Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.

What We Love – In Development


Picking up from my previous post What We Love and to attempt to put words to the insight I had, it strikes me that in a range of interests one has that the depth of interest will vary from the very deep to the slight. The depth of interest will extend from the history of the area of interest and the depth of interest in the structure of the interest.

For example, I am interested in aircraft, always have been. But my interest is not deep. The history of aircraft is deeply attractive to the point of reading  the history of the de Havilland Aircraft Company, for example. But the depth of the knowledge of the structure of aircraft is slight. I know the aerofoils, chords, span, lift, drag, etc. The fundamentals of aerodynamics I am familiar with. After all I studied it at university. But my grasp of it is not sound. My love of aircraft I don’t doubt. My depth of love is not that great. Possibly this is linked to intellectual capacity, I don’t know.

If I turn to theatre and plays, my knowledge of plays is profound. My love of theatre, of plays is very great. My ability to grasp all of the elements of play writing is undoubted.

With discipline and effort I could write plays. I have had more ideas for plays than a lifetime would suffice to develop them. What I have lacked is the discipline, the sustaining power to take a sketch, an idea, and to flesh it into a fully worked one act or three act play.

As I have observed in the previous post What We Love, the love is not sufficient. Hard work is involved in developing the play from the idea into something that actors can act and an audience can enjoy.

I have fully developed a play It is a full 5 act play, the House of Atreus. It runs all the way through to the Island of Aulis and the sacrifice of Iphigenia by her father to favour the course of the war.

But I view the developed stuff as worthless. It seems flat, lifeless. I laboured many weeks, months; many drafts exist but I don’t think the results are worth tuppence.

What does it lack? Creativity, in a word. It was written mechanically. I need say no more.

I will turn instead to two ideas for plays where the spark of creativity for them these many years later still lives within me.

The working idea for the first one is the Festival of Britain play. It has no known source that I am aware of. The Festival of Britain took place on the South Bank of the Thames in London, where the Festival Hall still stands, in 1951. Britain showed at that point that the county was finally recovering from the aftermath of WWII and a new sense of hope emerging after years of deprivation. There was talk of a Second Elizabethan Age to rival the First. That it didn’t transpire that way is beside the point. At the time, hope were high.

The second idea has in me an even greater spark of creativity. The thought of the idea of the play stirs the phagocytes within me still.

The working title of the play is the Blood of Spain and is suggested by a book published some years ago.

The idea of the play is to tell of the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.

The idea of the play is to tell of the Spanish Civil War which led to the ascension of General Franco to taking power, through the eyes and mouths of the women as they live through the experience of the war taking place around them, whether Fangalist, Republican or Communist. Wives are never any of these things, only their husbands are.

How do you develop the play? Easy. Choose some central well defined characters and play tells itself.

The success of the play, the writing of the play lies in the balance of the characters. This is possibly a fairly mechanical exercise. You can imagine for yourself how it would (will) be done. At the most basic level, you have a balance of strong and weak characters. Of course, when one says weak  – they can only appear weak. Strengths appear later when the stronger characters love their strength as the fighting takes it toll on loved ones.

Then the other basic selection factor is age. This is crucial for young characters bring to the stage hope and older characters bring experience, perhaps even stories of previous wars.

Then, within this mix might, I say might, be individual circumstance; the young unmarried, the newly married, the middle aged woman, the widow, the grandmother.

After that, you probably have to decide how many central characters there are. I don’t know. Six – too few. Eight – too many.

Since this is an oral tale, that is to say, the war is taking place around the women, so you have the audience hearing of the war as it unfolds directly from the women reporting to the audience what is happening at that moment.

The play would gain strength from having a chorus of women who would support the central characters.

So the basic design structure is of choral scenes describing the stages of the development of the war – a week, let’s say, the final crucial week would be a good choice, interspersed by development scenes between central characters. Since these are women, these could easily be alternating scenes between one side of the battle-lines and the other.

So we are talking of a 3 act play. You could open and close acts with choral scenes, This is too symmetrical. So an alternative would be to have Act 2 close with a development scene which cuts for intermission and then picks up again a the beginning of Act 3. You would almost certainly not want the play to close with a chorus. No triumphalism. So close with a deeply distressing, tragic development scene.

A chorus could close with some paean to  to the futility of war and no audience would want that and rightly so.

The appeal of the play is that in war, during war, the women’s point of view is seldom told. We are not talking here of combat wives. We are talking of women who are losing husbands and children as we speak.

You could certainly not stage characters, women, loosing husbands and children right there on stage in front of you. It would be far too harrowing, not least for the actors attempting to perform it. But chorus members can mine it.

Ronald Fraser’s book Blood of Spain, an Oral History of the Spanish Civil War was published first in 1979 and is based upon the three hundred or so interview that Fraser conducted between June 1973 and May 1975. So, although he, or his publisher, refer to the book as an Oral History, it is really an interview of memories.

The play, as you have seen is structured quite differently. The play would be oral in the correct sense.

One of the problems that anyone faces wishing to study the Civil War in Spain is the dense jargon associated with the various sides and political positions (CEDA, JONS, MAOC, POUM, etc.) taken at the time. Ideology runs rife during this period. The play sidesteps all of this. Women, by and large, are not devotees of jargon.

Fraser makes two points in his Introduction to the book, Blood of Spain, that are worth repeating in the context of the discussion we have been having.

“To turn one’s back on the past, a past like this anyway, is always a temptation. but to do so is to forget that the past cannot be forgotten, only repressed. To forget that Spain today, and a generation of Spaniards, have been shaped by the outcome of the civil war… To deny the past, rather than confront it, is to deny not only history but a generation’s experience.” (p10, The Blood of Spain)

I think Fraser vastly understates the case. When the United Nations, and the Americans after them, went into Bosnia, after the fall of Yugoslavia, to separate the warring factions, the past, bottled for 30 years by Tito in an attempt to create a unified state, erupted and a horrific vendetta of Serb against Croat and both against Muslim bystanders began. This, despite the fact that widespread intermarriage had penetrated many of these peoples. The deep divisions created by the actions of the various groups during the Second World War, one side siding with Hitler, the other with Stalin, which Tito bottled up, viscously spit the former Yugoslavia into a myriad quilt of pocket sized states with tragic consequence.

