Archive for September, 2015

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Drawing a veil over this: a final entry in the ‘Doom Book’

September 27, 2015

in fact, the sameold gamebold adomic structure of our Finnius the old One, as highly charged with electrons as hophazards can effective it

Concluding a deliberation upon the theme of withdrawal from one form of activity to pass over into another form of (in)activity, this final post continues the theme of my last – ‘Gathering Splinters from Her Spindle‘.  The materials of metaphor and coincidence, mediated through personal experience, likewise are more than a stylistic device in the writing and arrangement of these words.  If this exercise appears somewhat ‘grandiose’, I qualify it by the fact that for much of the last three plus years I’ve pretty much put my heart and soul into the blog, so I would rather let it slip away into the ether in a way that’s consonant with those years of effort.

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I had no idea, when I published ‘Gathering Splinters’ on the evening of September 19th – a post which drew its title and central metaphor from a mythological episode translated into music by the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius – that the following day, the 20th, would mark the 58th anniversary of his death.  The realisation of this the following morning was a further reminder to me to be alert to ‘these secret workings of natures’ (FW 615.14), as James Joyce puts it in Finnegans Wake, in the manifestation of meaningful coincidence.  The life and work of Sibelius has assumed a relevance here, not because I’m a particular admirer of his music, while the nationalist context of it diminishes it in my eyes; no, Sibelius appears to have an  attitude to the flight of aquatic birds going about their life that would be dismissed by rationalists as ‘superstitious’, a form of magical thinking in accord with the so-called primitive societies which have been the object of anthropological analysis.   Just two days before his death, Sibelius told his wife Aino of what he saw above their house, Ainola:

I think the cranes have taken leave of me. They were flying low over Ainola – I’ve never seen them fly that low before. Straight above Ainola one of them parted with a sad cry and banked in a steep curve around the hill. Almost as if it meant to say good-bye.

Three Cranes

“Those are the high-flying cranes… their intercession is to be hoped for”. The sigil on the cover of Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, showing three veiled goddesses giving the eye of mystical insight, is rich with the kind of allusions best explored elsewhere…

Now, to repeat, the whole process of reappraising the value and efficacy of The Grammar of Matter, was in large part induced by a week-end stay in Cheshire, and the opportunity it offered to re-encounter the fiction of Alan Garner – particularly The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, and Boneland – in a ‘landscape context’ I could only previously have imagined.  Two weeks on and a few days in Dorset, free of the distractions of the internet, gave me the chance to read – for the third time, like a spell or a wish – Boneland, in a personal context where I was watchful for the play of coincidence between text and life in suggesting what course should be taken.

On that first evening near Bridport, on the 20th, I caught a distant view of Colmers Hill, Symondsbury.  Seen for the first time in over three years, a picture of that distinctive, conical hill featured in one of the earliest posts on this blog, four days into its existence, when I felt compelled to publicly acknowledge the premature passing of one of my wife’s dearest friends, whose wake we had just attended, in Symondsbury, in the shadow of that hill.

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Seeing Colmers Hill after such an elapse of time evoked a sense that there was a symmetry between the first and last days of this particular project.

In his final year, Sibelius wrote in his diary

The swans are always on my mind, and they lend magnificence to life. It is strange to note that nothing in the whole world, not in art, literature or music, has such an effect on me as these swans and cranes and bean geese. Their calls and their appearance.

With Abbotsbury Swannery just nine miles down the road from where we were staying, it wasn’t entirely contrived that our visit there should fall the day after the anniversary of the passing of Sibelius.  There has been a swannery there for over 600 years.  In another twist of fortune, I found out from a display board there that primary wing feathers from Abbotsbury swans continue to be turned into quills for Lloyds of London, where they are still used to record shipping accidents in the ‘Doom Book’.  A curious twist because I had only been reminded of the existence of a register of shipping losses when it was raised less than a month ago in a conversation with a dear relative, a retired printer and ‘Father of the Chapel’ employed by Lloyds Register.

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With the bird’s-head form of the Isle of Portland jutting from the sweep of the swan’s or crane’s neck of Chesil Beach, there was a touch of Bird’s-head Revisited (see here), an impression of the kind of stellar and terrestrial myths carried with the great global dispersal of humans from Africa, as imaginatively reconfigured in Boneland.  In Garner’s book, Crane is responsible for the creation of the cosmos inhabited by the ancient human shaman, whose own quest for a missing female anticipates the quest of Colin in the present:

In the Beginning was Crane.  It opened its wings. And that above it called Sky, and that below it called Earth

(Garner 2012: 111).

The aquatic bird's head of the Isle of Portland.

