Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘philosophical’ Category

screenshotMy computer is dead! The last update of Windows Ten killed it. I don’t like Windows Ten. It updates my computer every Friday night whether I want it to or not. Then I come to it on a Saturday, thinking to jot down a fragment of a poem, or maybe tickle through an essay, and it says: “Oh, hang on, I’m doing something much more important, you’ll have to wait.”

So you make coffee and sometimes when you come back it says it’s ready for you, but then you find it’s not working right. Sometimes you have to wait all day to find out it’s not working right, or sometimes it doesn’t work at all. The computer grinds to a halt, as if the update poured treacle into the works; the mouse becomes sticky, or sometimes you can’t get past the login screen. Sometimes you have to wait a week for the next update to fix things, sometimes you have to wait two or three. It’s a good job I’m not up against any deadlines.

This time, I’m getting what they call a 100% disk usage error. From reading the self-help forums, I’ve learned it’s a common problem for which the solutions are legion, but I must have tried them all, and none of them work. Basically, the machine enters a state of infinite effort while actually doing nothing at all, the result being a condition of stubborn unresponsiveness verging on the catatonic. I even tried resetting my computer to a state as fresh as the day that it was born – thinking I was being very clever in working that one out – but it won’t let me do it. It’s beginning to sound like Arthur C Clarke’s HAL: “I’m sorry, Dave. I can’t let you do that.”

I’ve forgotten what that poem fragment was now. I woke up with it running through my head, but its leaked away. I should have written it down. After all, Wordsworth never had this trouble did he? He wrote stuff on bits of paper with a quill pen, then sent it all off with a penny stamp, ink blobs and all, and hey-presto, he made poet laureate. Eventually. But no, I had to start fiddling, clicking this, pressing that, and all to no avail. Also, have you noticed, there’s nothing like a sick computer for spoiling your day, for making you realise how much you’ve come to rely on it, and perhaps despising yourself a little on account of that?

So how did I manage to post this then? Ah well, I have this other dead computer. The Internet killed that one too, long ago, but I managed to resurrect it with an obsolete operating system I bought of Ebay for a fiver. It’s now the fastest, most responsive and silky smooth machine in the house, but only because it can no longer connect to the Internet. I’m it’s master now, you see? So I wrote this on it, transferred it by memory card to my Android phone and posted it online that way. It’s hardly convenient, but where there’s a will there’s a way.

It’s also useful to be reminded that it doesn’t entirely serves us, this vast invisible thing we have wrapped the world in. It’s a marvellous invention of course. The simple fact of email was a step change in communications. But then most of the emails we get are junk, sent out by dumb robots, and we have to spend time sorting through them for the ones that aren’t junk and sent out by humans. And we all know our emails are scanned and parsed by the Internet anyway, looking for juicy clues about our likely buying habits. And we know too we’re being groomed and manipulated by its algorithms every day, that the non living, non self-aware intelligence of the machine is becoming far more important as an end in itself than anything we’re allowed to do when we’re connected to it.

So my poem has gone and, okay, it wasn’t going to change the world so there’s no sense getting too upset about that, but the point is the machine robbed me of a moment of human expression, which does not make it my friend. It has something far more important to do now than serve our often admittedly trivial needs, and we need to think very carefully about what kind of unthinking, unfeeling world the machine is leading us into while under the impression it’s serving us, when in fact we’re all in service to it.

Wait a minute,… I remember how that poem went now:

My computer once made me see red,
When it locked up and tried to play dead,
So I cursed it quite rough, cos I’d quite had enough,
Then I smashed it to bits with my head.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

journals-of-dorothy-wordsworthDorothy was the sister of William Wordsworth, also friend to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Though a diarist, and poet in her own right, she never sought publication and it was only in 1897, some forty years or so after her death, her earliest hand-written journals were taken up and printed by the historian William Knight.

