Friday, 30 April 2010

Beatles lyrics

Listening to the Love album, and enjoying it too, although it strikes me as an only slightly upmarket version of those 'Stars on 45' mashup singles that were such a big hit in the early 80s. But the listening has prompted a particular thought. I wonder if the default mode of mature-period Beatles lyric (I mean, once they're past their 'I wanna hold your hand' stage) is a kind of fruitful tension between mundane-metaphorical and fantastic/surreal-literal. Two examples: 'Eleanor Rigby wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door' might mean, mundanely, 'she keeps her make-up in a jar, and applies it before going out; or it might Pepperland-surrealistically mean that she has an actual face in a jar and clips, or otherwise fixes, it to her faceless head before leaving the house. More specifically, really it means both these things at the same time. Or again:
Sitting on a cornflake
Waiting for the van to come.
Actually sitting on a gigantic cornflake? Or in recognisable idiom, 'all I had for breakfast was a bowl of cereal, and now I'm sitting outside waiting for the van to pick me up and take me to the building site' (with its implicit: 'cornflakes isn't really enough for a working man's breakfast' ...)

Thursday, 29 April 2010


Why is low-level nausea so much more debilitating than low-level pain? You'd think it would be the other way about (I appreciate it may be the other way about for some people .... just not me). I suppose we march on our stomachs, not on our nerves. Nausea is a soporific compared to pain's caffeine.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Shakespeare-didn't-write-Shakespeare crowd

What fun there is to be had at the expense of the daft Shakespeare-didn't-write-Shakespeare crowd!
Despite the failure of early cipher-hunters such as Owen, Elizabeth Wells Gallup and Ignatius Donnelly to find anything meaningful, the idea that Shakespearean texts contain coded messages of authorship remains central. The Sonnets, with their apparently confiding, first-person voice, have proved fertile ground. Oxfordians find anagrams of “Vere” everywhere, especially in the line from Sonnet 76, “Every word doth almost tell my name”. In the famously puzzling dedication to the first edition of 1609 – ostensibly written by the publisher, Thomas Thorpe – the author is styled “our ever-living poet”. Oxfordians point out that the first three words are (almost) an anagram of one of Oxford’s mottoes, Vero nil verius (“Nothing truer than truth”). Yet the same dedicatory text, when examined by Brenda James in Henry Neville and the Shakespeare Code (2008), reveals an entirely different secret, achieved by putting the 144 letters of the dedication into a 12x12 matrix, and juggling them around according to certain cryptographic rules, whereupon there emerges first the encouraging message, “The wise Thorp hid thy poet”, and then the all-important name of the poet, “Nevill”.
Of course, as Wilde might say, this (I mean the contumely heaped on the silly heads of Baconians or Earl-of-Essexists or whoever) is all really Caliban's rage at seeing his face in the mirror. It's what we all do, in one way or another: inserting texts into a 12x12 matrix, and juggling them around according to certain cryptographic rules. We're too clever to do so according to the logic of 'biography', of course; and we don't like to talk of 'conspiracy', but ideologically, hermeneutically, creatively it's our work. What's so very cool about the “Every word doth almost tell my name” line is the license implied by that almost.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010


The corderoy of a fingerprint. A lacey girder, with diamond spaces punched out. A Jackson Pollock sprawl of tangled wiring. The unique pattern of swirls and line of a human face.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Another Children's Story, Part 1

Zeb was a stuffed toy zebra, and he slept with Lily every night in her bed. He loved Lily more than anything in the world; for she cuddled and snugged him every night and he belonged to her. And most of the time he was happy. But sometimes he would be sad, because Lily was eight, and old enough to know the difference between a toy and a real thing. Some nights, when Lily was feeling poorly or sorry-for-herself, she would cry to her parents: ‘oh don’t leave me alone! Stay with me!’ And her parents would say: ‘but you’re not alone, Lily! You have Zeb.’ ‘Oh Zeb’s not real,’ she replied, bitterly. And Zeb heard her say this, and it made him sad all the way to the core of his stuffing.

