Sunday, 30 October 2011

Second Tranströmer

Another Tranströmer poem, 'The Tree and the Sky':
There’s a tree walking around in the rain,
it rushes past us in the pouring grey.
It has an errand. It gathers life
out of the rain like a blackbird in an orchard.
When the rain stops so does the tree.
There it is, quiet on clear nights
waiting as we do for the moment
when the snowflakes blossom in space.
I'm almost suspicious of how 'pretty' this poem is: how 'General Tourist Board of Scandinavia' it feels. Still, kudos to T.T. for writing a poem about a tree walking about without immediately putting the reader in mind of an Ent -- and there's enough of a puzzle in that opening image to draw the mind in. Is the tree in motion because (with the rain) the winds are making it sway? Or because the narrator is (say) driving past the tree, and imputing his own motion to the thing? Or is the poem suggesting the motion of the rain is transferred to the forest? I like the way the blackness of the blackbird leaks through into the night sky; and though describing a snowflake as a blossom isn't the most original poetic image it is effective.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Scott as poet

A few decades after Scott's death, the Westminster Review [vol 81 (1864), p.264] summed up the enduring appeal of Scott's long poems:
Did Sir Walter Scott really revivify the past in his poems and romances? No, he stopped short on the threshold, preferring that which would interest to that which was true. Had he painted the past as he knew it to have been, the picture would have shocked the majority of his readers. He dared not draw either the voluptuous enthusiasts of the Revival, or the heroic brutes and ferocious beasts of the Middle Ages. His real glory lay in throwing a poetical and unfading halo over his native land, in making Scotland forever attractive to mankind.
How to rescue Scott from the land that some contemporary international fans (apparently) thought has been named after him?

One might be to return to the wordage itself: the textuality of Scott’s ‘halo’. Robert C Gordon's Under Which King? A Study of the Scottish Waverley Novels (1969), whilst not dealing with Scott's poems, does have some interesting things to say about Scott's affinity to Byron.
Sir Walter Scott was a great novelist with a weak aesthetic conscience. He never entirely escaped from a conviction that writing was a scribblers trade, unworthy of the landed gentleman or the man of business. The magnificence of his successes was a virtue achieved by a powerful imagination working upstream against a current of doubt and prejudice that would have defeated a lesser talent. He once praised Byron, in words that chill, for achieving literary fame whilst "managing his pen with the careless and negligent ease of a man of quality" [MPW iv.375]. It was a justification of literary Whiggery by an appeal to aristocratic principle, a characteristic compliment. [1]
Byron cast no halo on his native land; indeed, the dissipation of halos (and dissipation more generally) is kind of the point of Byron. Scott’s poetry is resolutely moral, of course, especially by comparison; but there seems to me something going on in his epic-y narratives. They dissipate.

