Archive for May, 2015

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A Couple of Derelict Pubs in Birkenhead

May 31, 2015

Here

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The Pier Hotel, near the old Mersey Ferry at Woodside.

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Was The Caledonia Inn, according to this site, before it changed its name. The boxer John H Stracey was a part-owner, evidently. Reminds me a bit of The North Star in St Mary Street, Southampton (demolished to make way for ‘redevelopment’).

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The Flowers of Shanidar

May 25, 2015
Shanidar Cave. Picture: JosephV en.wikipedia.

Shanidar Cave. Picture: JosephV en.wikipedia.

Phone for Phineal toomellow aftermorn and your phumeral’s a roselixion.

James Joyce, Finnegans Wake

A wish to respond to the posting online of a cartoon drawing a crass comparison between the iconoclasm of Islamic State and the supposed ‘brutishness’ of Neanderthals has led me to search out the Shanidar Flower burial. This search and response was done against the backdrop of listening to a lecture by the art historian, and ‘expelled situationist’, TJ Clark. I’d summarise (clumsily) his talk as a rambling ‘work-in-progress’, seeking an escape from a temporality which is directed to a future, instead to ‘foresee a present’ which is a catastrophe, wrought by the arrogance of a modernity that saw millions slaughtered in the process of proletarianising ‘backward’ peasants as economic development (view the lecture here). neandthug

I feel compelled to assemble my thoughts now, as the lecture plays on, having just spent some time in Gozo, Malta (frankly, in a consumerist/touristic context), a place not ‘fully developed’ out of a ‘peasant’ way-of-life, a way-of-life which paradoxically attracts tourists, contributing to a cycle of development exemplified by the construction of hotels and apartments along the beaches and around the rocky coves of fishing villages. In terms of financialisation and globalisation, the sighting of a Chinese dignatory’s limousine travelling up a street in Victoria, Gozo last week, and the projected construction of the campus of an American University in Malta, points – ominously – to the attraction of the islands to these capitalist global powers (dark thoughts of waves of evangelical missionaries, the elimination of the siesta, the elimination of the festive calendar, the elimination of the ‘open sociality’ of the street of the locals – while encouraging the licensed pleasure of tourists – all in the name of economic rationality). The catastrophe piles up its wreckage… Here’s the comment I left under the cartoon:

It’s an insult to Neanderthals who created art and culture of their own. The famous Neanderthal burial in Shanidar Cave, Iraq, was laid to rest with flowers – the first known use of flowers in a funeral rite. Neanderthals are just as much a part of the beauty of human culture that the sociopaths of IS want to destroy.

I thought of Marx’s critique of transcendent religion’s estrangement from earthly life – human, other-than-human – in which

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.

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The mourning context of the Neanderthal rite accords with TJ Clark’s engagement with the tragic register of the writings of Walter Benjamin – prompted by reading Christopher Hill’s The Experience of Defeat – so as to cultivate a ‘pessimism of strength’ which remains conscious of the predicament we’re in, to mourn what has been lost, away from a futurism in lockstep with the triumphal forward march of history’s victors, seeking instead ‘to assemble the materials for a society’. I’m aware that I may be misrepresenting what Clark is trying to say, it is an all-too-brief summary of the snatches of what I heard and how it’s resonating with me. The homogenising religious orthodoxy of IS is, of course, as much a part of capitalist modernity as Stalin’s exterminating of the Kulaks, a theocratic modernism complete with the opening of luxury five star hotels in Mosul to cater for jihad tourists; another reason I think the cartoon representation of IS iconoclasts as ‘backward Neanderthals’ is so stupid, illustrative of the same catastrophe of progress, mourned by Benjamin, pondered on by Clark.

For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life

Early last week, on the small island of Comino – between Gozo and Malta – we found a 16th-century church dedicated to the Flight of the Holy Family to Egypt. Someone had placed a solitary white chrysanthemum on the wall in front of the church, a flower symbolising death, grief and lamentation in much of Europe, the Mediterranean as well as China, Japan and Korea.

