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Posts Tagged ‘world affairs’

 

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.

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With the going of the light, and the fast fading memory of summer’s ease, Black Dog comes stalking once again. We toss him a stick, some stupid novelty or other, which he returns sodden and chewed beyond attraction. Thus, after a couple of turns, we are no longer minded to pick it up, so there he curls, our unshakeable friend, creeping ever closer until he’s in our lap, weighting down all possibility of forward movement.

Words fail in our throats, people look strange, look also strangely at us as we sink into paranoia at the apparent indifference, even of our loved ones. In pettiness, we withdraw, lose empathy, and equanimity as we huddle in imaginary self defence. We become then the worst of ourselves, favouring the lonely places, or the indoors, the impersonal, the pointless flicking at our phones,  the mindless digestion of the indigestible, the foolish, and the vain.

The soundtrack to our lives deepens to despair as Gorecki displaces once more the Red Priest from the player. A symphony of sorrowful songs de-tunes the cellos from their once ravishing Baroque concertos, splits the lustrous age-old wood, breaks the bows, shape-shifts rosin into a cold slime, and bends the dead strings into the intersecting snail-trails of man’s infinite inhumanity.

The filters of filth fail us, and we are overwhelmed by the madness of the world again, no longer able to blind-eye its deep vales of deceit, its mountains of depravity. And we see the leaders naked, as they truly are perhaps, lost or mad or utterly grotesque, letting loose their policemen, black-armoured cockroach armies to hammer blood from dissent.

Black Dog, your visions are cruel, rendered bearable only by the numbing fragrance of your breath. You are the rot of crushed leaves, the rot of wood dissolved to crumb by cringe-legged beetling lice, you are the perennial black mould on the wallpaper above my desk, you are the scratching in the night, and the sinister rustling of an infestation of mice.

We brush down our books in vain, our books of dreams, of alchemy, of transcendentalism, yet, once treasured, we find them mould-stained and dusty, and scented of you, taking with them the key to the only escape we knew, to the vast labyrinth of the esoteric. Now there is only the unsoftened day ahead, each to be taken in its turn. Thus we answer each half-lit morn the alarm clock’s shrill call, rise, stretch our stiffening limbs, pee out our aching bladder.

Is this really the only way? But what of those moments when we shook you from our lap and soared? Those days we rattled the high roads while the beatific sun beat down and tanned our faces? Where were you then? Or the glad beach-days with the soft sand and the multitudinous shades of ocean blue? Or coffee, and company, and that gentle hand to hold? Where were you then?

But these are earthly things for sure and transient as mist, the meagre sticks we toss, then you’ll chase and allow us a moment to breathe. What we seek now is the secret of another kind of cultivation, and the ability to cast it an infinite distance away.

Then go,… Fetch!

Damn you.

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the sea view cafe - smallSo,… what do we have so far?

Man leaves wife, flees his life and his dope-smoking offspring, wife has affair with her boss. Man meets woman, the woman meets a woman, the man discovers feelings for a woman-friend from way back. He loves all these women, even the woman who loves his woman, but he can only actually be with one woman because,.. well, he’s an old fashioned kind of guy. So who, among all these women will he choose? Or, more to the point, who will have him? Or,… actually,… does a man need a woman at all? Is he not better living on his own, sorting himself out instead of running round changing light-bulbs for women, arguing over the washing machine, and who makes lunch?

Given all the upheavals in the world and the stuff I could be writing about, this seems a bit trite, a bit “domestic”, and I don’t know what these characters are trying to tell me, if they’re trying to be funny, profound, or if they’re trying to tell me anything at all and I’m not just making stuff up as I go along, heading nowhere that means anything. It’s the usual creative impasse. To be original you have to write what you’re given by the voices in your head, not simply copy something else you’ve read. But to be original, doesn’t automatically mean you’re creating something worthwhile. I mean, after all, anyone can make stuff up.

But let’s think about it. No, I’m sure my characters are talking to me in the context of more weighty world affairs, and what they’re saying is this: our love triangles and love squares and love scares might seem trivial on the surface, but at least we’re seeking love in both its broad and narrow senses, rather than power. We’re also seeking a modest means of surviving these coming decades, rather than scoring grand fortunes at the expense of others less fortunate. And you know, it doesn’t matter to us, they tell me, what race or gender our friends and lovers are, or even if they’re like they say in the popular media: damned foreigners comin’ over ere and takin’ our jobs, because really that kind of language belongs to the stone age, and we’ve moved on, even if you haven’t.