When Apartheid finally fell in South Africa, wisdom had South Africa engage in a Truth Commission that may have been clumsy in its execution but nonetheless set the course for a possible, I repeat, possible future.

Has such a reconciliation not been attempted, widespread bloodshed would surely have resulted. Was it successful? Only time will show that.

The other passage is perhaps of greater resonance in our times when shopping appears to dominate all other human activities (other than being perpetually on the cell-phone) and ideology seems as quaint as penny farthings (a kind of Victorian bicycle).

“If the roots of the Spanish war seem remote to us today, it is because capitalist development has tempered the antagonistic style of class relationships … has modulated the virulence of ideological commitment, moderated expectations. Spain of the 1930s … was part of what we would call today the third world.” (p10, The Blood of Spain)

The class conflict is writ large in the history of the Spanish Civil War. The ideological commitment, still held when Fraser wrote these words in 1986 to disappear, a few years later, almost overnight with the fall of the Berlin Wall, was fierce indeed in 1935, and perhaps fiercer still at the close of the Spanish Civil War and the commencement of the Second World War, which, at several levels, was a war of ideological confrontations, a few months later, which, in passing we might note, the Fascist governed Spaniards sat out in supposed neutrality.

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Filed under: Arts, , ,

Blogging – So Far


The hardest part of setting up the blog was to complete the About section. I simply don’t know what to say. This writing, then, is in part, a beginning, is a start towards being able to fill it out. For I hesitate to list my interests. They are multitude and the extent of them will frighten most people. Besides, is that what I am “About”? No, I am more than the sum of my interests. I could populate the About with my achievements, my accomplishments. But that doesn’t seem right either. I could fill the About with domestic details but that would not be right either. For my blog is rather more than a personal blog.

So I cannot for the present complete the About section. When I began the blog I recognised that part of the the blog is about is to find out About me, who the About is.

That defining process began with the first post and continues with this.

In fact the blog may not be the right medium at all. Writing is about rewriting. Working a sentence, a paragraph over and over. A blog is not that. Hmm. That set of questions will answer themselves in their own way in their own time.

The title of this post is What We Love. And my blogs are just that. To explore what I love, what I have loved

I loved my time in South Africa. No, it is not a case of fond memories. In the sense that I gild the memories I have. No gilding is required. I loved being there. I came here to the United States to join a much loved brother. Since he is no more, I cannot regret that I came. But life in the United States is incomparably more difficult than was life for me in South Africa. Of course, when I left South Africa in 1984 no one could have predicted at that time what would come to pass a few years later. What happened in one sense is nothing short of a miracle. Perhaps that is why, at one level, all South Africans feel blessed.

So, I also run a South African blog. It pretty much reflects my American blog, which is only American in the sense that it is hosted on US territory. That is not quite true. Its readership is largely American. It competes for readership among the vast range and numbers of American blogs and has the most dismal readership of all my blogs.

I mention the South African blog because it is on that blog that I got what I would regard as an absolute gift as a comment. I hold it so dear that I wish to share it on my other blogs as well.

I will not say who left it. You can visit the blog yourself to find it if you are curious. The blog is Where Two?

“This is a totally fascinating blog, if rather confusing with its range from austerely academic to the intensely personal. In fact, an attempt to assimilate the content from inception has left me rather breathless.”

The stats system on the SA blog leaves something to be desired but readership is not bad. My first post there was November 11, 2010 and the number of views is on its way to 1000. 22 page views a day on average. Not bad. 5 stars have been silently placed by some blessed souls against Our Address is Music , A Free Press, A Multiparty Government, A Healthy Country and The Night the Theatre Went Dark. A heartfelt thank you to whoever (plural I would think) awarded them. The site itself carries a 5 star rating. I even have one fan. A thank you to you for that.

The next part of my Blogging So Far story is astonishing. At least to me. All writers love having readers. Every single reader is precious. (Spamers are exempt and most blog sites handle this aspect of blogging very well).

My best looking blog is at pas un oiseau tombé. Even the title is gorgeous. The acute shouldn’t really be there but it is hard to say without it. The content again reflects what the parent blog carries. But since I follow European and French affairs, my posts, like the South African site, reflect my interests and views. It wouldn’t be meaningful to post them without a French language site.

Readership has risen steadily though I haven’t a clue why. The stat system is excellent. Far better than what WordPress offer. My first post here was on November 10, 2010, my birthday, and for November I had a steady average of around 22 visits a day. For December the average for the number of visits is about half the November figure but page views has dramatically increased. The three highest are 103, 147 and an astonishing 171 on December 17, 2010. Sadly, no comments. I really would like to hear from at least one of my site visitors. Are the French shy to comment?

If the French confound me, the Belgians completely flummox me. où à? is my blog in Belgium (not everyone blogs in Belgium) is hosted by the Belgium newspaper La Libre. The site, like its American cousin, has a Blog Top Site stat on the front page that is running at 297 when I look at it. What it means I have no idea. I first posted there on the 7 of November with 17 visits the first day. In November the average was 32 a day. Dropped a bit for the first week of December but is now running around the 32 mark. I had no idea that I would get this kind of readership in French speaking territories.

So, last but not least, the parent site. The readership is abysmal, appalling. I simply do not exist in the greater bloggosphere. I am not even a speck. I am smaller than that. I first posted October 19, 2010. Visits run at less than 10 a day. I have the Blog Top Site thing reading 252 at present. I am just not on the radar. I post to Facebook, I post to Twitter. I do notice that the visits increase somewhat when I post comments on other sites. The most memorable of these was from Crickey.com. 95 views after I posted Who Defends the Blogger? – Who Dropped the Ball on the Blogger in Australia? and commented at Crikey that I had done so.

So, where to from here? I will continue to blog to find out.

Filed under: Arts, , ,

What We Love


Some weeks ago I had an insight that I thought was worth exploring. In working with an insight it will take some working and reworking to reveal to others what was instantly clear to me at the time.

