Archive for February, 2014

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Spiral Castle Revisited: Acknowledging the Influence of The White Goddess

February 25, 2014

While surfing around, looking for information about La Granmère du Chimquiere and contemporary archaeological and mythological influences on James Joyce’s writing of Finnegans Wake, I was confronted by the literary shade of Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, his historical grammar of poetic myth. Finding references to this book was a reminder of just what a formative influence it was in shaping my outlook on the world, persisting as a subterranean influence even now.

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I first came across it when I was fourteen, browsing in a bookshop in St. Albans, attracted by its enigmatic title, the subtle blue of its cover and its strange Near Eastern iconography. Flicking through, I paused at the chapter heading, ‘A Visit to Spiral Castle’, and resolved that I must have this book. For whatever reason, I didn’t buy the book there and then – perhaps I didn’t have the money or was unnerved by the mysteries concealed within the text – but within a couple of months or so I possessed a copy of this magical book. In fact, I’d already been alerted to its existence by the endnotes in Alan Garner’s The Moon of Gomrath, a book which had also directed me to Alfred Watkins’ The Old Straight Track.

By the time I was fifteen, I had read The White Goddess from cover to cover. It was my ‘Bible’, contributing to a personal mythology given expression through poetry, paintings and further reading around the sources alluded to by Graves. As such, it was also my introduction to an anti-industrial, anti-capitalist attitude, expressed in this extract from the book’s Foreword:

‘Nowadays’ is a civilization in which the prime emblems of poetry are dishonoured. In which serpent, lion and eagle belong to the circus-tent; ox, salmon and boar to the cannery; racehorse and greyhound to the betting ring; and the sacred grove to the sawmill. In which the Moon is despised as a burned-out satellite of the Earth and woman reckoned as ‘auxiliary State personnel’. In which money will buy almost anything but truth, and almost anyone but the truth-possessed poet.

On reading the book a second time a few inconsistencies and inaccuracies became apparent, which multiplied exponentially when I read The White Goddess a third time. Perhaps it was significant that my gradual disenchantment with the book coincided with a deepening involvement, in the early 1980s, with an activist social milieu characterised to a certain extent by a utilitarian ethos, as I drifted into a climate in which poetry and creative activity were dismissed as useless luxuries.

So here I am, returning to Robert Graves’ ‘historical statement of the problem’, a statement which implies some kind of withdrawal or disengagement, a desertion from the social mobilisation required by capital and its law of value:

Call me, if you like, the fox who has lost his brush… Without my brush, namely my contact with urban civilization, all that I write must read perversely and irrelevantly to such of you as are still geared to the industrial machine, whether directly as workers, managers, traders or advertisers or indirectly as civil servants, publishers, journalists, schoolmasters or employees of a radio corporation. If you are poets, you will realize that acceptance of my historical thesis commits you to a confession of disloyalty which you will be loth to make; you chose your jobs because they promised to provide you with a steady income and leisure to render the Goddess whom you adore valuable part-time service. Who am I, you will ask, to warn you that she demands either whole-time service or none at all?

I still hold The White Goddess in high regard, so I’m heartened to learn that Leonora Carrington was herself profoundly influenced by the book, describing it as ‘the greatest revelation of my life’ (quoted here). Her painting, The Giantess or The Guardian of the Egg, although conceived and painted before its publication in 1948, appears to share the grammar which animates Graves’ book: a moon-faced giantess, a golden corn field as her hair, with geese swirling out from under her cloak, encircling her with their flight.

The Giantess

Encirclement by geese seems infinitely preferable to the current reality of a progressive encirclement by the disciplinary apparatus of economic intensification, but how to effect an escape from the latter? Graves offers no guidance here:

No, my brushlessness debars me from offering any practical suggestion. I dare attempt only a historical statement of the problem; how you come to terms with the Goddess is no concern of mine. I do not even know that you are serious in your poetic profession.

