Tuesday, 31 March 2009
The sun is white. ('Puffy cumulous clouds on a sunny day are certainly bright enough to excite the cone cells in our eyes, so we should be able to detect any hints of color in them. They do reflect equally well all the wavelengths of light striking them, most of which comes from the Sun. So if the Sun is really yellow [and not white], then clouds should be yellow. But they aren't. And that goes to show that the Sun itself is much more whitish than it is yellowish')
Things are not always as they seem in black and white.
Monday, 30 March 2009
I don't think so. Boromir dead, Merry and Pippin seized by Orcs, Frodo and Sam off on their own to complete the mission. How should Aragorn lead Legolas and Gimli?
'Let me think!' said Aragorn. 'And now may I make a right choice, and change the evil fate of this unhappy day!' He stood silent for a moment. 'I will follow the Orcs,' he said at last. 'I would have guided Frodo to Mordor and gone with him to the end; but if I seek him now in the wilderness, I must abandon the captives to torment and death. My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer. The Company has played its part. Yet we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left. Come! We will go now. Leave all that can be spared behind! We will press on by day and dark!' Our survey says: wrong. Merry and Pippin are your friends, and face torture and death, yes. Frodo and Sam, also your friends, are (probably) not in immediate danger, yes. But ... more important than anything, even the painful death of your friends, is that the ring be destroyed; and given the enormous danger and difficulty of doing this, Frodo and Sam (whatever they may have decided, themselves) need your help. Weigh it this way: you save Merry and Pippin, but the ring falls into the enemy's hands; you leave Merry and Pippin to their unpleasant fate, but you are able to help destroy the ring. The latter, though hard, is the right call.
You'll say, ah but Aragorn makes his choice and not only are Merry and Pippin saved by the ring is destroyed also. This, though, is a freakish chance. Good leadership does not base its decisions on the possibility of freakish chance. Besides, Merry and Pippin aren't saved by Aragorn and his band, but by the Ents; and Frodo and Sam did need help getting into Mordor (in Aragorn's absence they took this help from Gollum, and it nearly killed them).
In sum: bad call, Aragorn.
Sunday, 29 March 2009
Possibly no political moralist in modern Western culture has been so widely influential – nor so often overlooked and forgotten – as the 19th-century French mathematician and philosopher Auguste Comte, the inventor of positivism, altruism and the ‘religion of humanity’. In libraries throughout Europe, weighty editions of Comte’s works remain with their pages uncut more than a hundred and fifty years after his death. Yet the residues of Comtean visions and conceptions still permeate many aspects of European thought and institutions. They may be discerned in the emphasis on social science as the supreme guide to public policy, on the ‘priestly’ role of technical, medical and managerial ‘experts’, on human welfare as the sole touchstone of ethical life, on ‘law’ as a set of disembodied norms rather than the edicts of rulers or case law, and on the future destiny of Europe as a unified ‘Great Western Republic’ in place of an inchoate cluster of historic nations. All these perspectives are clearly recognisable in the public culture of Europe in the early 21st century. Yet the name of Auguste Comte is unknown to countless people whose daily lives and mental outlook are widely shaped or impinged on by his principles.But this caught my eye:
Elizabeth Barrett Browning in Aurora Leigh (1857) dismissed Comte's doctrines as intrinsically 'absurd'; yet the poem centred on the heroic tragedy of a man who practised the supreme positivist virtues of altruism or 'sacrifice for others', at the expense of the more prosaic Christian virtues of common sense, kindness and love.I can see that as an account of the poem, sure (and certainly Aurora Leigh is as thoroughly in dialogue with Comte as anything by George Eliot). But the 'Christian virtues of common sense'? Arguably there is something commonsensical about Christianity, which might explain why it has caught on so ubiquitously. Yet my mind rejects the notion as a profound misunderstanding of what Christianity is about: the New Testament in particular is almost the Platonic form of anti-common-sense. It is a text that says: everything you know is wrong; everything you take for granted is upsidedown; the meek shall inherit the earth; the last shall be first; the worst of crimes isn't assassinating an emperor but killing a nobody, itinerant Carpenter. It says: the world appears to be one way to our common senses; it is actually quite other. It's perverse, as Zizek notes. That's the very ground of its appeal.
Saturday, 28 March 2009
Friday, 27 March 2009
Very traditionally conceived But cruelty is not the correct word, really. Indifference comes closer to the mark; something mistaken for cruelty, occasionally, by those on the receiving end; but actually very different from it. Poetry is at root at attempt to puncture that indifference; to gain her attention.
Thursday, 26 March 2009
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
metal wheels sharpening metal rails
and a speed-camera flash. It's dusk.
It hoots, it's mournful, and then it is
a grinding noise in the distance. Then gone.
The stars come out again. A frog moves.
The white horse is poured moonlight;
Assembled curves like an Arab alphabet
Cantering fluidly through its dark green medium.
Monday, 23 March 2009
Sunday, 22 March 2009
Saturday, 21 March 2009
Friday, 20 March 2009
Griselda marries Gualtieri, the Marquis of Saluzzo. He tests her by declaring that their first child—a daughter—must be put to death, likewise their second child—a son. Griselda obediently gives up both of them without protest and each is secreted away and raised rather than killed. In a final test, Gualtieri publicly renounces Griselda, claiming he has been granted papal dispensation to divorce and marry a better woman; she goes to live with her father. Some years later, Gualtieri announces he is to remarry and recalls Griselda as a servant to prepare the wedding celebrations. He introduces her to a twelve-year-old girl he claims is to be his bride but who is really their daughter; Griselda wishes them well. At this Gualtieri reveals his plan and Griselda joyously retakes her place as wife and mother.Burrow's main point is that Boccaccio's bare-bones telling of this tale propels other writers to flesh it out. It's so baffling, on a psychological level; Griselda seems to have at her disposal none of the responses, emotional or practical, to which an actual living-breathing human being would have recourse. As if we should be talking about 'mentally defective Griselda', 'Lobotomised Griselda.'