I had been thinking about writing and the fact that a muse is so central to many artists’ endeavours over the years, over the centuries. Many artists, which would naturally include writers, have declared that their muse was central to their efforts. The term is derived from the Greek where the muses are plural. Most artists declare to one muse. In many cases this appears to be a personification, the muse is embodied in a person. Picasso and Dante spring to foremost to mind.

Among artists composers seem to be less prone to this declaration. Architects too. On the other hand, performers performing music frequently express the need for a muse.

What struck me is that writing, perhaps all artistic endeavours come out of love. A deep love of the medium and the expression through that medium of the artistic creation.

I realized, through the insight, that artists who declares to a muse, embodied or otherwise, are making an effort to keep the candle-flame of creativity in front of them as a means to maintaining and sustaining the creative spirit.

In other words, love for an artist is directly connected to the creative spirit, to creativity and, hence, to the production of the creative works. That love is a necessary conduit through which the creativity can flow. The muse, embodied or not, is a means of maintaining the love.

Is a muse always necessary? I would say not. However, for those who employ it as an artistic conduit, the connection between love, love of the medium, and the creative output, it points to me the necessity of an artist having a deep connection to his or her medium. Stray from the love and you cannot create. The muse then serves a symbolic purpose, if you like.

This is not to say that the artistic endeavour is painless as a result. Who says love is painless. Quite the contrary. What one does know through love, in its many forms expressed, heights that few other areas of human experience brings. It may also bring some extremes of emotions in other directions as well, but let us put that aside for now.

There is also a relationship between the love the artist feels for the medium and beauty. I think of Roy Cambell’s last line from his poem Luís de Camões, “… wrestled his hardships into forms of beauty and taught his Gorgon destinies to sing.” I have to say, though, that beauty is on a far more elevated plane than is love. Let’s leave it that for that is not where we are headed within the confines of this essay.

For myself, I have many interests. You might say that I have a promiscuity of interests for I flit endlessly from one to the other.

Among those interests are a few that I love. The degree to which I love any one of these few must vary in some way. Is the love for each of these few as deep, one to another? No. I love architecture but not to the degree that I love the theatre, love drama. I love music, Do I love music more than I love theatre? Possibly. Were I more gifted in music, I certainly would pursue it more than I have done the theatre. And poetry? And literature? Where do these fit? Le’ts put aside questions associated with painting and drawing, for we have already asked too many questions and answered none of them to any degree satisfactorily.

The best that I can offer at this stage, is that I have a few interests which I love, and many, many interests which I like. The purpose here is to explore the relationship between the two, the liked interest and the loved interest, bearing in mind the idea that love sustains the creative impulse.

What has me put pen to paper on this occasion is rather to explore writing and the forms that it might take. I can write of what I love. I can write of and through my interests. The more sustainable form surely is is the writing driven by love.

The writing sparked by interests less than loved is not self-sustaining, it seems to me, as is the writing sparked by interests loved.The self is much more involved, the whole self, when writing from love of the topic, the subject, the interest.

May contribution, when writing from my less than loved interests will rely upon my knowledge, my understanding of the subject. To this subject I will bring my intellect and my writing abilities, no small contributions it is true. What drives me on many occasions is the fact that so much that is written in any of the many areas of my interests is poorly written. A drop of good writing in a sea of mush might inspire those around me to write better, to think better, to write more clearly, to think more clearly.

But I find that this activity, being as it is in areas of less than loved interests, is hard to sustain. After all, I am speaking of an area of interest, any area of interest not loved but held luke warm to the heart, so to speak.

And being an area of interest less than loved, my interest cannot be sustained for very long on a voluntary basis. The blood of the interest drains off and needs sustenance from a switch to some other activity.

Writing from the core, it seems to me, is much more sustainable and ultimately much more rewarding. I think there are aspects to writing from love that bear closer scrutiny. I think it takes effort. Much more effort than does writing from lukewarm interests. In fact, it may take considerable effort. That may be what the love is for. To sustain one in the effort required to overcome the difficulties one faces as one shapes and hammers what one is writing into a form that is not simply pleasant to read but is actually worth while in some meaningful way.

Writing from love certainly calls on the writing skills, naturally. Knowledge and understanding are required, that is true too.

But there is more to it than that. Much more. Writing from love is a creative act. This means that a far greater range of ones faculties are at play than simply writing from mere interest.

As I have pointed out in the postings on my blog, in thinking, the writing that expresses thinking, the emotions are best kept to one side.

Writing from love does not ask this. In fact, when writing from love, that the emotions are engaged is paramount to the enterprise. It is the emotions that allow the intellect to range freely and deeply. and to make connections that no intellect so unpowered could make. The emotions serve to lubricate, to facilitate the process.

It will be clear to those of you who have followed my postings that I do not write off the top of my head. That all of my stuff is composed. That is to say it is written beforehand and mulled over even before that.

Of course, it is absolutely true that what I have written already would benefit greatly from revision and revision for I feel that my points are not clear. That what I have attempted to say so far is far from transparent. And what I have written cannot be said to be limpid prose. But there lies the secret. French polishers worked and worked and reworked to get the supreme finish that they finally achieved. Of course, now we use machines. But craftsmanship is required of writing. Something the web makes glaring obvious. Mere words on a page or the web are just that. Mere words. Sense is something else. And beauty in writing something else again.

So writing from love is hard work. The post I made recently The Origins of Consciousness versus Self-consciousness as Expressed in a 4000 Year Old Ancient Egyptian Tale continues to fascinate me. I feel I can develop the piece more. I am at a loss for the moment quite how to do this. I am not an Egyptologist. However, I continue to mull over the piece for I feel a deep love connected to it. Perhaps I have to reread the work and discover what else there is that fascinates me. This surely is a further expression of the idea that writing from love is hard work. An inner searching is required and, in this case, an inner searching of the work itself.

What I have been attempting to find the words to say is that however difficult it may be, I will be better served as a writer if I seek for the most part to write from love.

