Archive for June, 2015


Gatekeeping the Ivory Towers and Paywalls: Outside and Against the Academy.

June 29, 2015

Call it sour grapes, if you like…

Dear Simon Crook

Thank you for your interest in ResearchGate. Unfortunately we were unable to approve your account request.

ResearchGate membership is limited to those who are part of the scientific or academic research community. Based on the information you provided during sign-up, we couldn’t confirm you’re a researcher…


The ResearchGate Team.

It was a bit of a punt, trying to sign up, on a whim. It was a means to get access, for research purposes, to a piece of published work by Flora Samuel from 1999 (here). If I took the time to reapply and supply (an admittedly small) publication list and my alumnus status (as advised by ResearchGate in their rejection email), I’m fairly confident I’d be accepted. However, there’s a principle at stake.

I firmly believe that access to such knowledge should not be dependent upon whether or not you’re a tenured academic, whether or not you’ve been published, whether or not you’ve ever been part of a Higher Education institution. I’m appalled that so much published research is secluded behind paywalls, accessible only if you’re part of the academic system or if you can afford to cough up the money. Aaron Swartz paid the ultimate price for breaking the paywall of JSTOR, a digital library of academic articles, having devised a method for downloading a large number of those articles for public access. The vindictive zeal with which he was pursued by the authorities drove him to take his own life at the age of 26 (see here).

The commodification of knowledge, another stage in the enclosure of the commons.



Samuel, F. 1999. The philosophical city of Rabelais and St Theresa – Le Corbusier and Edouard Trouin’s scheme for St Baume. Literature and Theology 13(2): 111-125.


Wizard Woman

June 27, 2015

Max Ernst, Wizard Woman (1941)


A cathedral of lovejelly: a souvenir edition of eight prints, designed by Madame Berthe Dela

June 17, 2015

A series of eight lovingly-crafted prints, ‘floating on a still stream of isisglass’, have been issued by Éditions Tumbarumba. Bearing the legend, A CATHEDRAL OF LOVEJELLY, they have been tastefully designed by Madame Berthe Dela and are available for download.








St Paul’s, City of London (note the Lavender font).


Åbo (Turku).






And not forgetting Ely…


Farewell, Farewell

June 13, 2015

The aftermath of the news of Christopher Lee’s death has seen a flurry of social media postings of clips of films he’s been in, as well as other broadcasts he’s made. In terms of the cycle of life and death of The Wicker Man – implicated in terms like aftermath (a second crop in the same season, after mowing) and broadcast (scattering seeds) – I thought that this clip that someone shared with me was very significant. Listen very carefully to the tune the brass band is playing…

The tune had a familiar ring to it. Eventually, I worked out what it was. It was the Fairport Convention song, Farewell, Farewell, from their 1969 LP, Liege and Lief. In the light of Lee’s departure, I thought it was very apt.

The song was written by Richard Thompson to the tune (as I’ve just found out) of the Child ballad, Willie o’ Winsbury, an original which, I suppose could equally have given rise to the brass band tune in The Wicker Man. I’ve also just found out that Thompson wrote it following the car crash in which his girlfriend, Jeannie Franklyn, and Fairport drummer, Martin Lamble, were killed.

Edit: 14/6/15

The day after I posted this, it came to my attention that yesterday marked 44 years since the passing of a dearly-loved uncle, who died way, way before his time. Today I realised how much I’m still reeling from it…


From Oxford to Gwaenysgor: some thoughts on The Eagle and Child

June 11, 2015

Two weeks ago we were in North Wales for a few days. Returning from a little jaunt to Mostyn and Holywell, our host and guide, John Bryn, showed us the short cut from Prestatyn to Trelawnyd. It was an extremely steep and windy road which took us past a disused observatory – its green dome was still evident – and afforded wonderful views of the Dee Estuary, Colwyn Bay and the mountains.


We passed through a village called Gwaenysgor and noticed signs for a pub called The Eagle and Child. It was a very evocative name for a pub. About five years ago, my wife and I spent a weekend in Oxford, to celebrate our wedding anniversary. On an evening stroll we decided to have a drink in a pub called The Eagle and Child.


I wrote about our visit a couple of days after:

The Eagle and Child, St Giles, Oxford. This was the favoured meeting place, from the 1930s to the 1950s, of ‘The Inklings’, a literary group which included CS Lewis (of Narnia fame), JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), Charles Williams (War in Heaven), and others. We were here the evening before. A couple of American tourists went in, with some hesitation – ‘I’m looking for somewhere historic, not a hole in the wall’ – they walked out within a minute. Not ‘historic’ enough? It dates to about 1650.


As we passed out of Gwaenysgor on to the main road I realised just how close to The Gop and Trelawnyd we actually were. Indeed, as the crow (the eagle?) flies, The Eagle and Child in Gwaenysgor is about a mile from the Gop Cairn and Cave (which I’ve written of here). As I’ve said, it’s a very evocative name, reminding me of the occasion of my ascent up The Gop a couple of evenings before, and thoughts on the loss of a child. On our last night I went up the hill on my own, but didn’t get to the Cairn or the Cave this time, intimidated by the inquisitiveness of the roaming ponies. I concluded that, perhaps, I was not meant to get to these places. I note that pony auctions were held in the rear courtyard of The Eagle and Child in Oxford.