One night Lily was sleeping and clutching Zeb under her arm, and the little toy was crying quietly to itself. Now it so happened that it was a full moon night, and a blue moon night at the same time, and the Charm of Toys was abroad at night. The Charm heard Zeb’s tears, and understood. ‘I shall make you real, little toy, but you may not like it.’ And Zeb, hearing the voice of the Charm, woke up properly. ‘I will like it! Oh if only I could be real!’ ‘Then this is what I will do,’ said the Charm, coming right inside Lily’s bedroom (for, you know, the Charm has no body, and can pass easily through glass and bricks). ‘I will gift you the spell to make you real; but I will gift you something else too. I will gift you the spell to make yourself a toy again—in case you don’t like it.’

Well, Zeb couldn’t say fairer than that! So he agreed, and the Charm gave him the two spells. And Zeb spoke the first spell immediately, because he so wanted to be real. And then he was! He became an actual zebra—not as big as the zebras you find on the plains in Africa (they are as big as horses you know; and when he was a toy Zeb was only eighteen inches from rump to nose). But in every other respect he was a proper Zebra: he had bones, and muscles, and zebra black-and-white-striped skin instead of cloth and stuffing, and at the end of his legs he had little hoofs hard as plastic. He was so excited he wriggled in the bed and woke Lily up. ‘Good gracious!’ she cried. ‘You’re real!’ And she hugged him, and together they tried to settle down to go back to sleep.

But it was hard—for Zeb found it much harder getting comfortable as a real creature than he had done as a toy: his legs got into awkward shapes and got sore, and his hard little hooves kept digging into Lily’s tummy. And he could not stop wriggling! ‘Please settle down, little Zeb,’ Lily pleaded. ‘For I have to go to sleep.’

And then do you know what Zeb did? He did a pooh, right in Lily’s bed! ‘I’m so sorry,’ he said, afterwards. ‘I’ve never needed to do one of those before, you see. I wasn’t sure what it was until it came out.’ So Lily had to get up and fetch some tissues and clear that up, and then Zeb said he was hungry, so she put on slippers and a dressing gown and took him down into the cold dark garden to chew a little grass. Afterwards she brought him back up and got into the bed again. ‘Perhaps now we can have a little sleep?’ Lily said.

But worse was to happen—actual danger. For Lily had lots of soft toys at the end of her bed, and as Zeb scruffled and wriggled around on her bed, he brushed against them. Now because his spell was quite a new one, some of it spilled out and got into the fur and cloth of these other stuffed toys. And one by one they all came alive. The teddy bears became real bears—small, but just as likely to savage you with their bear-claws, and bite you with their bear teeth, and eat your flesh as any hungry bear in the real world would. The stuffed lion became a miniature real-life lion, and threatened to bite through Lily’s neck and spill her blood, just as any lion would do. She had a bit stuffed draught-excluder snake that turned into a real boa constrictor that slithered after Lily to squeeze her to death and eat her up in one gulp. How Lily shouted in fear! Her bed was suddenly alive with horrible real-life miniature predators!

Zed did what he could—kicking out at them with his hoofs, and biting with his teeth. But one miniature zebra is no match for three actual bears, one actual lion and hungry boa constrictor. So the little zebra had to think quickly. He had one spell from the Charm of Toys, and he could use it to turn one animal back into toy-form. But if he changed one of the bears that still left the other two, not to mention the others; and if he changed the lion or snake back then the three bears would tear Lily arm from leg and both from body. He had to decide, quickly. Do you know what he did?

He used his spell to change Lily into a stuffed toy. And there she lay, in the bed, a Lily-doll!

The hungry miniature animals roared with disappointment, for they could hardly eat cloth and stuffing! And instead they all turned their attention on Zeb, the live zebra. There was nothing for it, but to make a run for it. And this was how Zeb and Lily, a toy and real girl, changed places. If you want to know what happened next you’ll have to come back next week.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Knight's Move

Laughter is a sort of knight's-move; our discourse proceeds in linear and logical ways, like pawns and queens in motion. But a joke leaps and slips to the left: a man goes into a library and says "can I have fish and chips please?" And the library says: "but ... this is a library!" And the man says: "Oh! Sorry. [whispers] Can I have fish and chips please?" A little slide into left-field at the end, and we're there.