Herbert F. Tucker has written an enormous book on epic and long poetry of the Romantic and Victorian periods, called Epic: Britain's Heroic Muse 1790-1910 (Oxford University Press 2008). On The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Tucker covers a lot of ground quite quickly:
The Lay skirted epic borders. This would have been instantly apparent to readers whose sharp memory of the Ossian controversy was kept fresh by editions of balladry, themselves controversial ... from revised versions of Percy's Reliques to Joseph Ritson's Ancient Songs (1790) and subsequent collections to Scott's own Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (180203), which would reach a third edition by 1806. George Ellis's thorough scholarship in Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances, published the same year as The Lay, set Scott's chosen genre on a continuum running from trouveur balladry through 'something like an epic fable' in the 'ruder hands' of the Normans, to the Italian refinement of 'a new and splendid species of epic poetry.' Among contemporary poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge had adapted these forms with epoch-making originality in Lyrical Ballads (1798) and the unpublished but circulating 'Christabel'. [121-22]
Tucker goes on to argue that the Lay's success lay in 'foregrounding narrative as performance':
Neither the central-casting Minstrel, not the Duchess who favours the entertainment is memorably drawn; and it is plan from the kindly intercalations of the Duchess and her ladies that even they do not value the story he offers them much more highly than the dispassionate modern reader can. Yet all this scarcely matters. The secret of the poem's success lay elsewhere: in the means of its transmission, in the ingenious modulation of new-old verse and in the presentation of the narrative frame as itself a text in motion, ie a narrative possessing independent value. ... For [contemporary epic poets] Cumberland, Blake, Southey and the rest the relation of past to present remained serenely unproblematic, Not so, however, for Scott or, to judge from the enthusiasm The Lay excited, for the reading public either. History was a problem, not just a resource. With unobtrusive genius Scott both acknowledged the problem abd proposed to solve it through the continuity-therapy that a sympathetic writer and reader might conspire to effect. [123-4]
This 'continuity-therapy', I think, has to do with the way Scott gives weight to both the present-day framing device and the historical tale, and does so in a way that engages and involves his readership. But Tucker thinks Marmion is an even greater achievement.
This poem of 1808 was an epic transaction that brilliantly infused into the entertaining sophistication of the Lay a tone and an ethos addressing the national trouble that contemporary epics of a more turgid sort had begun churning up. Instructed perhaps by [Southey's] Madoc, which he read more than once, Scott showed in Marmion how heroes' guilt and victims' history might conspire to support a narrative economy of loss and gain; and he suggested how a reader's speculative investment in such a narrative economy might redound to the national interest. He did so by correlating the breaking and keeping of faith, at several stuctural levels, with the maintenance of continuity between past and present on which personal identity and British history alike depended; and by infusing into the narrated flow of heroic psychology the epochal theme of historical change which The Lay of the Last Minstrel had been content merely to stage. [137]
Tucker's reading of Marmion is a dozen dense-pages long, and I can't do justice to it here. His main argument is that Scott uses medieval history as a way of writing about Modernity, paradoxical as that sounds: 'Modernity is a chronically recurrent condition, one that sustains itself by running back to an origin it discernibly yet incompletely differs from. harbouring the incompleteness of that difference as guilt -- accepted because shared, and carried forward because perennially unpaid -- is the work of national history as Scott momentously defined it for the nineteenth-century. And he taught the world how to do this work in the novel only after undertaking it first in epic poetry, the literary genre with which national history was most firmly associated in his lifetime.' [144] Tucker doesn't have much time for the other Scott long poems, though.
In The Lady of the Lake (1810) and Rokeby (1813) Scott untwined for separate consideration historical factors that the epic web of Marmion had woven together: in the former, the conflict between waning and emerging cultural formations, represented in figures who are nearly allegories of thsoe formations; in the latter, the narrative burden of guilt as it fastens on, and bends inward into personhood, figures enmeshed in the density of national events, the latter now further complicated by New World buccaneering. Scott's decline hereafter through perfunctory self-imitation in The Bridal of Triermain (1813) and The Lord of the Isles (1815), towards the outright parody of Harold the Dauntless: a Poem in Six Cantos (1817) confirms that by mid-decade he had designated Byron his heir in metrical romance and was saving himself for prose fiction. [146]
Harold is pretty weak, I agree; but this seems to me hard on both Triermain and Lord of the Isles, both pretty interesting poems in various ways, I think.  But the broader point, that these poems 'about' history are actually about the dissipation of history, is very interesting.

Friday, 28 October 2011


There's something too facile about the way critics read from this letter to Benjamin Bailey (November 22, 1817)
I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of imagination—what the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth—whether it existed before or not. the final stanza of the 'Grecian Urn' ode:
Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
As if the earlier text somehow reinforces and endorses the later one. Just on a very basic level, something is obviously missing in the transition from 'heart's affections/beauty/truth' to 'beauty/truth'. Where's the heart? Of course it's in the poem; it's just not in the urn's chilly sexless vision of endless unconsummated beauty:
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Not to labout the point: the urn has too much altitude, and specifically omits the 'heart' which, although it knows sorrow and sickness is also the organ by which we apprehend joy, love and life. Hard to see how it could be any clearer, really ...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Moving to Mars

A Coldplay B-side: you can hear it here. And why wouldn't you? 2,660,217 people already had, as of last Monday.
Somewhere up above the stars
The wreckage of a universe floats past
Somewhere up above my heart
A tiny little seed is sown,
A government is overthrown,
Who knows when we'll be coming home at last

And I heard it on the radio
That one day we'll be living in the stars
And I heard it on a tv show
That somewhere up above
And in my heart
They'll be tearing us apart,
Maybe moving us to mars
Past the satellites and stars,

Maybe moving us to Mars

We won't see the earth again
In these seconds just remain unchanged
8 to 9, 9 to 10
We are meeting for the first time
We might never meet again you and me
We are meeting for the first time
Can't you see
We are meeting for the first time

Singing this space symphony
They'll be tearing us apart moving us to mars,
Past the satellites and stars
They're moving us to Mars
Little steal from Bowie, there, on the sudden uplift falsetto leap on 'Mars'. Inspired by this documentary about people forced to emigrate from Burma, the song can't quite get its ducks in a row about whether it wants to take its central conceit allegorically or SFnally.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