The main reason for our stay in North Wales – apart from catching up with an old friend – was to see the Leonora Carrington exhibition at the Liverpool Tate before it finished that week. In the absence of an exhibition catalogue, I bought Elena Poniatowska’s novelised biography of Carrington and I’ve been gradually reading it since. I’m still immersed in her relationship with the ‘Superior Bird’, Max Ernst. I look back at her first meeting with him in 1936, where he tells her, “I emerged from the egg my mother laid in her eagle’s nest on the 2nd April, forty-six years ago.” (Poniatowska 2015: 59). In fact, the Oxford pub’s name is said to derive from the crest of the Earl of Derby; its sign is said to refer to a story of a noble-born baby having been found in an eagle’s nest (see here).

Today it was announced that the actor, Christopher Lee, died on Sunday morning. I found out a little while after getting in from work this afternoon (having already heard that Ron Moody had died as well). Amongst all the tributes, his role as Saruman in the film dramatisation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has been mentioned, as well as the observation that out of all the members of the cast of the film trilogy, Christopher Lee was the only one who had actually met Tolkien. What were the circumstances of this meeting? Lee was drinking with friends in The Eagle and Child in Oxford, when Tolkien walked in: “I nearly fell off my chair” (see here).


Elena Poniatowska 2015 Leonora: A Novel. London: Serpent’s Tail


Leonora Carrington’s Femme et Oiseau (1937)

June 9, 2015


Femme et Oiseau

*This is an ancient draft post that appears to have been accidentally published a few hours ago. I wasn’t happy about putting up an incomplete picture (the left side of the painting is missing – the missing Leon in Leonora Carrington’s signature is a giveaway), but now that it’s up and has prompted a ripple of interest I’ll leave it up. Who knows, maybe a better online version of this wonderful painting will appear?

This painting is reproduced in its entirety (in monochrome) on page 93 of Gabriele Griffin’s essay, ‘Becoming as Being: Leonora Carrington’s Writings and Paintings 1937-40’ (Griffin 1994: 92-107). Griffin is struck by the degree to which a merging of human and equine features is achieved in the painting, a trait of conjoining a female human being with an animal current in her writings of the time.


Gabriele Griffin 1994 ‘Becoming as Being: Leonora Carrington’s Writings and Paintings 1937-40’, in G. Griffin (ed.) Difference in View: Women and Modernism. London: Taylor & Francis.


On Gop Hill: its Cairn, Cave, and the Bride of the Wind

June 6, 2015

Despite being small and skinny, her lap and her shoulder were always comforting to lean on. She magnetised them with her tales of the miniature people she called the sidhes.

‘Why can’t I see them, Nanny?’

‘Because they live underground.’

‘Are they dwarves?’

‘They’re spirits which take on the form of bodies to emerge above ground’

Elena Poniatowska, Leonora: A Novel (2015: 4).


On May 27th, on the eve of a visit to the Leonora Carrington exhibition at the Liverpool Tate, I made an ascent of Gop Hill with the friend with whom we were staying. He lives on the lower slopes of this hill, which is crowned by the second largest prehistoric mound in Britain; second, that is, to Silbury Hill, but much less well-known. The Gop Cairn is thought to be Neolithic, its truncated top attesting to the fact that it was excavated in the nineteenth century, though no trace of any burials were found by its excavator, Boyd Dawkins. On the southern slopes below the mound is the Gop Cave, a rock shelter within which the remains of at least fourteen individuals were found by Boyd Dawkins buried in a chamber built at the back of the cave, the chamber itself being ‘reminiscent of a tomb’ (Burrow 2003: 88).


The presence of the Cairn on the limestone ridge above the cave lends the whole hill the appearance of a chambered tomb, as this view of the hill from the south suggests: the cave is in the rocky escarpment which runs horizontally in the picture, seemingly immediately below the mound when seen from this angle.


A low cleft marks the entrance of the cave which means you have to duck as you enter before it opens out as you move deeper into the chamber.


In the distance the summit of Moel Famau, the highest of the Clwydian Hills, was obscured by a grey raincloud, while a tall radio mast on the next in that chain of hills started to twinkle with red lights… on my hearz’ waves.


There was a light sprinkling of rain.


As we descended the hill from the cave mouth we noticed that our presence had attracted the attention of a young pony, of white and mottled grey appearance, with a flowing blonde mane. Friskily it bucked and reared before it shot off out of vision amidst the gorse.


This apparition prompted thoughts about Leonora Carrington’s identification with the horse: ‘”I am a horse, I am a mare,” Leonora tells anyone who will listen’ (Poniatowska 2015: 12). In his introduction to her first published story, The House of Fear (1937), Max Ernst calls her the ‘Bride of the Wind’, after his series of paintings of the late 1920s depicting a leaping horse (Choucha 1991: 113). In the story a horse acts as a psychic guide who conducts the heroine through a mysterious world presided over by the figure of Fear (ibid.). Her self portrait, The Inn of the Dawn Horse (c1937), is rich in autobiographical equine associations: the rocking horse is perhaps an allusion to a beloved rocking horse destroyed by her father, Harold Carrington, in an attempt to control her, and the white horse running free – its mane flowing as wildly as her hair – may refer to the escape from the confines of her family.