This knight's-move argument is hardly original, mind, as a way of talking about laughter. But what it makes me think is: why don't I laugh, when playing chess, at the movement of knights? Am I missing the joke? What does this say about my sense of humour?

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Under the Apple Tree

Listening to 'Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree' yesterday, it dawned on me how much WW2 popular culture actually articulates an anxiety about infidelity: the whole Brief Encounter vibe. Now, of course this has a practical side to it, for this was a period when a very large number of people were separated from their loved-ones, and of course anxious about what, and with whom, they might be doing. But I wonder if there's a bigger question here, something to do with war, and large-scale mobilisation that involves a sense of bigger 'infidelity'?

Friday, 23 April 2010

Trimmed margins

lips like a coffee bean where

should it vex the ownership

copse on a shield-shaped hill

'A's of unbuilt houseframes t

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Overheard at the seaside

"Look at the boat!" A statement with an interesting status; halfway between a request and an imperative. How much of our interchange occupies this uncanny interpersonal hinterland between commanding and begging?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Story for children

Lily was almost at the top of the stairs when the Rich Witch pounced and snatched hold of her neck, tight enough to hurt. 'Aha, my pretty!' the Rich Witch shrieked. 'I'll have you, oh-gorooo! I'll take all your wealth, and then I'll drink your heart's blood!' 'Wealth?' Lily replied. 'But I'm only a little girl!' The Rich Witch danced on her left foot, and danced on her right foot, and despite all this dancing she didn't let go her grip of Lily's neck, at the back, where the little hairs grow. The Rich Witch's hands were very grubby, and underneath her nails was enough mud to grow tomatoes. 'Ooh you've wealth enough for I,' she cooed. 'For you have gold and silver in your teeth!' At Lily thought of all the fillings she had had at the dentist, and wished she hadn't eaten so many sweets in her life. 'I'll pull them out with my finger and thumb!' cried the Rich Witch. 'And so I'll become richer and richer!' 'In that case,' Lily said, remaining calm, 'you'll also want to know about my diamond toenails.' 'Diamond toenails!' cried the Rich Witch, in an ecstasy of avarice (which is the feeling greedy people have when they think they're going to get what they want). 'Show me show!' And the Rich Witch let go of Lily's neck, and leant over to examine her feet; and Lily, thinking quickly, kicked her hard down the stairs. Oh she howled as she fell! But Lily ran up the rest of the stairs and leapt straight into her bed, under the covers, where, as everybody knows, the Rich Witch cannot get you.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010


Laboriousness is oration.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Socrates' unexamined life

Plato, of course (ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ; the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being. Apology, 38a). One of those phrases much more often invoked than considered. How can Plato, or Socrates, know whether an unexamined life is worth living or not, unless they think themselves into the position of a human being living an unexamined life? But to do so is necessarily to inhabit the state of mind of an examined life. So, the short version is: they cannot know what an unexamined life is like from the inside, and therefore cannot know whether it is worth living or not. (The alternate position, a kind of externalised 'people who live unexamined lives are not worth keeping alive', crashes on the rock of uncertainty: how do you know whether I live an examined or unexamined life? Lacking telepathic access to my brain, you do not).

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Signs and portents

The bridal train of a comet’s tail.

The geometry of lakes and mountains.

Andrew sails the boat
God is at the tiller

Wind shakes crumbs from the flag.
The rope slaps the flagpole
With a rattlesnake sound.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

On Fictional Realism

Anthony Everett is a philosopher at the University of Bristol who, in ‘Against Fictional Realism’ [The Journal of Philosophy, 102:12 (2005), 624-49], makes the argument that fictional character’s aren’t ‘real’ in the way actual characters are real. What interests me about his case is not that I tend to disagree—for, after all, what does that matter?—but that his detailed professional-philosopher’s case seems to me to miss something important about the way actual fiction, and indeed actual life, goes.