I have often been accused in my life of seeking the easy path. I do not think I am on my own in this respect. I am certain that people along the way were trying to tell me was that I have far greater abilities but that I would never find them if I simply always took the easy path.

However, as with any choice made in life, there is a price to pay. The easy path and the more difficult each has their price. But also their rewards.
The easy path always gets there quicker. And patience, up til now at least, has not been my strongest point.

Not long before I began writing my blog; in fact because of this event, I started blogging, I found myself with a freedom to write I had not previously known. I have kept a diary since 1983. Still do. The overwhelming majority of the entries have been self absorbed, turgid muck. Dense junk. Something like I see on the web, as it happens. There are a few entries, month on month of detailed writing but they are few indeed. So, for the greatest length of time I longed to free myself from the tyranny of this turgid scrawl.

A few weeks before I began the first posts on the blog in which I am writing, I found a freedom I have never known.

At first I was ecstatic. I felt released and those first posts were written in the heat of that release. I found myself writing night after night until 4 o’clock in the morning. After a day’s work at the office. On occasion I wrote through the night without going to bed and went off to the office. You can imagine, I was frequently like a zombie there. I felt released on the one hand, hence the exuberance, and also scared that it, this new found freedom, would vanish overnight. Would be disappear to be replaced by the turgidity of before.

That I am writing this some eleven weeks later is proof that the freedom has not disappeared.

It will come as no surprise, those of you who have stayed with me this far into the present writing, to hear the next statement. With freedom comes responsibility and that, more than anything else, is what I am exploring as I write these words.

I am weighing my responsibilities as a writer, to myself, to my readers, and weighing them against my other responsibilities. I think, at the end of the day, when it comes to writing, I have to choose the hard path. If I choose the easy path, I simply will not write. Or, if I do, it will be only in a very desultory fashion.

So, the hard path, eh? What does that mean? Let’s explore it and find out.

Filed under: Arts, , , ,

The First Time I Knew My Father


A Prose Poem 

The first time I knew my father was at seventeen.
We had lived continuously together in warfare since I was nine.
A battered, bitter battle till twelve, and a loud empty truce thereafter,
Mostly absent from the house.

The career officer at school was close to retirement,
As was most of the career information he possessed.
Airplane makers.
Those he knew were of the last war, names like
Handley Page, and Avro’s at Manchester.
Symbols of heroism. Pegasus and Hector.
Most went into demise in the post-war British industrial decline.

Armed with these few addresses, I wrote:

 

 

“Dear Sir,
I would like to serve as an apprentice in your company.
I have completed high school.
Enclosed is a drawing of an aircraft.” 

A company wrote back,

 

“Present yourself for interview on March 23rd inst.
Alight from the 44 Ribble bus at the Lytham Arms.
Looking forward to meeting you. Yours truly,”

The first time I knew my father was when I went to announce the interview,
To request permission to be absent from the trenches of the bitter home front.
The body went erect and soft,
The face, habitually a Greek mask when facing me, turns human,
The lips, lush, framed by the philosopher’s grey beard, said,

 

“Why did you never tell me?” 

“I didn’t think you were interested,” I said, feeling a man.


I had made this decision on my own.
In me the coward vanished, the whipped cur banished.

In a previous era I might have left home and run to sea.
For apprentice, read midshipman. An officer’s boy to a friendly captain.
Instead, I was going off to industry, to a new peace, to a war-pane maker.

 

“Didn’t you think I might have plans for you?” 

“You never told me of them.”

“I thought you might become a scholar, work in a library.”

From he who had never worked since I was seven,
This first recognition of the man who was my father
Looked at me in pride and kindness.
A kindness I had never seen.
Permission was granted. Independence was established.

But it was more a soldier leaving the King’s service.
A faithful retainer deserting.
King Lear left to moan and wail on the rocks alone.
Deserted by his court jester.
Because He could not bear to hear the truth,
His jester had been over-kicked.

The first time I knew my father was a brief moment.
There was no second time.

1987

Filed under: Memoir, ,

Our Address is Music


My home shall have music
Music shall come with the sun
And go down with the stars.
The angels of the heavens will loiter, unseen, to listen
The wind will blow softly
The rain will fall quiet so as not to disturb the sounds of
The violins coming from within.

People will flock happily to hear this music
They shall come from miles around
This will be a centre for it
Music shall fill the throats
And sound with the laughter of people.

For those who wish to play and want to listen
This is where they can always come.

The chairs shall play Mozart, the table Beethoven
Wagner will come constantly from the kitchen
Debussy and Saint-Saëns will issue from the bedrooms
Cage from the toilet, and Stockhausen
from the stores and cupboards
Vivaldi will come from the garage and Back from the garden.

The walls will be papered in C. The drawers
will be full of D major
The knives and forks will ring to Eb and the rolling pin
to G
The pillows and eiderdowns to A the the sheets to
a salubrious B.

Red will sound to all the majors
And blue to all the minors
The flats and sharps will sound to white
and, of course, anyone wearing black will immediately
hear F. Though they may be surprised on occasion to hear
its related harmonic minor.

The stairs will sound to crotchets and the doors
to semi-quavers
The windows to demi-semis and the fire-place
will positively bristle to hemi-demi-semis.
The gate at the end of the path will hum in minims
And the trees in the garden; well, they just adore
breves.

Don’t expect the tiles on the roof to play symphonies,
though they might.
The drainpipes make do with concertos, and brushes,
pots and pans, variously, with quartets, trios, and
sonatas.

Smells have been known to change key. And, well,
with so much music to look at, who needs ears?
Though Aunt Augusta is known to possess a pair,
Which she swears she never uses.

Of course, we don’t believe her, How else did she
know we were smoking behind the stairs?

My daddy is a double bass,
My mum, a cello, of course.
My sister is a violin, and my brothers
Flute and clarinet.
I, myself, am a piano, naturally. I wouldn’t be anything else.
Aunt, the one you’ve just hear about, is
A bassoon and her husband, a real horn (He’s French you know.)

Grandma’s a harp but she’s quite old, and granddad, a spinet.
We have some pets which comprise a cat, who is a piccolo
and a dog, an oboe.
The fish bear a remarkable resemblance to glockenspiel.