Fox and Geese board

Fox and Geese board

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‘Chaplets of ringarosary’: ALP and the Grandmother of the Cemetery

February 18, 2014

Mythological and literary prototypes for James Joyce’s portrayal of ALP and her daughter, Issy, as goddess figures are plentiful, evident from obvious references in Finnegans Wake to Isis, Demeter, Persephone, as well as characters from medieval literature and folklore, such as Morgan le Fay and  Melusine. It is also highly likely that Joyce was aware of the assumption among some leading archaeologists of his day that a mother goddess figure was venerated by the builders of megalithic tombs and related structures in the Neolithic of north-west Europe. For instance, the Dublin-born archaeologist, R A S Macalister, had published a paper in 1926 called ‘The Goddess of Death in the Bronze Age art and the traditions of Ireland’, reflecting an interpretive trend to recognise goddesses in rock carvings – from those of tombs and gallery graves of the Paris Basin, to the megalithic monuments of Brittany and Ireland (Shee Twohig 1998). Perhaps Joyce was aware of a statue menhir at St. Martin’s Church, Guernsey. Dated to c.3000-2500 BC, it is known locally as La Gran’mère du Chimquiere – ‘The Grandmother of the Cemetery’.

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Image from here.

A stone pillar terminating in a carved human head and shoulders, it now stands at the perimeter of the churchyard of St Martin de la Bellouse. The face, ‘roughly sculptured’, is still visible. There is a row of small knobs, ‘perhaps representing a chaplet of beads’, on either side of the forehead. The figure ‘seems to be wrapped in drapery which falls in regular folds around it’ (De Garis 1975: 244). Formerly the carved pillar stood within the churchyard on the south side of the church, facing east. At its foot there was a flat stone slab on which were two cup-like hollows, ‘presumably for the purpose of receiving small oblations offered to the idol’ (De Garis 1975: 244). The church stands on an ancient holy site from which two springs emerged, one of which, La Fontaine de la Bellouse, was reputed to have healing properties (from here). The two springs have a literary parallel in Finnegans Wake as the ‘twin streams’ of ‘the flash brides’ (FW 66.35), the ‘two madges on the makewater’ (FW 420.7). The origin of the word ‘Bellouse’ is not known, though it may be related to the Breton word ‘belorsa‘, meaning sloe or blackthorn bushes. The recurrent association between holy wells and thorn bushes is well documented elsewhere, so it would be no surprise if the blackthorn and its dark fruit were associated with St Martin’s.

Locally, La Gran’mère has been an object of awe and reverence throughout the centuries and ‘it is not unknown to find little offerings of fruit and flowers at its foot, or even a small coin on its head for luck’ (De Garis 1975: 244-5). She was broken in two by a zealous churchwarden in 1860, concerned at the ‘idolatry’ of the parishioners. Outraged, they had her cemented back together and placed in her present position (ibid.: 245). According to a more recent source, La Gran’mère shows up as a ‘guest’ in wedding photos taken outside the church to this day.

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Image from here

The figure of La Gran’mère exists in Guernsey folklore in a way analogous to ALP in the Wake‘s ‘great myth of everyday life’ and its ‘six hundred and six ragwords’ (FW 478.9). So, when it snows, it is the old lady up in the sky, La Gran’mere, who is shedding her rags (chiques). Hence the Guernesais term for snowflakes, des chiques (De Garis 1975: 96):

Countlessness of livestories have netherfallen by this plage, flick as flowflakes, litters from aloft, like a waast wizzard all of whirlworlds. Now are all tombed to the mound, isges to isges, erde from erde.

(FW 17.26-30).

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An old postcard of St Martin’s Church, La Gran’mere stands in the foreground. From here.

In Finnegans Wake ALP is identified as a great mother, her 111 children, ‘wan bywan bywan’ (FW201.29-30), cognate with 1/11, All Saints Day, the feast on which the hallowed dead are commemorated. This is confirmed by Joyce’s use of Kabbalistic number and letter mysticism, in that the numerological value of the letters Aleph, Lamed and Peh which spell ALP in the Hebrew alphabet, combine to make 111: ‘Olaph lamm et, all that pack? We won’t have room in the kirkeyaard’ (FW201.30-31).

His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

James Joyce, ‘The Dead’, Dubliners 1914

References

Marie De Garis. 1975. Folklore of Guernsey. Self-published: The Channel Islands.