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On our return to the UK yesterday, we learnt that two British tourists had been drowned off Comino just the day before. Many thousands more people – in a modern-day ‘flight from Egypt’ – have also perished in the waters of the Mediterranean…

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Twenty-Seven Larks

May 20, 2015

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In William Blake’s Milton (1804-1810), twenty-seven larks must pass through the Twenty-seven Heavens before the twenty-eighth lark can fly free…

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Pictured: short-toed larks, Xlendi, Gozo

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Reclaiming London

May 4, 2015

Trying to track down a particular picture, in relation to the growing resistance to ‘social cleansing’ in London, I came across this review from 2012:

In Take Over the City – Community Struggle in Italy, (1973), Lotta Continua documented multiple forms of struggle beyond the factory walls including rent strikes, mass occupations and mass squatting in ‘a direct response to the tyranny of rent’. Rent strikes and occupations were combined, and a discourse of rights was directly linked to appropriation as in the popular slogans: ‘The only fair rent is no rent!’, and, ‘Housing is a right. Why pay rent!’ Class conflict was extended directly over the entirety of social consumption and was understood as, ‘a struggle for the re-appropriation of social wealth produced by the working class but unpaid by capital’.

Without having to endorse everything Lotta Continua ever did and published, the multiple forms of struggle they documented – including mass occupations and mass squatting – are surely still relevant in what now are desparate times for working class communities trying to maintain a life in a city being sold under their feet.

I tracked down the picture (here)…

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Haugtussa, or Eight Sogns from The Mountain Maid: Dreaming Copt Howe and Elter Water

May 2, 2015

well how are you Maggy & hopes soon to hear well & must now close it with fondest to the twoinns with four crosskisses

James Joyce, Finnegans Wake

According to a saying attributed to Rabbi Chisda, ‘a dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is not read’ (Frieden 1993: 104). It is a saying I’ve been reminded of in trying to interpret a dream I had in the early hours of a morning last week-end. So striking was the dream that I was compelled to get up and find a pen and paper to write it down before forgetting it; something I haven’t done for a long time. I can’t help but feel that dreams must be of more than personal significance if all of us participate in a common field of consciousness, and events in the world had certainly impinged on what I dreamt.

For I had retired to bed unsettled by the knowledge that, the day before, a nineteen-year-old motorcyclist had been killed in a tragic road traffic accident only a couple of hundred yards up the road. I had also just learnt that a friend who lives nearby was waiting for news of her goddaughter in Kathmandu, from whom nothing had been heard since the terrible earthquake shook Nepal a few hours earlier.  Not surprisingly, the language of seismology and communication appears to have worked its way into the dream, as I summarise it here:

The epicentre of an erratic, intermittent pulse of communications has finally been located – via some sort of ‘remote viewing’ or infrared video link in a news report – to a pool of water by a drystone wall in the far north west of England. Golden sparks like embers scattered from an invisible fire are seen to fly in the night sky, reflected in the ripples of the pool, glowing speckles drifting beneath the branches of the swaying trees around the waters. A correspondent at this place – who should be in Montpellier, in France – is trying to attract my attention here, alerting me to these urgent communications from… from where? Some otherwordly place… the land of Faerie?

A drystone wall runs ahead of me alongside this pool, its course punctuated by a huge slab of rock, aligned with the low wall into which it has been incorporated, but towering above it. Its flat outer face is incised with ancient carvings, 5,000 years old. Just feet away from this stone, parallel with the orientation of the wall and the stone’s worked surface, is the burnt out shell of a car – as out of place here as my correspondent friend on his night vigil. How did the car get to this inaccessible spot? The same way the joyriders of Whitehawk abandoned burnt-out vehicles on the Sussex Downs (as noted, sardonically, in an archaeological study of local flint mines)? Or – as a voice insisted in this dream – was it the end result of that classic feature of alien abduction narratives: engine failure induced by a close encounter with entities from other realms, before the car was teleported to Great Langdale to become a blazing offering, a potlatch of destruction?