They concern just two months of the year 1798, spent at Alfoxden, when Dorothy was 27. We also have 1800 to 1803 at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, though of the latter, only 1802 is complete. The Helen Darbishire version takes another look at the handwritten originals for the Dove Cottage years. For Alfoxden, the William Knight version is the only academic source now, Knight having ‘mislaid’ the original. She kept other journals – accounts of travel in Scotland and Europe, but these are not included here.

What’s striking is the diaries are either neutral in their bearing or wholly positive of the persons mentioned in them. We must therefore assume Dorothy was, to a degree, self-censoring, and this is fair enough, especially since it’s known she wrote with the expectation that at least her brother would be reading them – and no one is that magnanimous if a journal is guaranteed its privacy. In short, there is nothing here for the muck-raker, not even in that much psychoanalysed pre-wedding scene of June 1802.

But let’s go back to 1798. This was a significant year, marking the collaboration of William Wordsworth and Coleridge, and the publication of their “Lyrical Ballads”, a book that kicked off the English Romantic movement. The preface, written by Wordsworth, can be read as a manifesto of the movement’s aims and, for anyone who wants to know what English Romanticism is, or was, this is still the best place to start.

Then we have the early years in Grasmere, this period marking several revisions of the Lyrical Ballads. But Dorothy’s presence at the birth of English Romanticism is more significant than that, though in ways not always easy to get at. For a start, it seems rather a small slice of a life, just fragments of three and a bit years. So what is it about Dorothy’s jottings that’s kept them in print all this time? Is it simply that she was the sibling of a famous poet, is it prurient interest in the nature of their relationship, or do we glimpse something special in Dorothy herself?

Though I admire the Lake Poets, I find them difficult. Dorothy on the other hand is immediately accessible, her journals capturing with great brevity the most colourful pictures of her life and of the natural world. She was, in a sense, the mind-camera for William and Coleridge, who used her diary as a reference, the result being you will find echoes of Dorothy’s words, and the scenes she captured, in their work. She was also, in a sense, the embodiment of everything the Romantic movement was trying to get at – something profound in its simplicity, in plainness of language, and purity of feeling.

I plead ignorance of Alfoxden, but I do know the area around Grasmere, a village now so overlaid with an impenetrable veneer of chocolate-box tourism and dotted with the weekend residences of city-gazillionaires, it’s impossible to imagine any sort of authentic life being lived there at all. If we want to know what that place contributed to the Romantic movement, two centuries ago, we turn to the Lake poets, but if we want to flip through the stunningly vivid mind-pictures of life in the Lakes back then, and rub shoulders with its characters, then we read Dorothy’s journals. And in them we discover all is not lost, that if we can get away from the honey-pots, and beyond the fell gates, it’s still possible to see and feel the world as she did.

Much of the charm of these journals lies in their capture of nature; of the land and the weather and the creatures great and small, also a sense of the people in the landscape, moving upon it more intimately than we do now, and mostly, of course, on foot. The lack of petty tittle-tattle, though marked, does not diminish their interest. There is also great pleasure to be had from comparing Dorothy’s seasons in that brief window of her life with our own, and the feeling, still, of a Romantic connection with times past, as if no time has passed at all.

Given the immense age of the universe, a single life is no more than a match in the dark, a brief enough time in which to blink and respond to what we see before the light flickers and dies. But some matches are brighter than others, and some minds quicker at seeing what needs to be seen and responding with genuine heart and feeling. It’s also valuable, during the brief flaring of one’s own light if we can be shown what others have noted as worthy, because it gives us a head start in the growing of our own souls. Of course, not everyone possesses such a talent as makes it worth our while, but to my mind at least, Dorothy Wordsworth did. And I think that’s why we’re still reading her journals today.

Read Full Post »

sunsetWintering in the same old cold and grey,
waiting for that chance-thing to arise
and say: here, this is how,
revealed in unambiguous guise,
you might now see and act
and leave behind at last
the lies you tell yourself
in order to maintain
this never ending waiting game!

But there is nothing new today.
No novelties arise, just the same
old cold and grey in which
you wear the usual disguise,
revealing this uncomfortable truth,
that for all your life you’ve hid,
dissolved in indecision.
And of all the things, of your own volition,
you might heartily have risked, and done,
you never risked, or did,
a single one.