Elizabeth Shee Twohig. 1998. ‘A “mother goddess” in north-west Europe c.4200-2500 BC?’ In Lucy Goodison and Christine Morris (eds.) Ancient Goddesses. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, pp.164-179.

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Grinnygogs

February 15, 2014

While we were reflecting on the frustrating, ‘people-pleasing’ behaviour of others, my wife remembered an expression her mother had for people who presented a false, insincere bonhomie: she called them Grinnygogs. Beyond being a description of the hollow insincerity of those who smile to your face, I was intrigued by the history and meaning that must be concealed behind such an archaic-sounding phrase. A subterranean, lexically-prompted, association for me was with T.C. Lethbridge’s ‘slightly’ fanciful book, Gogmagog: the Buried Gods (1957, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul). In this endlessly fascinating book Lethbridge describes how he ‘rediscovered’ long-lost hill figures cut into the turf on the slopes of Wandlebury hillfort, in the Gogmagog Hills of Cambridgeshire. Nothing to do with grinnygogs, though (besides, the cowled goddess-figure upon a white horse doesn’t appear to be smiling anyway…).

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Magog must normally be regarded as ‘the old woman’ of folklore. Like the Cailleach, her name survives on rounded hills in England (Lethbridge 1957: 164).

There must be some folk history to it, as evidenced by ‘The Grinnigogs’, the name of a group of Yorkshire-based entertainers who perform mediaeval, Tudor and Victorian music. The word is also integral to the title of a children’s book, published in 1981 and turned into a television drama in 1983: ‘The Witches and the Grinnygog is an intelligent story of mediaeval witchcraft crossing into the modern world (as a survival of pre-Christian traditions), folklore, ghosts and time-slips’, as this review describes it. It all sounds pertinent to the general drift of this blog…

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In truth, I’d never heard of this book by Dorothy Edwards, nor of its television adaptation, filmed in Bishops Waltham and Titchfield, Hampshire – places not more than ten miles from where I live. I doubt if my late mother-in-law – born and brought up in Kent, with Brighton ancestry via her dad – picked up the word from a children’s programme either.

But, wait! Here it is… on page 136 of a pdf of The Dictionary of the Kentish Dialect (Kent Archaeological Society 2008):

Grinnygog

n. Perhaps someone with a grinning, stupid face. “You stand there just like a grinnygog.” – Plumstead, West Kent L.R.A.G. Notes on ‘A Dictionary of Kentish Dialect & Provincialisms’ (c.1977).

Well, that sums it up pretty nicely!

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Figure 11: ‘Situlogy is the transformative morphology of the unique’

February 8, 2014
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Click on this image for a closer look…

A page – ultimately, not included – from an early draft of The World’s End: Rock Images, Altered Realities and the Limits of Social Theory. It registers the structured conjunction of themes encompassing ‘Celtic’ Art, the artistic theories of Asger Jorn, archaeology and James Joyce’s novel, Finnegans Wake. The triply-interlaced motif on a bucket escutcheon found on White Horse Hill (Berkshire) parallels this passage in the novel: ‘his threefaced stonehead was found on a whitehorse hill’ (FW 132.12), a manifestation of prudentia, regarding past, present and future simultaneously. [Edit: in one of those serendipitous twists of meaningful coincidence, within half-an-hour of posting this, I find that the BBC – in advance of a documentary – has just started publicising a 4,000-year-old burial ‘of international importance’ on another Whitehorse Hill on Dartmoor (Devon), excavated in 2011. Details here]. The appearance of yin-yang-like motifs incised on an Iron Age bone flake found in a Neolithic tomb invites a playful anachronism that ruptures the linear seriality of archaeological narratives, at the same time as ‘confirming’ Jorn’s avowal of an oriental, anti-classicist principle motivating Viking and Celtic art.