As we walked further along the hill we saw the beautiful grey-white pony was among a group grazing in the distance. I thought of Carrington’s painting, The Horses of Lord Candlestick (1938), Lord Candlestick being Leonora’s satirisation of her wealthy industrialist father.  Indeed, it was the most beautiful pony – the most inquisitive, it seemed – who initiated the break towards us as we approached.


I was a bit apprehensive that we’d get trampled (recalling a horror story of an old lady trampled to death by cows), but my friend raised his arms with palms outstretched, and their pace slowed to an amble as they surveyed us. We walked on.


A couple of startled jackdaws flew from a derelict dovecote, empty, save for a couple of jackdaw nests. As we followed a broad way into woodland, my friend told how, years before, in these same woods, he’d disturbed a group of suspicious-looking men with dogs. Armed with spades, the men were digging into an earth bank. They claimed they were after rabbits; my friend believed they were after badgers. I thought of the recurrence of the badger in Carrington’s art, as a guide to the underworld, exemplified in a series of three etchings I was delighted to see the next day, with the titles: Badger Causes Table to Fly, Medium falls in Trance, followed by Medium Sinks into Trance and Badger Shadow Appears, and, finally, Badger takes Medium-Shadow in a Boat to a Cave Down to Underworld (shown below).


All in all, the ascent and circumambulation of The Gop, our various animal encounters, and our view of a raincloud-shrouded Moel Famau (‘The Hill of The Mothers’) struck me as an appropriate prelude to our journey to Liverpool the next day to see the Carrington exhibition…

Dawn Horse

In the two hours before publishing this post (which I’ve been preparing for a week now), I chose to make two edits. I’ve now realised that in these choices I’ve situated this post in a slightly uncanny network of connections between different lives and across time, crystallised in a passage I read in Poniatowski’s novelised biography of Leonora Carrington, soon after I made the edits (I bought the book in Liverpool last week and I’m currently reading it).

First, in the title of the post, I substituted ‘Bride of the Wind’ for ‘The Horses of Lord Candlestick’. Secondly, I decided to name the date – 27th May – on which I went up The Gop. It is an important anniversary for Jo and me for our premature, stillborn son, Joshua, would have been twenty-four that day. Pausing from editing the document, I picked up Poniatowska’s book, to read another chapter. Within five minutes I read that, with Max Ernst’s estranged wife on her way down, Ernst flees with his lover, Leonora, to the Carcassonne, to hide out at Joë Bousquet’s house:

On the 27th May 1918 at Vailly, near the end of the First World War, twenty-one-year-old Joë Bousquet took a bullet in his back. He now lives with all the windows in his house shuttered. The bullet in his spinal cord restricts him to his bed and to opium for the rest of his life…

He is preparing little balls of opium. Max and Leonora smoke with him as their guide.

(Poniatowska 2015: 92).

It was jaw-dropping for me to read this. Only yesterday, someone especially close and dear to me, who has been severely debilitated by back pain for some months, after an active life, had an epidural injection in the spine, in the hope that there will be some relief from the pain. I was also reminded of a dream I had in hospital twenty four years ago – as Joshua fought a losing battle for his life – of a First World War battle in which a soldier called John Hughes (almost a dream anagram for Joshua’s name) dies. As John Hughes dies I see the imprint of a face in darkness (like when you look at a bright light, then shut your eyes), a babyish looking face, with closed eyes, which a silent dream voice identifies as John Sununu, another near-anagram of Joshua, but in real life George Bush’s White House Chief of Staff from 1989 to 1991.

I read on:

Leonora discovers that Max, in calling her his ‘lover of the wind’, uses a title he took from Joë Bousquet…

‘Lover of the wind’ describes a plant without roots, pursued by the wind, which everyone tramples and breaks… Jules Michelet confirms that this plant, set in motion by a draught of air, enjoys a particular privilege: it flourishes even in the most violent of whirlwinds.

(Poniatowska 2015: 93).

It is left to Bousquet to reassure the restless Leonora:

‘You are out of danger here; and away from time. There are no clocks here. I have also decided to remain in ignorance of the date and the day of the week. Calm down and close your eyes.’

(Poniatowska 2015: 93).

La Mariee du Vent by Max Ernst. The hill in the background could almost be The Gop Cairn or Silbury (found on this site).

La Mariée du Vent, by Max Ernst. The hill in the background could almost be The Gop Cairn

Thanks to John Bryn for his hospitality.

Thanks to Fin for his technical assistance in editing and enlarging the picture of the pony. .


Stephen Burrow 2003 Catalogue of the Mesolithic and Neolithic Collections in the National Museums and Galleries of Wales. Cardiff: National Museum of Wales.

Nadia Choucha 1991 Surrealism and the Occult. Oxford: Mandrake.

Elena Poniatowska 2015 Leonora: A Novel. London: Serpent’s Tail