The aquatic bird’s head of the Isle of Portland.

And Crane laid a black Egg and made it with its beak to be a Stone

(Garner 2012: 111).

That is a true Story, said the other

So, what was my intention when I started this blog?

Like the PhD from which it evolved, it was conceived as a form of ‘indirect action on affects’, prompted by the failure of open, public, emancipatory social movements to even reverse the inroads made by economic rationality upon the ability to maintain a physical minimum to survive, let alone release the pent-up energies that could ultimately overcome imposed poverty in its material and spiritual forms.  How can a smug, smirking millionaire get away with planning to abolish free school meals and not himself face severe consequences?  Indeed, by validating the exoteric activity of labour in opposition to capital, such movements have served to enliven and expand the very labour/capital dynamic upon which capitalist development – earth destruction – flourishes.  Hence the recourse here to the esoteric, in the quest for the emancipatory potential of a ground of being invisible to the calculative logic of economics in its privatised and socialised forms.

Even so, while disavowing the quantitative and the measurable, the perceptible acceleration and intensification of processes of displacement and immiseration of whole swathes of humanity has been profoundly dispiriting.  The world seems a much worse place, for all our desire to make it better.

One incident a few days ago illustrates to me the way in which – in spite of the best intentions – The Grammar of Matter still reproduces the values of the dominant society, becomes an institution constructed through habit, to be advertised in a free market of ideas and lifestyle choices, which ultimately inhibits the potential for the magical and the unique to break through the circular reinforcement of commodity production and consumption.

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On a jaunt to a village called Little Bredy, we sought out the source of the River Bride, which rises at a place called Bridehead.  What we found was a large, private estate in landscaped grounds, dominated by a spring-fed artificial lake, from one end of which cascaded a waterfall.  As I stood near the cascade, I became aware of a heron that seemed to be hurtling straight towards me, as if to land.  As has become habitual, I was clutching my camera, and I raised it to try to capture an image of this crane-like bird.  As I raised my arms (perhaps also in a subliminal defence mode, as if under attack), the heron suddenly swerved away and doubled back on itself, bobbing and weaving towards the trees at the far end of the lake, disappearing from view.  In fumbling for my camera I felt as if I had missed a ‘moment’ because I wanted to capture it.  I wished instead that I had stood still and allowed what was to unfold to unfold, to appreciate the flight of this wondrous bird, to fully appreciate the numinous aspect of it.

Then Crane came down to the world and broke the loud crag with its beak and opened it to the waters below and called it Ludcruck

(Garner 2012: 112).

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On further reflection I concluded that, in a way, the whole blog has become something of an exercise in missing the moment, redolent of Debord’s definition of the spectacle, the ‘organisation of appearances’ in capitalist society, whereby:

Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.

Perhaps the public platform of this blog is the wrong vehicle to address what an ‘unalienated life’ is, in all its mystery, partly because to maintain its public existence requires a behavioural pose that is hard to distinguish from advertising a quirky branch of the leisure or culture industry. It’s kind of reminiscent of the old cliché of psychics and telepaths being unable to perform their remarkable feats within strict laboratory conditions.  The pressure to maintain an appearance, to update regularly, to be ‘relevant’, with the concomitant monitoring of traffic to the site, imposes a commodified logic which militates against the value of the irrelevant, the value of that which is ‘out of time’, the value of the immeasurable.  So, for now at least, rather than continue building the edifice through force of habit and loyalty to old constraints, I intend to withdraw, indefinitely, from a compromised ‘exoteric activity’ and instead seek ‘the eruption of the marvellous’ in more esoteric ways.

St Catherine's Chapel, Abbotsbury

St Catherine’s Chapel, Abbotsbury

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Gathering Splinters from Her Spindle

September 19, 2015

A weekend in Cheshire, over 5th-6th September, I feel precipitated something of a tectonic shift, I daresay part of a galactic drift – to mix mundane and celestial metaphors – in my attitude to life.  I felt challenged to reappraise what I’m doing with this blog (and so much else) and what I want to achieve, or even to try and work out what it is that I want.  The exhilaration of that weekend of intellectual and social interaction kept me afloat on returning to the grind of work, and I was alert to the emergence of meaningful coincidence as a means to get some bearings. 

Perhaps there was an anticipatory consciousness of what was to come that weekend when, a few days before, spurred by war criminal Blair’s inane comments about ‘Alice in Wonderland politics’, I posted up on this blog a quotation from Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat as some kind of riposte.  Come Saturday, I’d quite forgotten that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was from Cheshire when I learnt that Alan Garner considers Carroll’s Jabberwocky to be a representation of the Cheshire dialect he would have heard as a child, spoken by his family’s domestic staff.  I was musing on this as I drove on the Sunday to Alderley Edge – in homage to Garner’s Weirdstone novels – just as a white van careered into view, with the legend, Dodgson Builders, emblazoned on its side.

The radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire. It was deployed by Colin in his quest to find his missing sister, Susan, among the Pleiades, in Alan Garner's novel, Boneland.

The radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire, September 5th. It was deployed by Colin in his quest to find his sister, Susan, missing among the Pleiades, in Alan Garner’s novel, Boneland.

Back at work, I thought a chance encounter on the doorstep with an elderly man who shared my wife’s maternal grandfather’s name and surname, was highly significant.  It was about the third, perhaps fourth, time I’d ever met him over a period of 27 months.  My first encounter with the same man, in the same circumstances, over two years ago was on the eve of a much-anticipated weekend break with my wife, at The Old Ship in Brighton, to celebrate her birthday. Descending the stairwell of the flats in a daze, I was bowled over that this man had the same name as an in-law who himself had originated from Brighton.  On getting back in the cab, and turning the key in the ignition, on the radio Kathleen Ferrier was singing ‘What is life to me without thee’ from Gluck’s opera, Orpheus and Eurydice.  Ferrier was my Brighton-born mother-in-law’s favourite singer (a singer sang her favourite song, Ferrier’s classic, ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’, at her funeral service some years ago).  Furthermore, Ferrier’s ‘What is life’ had already assumed a heavily emotional significance for me just a few months before, at a time of a deeply distressing enforced separation from my wife.  Naturally, I was reeling from this cluster of coincidences.

A leftover mural from a defunct Brighton business, 'Alice Dreams'. I like the cob walling of the building behind.

A leftover mural from a defunct Brighton business, ‘Alice Dreams’, seen in the of summer 2013. I like the cob walling of the building behind, constructed from the nearest materials to hand.

So it was, after meeting the namesake of the grandfather once again, that I was vigilant for any ‘message’ via the medium of radio, anticipating again the operation of some kind of technologised sortes virgilianae – like the opening of a holy book (Virgil, The Bible, Finnegans Wake) at random to see what timely advice may emerge from the page…

In fact, there were a couple of ‘thematic’ coincidences that cropped up around the same time (09.16 am and 09.14 am respectively), two days running, as I headed out en route along the motorway.  I was interested to hear, on the 8th of September, the announcer’s introduction of Mendelssohn’s overture, The Fair Melusine, Op.32, and was pleased to listen to it pretty much in its entirety, seeing its fairytale theme in tune with the recurring ‘Melusinic’ theme maintained on this blog.  Writing this account up, I realised that there are strong connections between the figures of Melusine and Eurydice, who are both representative of the ‘Swan Maiden’ motif in fairytales: in flight from their spouses and associated with serpents and the underworld.

On the same stretch of the outbound journey, about the same time the next day, the 9th, my ears pricked up as I heard Rob Cowan introducing a tone poem by Sibelius (a ‘Swan-themed’ composer), called Pohjola’s Daughter, Op. 49.  He related an episode in the adventures of Väinämöinen, hero of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, who spots a beautiful female, seated on a rainbow, weaving a cloth of gold.  Asking her to join him, she in turn sets him a series of tasks to achieve before she can assent.  Yet he is thwarted in his primary task to construct a ship from the splinters of her spindle, finally giving up and proceeding on his journey alone.  An initial thought was how consonant the image of the scattered splinters of the spindle was with the motif of the scattered sparks of the Shekhinah in kabbalistic mysticism, to be gathered up to redeem a shattered world.

A view of Shuttlingslow from Alderley Edge.

A view of Shuttlingslow from Alderley Edge.

Now, after the Cheshire weekend, I was already inclined to figuratively ‘throw everything in the air to see how it landed’, to work out a new direction away from entanglements that didn’t seem to be leading anywhere.  As I was listening to Pohjola’s Daughter, I was drawing out the thread of some kind of ‘homespun wisdom’; primarily that it’s ok to ‘fail’ or at least ‘not succeed’ in the obsessive concentration on one particular task.  Like Väinämöinen, perhaps I just need to let things go, and ‘move on’.  Perhaps ‘letting go’, or allowing things to change or take their course in one area of life will free up processes in other areas of life, allow other patterns to emerge which may bear fruit.  In short, I think it’s time for me to stop banging on about the paper qualification and tweaking the old document upon which this blog was founded.

I haven’t yet decided how such a reorientation would play out on this blog, or whether the whole thing would be shed like an old skin…