In the elemental contrast of stone and water, embodied in henges, can be found a metaphor for the conflict between monumentality and the rhythm of life that Asger Jorn found in the dualism of the Apollonian aristocratic and the Dionysian folk-culture (Birtwistle 1986:33), brought into play in the article ‘Yang-Yin’, published almost concurrently with ‘Apollo or Dionysos’ in 1947, in which he opposes the ‘Chinese philosophy’ of Tao to all that is classically European (ibid.). Known as ‘the Watercourse Way’ (Watts 1975), Jorn gave Tao a universal significance:

Tao is not a Chinese ideology. It is only the name and the particular expression which is Chinese. Tao is to be found, and has existed, in all natural cultures in the history of mankind throughout the world from the dawn of time. It antedates present-day reality and in the future it will be … a concrete social and personal reality, a real way of life not only for China but for the whole world

( in Birtwistle 1986:36).

In Tao, Jorn found a ‘dialectical-materialist principle of life’ (‘Yang-Yin’, 1947, in Birtwistle, 1986:36), a ‘natural dialectic’ which could be thrown against the socially-constructed dualisms of European Culture, given form in the ‘monumentalness’ (FW 543.7-8) of HCE and of hierarchical authority in the Wake, embodied in the Wellington Monument, and continually eroded by the babbling flow of ALP’s ‘riverrun’:

Nothing in the world is weaker than water,
But it has no better in overcoming the hard.

(Lao-Tzu, Tao te Ching: 78, cited in Watts 1975:47).

As in the theory of the dérive, the ‘poetic value of passivity’ (Debord 1958, in Knabb 1981:50) of letting go, allows us to drift in the Wake of ‘his fiery goosemother, laotsey taotsey’ (FW 242.22-26), the ‘reine of the shee’ (FW 68.21) who ensures ‘What regnans raised the rains have levelled’ (FW 56.36-57.1):

If hot Hammurabi, or cowld Clesiastes, could espy her pranklings, they’d burst bounds agin, and renounce their ruings, and denounce their doings, for river and iver, and a night. Amin!

(FW 139.25-28).

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Extract from The World’s End: Rock Images, Altered Realities and the Limits of Social Theory (2004) Simon Crook

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The Flutter of a Falling Card

February 7, 2014

a bar called AT THE END OF THE WORLD (Au bout du monde), on the edge of one of Paris’s strongest unities of ambiance (the rue Mouffetard, rue Tournefort, rue Lhomond area) is not there by chance. Events are only fortuitous insofar as the general laws governing their category are unknown.

‘Architecture and Play’, Potlatch 20, May 1955

January was a strange month.

For reasons too personal to go into in great detail for now, but closely entwined with a recent family bereavement, the so-called ‘Tichborne Curse’ has featured quite prominently in my thinking lately. This is largely because of a ‘brush’ with that history, connecting the 14th Baronet of Tichborne to my recently deceased brother-in-law, which has played out in a slightly unsettling way. This post is not primarily about that particular matter, however. Instead it is about a convoluted coincidence that knits together disparate people, places, ideas and parallel circumstances over an extended period of time, while at the same time assuming a meaning and making sense to me in the light of the Tichborne connection.

‘All your graundplotting and the little it brought’

Sir Anthony Doughty-Tichborne, the 14th – and last – Baronet of Tichborne, died on 18th July 1968. His passing was reported as the fulfilment of an 800-year-old curse, as this newspaper-cutting shows.

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Newspaper-cutting taken from this page.

The historical and legendary background against which to set the passing of the last Baronet and which lends meaning to a pattern of still-developing coincidences relates to the reputed origin of the ceremony known as the Tichborne Dole, which takes place on Lady Day, March 25th. In fact, this legend of origin recapitulates a recurrent theme in folklore, which links the social conscience of particular women – sometimes embodying uncanny or otherworldly qualities as banshees or Melusine figures – and certain plots of land, dedicated to the welfare of the poor or common people, in the face of the hardheartedness of the temporal lord. The legend of Lady Godiva, for instance, is part of this genre of stories. This is a brief summary of the ceremony and the legend behind it:

An annual dole of flour is distributed to the parishioners of Tichborne, Cheriton, and Lane End, Hampshire, on Lady Day (25 March). The accompanying legend relates that in the 12th century one Lady Mabella, wife of Sir Henry de Tichborne, was much loved by the local people for her charity and kindness. When she was dying, she asked her husband to dedicate some land to support a charity for the poor in her name. His reply was to pull a burning brand from the fire and say that she could have as much land as she could walk round, carrying the torch, before it went out. As ill as she was, she still managed to crawl around 23 acres of land, before the fire petered out… Her actions not only secured the charity, but also prompted the name ‘the Crawls’ by which those acres are still known. Lady Mabella was also sufficiently cautious to lay a curse on Sir Henry, and his heirs, if they ever interfered with the charity. The real origin of the charity is not known. Nowadays, flour made from wheat grown on the Crawls is distributed on the steps of the church, after a short open-air service. A gallon of flour is given to adults, and half a gallon to children.

The Tichborne Dole 1670

Gillis van Tilborch, The Tichborne Dole 1670 From here

Letters from Afar

On January 25th we’d got back to Southampton from Kent after attending the funeral of my brother-in-law, John. That evening, as if to cut off from the sad preoccupations of the previous weeks, I started reading through the correspondence between the Marxist theorists, Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, concerning the German student movement of 1969, which had only just been published in online form here. In this exchange of letters, Adorno reproaches Marcuse for his uncritical support for a movement which he considered had technocratic tendencies and a current of ‘thoughtless violence’ which converged with fascism:

You object to Jürgen’s expression ‘left fascism’, calling it a contradictio in adjecto. But you are a dialectician, aren’t you? As if such contradictions did not exist—might not a movement, by the force of its immanent antinomies, transform itself into its opposite? I do not doubt for a moment that the student movement in its current form is heading towards that technocratization of the university that it claims it wants to prevent, indeed quite directly. And it also seems to me just as unquestionable that modes of behaviour such as those that I had to witness, and whose description I will spare both you and me, really display something of that thoughtless violence that once belonged to fascism.

— letter from Adorno to Marcuse, written in May 1969.

As I was scrolling through this correspondence, I heard something flutter and flop to the floor in the dining room behind me, a sound evocative – looking back – of the descent of a petal of magnolia blossom. In the light of family preoccupations and the peculiar circumstances of the previous 3-4 weeks, I just knew it was a ‘message’.

On investigation, I found a hand-made greeting card from 2009, wishing a ‘Merry Spring’, had fallen from one of the two large mounts on the wall, where it was displayed with about 30 other seasonal cards we had received over the years from an artist friend. On the front he had depicted an image of St Mildred of Thanet, ‘in garments based on the Kentish style of Anglo-Saxon female clothing’, standing alongside a small, antlered hind, teasing one of his tines between her fingers. The Kentish connection I found an interesting coincidence, in view of where we’d been the previous few days. I started to read the text (by Kenneth Lymer) on the back:

St Mildred was a famous Anglo-Saxon abbess of Minster in the Isle of Thanet, Kent during the 7th century CE. Mildred’s mother was St Ermenburga who in turn was the aunt of King Egbert. Ermenburga’s younger brothers, Ethelred and Ethelbright, were murdered by Thunor, one of Egbert’s men. In compensation, wergild, for their deaths Ermenburga received land in Minster for the building of a monastery. The extent of the land ceded by Egbert was determined by the amount of area in which Ermenburga’s pet hind could run around – about a thousand acres.

I paused, bowled over by the startling similarity between the Tichborne and Minster legends, both revolving around the granting of an area of land determined by a ritualised, divinatory circuit. I read on:

Ermenburga was the first abbess of the new monastery c. 670 CE and then quickly handed over the charge of the abbey to Mildred. The abbey buildings at Minster were later destroyed after the dissolution of monasteries during the time of Henry VIII. In 1937 a small group of Benedictine nuns from St Walburga’s Abbey at Eichstadt, Germany purchased the remains of the old abbey and re-established a new nunnery. They also installed a relic of St Mildred into the altar of a newly-built private chapel.