Ah, and the neighbours, I almost forgot them. Well, she’s
like a set of timpani, and he, I’m afraid, a xylophone.
We find the, yes, you’ve guessed it, pretty percussive on
occasions.

The postman is kind enough to come by on odd days
To act as conductor and we all give a jolly good tune.
Which causes him to take our letters without postage
Stamps, which gets him into terrible trouble with the
Postmaster, Who comes round to see what the matter
is. And ends up staying entranced.
The village bobby has been known to drop in for a cuppa
And end up transcribing a Mass.

The organ is played only on Sundays.
Because that’s old Aunt Bertha, you know.
And, I’m afraid that she’s of such an age
That’s she’s totally confined to bed.
Which is a shame, don’t you think?

We daren’t ever spring clear because
The neighbours would complain of the rackets. They’re
not partial to Renaissance.
They only play post-war themselves.

The earwigs in the lettuce patch are good
At rendering arias.
The snails in the spinach prefer plainsong.
The rats excel in acepella
The mice do a nice barber’s shop.

A fox has been known to come by with a
Lullaby.
And hens crow wonderful folk.
The bees buzz a bit of jazz. You should see
them do “Take Five.” But
you must hear our tame marmoset do
scat.

The guinea fowl whistle incessantly
The most wonderful ditties you’ve
Ever heard.
But, disappointingly, our pig grunts.
Which is a shame, because we were going
To invite him in for Christmas.

The carpets have been known to to go
On marches. The rugs, generally, prefer
A waltz.
The curtains are good at the rumba.
Which makes our mum cross.

For a jive, I’m afraid we’ll have
To direct you to Albert across
The road. He’s an electric guitar.
And we’re only natural here.

Some people may view us as old fashioned.
Which may be true in a sense.
But, if they have any knowledge, well
then, why, they’ll come round here and air it.
For it’s only ignorance that stays away.
And everyone knows he’s deaf.

If you’re thinking of coming round in the morning,
We’ll make you a good tea of staves.
Our biscuits, I’m afraid, are like allegros.
But taste just as good just the same.
Our jam dounuts have been known to crinkle like
Andantes. And, well, the buttered toast, will simply
Not do anything else but moderato.
And the sandwiches are definitely grave.

Be assured, though, you’ll enjoy it.
So give us a call
And we’ll tell you all
And nothing will ever be the same.

Sandown, South Africa, September 26, 1983

Filed under: Arts,

Two Australians


For some reason, maybe geography, an event took place yesterday that appears to have escaped the US media’s attention.

Julian Assange wrote in the Op-Ed page of the Australian, Don’t shoot the messenger for revealing uncomfortable truths, December 08, 2010 12:00 am.

He opens his Opinion piece by quoting, “In 1958 a young Rupert Murdoch, then owner and editor of Adelaide’s The News, wrote: ‘In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win.’ ”

Rupert Murdoch, born in Melbourne, Australia, of a regional, media-empire owning father, has spent his life building one of the world’s largest media empires, reaching into most corners of the globe. He is best known in the US for his expansion of the Fox TV Network and the creation of Fox News Channel.

Murdoch established The Australian in 1964 as Australia’s first national newspaper. His political support has gone to the Australian Labor Party, the Labour Party in Britain, the British Conservatives and back, more recently, to the Labour Party. He became a US citizen in 1985.

Julian Assange’s background is rather different. Although now aspiring to be a journalist and editor, in his native Australia he was primarily a computer software writer and sometime hacker. He spent is childhood years caught in the middle of a parental custody battle, being moved from place to place, with frequent changes of schools.

Rupert Murdoch’s behaviour as a newspaper owner does not suggest overtly Labour sympathies.

Right Web, the online presence for the Institute for Policy Studies, which describes its mission as tracking “militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy,” ran a profile of Rupert Murdoch, dated July 15, 2009,  in which Murdoch is described as being:

“Considered a close ally of neoconservative activists, Murdoch has helped bankroll neoconservatism’s more important media outlets, including the William Kristol-edited Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and Fox News. A sign of Murdoch’s commitment to this rightwing faction’s causes was his willingness to support the Standard in spite of yearly losses in the millions; the magazine is widely credited as a pivotal force in building support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.”

The profile goes on to observe,

“Murdoch is frequently criticized for using his media empire to advance his political agenda. During the lead up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, for example, the editors of Murdoch’s media holdings vociferously supported President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair’s pro-war campaign. One British newspaper opined: ‘You have got to admit that Rupert Murdoch is one canny press tycoon because he has an unerring ability to choose editors across the world who think just like him. How else can we explain the extraordinary unity of thought in his newspaper empire about the need to make war on Iraq? After an exhaustive survey of the highest-selling and most influential papers across the world owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation, it is clear that all are singing from the same hymn sheet. Some are bellicose baritone soloists who relish the fight. Some prefer a less strident, if more subtle, role in the chorus. But none, whether fortissimo or pianissimo, has dared to croon the antiwar tune. Their master’s voice has never been questioned.’ ( “Their Master’s Voice,” Guardian, February 17, 2003) ”

Julian Assange’s political position is best viewed through the lens of the two papers he wrote in 2006, around the time of the founding of Wikileaks. These are: “State and Terrorist Conspiracies” (10 November 2006) and “Conspiracy as Governance” (3 December 2006).

However you care to characterize Julian Assange’s political position, it surely can be said that his differs from that of Rupert Murdoch’s.

It surely is the height of irony that we have two Australians brought together, as it were, in the same newspaper, forty years apart in age, each a scion of the world in which they play such a large role.

Rupert Murdoch has spent a lifetime creating his vast media empire. In four short years, Julian Assange has led an obscure whistle-blowing website to being the most power journalistic enterprise the world has known, though it could disappear almost without trace tomorrow.

It seems most unlikely, given how Rupert Murdoch’s guiding hand has never been far from his editors’ pens, that Murdoch did not personally approve the appearance of Julian Assange’s writings in The Australian‘s pages. One somehow senses the older man’s glee at the tumult being caused by the actions of the younger man, though there is no foundation whatsoever for saying such a thing.

