: Luevening-meal.

Sunday, 23 March 2008


A foreigner speaks: 'From our point of view, your penal system is very strange: crimes of different severity are punished by exactly the same prison life, only more or less prolonged. But how is this graded punishment? Much more sensible to send all criminals to prison for the same term--five years, say--but to vary their experience: simple incarceration for the most minor crimes, but incarcaration with added torments for more severe crimes, such that a child-murderer or rapist, a trator or heretic, spends five years being hideously tortured.'

We say: but this would be barbarous!

A foreigner replies: 'why would you say so? It's the model Dante sketched for God's own infernal prison: the same sentence to all prisoners, but only the punishment graded in severity across that time.'

Saturday, 22 March 2008


The question is whether the concept of survival itself will survive of us: it is, after all, our great idea as a species, our contribution to the cosmos.

Friday, 21 March 2008


Descartes said: sum ergo Deus est, words designed to generate a certain frisson I suppose in their day (putting oneself before God? Predicating God's existence upon the I, rather than the other way about? How shocking!). The problem is that this phrase is trying to equate immiscible quantities ... as it might be je est un autre dieu. Est ergo Deus est would make more sense; conceivably even sum ergo Deus sum. But not as it is

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Tragedy is SF

Tragedy is art that parses death. We are fascinated with tragedy because we are all going to die. By the same token, death is never in our present, it is always in our future. In other words, tragedy is the art of the future. Another name for the art of the future is science fiction. Tragedy is SF. (Hence Frankenstein's mythos: that to bring life into the world is also to bring death; or the Time Traveller's lesson, that absolute freedom leads inevitably to the terminal beach; or Childhood's End, where the survival of our children is our own annihilation. This is precisely the tragic dialectic).

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Modern life

--Does modern life give us sustenance for our souls?
--The problem isn't modern life. Modern life abounds with sustenance. The problem is us. We're all skeletons, gobbling down spoonful after spoonful of granulated sugar, only to watch it dribble drily away through our ribcages and over our pelvises.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008


Night is not a dream we have; night is real.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Tramp poem

Though my stomach is
as empty as any hat

don't presume upon
the process by which

my spirit has become
methylated; for

without me, how could
the long and multiclausal

sentence of this street
be punctuated?

Sunday, 16 March 2008


We love paradox because secretly we hope that the logic of paradox itself means that 'in the midst of life we are in death' actually signifies its opposite. This is a misunderstanding of paradox -- to believe it operates as a simple transtion (death? life!) after this fashion.

Saturday, 15 March 2008


A vase, as valuable for itself as for what it contains.

Friday, 14 March 2008


Depression is an asthma of the spirit.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Death of tragedy

Let’s say tragedy is about death; so that we might ask ourselves … what dies? Which is to say: what can die? The first answer to come to mind, of course, is—people. And it is the death of people that most often informs tragic drama. But other things can die too: hope, for instance. A marriage can die. A community can die. Then again: does it seem odd to you that we never use that idiom to describe recovery? ‘My depression died, I am happy to say.’ ‘My cancer died, leaving me healthy again.’ Why not?

The death of tragedy? But tragedy is about ends; and the greatest of endings has marked our time, the end of history. The end of history has been a contested concept of course, denied by many, but we might say: perhaps history does not end as Fukayama originally imagined, elevated in the broad, sunlit uplands of continually ameliorating liberal-capitalism. Maybe it ends in war; and being out of history means finding ourselves in an endless, illdefined war against ‘terror’—the war against fear, the war against otherness. Tragedy is the art of that state of existence. The twenty-first century is the era of a new dawn of tragedy as a mode of art. The rebirth of tragedy.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008


Brian Lee notes that 'one of the criticisms that had consistently been made of Washington Square is that its title gives a misleading clue to its contents. According to this view the promise of social history, or, at least, a strong local interest, is never fulfilled as it is in, say, The Bostonians. Both F O Matthiessen and Cornelia Pulsifer Kelley thought that James should have compounded his apparent debt to Balzac's Eugenie Grandet by similarly using his heroine's names for the book itself.' But this is quite wrong. The principle of the square wholly governs the novel, not so much in the topographic New York location which is the primary reference of the title as in the geometric sense of four balanced elements that determines the narrative. As Dr Soper says to his sister in chapter 21:

"I don't know that; but she is not going to break down. She is going to drag out
the engagement, in the hope of making me relent."
"And shall you not relent?"
"Shall a geometrical proposition relent? I am not so superficial."
"Doesn't geometry treat of surfaces?" asked Mrs. Almond, who, as we know, was clever, smiling.
"Yes; but it treats of them profoundly. Catherine and her young man are my surfaces; I have taken their measure."

The novel, indeed, is a very thoroughly worked out piece of emotional geometry, and it examines the squareness of its affective situation both from the point-of-view of symmetry (and stability), and from the point-of-view of depth, or rather of depthlessness. When I first read this novel I suppose I assumed the four sides of the square were Dr Soper; Catherine; Morris Townshend and Mrs Penniman. But rereading it I'm struck by the observation that this latter character, Catherine's aunt and Dr Soper's sister, actually has a rather minor function in the whole. Say instead then the four sides of this novel are: emotionally tyrannical Dr Soper; passive-aggressive Catherine; mercenary Morris Townshend and money ... this latter being represented both as ubiquitous and as purer, in a cold way, than all the others put together.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008


A crescent moon, brie-coloured, lolling on its back.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Class Traitor

One of the severest taunts a Communist can hurl at a fellow proletarian, of course. But I've always been struck by the thought that Marxism positively requires the bourgeoisie and aristocracy to be class traitors; that in those circumstances the phrase would become a positive virtue ...

Saturday, 8 March 2008


Irregular shaped, roundish clouds in the sky today; greys with sheared, paintbrushy patches of white and occasional darker grape-coloured smudges. Like chipped flints scattered on a pale ground.

Friday, 7 March 2008


Not enough is said about the sheer sensual joy of mendacity, a constellation of the joy of performance, of worldbuilding, of will-to-power over others. Lying is sometimes talked of as a sort of moral laziness or laxness, and sometimes as a question of lesser evils, but there is also this sheer positive pleasure in it which, however deplorable, motivates many humans to lie. So for example: the pleasures of sexual infidelity are only partly erotic; they are to a much greater extent sheer vertiginous pleasures of mendacity.

Thursday, 6 March 2008


Why say that we grow up. It imagines we are standing (lying down, we grow along). In which direction are we growing? Towards death. Death is above us, then.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008


John Locke said that 'to love truth for truth's sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtues.' But a man need not be Jesting Pilate to wonder: how can truth have a sake?

Tuesday, 4 March 2008


Ice is the exhaustion of water.

Monday, 3 March 2008


The horns of a dilemma.
The hoofs of a dilemma.
The concentrated bovril essence of dilemma.

Sunday, 2 March 2008


A death's-head ought not to be a skull--and especially not a skull doing anything so vital as grinning--but should be a perfectly smooth, spherical, head-sized stone.

Saturday, 1 March 2008


We have the words eupeptic and dyspeptic, but nobody seems to have worked through the topograhpy and culture of upepsia, an ideal realm to supercede notions of utopia. To duck into Liddell and Scott, under pepohn, the root verb, we find: 'cooked by the sun, ripe, mellow'; 'metaph. mostly as a term of endearment, kind, gentle' 'oh pepohn, my good friend.0' 'Gentle': doesn't that look like a good starting point for utopian planning?