Here’s what I mean. Everett’s case starts with two propositions:
(P1) If the world of a story concerns a creature a, and if a is not a real thing, then a is a fictional character.

(P2) If a story concerns a and b, and if a and b are not real things, then a and b are identical in the world of the story iff the fictional character of a is identical to the fictional character of b. [627]
‘The world of the story’ in (P2) puzzles me; I think what Everett is getting at is the question of how, assuming we take fictional characters to be in some sense ‘real’, what we make of different versions of one character—Faustus in Marlowe and Goethe, for instance; or Jekyll/Hyde in Stevenson and Alan Moore. (Is Faust ‘real’ in Marlowe but not in Goethe? Vice versa? ‘Realer’ in one than the other? Surely Romeo is ‘realer’ in Shakespeare’s play than in that Dire Straits song. You can see the sorts of arguments we might have.) So OK; here’s Everett’s thesis:
I shall argue, authors may leave certain things unspecified about the world of their story including whether certain creatures count as identical or distinct in that world and which creatures exist in that world. Given (P1) and (P2) this sort of underspecification within a story gives rise to ontic indeterminancy concerning which fictional characters occur within that story. Moreover, I shall argue, if the laws of logic and identity fail in the world of a story, these failures may infect the fictional characters occurring in that story. In short, given (P1) and (P2), the fictional realist seems committed to certain pernicious forms of indeterminancy and to objects that flout the laws of logic and identity. [627-8]
He means something technically precise by ‘ontic indeterminancy’, of course; but it isn’t clear to me to what extent ‘laws of logic and identity’ ought or, in fact, do apply to any sort of character, real or fictional. The obvious move here is surely to apply Everettian strategies to the actual world and see how they shake down. Because if the world itself ‘leaves certain things unspecified’, or even exhibits ‘ontic indeterminancy’, then at the very least we can argue that authors creating characters are being true to the nature of things. But it’s hard to avoid the sense that Everett is applying a different argumentative strategy to his ‘fictional characters’ than to the world at large. For instance:
Of course, if we accept fictional characters into our ontology then we face the task of determining precisely which fictional characters there are. [627]
Why? Would anybody say ‘of course, if we accept real people into our ontology then we face the task of determining precisely which real people there are’? Or again:
A story might describe an impossible world in which the laws of logic or identity fail. But since by (P1) and (P2), what exists in the world of a story determines which fictional characters occur in that story determines which fictional characters occur in that story, various impossibilities within the world of a story may inflect the fictional characters that occur in that story. [633]
He then makes up a story:
When she arrived in Dialethialand, Jane met Jules and Jim. This confused Jane since Jules and Jim both were, and were not, distinct people. And this made it hard to know how to interact with them. For example, since Jules both was and was not Jim, if Jim came to tea Jules both would and wouldn’t come to. [634]
I like this story, actually; but it doesn’t show what Everett wants it to show. His case is that, since this world is logically impossible, any ‘characters’ included in it cannot, logically, exist. He concedes that readers are able ‘to engage imaginatively’ with the world of the story (how many biscuits should Jane buy, just enough for Jules, or enough for Jules and Jim? Her solution: ‘both to buy and not to buy extra biscuits whenever Jim came’). ‘I suspect,’ says Everett, ‘that many readers will find Jane's response to the biscuit problem very appropriate, given that she is in Dialethialand’ [635]. But this is a sort of minimal level of imaginative engagement; and as such it misses something huge and crucial about this broader question. It is not that we follow the impossible logic of the story; it is that a story such as this—as with Stevenson’s much more famous Jekyllhydean story about two individuals who both are and are not the same man—resonates as powerfully and eloquently true. Not knowing how to interact with people is a crucial, formative aspect of our being-in-the-world, one that Everett’s little tale addresses directly. Our apperception of people, and our own identity, is not consecutive and logical; and fictional characters are not based upon such alien protocols. We engage imaginatively with Jekyll and Hyde not because it is ‘conceivably possible’ to do so, but because the story, and its characters, are eloquent and powerful and true. Jekyll and Hyde is not false or inconsistent ontology; it is beautifully reflective of our sense of the way actual being-in-the-world is.