The Australian political establishment, prior to the appearance of Julian Assange’s Op-Ed piece, has behaved deplorably towards one of its own citizens,  in particular its present Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. At least one politician has broken ranks: see Andrew Wilkie, a former whistleblower of all things,  Wilkie lashes PM over WikiLeaks, December 09, 2010 1:25 pm, his conscience awoken perhaps by Julian Assange’s plea.

Filed under: Current Events, , ,

Moral Purpose and War


Democratic governments differ from the governments of despots in several significant ways.

In one way more than in any other, democratic governments have an ability to defend themselves that governments by despots could never dream of being able to do.

Democratic governments govern with the consent of the people. Wars take money, defense takes money. Democratic governments have a far superior ability to defend themselves because they have a bottomless pit from which to draw money, their taxpayers, the people on whose behalf they govern.

To obtain the money, the government has to make a mildly convincing case to the people to fund the defense, or the war, or the weapons being sought.

Now the case does not have to be truthful, the cause does not have to be right. What is required is to scare the hell out of the people sufficiently so that they, we, the people, beg the government to take our money and do with it what they want.

Despots are not in this enviable position. As a government you can coerce people, tell them what to do, threaten them, etc. But getting their money? At some point, the threats break down. At some point, the money just mysteriously disappears. You can separate a person from his life but you cannot separate him from his money. His money is smarter than you, or any despot, will ever be.

There is also the moral dimension.

Democratically governed nations embody within themselves a moral sense that they govern by right not by might. This moral sense of purpose gives democratically governed counties a sense of purpose that despots lack.

Consider an example.

The combined economic strength of the Allies in WWII could easily outspend the Axis powers. On that basis alone they were bound to win. However, the threat of the Nazis obtaining the atom bomb as a weapon had the United States mobilize the Manhattan project. The story has been little told, for what reason I am not clear. But a cursory examination of the effort and organization that went into the development of the atom bomb by the United States government to ensure that it (and its allies) had the weapon before the Nazis did, will reveal that moral purpose. Money and organization were not sufficient. There was a drive, an imperative, to the effort that despots never seem to have. Besides, Heisenberg and others have suggested that he and his cohorts did everything possible to subvert Nazi atom bomb efforts.

There is nothing whatsoever that says democratic governments are nice and despotic governments are not nice.  A clear case might be made out for the latter, but not at all for the former. Democratic governments are not always nice. And, sometimes, they are just donwright nasty.

The reason is simple – power. Power is not for pussies. Power not wielded is impotence. Power wielded, in any form, is ugly. By its nature.

Now, in conceiving the war on terror, the US government, no doubt, had in mind a war of a similar nature to that which it was already waging – the War on Drugs. There are many similarities between the two.

Governments love wars that have no declared aims, no clear outcomes, no Win point. Wars, such as those on Drugs and on Terrorism are ideal. They gobble up vast amounts of money, have no real territorial jurisdiction, few homeboy dead bodies, and you get to take the war to the battlefields of your choosing, employing those means that are for you to decide, and victory is yours to choose to declare or not.

At this point, it is wise to let the topic, WOT (war on terrorism), alone. Reflection on what has been written so far will indicate that WOD and WOT are both topics which quickly splinter into various lines of discussion. With regard to WOD, there is the central question of demand. The War on Drugs is on supply, not demand.

With regard to the WOT, security (a topic very close to the heart of every government of whatever persuasion) is similarly a vexed complex line of discussion that does not yield to simplification.

Better to leave alone and let the topic, WOT, be developed in time elsewhere.

I did consider writing of the WOT the following:

“The war on terror is an activity designed by the American government to cower its people and permanently maintain them in a cowed position.”

Now, War in Iraq. Given all that has been said so far, let’s first state that there is no connection between the War in Iraq and the WOT.

Baby Bush owed his father a favour. Daddy Bush never followed through, on the intervention by the US and others at the Invasion of Kuwait by Sadam Hussein. The thought at the time was that the US should have marched on Baghdad when, having chased the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait halfway to Baghdad, they didn’t finish the job and march all the way. Who prevailed at the time and called quits, I don’t know. I don’t know if it is in the public record. Whoever prevailed at that point, they, or he, was certainly not around with Cheney and his pals, surrounding Baby Bush. Cheney prevailed. In a word, the War in Iraq is Cheney’s War, or if you like, Halliburton’s war.

Those of us who do not occupy positions of power do not view war in the same light as those who do.  We might even be with John Lennon and wish for no more war, an end to all wars for ever.

That is not the view held by someone in government. War is a necessary, and sometimes the only available, implement of power. To quote “War is diplomacy by another means.” Another quote “In war, the first casualty is truth”. That casualty will probably have occurred even before war is declared.

Filed under: Current Events, ,

Nancy


Nancy Munro, my aunt, was a funny woman. I don’t mean laughable. My father laughed at her but we did not. We found her strange. Possibly even slightly spooky. Though we never said so to each other.

I understand that she, in former times, was a ballet dancer, though I know that not for sure.

So there we were, my brothers and I, with my grandmother, my aunt and my father, all in the same house. At least until my father shipped his mother off to a nursing home. He drove his sister out of the house too, with his constant scorn of her.

All this time, my father never had a job. Made no attempt to find one, to my recollection. When there were no women left in the house, he would make vague excuses to us of how it wouldn’t be seemly for him, a single man, to have a woman in the house, as a caretaker for us.

A puzzle really. Why did not my aunt look after us and he get a job? I don’t know. She didn’t appear to like children much. Her most memorable activity in my memory was to buy us Sunday clothes and ship us off to church. Not that she went, At least, if she did, she did not go to the church she insisted we go to. Oh, and she would give us sixpence each. This was probably for the church plate, and not for sweeties, which is where it did go.