Even in the case of the nuns of St Walburga’s, ‘timely correspondence’ appears to have played a role in their acquisition of Minster Abbey, as this account on the website of Minster Abbey suggests:

In 1937, Mr and Mrs Senior, who had resided at the Abbey for several years, were planning to sell and retire to a smaller property. It proved difficult, however, to find a buyer. At this time the parish priest of the small Roman Catholic Church at Minster was Dom Bede Winslow OSB, a monk of St. Augustine’s Abbey, Ramsgate. Inspired by the idea that Minster might once again become home to a monastic community, he ‘advertised’ it to a number of English monastic houses. Since no-one took up his suggestion, he went further afield with his dream, using his ecumenical and Benedictine contacts on the continent.

According to the Minster Chronicle, Abbess Benedicta von Spiegel zu Peckelsheim of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga in Eichstatt, our founding house in Bavaria, received Dom Bede’s letter on the same day on which an officer of the Nazi SS requisitioned part of the abbey property for the use of Hitler’s ‘storm troops’. Abbess Benedicta saw the hand of providence in this ‘coincidence’ and determined, if at all possible, to view the property. On the return journey from a visitation to St. Walburga’s foundations in the United States she made an undeclared stop-over at Southampton and a friend travelled with her down to Kent.

In short, the nuns of Eichstatt acquired the abbey when the deeds were handed over on 25th March 1937, the Feast of the Annunciation, also known as Lady Day, the day that the Tichborne Dole is dispensed each year…

‘flick as flowflakes’

Christel Mattheeuws suggests that ‘experiences of synchronicity appear more often during emotional distress and as part of transformations’ (2014: 51). The interpretation of meaningful coincidence must reveal as many possibilities as the open-ended nature of Talmudic dream interpretation – an unacknowledged influence upon Freud’s method of free association – in which ‘an uninterpreted dream is like an unread letter’ (Frieden 1993: 108). I see the unfolding and enfoldment of coincidence as a continuous process, an aspect of the ‘mystery of consciousness’ in which all beings participate, as suggested by a phrase I found on this blog post, credited to Nietzsche: ‘We are buds on a single tree’.

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The card I heard fall fluttered like descending magnolia blossom, a metaphor which, elaborated in my mind today (of all days), has stirred memories of my late brother-in-law’s wife, Tanya, born and brought up in Sochi, southern Russia. Not believing magnolias could flower in England, she loved the blossoming magnolia tree in our garden because it reminded her of Sochi. Today (February 7th) the Winter Olympics open in Sochi. Today is the fourth anniversary of Tanya’s passing away. I honestly hadn’t realised that when I decided, yesterday, on a second concerted attempt to write this post about the Tichborne/Minster coincidence. Coincidence multiplies upon coincidence…

Does it take our ‘thoughtfulness’ (deeply felt) to activate/motivate such patterns of coincidence? Does the agency of those we have known and loved continue after their physical departure? Are our individual memories and thoughts in some way congruent with the memory and thought of ‘the universe’? As James Joyce writes in Finnegans Wake, ‘the world, mind, is, was and will be writing its own wrunes for ever’ (19.35-36). By the way, none of this should be conflated with the Jungian idea of the ‘collective unconscious’ or be seen as in any way an endorsement of it – I’m sure there are better ways of appreciating and approaching the strangeness of it all.

The correspondence between Adorno and Marcuse concluded in this way:

Within a few days, Adorno replied to Marcuse and passed the letter to his secretary. As she typed it up on 6 August, Adorno lay dying. Despite warnings from his doctor, he had travelled by cable car up a 3000 metre Swiss mountain peak. His heart was aching. He came back down the mountain, went into a shoe shop to make a purchase and, while there, suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of sixty-five.

References

Frieden, K. 1993. ‘Talmudic Dream Interpretation, Freudian Ambivalence, Deconstruction’. In C.S. Rupprecht (ed.) The Dream and the Text. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 103 – 111.

Mattheeuws, C. 2014. ‘Experiences of Synchronicity and Anthropological Endeavours (Part 2): Beyond a Psychology of Projection into a Cosmology of Synchronicities’. Paranthropology Vol.5 No.1 (January 2014), pp.51 – 63.

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‘Where Webs of Hope are Woven’: Greenham Common, a Poem and Drawings (1982)

February 2, 2014

This poster/poem was drawn/composed sometime in the spring or summer of 1982. Although it mentions the proposed ‘Cosmic Freedom Festival’ (of which I’d heard a whisper…), that event was incidental to what I’d already wanted to do with this text/image.