Friday, 16 April 2010

‘Do as you would be done by’

‘Do as you would be done by’ would be a fine ethical principle, if it weren’t for that stubborn streak of transferred existential and (indeed) physical masochism present in the human breast. Speaking for myself, I do not want a self-hating self-harmer to do me as s/he wishes to do him/herself.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Three Lake District Poems 3

These giant subterranean knuckles
Pushing up the latext.
All these supine profiles
Hawk nose and snub.
Skelgil Bank and Swinside
Mart Breld and Copperheap
Mildew hued and rust-brown
Peaks patched with white.
The land strains to escape.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Three Lake District Poems 2

‘Do you know what they do as a punishment around here? They make you clean the mountains—absolutely clean.’

The rain, like swearing,
turns the air blue.

Thorn-trees’ barbedwire branches .
Mud-loaded sheep, dog-faced,
raincloud bodied.

Derwent Water's million-pixel
shawl pelt bristles with
a million upstanding hairs.

The trees are halfway through
pulling their tentacles from the soil
and wrigglingly wandering off.

The rain is corpsewash cold.
Those ravens look ravenous.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Three Lake District Poems 1

From up Cat Bells
Derwent Water is
a snail trial
amongst folded cloth
and burnt toast.
The sky no nearer
than down in the valley,

and far below
a grain-sized boat
unpins the long
hair of its wake
and draws it behind
over Derwent floor:
a comet hauling its tail.

Monday, 12 April 2010

On Iago

What if Iago's motive really is the toothache he mentions ('I lay with Cassio lately/And, being troubled with a raging tooth,/I could not sleep'; Othello, 3.3.458-60)? Assume this is a real toothache; untreated pulpitis and inflammation of the nerve. This would do more than keep Iago awake the one night; it would persist, until either the infection created an agonising abcess or else spread to the jaw as a whole, and perhaps into the bloodstream. Iago's 'motiveless malignancy', then, becomes actually a symptom of extreme pain mixed with chronic sleeplessness. The tragedy of Othello? Inadequate dentistry.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Indoor Rainbows

Blank walls do not a prism make.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Anthropic Principle

People get exercised by the antrhopic principle (weak or strong): 'it turns out that this [dark] energy would have to be "tuned" to about one part in 10-to-the-120th. That is a very substantial number, to say the least, way higher than the number of atoms in the visible universe. In a recent issue of the magazine Discover, the robust atheist and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg described this as "the one fine-tuning that seems to be extreme, far beyond what you could imagine just having to accept as a mere accident."' [Mark Vernon 'Incredible Views', TLS April 2 2010]
It's the size of the numbers that fools us, but only because we're so familiar with small numbers that large ones are wreathed about with sublime mystery. But it's a failing of perspective, rather than anything integral: like somebody who's lived all their life in a living room finally being shown the whole expanse of Hull ... 'but Hull is much too big to be human! It must be evidence of divine power!'

My take on the 'anthropic' angle is to wonder why we don't apply it to other situations. Given that there are 6 billion humans alive, and more than that number who have lived and died, isn't it a vanishingly small co-oincidence that I happen to be me, rather than one of the other 15 billion? Impossible to believe! Yet here I am. I type a number at random:
12.37 x 10-to-the-12093851285601987347012th
But given the infinite number of possibilities open to me, isn't a vanishingly small co-oincidence that I happen to have typed precisely that one? Nevertheless, the explanation for the appearance of that number is me, not God.

Friday, 9 April 2010

The Dying Gaul

The Dying Gaul Pygmalioned awake;
His dying recommences. Takes him
less than five minutes, Shedding
flakes of stone like eczema
red as lava, splintering like ice,
and a groan from the mouth that says:
I am the rock on which you build, my boys.

Thursday, 8 April 2010


Poems are toy swords edged with metal; toy guns with real bullets.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Samson Anhedonistes

Idless at Gaza, at the mill with slaves ...

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


You'd think we were distanced enough in time from Queen Victoria for her to have lost her symbolic purchase on our imaginations. John Fowles starts The Magus by noting how he grew up in the shadow of his repressive parents, and they grew up in the shadow of 'that monstrous dwarf, Queen Victoria'; but, in a 1965 novel, that just about works. By the 90s, Jesus Jones (remember them) could coo with worry at incipient neoPuritanism with the song 'Welcome Back, Victoria' (on Doubt, 1991) but hindsight makes their anxiety look foolish. As an ethical and sexual signifier Victoria now, surely, looks more 18th-century than 21st. But here's the start of a 2001 poem by Jon Weir called 'The Night Sweats':
Sweating during the night the rising early,
my mind still grappling with sinuous images
of Queen Victoria coming in from the garden
and telling me that during her ride that day
she would visit General Windham's widow
-- for the life of me I couldn't imnagine why
I closed the door behind her grumpily.
That plain Queen, dumpy, housewifely,
black, stands for a tumor deep inside us,
a festering root that eternally mourns
some glamorous love irretrievably lost,
even though, if we take a backward look
through the distorting lens of self-pity,
we're forced to confess that it never existed
in the form our furtive minds gave to it.
The last few lines perhaps situate the poem suitably far-back in time, but nevertheless, this seems odd. Are people still haunted by Queen Victoria, of all figures?

Monday, 5 April 2010

Public clocks

In a world where everybody has a watch or mobile phone (and hence access to 'the right time') the proliferation of public clocks takes on a different significance. No longer purely utilitarian, it now starts to resemble temporary boasting. 'Look at me!' the building or tower declares. 'I own the time!'

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Imagination and Curiosity

Hard to see an absolute virtue in imagination and curiosity per se. After all, cowards are generally more imaginative and curious than ordinary people.

Saturday, 3 April 2010


Pierre Delalande (1768-1849), Nabokovs invented 'favourite' author, says several things about death. Here's one (quoted by Brian Boyd here):
I know that death in itself is in no way connected with the topography of the hereafter, for a door is merely the exit from a house and not part of its surroundings, like a tree or a hill. One has to get out somehow, but I refuse to see in a door more than a hole and a carpenter's job.
But this isn't right, and is indeed entirely made up; for what Delalande (a twentieth, not eighteen- and nineteenth-century writer, born 1968, died 1999) actually said was: 'we leave life as the toothpaste leaves the tube, propelled against our will; and the shape we take in the hereafter is determined by the force of our expelsion and the shape of the nozzle.' Or again, the mock-epigraph to Invitation to a Beheading:
Comme un fou se croit Dieu, nous nous croyons mortels.
But this is very far from the whole quotation, which in the original concludes '... mais, mais il est certain que parfois le fou soit un dieu.' Without its cap, the quotation makes no sense at all. With it, it becomes a profound meditation on the necessary divinity of our mortality, the Kierkegaardian insanity of faith in our own sacred status.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Magical Mystery Tour

One of those rather neglected Beatles albums: from their golden period, yet perhaps (by association with the dreadful film) seen as a lesser work. But less it isn't.

A relistening is an interesting exercise. McCartney's songwriting in the title track "Magical Mystery Tour" title track is, it now strikes me (which didn't it strike me before?) surprisingly clanking and melodically dull; and taken objectively this is a repetitive cul-de-sac of a text. Yet it is saved, and more than saved, by its brass, its harmonies and above all by Ringo's storming drumming. I could listen to it all day.

"The Fool on the Hill" has always struck me as, somehow, an ineluctibly suburban song. I say this less from any deictic or specific lyrical cues in the track (the lyrics are rather too self-consciously vague and symbolic) as, I don't know: the vibe; the counterpointed melody line. Or perhaps just the melancholia, something my own upbringing has imprinted upon the topography.