„Great Langdale and Copt Howe“ von Original uploader was Mjobling at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Kurpfalzbilder.de using CommonsHelper.. Lizenziert unter Gemeinfrei über Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Great_Langdale_and_Copt_Howe.jpg#/media/File:Great_Langdale_and_Copt_Howe.jpg

Great Langdale and Copt Howe, showing the relationship of the Langdale Boulders to the wall. Photograph by M. Jobling Wikimedia Commons

I’ve never been to the places in this dream, though they exist, in spite of their actual geographical positions and forms being metamorphosed and displaced. They are two places in the same valley, telescoped together in the space of the dream: boulders at Copt Howe, Chapel Stile, in the Langdale valley – carved with 5,000-year-old motifs not noticed until 1999 – and a lake called Elter Water.

Diagram of the Copt Howe carvings from this site.

Diagram of the Copt Howe carvings from this site.

Remarkably, both boulders and lake together form a broad band of alignment with two of the five Langdale Pikes, as can be deduced from the photograph of the boulders above and the photograph of the lake below. These prominent mountaintops were the site of intensive stone quarrying and axe production during the 4th and 3rd millennium BC (Sharpe 2007: 151). I have written of these peaks and other mountains here, in the context of otherworldly female guardians of the herds. Again, I had been reminded that week of these themes by a Radio Three broadcast on 22nd April of Edvard Grieg’s Eight Songs from The Mountain Maid, based on Arne Garborg’s epic cycle of poems, Haugtussa.

“Elterwater and Langdale” by Rob Bendall. The Langdale Pikes can be seen in the distance. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons

In the dream the carved stone – which was undoubtedly meant to be one of the huge boulders featured in the top photograph – presented a much slimmer appearance, so that the view along the wall was more like looking along the façade of the West Kennet Long Barrow, with the tallest stone at the right in the picture of the Long Barrow (below) becoming the Copt Howe boulder in the dream. In his book, The Avebury Cycle, Michael Dames perceives the arrangement of the five massive sarsen stones of the forecourt at West Kennet as the monumental body of a stone ox (Dames 1977: 53).

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Another cognitive contribution to these dream materials was a link sent to me the day before by a friend, long aware of my interest in the Cottingley Fairies and prehistoric rock carvings. The first paragraph begins:

On a hot July day in 1872, Lewis Carroll, together with his friend the Pre-Raphaelite painter and illustrator Arthur Hughes, took ‘a splendid walk to Fairyland.’[i] The mysteriously named woodland area near Guildford in Surrey was popular with Victorian artists and writers – not least because of alleged appearances of a spectral lady and a pursuing phantom horseman near the lake “Silent Pool” at the heart of the forest (which is, even today, still listed as one of Britain’s most haunted locations).

Certainly, the body of water in the dream had more of the character of a pool than a lake, but in the psychogeographical logic of the dream the Silent Pool in Surrey can also be Elter Water in Cumbria. The etymology of Elter Water entwines the heroines Alice Pleasance Liddell (APL) – Wonderland’s Alice – and Anna Livia Plurabelle (ALP) of Finnegans Wake, in that  its name probably derives from the Old Norse (ON) meaning  ” ‘The lake frequented by swans’, from ON ‘elptr’/’alpt’ ‘swan’, in the gen.[itive], sing.[ular] form with ‘-ar’, and ‘water’, probably replacing ON ‘vatn’ ‘lake’. Whooper swans still winter on the lake” (Whaley 2006: 108-109).

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Back in the wideawake world, the good news is that our friend’s goddaughter has made contact and is ‘safe and well’. Yet, so much sadness and despair for so many others in Nepal and the world, including the family and friends of the young lad killed in our road. The shadow of his death has sent a shiver just as the floral tributes have brightened the pavement in his memory. Sad, sad.

References

Dames, Michael. 1977. The Avebury Cycle. London: Thames and Hudson.

Frieden, Ken. 1993. Talmudic Dream Interpretation, Freudian Ambivalence, Deconstruction. In Carol Schreier Rupprecht (ed.) The Dream and the Text. Albany: State University of New York Press. pp 103-111.

Sharpe, Kate. 2007. Rock-art and rough outs: exploring the sacred and social dimensions of prehistoric carvings at Copt Howe, Cumbria. In  A. Mazel, G. Nash and C. Waddington (eds.) Art as Metaphor: The Prehistoric Rock-Art of Britain. Oxford: Archaeopress. pp 151-173.

Whaley, Diana. 2006. A dictionary of Lake District place-names. Nottingham: English Place-Name Society.

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