My characters see through the machinations and the manipulations now; they laugh at the purveyors of “fake news” and “alternative facts” as at the antics of a newly discovered species which, although now the dominant predator on the planet, is actually of only passing interest because they (my characters) accept they cannot alter the way things are, that in order to survive they must make alternative arrangements than the ones apparently on offer which would otherwise do them harm. They are all refugees, economic migrants, waifs and strays, some native, some not, all washed up just the same on the shores of economic ruin, their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations gone. They are all stateless, in that the state on which they formerly stood is disappearing so rapidly beneath their feet it might as well not exist at all, and in any case will not be there for their children.

Yet, they do not turn to drugs, or violence – I mean not like they would in the movies. Nor do they tumble into a twisted aspiration of an Endtimes, where we shall all be saved by “The Rapture”, nor a post apocalyptic future where we shall be saved by nothing. They reject the language of hate and despair, they do not conform to the media stereotypes of the ruined middle class, nor the workless working man, nor any of the million vain conspiracy theories. Nor are they racist, bigoted misogynists, so whatever the world throws at them (and it’s thrown a lot) the Sea View Cafe dares to tell a positive tale of plucky survival against the odds, of cleanliness and dignity maintained against an oppressively murky background.

They take stock, they brush themselves down, they bind their wounds, paint on a smile. Lacking kin they gather into improvised families, seek survival for themselves and the ones they choose to love. They remain steadfastly human in a dehumanising world, a world that sees people not as people, but as economic units of varying viability, to be switched on and off as the market demands, even if half of them starve to death in the process. They are Romantic figures, also pragmatic, but most of all they are Romantic. And I’m talking Samuel Taylor Coleridge here, not Mills and Boon.

Put it like that, the Sea View might sound like one of those worthy but laboured literary texts that’s trying to change the world, but it’s not. It accepts the world as its stage, even if it might not be the world you recognise, and it says: okay, so how do we work with this? And the characters do what they must in all stories, they start out in one place and end up in another, and in the process they either grow or they die, and the only weapons I’ve given them are compassion and a stubbornly infinite capacity for love. I know, I know, Helena Aynslea has just kneed Squinty Mulligan in the balls for being a lecherous misogynist, but no one’s perfect. And I’m sorry but he deserved it. And I rather like Helena’s fiery spirit.

We’re a hundred and fifty thousand words in, and there are doubts about direction as there always are at this point with so many threads running this way and that and all wanting their resolution before the novel can be steered safe into harbour and a new story begun. So I talk to myself, and I talk to my characters, like I’m doing here, and the way becomes a little clearer.

Hermione looks up from the counter as I walk in: “So, what can I get you darlin’?”

“Um,… Americano, please.”

She turns to the coffee machine, bangs the scoop works the levers, makes steam.

Whoosh!

Did she just call me darlin’?

Thanks for listening.

*The Sea View Cafe,… a work in progress. To be completed,… well,… sometime,… possibly.

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The_ScreamIn observing the political and economic turmoil of the world, I feel I should be writing about it more, since if I’m not writing my life feels a bit like a rudderless vessel. And, politics, world affairs, these things are, after all, interesting subjects, subjects that determine the fate of nations, but I find it difficult to get at the facts of them, and without the facts one cannot help but be partisan.

The reason I struggle for the facts is I have laboured all my life under the misconception of a simplistic world view, a simplicity that’s comforting because the truth is more complex than most of us can make sense of. Indeed partisanship seems a necessary condition if we are to function at all, without the infinite ambiguity of the world rendering us permanently frozen in a state of catatonic schizophrenia. To be partisan, after all, halves the problem, since we can then dismiss the other person’s point of view and rest more comfortably in our own.

Of course, the advent of the world wide web has blown up a storm of imagery, revealing a world far more complex than we once thought, but this does not help because now the available information overloads us so we self-censor, pick the images that suit our narrow view, and block the ones that don’t. Yes, I can try to be non-partisan, but I’m working against myself, and I can be a devious fellow, but here goes.

Approaching now the end of our lost decade, we find American and Western European democracies polarising into entrenched positions to the left and right while the middle ground has fallen away. Unfortunately, the middle ground is where most people stand, and they’re finding no one represents their aspirations any more.