After she left the house, my father would send me to her workplace, to cadge money from her. She seemed kindly enough. She worked in the Blood Transfusion Unit of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. What she did there, I am not sure. She wasn’t a nurse, for I would remember her uniform. She probably kept the paperwork of the blood-bank. She would  show me the centrifuge, and explain to me how it worked. She would show me the blood phials and explain the blood types. She would show me the dried blood which looked like very fine sand. She would tell me about hemoglobin and all that.

Later, I don’t know why, I would visit her, sometimes in the company of my brothers, and sometimes not, at her home in Joppa on the Southeast side of the city. As far as I recall, she shared a house with some other women, similar in age and marital status to herself. Which is to say spinsters.

She had a man who would visit her while we were all still at Merchiston Avenue. He seemed to me, looking back, an impresario type. Coat, hat, scarf. Maybe she really had been a ballet dancer. She was thin, spindly. He didn’t last long, poor soul. Father drove him off. At least that is my impression.

I don’t suppose I should describe the fights between her and my father. But the urge is irresistible. It is comic, looking back after all these years, as it was to the three of us at the time. The fights were over my father helping himself to her cigarettes. My father was an inveterate pipe-smoker, so why he took her cigarettes eludes me. That combined with the fact that cigarettes made him cough dreadfully.

My father was a deplorable mocker. I say deplorable, because, nowadays, such behaviour would not be tolerated. He would reel with hearty laughter as he would regale us with his constant story of how she would, on discovering he had taken, oh, I don’t know, a cigarette or two, scream at him, “You fief, you fief.” And he would laugh heartily at the pleasure of the recollection.

When she died, I do recall we went to the funeral. Where we got the clothes from Heaven’s knows. I don’t recall my father coming with us. But, then he may have done.

Filed under: Memoir, , ,

The Origins of Consciousness versus Self-consciousness as Expressed in a 4000 Year Old Ancient Egyptian Tale


During the course of writing a piece (not yet posted) on Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty’s essay, “On Translating Sanskrit Myth,” in The Translator’s Art, edited by William Radice and Betty Reynolds, I mentioned The Tale of Sinuhe. Some themes from a book I had read many years previously resonated within me with what I was saying about The Tale of Sinuhe. I have previously posted an entirely different piece on Sinuhe:  The Teller and Tale United.

The Tale of Sinuhe is an Ancient Egyptian narrative surviving in many incomplete fragments from around the early 20th century BC.

The story that Sinuhe tells us in first person is as follows. He overhears a conversation connected with the death of King Amenemhet I of Egypt and, perhaps for political reasons, flees his native land to what we now call Canaan where he becomes the son-in-law to the local chief, Ammunenshi. He defends Ammunenshi against various rebellious tribes and, singlehandedly, defeats a powerful opponent. Shortly after he has made a prayer calling for a return to his homeland, the King of Egypt, Senwosret I, invites him back. He lives out the rest of his life in the service of Senwosret I and is laid to rest in a tomb he has built for himself.

The full text of the tale is here: http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/sinuhe.htm (http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/sinuhe.htm)

So I thought I would go back and revisit the book,  The Origins of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes, published by Houghton Mifflin, 1976, to explore those resonances and see if there was any substance in them.

Reviews of  Origins are at:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22478.The_Origin_of_Consciousness_in_the_Breakdown_of_the_Bicameral_Mind

Many readers on that site, Goodreads.com, have written excellently on Origins (or TOoCitBotBM as one reviewer coins it, which, if you are English and enjoy word plays, sits nicely in the mind) so there is little point in discussing here what Jaynes says, or is trying to say.

It seems sufficient to say that Jaynes’ book remains controversial (which I was quite unaware of at the time when I read it).

Over the years there have been many controversial psychiatrists and psychologists. Jaynes occupied a field that seems to thrive on the stuff. His ideas are substantial enough, though, for a Julian Jaynes Society to survive him.

What I am concerned to do is to go back to Jaynes and see if his thoughts throw any light on the language that Sinuhe uses (or on the thoughts Sinuhe used to frame the language, to borrow from Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty in “On Translating Sanskrit Myth” ).

We can do no better, in an effort to capture the sense of Sinuhe’s language, than look to Parkinson’s translation of  The Tale of Sinuhe.

In his Introduction to  The Tale of Sinuhe, Parkinson says,

“Egyptian literary texts exhibit various distinctive features: .. they are self-conscious and concerned with self-definition and expression … they are fictional.” [p3]

and, again, the extant literature:

” … provides a unique record from Ancient Egypt of man’s self-consciousness and his exploration of the problematic reality that faced him.” [p17]

Parkinson then goes on to observe that this is what makes Ancient Egyptian literature attractive to the modern (he means present day) reader.

If you are familiar with The Origins of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, you will have already spotted what caused the resonances in my mind with Jaynes’ book and Sinuhe’s writing.

Yes, it is that word, “self-conscious”.

When I first read  The Tale of Sinuhe I was certainly struck by the writer (Sinuhe)’s self-consciousness. But there are so many strange elements to cope with on a first reading of the book: place names and people’s names, for example, that one keeps thinking, “This, after all, was written 4000 years ago, what do you expect?”

Parenthetically, one might add, that the atmosphere one gets from reading Sinuhe is of an alien place and of an alienness. Just the atmosphere that good science fiction writers strive to attain.

Anyway, diving back, after all these years since I first read it, into Jaynes’s book, who has thoughtfully provided us with two excellent indices, one on Places and the other on Subjects, off we go.

Before we look at what Jaynes’ says about literature, which is why we are here in his book, let’s quickly look at what he says about consciousness. After all, he is bound to say something, no?

“Conscious mind is a spatial analogue of the world (he means physical world) and metal acts are analogues of bodily acts.” [p66]

You don’t have to be a non-Lockean to pick holes in that, but this is not the place to do it.

He then goes on to claim that consciousness is based on language, “Consciousness comes after language.” [p66]

That may be the case, but what Sinuhe tells us, loudly and clearly, is that consciousness absolutely predates writing. Why do we say that? Because there it is on the page. No translation difficulties, no transliteration problems mask that.

Alright, if you are perverse you can say, “but he is writing and he has consciousness, how do you know that his consciousness does not postdate writing?”