 

 

Read Full Post »

mazda night journey HDRFriday: I’m driving along, and for no particular reason my mind wanders onto the subject of the actress, Judy Davies. I follow the thought and find myself exploring her filmography all the way back to the movie of EM Forster’s novel “A passage to India.” I ponder this for a while. Good movie that. Edward Fox was in it too, and Alec Guinness. I’ve not read the novel, but I’m wondering if I should look it up.

My mind moves on, and I’m thinking of something else entirely when I pop the radio on and there’s a play on Radio 4: “A passage to India.”

This kind of low level, useless precognition is actually quite common and it can be easily explained away as coincidence. Admittedly, I’m less likely to do that than someone more scientistically inclined, but neither am I as shocked by it as I once was. At one time I would have been pondering it more deeply and most likely blogging today about the mysteries of time, space and being, but of late I recognise it makes no difference if there is or isn’t anything more to this sort of thing, and it’s best either dismissed or simply accepted as a mysterious part of life, but one we’ll never understand. I just wish it could be more helpful.

Anyway, Saturday, and I’ve picked up an ear worm: Aha’s “Take on Me” running on a continuous loop in my head – just the first couple of lines – and annoying as Hell. Then I call into a shop where they have muzak playing over the tannoy. I’ve not been there five minutes when they start playing “Take on me”. There we go again: that strange, useless precognition thing.

Then, on the way home this happens:

Okay, so I manage to avoid killing the cyclist, but not, I should add, because of any sixth sense. I’m just lucky, and actually a little warning would have been helpful, sparing me at least a near heart attack. Those bikes piled around the bend with breathtaking audacity, also, I presume, with a reckless disregard for third party insurance. The wobbling tail-end Charlie was unprepared for the bend and thus a victim for any vehicle coming the other way, in this case me.

If we’d collided, he would have gone off my bonnet, and either over or into the wall on my left. Over the wall is a thirty foot drop into a shallow river. He might have survived the wall but not the river.

He apologised in passing, called me “bud” and wobbled on – I’ve been called much worse by burly men in Lycra tights. Anyway, I drove home, then had a brew and a very long sit down. And I was thinking about how suddenly our lives can change for the worse, and how we never see it coming. We get word a close relative has been diagnosed with cancer, maybe we get the diagnosis ourselves. Something happens on the road – a Kamikaze cyclist skitters off your bonnet, kills himself and ruins your life – because whether it’s your fault or not, that’s a thing you’ll carry at the back of your mind for the rest of your life. You bumble along from day to day, thinking your life is humdrum, maybe even a little boring and then: bang.

On the other hand, the changes that bring about an improvement in our lives – barring a lottery win – tend to work more slowly. We sacrifice immediate pleasure for the thought of reaping larger benefits in the future. We invest in a pension so we can retire in comfort. We study so we can get a better job, afford a nicer house, buy our kids nice things. We bring our kids up as well as we can, then take pleasure in seeing them engage with the world. It all takes time, and it’s worth it.

But the good things in life tend to be incremental, introducing themselves so slowly we hardly notice. We become so entirely accepting we can find ourselves contemptuous, that even though life is actually, rather good, we barely notice, especially if we’re hooked on always chasing the next thing. Maybe we even grumble when those little things go wrong.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is it’s always a good idea to take stock now and then, because there’s something odd about life in that it never lets you see the bad things coming, only sometimes the stuff that makes no difference to anything.

 

Read Full Post »

moorland ruinIt’s impossible to disconnect oneself from the current political turmoil, though I have been trying hard of late. In the UK, our politicians enter into vote after vote as we near the deadline for separating from the European Union, yet seemingly without clarifying anything, and now it looks as if they intend delaying the deadline, pushing out the long anticipated car-crash until the summer.

They give the impression of an orgy, splashing about in mud, hurling bread at one another, while people go hungry. There is something deeply unsettling about it, a sense of the solid ground giving way, that shortly I will be swallowed up, plunged into an unforgiving underworld where bad people rule, and the good go in fear.