The economic system that has supported us since the Second World War – free market capitalism – is now impotent. It still generates wealth in sickly spurts, but fails to distribute it evenly. It is caught in a pathological malfunction that vastly enriches its captains while laying waste to the rest, both environmentally, and in terms of the life prospects of the majority of planet earth’s inhabitants. A mutiny, by the natural world, and the disenfranchised is an entirely plausible consequence, and some might say long overdue.

Politically, even the most cursory analysis reveals the West is not governed by democracies as we are led to believe, but by plutocracies. These are systems in which the democratic machinery exists and is indeed much vaunted, but its goals are more of an aspiration, rendered largely irrelevant by, and subservient to powerful moneyed interests. And plutocracies are resistant to change when change is due, since the beneficiaries, cosseted in wealth, do not feel the pain of the poor who are subservient to them, nor are they particularly aware of their existence.

As a consequence the global plutocratic vessel fetched itself up on the rocks for the last time in 2008, with political and economic efforts since then being devoted entirely to its salvage, at floating it off on an incoming tide of oft-touted market resurgence. But its back is broken, its cargo spilled and plundered. Persistence in this direction promises not a lost decade but a lost generation, or two. Yet this is exactly the course on which we’re bound.

There is a revival of left leaning, anti plutocratic politics, giving voice to complaint. Socialism, a term not mentioned above a whisper since the 1980’s, is spoken again, on both sides of the Atlantic, and without irony, but it remains to be seen if this will have any effect at ushering in a more egalitarian paradigm, since the forces arrayed against it, barricaded behind vast wealth, remain formidable.

But when consumer goods, things that have rendered populations docile, are beyond purchase, when the domestic budget forces a choice between food and renewing the contract on the iPhone, populations will become restless, prone to irrational frenzy. Thoughts will turn from the Playstation to activism. This is, after all, what the consumer society was invented for in the 1920s, as an opiate for the masses, and it cannot be allowed to fall away entirely or, whether such frenzies of want are tickled by charismatic, media savvy individuals, or by the phases of the moon, the half century to come will be an eventful one.

The Middle East is aflame, of course. The Syrian civil war has been raging for six years. Iraq and Afghanistan, theatres of western intervention, have been bloodletting for over a decade. Western Africa is benighted by an economic ruin largely ignored in Western Media. These regions have haemorrhaged their youth, set them on the terrifying migration routes to the heart of Europe, where their arrival arouses compassion and racist resentment in equal measure.

I do not know where this is going, only that it is a crisis terribly underplayed, and perhaps it is for this reason we seem immune to it still, ambivalent, by turns perplexed and apathetic, but generally believing things will still turn out well in the safe shires of the West, because they always have before. But this time they may not.

The world is not a dream, but in many respects the imagery coming out of it resembles the imagery of dreams. There is still the beauty of aspiration – the eye of the beholder – reminding us the human spirit can be stilled into appreciative contemplation by the simplest of things. Yet there is also the grotesque, the violent, the terrifying – all the stuff of nightmares, suggestive of the power of the unconscious bearing a dark fruit, sown by the seeds of things we have long suppressed.

This harvest is not a wholesome one, we shudder to touch it, but it must be gathered in all the same, dried out to harmlessness under the sun, and examined, not left to rot and fester in the fields, season after season, as we have always done before.

And as with dreams it helps to take each image in its turn, to ask ourselves what it is within us that gives rise to this picture. The dream, like the world, cannot be controlled directly. It simply is. And what it is is a consequence of our thinking, our desires, our prejudice, our imperfections, our inner most selves. We can only therefore each look to our selves and temper our hardness, temper the Ego’s will to power.

It is a retrograde step, and sad to see, the usual media popularising our leaders trading infantile insults live on TV. We have no need for warriors. Time more for all the great houses of power to temper their tone, for the Ego, that when shown its failings in the dream, even then persists in its will to power and the fantasy of its own superiority, gives rise to the most monstrous nightmares, to the apocalyptic imagery of the archetypal gods, on whose anvil all things are eventually broken.

Viewed in these terms, the world begins to make more sense. We are in the midst of a cataclysmic collective psychosis. Sadly, this suggests that what lies ahead of us is not a lost decade, nor even a lost generation, but perhaps a lost century.  And it’s only 2016.

Better to stay away from politics and world affairs – its study can make you maudlin.

Sweet dreams.

 

 

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