Because, in developmental terms, writing is about 4 hours old, and there is no way that Sinuhe developed his consciousness during those 4 hours. The pace of development of writing compared to the pace of evolution is supersonic jet to tortoise. Sinuhe’s predecessors (and ours) had to have developed consciousness a considerable length of time before writing was developed.

Put it this way. To give some sense of the difference of time scales we are considering here, consider how long it takes to learn how to ride a bicycle compared to the time taken for us to have evolved from quadrupeds to bipeds.

The point is that, like learning to ride a bicycle, writing, even the development of it, is an acquired skill. The evolution of consciousness is of a whole different order. This may be what is wrong with Jaynes’ thesis, but I don’t know for sure.

Putting all of Jaynes aside to return to the world of Sinuhe, what is left to consider?

However alien is the world that Sinuhe describes, the one thing we have no doubt about whatsoever is that Sinuhe is human (even in spite of his name).

In the chapter subsequent to that just quoted from, Jaynes examines his thesis with regard to The Iliad of Homer.

I think it is very interesting to have Jaynes’ comments on The Iliad (and on the Odyssey, though we won’t get to them) at hand because his comments apply to a work which most knowledgeable people agree was written around 800 BC.

In other words, The Iliad was written long after Sinuhe had committed his composition with brush to papyrus, or had a scribe use a stylus to inscribe on a clay tablet.

What’s more, by every measure, The Iliad is the written record of an oral precursor. Sinuhe composed his from his mind onto the page. No oral precursor. Sinuhe tells us he writing what he says directly on the page.

Let’s see what Jaynes says.

Well, dear readers, we are going onto thin ice at this point. The section in Jaynes I am looking at is, “The Language of the The Iliad.” [p69]

Jaynes was a psychologist not a scholar of Archaic Greek, the language of The Iliad. By what authority does he challenge generations of Greek scholars in the understanding of the Archaic Greek of the text?

I certainly don’t have that authority but I will look at the Greek terms he challenges and see how they stand up, always bearing in mind that the language we are considering, Ancient Egyptian, that of Sinuhe’s, is of considerably greater antiquity than Archaic Greek.

Consider, for brevity’s sake, one example from Jaynes.

The first word Jaynes considers is ψυχή [p69] (we will for ignore the utter irony of him, a psychologist, talking unselfconsciously about this term).

Now, even if we are unpracticed at this, we can take the individual syllables and transliterate them.

The first letter of ψυχή is psi, the second is upsilon, the third is chi, the final letter is eta.  We can render this as psyche.

Perfect! You all did very well! We have rendered a word from 800 BC intelligible to us.

OK, this does not make us translators of Archaic Greek (after all, the Greek I have shown is, strictly, modern demotic Greek) but what it does show is that the Greek, however old it is, is deeply embedded in our language. Psyche is readily understandable to you and me.

Now, what ancient Greeks understood by the term and what we do, aye, there is the rub. But let’s persevere.

A glance at the reproduction in the link below will illustrate for us the final eight lines of  The Tale of Sinuhe.

http://www.britishmuseum.org/images/ps331488_l.jpg

The quick look is sufficient to illustrate the point.

Ancient Egyptian is a whole order of difference away from us than Archaic Greek.

Here is an illustration of line 2 from the hieroglyphs for The Tale of Sinuhe.

Illustration: Line 2 hieroglyphics from The Tale of Sinuhe  (from JJ Hirst)

We have just transliterated the Greek into English. Here is an example of transliteration from the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics:

ink Smsw Sms nb.f bAk n ipt nswt  –  “I was a follower who followed his lord, a servant of the family- quarters of the king,” line 2 of  The Tale of Sinuhe, see:

http://www.rostau.org.uk/aegyptian-l/reference/GrammarRefDb/Sinuhe.html

I might comment, to give it some context, that this, “I was a follower of my lord, servant of the king,” held widespreadly through the Middle Ages. Only with the rise of City States such as Venice, and the emergence of professional and merchant classes in the Renaissance, does it begin to breakdown. It still holds true to this day in Royal courts, where absolute obedience to the reigning monarch is a condition of employment.

Now, the illustration  is simply an example. But this example from  The Tale of Sinuhe illustrates perfectly what Egyptologists do to the hieroglyphics before translating the transliteration into English.

So what point am I making? That the language of Homer (whether he existed or not) is incomparably closer to us than the language of Sinuhe.

Yet Jaynes denies to the Greeks of  The Iliad what Sinue clearly has more than a thousand years before them, consciousness.

This is like saying: birds lost their ability to fly but later recovered it.

Now we are not engaged in an exercise whereby we determine how many legs of a thesis you have to destroy before it collapse. Rather what I set out to do was to examine the resonances I experienced in a previous discussion of The Tale of Sinuhe with regard to Jaynes’ obviously seminal work.

Can I tie the resonances I experienced to my reading of  The Tale of Sinuhe? No, I can not.

So what I, we, have learned is that my previous understanding of his thesis does not stand up to scrutiny as viewed from the present time. The failure is mine not Jaynes’, or anybody else’s.

But I wouldn’t have embarked on the exercise if I hadn’t thought it was worthwhile.

After all, not all thought experiments are going to be successful. Better luck next time.

What we have ended up with, dear reader, is a deeper understanding of the nature of translation and of the transliteration of culture.

We are deeply connected to the language and ideas of The Iliad and The Odyssey. They are implanted within our culture. We are surely dislocated from the world and culture of Sinuhe, 4000 years ago. That we are able to make any kind of leap at all to an understanding of Sinuhe’s world is cause for joy and celebration.

Where this tiny pip of understanding will lead us to next, I cannot say. With bated breath I say, stay posted.

Books mentioned in this discussion are:

“On Translating Sanskrit Myth,” by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, in The Translator’s Art, edited by William Radice and Betty Reynolds, published by Penguin, 1987.

The Tale of Sinuhe: and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems 1940-1640 BC, Anonymous, translated by R B Parkinson, published by Oxford University Press, 1997.

The Origins of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes, published by Houghton Mifflin, 1976.

The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer (no particular editions)

Filed under: Arts, , , ,

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