On The Balcony

First poem in Motion's The Cinder Path:
The other, smaller, islands we can see
by turning sideways on our balcony --
Ooh, not sure about that. The rhyme here forces 'balcony' into 'balcon-eee', which is too jangly and silly for the purpose.
the bubble-pods and cones, the flecks of green,
the basalt-prongs, the moles, the lumpy chains -
were all volcanoes once, though none so tall
and full of rage for life as ours, which still

displays its flag of supple, wind-stirred smoke
-- that's vivid (I appreciate I'm doing the 'mobled queen in good' thing, here)
as proof that one day soon it will awake

again and wave its twizzle-stick of fire,
-- that, however, isn't very vivid.
demolish words, block roads, consume entire

communities with stinking lava-slews
which seem too prehistoric to be true

but are. Or will be. For today we sit
-- losing its way here ...
and feel what happiness the world permits
There's a sense of slackening in the middle here. The poem works towards a conclusion in which the observers on the titular balcony look across 'roofs and aerials', 'jigsaw squares' 'terraced side streets' to 'bathers sprawling on their stones, of waves/like other bathers turning in their graves' (what?) and finally to a bush fire 'below the mountain' attended by
the clumsy bird

no, bi-plane, with a bucket slung beneath --
which sidles idly in to drench a wreath

of bush-fire in the fields, a fire that we
suppose means nothing to us here, but have to see.
An interesting poem, but a poem that doesn't generate the dread it needs to. Too perfectly free of unease.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Bronzino's Portrait of Lorenzo Lenzi

Painted 1527-28. Such a striking image! It's the juxtaposition of the young boy's face and the man's buffalo-stance body; the black clothes and the green backdrop, the way he has a book open but is not looking at the book. There's such uncertainty in the lad's eyes; the child in all of us peeping out through the trappings of adulthood and learning.

Monday, 24 October 2011

App idea

App idea: I would like something that enabled me to choose the format and, above all, the font in which I read books on the Kindle-app on my iPhone. That's all.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


Splendid bit of massy generalisation from Fredric Jameson (in ‘Cosmic Neutrality’, his LRB review of Henrik Pontoppidan’s Lucky Per): ‘in the Northern or Protestant countries, cultural dissatisfaction is indistinguishable from religious misery.’ Golly. Really? The elision of terms is striking—not that religion is so central to life that it swallows culture, but that it is only another function or manifestation of culture; not that ‘dissatisfaction’ is necessarily misery (because, of course, it need not be: it can equally be the pleasant spur, the stimulating fizz of life), but that it is taken to be so by nations in which religion and culture blur together.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Hate Mail

Reports of the eviction of travellers, the incarceration of ‘dole cheats’ or the severe treatment of ‘scroungers’ and the like in some media—the Daily Mail and their analogues—often contain an unmistakeable tone of glee. Where does this come from? Where originates the little kick of satisfaction in the soul of the representative reader of such journals? Presumably it is occasioned by the thought that these people are being punished for ‘getting away with something’ (‘at last!’) that the Mr and Mrs Daily Mail Reader is not—enjoying something the Mailreader is denied. But what? In what manner do such people envy the Lumpenproletariat? The obvious retort is that if one envies the lowest members of society, one has not properly understood what poverty entails. But the truth is simpler: what Mailreader envies in the Lumpenproletariat is their idleness. It's not that they're sponging, getting money they're not entitled too; it is not, that is to say, really about money (Mailreader doesn't feel the same inner satisfaction when s/he reads of a crooked banker getting caught). These lumpenproletariat are unemployed, and so poor; but more to the point they are unemployed and so without employment. Mailereader resents the fact that s/he must work. Worse, s/he knows subconsciously that working harder, and earning more money, will result in more work and more stress, not more leisure and more joy. Instinctively, and however much s/he reacts against it, s/he comprehends that the only way out of the erg-mill is down, not up. But of course s/he lacks the courage to make such a move. Hence the ferocity of his/her pleased reaction when reading that the police tasered a group of squatters—it is her own weaker will that is being punished.

Friday, 21 October 2011


Reading C F D Moule’s The Origin of Christology (Cambridge University Press 1977): interesting, if (designedly) narrowly conceived stuff. Moule sets out to do something very specific: ‘the scope of this book is strictly limited ... inquiry is limited almost entirely to the New Testament documents.’ He hopes to challenge the idea that ‘the descriptions and understandings of Jesus which emerge in course of Christian history can be explained as a sort of evolutionary process.’ Rather he believes that, although conceptions of Christ changed over the first few hundred years of Christian belief, this was not the ‘evolution’ of a figure from one form to another, but rather the gradual understanding or manifestation of features that were all already present in the historical Christ. That’s fair enough, although the obvious objection is that one is not well placed to critique the idea that the worship of Christ absorbed all manner of (as it were) mutating influences from other cultural and religious discourses by deliberately excluding those other cultural and religious discourses from one’s analysis. But fair enough. Here’s how Moule caricatures (his word) the ‘religionsgeschichtliche Schule’ the ‘history of religions school’ view: ‘one might say that it starts with a Palestinian Rabbi and ends with the divine Lord of a Hellenistic Saviour cult.’ But wouldn’t it be possible to read this synchronically, rather than diachronically? Indeed, isn’t the point of Christ somehow included in such a reading—that he is simultaneously a first-century AD Palestinian Rabbi, and the product of a wider religious-cultural discourse of Hellenistic messianism and humanoform gods—and an idea in the head of C F D Moule and his compadres as well?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