It’s like when I’ve been walking over the moors, the mist comes down, and I’ve been lured from my course by a siren sheep-track that ends in bog. My next step could take me ankle deep, or waist deep – there’s no way of knowing –  the only certainty being that I’m going to get dirty. I look around but I’ve been travelling this way for so long now I can no longer remember where I went wrong, or if the safe path is even there any more, or if, like the rest of the world, enclosed by this impenetrable mist, it was consumed long ago by muck and cold water.

In the mean time we have all grown angrier. We have sharpened our knives and our tongues and grown cruel. We have been taught how to hate again, turned back the clock, generations of harvests of an increasingly rich diversity now ploughed under for a return to  the days when old men with red faces told wicked jokes at the expense of one minority after the other. And in the way of the herd, we were all expected to laugh.

I’d thought the old men with red faces had died out, taken their jokes and their bigotry and their anger with them. Many have, I suppose, but their seeds remain, and now the land seems drained of nourishment, sown thick instead with tangled weed and a myriad blood-letting briars. It’s a bleaker harvest now, overseen by the Hydra of intolerance. And then we have its stunted minions, the trolls with their wickedness and their ignorance all polished up like a shield to deflect reason.

What sense now in still groping for the gates of Heaven, when behind us the gates of Hell have opened wide? The darkness has spilled out, and all the fell creatures are gaining ground, clawing at our heels. If only the mist would lift a moment we might get our bearings afresh, stare them down, turn all to stone who would do us harm. But it’s a bad day in the hills, and the mist has settled in.

We spy a ruin in the gloom, a black gritstone pile, dripping wet and oozing metaphor.  It’s the ruin of our future, I think, the shape of it unrecognisable, suggestive of nothing now, its stones tumbled, softened by the elements and eerily cold to touch.

What am I saying? I’ll be okay. After all, I’m not exactly living on the street, as many of my fellow countrymen are these days. I’ll still be scribbling in a year’s time. But how can I be comfortable with such a transformation as this when there is not a single institution left that lends a hand to the fallen, without first searching their pockets for gold?

Time passes, and all shall pass with it, this being our only hope, that the mountains shall be ground down and the valleys filled with their dust. But in the mean time we are left wondering, if it’s true the spark of consciousness in each of us is the universe coming into awareness of itself, though us, and judging itself by our reactions, I give notice to my creator this current state of affairs is decidedly not good.

But there is something I can do, something we all can do, and that’s shield our flame against the coming storm and hold to the good as much as we can define it, also resist this pernicious permission that’s been seeping back into the Zeitgeist, a sly, wheedling little void telling us it’s okay again to hate, okay to laugh at those wicked jokes of the red faced men.

Read Full Post »

southport sunset

Resisting now this jagged mess of days,
Brings on the dark assassin’s migraine knives,
When even to tread the softer, slower ways,
Exhausts me long before the weekend has arrived.

Thwarted then, both inside myself and out,
Suspended, void of time and space and thought,
I ride an inky blackness of self doubt,
Until to cloying stillness am I brought.

The windows of my soul are growing old,
Long papered o’er by fools upon the make.
Their ragged posters many lies have told,
The perpetrators slippery as snakes.

Here then, shall I submit? Is it too late?
No wisdom in the wind, no maps extol
The seamless passage through that gateless gate,
Just a bloodied mess of thorns I’m fain to hold.

The season of the inner light grows dim.
And with it hope I’ll ever once more know,
That place of perfect harmony within,
The place I have for so long ached to go.

Read Full Post »

 

man strolling in a wooded landscape - detail - A A MillsThis life’s dim windows of the soul,
Distort the heavens from pole to pole,
And leads you to believe a lie,
When you see with, not through the eye.

The Eternal Gospel – Blake.