Boccaccio's friend Petrarch wrote a Latin version of the story in which the inexplicably curel Gualtieri is implicityly identified with God, whose short-term impositions of suffering are offset by his amazing ultimate grace. Later readers generally responded to the tale not by allegorising away its unstated motives and emotions but by elaboratig them. Samuel Richardson's Pamela, and indeed all the explorations of the inner lives of suffering low-born heroines which were the staples of the early English novel, are among the offspring of Boccaccio's account of Griselda.This is well put; but it's the emphasis on Griselda herself that is most bewildering aspect of this particular cultural tradition. Surely this is a story that invites the reader in not at the level of the perfectly blank, empty Griselda, but from Gualtieri's point of view; a story, moreover, not really about the man's obscure motives for his cruelty but about the actualisation of male desire. When you look at it that way you see how screwy it is. The notion that a man's ultimate fantasy is a Stepford Wife is one-eighty-degrees about. A better understanding is provided not by Chaucer's Clerk's Tale, but by Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale ... the former pretends to be about 'what men really want' when actually it presents something quite opposite. The latter pretends to be about what women really want, when in fact it is precisely about what men really want.
Thursday, 19 March 2009
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Monday, 16 March 2009
Consider the glosses (I lean heavily on wikipedia, here). The accusation against Charles is that he was a tyrant. How, might I ask, is that countered by having him with his foot upon the world, and the Latin tag 'Mundi Calco — I tread on the world.' Isn't that exactly what tyrants do? What does Lewis and Short say about calco? 'to tread something, or upon something ... to tread down, to oppress, to trample upon ... to scorn, contemn, spurn, despise, abuse.' Is that really the semantic field of a wise and benevolent ruler? (abuse? oppress?).
Those books on the table: IN VERBO TVO SPES MEA — "In Thy Word is My Hope" and Christi Tracto — "I entreat Christ" or "By the word of Christ". Fine, except that Charles isn't looking at them (he's looking up). 'Tracto' might mean 'I entreat Christ'; or it might mean 'I ponder Christ'; but L&S remind us that its primary meaning is 'to draw violently, to drag, tug, haul' and goes on to expand the possible uses of the word re: violence ('to be torn, rent, lacerated') or 'to strike'. The Roman soldiers at the crucifiction might be said to have traxerunt Christ, surely? And in verbo tuo spes mea is, at the least, ambiguous depending upon to whom the tuo and the mea refer?
That rock in the ocean is immota, triumphans, which of course suggests Charles beset by a troublous populace yet remaining unmoved and triumphant. But does a monarch accused of imperial tyranny really want the associations of the Roman triumph? Is it fitting that he has (perhaps Pharaonic) palm trees in his garden? With bells hanging from them (who would not think of 1 Corinthians 13's sounding brass?).
Most of all I'm intrigued by the line of the beam of light. Ostensible the light from the king (from the back of his head) shines upon the darkness, whilst he himself had his eyes fixed upon the heavenly crown that awaits him. But if we look again: doesn't it rather look as though Charles head (let's not forget, King Charles's Head) prisms the light of heaven into a spectrum of ... uh, cloudy darkness? (What a shame Newton's Optics postdates the Eikon by decades, or I could really go to town on this).
Sunday, 15 March 2009
Damn but that's puzzling; for despite their evident differences one aspect that gold and lead undeniably share is that both possess equal flexibleness ... unless that is, in the some obscure sense, precisely the point here?
Saturday, 14 March 2009
Dwarf trees, their petrified tentacles, inedible;
This sky, inedible;
Soil, colour of blood-pudding, inedible;
Fossil-dung pebbles, inedible;
This wind, inedible; hailstones, inedible;
strands like the flames of a wide, low fire:
Friday, 13 March 2009
Thursday, 12 March 2009
Maybe this is true, but I wonder if its mere residual Historical Whiggism in me that thinks there's something worse than pointless (worse because liable to feed ressentiment) about that sort of judgment. Asserting that with 1066 England would have 'skipped the middle ages altogether and jumped straight to the Renaissance' is fine Alternate History SF, and to the extent (it's quite a wide extent) that all History is a form of Alternate History SF, that's obviously OK. But this is to concede the SF angle. The broader point is the danger of valorising the Anglo-Saxon world, when you yourself--yes I'm talking about you sir, madam--would have hated living there. Accepting this, means acknowledging that the fact that 'Saxon' has now in effect become a code word for 'white yellow-haired racist' is also grounded in a creative appropriation of the past to the present (this is not to assert that the Anglo-Saxon world wasn't racist, because it pretty much was: but it is to insist that today's white yellow-haired racists would have hated living there. And for a great many reasons.)
In a related point: why, I wonder do my fingers stray when I try to type Saxon to spell out instead Sazon?
Wednesday, 11 March 2009
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Monday, 9 March 2009
I suppose there's something to be said for the idea that not just the invention of language but the proper structuring of language (the turning of language into an instrument of precision, descriptive power, predictive control and imaginative possibility) is the key event in human affairs. But this is hardly a function of the sentence ...
Sunday, 8 March 2009
Saturday, 7 March 2009
Friday, 6 March 2009
Thursday, 5 March 2009
Wednesday, 4 March 2009
Tuesday, 3 March 2009
Monday, 2 March 2009
Or can it?