On Historical Fiction

Thinking about teaching a course on historical fiction, but getting stuck on the syllabus. Start with Lukacs, Scott's Waverley, maybe do Tale of Two Cities. But then: War and Peace. How to teach such a course without doing War and Peace? But is there any way in the world the students would read it? Maybe do an entire course on War and Peace? But then I'd miss my Scott and Dickens, and I wouldn't be able to do any cool C20th historical stuff -- Wolf Hall, say.

Not sure what to do about this. But is has got me thinking, a little, about the relationship between historical fiction and really, really long novels: novels of kilopageage and megawordage. Here's one recent example: Stephenson's Baroque books. I wonder if there's some straightforward quantitative translation from historic to aesthetic going on: as if, even unconsciously, the expanding waistline of historical fiction is a mode of saying: 'but there's a lot of history, so we need a lot of novel to encompass it!' If so, then isn't that a slightly fatuous comparison?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


I was at work chatting with my friend and colleage, Bob, the other day, about this and that. In the course of conversation he mentioned an idea he'd had, to do with the naming conventions in the Harry Potter novels, that unpacked into a reading of the whole Potter phenomenon. It was very clever and, I think, perceptive; but here's the thing. I don't know if he intends to write this up as a full paper (he should), but sitting in my office he sketched it very briefly: just enough of the idea so that I -- an individual also in the profession of going for clever and, hopefully, insightful things about literature and culture -- could see (a) what he was suggesting, and (b) that it was clever and insightful. He was able to communicate this to me so efficiently because we share many points of cultural and theoretical reference, and we're both familiar with those rhetorical and textual conventions by which ideas get elaborated into academic papers and the like. It's a function of a degree of specialisation, of course; like one chess player who can communicate a whole block of many moves to another by saying 'it was a two-knights defence opening countered by a Benko gambit', such that the other can go 'ah! I see -- how clever!' But having thought this, and starting to wonder about the relationship between professional shorthand and conceptually content-ful shorthand, I suddenly thought: 'uh-oh. Mornington Crescent...'

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Food as Wealth

However inspiring Ruskin's definition is -- however metaphysically and ethically resounding (for there is no wealth but life) -- it does not provide us with the means to discriminate between different degrees of wealth. And inequalities in wealth is the most pressing point, of course. 'Money' is a way of doing this, but the problem with it is that it is too discriminating -- infinitely gradable. Food is a better index: because it acknowledges the truth that most people are variously richer or poorer, but others (rich Westerners) are absolutely wealthy. That crucial concept (absolute wealth) is what 'money' lacks as a quantifier.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Crabby old wisdom

From George Crabbe's The Village, to be filed under 'never a fucking truer word spoken, O my brothers':
Grief is a foe, expel him then thy soul;
Let nobler thoughts the nearer views controul.
Spelling, sic.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

J’ai l’éternité devant moi!

One of Lamartine's poems ventriloquises God:
Arrête, orgueilleuse pensée;
À la loi que je t’ai tracée
Tu pretends comparer ma loi?
Connais leur difference auguste:
Tu n’as qu’un jour pour être juste,
J’ai l’éternité devant moi! [Lamartine, “La Providence À l’Homme” (1819), Les Méditations Poétiques, 49-50]
Dangerous stuff, really: not from the point of view of run-of-the-mill impiety, but on the contrary insofar as it might tempt people into thinking through the implications of an immortal deity. How could a being, from the point of view of actual infinite existence, see the lives of transient mayfly beings like us as anything at all? I mean: anything at all -- is it even logically coherent to imagine that infinite can apprehend the finite in any sense? Mayflies live only a small fraction of our lifespans, but it is a meaningful fraction; mortality divided by infinity is nothing at all. We might want to say, indeed: only a god who dies (like Pan, or Christ) can have any relationship to mortal beings at all. To make the obvious leap from Lamartine to Elvis Costello, this (I think) is what 'God's Comic' is about:
I wish you'd known me when I was alive, I was
a funny feller
The crowd would hoot and holler for more
I wore a drunk's red nose for applause
Oh yes I was a comical priest
"With a joke for the flock and a hand up your
Drooling the drink and the lipstick and
Down the cardboard front of my dirty dog-collar

Now I'm dead, now I'm dead, now I'm dead,
now I'm dead, now I'm dead
And I'm going on to meet my reward
I was scared, I was scared, I was scared, I was
He might of never heard God's Comic

So there he was on a water-bed
Drinking a cola of a mystery brand
Reading an airport novelette, listening to
Andrew Lloyd-Webber's "Requiem"
He said, before it had really begun, "I prefer
the one about my son"
"I've been wading through all this unbelievable
junk and wondering if I should have given
the world to the monkeys"


I'm going to take a little trip down Paradise's
endless shores
They say that travel broadens the mind, till you
can't get your head out of doors

I'm sitting here on the top of the world
I hang around in the longest night
Until each beast has gone bed and then I say
"God bless" and turn out the light
While you lie in the dark, afraid to breathe and
you beg and you promise
And you bargain and you plead
Sometimes you confuse me with Santa Claus
It's the big white beard I suppose
I'm going up to the pole, where you folks die of cold
I might be gone for a while if you need me

Now I'm dead, now I'm dead, now I'm dead,
now I'm dead, now I'm dead and you're all
going on to meet your reward

Are you scared? Are you scared? Are you scared?
Are you scared?
You might have never heard, but God's comic

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Social Work

James D. Watson (of DNA fame, and borderline-racism infame) once declared: 'there is only one science, physics: everything else is social work' [quoted in Lifelines (1997) by Steven Rose]. There may be something in this: not in the sense of elevating the importance of physics, but on the contrary, as stressing the centrality of 'social work' -- the crossover between science and fiction for instance.

Friday, 14 October 2011


Foucault's essay 'What is Enlightenment' ('Was ist Aufklärung?') riffs on Kant's own 'Was ist Aufklärung?' piece. Amongst other things, Foucault suggests that 'Kant defines Aufklärung in an almost entirely negative way, as an Ausgang, an "exit", a "way out" ... he is not seeking to understand the present on the basis of a totality or of a future achievement. He is looking for a difference: what difference does today introduce with respect to yesterday?' I like this way of thinking about science -- that is, as something people assume will be an ausgang. It doesn't matter if existence, or our own irresponsibility, forces us into the cul-de-sac: science will open a door for us. For instance, medicine. For instance, climate change. Foucault is right that this is a mode of thinking with pernicious consqeuences.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Menckenian belief

H L Mencken, with characteristic sarcastic wisdom, once said: ‘no man ever quite believes in any other man. One may believe in an idea absolutely, but not in a man.’ You might think he is tacitly arguing that Deism trumps conventional Christianity, but this would be to misunderstand his point: for incomplete belief is more powerful than complete belief.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

On the Writing of Science Fictional Stories

We are all of us in the gutter. Some of us are writing about the stars.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

First Tranströmer

Here's a poem by Tomas Tranströmer, this year's Literature Nobel Laureate. (I aim to read as much of him in the next few weeks as is available to me). Judging by the poems included on his own author 'bsite, music is a 'thing'. This is 'Lugubrious Gondola Number 2', translated by Robin Fulton in 1990:
Two old men, father-in-law and son-in-law, Liszt and Wagner, are staying by The Grand Canal
together with the restless woman who married King Midas
the man who transforms everything he touches into Wagner.
The green chill of the sea forces its way up through the palace floors.
Wagner is marked, the well-known Mr Punch profile is wearier than before
the face a white flag
The gondola is heavily laden with their lives, two returns and one single.

One of the palace windows flies open and the people inside grimace in the sudden draught.
Outside on the water the garbage gondola appears, paddled by two one-oared bandits.
Liszt has written down some chords that are so heavy they ought to be sent
to the mineralogical institute in Padua for analysis.
too heavy to rest, they can only sink and sink through the future right down
to the years of the brownshirts.
The gondola is heavily laden with the crouching stones of the future.

Peep-holes, opening on 1990.

March 25. Anxiety over Lithuania.
Dreamt that I visited a large hospital.
No staff. Everyone a patient.

In the same dream a new-born girl
who spoke in complete sentences.

Beside his son-in-law, who is a man of the age, Liszt is a moth-eaten Grand Seigneur.
It's a disguise.
The deep that tries on and rejects different masks has picked out this one for him.
The deep that wants to step in, to visit the humans, without showing its face.

Abbé Liszt is accustomed to carrying his own suitcase through slush and sunshine
and when the time comes to die no one will meet him at the station.
A warm breeze of highly gifted brandy carries him off in the middle of some task.
He is never free of tasks.
Two thousand letters per year!
The schoolboy writing out the wrongly spelt word a hundred times before he can go home.
The gondola is heavily laden with life, it is simple and black.

1990 again.

Dreamt that I drove 200 kilometres for nothing.
Then everything grew large.
Sparrows big as hens sang deafeningly.

Dreamt that I drew piano keys
on the kitchen table. I played on them, silently.
The neighbours came in to listen.

The keyboard which has kept silent through the whole of Parsifal (but it has listened) is at last allowed to say something.
Sighs . . . sospiri . . .
When Liszt plays this evening he holds down the sea-pedal
so that the green power of the sea rises through the floor and flows into all the stones of the building.
Good evening, beautiful deep!
The gondola is heavily laden with life, it is simple and black.

Dreamt that I was to start school but came late.
Everyone in the room was wearing a white mask.
Impossible to tell who the teacher was.
About music, and dreams, and hospitals (Tranströmer had his celebrated, or infamous, stroke in 1990; I don't know whether this poem pre- or antedates that). About weight, but delivered with impressively fluid gracefulness. Gondolas, eh? Ah, Gondolas.

Monday, 10 October 2011


Ian Watson's characteristically brilliant, if creatively repulsive, short story “Tales From the Zombible” (it first appeared in Andy Remic's Vivisepulture collection) opens with this striking description of zombie sex and fertility:
A lady Zombie sucks a gentleman Zombie’s corrupting testicle into her like she’s slurping an oyster. Down goes that oyster testicle into her bellywomb unchewed. The eggworms that are already inside her burrow into that rotting testicle, then nature’s alchemy gets to work, and behold: the woman’s worms and the worms in the testicle, which are called sperms, blend into tiny little Grubs. Worms and sperms, that’s the trick. The hungriest Grub gobbles all its brother and sister grubs, putting on weight. Then Master Greedy slides down the venus tube coated in slime, hangs on at the very lip, and climbs up like a slug to her titty to suck on her ooze. The lady lets you suck; she doesn’t suck you. That’s motherhood amongst us Zombies.
There's a symbolic truth in amongst this deliciously revolting confection: the same truth in the pervasive eroticisation of oral activity (from kissing to oral sex) -- that sex is a primal appetite, a consumption of the other.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Ono Ovid

Ovid, Fasti: "Est deus in nobis: agitante calescimus illo" ("There is a God in us, and we glow when he stirs us"). Much quoted. But, Richard Jackson King persuades me, much more sexual than is usually thought: 'what Ovid says in book 6 is that a god in nobis, "inside me", causes visionary impetus or passion, when it prods, and he "becomes inflamed" or "warm" (calescimus) ... moreover Ovid suggests a Platonic sexual-agricultural metaphor, in which the god "Love" (in the Symposium) releases divine semina inside the poet. These seeds emerge as visionary, vatic discourses.'

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Spenser's Colin Clout

Now, yes, of course: we know that Spenser takes the name from Skelton (1521-22); and that Skelton chose the name as an obscure allusion to the subject of his satire, Cardinal Wolsey -- the 'clout' that the proverb adjures us not to cast til May be out being a woolen piece of clothing. Of course, clout also means 'clod of earth' (OED lists this from 1250), which is a more appropriately rustic name for a shepherd. That's all fair enough, and Spenser's other shepherds have traditional names. But E.K.'s notes makes me wonder if we're not supposed to read Spenser himself into this:
Colin Cloute is a name not greatly used, and yet have I sene a poesie of Maister Skeltons under that title. But indeede the word Colin is Frenche, and used of the French poete Marot (if he be worthy of the name of a poete) in a certein aeglogue. Under which name this poete secretly shadowerd himself, as sometime did Virgil under the name of Tityrus, thinking it much fitter then such Latine names, for the great unlikelyhoode of the language.
Doesn't that imply that 'Colin Clout' is a version of 'Edmund Spenser'? I wonder if the logic would go; 'Edmund' ('monde' being French) is as French as the rather unfrench Colin. A 'Clow' is a sluice through which a river or canal can flow; so 'clowed' would be what happened to the water when it had passed through -- when it was 'spent', as it were. Hence 'Spen[t]ser', since a 'spencer' is [from 1300 on, OED] one who has charge of household provisions, holding them back of expending them -- no, I've parted company with the plausible at this moment.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Lily's poem

The mournful maid, by Lily Roberts (5SB)

I’m walking down the path to the front door of this monstrosity of a house.
I’m ringing the rusty bell. Thump thump thump. Closer and closer and closer.
I can hear the wind howling. The door opens. A butler is standing there.
His uniform, black and white. Waiting for me to come inside.
‘Come in, miss,’ he pronounces.
We stagger up what seems like hundreds of stairs.
At the top and he says: ‘your room, miss.’
I open the door to find a room with a chest and a bed.
The only light struggles in from the dull window.
The room looks as if all the life had been sucked out of it.
This place is not a house. It is a prison.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Chesterton on atheism

To quote Chesterton: 'we are tempted to rank our three friends, Mr Atheist, Mr Anglican and Mr Puritan in ascending order of intensity of religious belief. This is quite the wrong way around. Prayer, contemplation and chapel attendance are indeed one way of worship, but they are as small, in comparison with the other ways, as the church is in comparison to the world as a whole. Verily (as preachers are fond of saying) the Puritan's worship is the smallest, for it seeks to shrink God, and pen Him in a narrow mind made of plaited commandments, rules, obligations and repressions. The Anglican, though perfectly conventional in his piety and assiduous in his church-attendance, is the next smallest in terms of the magnitude of his worship: for although the box in which he seeks to confine God is bigger than Mr Puritain's oligocephalic skull, yet it is a red-brick, steepled and coloured-glass box for all that. No, of the three, the Atheist has the largest mode of worship, although he himself doubtless does not realise it. He alone instinctively understands that God fits into no box at all, not even the capacious container marked "belief" (for we bestow belief on a swarm of things). The atheist worships God with the holy innocence of the fool and the animal, unwittingly, by being the creature God made, moving through the world God made and filling his heart with all the human emotions in which God delights. Of all the three, Mr Atheist is the only one who does not consider himself in some manner superior to his maker, a feat he manages by not believing in him at all. The other two, however much they might deny it, and however genuine those denials might be, cannot boast as much: for they worship a boxed God, and might as well pray to stocks and stones.' He goes on: 'God is both the principle of creation and of restriction, of heaven-and-Earth in seven days, and the list of ten thou-shalt-nots. But the former so dwarfs the latter, the possibilities and thou-maysts so vastly outnumber the prohibitions, that it is mere perversity to concentrate one's worship upon the latter. And the atheist instinctively knows this. Christ took Moses's ten commandments and replaced them with two, to love God and one another. The atheist is bolder still: he replaces all twelve with one, thou shalt not attempt to fit God inside thy mortal mind, and thereby frees the creatively possibilities from their bonds.'

I should add, of course: this isn't Chesterton. Chesterton wrote no such thing.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


A man wheels a bicycle across the road in the middle distance:
Or is he carrying a gigantic pair of round-lens spectacles with him?

Still the chess-game continues, and I move my rook-car straight forward.
Mr Cyclist's castling (king's side) doesn't perturb me in the least.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Ille Ego Qui Quondam

Those widely suppressed first-four-lines-to-the-Aeneid:
Ille ego quondam gracili modulatus avena
carmen at egressus silvis vicina coegi
ut quamvis avido parerent arva colono
gratum opus agricolis; ad nunc horrentia Martis.
Spenser was fond of this little passage; he structured his own career upon it, and brought the lines themselves into both the Shepheard's Calendar:
Indeede the Romish Tityrus, I heare,
Through his Mecænas left his Oaten reede,
Whereon he earst had taught his flocks to feede,
And laboured lands to yield the timely eare,
And eft did sing of warres and deadly drede,
So as the heauens did quake his verse to here.

But ah Mecænas is yclad in claye,
And great Augustus long ygoe is dead:
And all the worthies liggen wrapt in leade,
That matter made for Poets on to play:
For euer, who in derring doe were dreade,
The loftie verse of hem was loued aye. [IX 'October']
And the opening of the Faerie Queene:
Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly Shepheards weeds,
Am now enforst a far unfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds,
And sing of Knights and Ladies^ gentle deeds;
Whose prayses having slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broade emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithfull loves shall moralize my song.
They were all at it, mind. Here's how Lope de Vega opens his epic Jerusalén conquistada (1609):
Yo que canté oara la tierna vuestra
los amores de Angélica y Medoro
en otra edad, con otra voz mas diestra;
de vuestro sol el vivo rayo adoro;
en tanto, pues, que a la marcial palestra
la fama os llama en al metal sonoro,
oid, Felipe, las heroicas sumas
de Espana triunfos, de la fama plumas.

[I who in another time sang for your tender years with a sweeter voice about the love between Angelica and Medoro, now I come to worship the bright rays of your sun. Whilst Fame now summons you, Philip, to the arena of war, listen now to the supreme heroic achievements, the triumphs of Span, the famous writing.]
David Scott Wilson-Okamura's Virgil in the Renaissance (2010) explores the ins-and-outs of this in fascinating detail. He suggests the three part trajectory entails various other logics, and quotes John of Garland's 13th-century 'Wheel of Vergil':
Lowly (humilis) style: Shepherd at ease (Tityrus, Melibeous); animal -- sheep; tool -- crook; location -- pasture; tree -- beech.

Middle (mediocris style: Farmer (Triptolemus, Coelius); animal -- cow; tool -- plough; location -- field; tree -- fruit (apple, pear)

Weighty (grauis) style: Soldier, Prince, King (Hector, Ajax, Achilles); animal -- horse; tool -- sword; location -- city, camp, battlefield; tree -- laurel, cedar. [Wilson-Okamura, 91]
What's really going on here, though, is made clearer by Milton's characteristically complex reworking of this device:
Sing, Heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That shepherd who first taught the chosen seed
In the beginning how the heavens and earth
Rose out of Chaos: or, if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God, I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
And chiefly thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for thou know'st; thou from the first
Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread,
Dove-like sat'st brooding on the vast Abyss,
And mad'st it pregnant: what in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That, to the height of this great argument,
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.
This is tripartite, too: shepherd, brook, the pure spirit. The shepherd is Moses -- who was, indeed, a shepherd. Indeed he was working as a shepherd when he encountered the burning bush, that puzzling rebus of God. My take on the burning bush is that it embodies the essential mystery of God's creation as seasonal, the same deep force that drives pastroal and bucolic poetry through its green fuse: the world of vegetation on which we depend for life itself (first hand as food, second hand as food for our animals, and -- as we now comprehend -- zeroth hand for the very oxygen that we breathe) ... that world dies every winter, and yet is reborn every Spring. It is continually consumed, as by fire (not least by us) but despite this it is continually alive. (It's not accidental that in the Qu'ran, Moses is taught by Khidr, the Green Man beloved of God, a figure of youthful vigour and handsomeness although with a long white beard and the wisdom of old age ... creation embodied as simultaneously dying and coming-to-life, John Barleycorn, the Green Knight). The Moses narrative contains all three: Moses himself as pastor, the 'cow'-based bucolic element of the Golden Calf which inflame Mosaic ire, and the mountain into which Moses ascends to encounter the pure spirit.

Monday, 3 October 2011

As You Hate It

Kristeva’s short essay ‘Atheism’ [in Hatred and Forgiveness (2011)] repudiates the ‘Communist’ atheism that killed her father by refusing to administer ‘costly medications to aged persons’ (‘the horror of this atheism requires no commentary’). Later she says: ‘a deeper study of theology, notably Marian, allowed me to note how Christendom went on to truly construct the maternal experience—in the guise of what some consider a “goddess mother” is Christianity, and others deplore as a “victimization” of femininity—at the intersection of biology and meaning. Recognition of virginity as an unthinkable externality, a challenge to the logics of beginnings, causes and effects; valorization of maternal love with its ecstatic as well as painful latencies; recompense for feminine paranoia, avid for power and sovereignty … these are a few of the advances of Marian worship, on which the subjectivity of men and women in the West was built and without comprehension of which this subkectivity would remain inaccessibility.’ [211]

That’s a large claim. I’m struggling, and failing, to think of any aspect of subjectivity at all, male or female, that’s not forged ‘at the intersection of biology and meaning.’ Elsewhere she says that ‘religions were constituted precisely as “catharses” or “purifications” of variants of “evil”, which were nothing other than various destinies of hatred’ [191]. It’s a strange notion: hatred as precisely a pure passion—Christ chasing the money-lenders out of the temple, for instance—is precisely a cornerstone appeal of religion. The world bruises your heel; you can lash out, with perfect hatred, and bruise its head. ‘I can enjoy my hatred, now, because religion has helped me to channel it towards its proper targets: evil!’ This is the kind of knot of which psychoanalysis is so good at elucidating, of course; except that the implication of this analysis is that religion provides a kind of short-circuit of the hatred-emotion; and I don't think that's right.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

As You Like It

Here's a theory about this play: Orlando dies during the wrestling scene in Act 1, when 'sinewy Charles' breaks his neck. Since the last things he sees before his death are the lovely, sexy but slighly androgenous Rosalind and Celia, they are uppermost in the postmortem, or dying-man, fantasy he has (Pincher Martin like), which occupies the remainder of the play. Arden is Afterlife.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

As You Love It Poem

Cloud as tufts. The memory stays with you.
Breath and breath. A new heaven and a new
soil discarded from heaven. Let's love it for that
And do you love him because of the I do.
The little strength I have, I wish it yours.

Charles: come, where's this young gallant
that is so desirous as to fuck the dusty ground?
Orlando: Ready, sir; but my cock has more mundane ambition.