"Flying" Though it is by-the-numbers, there's something about this instrumental that just gels. Something genuinely uplifting here.

... which makes the perversely studied drabness of Harrison's "Blue Jay Way" all the more striking. The tune is dour, the vocals weary, the shifts in tempo jolting and mechanical, and (above all) the cod-profundity of folding a Buddhist noble truth ('don't belong') into a banal request to friends not to be late to the party you are throwing ('don't be long') little short of wincing. Like those people who think the 'God is nowhere/God is now here' rebus an articulation of profundity. This is not to say, of course, that the song doesn't work, in context, here. On the contrary, it is the needful downer before the chirpy McCartneyisms of

"Your Mother Should Know". When I was younger I delighted in the staircase up-and-down giant steps of the melody line. It's still pretty neat, I'd say. But what struck me as an especially nice touch on this relisten (something that hadn't struck me before) was the way this perky hymn to the maternal has its melody picked up not with la-la-la, but paternally with McCartney singing 'da-da-da-da...'

"I Am the Walrus" is still sublime, and partly so because it still presents a glittering cliff face of possibility. I get the Alice in Wonderland vibe, the bouncy free-associative surrealism angle. And when I was younger I wondered if there wasn't a spooly nightmare of eating and being eaten buried in the lyrics (the eggs, those huge tusked walruses). The most recent time I listened to it I wondered idly if the 'eggmen', rather than being directly connected with actual eggs, were indirectly connected with metonymic eggs: that, not to beat around the bush, eggs being what people eat for breakfast, the 'eggmen' weren't the topic covered in the newspapers people read whilst they had their breakfast. Something of an interpretive leap, I concede; although one that opened the song for me in a new way as a critique of tabloid modes of representation; necessarily about the Beatles themselves insofar as they were so often the subject of tabloid reportage, but mixed in with the crude moralising (you've been a naughty boy, youlet your face grow long; you've been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down), boisterous mob-oriented hooting and tossed-salad of popular topics: nuns, policemen, foreigners.

"Hello, Goodbye" is again a necessarily piece of tracklisting, separating out two of Lennon's weightiest and most wonderful tracks. If I listen to "Hello Goodbye" now it seems to me filler in the wallbuilding sense; but also provokes a desire to read its banged-home either/or scenario in a Kierkegaardian way.

"Strawberry Fields Forever". I have nothing useful to say about this, the most perfect of Lennon compositions.

"Penny Lane". Or, actually, this extraordinary matching McCartney track.

"Baby, You're a Rich Man". For some reason I've always assumed that the 'baby' being addressed is female, which makes the 'rich man' tag nicely contrary.

"All You Need Is Love". Ian Macdonald says somewhere that people criticise this track for its naivety, on the grounds that you need lots of other things apart from love, including air, food, water, shelter and a pension plan; but says Macdonald, they're missing the point. 'All You Need Is Love is a transcendental statement,' he says (I'm quoting from memory) 'as true on its level as the principle investment is true on the level of the stock exchange.' I used to think that was right, but now that I listen to it I think it undersells the metaphysical ambition of the track. Lennon's gorgeous chant is about the principle of cosmic equivalence, where all the things he lists wholly equal and amount to all the other things. There's nothing you can do that can't be done is one of Kant's a priori analytic judgments; but Lennon's mystic contribution to the philosophical debate is to insist that all things are like this. That nothing, when it's all properly understood, is synthetic in the Kantian sense; and that 'all' is a synonym for 'love' that dissolves away the categories of separation, not least amongst them 'you' (and me) and 'need'.

Thursday, 1 April 2010


Oddities of English syntax. The phrase 'why hasn't she been found?' is perfectly idiomatic. But if we expand the apostophe it ceases to be so. We wouldn't, in other words, say: 'why has not she been found?' We would say, rather: 'why has she not been found?' And yet, to expand and then contract the 'not' in it's new location leads to: 'why has shen't been found?', which is also jarringly unidiomatic. I'm not sure why this should be.