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This site (two links), from which I quote below (in green ink), appears to have the most complete account, so far, of the festival:

After the summer solstice, through some arcane internal consensus, participants in the convoy decided to join the full weight of their forces with the Women’s Peace camp with had been going for nine months just outside the main gate of the US base at Greenham Common, demanding the halt of the installation of US cruise missiles. The convoy left Stonehenge some 100 vehicles strong, for the first time calling itself the Peace Convoy, bound for one of the largest military bases in Britain. Ahead of them lay a full blown confrontation in progress, where the authorities were already completely absorbed in ridding the area of the three dozen or so women of the Peace Vigil.

I’d hitched up to Greenham on July 1st to find the Peace Convoy had occupied a large area of land by the perimeter fence of the base. It had not been taken without a struggle:

Outside the base, with the buses, vans and campers and microbuses, station wagons and cars of the Peace Convoy filling the highway as far as the eye could see in both directions, a token force of a few officers and two wagons stood at the head of the main driveway to the site – a few feet in front of a deep trench dug across the drive by relays of determined lawmen working all night long.

What they weren’t prepared for was the sheer mass of the convoy filling the highway in both directions – making it impossible for the cops to move around. Eventually one group from the convoy entered via a back entrance unknown to the police whilst the rest swelled around the police and their paddy wagons, pushing them gently to one side. Crowd rearranges rocks and dirt, outnumbered bobbies retreat for fight another day and the site is occupied.

Inside the base a meeting of top brass broke up in consternation. Aides ran about frantically, telephones started ringing in London, Washington, Moscow…

As for the poem. Well, thirty plus years of ‘theoretical elaboration’, bitter experience and disillusion later, and the wait ‘for that timeless moment/When the whole Earth will be free’ doesn’t seem any more naive than the years of an impatient activism that could not wait, against an enemy which ‘has not ceased to be victorious’. I like the fact that that phrase seems to anticipate – by almost twenty years – my first encounter with Walter Benjamin’s concept of Jetztzeit (‘now-time’) in his ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History‘. Jetztzeit – the Messianic interruption of the empty homogeneity of capitalist civilisation’s measured triumphal march, as its clocks ‘tick until doomsday’ – is the spanner thrown into the works of such a system of temporal inevitability, which would crush all in its way.

The same year I decorated a webbing bag with various occulty/alternative symbols (using permanent marker pens): Magic Mushrooms; a Cretan labyrinth with an Anarchy symbol superimposed; a waxing, full and waning moon; the Norse World Tree, Yggdrasil, uniting the upper, lower and middle worlds; the Rainbow Bridge, Bifrost, linking those worlds; the World Egg, integrating that schema… All pretty eclectic and cosmic… I suppose an invocation of the ‘powers of nature’ against political power. It had one outing, I think at the ‘Embrace the Base’ demo on December 12th that year.

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Fieldfares in Flight over Fullerton Down

February 2, 2014

Towards the end of November 2011 I took the road over Fullerton Down at dusk. I stopped by the Trig Point to admire views of Danebury Ring hillfort and Stockbridge Down. In the fading light, I became aware of clusters of birds flying intermittently overhead, as they flitted in their groups of three, six, a dozen from their temporary perches in branches or on telegraph wires, bearing their tidings.

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I guessed they were fieldfares, though I couldn’t be certain because they were silhouetted black against the sky, as they passed by, heading west to east in their dispersed bands, to gradually disappear from view. Not dissimilar to blackbirds or other thrushes, but with tuftier tails and a slightly more extravagant flourish of their wings. I tried to get a few pictures of them, but my frantic efforts to capture their course only resulted in one half-usable image.

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However, thanks to this blog, I can now positively identify the birds I saw as fieldfares, winter visitors, described here as ‘straggling, chuckling flocks that roam the UK’s countryside… a delightful and attractive part of the winter scene’.

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Reproduced on the cover of this ruinously expensive book is Stewart Edmondson’s painting, Return of the Fieldfares, my first glimpse of which took me back to Fullerton Down two-or-so years ago.