A man enters the forest to cut wood. He hears music, discovers a beautiful woman dancing. She invites him to join her, and he has the time of his life, returns, stars still in his eyes, to find decades have passed, that all who knew him are gone, and he no longer has a place in the world. It’s a classic encounter with the Faery, and the meaning of it – for there is always a meaning – suggests that having once experienced the limitless bliss of the other-world, you have to find a way of forgetting it, or you cannot live in this one.

Or it might have happened the other way around, because there’s always an inverse to these things. A man enters the forest, encounters the dancing woman who lures him into an eternal life of merriment, romance and where all is wonderful. Decades pass before he tires of it – for humans will always tire of endless pleasure – and he craves a return to life, craves its imperfections, even the time bound nature of the human condition. He’s thinking all who knew him will surely be gone by now but, on his return, he discovers no time has lapsed at all and he merely picks up where he left off. The story here might be telling us the world will always find a place for those who grasp that crucial insight regarding the value of limitation in human affairs.

I’m not sure where these ideas come from, but they’re nagging me to attempt a contemporary story along similar lines, and I’m resisting it. But the more I resist, the more they nag and intrigue. I’d thought they were from Irish Faery lore, but in the main it’s mortal women and children the Celtic Faery are fond of kidnapping, suggestive of a different kind of moral altogether.

Then again it may have been something imagined or dreamed, and it’s a beguiling concept, that such ideas are eternal and floating about, waiting to be picked up by the passing mind, and it’s helpful if you can understand them. All myths come from an archetypal substrate and speak to us in a symbolic language, apparently seeking influence over human affairs.

The Faery were once understood as daemonic entities, not literally existing, but still real, visible only through the inner eye, as Blake once put it, a vision overlaid with the filter of imagination. It takes a kind of madness then, seeing fairies – indeed Wordsworth did say Blake was mad and he may have right – but not all daemonic expression is mad in a bad way. It can also be visionary. On the downside though, daemonic rumblings can spread like wildfire, leading to a dangerous shift in the Zeitgeist, to orgies of rage, to mindless persecution of the “other”, and to killing.

We needn’t look very far to find evidence of the daemonic at work in the contemporary world and have only to listen to the voices coming at us from formerly sane quarters, voices of unreason that can both pedal and believe in lies, even knowing them to be lies. For just as one half of the daemonic possess a heavenly form and fey, courtly manners, the other half knows no bounds to its depths of depravity, duplicity and ugliness. An obvious place to find it is in the comments of any social media, for once we discover the cloak of invisibility, it is the darker daemons that speak through us, and their language is foul.

This ambivalence of the daemonic is perplexing, and not something we can control nor every wholly trust in. When the genie is out of the bottle the story never ends well, except in Disneyland, because humans are outwitted with ease by the daemonic mind. Better then to ram the cork back in, cast the bottle into the sea and hope no one else finds it. Except it is the genii, the daemons themselves that seek us. And we just can’t help falling under their spell.

They require far more circumspection than we possess, especially at times of crisis, for they are the crisis, as if the daemons have gone to war with themselves, and it’s only when the Godly win out do we find peace again. But it’s never lasting, more cyclical, and I fear every other generation must learn these lessons anew.

So my guy goes into the forest, dallies only for a moment with fey beauty, because it’s infinitely preferable to the ugliness of the world he’s living in. But the world he returns to, decades later, is even worse, a world where voices threaten murder at every turn, and he witnesses a population cowering in fear and paranoia. But what’s the lesson in that, when there seems no solution to it? Are we merely to lay down and submit to such a fate, while the daemons rage war in our heads?

If we only knew them better, might we find a way to petition for a more lasting peace? But they’ve been with us since the beginning of time and if we don’t know them by now, will we ever? Or did we once, but in the rush to embrace reason, we have forgotten the Daemonic within us all, and thereby offended them?

I’m ill equipped to understand where any of this is going, lacking both the Blakean vision to see what I’m talking about, and the language to express it. And I fear in the end it doesn’t matter, because wherever the daemons lead, we follow, even if it’s off a cliff edge, and it’s really no comfort to be able say you had the eye on them all the time, and that you saw it coming.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »