The Figure of Eight (R6)


The dynamic concept of the Figure of Eight was introduced in my Blog ‘Somatic Markers’ dated 16th November.

The bottom half of the Figure of Eight represents the ground of our being—core self—that which we can become more aware of in meditative exercises of one kind or another: the rush of blood in the ears, the crackling of knee joints, the tingling in the right big toe (notice it now…), the sense of suspension in the limbs when you imagine that all motion has been stopped, the place we go to when listening to the slow movement of a Mozart Piano Concerto—α-wave intelligence.

The ascent into the top half of the Figure of Eight takes us into β-wave intelligence which is needed to sustain everyday living during which there’s a tendency to forget that everything depends on the natural functioning of the Core Self where the laws of one’s own being operate.

And the cross-over point? What happens there at the momentary point of fertile stasis, poised between organism and object—organism and anything in the outside world with special reference to those things which we choose to let distract us from the Core Self. What is like to be just there in total silence—at the Euclidean non-existent point of cross-over? How to describe it? Has anybody been there?

There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a staff. Having considered that, in an imperfect work, time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, it shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life. He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood, being resolved that it should not be made of unsuitable material; and as he searched for and rejected stick after stick, his friends gradually deserted him, for they grew old in their works and died, but he grew not older by a moment. High singleness of purpose and resolution, and his elevated piety, endowed him, without his knowledge, with perennial youth. As he made no compromise with Time, Time kept out of his way, and only sighed at a distance because he could not overcome him. Before he had found a stick in all respects suitable, the city of Kouroo was a hoary ruin, and he sat on one of its mounds to peel the stick. Before he had given it the proper shape the dynasty of the Candahars was at an end, and with the point of the stick he wrote the name of the last of that race in the sand, and then resumed his work. By the time he had smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa was no longer the pole-star; and ere he had put on the ferrule and the head adorned with precious stones, Brahma had awoke and slumbered many times. But why do I stay to mention these things? When the finishing stroke was put to his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes of the astonished artist into the fairest of all the creations of Brahma. He had made a new system in making a staff, a world with full and fair proportions, in which, though the old cities and dynasties had passed away, fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places. And now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his feet, that, for him and his work, the former lapse of time had been an illusion, and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a single scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the tinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art was pure; how could the result be other than wonderful?

Thoreau’s little story (quoted by Herbert Read in The Redemption of the Robot) illustrates what the cross-over point might be like. What are the elements that might serve as pointers to us in the so-called ‘ordinary world’?

●     Focus on Things—what Gurdjieff calls getting the Food of Pure Impressions before left-brain thinking takes over in the top half of the Figure of Eight.

●     Timelessness—which includes but is far more than separation from clock-time; a total dedication to the task in hand that brings about a feeling that there is no such thing as time.

●     Singleness of Purpose—unsullied by temporal distractions of any kind.

●    Remembering Oneself—the 4th Way idea of the moment when ‘the tinder of a mortal brain’ is suddenly inflamed by ‘presence’… There are plenty of examples of the way self-remembering works in Gurdjieff & Ouspensky and their followers.

Above all, not to serve machinery but to go with one’s sense of flow in fidelity to the laws of one’s being to the extent that one’s artefacts constantly expand into meaning and renewal of purpose.

How does all this work out for an artist, a composer, poet, dreamer, thinker, craftsperson, What light can such as they shed on how focus on things, the experience of timelessness, singleness of purpose and Being in the present relate to their processes?

And how might such things apply even to a person who has with singleness of purpose dedicated their life to some daily avocation? What benefit would they get from such a change of focus?

Herbert Read’s ‘drift’ is to wonder how the ‘emotional satisfactions’ of the craftsperson’s work can be introduced into the ‘average life’ beset by ‘divided purposes’—the life of the robot. ‘We have never ventured to say that the machine shall go thus far and no further; the machine shall do this, but not that; the machine shall be put here, but not there…’

In our society, the two halves of the Figure of Eight have become radically separated off from each other: the top half has been hi-jacked by and for the efficient functioning of the machine; education drifts more and more towards the hidden wreck of vocational training, preparation for what they call ‘work’ (what might be construed as ‘slavery’—the life of the robot); the bottom half of the Figure of Eight has been forgotten except when it starts malfunctioning when it is simply offered drugs by the health machine.

I ask again: how does all this work out for an artist, a composer, poet, dreamer, thinker, craftsperson? What light can such as they shed on how focus on things, the experience of timelessness and singleness of purpose relate to their processes? What would an ordinary ‘worker’ gain?

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HAIKU – another fifty-one


walking now where
those who passed the café window
walked ten minutes ago

*

from the train window
glimpses of village streets
I shall never tread

*

brief conversation
at breakfast during which
a whole life is aired

*

longing
for the fountains that play
in other people’s gardens

(Fernando Pessoa)

*

today a colony
of rooks has moved into
the tall sycamore

*

a raven
pecking at red apples
high above the valley

(at Woodchester 16th August 2010)

*

blackbirds sing
for rain and four dogs
all swap seats

*

details
—less clear across the valley
than they used to be

*

sitting by a peacock
slumped in a garden tub
—sunshine & mountains

*

they defend their beliefs
while I just
look at clouds

*

the judge makes neat points;
the audience thinks
of everything else

*

an argument about
the dates of bad behaviour
itself not addressed

*

a double whisky—
as though it could heal
anything

*

all night the moon moves
round my library
book by book

*

wanting the strength
to believe that life
is after all so fragile

*

I teach my father
how to interpret
the death notes he left

*

—what’s this? she asks
my discordant musical choice
stops her in her tracks

*

long midnight
owl
in my empty dream-garden

*

a few yards of sand
where my path used to stretch on
for mile after mile

*

focus dwindling
but still
Eroica

*

on the brink—
watching ravens flap
across the abyss

*

the last time
in this house seems
not unlike the first

*

striving to outline
the shape of my feeling
I fall back on houses

*

so much yet to do—
the gathering up of notes
in the dawn

*

stripping away
the superfluous on rising—
blackbird’s warning

*

blue sky & clouds—
sunlight on silver birches
at the hospital gates

*

the morning after
the endoscopy I raise
my arms to the sun

*

if you listen
to the sound you may miss
the music

(George Ives to his son Charles)

*

fresh ploughed sods
silver-sided
facing a silver sky

*

if childhood is ended
I can no longer be
loved

*

when the water
is still it can
know itself

(Claudio Naranjo)

*

what is there between
one thought
and another?

(ditto)

*

the mind becomes
peaceful when you
don’t mess with it

(ditto)

*

a soft breeze
swaying curtains
with regret

*

dust-motes in sunlight
now day is done—
the leftovers

*

In a Hospital January 2011

dredging
the old man’s chest
to make room for a milk-shake

*

polishing the floor
after a night
of bedlam

*

Razumovsky One
repeating
in my dreams

*

bare branches
through the hospital window
a flight of gulls

*

infinite care
for the legless man
fading away

*

shouting
in Italian
at the unresponsive night

*

Antonio
rearranges his bedding
over and over again

*

the unbearable
lightness of nurses
at their tasks

*

at their interview
lady consultants—chosen
for their looks?

*

morning light
a release from
fitful sleep

*

a long rest cure—
opening the first page
of a five-volume novel

*

at night Antonio
comes alive
pacing the corridors

*

the surgeon
who will cut me open
becomes a friend

*

Interval

the tortoiseshell cat
moves from the heat of the fire
to stretch out elsewhere

*

there was a change—
something she had been
quick to notice

(The Furys: James Hanley)

*

a Haydn string quartet—
three cats stretched
before a log fire

 

To end of 7/5/10 – 8/2/11 Notebook

Three Poems (R6)


the soul

can either build of itself
a work of art
or sit and watch the Barbarian
inversion of old certitudes—
mask of Evil that entices
into the wilderness of the future;
or it rides out of the Wasteland
tramples the vineyards
demolishes the shrines
giving over soil to sand
and the mind to this awful simplicity
of box & buttons
of fad & fashion—
mere mechanisms of personality
invented by the age

the Barbarian cannot make;
it can only befog and destroy—
but even that it cannot sustain
(as soul would sustain)
lacking limit and boundary
which are essential to all making

and we are victims offered daily
to the cruelties of the moment
with no tradition
to incarnate the gestures of
daily living in song and stone

only wayward mythologies—
an ever-shifting empty hagiography
of temporary heroes
of slogans and the gleanings
of mass culture

*

the doctrine

of inevitable progress—
the present the highpoint
of cultural and personal development—
the ancestors treated with condescension
the thinkers ignored unread
(those who told it how it really is)—

the present (so they say—the powerful ones
in their powerful ignorance) is
the threshold to a Golden Age—
provided you accept our (mendacious)
version of events…  tissues of imagery
& abstraction

progress is the ghost
of a big black dog
cocking its leg against the lamp-posts
of infinite dark streets—
a convenient construct;
an unsubtle trick of the imagination;
a laying of eggs
in a basket that does not exist

*

I’m with Hilaire Belloc

who sprayed the English
complacents with corrosive words
to eat away the rust of centuries
of smug: parliamentary democracy
represents not the country of hills
and valleys    not the cottages
and the city streets
but capitalism & wealth;
its supposed incorruptibility is a lie—
bodies bought & sold to slavery
titles bartered for privilege—
we are not all in this together

liberal capitalism will never deliver
the Golden Age—it leads inexorably
towards the Servile State
in which the majority labour
for the good of a small minority
of wealthy owners in their gated domains
or for a government of technical experts
imposing technical solutions—
their expertise in spiritual bankruptcy

the future becomes a refuge for those
who cannot bear to face
the grandeur of the past
in the contingent tyranny of the present

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once upon a time


an angel visited the Earth:
for many years he thought
everybody on Earth was mad
because he could not understand

what it was they were enjoying;
then he caught the Earth disease
and began to enjoy Negative Emotions
just as they had always done

and he could no longer see the madness;
when the heavenly adjudicator came down
to tell him he had failed the test
he got madder and madder…

failed the test and forgotten something
and must remain on Earth until he remembered
what it was and had disentangled himself
from all the curious delights

of indulging in negative emotions:
sinking into the bottomless swamp
of being gloomy or bad-tempered
self-pitying   tart or caustic

Why is it We Imagine We Can’t Do Things?


So often one hears, “I can’t draw…” “I can’t write…” “I can’t figure this out…”

Many adherents of the Gurdjieff canon have a general belief that human beings are simply unable to DO anything because there’s a belief that we are asleep, not in control of our lives. Certainly any attempt to DO is futile when we’re sleep-walking through life – just as in night dreams it’s normally impossible to influence the way things go – yet it’s patently obvious that many people are able to DO various things: awake, they are able to change our notion of the world, make us see things differently, by what they draw & paint, compose music, how they write novels & poems and philosophical tracts.

How is it that some people do all that with apparent consummate ease while others spend their time engaging in the self-fulfilling prophetic words ‘I can’t…’?

That’s worth thinking about. Without knowing exactly themselves how they do it it’s at least possible that, in their other-than-conscious mind, craftsmen & women, poets, artists & composers & writers of plays, and those who deal in philosophy go lightly through the following virtual internal dialogue following the steps depicted in Gregory Bateson’s concept of Logical Levels:-

Scan0008
A Shakespeare, a Chomsky, a Tolstoy or a Beethoven might say to themselves, following the rings of the diagram from the outside in, without being in the least consciously aware of it, “These are my favourite places & times for doing exactly what I do; in addition there are a lot of other things I could do, given time & space & intention & mind-sweep; and then, in summary, this is what everything that I do says about me – what I believe about things, about my identity, my self-image, my management of my I-system; and beyond that I know there’s an ‘I’ capable of making sense of it all, a Meta-I that can observe everything in an objective kind of way…”

That’s internal dialogue, giving oneself a virtual talking to.

Is it what they call positive thinking or deliberate self-talk? Or just the difference between ‘I can’t…’ (which takes us up a cul-de-sac) and ‘I don’t know how to…’ (which offers the possibility of taking steps to find out what it will be like when I do know)?

Getting somewhere else could be as simple as taking Paul Klee’s advice to, for instance, a budding artist: just ‘take your pencil for a walk…’  take your various ‘I’s walking with an idea and find out what each, in a dialogue, thinks of it; if you’d like to compose music take a tune for a walk, one note following another. Then something in you might say, ‘From right here in this moment now I can easily do this and find that I could do much else; this gives me a different view of what I believe about myself…’

And that’s Meta-I talking…

The Process

Then, pre-supposing that there’s something compelling you to drive the important things along, some kind of sense is pretty well certain to emerge eventually.  This is my experience anyway; it took me a very long time to realise that I was a sort of master of language flow. Even now I don’t really believe it! In 1971 in a hard-back exercise book – the first of many – I set myself to write 500 words a day on any old thing – along the lines of the Yeatsian idea of automatic writing. Eventually (pretty soon) this became a page a day and then by the mid-80’s large chunks of stuff. I always thought that the contents of these books would make notes for longer pieces but I’ve only just started mining the Notebooks to tip into ROOM books.

So, since it’s obvious that it’s not all plain sailing, what is it that stops us?

Probably some impoverished not having the time or energy ‘I’, or a complete I-system, left over from the past.

There was a prefect at school whom I admired greatly and aspired to be like. One afternoon, on the steps of a wooden pavilion after hockey, he said to me a propos of nothing as it seems, “Do you know, Blundell, you’re a fool!” There’s a part of me, a significant set of ‘I’s, that, when I let it all hang out, has never got over this: “I am a fool to imagine that I can do anything…” This was a great preparation for accepting the Gurdjieff idea that we cannot DO without asking the important question, ‘Sez who?’

But, on the other hand, it’s likely that everything I’ve done since that afternoon has been, as it were, a concentrated effort to prove him wrong. So, thank you, Austen, for your ignorant taunt. (Where are you now, Austen – and what have you accomplished?)

There’s a need for an ‘I’ that can shout out ‘Sod the Self-imposed Restrictions!’ and one that can look for positive outcomes in-spite-of…  And another that notices how the Self-imposed Restrictions actually help to avoid too rash decisions. I avoid actions that make me seem to be a fool!

There are misguided teachers who tell us we can’t draw, can’t write, can’t do this or that. They create the Being-feeling-&-taste-of-can’t-I’s in us. Fortunately I never came across any such teachers in relation to art & music & language – the important things of the soul. The very eccentric art teacher at Kingston Grammar School around 1950 whom we called ‘Techy’ – ‘the world’s most rejected artist’, as the Sunday papers called him – was in a world of his own and just left us to it; the eccentric young music teacher just played us strange music and left us to it; and there were eccentric English teachers who seemed to think a lot of my essay-writing, imitative of Charles Lamb & Thomas Carlyle whom I’d picked up for myself from the various books of Collected Essays that had been handed to us without comment and without ever being referred to explicitly.

Teachers who really know their job are so well-educated in themselves that they just push things your way, keeping a watching brief to make sure that you’re picking things up. This is what I have acquired by imitating the teachers that mattered to me. Nowadays I’d talk about ‘modelling excellence’ but Plato had the basic idea long ago! The result, anyway, somehow or the other, was that I developed a very energetic Do-it-yourself-I which persists to this day and might even team up with Being-reckless-I on occasions.

How Did Plato Do It?

I’ve been reading Plato and Platonism by Walter Pater (1893 – you can’t beat the old books even though they start to fall apart as you read them!). There’s a rather nice section on imitation and the ethical influence of aesthetics.

“You have perceived, have you not?” observes the Platonic Socrates, “that acts of imitation, if they begin in early life, and continue, establish themselves in one’s nature and habits, alike as to the body, the tones of one’s voice, the ways of one’s mind.”

Walter Pater sets the effect of imitation in the context of Plato’s aesthetic doctrine which combines intellectual astringency, power over oneself, patient crafty reserve and control.

Imitation then, imitation through the eye and ear, is irresistible in its influence over human nature. … We, [who might even now be] the founders, the people, of the Republic, of the city that shall be perfect, have for our peculiar purpose the simplification of human nature: a purpose somewhat costly, for it follows that the only kind of music, of art and poetry, we shall permit ourselves, our citizens, will be of a very austere character, under a sort of ‘self-denying ordinance’. We shall be a fervently aesthetic community, if you will; but therewith also very fervent …ascetics.

By comparison in every way our own ‘republic’ fails miserably: things have not been simplified – quite the opposite, and unnecessarily so; under the reign of post-modernism the aesthetic impulse has been abolished; the ‘austerity’ that’s been forced upon us has come to mean that the poor get poorer while the rich make hay – in Plato’s Republic it is made clear that the Power Possessors get no rake-off at all in order that their objectivity be not impaired.

…according to Plato’s view, souls are the creatures of what we see and hear. What would probably be found in a limited number only of sensitive people, a constant susceptibility to the aspects and other sensible qualities of things and persons, to the element of expression or form in them and their movements, to phenomena as such – this susceptibility Plato supposes in people generally. It is not so much the matter of a work of art, what is conveyed in and by colour and form and sound, that tells upon us educationally – the subject, for instance, developed by the words and scenery of a play – as the form, and its qualities, concision, simplicity, rhythm, or, contrariwise, abundance, variety, discord. Such ‘aesthetic’ qualities …transform themselves, in the temper of the patient, the hearer or spectator, into terms of ethics, into the sphere of the desires and the will…

Run your life on studied concision with observable degrees of abundance & variety, simplicity built on complexity, rhythm and its interruption, the quest for patterns, and pattern-breaking discord… then desires and behaviour, each ‘I’ with its own dynamism, will acquire those very characteristics.

Imitation – it enters into the very fastnesses of character; and we, our souls, ourselves, are for ever imitating what we see and hear, the forms, the sounds which haunt our memories, our imagination. We imitate not only if we play a part on the stage but when we sit as spectators, while our thoughts follow the acting of another, when we read Homer and put ourselves, lightly, fluently, into the place of those he describes: we imitate unconsciously the line and colour of the walls around us, the trees by the wayside, the animals we pet or make use of, the very dress we wear.

On the one hand this is about identification; on the other hand it’s about modelling on excellence. Become so conscious as to prevent the loss of self in identifying; consciously take up those aspects of successful & effective behaviour, of a well-ordered environment, of relationship, that you can make work for yourself.

It’s about learning to manage the I-system – the dialectical give & take between ‘I’s. Walter Pater describes Plato’s dialectic in terms which can easily be related to multiple-I’s.

…In that long and complex dialogue of the mind with itself, many persons [inside it], so to speak, will necessarily take part; so many persons as there are possible contrasts or shades in the apprehension of some complex subject. The devil’s advocate will be heard from time to time. The dog also, or, as the Greeks said, the wolf, will out with his story against the man; and one of the interlocutors will always be a child, turning round upon us innocently, candidly, with our own admissions, or surprising us, perhaps at the last moment, by what seems his invincible ignorance, when we thought it rooted out of him. There will be a youth, inexperienced in the capacities of language, who will compel us to allow much time to the discussion of words and phrases, though not always unprofitably. And to the last, let us hope, refreshing with his enthusiasm the weary or disheartened inquirer (who is always also of the company), the rightly sanguine youth, ingenuous and docile, to whom, surely, those friendly living ideas will be willing, longing, to come, after that Platonic law of affinity, so effectual in these matters… the dialectic method [thus engaged], will also have its felicities, its singular good fortunes. A voyage of discovery, prosecuted almost as if at random…

This dialectic method, this continuous discourse with one’s self, being, for those who prosecute it with thoroughness, co-extensive with life itself – a part of the continuous company we keep with ourselves through life – will have its inequalities; its infelicities; above all, its final insecurity.

Taking Ownership of the Dialectic

The conversation between the different parts of oneself which starts at birth can so easily fritter itself away. The momentary insights, the sudden perspectives & illuminations, the individually unique patterning of things – lost and gone forever unless one takes hold and shouts STOP! repeating the simple mantra, “This is me, being me, here and now!” I take ownership of this thing that’s ME, hologram constructed just now out of manifold influences & impressions coming from all directions. I take ownership of this event now and make it into a poem, sketch, tune or a paragraph like this one just ending here.

The minutiae of existence get lost unless one takes ownership to preserve them whatever their quality – let that take care of itself… It’s probably a  feeling thing. I suppose I’ve prized the things I’ve thought, more so when others (no matter how small the number) have seemed to get something out of how I’ve recorded them… And then I forget…

So just how is it that some people seem committed to having the confidence to say what they believe to be the case without bothering what others may think, seeming to be so sure of themselves, able to make an oral statement with a string of sentences that somehow add up, or writing as though the next word appears to just flow – and the next and the next…?

Of course, a popular demagogue, stirred by passion & conviction, can make words flow to have a convincing effect on the listeners: Hitler was rather good at this though grossly flawed ecologically; currently, Owen Jones (who watched in awe as ‘the Right transformed a crisis of the market into a crisis of public spending…’) has flow with absolute humanity and integrity. Or study Noam Chomsky.

A Permanent Centre of Gravity

What’s needed to have integrity? In the Gurdjieff canon it requires a permanent and well-formed centre of gravity. The whole integrated I-system is pulled inside one’s Being and assimilated to what could be called Real-I.

scan0002

I found this diagram somewhere – it’s a nice graphic version of the same thing: the fragmented self exists when the multiplicity of ‘I’s is not recognised and so they don’t relate together and only function on the periphery, fighting amongst themselves; and while they bicker continually we pretend to Unified-I which is senseless; as we begin to understand how multiple-I’s work and relate together we become more unified; when we choose to be able to move from ‘I’ to ‘I’ as appropriate for the task in hand and become a spectator of the constellations in Meta-I a whole integrated self begins to emerge.

Right work on oneself begins with the creation of a permanent centre of gravity. When a permanent centre of gravity has been created everything else begins to be disposed and distributed in subordination to it…  realisation of the mechanicalness and aimlessness of everything can create… a permanent centre of gravity…  Ouspensky: In Search of the Miraculous (p259)

I tend to think that it all began for me when I was about 21 and first read Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy : that made me choose to understand that at the base of all ‘religions’ was a common impulse. Once that idea is embedded it acts as a magnet to attract and repulse whatever swings into one’s orbit. A common impulse runs through everything.

chainWhen I feel I have something I want to express,  to start with I begin to go into a fairly smooth ‘chain reaction’ of ideas & thoughts, one thing leading to another over several hours. But first of all, before putting pen to paper, I think of an appropriate image or metaphor, usually visual/kinaesthetic: so ‘chain reaction’ is an image that seems entirely right to this Glob; everything is connected, as Ouspensky says, so the task is to uncover the links in the chain – which can be a pretty scrambled business.

I think that this has been an infinitely transferable metaphor for me: I chain-read & have done for 55 years; I chain-paint pictures – there are four in my workshop awaiting the finishing touches; I chain-link musical notes together.

I know for sure that the impetus comes from within, from some somatic hidden dynamism, an I-tag that says, “Right, go!” never mind anything or anybody else. There is an I that sometimes wonders whether anybody out there has the energy or enthusiasm to read what I write, look at what I paint, listen to what I compose but for the most part it gets drowned out by all the other ‘I’s that clamour for expression.

For the past four weeks I’ve been reading Walter Pater and I’ve been writing a chain of commentatory poems that suddenly seem relevant to the ownership of ideas and thinking – just doing it never mind the consequences…

Crystallisation and Magnetic Centre

According to Gurdjieff, the result of focus on what you happen to be interested in, or concerned with, results in some CRYSTALLISATION somewhere inside you – how can we describe it? Some I-tag or somatic marker… I like the idea of something crystallising inside you – an unspecifiable something or other that, once established there, drives you onwards.

Mr G describes how his father used to tell stories to him as a child.  Later on he happened to read an article in a magazine about Babylonian tablets with 4000 year old inscriptions some of which contained the legend of the Epic of Gilgamesh which was one of the legends his father had told him:

…particularly when I read in this text the twenty-first song of the legend in almost the same form of exposition as in the songs and tales of my father, I experienced such an inner excitement that it was as if my whole future destiny depended on all this. And I was struck by the fact… that this legend had been handed down by ‘ashokhs’ [=local bard, of whom his father was one] from generation to generation for thousands of years, and yet had reached our day almost unchanged. After this occurrence … the beneficent result of the impressions formed in my childhood from the narratives of my father finally became clear to me – a result that crystallised in me a spiritualising factor enabling me to comprehend that which usually appears incomprehensible…        (Meetings with Remarkable Men p36)

For me, this is exactly what happens when you read a text that somehow moves heaven & earth around you. You know for sure that life will never be the same again. Thus it was for me when I first read Richard Jefferies’ The Story of my Heart; something crystallised within me, became uncompromisingly hard and polished. Then came a whole series of texts that I’ve catalogued elsewhere which helped the polishing process.

Mr G: ‘In order to be able to speak of any kind of future life [for oneself] there must be a certain crystallisation, a certain fusion of people’s inner qualities, a certain independence of external influences…’

As things are, we are so at the mercy of external pushes & pulls, media brainwashing, political subversion, advertising gimickry, the News of the Day, being in e-touch, that independence is a struggle to achieve unless you have a confirmed sense of purpose.

Fusion, inner unity, is obtained by mean of friction, by the [inner] struggle between ‘yes’ and ‘no’…  If you live without inner struggle, if everything happens in you without opposition… you will remain such as you are.  But when a struggle begins in you, and particularly when there is a definite line [aim] in this struggle, then, gradually, permanent traits begin to form themselves, you begin to crystallise…   (Ouspensky: In Search of the Miraculous p32)

The something or other that draws things to you like iron filings Gurdjieff calls Magnetic Centre. That’s a powerful metaphor that seemed to work itself through his own life. In G

…one felt a [complete absence of pretension] absence of personal interest in anything he was doing, a complete indifference to ease and comfort and a capacity for not sparing himself in work whatever that work might be… Sacrifice is necessary, said G, if nothing is sacrificed nothing is obtained… Sacrifice is necessary only while the process of crystallisation is going on. When crystallisation is achieved, renunciations, privations and sacrifices are no longer necessary. Then you can have everything you want. There are no longer any laws for you, you become a law unto yourself…   (In Search of the Miraculous  p33)

How does Magnetic Centre develop? Early choices about the meaning of existence leading to a drive to make sense of the universe; choosing to encompass those things which seem to feed some internal space – valuing particular kinds of books and pictures and music. On the wall of my bedroom when I was very young my parents had hung a couple of paintings depicting a field of bluebells with a path leading down to the sea. I used to stare at these scenes and wander down the path towards sea and sand. This was how my psyche was first nurtured – how it was prepared to accept things of value to it in the future.
…Being prepared means that one must already know oneself to a certain extent; one must know one’s aim; one must know the value of one’s decisions; there must be a certain elimination of lying to oneself; one must be able to be sincere with oneself…  (Ouspensky: The Fourth Way p95)

A Collection of Poems

When Magnetic Centre is formed ‘correctly’ all sound influences begin to link up, connect, and become strongly centred… And so, reading Walter Pater, for example, I found myself making connections that seemed more and more to fall into the shape of poetry.

From elsewhere I had in mind the question – How does one start the writing & thinking task? How does one keep it going? How do we know when the task is accomplished? Well, for Plato it seems that

there are no absolute beginnings

for this or that doctrine or idea of Being;
fix it where you like – the moment when –
somebody will always be able
to discover some prior inkling
some previous expression of the same thing

the most elementary act
of mental analysis takes time to formulate;
the ins & outs of speculation
must grow with a studied unease

so the concept παντα ῥει
(everything flows) once startling in its novelty
takes easy root now because it’s already
something lodged in the mind –
part of the universal zeitgeist…
except for those stuck forever in fixity

so the  eloquent Plato is an eclectic critic
of older theories – the minute relics
of already ancient ideas
rather than the figure we have chosen
to be encouraged to call ‘the father of philosophy’ –
his teaching a palimpsest      a tapestry;
nothing there but the life-giving
principle of a personal cohesion is new –
a novel perspective
in which familiar thoughts attain expression
in hitherto unanticipated juxtaposition

                                                ⊗

Plato evolved his philosophy in an attempt to counter the likes of Heraclitus who famously asserted that ‘you can’t step into the same river twice’. Everything is in a state of flow, constantly changing. But Heraclitus had dug his heels in, as philosophers are wont to do, making a stand on a particular way of thinking. By contrast, Plato fancied immutability.

We do a pendulum between fixity and change; we would like to pin things down but are aware of things changing around us. At the bottom of the pendulum swing, perhaps, there’s purpose & aim. This can keep us on the path direct.

in Ephesus

Heraclitus walked amongst
irreflective actors
in a rapidly moving show
so entirely immersed in its superficiality
that they had no feeling of self
while Heraclitus became self-conscious…
he reflected – reflection
with the characteristic melancholy
of youth when it is forced to bethink itself
and for secret moments
feels already old – the temperature
of the world sensibly colder

all things pass – nothing remains

Heraclitus had mere rags & tatters of evidence
(and so do we…)    unbent to discipline
unmethodical      irresponsible   non-rational
fluid elements on the changing
surface of το ὀν     (what is)

as thoughts fly away
so do the leaves of autumn
and the currents of the constellations;
the Alps drift down rivers into the plains;
races   laws   arts   have their origins & endings
ripples on the Great River

nobody ever passes over
the same river twice: the flow
of the river is model and type
of the passenger’s own identity –

old Plato wasted his time
opting for immutability –
the only unchangeable element
is Change itself

There’s a real problem in staking a claim to absolute certainty and fixity: unwilling to shift for fear of the consequences, one becomes identified with it; other possibilities are ignored.

phenomena

– real objects – grow
in reality towards us
in proportion as we define
their various qualities

but as we attribute
qualities to objects
(shape & size & movement)
we deny them
alternative qualities
and merely contain
our identification in them

a tune played on the piano
is all the keys you don’t touch

Xenophanes opted for belief
in Absolute Oneness –
pure Being prior to
all projection       closed in
indifferently on all sides
upon itself      suspended
in the midst of no-thing

hard transparent crystal ball
centre of all things –
to enforce a reasonable unity
and order        to impress
some larger likeness
of Reason – the kind
one knows in one’s own self –
upon the chaotic infinitude
of impressions reaching us
from every side:    κοσμος
order   reasonable
delightful order

It’s a terrified intellectual response to uncertainty to set up a fictional Oneness, to project one’s own way of thinking on to the universe; the resulting ‘reasonable unity’ is only the projection of how one would like things to be.

In order to forge a calm passage through all this, full of aim & intention, we have to work in an other-than-intellectual kind of way, understand ‘the curious processes at work in our own bodies’. make a combined body/mind/spirit/feelingful assault on ‘reality’ – the cosmos, το ὀν . Then, and only then, can we get the Nothingness, which is the paradoxical harbour & starting point for the New World.

when we have learned

as exactly as we can
all the curious processes
at work in our own bodies
amongst the stars    under
the earth       psyche  –
their very definiteness

their limitations
will but make them
the more antagonistic
towards that which alone
really is – το ὀν –
because it is always
and everywhere     itself
identical exclusively
with itself

make a clean sweep
of phenomena   to establish
in the resulting void
the One and only
with which      in spite of
common language
mere words   in spite of
common sense
it is impossible to associate
the Many (the hills & cities
of Greece      deckchairs
on the beach      trees
chimneys     you & me
and all we imagine
ourselves to be…)

Parmenides stumbled on
the idea that thought
and being are one and the same:
it’s all one to me
at what point I begin
for there I shall return
over & over again

infectious mania –
strange passion for non-entity
self-negation   ecstasy
variously down the ages

the quest for zero
algebraic symbol for
Nothingness brings out
fine intellectual qualities
– it is of service to those
who can profit
by the spectacle
of an enthusiasm not meant
for them
to be colourless
formless     impalpable
is the note
of a superior grade of knowledge
and existence     attained
finally by the suppression
of all the rule & outline
of actual experience & thought

Nothingness & non-being, the infinite space where everything is possible, the carefully crafted prose & poetry, the music, the works of art. A bit excitingly daunting…

and how will you seek

for what you do not know
or understand since
you do not know what it might be
– just where will you begin
on the unknown path?

you wouldn’t bother seeking
what you imagine you know already
but you might not even begin
to know how to seek that for which
you have no map or compass

but what if it had been there
forever – the knowledge of
shape & proportion & pattern
& rectitude revealing itself to you
in moments of absolute stillness

when things become as clear
as if they had been there
all the time and all you needed
was to lean back & recollect?
– truly to know is to grow

into your deepest Being
and relax into understanding
without the clutter of opinion
& dubious points of view
& argument about this and that

and anything based on the sin
of profit – there are boxes
fitting one in another on and on
and doors which open in heaven
standing outside of which

on the back of the sky you
can gaze into wide open spaces
beyond and observe the long levers
& spindles & revolving wheels
of the way things are   το ὀν

a white celestial thought
shoots of everlastingness –
by backward steps I go
into the unknown
twisting it again and again

to be at home with myself

And…

you know

when something is worthwhile
when dimwits give it a bad name –
thus having an interest
in the workings of the self
is called ‘navel-gazing’

to know oneself is the first condition
of being able to relate to others;
learning to be at home with oneself
(not how to manage stocks & shares)
is the central business of education
– to fulfill the claim of consciousness
and reason to create a world
out of itself
interest in your self
– the ground of all reality –
and your daimon
whatever that might be
is a profounder study…

flashing a light into the house
(its many chambers   its memories
and pictured walls)
so that you become less interested
in the superficial – the mere outsides
of other people & their occupations

study well your leading apprehensions
– not mere empiric routine –
by an art not managed by the left hand
not by the sinister one

Writing or making anything is an attempt to rescue meaning from the inert bits & pieces the world presents us with, to make them into our own possession.

make it your own

not something outside you…
when I write poems they come from some corner
of my self that itches to describe
a pattern of being…
pattern that would otherwise
just swill around the neurons for a moment
and disappear into what’s called
the mists of time

have to get out of habitual inertia
to grasp – to make a bid for
something that’s alive: idea that dances
around your mind singing –
here I am     just look at me!
watch my shape & my accoutrements

take it into yourself as I take this moment now
inside me with the evening chorale
of woodpigeons that treat our garden
as a lively haven     evening primrose
tall against the shrubbery
just where it chooses to be
before moving on somewhere else
next year    spur valerian & montbretia
just as it might be right now
on the cliffs at Boscombe
just as it was seventy years ago

taking all this into my psyche
is an idea I’ve toyed with
for many years    making the landscape
an extension of me
making the horizon part of
who I imagine my self to be…
then I must get it all down
before it escapes me to become
as though it had never been

make all things into your own possession
is an adage buried deep inside me
which I took into my possession
from a page of Alfred North Whitehead
installed there for sixty years:
don’t ever let stuff remain inert
for only that which is suffused with your own light
can be of consequence and the thing is
to shine the light further and further into the dark

when I make a watercolour
I must first of all become the landscape –
possess it deeply before dispossessing it
in the artefact itself;
when I make a piece of music
it must flow through me and I through it
before I can dispossess it in sound

when I get into a flow of words
they must flow through me
into a swirling eddy
like I saw at the landing stage
of the King’s Lynn ferry yesterday
and come out making a dispossessed sense

I write all this in the offhand manner of Frank O’Hara
(The Lunch Poems) supposing that somebody
may pick it up and read it sometime as I read words
in ancient books like this one open on my desk right now –
Plato & Platonism by Walter Pater 1893
its brown-edged pages one hundred & twenty-one years old –

and they may well say what the hell
and I may lie in the dusty back corridor
of a second-hand bookshop – always assuming
that something such will survive in this benighted
digital age that seems so goddam
proud of itself quite without reason

I know I have made my mark
on this person and that – so it goes…
except for the person and their personal leap
into something other I do not count it
important – here’s my own being simply going on
tangentially
I must pause to rescue a moth
banging itself against the conservatory roof
– it seems the most important thing in the whole world
right now: that I do not find it
dead on the floor in the morning

thus to define     to give a body to
the hollow spaces of the psyche –
to fill in the gap between the obvious
and the mysteriously obscure – mind
feeding itself on its own emptiness
in a sensuous love of the unseen…

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This Sorry Scheme of Things…


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This scheme of things is familiar to all followers of the 4th Way – The Ray of Creation depicted on the Octave… What are we to make of this? Unless we attempt to go beyond intellectual acceptance – to feel it on the pulse and take deliberate steps towards understanding – it will remain a dead & mysterious diagram. One way of going beyond Intellect with it is to pace it out physcally and sing the Octave; it makes practical sense to sing something like this (from the bottom up):-

Do…Eternal meaning (All in One)
Si…..Finding the archetypes
La….All possible thoughts on a subject
Sol…A train of thinking
Fa….Many possible ways of expressing an idea


Mi….Speaking one’s own (subjective) sense
Re….Making sense of the words
Do….Hearing the words

It is said that the majority never get beyond Do-Re-Mi which leads to the buttressing of one’s own subjective sense of things; it’s floating voter territory; the place where arms are taken up against opponents of all sizes and degrees of imagined or actual viciousness. The question becomes how to slide on the major scale semi-tone between Mi & Fa… To which the simple answer is the ‘First Conscious Shock’ of Self-remembering… Not so simple to put into operation. But we try (oomphantly).

I suppose it might help if we were aware first of all of something in the way of clarity about the 48 ‘Laws’ that are supposed to be trapping us into certain patterns of being on Earth; if there could be more of an attempt at definition it would help us to avoid the traps – otherwise we run the risk of doubling them up to 96 by ‘feeding the moon’ – I take this metaphor to mean being really (really) slave to all the ‘Laws’ we choose to be trapped, or programmed, by – even more bound by them than we are at the moment.

The intellectual Formatory Apparatus simply requires to know what the 48 ‘Laws’ are – but that’s not good enough. Re-reading Bob Hunter’s Pupil’s Postscript, I was prompted at page 148 to start thinking seriously about the ‘Laws’ which, as most people on the 4th Way seem to do, I had previously regarded as something of a sacred mystery – only for the initiated.

There are different kinds of ‘laws’. I take it that some Laws are essential because, for instance, they constitute the nature of the game – cricket would not be cricket without the lbw or no-ball law and so on. In England it’s quite a good law that traffic is encouraged to make its way along the left hand side of the public thoroughfare. Other laws are invented – to perpetuate the convenience of a political system, for example, or they become self-imposed restrictions to making some deal with life – getting dressed up in your Sunday best when you go on holiday is a ‘law’ that’s long since been repealed; having a cup of tea first thing in the morning is a conventional ‘law’ that I’ve gone along with for many years!

But what on earth (as it were) does it mean to go through the Mi-Fa semitone as the start of a process of getting rid of half the laws that we choose to bind ourselves by? And unless we have at least some rough idea of what the 48 Laws might consist of there’s not much chance of shedding them.

On page 148 of Pupil’s Postscript Mrs Pogson, secretary & assistant to Maurice Nicoll, is recorded as pointing out that there are 3-brain being restrictions that it is quite unnecessary to lumber ourselves with; we carry a lot of superfluous baggage around with us which is the result of long-term habitual identification with people, scenes, activities, things, events, and so on; she called this the Law of Identification which causes us to forget our selves. Another person’s anger or negativity can be catching; we forget that we don’t have to be like they are when we find ourselves in an argument. Currently; towards the end of May 2014, the UKIP crypto-fascist bandwagon is gaining momentum because a %-age of the populace is identifying with what’s called ‘protest’ or with the idea that the European Union is responsible for all the current ills which are in fact brought about by the Global Capitalist Conspiracy to defraud humanity…

Somebody said to Mrs Pogson, “When we’re identified, nobody is at home…” She pointed out that when that happens we are under the Law of Accident which means that things just happen to us beyond conscious awareness; but when you choose to direct attention you can go against the Law of Accident. Disidentification, deliberately holding people, scenes, activities, things, events, and so on, at arm’s length gets you to a place of relative safety. Just opening a book to redirect attention is a very simple useful strategy… But it requires continual practice.

Decide to Name the 48 Laws

Having introduced the concept of ‘Laws’ in a nicely roundabout kind of way, Mrs Pogson delivers a concealed imperative (as we might say in NLP), “Decide to name some of the 48 Laws. This is not meant numerically… but all these laws that are lower on the scale drag us down; the higher laws help us to succeed…” So now we need to have some inkling of what the ‘higher laws’ might be – to know, if ever so roughly, what we’re aiming at.

In Bob Hunter’s book there follows nothing systematic, exactly as befits 4th Way teachings – a piece-meal flow, just as things crop up naturally. But I was intent on obeying Mrs Pogson’s implied imperative; I attended to her clue by starting to list all the things that follow from the process known as Identification – they did begin to seem hidden away craftily in Bob Hunter’s text. In doing this and thinking about making the result into a Glob I was aware that I might be contravening Gurdjieff’s injunction to have things made as difficult as possible – there’s always the danger of over-simplifying which can lead to self-calming (“Got that – so what’s the next thing?” – no need for further chin-wagging…).

A judicious bit of Eriksonian Artful Vagueness is needed.

However, the nagging question is – What are the 48 ‘Laws’ under which we choose to labour on Earth? By ‘Laws’ I understand processes & events which we choose to take to seem to be inevitable: when I look out of the window right now at the drift of clouds and the gentle movement of silver birch fronds the act of looking causes me to forget my self in identification, the act of putting it into words even more so; in ordinary life this seems to be inevitable – it’s a ‘law’ of being – but I can extract myself by going into self-remembering which puts a gap between window-gazing and Gazing-I.

Things are Only Inevitable When You Choose to Have Them Be So

When you know this you can easily step aside from what you take to be the inevitable. You can decide to do things otherwise.

Concentrating before sunrise, I got very slowly to 27 possibilities before I started attaching numbers to each item – then I knew I only had 21 to go! Over halfway! What seemed like an impossible task to start with began to be achievable. Things on the list have undergone change as I realised that there was a lot of overlap – the ‘laws’ are not watertight containers. Bullet points are more appropriate since everything leads to everything else without numerical precision.

Without feeling all this on the pulse, getting it in the muscle, it will remain an inert list of things: a modicum of Understanding only comes about when we combine Knowledge with Being.

 

scan0001

 

48 Laws of Sorts

● Identification – whatever we identify with (tons of it – people, scenes, activities, things, events, and so on in a cumulative historical shower) causes us to forget the self (or all the selves). So we collect stacks of baggage and lay ourselves open to…
● The Law of Accident – we go off in all directions, directionless, attracted to every passing something or other that we choose to identify with, every passing fad or fancy that grabs our attention…
● The Law of Three – there’s one thing and then another opposed to it but we are Third Force blind; either/or thinking has us swinging on a pendulum
● The Law of Seven – we choose to be stuck in the first three stages, unable to build from the feeling of self as capable of initiating being
● This causes us constantly to ‘miss the mark’, lose any aim we might have developed had we stood firm
● We are never ‘at home’ – this leads to self-forgetfulness; the key is lost
● We are always content to do the easiest thing – imagining that self-calming is what’s important in life
● Law of Cause & Effect – the idea that there’s a set order to things & that it’s impossible to change the way things happen
● Law of Creation – as though it were a once & forever event
● We stick to what we imagine we know
● The Law of Denial, incorporating ‘liking/disliking’, making objections to what goes against our own beliefs
● Law of Habit which results in mechanical behaviour
● Law of Being Trapped in Time: choosing to be imprisoned by the ‘Past’ or mortgaged to the ‘Future’ – “I can’t help the way I am – it’s how I was raised…” – “It’s what I was told to do…”
● The Law of Internal Considering – only too absorbed in talking to ourselves & inventing the world we imagine we live in that we neglect to observe that things are never what they seem to be
● The Law of If-only: day-dreaming, falsely imagining a world that doesn’t exist
● Inventing pictures of oneself – acting as though they were the real thing
● The Law of Expressing Negative Emotion – bad talking
● Working out of False Personality
● Regarding life as a test – believing that we have to measure up to some hidden set of requirements
● Self-justifying: “What I really meant was…”
● Making accounts: “I’ll get even with you…”
● Storing up debts – bearing grudges
● Having requirements – impinging on other people’s freedom by requiring them to be & act in your own way
● The Law of Conformity – fitting into a mould created by others
● Evading the idea of mortality – imagining that you will live forever
● The Law of always Being in the Right
● Feeling of being hard done by – or being done to
● Feeling of being special
● The Law of the Mirror – what we see in others is a reflection of ourselves
● The addiction to fun/ambition/vocation (A Influences)
● Subscribing to a belief that nothing changes
● Being addicted to unnecessary suffering – “It’s not fair…” “They never listen…” “Things never work out the way I want them to…” “It’s all hopeless…”
● Living in separate parts of our selves while believing we are single unified-I
● The Law that Being attracts Life
● Relationships fail when people are not properly related to themselves
● Making the choice that no effort is needed to divorce oneself from the ‘laws’
● Dreaming of Perfection
● Being curious just for the sake of it – wanting to know precisely how things are (like craving to know what the 48 Laws are!)
● Making comparisons – “If only I could be as they are, do what they do…”
● ‘Truth’ becomes opinion: ‘…in the twilight world of change & decay there is only opinion…’ (Plato)
● Acquiring knowledge is enough – ticking boxes… Inability to notice the gap between Being & Knowledge
● Needing to possess
● Acting as though we were fully able to ‘do’… – to change ourselves, for example
● Acting out of vanity, for the sake of reward or acclamation of some kind (wanting praise)
● Identifying with single Unified-I
● Identifying with a single Centre – to the exclusion of the others
● Law of Inflexibility
● Imprisonment – we choose to be trapped in our patterns of behaviour

That’s 48 possible ‘laws’! This was a groping forward – and remains so; I’m left wondering how these things constitute ‘laws’. Is it that, when we choose to go along with them, they hedge us about, constrain action, make it impossible to envisage other ways of doing things? They seem to elaborate just how we are ‘asleep’ to other possible ways of being; we imagine that this is how life is. “That’s just the way it is…” A Law of Being. A mechanical acceptance of the idea that there’s no other way. In NLP terms, a hopeless subscribing to the way we’ve been programmed down the ages instead of taking deliberate steps to re-program ourselves with a bit of help from our friends perhaps.

I’ve become aware that this ramble through the ‘laws’ is, in short, another way of going round this circuit which I invented some years ago as a guide for myself of the unsystematic System called the 4th Way:-

 

Scan0030

Having grasped the idea of something about the ‘laws’ that put us to sleep and keep us there, the next question is: How can we live with fewer pre-suppositions about the way we imagine things are?

It’s perhaps necessary to get one’s mind and its emotional substructures round the idea that the pre-suppositions we entertain are only ‘laws’ because we choose to go along with their processes and the consequences; it’s easier to suppose that they are inevitable – that comes under the Law of Self-calming! We don’t have to disturb the brain-cells over it.

We could, daringly, make the decision to fly higher towards the whole planetary system (24 ‘laws’), towards the sun (12 ‘laws’) & the Milky Way (6 ‘laws’) and onward & upward in the expectation that we’ll get to the one law of the Absolute. What might that be?

§

How to shed ‘laws’? I’ll tackle this in a subsequent Glob.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CASTLE GNATS & WORMS


I wonder if anybody else in the world, except Michael Frayn and myself, remembers Gasbag’s [Mr Brady, Irish] English classes at Kingston Grammar School; he was one of the many great eccentrics there under whose spell I fell one way and another. One day, without telling us what the purpose was, he set us, for homework, to make a list of ten ‘likes’ and ten ‘dislikes’. I have forgotten everything except what was at the top of my list of ‘likes’ – LIVING. Bemused, I found I was alone in having to write an essay on that subject; everybody else had to choose a ‘dislike’. It was after this that he advised me to spend half-an-hour a day in what would now be called ‘meditation’; that helped me to define my regular cycle rides to Wimbledon Common as ‘meditation’, communing with trees & ferns & hidden dark ponds & pathways.

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Holly Glade on the Common c1951

My visits to the Common were much longer than half-an-hour so I was already doing what he suggested to excess; how many things that I’ve done in my life have I only recognised as having a quasi-official ‘name’ after the event!

This was in the third year at grammar school – 1950/51.

Looking back I would identify all my solitary times – they were so frequent – as grabbing the opportunity for thinking, communing with something much larger than my self, self-remembering even – this is me being me here and now. I fixed many moments, hurled them ‘out of time’ by saying to myself, “I shall remember this moment forever…” Though I think this habit came from my own brainbox, Gasbag was undoubtedly a First Education unsung genius.

I did get much valuable learning during First Education, mostly by accident, I think; I swam against a tide I did not understand for the most part. (Second Education in the Fourth Way is the time when, eventually, having discovered that ‘there must be more to life than this’ you are able to stand back and view the scheme of things in Meta-I)

In spite of my own many deficiencies, First Education prepared me to make the most of four days in Yorkshire in May 2014 during which I wrote two poems:-

in a deckchair

on Cawood Castle gatehouse roof
by ducking down low
you can obliterate all visual clues
to the life of other ordinary human-beings –
it facilitates the observation of trees
both near & far with new spring growth
and a grand covering of clouds
swimming in blue: grey-black
cream grey-blue riven
with the screams of swifts
– their thin black scythes

unless you also shut your ears
you cannot expunge the murmuring world:
dog bark; chaffinches’ wide-apart converse;
an election address of sorts; the emptying
of merchandise on a pavement; an angry shout;
the hammering of wooden frameworks;
the lawns that must be mowed;
jackdaws ca-ing down by the river-wood;
all the indolent machinery of events;
children gaily returning
from some long angelic day of learning
and occasionally there’s ragged rain

the church a mile off begins
to strike an hour – you count
to a stop at four –
rather pleased as it turns out
that your afternoon still has time to read
about ‘the lip-clicks of worms’
and Edith Sitwell’s view that
‘the busy dusty world
is too deafened by the sound
of the machines that it has made
for the trapping & murdering of time
to listen to those sounds
that are clear as the songs of angels’

 

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Cawood Castle Gatehouse – Landmark Trust

the gnat

at the end of the garden
gets forgiven
for the itchy lump on my hand;
I invite it in for dinner
one evening – however what it hears
is by no means my intention
but a terrific vibration of thunder:
it is terrified as if at the beginning
of some great cosmic upheaval
and kneels down to pray

thus we – at the sound of
the notional Voice of God

Thinking about it after the event, climbing up and down the arduous spiral staircase was the vertical plane of no-time, the listing of events was about receiving pure impressions, counting church clock chimes was being on the horizontal plane of tick-tock time and the whole was an act of self-remembering. Being up on the roof was to stand in Meta-I.

The gnat is just one of life’s little annoyances of which you are to observe its positive intention, looking ‘otherwise’, observing it from a slightly different angle,

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HGWells – Real Human-being with Real Beliefs (R6)


After ‘Stories’…

And so I decided that, since I will have been reading The History of Mr Polly this time 60 years ago, when I ‘did O Levels’, it was time to read it again to find out how, as I suspected, it had had an influence on the whole of my life; indeed, as I said in the previous Glob, Mr Polly – c’est moi...

There are all kinds of things: attitudes, beliefs, enthusiasms, ways of thinking, disappointments, dreams, reading, feeling of not quite being part of this world; most of them, no doubt, deriving from at least something of Wells’ own characteristics, as here where he steps into the text to provide a gloss on Polly’s early peregrinations with Parsons & Platt, partners (allittrition’s artful aid...) in escaping from the bondage of Work:-

There is no countryside like the English countryside for those who have learned to love it; its firm yet gentle lines of hill and dale, its ordered confusion of features, its deer parks and downland, its castles and stately houses, its hamlets and old churches, its farms and ricks and great barns and ancient trees, its pools and ponds and shining threads of rivers, its flower-starred hedgerows, its orchards and woodland patches, its village greens and kindly inns. Other countrysides have their pleasant aspects, but none such variety, none that shine so steadfastly throughout the year…

It was good for the three P’s to walk through such a land and forget for a time and forget for a time that indeed that they had no footing in it at all, that they were doomed to toil behind counters in such places as Port Burdock for the better part of their lives. They would forget the customers & shopwalkers and department buyers and everything and become just happy wanderers in a world of pleasant breezes and song-birds and shady trees.

Travel

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Vagabond (as set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams – www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCXxNd_xc44 ) applies both to Polly & me:-

Give to me the life I love,
Let the lave go by me,
Give the jolly heaven above
And the byway nigh me.

Bed in the bush with stars to see.
Bread I dip in the river—
There’s the life for a man like me.
There’s the life for ever.

Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o’er me;
Give the face of earth around
And the road before me.

Wealth I seek not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I seek, the heaven above
And the road below me.

Or let autumn fall on me
Where afield I linger,
Silencing the bird on tree,
Biting the blue finger.

The infinite shining heavens
Rose and I saw in the night
Uncountable angel stars
Showering sorrow and light.

I saw them distant as heaven,
Dumb and shining and dead,
And the idle stars of the night
Were dearer to me than bread.

Night after night in my sorrow
The stars stood over the sea,
Till lo ! I looked in the dusk
And a star had come down to me.

I have travelled round the English countryside in exploratious menanderings on foot, on bicycle (and now motorbike) all these years and relished the ‘ordered confusion of features’. Just eating up the roads is enough for me, noting the pattern of towns & counties and I pass by them, occasionally stopping for a cathedral, a place full of memories from the past, or to do a watercolour that must not take more than about twenty minutes… And beginning in earlier years the Hills and the Sea [Hilaire Belloc] represented escape from the Wage Slavery that was the utterly unpremeditated collapse into pointless quill-driving & file-grubbing & figure-shunting that marked the first ten years or so of my ‘working’ life; from then on I laboured in the outrageous belief that life was for living not at all for working; like Polly I swam consistently against the tide; to do this was a belief reinforced by two years obeying the state-command to do something called National Service. This was an experience that paradoxically released me from all ties into a zany free-wheeling kind of existence in which I proved to be quite useful as a teacher of military subjects which I scorned but enjoyed because of the need for disciplined breakdown in order to dispose them into manageable teachable chunks. And it turned me into a life-long pacifist!

Teaching

Later on, helping streams of students subject texts to close linguistic analysis, Teaching-I frequently kept itself in check by not referring to the linking of sense & meaning brought about by alliteration as allittrition’s artful aid, one of Polly’s magnificent manglings of the English language which Wells puts down to a poverty-stricken education but which, in live conversation, I have taken up as a way out of thinking of bothering to find the correct word to express meaning: Polly was highly manglacious in his use of English; I invent words for my own amusement, implodic joydom. “Is that a real word?” asks my younger daughter in her lovely innocence.

Employed uselessly in Canterbury, Polly

…liked to sit in the nave during the service, and look through the great gates at the candles and choristers, and listen to the organ-sustained voices, but the transepts he never penetrated because of the charge for admission. The music and the long vista of the fretted roof filled him with a vague and mystical happiness that he had no words, even mispronounceable words, to express. But some of the smug monuments in the aisles got a wreath of epithets; ‘metrorious urnfuls,’ ‘funererial claims,’ ‘dejected angelosity,’ for example. He wandered about the precincts, and speculated about the people who lived in the ripe and cosy houses of gray stone that cluster there so comfortably. Through green doors in high stone walls he caught glimpses of level lawns and blazing flower-beds; mullioned windows revealed shaded reading-lamps and disciplined shelves of brown bound books.

I had something like this experience during my first solo holiday in 1955. Sitting on the grass in Salisbury Cathedral Close in the August sunlight, I had the idea that behind the ancient clustering houses there were people with an attitude to learning, a way of storing ideas that then I could only dream about; ‘shaded reading lamps’ and shelves of books, dusty interiors – they still represent the appropriate conditions of learning for me; not for me the sterile banks of computers, more the gloominess of the original library upstairs in the old building at Kingston Grammar School. But, of course, the fact that I could dream about ‘an attitude to learning, a way of storing ideas’ that others might already possess meant that I already had the notion itself embedded in me: what you have in your mind determines how you will be.

Holidays & Books

After his father’s funeral, he found out that he’d been left £350 in the will. At today’s prices (http://www.measuringworth.com) that would be very roughly £30,000. All the conventional forces around him suggested that he find a sound job of work, but Polly had far more sensible ideas.

‘A little holiday’; that was the form his sense of wealth took first – it made a little holiday possible. Holidays were his life, and the rest merely adulterated living. And now he might take a little holiday and have money for railway fares and money for meals, and money for inns. But He wanted some one to take the holiday with. For a time he cherished a design of hunting up Parsons, getting him to throw up his situation, and going with him to Stratford-on-Avon and Shrewsbury, and the Welsh mountains and the Wye, and a lot of places like that, for a really gorgeous, careless, illimitable old holiday of a month. But, alas! Parsons had gone from the St Paul’s Churchyard outfitter’s long ago and left no address.

Holidays were his life, and the rest merely adulterated living… Oh yes! In these grimy days of the ghastly conspiracy to lengthen the Work-life – all noses to the grim grindstone of capitalism, how infinitely sensible that seems! When I got the chance I quit quill-driving (as Conrad calls office work) and took to the relative uplands of teaching, and (though for many years I had nightmares about being reduced again to a slave in an office), I never looked back except to figure out what those years had taught me. And for twenty years now my life has been one long holiday; like Polly, I got there in the end!

The names of places and the loss of friends… I have always delighted in making the names of places come to life by visiting them: Salisbury, Bristol, Gloucester, Edinburgh, Oban, Canterbury – I tick them off in my almanac… Magic Cities. But there was always a disappointment at the urban sprawl through which one had to go to get to the centre and starting point of the city. And the awful disappointment at the loss of friends: where are you now, Arthur? Peter? Mike? People you imagined you’d spend the rest of your life with but never saw again after forty, fifty, sixty years of some regret…

And also [blowing something of his small fortune] Mr Polly bought a number of books; Rabelais for his own, and The Arabian Nights, the works of Sterne, a pile of Tales from Blackwood, cheap in a second-hand bookshop, the plays of William Shakespeare, a second-hand copy of Belloc’s Path to Rome…

“Better get yourself a good book on book keeping,” said [the voice of convention] Johnson, turning over perplexing pages…

This extract probably reinforced my recurrent sudden desire to make a journey to a second-hand bookshop. The contrast between what the voice of convention had to say on the subject and my proclivity for dusty shelves was a stark one but I knew which side I was on. When I was sixteen there were some shops around Charing Cross Road in London that I didn’t dare enter because they looked as though their owners were so learned and might ask me what I was after when I really had no idea then. I have found them all quite harmless now I’ve penetrated their sacred interiors and can converse with the most thick-lensed eyes about obscure books & authors.

Cycling

And Mr Polly, well aware of his priorities, bought a bicycle.

A belated spring, to make up for lost time, was now advancing with great strides. Sunshine and a stirring wind were poured out over the land, fleets of towering clouds sailed upon urgent tremendous missions across the blue sea of heaven, and presently Mr Polly was riding a little unstably along unfamiliar Surrey roads, wondering always what was round the next corner, and marking the blackthorn and looking out for the first white flowerbuds of the may. He was perplexed and distressed, as indeed are all right-thinking souls, that there is no may in early May.

Every year in spring I think of writing a haiku that has as its first five syllable line ‘now the blackthorn’s out’… Sometimes I even write it!

He did not ride at the even pace sensible people use, who have marked out a journey from one place to another, and settled what time it will take them. He rode at variable speeds, and always as though he was looking for something [whose absence] left life attractive still, but a little wanting in significance.

Ambling, sometimes at speed, sometimes menandering down miscellaneous by-ways, ‘wondering always what was round the next corner’, has always been my wont, joining one place to another, even now on a motorbike. In my day, except for the Mickleham & Box Hill bypass on the A24 down to Worthing, done before the War, Surrey roads were still untouched by the oh-so-sad race of Improvers and the concrete masterpiece called ‘Gatwick’ did not exist; it was just a small village. Why on earth do we have to keep up with ‘the way of the world’? The way of the world is complete tosh.

On one of his expeditions, Polly fell into a series of assignations with the red-haired Christobel sitting on her school wall; modelling on happenings in the books he’d read, he played the romantic part of Knight dallying with fair maid but after ten days he realised that he was being made a fool of. On the rebound, as though he had stepped out of his real skin, he suggested marriage to cousin Miriam. All the signs are that she was likely to turn out to be the harridan (possibly from French haridelle, gaunt woman, old horse, nag – naggish bipedess, as I say for him) that all Wells’ subtle linguistic hints suggest she is underneath the oh-so-pleasant exterior which she put on to trap our Mr Polly.

Marriage

After the nuptials Uncle Pentstemon has words of wisdom that come too late to save Polly. You rather sense that he gives us something of what’s on Polly’s mind after the relative romance of his assignations with the red-haired Christobel:-

“You got to get married,” said Uncle Pentstemon, resuming his discourse. “That’s the way of it. Some has. Some hain’t. I done it long before I was your age. It hain’t for me to blame you. You can’t ‘elp being the marrying sort any more than me. It’s nat’ral—like poaching, or drinking, or wind on the stummik. You can’t ‘elp it, and there you are! As for the good of it, there ain’t no particular good in it as I can see. It’s a toss up. The hotter come, the sooner cold; but they all gets tired of it sooner or later… I hain’t no grounds to complain. Two I’ve ‘ad and buried, and might ‘ave ‘ad a third, and never no worrit with kids – never… “You done well not to ‘ave the big gal. I will say that for ye. She’s a gad-about grinny, she is, if ever was. A gad-about grinny. Mucked up my mushroom bed to rights, she did, and I ‘aven’t forgot it. Got the feet of a centipede, she ‘as – all over everything, and neither with your leave nor by your leave. Like a stray ‘en in a pea patch. Cluck ! cluck ! Trying to laugh it off. I laughed ‘er off, I did. Dratted lumpin’ baggage!”…  For a while he mused malevolently upon Annie, and routed out a reluctant crumb from some coy sitting-out place in his tooth.

“Wimmin’s a toss up,” said Uncle Pentstemon. “Prize packets they are, and you can’t tell what’s in ‘em till you took ‘em ‘ome and undone ‘em. Never was a bachelor married yet that didn’t buy a pig in a poke. Never !…”

We know how things turn out for Polly fifteen years after this because when we first meet him at the beginning of the novel he is ‘…sitting on a stile between two threadbare looking fields…’ objective correlative for his state of being, chanting out, “Oh, Röööötten Bëëëëastly Silly Wheeze of a Hole!” This is the way Wells frames things for the reader – we anticipate the horror of things in spite of which…

…Fifteen years ago, and it might have seemed to you that the queer little flower of Mr Polly’s imagination might be altogether withered and dead, and with no living seed left in any part of him. But, indeed, it still lived as an insatiable hunger for bright and delightful experiences, for the gracious aspect of things, for beauty. He still read books when he had a chance – books that told of glorious places abroad and glorious times, that wrung a rich humour from life and contained the delight of words freshly and expressively grouped…

He reminds me of a person (like myself, when young) besotted by the kind of adolescent dream expressed by Robert Louis Stevenson’s idealism. Set to music by Vaughan Williams (op cit), the poem can still easily excite something which doesn’t bear examination deep inside me:-

Let beauty awake in the morn from beautiful dreams
Beauty awake from rest!
Let Beauty awake
For Beauty’s sake
In the hour when the birds awake in the brake
And the stars are bright in the west!

Let Beauty awake in the eve from the slumber of day,
Awake in the crimson eve!
In the day’s dusk end
When the shades ascend,
Let her wake to the kiss of a tender friend
To render again and receive!

An ‘…insatiable hunger for bright and delightful experiences…’ I can understand very well but – Beauty! Oh, the unutterable curse of abstractions!

The insatiable hunger for books, too… Polly contrived to conceal the books he bought from the decidedly unbeautiful Miriam.

The books he read during those fifteen years! He read everything he got except theology, and, as he read, his little unsuccessful circumstances vanished and the wonder of life returned to him; the routine of reluctant getting up, opening shop, pretending to dust it with zest, breakfasting with a shop egg underdone or overdone, or a herring raw or charred, and coffee made Miriam’s way, and full of little particles, the return to the shop, the morning paper, the standing, standing at the door saying “How do!” to passers-by, or getting a bit of gossip, or watching unusual visitors, all these things vanished as the auditorium of a theatre vanishes when the stage is lit. He acquired hundreds of books at last – old, dusty books, books with torn covers and broken covers, fat books whose backs were naked string and glue – an inimical litter to Miriam.

Since it does not necessarily chime with other writings that Mr Polly seems to appreciate, Wells perhaps expresses his own view here that ‘…Conrad’s prose had a pleasure for him that he was never able to define, a peculiar deep-coloured effect… Precisely! ‘Great land of sublimated things, thou World of Books, happy asylum, refreshment and refuge from the world of everyday!…’

Authorial Presence

HGW

As noted, Wells quite often steps outside his narrative to make us remember that there is an author at work producing what can be construed as a socio-economic-political text in delightful fictional form. A nice distancing! He quotes from a presumably imaginary ‘dome-headed monster of intellect’ (one of his own ‘I’s maybe) writing on ‘social problems’ who says that ‘… ‘Nothing can better demonstrate the collective dullness of our community, the crying need for a strenuous, intellectual renewal, than the consideration of that vast mass of useless, uncomfortable, under-educated, under-trained, and altogether pitiable people we contemplate when we use that inaccurate and misleading term, the Lower Middle Class…’ Says the objective Wells, going some way towards describing his authorial process :-

I feel this has to come in here as the broad aspect of this History. I come back to Mr Polly, sitting upon his gate and swearing in the east wind, and so returning I have a sense of floating across unbridged abysses between the general and the particular. There, on the one hand, is the man of understanding seeing clearly – I suppose he sees clearly – the big process that dooms millions of lives to thwarting and discomfort and unhappy circumstances, and giving us no help, no hint, by which we may get that better ‘collective will and intelligence’ which would dam the stream of human failure; and on the other hand, Mr Polly, sitting on his gate, untrained, unwarned, confused, distressed, angry, seeing nothing except that he is, as it were, netted in grayness and discomfort – with life dancing all about him; Mr Polly with a capacity for joy and beauty at least as keen and subtle as yours or mine.

How clearly here Wells demonstrates awareness of something which our current bunch of fascist dictators, thin end of the wedge of the Global Capitalist Conspiracy, will totally avoid in discussion: the destructive effect of their multi-millionaire policies on the lives of ordinary individuals; there is an unbridged conceptual abyss between the general and the particular, between abstraction and concrete reality. The politicians are always content to live in abstractions – individual ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, ‘progress’ – and hide away from the actual scrap heap of humanity that they throw their crusts & rinds to.

Suicide

Sitting on the stile, Mr Polly decided that the only way out of the Rotten Beastly Hole was to commit suicide. One Sunday evening while Miriam was at church he doused the shop in paraffin and determined to cut his throat at the height of the conflagration.

And this was the end of life for him! The end! And it seemed to him now that life had never begun for him, never! It was as if his soul had been cramped and his eyes bandaged from the hour of his birth. Why had he lived such a life? Why had he submitted to things, blundered into things? Why had he never insisted on the things he thought beautiful and the things he desired, never sought them, fought for them, taken any risk for them, died rather than abandon them? They were the things that mattered. Safety did not matter. A living did not matter unless there were things to live for…

He had been a fool, a coward and a fool; he had been fooled, too, for no one had ever warned him to take a firm hold upon life, no one had ever told him of the littleness of fear or pain or death. But what was the good of going through it now again. It was over and done with. The clock in the back parlour pinged the half-hour. “Time!” said Mr Polly, and stood up…

But everything went too fast: his trouser leg caught fire before he had a chance to slit his throat; it was the wrong order of events; he dashed into the street shouting, “Fire!” And suddenly realised that the neighbour’s old mum was upstairs in the well-alight adjacent building. Everybody in Fishbourne had for years dismissed him as a misfit, but now, when he rescued her by climbing on the roof, he was regarded as the hero of the piece. Miriam suggested a fresh start but, again, Mr Polly had quite other ideas:-

…when a man has once broken through the paper walls of everyday circumstance, those unsubstantial walls that hold so many of us securely prisoned from the cradle to the grave, he has made a discovery. If the world does not please you, you can change it. Determine to alter it at any price, and you can change it altogether… There is only one sort of man who is absolutely to blame for his own misery, and that is the man who finds life dull and dreary…

Tramping

So he takes £20 (well over £1000 in today’s money), leaving the rest for Miriam, and sets off on a long tramp. What delight Wells sows in the mind of the reader in such simple terms after all the misery! A lesson for us all!

After a lapse of fifteen years he rediscovered this interesting world, about which so many people go incredibly blind and bored. He went along country roads while all the birds were piping and chirruping and cheeping and singing, and looked at fresh new things, and felt as happy and irresponsible as a boy with an unexpected half-holiday. And if ever the thought of Miriam returned to him, he controlled his mind. He came to country inns and sat for unmeasured hours talking of this and that to those sage carters who rest for ever in the taps of country inns, while the big, sleek, brass-jingling horses wait patiently outside with their wagons. He got a job with some van people who were wandering about the country with swings and a steam roundabout, and remained with them three days, until one of their dogs took a violent dislike to him, and made his duties unpleasant. He talked to tramps and wayside labourers. He snoozed under hedges by day, and in outhouses and hayricks at night…

This feels like the result of deliberate decision-making: just doing whatever comes up without romanticising or indulging in false imagination. Wells points this up beautifully by reminding us of how Polly used to make fantasy.

One day he found himself going along a road, with a wide space of sprouting bracken and occasional trees on either side, and suddenly this road became strangely and perplexingly familiar. “Lord!” he said, and turned about and stood. “It can’t be.”

He was incredulous, then left the road and walked along a scarcely perceptible track to the left, and came in half a minute to an old lichenous stone wall. It seemed exactly the bit of wall he had known so well. It might have been but yesterday he was in that place; there remained even a little pile of wood. It became absurdly the same wood. The bracken, perhaps, was not so high, and most of its fronds were still coiled up, that was all. Here he had stood, it seemed, and there she had sat and looked down upon him. Where was she now, and what had become of her? He counted the years back, and marvelled that beauty should have called to him with so imperious a voice – and signified nothing. He hoisted himself with some little difficulty to the top of the wall, and saw far off under the beech trees two schoolgirls – small, insignificant, pigtailed creatures, with heads of blond and black, with their arms twined about each other’s necks, no doubt telling each other the silliest secrets.

But that girl with the red hair – was she a countess? was she a queen? Children, perhaps? Had sorrow dared to touch her? Had she forgotten altogether?

What about all those people we’ve known? What’s happened to them? What have their lives been like?

enormous chunks

of my life I’ve left
littered about in
the relationships I’ve had –
some unfinished some abandoned

each dear friend lost
each love cut off
every relationship relinquished
hauls off a part of me

they all carry off some part
of my I-mystery some I-tag
to their own secret destination
to do with it as they choose

the parts of me that are left
are without the strength of will
to advertise for the return now
of all the various chunks of life

I’ve allowed to be dispersed
around the country threading gaps
in people’s thoughts as their own
abandoned chunks thread mine

(CB: Looking Closely 2000)

The Potwell Inn – Coming Home

And then Mr Polly came to the Potwell Inn; he came home to himself. The ‘plump woman’ who ran the place asked him if was looking for work. He felt that she was ‘My sort…’ When she asked him what kind of work he was after he sums up the whole of the novel so far: “I’ve never properly thought that out… I’ve been looking round – for ideas…”

If the naggish bipedess Miriam had listed what he would have to do he would have felt the complaint about a Rotten Beastly Hole appearing but something has changed. The person we have heard described as bone idle is miraculously transformed.

He spent the afternoon exploring the premises of the Potwell Inn and learning the duties that might be expected of him, such as Stockholm tarring fences, digging potatoes, swabbing out boats, helping people land, embarking, landing, and time-keeping for the hirers of two rowing boats and one Canadian canoe, bailing out the said vessels and concealing their leaks and defects from prospective hirers, persuading inexperienced hirers to start down-stream rather than up, repairing rowlocks and taking inventories of returning boats with a view to supplementary charges, cleaning boots, sweeping chimneys, house painting, cleaning windows, sweeping out and sanding the Tap and Bar, cleaning pewter, washing glasses, turpentining woodwork, whitewashing generally, plumbing and engineering, repairing locks and clocks, waiting and tapster’s work generally, beating carpets and mats, cleaning bottles and saving corks, taking into the cellar, moving, tapping, and connecting beercasks with their engines, blocking and destroying wasps’ nests, doing forestry with several trees, drowning superfluous kittens, dog-fancying as required, assisting in the rearing of ducklings and the care of various poultry, bee-keeping, stabling, baiting and grooming horses and asses, cleaning and ‘garing’ motor-cars and bicycles, inflating tyres and repairing punctures, recovering the bodies of drowned persons from the river as required, and assisting people in trouble in the water, first-aid and sympathy, improvising and superintending a bathing station for visitors, attending inquests and funerals in the interests of the establishment, scrubbing floors and all the ordinary duties of a scullion, the Ferry, chasing hens and goats from the adjacent cottages out of the garden, making up paths and superintending drainage, gardening generally, delivering bottled beer and soda-water siphons in the neighbourhood, running miscellaneous errands, removing drunken and offensive persons from the premises by tact or muscle, as occasion required, keeping in with the local policeman, defending the premises in general and the orchard in particular from nocturnal depredators. . . .

“Can but try it,” said Mr Polly towards tea-time. “When there’s nothing else on hand I suppose I might do a bit of fishing…”

The only snag in the new surroundings is Uncle Jim, a vicious hooligan who subjects the plump woman (we never know her name) to all kinds of indignities & violence, examples of which we discover in due course.. Meanwhile, the plump woman’s young niece who initially took great pleasure from anticipating Polly being ‘scooted like the others’ by Uncle Jim came to appreciate Mr Polly greatly because he ‘could nickname ducklings very amusingly, create boats out of wooden splinters and stalk and fly from imaginary tigers in the orchard with a convincing earnestness that was surely beyond the power of any other human being…’ So Polly’s manglacious use of language and his fantasy world serves him well at last.

But Uncle Jim is ‘a big sort of bloke’ and Mr Polly explains that he’s ‘not the Herculacious sort…’ After the first brush with Uncle Jim he quits the scene but not without finding ‘I’s squabbling inside him: fight or perish…

Life had never been so clear to him before. It had always been a confused, entertaining spectacle. He had responded to this impulse and that, seeking agreeable and entertaining things, evading difficult and painful things. Such is the way of those who grow up to a life that has neither danger nor honour in its texture. He had been muddled and wrapped about and entangled, like a creature born in the jungle who has never seen sea or sky. Now he had come out of it suddenly into a great exposed place. It was as if God and Heaven waited over him, and all the earth was expectation.

“ Not my business,” said Mr Polly, speaking aloud. “Where the devil do I come in?”

And again, with something between a whine and a snarl in his voice, ‘Not my blasted business !

His mind seemed to have divided itself into several compartments, each with its own particular discussion busily in progress, and quite regardless of the others. One was busy with the detailed interpretation of [Uncle Jim’s] phrase, ‘Kick you ugly’… When he thought of Uncle Jim the inside feeling of his body faded away rapidly to a blank discomfort…

The return to the Potwell Inn with a determination to ‘scoot’ Uncle Jim marks the climax of the novel – Mr Polly has come home to himself. After he has accomplished the ‘scooting’ in a hilarious fashion, he demonstrates his humanity by thinking of Miriam – whether she’s OK; deserting her had been mean – and once more Wells steps outside the fiction.

This is a history, and not a glorification of Mr Polly, and I tell of things as they were with him. Apart from the disagreeable twinge arising from the thought of what might happen if he was found out, he had not the slightest remorse about that fire. Arson, after all, is an artificial crime. Some crimes are crimes in themselves, would be crimes without any law, the cruelties, mockery, the breaches of faith that astonish and wound, but the burning of things is in itself neither good nor bad. A large number of houses deserve to be burnt, most modern furniture, an overwhelming majority of pictures and books – one might go on for some time with the list. If our community was collectively anything more than a feeble idiot, it would burn most of London and Chicago, for example, and build sane and beautiful cities in the place of these pestilential heaps of rotten private property. I have failed in presenting Mr Polly altogether if I have not made you see that he was in many respects an artless child of Nature, far more untrained, undisciplined, and spontaneous than an ordinary savage. And he was really glad, for all that little drawback of fear, that he had had the courage to set fire to his house, and fly, and come to the Potwell Inn. But he was not glad he had left Miriam.

Sowing Things Up

So he takes a bit of a holiday and returns to Fishbourne to satisfy his curiosity; he enters the rebuilt shop with a sign over the front ‘Polly & Larkins’, a teashop run by Miriam and her sister, Annie. In the novel Miriam is shocked by the return of her husband whom she had certified dead and collected the insurance on, Uncle Jim having been found drowned wearing a pair of trousers with Polly’s name sown in them! He reassures her by saying that he’s just a ghost whom she’ll never see again. In the film version (1949 – the only one worth watching – such a faithful rendering of the novel) it seems to me that her recognition of him is conveyed far more subtly: they simply pass on the stairs and Miriam recoils in horror as though she’s seen a ghost from the past – as she has!

On his return to the Potwell Inn, he reflects with the plump woman who does not know his background.

“I set fire to a house – once… I don’t feel sorry for it. I don’t believe it was a bad thing to do – any more than burning a toy, like I did once when I was a baby. I nearly – killed myself with a razor. Who hasn’t ? – anyhow gone as far as thinking of it? Most of my time almost. I’ve never really planned my life, or set out to live. I happened; things happened to me. It’s so with every one. Jim couldn’t help himself. I shot at him, and tried to kill him. I dropped the gun and he got it. He very nearly had me. I wasn’t a second too soon – ducking. . . . Awkward – that night was… Ma’am. . . . But I don’t blame him – come to that. Only I don’t see what it’s all up to… Like children playing about in a nursery. Hurt themselves at times…”

He lost himself in his revery.

“What have we done to… get an evening like this? Look at it…” He sent his arm round the great curve of the sky… I whistle sometimes, but, bless you, it’s singing I’ve got in my mind. Sometimes I think I live for sunsets…”

§

In his splendid biography HG – the History of Mr Wells, Michael Foot (another Real Human-being with Real Beliefs) quotes Wells’ intentions in writing a novel:-

…to write about business and finance and politics and precedence and pretentions and decorum and indecorum, until a thousand pretences and ten thousand impostures shrivel in the cold, clean air of our elucidations. We are going to write of wasted opportunities and latent beauties until a thousand new ways of living open to man and woman. We are going to appeal to the young and the hopeful and the curious against the established, the dignified and defensive. Before we have done, we will have all life within the novel…

Michael Foot continues

…At one glance, The History of Mr Polly may seem a lop-sided affair, quite inadequate for the purpose. For, most monstrously, and contrary to his normal method… the women are given no place at all or swiftly despatched to the back seats or the kitchen sinks. No real woman in his own life proved as pitifully incapable or hateful in the habits she developed as Miriam…; in no other of HG’s novels, before or after, are the women reduced to such a subordinate role. That might be a hopeless, incurable defect. And yet who does not love Mr Polly? If there are such specimens, they merely acknowledge their own inhumanity. All his tastes and idiosyncrasies, his waywardness, his dreaming, his true love of the language he mangles, the way he piles up his books and knowledge, his refusal to conceal his hatreds from himself, the whole character being not, by any reckoning, a replica of HG himself, but rather an original creation of his own comic genius…: the incarnation of the Wellsian assurance that, if you don’t like the way the world is ordered, you can change it. All you have to do is, having studied the matter properly, to show the same courage as Mr Polly, the same contempt for the way other people try to tell you how to behave when their methods have been exposed as being useless or dangerous… Once he has made up his mind, our Mr Polly never loses his poise; and we, too, should share his confidence. It is HG’s masterpiece. Here he said more simply than ever before what he wanted to say.

What the current bunch of millionaire fascist dictators called a ‘government’ would make of Mr Polly?

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STORIES


(For Laurie & Pat & Patrick & Tom & Ed & All…)

Life’s a Story We Tell Ourselves

One of the stories I tell myself is that it’s always time to begin again, like Mr Polly.

Last night (3rd May 2014) for the umpteenth time I watched the old b&w, entirely gimmickless, film The History of Mr Polly (based on the novel by the incomparable HGWells) which I first saw exactly sixty years ago to the day (or at least month) in Kingston, Surrey, one afternoon from Kingston Grammar School when we were studying it for final exams.

Mr Polly, dedicated to exploratious chivalraic menanderings and entranced by sesquippledan verboojuice — the kind you find, for instance, in Rabeloose — Mr Polly, c’est moi!

I am forever so grateful to that schooling.

And another story I got more recently from Stephen Covey who, at around the age of 70, is reported to have said, ‘the best is still to come…’ That’s a great story.

All these 3-score years I’ve spent a fair amount of time concocting a story about the way I imagine I am now… Lots of sub-stories that have come out variously in poems and novels, music & painting. Each separate story is told by a different part of what I choose to call my self. One of the stories I tell myself is that it’s worth spending time consciously making up stories of one kind or another.

In another of my stories I am always wondering what I’m going to be when I grow up.

One of the very greatest stories is Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, not to mention Meetings With Remarkable Men.

And I’ve told lots of stories to groups I’ve worked with — more and more as it became clear that the stories I told myself could be interpreted by others in their own way and help them to transform their lives too.

All life’s a story we tell ourselves. Another story I tell myself is that there’s no point in telling yourself a story if you’re not its hero/ine. Hero/ine in a humble/invisible/non-self-important kind of way — one that leads from the rear (Enneagram Top Form 8).

On courses, modelling on Wyatt Woodsmall, I tell a series of stories (or Guided Visualisations) about Old Sage-I and Apprentice-I. It’s entirely open to the listeners to figure out which of these shady characters is themselves. I change the story on the spot to include references to images members of the group will have come up with while we’ve been together.

Of course, one eventually discovers that all the people in the stories are aspects of self. The hero/ine is whoever you take it to be.

§

The Life House

Old-sage-I said to Apprentice-I, “You know there’s this ancient idea that the human-being is like a house. It’s interesting to think about your house as one with many rooms like that grand National Trust house we’ve just been to. It needs many servants to keep it going.”

“And lifts to take you to other levels,” said Apprentice-I.

“And lifts… and dumb waiters and many servants. Especially when the master and mistress are abroad and the servants are playing up.”

“How do we know this?” said Apprentice-I.

“By looking very carefully at what’s going on inside your house.

 the butler is looking after the garden and making a real mess of it
the gardener is doing the cooking
 the cook is polishing the shoes
 the chauffeur does the shopping and forgets his list
 the maid sweeps the dust under the carpet
 there are wild parties every night

“I see: my servants are not doing the jobs they are employed to do. It’s not good enough,” said Apprentice-I.

“You suddenly decide that until the master and mistress return you’ll take on the role of Deputy Steward. What will you do to sort out your unruly servants?”

“Call a meeting…”

“At the first opportunity…

get the butler to agree to serve the meals
 have the gardener do the gardening
 get the shoe-boy to do the shoes
 make sure the maid does a proper job
 ban unruly parties

Ensure that every part of your house is run on sound lines…”

“Have all my servants perform as they should do…”

Old-sage-I had gone home to his house.

§

In the Forest

Old Sage-I and the Apprentice have been travelling for many days when it occurs to the Apprentice to say, “Now we’re in the middle of this deep dark forest, I realise that it is not at all clear to me what the purpose of our journey is…”

“The purpose,” said Sage-I, “is just whatever you conceive it to be—stay in the Here and Now and you will know just what it is…”

“In that case,” said the Apprentice, “I need to know where we are going to…”

“That’s not in the Here and Now,” said Sage-I. “Stay in the Here and Now and where we are going will not matter in the slightest…”

“Well, tell me exactly where we are here and now,” said the Apprentice, “so that I may get my bearings…”

“Wanting to know where you are is the result of wanting to join past with future—to establish some kind of seamless continuity which makes you wonder what has been and what is to come. Such a concern takes you out of the Here and Now. Stay right here in the Here and Now where past and future have no existence.” Sage-I continued: “Look at the patterns of shadows on the path. See the blue sky between the tops of the trees high above you and know that that’s all there is. And Love. And awareness. And certainty. And joy…”

“But if we don’t know where we’ve come from and we don’t know where we’re going to and we don’t know where we are now how will we be able to make the return journey when the time is right?”

“Stay in the Here and Now. When you ask a question like that, you not in the Here and Now. Stay in the Here and Now… And let the return take care of itself.”

In the Here and Now which is the only reality, Sage-I and the Apprentice are back in their little castle and the Apprentice has spent a long time in the library reflecting on all the things Sage-I said and applying the lessons to his own life.

“And what have you learned? said Old Sage-I.

The Apprentice said, “I have learned that to begin to know something about who I am I must BE HERE NOW. I have found that when I focus on the past I neglect to be Here and Now. When that happens, past regrets, concerns, gut-rots and even successes prevent me from being in the Here and Now. On the other hand, when I focus on the future, I get into fearfulness, consumed by expectation and ambition and I lose touch with the Here and Now that way. So I am practising being in the Here and Now. But I am still worried: tell me what I have to do to stay like that?”

Sage-I, head to one side, just looked at the Apprentice in a slightly quizzical way and said nothing.

“Right,” said the Apprentice, “I know—that question comes out of the future. When I’m in the Here and Now I don’t ever have to ask such a question. I just look at the shadow reflections from the moat flickering on the ceiling. This is me being me Here and Now…”

When he turned for approval, the Old Sage-I had disappeared.

§

In the Castle

Old-sage-I and Apprentice-I have set themselves up in an old castle with hundreds of rooms and a central courtyard off which Old-sage-I has a Laboratory of the Mind.

“What are we going to do today?” said Apprentice-I.

“It’s up to you really,” said Old-sage-I. “What you could do to start with is to go up into the Watchtower, up all those steps so you get a good fill of air — second Body Food — to re-charge your batteries.

Half-an-hour later, Apprentice-I returned.

“And what did you see?”

“The landscape, the patchwork of fields, the gulls, an eagle, clouds, the horizon, villages far and wide…”

“The Food of Pure Impressions…” said Old-sage-I.

“Eh??” said Apprentice-I.

“The Food of Pure Impressions — it comes when you take yourself out of your self…”

“Into Meta-I?” said Apprentice-I.

“Into Meta-I, where you get things pure and simple. When you are in Being-here-now-I without past or future…”

“This is me being me here now,” said Apprentice-I.

“The Food of Pure Impressions is the very highest form of food without which you would be no more…”

“My experience is telling me that I have to believe this. An eagle, a gull, the horizon…”

“Without the names, just as they are up there: and so you get to the Centre of your Being, the very heart of it all…” said Old-sage-I.

After they had thoroughly explored this in Old-sage-I’s Laboratory of the Mind, they discovered that they had, as it happened, done all that they needed to do so they went home.

§

On Not Naming Things

Old-sage-I and Apprentice-I are in the garden…

“I’d like to know the names of all these flowers. The kinds of birds that come here, the insects…”

“And what would that do for you?” said Old-sage-I.

“I’d be able to catalogue reality, to get it straight in my mind.”

“There was a time when nothing had a name. Everything was nameless; it just existed in the here and now,” said Old-sage-I. “Then along came human-beings and invented names and categories.”

“I’m not sure what’s wrong with that,” said Apprentice-I.

“Well, it takes you out of the here and now and into the parallel invented world of books— dictionaries, reference books, encyclopedias—and now websites. These are all replacements for things as they are. Look at this tree—what do you see?”

“I see the kind of leaves that tell me it’s a horse chestnut…”

“But what do you see?” said Old-sage-I. “What do you see?”

“Trunk, branches…”

“What do you see?”

“Movement… Patterns of twigs & leaves…”

“What do you really see?”

Apprentice-I was suddenly speechless for what he suddenly saw was treeness, the essence of tree, the pattern, the flow of sap. Strange creatures without names.

“There are three kinds of food,” said Old-sage-I. “Fish & chips, oxygen and the highest form of food which is Pure Impressions. Tree as treeness is what can just hit the senses—just let it come in the here and now without striving after meaning. Stand just here for a moment by the fountain and project yourself beyond the garden so you see distance, knowing that time and space are just human inventions…”

“I can see pattern. The words have all gone. There’s a play of light and shade and then I can make even those words dissolve…”

“Pure Impressions,” said Old-sage-I. “Feel their energy. Take it into yourself here and now. Then do the same with human-beings though it’s best to start with cats & dogs — they are more sensitive… and then little babies. Grown-ups are more of a challenge.”

“I feel what you say,” said Apprentice-I…

§

Back in the Forest

The Apprentice is back in the deep cold dark forest, Being Here Now. Notice the dense patterns of leaves, hear the sound of birds, shout STOP every now and again, become aware of inner and outer self, notice the pattern of ‘I’s, become aware of the shadows on the path and the special gem-like stones there are in this area.

Moving attention outside the mind, the Apprentice is suddenly aware that the trees are beginning to thin out. There is a clearing in the middle of the forest and a congregation of people standing around looking a bit blank; the Apprentice seems to have met quite a lot of them before but is not quite sure where; they seem familiar. Where have they been all the time?

There is a huge statue in the clearing; it seems to be made of crystal; it shines in the light of the flames from the wood fire that has been lit in front of it. It is still. Unmoving. Its arms are raised towards the sky. It seems to be standing there as a silent Witness, collecting energy for many centuries but unable to move. The fire on its own does not give it life.

The people are unable on their own to give it life; they stand around at the base of the statue mumbling disconsolately to one another. “What else can we do to bring the statue to life?” “Listen to the wind — perhaps that will breath life into it…” The wind on its own does not give it life.

They look to the water in the passing stream. The Apprentice looks at it with them and understands that they are not in the Here & Now, and notices the clear ripples bubbling on the gems on its bed, hears the burbling, sees the kingfisher swooping and the yellow celandine dripping down from the banks. The water on its own does not give the statue life.

“What if we lift up our eyes to the mountains in the distance?” The landscape opens up before your very eyes as the camera pans out and the forest takes its place in a vast bowl of a valley.

You see the fire leaping up at your feet; you hear the sounds of the stream running past; you feel the wind on your face; you raise your hands from your heart to the tops of the mountains.

Earth, air, fire, water, all together bring your Witness-I to life. Witness-I crystallises out from the feeling of being at one with the universe. Earth, air, fire, water. Suns and stars, planets that have been and planets to come. You can see the people in the clearing going about their business, no longer mumbling to each other but seeming to know their purpose and their intent, focussed on what they are doing, getting things into order for themselves. Witness-I takes its place amongst them. Mingles. Helps to keep things going.

You look round for the Apprentice. The Apprentice is nowhere to be seen.

§

On Leaving Things Behind You

Old-Sage-I said to Apprentice-I, “Well, here we are back in father’s garden…”

“What are we doing here, now, then?” said Apprentice-I.

“We are finding out what it’s like to be here now.”

“But all that was so long ago and it makes me feel sad to think about it…”

“As I said — here we are back in father’s garden, as if we’d never ever been away. We don’t actually need to think about it. Thinking breeds all kinds of unnecessary things. We’re here, now and the garden is inside us; we are the garden. Look! Outside the French windows the path through the rockeries to the lawn. The only good thing that mother had to say about father was that he kept the best lawn edges in the street…”

“I feel sad…”

“There is a sadness — but it’s only one part of us; it’s just one single ‘I’ that feels sad. Thank it! It needs to help us to remember but it’s not in the here & now. When you determine to be here now, there is no sadness…”

“And beyond the lawn,” said Apprentice-I, “there’s an abundant cherry tree and a pond with newts in it…”

“By the side of the lawn is the path by the herbaceous border with roses & golden rod where we stood and looked up at Orion…”

“And then the pergola — father’s pride & joy which he left behind him to fight on the edge of some war in India — the rose stems an inch thick,” Apprentice-I warmed to the idea of being here now; it was just as if there was no gap between anything; you can…”

“Take it all with you… Connect everything up together. The smell of creosote… The bonfires and the apple trees & pear trees…”

“Just like in our garden now…” said Apprentice-I.

“Where we’ve contrived to make space in celebration for everything we associate with father — spur valerian, creeping ginny…”

“He told us never to let that into a garden…”

“That’s why it’s here… And all the sedums and sempervivums… the Always Living… How he loved them…”

“And the four foot cactus thriving out in the snow one year…” Saying this, Apprentice-I shivered.

“We always said that our next garden would contain what father loved: rockeries, a pond, a pergola, apple trees, crazy paving…”

“And here we are, here & now, five gardens later, everything transplanted: rockery, pond, pergola, apple trees, crazy paving, bonfires…” said Apprentice-I, convinced now that father’s garden was in soul & mind.

“Look at the creeping ginny, creeping all over the place like there was no tomorrow…”

“And the spur valerian ready to burst into bloom…”

“And the roses…”

Centuries later they were back in their father’s garden in the here & now of Now…

Apprentice-I looked round; Old-Sage-I had disappeared into the shrubbery.

§

Then I tell myself the story that these are just templates for endless stories into infinity…

Battling with Lyotard

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A Spectre is Haunting the World – Something Sinister…


DISTRACTIONS

From 1960 to 1990 I was absorbed in making a living, paying the mortgage and getting life into some kind of discipline & order, intent on becoming a Good Householder in 4th Way terms, though I certainly didn’t classify it thus at the time. Pre-occupied in this way and content with what I had learned till then, self-calmed even, I missed out on some subtle & not so subtle changes that were taking place around me: I was well settled into what they call ‘modernism’, happy with all its manifestations; it was the proper and only way in music, art & poetry and I knew that individual Kropotkin/Tolstoyan anarchism was the only & proper way to think about constructing a social reality; so I did not notice during all those years that something sinister was underway with the hidden potential to undermine both my beliefs and all the social progress I and many others had taken for granted since 1945.

On the other hand, I certainly knew without thinking about it much that the assumption about the inevitability of the relationship between language and what you could call reality was entirely false – there’s no precise matching; this was implicit in Sartre’s 1948 comment (in What is Literature?) that one novel with fifty readers = fifty different novels – one need say no more about it: post-structuralism, poorly associated with the spectre of post-modernism, is embodied in that formula.

The ‘something sinister’, then, was dangling on the abstract label ‘postmodernism’. Only lately I discover that I’d read its novels (by Brautigan & Barthelme, Calvino & Eco) – even written one myself with a colleague – The Gardener of the Universe) and seen its films (Werner Herzog & the Coen Brothers) and heard its music (Michael Nyman & John Adams & Philip Glass) and thought it all wonderful, but had taken it to be simply an extension of modernism in the line of, say, Conrad, Woolf, The Third Man, & Charles Ives – a long stream of artistic challenges to the simple world of ordinary, normal people. After all the fuss, I find that modernism has been dismissed as revolutionary, radical, and elitist (strange combination…), that the attack now is really on the Grand & sophisticated Narratives that are a threat to the powerbase of the political Right. Since I still believe that modernism persists in an unbroken succession of events into the 21st Century, I see ‘Postmodernism’ as a label for things happening which I associate unquestioningly with the Global Capitalist Real Conspiracy: the supremacy of market forces, fragmentation in the service of domination, the ‘profit before people’ dogma that’s never stated. ‘Postmodernism’ is the business apologist on the radio this morning (7th April 2014) arguing for Britain to remain in the EU while trying to reform it, saying, “What we need to push for is to move things away from support for social change and towards business growth…” What he doesn’t realise is that he’s just substituting the Bilderberg capitalist narrative for the Marxist one; you can’t escape a narrative – all life is a story we tell ourselves…

The fragmentation associated with Postmodernism becomes an excuse for global ‘deregulation’ – letting one’s supporters & donors do just whatever they like: for example, destroy the skyline of London with ridiculously laughable ‘postmodernist’ tower-blocks – investment & flats for foreigners.

Scan0212

Feeling deep in my bones that there was a conspiracy afoot but not being able to label it, something prompted me to pluck a book from my shelves, one that had been waiting to be read for fifteen years, called Postmodern Thought (edited by Stuart Sim). Why this book? At the end of my latest Glob I wrote about Husserl’s ‘bracketing’ (see also (http://colinblundell.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/ bracketing-a-way-of-thinking/); apparently this is claimed as a Postmodernist technique which levels all beliefs, equalises all concepts: values and ideas become, so it is said, interchangeable when you put them in brackets; there is nothing permanent. Now, since I do not believe this, how come one of my favourite thinking mechanisms (the framing of brainwork) has become part of a movement whose outcomes lead to the current drive to destroy left-wing commitment? To deregulation & self-help of the Samuel Smiles variety, to the consignment by the Power Possessors of a very large global contingent of human-beings to the dustbin.

The answer is that I put things in brackets not in some reductionist frenzy but only while I contemplate them there – for ease of contemplation which is how I understand Husserl’s intention – then you effect a synthesis – separation precedes integration… Whatever else it might be, Postmodernism is anti-Hegelian – it presupposes the end of history – no possible synthesis, future perfect. Things are as they are for ever and ever. Right is might.

And so, in this Glob, I use what also turns out to have been appropriated into the postmodernist canon – the technique of cut-up, quotation & autobiography – to construct this long meditative poem done in the style of Pound’s Cantos. It can be defined, if you like, as a bit of anti-postmodern postmodern rhetoric. An endless circle apparently beloved of ‘postmodern’ writers & film-makers.

Does this make me postmodern? I think not. I reject labels – that’s my Being-a-Sartrean-modernist-I at work. There are no periods: time’s all of a piece and things just happen – that comes from my Being-a-follower-of-Gurdjieff-I. Labelling is a random human invention – that, I suppose, is Being-a-post-structuralist-I. It’s axiomatic that words invent meaning, theories and false dichotomies. Bracketing keeps things in check; without bracketing things get all mixed up together – paradoxically that’s how they like it to be for us plebs, imagining that we won’t be able to keep track of their little games.

 postmodernism

– it’s a polymorphous abstraction
starting perhaps with Nietszche in modern times
signifying different things
at different times in different minds
on variously different platforms
but most notably perhaps positing
the rejection of Grand Narratives (Marx & Plato etc)
rejection of the big schemata assumed
by one and another to stand for
‘the way things work’
for which it substitutes
disdain for authority
accidentally creating a vacuum for the entry of
the ghostly Authority of the Power Possessors
to take root in anti-foundationalism
(nothing a priori)

calling into question the structures
of cultural certainties
it embraces post-structuralism
seeking to demolish the idea
that the world is intrinsically knowable –
that silly old belief that since
we have a methodological key
to unlock world systems
based on the efficacy & stability of language signs
(signifier & signified – direct connection) –
a neat & tidy grammar of Being in one sphere after another –
take your pick from any cultural certainty:
no loose ends in politics marketing
religion social affairs
you can’t go wrong – there are no false steps
in a structure –
that’s what a structure is otherwise it would collapse –
nothing random –

but (says the post-structuralist)
the analytical techniques themselves
determine the outcomes of the quest:
the questions you ask contain their own answers
(eg those that fit the pattern ‘does God exist?’) –
post-structuralists celebrate
chance creativity & the unexpected –
rigidity of structure no longer rules OK

in post-structuralism
there’s a commitment to finding
and then dwelling on
dissimilarity
difference
& unpredictability

system-building is a phrase too far
in de-constructionism too
total control a no-no –
language is an unstable commodity
with slippages of meaning
signs unpredictable
the conjunction of signifier & signified
always a dodgy issue
an unstable phenomenon:
use of words
is tiddly-winks
you simply hope for the best –
creatively & playfully

meaning is fleeting –
it evaporates
as soon as it seems to happen;
meaning is but a seeming
constantly transforming itself
into different meanings

as in humdrum ordinary life even now
Western philosophy
used to be based on the premise
that the full ‘meaning’ of a word
is necessarily present in the speaker’s mind
communicable thus
to a reasonably attentive listener –
this is the metaphysics of being present
one to another – the allure of the idea of a quick swap
one receptive mind to the next
instantaneous meaning transfer:

no such luck – there’s always
some unaccountable slippage

the thing is that reliance on words
for meaning creates meaning
where it could well be that none exists –
for example language creates
categories of difference:
sane v insane
intellectual v the rest
homosexual v heterosexual
words themselves create
preference
norm
marginalisation
discrimination
(the young child inculcated into
‘liking’ & ‘not-liking’)
political division – left & right

the mechanism of theory
imposes meaning
where there was no meaning before:
Freudian theory for example
id superego ego
an ideational structures
way beyond
the ‘natural standpoint’ of
the common ‘desiring machines’ that we are –
outside any possible theoretical structures

Structure v Actuality –
the Grand Narratives
fix knowledge into a structure
whereas little narratives
(the stories we tell ourselves)
are for the moment specific
individually creative

there was a time when iron & steel
were the commodities of power
but now there’s the mercantilisation
of knowledge – a pluralisation of knowledges
separate realms of a babel discourse
ideological/scientific
religious/computerised

knowledge becomes the world’s
most significant commodity;
its control is political control:
knowledge is power –
who owns the data-banks
legitimises all those new narratives that bewitch us so

without an accepted hierarchy of learning
knowledge becomes merely performative
in a flat network
a heterogeneity of competing
local knowledges
islands of determinism –
after the demise of the Grand Narratives
it’s no longer a matter of discovering ‘the Truth’
but of finding out what works & what pays

how fragile they are –
the Narratives that always seemed so Grand…
you simply have to stop believing in them:
when this happens on a grand scale
they just collapse in on themselves
like a Soviet Union –
all that’s left are mere bare disconnected events
to be assessed & valued
as & when –
absence of absolute criteria;
no foundational matrix
just a thinking and a valuing

then there are ‘differends’ –
completely unresolvable differences
which result in each party to a dispute
inhabiting a different ‘phrase regime’
leaving the forces of techno-science
(usually in the shape of
multi-national conglomerates)
to exert their iron control –
to hi-jack the course of human history –
thought without thinker

what price difference then…
& unpredictability?

small-hearted narrative resistance
is an ethical choice
in the cause of difference

meanwhile all reality and meaning
has become symbols and signs:
‘simulacra’; human experience
a simulation of reality
subject to the make-up of
the ‘new news at the new court’…
exactly As You Like It
not merely mediating reality
nor even setting up deceptive mediations of reality;
not based in a reality at all –
nor do they hide a reality
they simply hide the idea that anything like ‘reality’
is relevant to our current understanding of our lives:

simulacra are the significations and symbolism
of culture and media
that construct perceived reality;
society is saturated with simulacra;
our lives so saturated with societal constructs –
meaninglessness in the infinitely mutable

on the radio a professor of something or other
talks blithely about robots simulating
soldier activities in the defence of the realm
while dressed in chemical resistant clobber;
the interviewer laughs (as interviewers
do when faced with something serious)
about whether the uniform will work
only 90% of the time
then the sports commentator
chunters on about England’s prospects
against South Africa
in some game or the other
and they laugh about women beating
the men at it and then we get horse-racing odds

you can talk about all this philosophically –
it’s the endless conversation of humankind
that floats above and beyond washing the dishes
and looking after the kids
– a consistently updated scepticism
which is in itself a very Grand Narrative!
perhaps the grandest of all…

heretofore there was an assumption
that science was the disinterested
search for facts
but scientific agendas
are set by squabbles & disagreements
empire-building & money –
science is no longer the disinterested study of Nature:
it’s a narrative; a key part
of the social construction of ‘reality’:
we must have missile-guidance systems
the most up-to-the-minute ways
of killing people we don’t much like
must subscribe
to all the latest e-gismos
which we are told
we cannot do without

headline in the New York Times
International Weekly:
‘Face of Science is Reshaped by Billionaires’ –
tycoons fund pet projects
and critics fear skewed priorities

after public spending cuts
laboratories shut down
scientists laid off
and projects shelved –
the practice of science in the 21st century
becomes shaped less by human priorities
or by peer-review groups
more by the particular preferences
of individuals with huge amounts of money –
science a private enterprise;
science philanthropy is hot;
the tycoons seek to reinvent themselves
as patrons of social progress:
private missions into deep space
private wars on disease –
a jumble of private feel-good projects
replace the basic but uninspiring research
into the things that really matter

so whose science is it?
whose knowledge?
in the age of artificial intelligence
cybernetic organisms & cyborgs
the goal is not Truth but Performance:
does it work?
can it do it?
will it make money?

loss of intellectual rigour;
anything goes;
one paradigm as good
as the next;
science a language game
like shopping or politics
philosophy or work

the economic survival of science
depends on new technologies
not simply a desire to know –
it has to perform as a business
minimum in (labour costs
machinery administration)
maximum out
(productivity self-regulation
automation profit)

must aim at economic success
techno-science = capitalism
all language games mean profit

through the 1970’s & 80’s ‘modernism’
was said to be
repressive clinical & self-possessed

the modernist painter
devoted much time to exploring
the nature of the medium itself –
to the flatness of the canvas
its physical reality
the luminosity or opacity
of colour
the shape of paint in & for itself
there was a deep concern
for the nature of the thing in itself
as against the nihilism
of Capitalism
(the social management of ordinary experience)

what if life were simply canvas & paint?
how might you arrange it
in a frame of your own making?
divide up the space so it makes sense –
heart & soul & mind in it?

the post-modernists fail to see it like this:
they harness allegory
parody & narrative quotation
thinking that such things might
revivify art as they understand it…
and so we arrive at pop-post-modernism
as against serious post-modernism
which remains in the modernism mode
now we have a soul-less geometry
a form of confinement –
the visual language of
a multi-national corporation
that knows no better
the square logic of late monopoly Capitalism
soul-less grids of social financial
& governmental networks;
the garish imprisoning spaces of consumerism
& surveillance
the grid itself

Halley 1

Peter Halley

monument to unending movement
the abstract flow of goods
capital & information
the imprisonment of experience
in the techniques of advertising

under late monopoly Capitalism
what was once called ‘going down to the shops’
for a specific purpose
becomes the abstraction ‘shopping’
redefined as urban tourism
commodities its souvenirs;
shopping as a leisure experience
transforms consumption
into something exciting
(art gallery as shopping mall)

are we dealing here with banal art
or an art about banality?
are we dealing with pop-post-modernism
or a serious extension of modernism?

what would Edgar Varèse
have done with a computer?

Halley 2

Peter Halley

periodicity in itself
creates false distinctions –
is it not all just an endless
conversation of humanunkind?
one thing becoming another
world without end?
do we not impose our notions of historicity
on what is all just a savage parade called Time
of which we have lost the key?
and all of us being made fools of –
fools of Time

consciousness becomes marked
by a sense of transcendental homelessness;
being becomes a kind of alienation;
life a form of exile
and loss
in simulated realities

Richard Serra

Richard Serra

the real is composed
of the pictures we make of it
guided by
an experience which is governed more & more
by pictures
in newspapers & magazines
on telly and in the cinema

our experience of reality
is organised & determined
by the images presented to us –
the visual construction of reality
replaces first-hand experience
which begins to retreat –
to seem more & more a trivial pursuit

in one hour of telly-viewing
each of us
will experience more images
than somebody in non-industrial society
would in a lifetime:
the flood of images
changes the brain
and gives you a craving for more

we become locked into the desirability
of commodities
with an emphasis on style novelty & innovation

rubbishing the process
by rubbishing the contrived image
can perhaps re-establish
the truth of live observation
and commitment to things in themselves

Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons

what if we could make a stand
and by-pass the cynical allurements
of post-modernist art
and come to see it as taking off
from where Dada left us
100 years ago – looking foolish
standing by a urinal?

the history of art
has become a vast cultural repertoire
to be raided by ignorant advertisers
looking for a new take
on a product
the promotion of a life-style
being more important than its function

not consuming the media
not watching TV
is a genuine act of transgression

observe the archetypal decentred human
shaped into an extension of small-screen technology
admirably suited to the new era –
product of technological innovation
& ideological uncertainties –
a mirrored reality
with a maximum attention span
of three minutes glued to
a world of fragmented instants
cruising a surfeit of channels
zapping the remote
channel-hopping
no connection with time or space or genre
unconcerned with narrative connections
with coherence or rational understanding
constructing a bored & distracted
random bricolage
out of stray bits & pieces
of flickering dots

the post-modern is made to seem
to be a homogeneous movement –
something hooked on to
the last part of the twentieth century –
it turns out to be in itself
a collage of different strands
the combined effect of which
is an attack on intellect
& sensibility
on socialism & utopian idealism –
look through all the nonsense:
take away the labels
and you arrive at the fact
of people doing things

pop goes the post-modern

what others call ‘post-modern’
you could just call an attack on intellect:
for example
the excesses of TV –
fragmentation
heterogeneity
hybridisation
stylisation
recycling bricolage & self-referentiality
parody & pastiche
constant shift between fact & fiction
realism & fantasy
past present & future
with special fx
to warp or wipe out the world
one has known quite well –
TV culture bends the mind
shapes it to its own imaging

the post-modern novel
challenges the norms of narrative unity
and decorum:
dominant features are
temporal disorder; erosion of the sense of time;
pointless pastiche; words as fragments
of material signs; loss of distinction
between logically separate levels of discourse;
loose associations of discourse;
vicious circles

a metaphor of derangement
in the wider society
beyond measurement;
conventions of verisimilitude
and sanity nullified

says the postmodernist:
it’s all been done before…
it’s the end of history
there are no new styles or words;
only a limited number of combinations –
all that’s left to do is to pluck
existing styles higgledy-piggledy
from the reservoir of literary history
and stitch them up
with a little tact

plot is pounded into small slabs
of event & circumstance;
characters disintegrate
into bundles of twitching desires;
settings are little more than
transitory backdrops;
themes become so attenuated
that it’s impossible to say
what’s it’s all about

wholeness & completion
are distrusted
disruption becomes the norm;
uncertainty prevails

quotations pictures diagrams
charts & designs
totally unrelated to any story-line

‘fragments are the only forms I trust’
says Donald Barthelme; wariness
of wholeness…
well – I’ve read & relished
Barthelme & Brautigan
Calvino & Vonnegut & BSJohnson
and never ever thought
to pin a label on them –
it just seemed the way to write a modern novel

‘post-modernism’ is an abstraction
that conceals a multitude
of possibilities;
labelled thus
the methodology in the air we breathe
is appropriated
(no doubt unwittingly)
by the Right (by Capitalism)
as a way of subverting sense
& meaning in the political scene;
deliberate political chaos
& confusion of the electorate

Wasteland
Cantos for the inarticulate

virus words & phrases
leitmotifs & idées fixes
fixed ideas; conventional wisdoms:
‘reducing the deficit’
‘austerity measures’

you may dread that somebody else
is patterning life
feel total engulfment
by somebody else’s system –
invisible plots
conditioning ubiquitous

arises a distrust of fixity
of being circumscribed
being plotted against
so before anybody gets your plot
you change it
and then multiply the plots
so nobody knows what’s being played out

when the whole social scheme
is a plot against its citizen
all the major events of history
are constructed as side-shows
orchestrated by unseen ringmasters
to keep us quiet
in our helplessness

this missing airliner –
how do we know it ever took off?
probably an elaborate hoax
designed to make us feel small
in the face of the ‘search’
that is said to cover
thousands of square miles –
the technologies;
the human fictions

knowledge itself becomes
indeterminate –
a plethora of incommensurate discourses
all values dissolved
unsolved

in music post-modernism ousted
the notion of art for art’s sake –
the notes themselves for the sake
of the notes themselves: their sounds
the counterpoint…
destroyed the linear paradigm
and substituted cultural relativism
made serious radio into a jolly charade
& chat show with bleeding chunks of music –
‘opera without the boring bits’ –
advertising gimmickry

loss of a clear distinction
between high & low culture
in favour of what’s hailed as
a new sensibility
a new historical moment
a new cultural style

Blake had the answer:
each of us must create our own system
or else become a slave to somebody else’s

modernism
has been said to be marked by suspicion
of all things popular
of anything commercial by origin –
so I am a modernist
heart & soul & head & in my bones;
member of the discarded
older generation –
a futile intellectual
stuck in a modernist meta-narrative
concerned with mastery of paint & design
& stave organisation
(though words will always have their way)
patriarchal & imperialist
so it seems –
thus speak the voices
from the sidelines of post-modernism

post-modern culture is a world
in which stylistic innovation
is no longer possible (so they say –
wildly & tastelessly innovating as they say it)
we just imitate dead styles
for the sake of it;
speak through masks
with the voices of styles
in imaginary museums –
the culture of quotations
of images & surfaces
dead ends
a perpetual present
flat & depthless

so now there’s a ghastly assumption
that pop songs are the true soundtrack
of daily life – inescapable
in lifts & airports pubs & restaurants
& shopping malls
that we all want to listen to them

flying ducks & garden gnomes
in inverted commas

Lyotard would no doubt call this
‘svelteness’ – operating freely
without being tied to a grand narrative

in the age of designer labels
all aspects of culture & identity
are subject to packaging
and ‘post-modernism’ – the label –
does the trick
but it provokes a fearsome fuss
paradox & provocation:
but how can ‘modernity’ – the NOW –
ever possibly be ‘post’ anything?

NOW is a long epoch
of historical change
fueled by
scientific & technological imperatives
penetrating every nook & cranny of the errant soul
& of the capitalist market economy

but NOW when every aspect of the past
can be made accessible electronically
available
mediated packaged presented
& re-presented
it seems that
we are at the end of time
– nowhere else to go
except reproduce;
condemn the consecutive narratives
of the past to the dustbin
and assert the start
of a thousand years of capitalism
& market forces

labelling
(‘bad faith’ said Sartre)
is used when we feel constrained
to grasp complexity whole;
but the labels themselves
(like all abstractions)
conceal complexity
lend it a spurious shorthand reductionist
simplicity

it’s not perhaps that the label
‘postmodernism’
means any single thing (or anything at all)
but just that
in this age (lengthy NOW)
cultural activity
is dominated by the media industry
capable of appealing to the public
over the heads of a cultural elite
a tidal wave
here today & gone tomorrow

we are taken in
packaged labelled
and spat upon –
consumers & customers
whether we like it or not

it’s so difficult to dissent
from a windy amorphous abstraction
escaping into the cracks of language
purporting to investigate
slippages of meaning
while itself slipping through the gaps –
differends…
it’s difficult to dissent
from something that seems
to be about dissent –
modernism under new management…
not a programme
still less an intellectual framework
more a mood a feeling in the air
a Zeitgeist
playful & joyous
awkward & petulant
a Dada modernity un-de-re-labled

post-modernism merely an extension
of the critical sceptical
dissenting nihilistic
impulses in modernity –
subjectivist amoral
fragmentary arbitrary
defeatist wilful –
and is there some hidden affirmation?
apart from allowing the forces of Capitalism
to slip in
uninvited unwelcome
unnoticed shadows at the party?
the chaos – bitter logic
that the end of Grand Narratives
is in deregulation
repudiation of story-line…
anything goes

modernism – its narratives –
at least had a dream of a better world
which could be legislated for;
to stand up for that
makes one seem guilty
of wanting to resuscitate
worn-out illusions
the old theoretical frameworks
programmes
social movements
condemned by postmodernists

but the nature of exploitation
is unchanged
postmodernism is the obscene logic of late capitalism
symptomatic of it
at this late phase:
capitalism as techno-capital

modernity is an unfinished project;
post-modernism is neo-conservatism
with its systematically distorted
& devious brain-washing
its fragmentation & contingent performance
its ruptures that defy discussion

anti-Hegelian:
no apparent chance of synthesis…

Then I found myself starting over again with reflections on Fredric Jameson, Marxist interpreter of Postmodernism…

in postmodernism

premonitions of the future
whether catastrophic or redemptive
are replaced by a sense of the end of this or that –
of ideology
of art
of social class
of socialism
social democracy
and the welfare state

there is supposed to have been
some radical break
generally traced back to the end of the 1950’s
most often related to notions of the waning or extinction
(the ideological or aesthetic repudiation)
of the hundred-year-old modern movement:
abstract expressionism in painting
existentialism in philosophy
representation in the novel
the films of the great auteurs
the modernist school of poetry
seen as the final
extraordinary flowering of a high-modernist impulse
now spent and exhausted –
what follows becomes empirical
chaotic and heterogeneous:
Andy Warhol and pop art
photorealism; four minutes thirty-three seconds if Cage;
the synthesis of classical and ‘popular’ styles
of composers like Philip Glass and Terry Riley
punk and new wave rock
in film Godard-post-Godard
experimental cinema and video

but the question has to be asked –
does all this imply
a change or break any more fundamental
than the periodic style and fashion changes
determined by an older high-modernist
imperative of stylistic innovation?

architecture is easier to observe
than words & fleeting images –
it makes dramatically visible
modifications in aesthetic production:
high modernism is credited
with the destruction of the fabric of the traditional city
and its older neighbourhood culture
by way of the radical disjunction
of the new Utopian high-modernist building
from its surrounding context;
the prophetic elitism and authoritarianism
of the modern movement
are remorselessly identified
with the imperious gesture
of the charismatic Master –

against which postmodernism in architecture
stages itself as a kind of aesthetic populism
(disneyland gherkin & shard) – it’s a monument
to the overall fascination
with a degraded landscape of schlock and kitsch;
of the TV series and Reader’s Digest culture;
of advertising and motels;
of the late show and the grade-B Hollywood film;
of airport paperback categories of the gothic and the romance;
of the popular biography;
murder mystery
science fiction or fantasy novel –
materials no longer simply ‘quoted’
but incorporated into the very substance of creation

it’s not just a cultural affair:
theories of the postmodern
bring us news of the arrival and inauguration
of a whole new type of society:
postindustrial
consumer society
media society
information society
electronic or high tech society

every position on postmodernism in culture –
apologia or stigmatisation –
is also at one and the same time
necessarily
a political stance (implicit or explicit)
on the nature of multinational capitalism as it is now

the periodising hypothesis
tends to obliterate difference
and to project an idea of the historical period
as massive homogeneity
in a setting of inexplicable chronological metamorphoses
but ‘postmodernism’ is not a style –
it’s a pervasive cultural dominant with a range
of very different subordinate features
impossible to assimilate
unless you stick at it

the powerful alternative position is that postmodernism
is itself little more than one more stage
of modernism proper (even of older romanticism) –
that all the features of postmodernism
can be detected full-blown
in this or that preceding modernism:
Gertrude Stein Marcel Duchamp
postmodernists avant la lettre
passionately repudiated
as variously ugly dissonant obscure scandalous
immoral subversive
and generally ‘antisocial’
all attitudes now archaic…

the younger generation of the 1960’s
confronted the formerly oppositional modern movement
as a set of dead classics –
hence the emergence of postmodernism itself
weighing like a nightmare on the brains of the living

the postmodern revolt has its very own offensive features –
obscurity sexually explicit material
psychological squalor
and overt expressions of social and political defiance
transcending anything that might have been imagined
at the most extreme moments of high modernism
no longer scandalising
received with the greatest complacency
institutionalised
at one with the official/public culture of Western society

aesthetic production
is integrated into commodity production generally:
the frantic economic urgency
of producing fresh waves of ever more novel-seeming goods;
aesthetic innovation and experimentation
from clothing to aeroplanes
at ever greater rates of turnover…

there follow varied kinds of
institutional support
for the newer art – foundations & grants to museums:
the extraordinary flowering
of postmodern architecture
is grounded
in the patronage of multinational business

and the whole global postmodern culture
is the internal and superstructural expression
of a whole new wave
of American military and economic world domination –
the underside of culture is blood torture death and terror;
whereas this has always been the case
‘postmodernism’ thrives on it –
is structurally build on it
opposition impossible
a fall back into a view of present history
as sheer heterogeneity random difference
a coexistence of a host of distinct forces
that cannot be gainsaid

a new depthlessness
a whole new culture of the image or the simulacrum
a consequent weakening of historicity
– puts the brakes on the idea that there’s a historical purpose
that things are leading somewhere
conspiring to make us think
that we are at the apex of success and correctness
which gives us the right to re-interpret
the inconsequential flux of things

public History and private temporality
both determine new types of syntax
a whole new type of ‘intensities’

a whole new technology –
figure for a whole new economic world system;
mutations in the lived experience of built space itself
requiring reflections on the mission of political art
in the bewildering new world space
of late or multinational capital

it is a bewildering new world space –
we are deliberately kept in the dark
by the postmodernist ruse
of making everything politically chaotic –
and so the question becomes
how to de-bewilder ourselves…

surely unacceptable is
the complacent (yet delirious) camp-following celebration
of this aesthetic new world
including its social and economic dimension
greeted with equal enthusiasm
under the slogan of ‘postindustrial society’:
current fantasies about the salvational nature of high technology
from chips to robots
is of a piece with more vulgar apologetics for postmodernism

likewise unacceptable are moral condemnations
of the postmodern and of its essential triviality
when juxtaposed against the Utopian ‘high seriousness’
of the great modernisms:
no doubt the logic of the simulacrum
with its transformation of older realities into television images
does more than merely replicate the logic of late capitalism;
it reinforces and intensifies it;
meanwhile for political groups which seek
actively to intervene in history and to modify
its otherwise passive momentum
whether with a view towards channelling it
into a socialist transformation of society
or diverting it into the regressive re-establishment
of some simpler fantasy past
there cannot but be much that is deplorable
and reprehensible in a cultural form
of an image addiction
that transforms the past into visual mirages
stereotypes & texts
effectively abolishing any practical sense of the future
and of a collective project
abandoning any thought of future change
except in fantasies of sheer catastrophe
and inexplicable cataclysm;

yet if postmodernism is a historical phenomenon,
then the attempt to conceptualise it
in terms of moralising judgments
must finally be identified as a category mistake

the cultural critic and moralist
along with all the rest of us,
is now so deeply immersed in postmodernist space –
so deeply suffused and infected by its new cultural categories,
that the luxury of the old-fashioned ideological & moral critique
becomes unavailable –
required is some other way of desuffusing & disinfecting

we could choose to recognise
two different universes of practice:
there’s individual moralising
and there are collective social values and practices;
there’s the historical development of capitalism itself
and the deployment of a specific bourgeois culture…

Marx powerfully urged us to do the impossible –
to think of this development positively and negatively all at once:
to grasp the demonstrably baleful features of capitalism
along with its extraordinary and liberating dynamism
simultaneously within a single thought
without attenuating any of the force of either judgment –
henceforth we are somehow to lift our minds to a point
at which it is possible to understand
that capitalism is at one and the same time
the best thing
that has ever happened to the human race
and the worst

it’s all too easy to lapse from this austere dialectical imperative
into the more comfortable stance of the taking up of moral positions
but there’s an urgent demand that we make
at least some effort to think about the cultural evolution
of late capitalism dialectically –
as catastrophe and progress both together…

is it possible that there is some ‘moment of truth’
within the more evident ‘moments of falsehood’
of postmodern culture?
and what are the possibilities of action under the impenetrable fog
of historical inevitability?
and what about the construction of
a genuine political culture of dissent & reconstruction?

and what about the function of culture specifically
since ‘postmodernism’ seems to be inseparable from
and unthinkable without the hypothesis of
some fundamental mutation of the sphere of culture
in the world of late capitalism
which includes a momentous modification of its social function;
there always did seem to be a ‘semi-autonomy’
in the cultural realm ghostly yet Utopian
above the practical world
whose mirror image it throws back in diverse forms

is it not precisely this semi-autonomy of the cultural sphere
which has been destroyed by the logic of late capitalism?

it might very well seem thus
but we must affirm that the dissolution
of an autonomous sphere of culture
could rather be imagined in terms of an explosion:
a prodigious expansion of culture throughout the social realm
to the point at which everything in our social life –
from economic value and state power
to the very structure of the psyche itself –
can be said to have become ‘cultural’
in some original and yet untheorised sense
which could be quite consistent with the diagnosis
of a society of the image or the simulacrum
and a transformation of the ‘real’
into so many pseudo-events

in the past there’s always been the possibility
of the positioning of the cultural act
outside the massive Being of capital,
from which to assault this last
but now distance in general
including ‘critical distance’ in particular
has very precisely been abolished
in the new space of postmodernism

postmodern minds & bodies are bereft of spatial coordinates
practically incapable of distantiation;
the prodigious new expansion of multinational capital
ends up penetrating and colonising
even Nature and the Unconscious
which did at least offer footholds for a critical response

a situation in which we all somehow dimly feel
that not only punctual and local counter-culture forms
of cultural resistance and guerrilla warfare
but also even overtly political interventions
are all somehow secretly disarmed and reabsorbed
by a system of which they themselves
might well be considered a part,
since they can achieve no distance from it

we can achieve no distance from it
because we are absorbed in it…

it is precisely this whole extraordinarily demoralising
and depressing original new global space
which is the ‘moment of truth’ of postmodernism

it moves closest to the surface of consciousness
as a coherent new type of space in its own right –
in a disguise especially in the high-tech thematics
in which it is now dramatised and articulated

it’s the third great original expansion of capitalism around the globe
after the earlier expansions of the national market
and the even older imperialist system
which each had their own cultural specificity
and generated new types of space appropriate to their dynamics

a new form of realism
or at least of the mimesis of reality
while at the same time they can equally well be analysed
as so many attempts to distract and divert us
from any reality
to disguise the contradictions
and resolve them in the guise of various formal mystifications

the way things are –
the as yet untheorised original space
of some new ‘world system’ of multinational late capitalism
a space whose negative or baleful aspects are only too obvious –
the dialectic requires us to hold equally
to a positive or ‘progressive’ evaluation of its emergence:
socialism is not a matter of returning to smaller
less repressive systems of social organisation;
the dimension attained by capital
can be grasped as the promise & framework
& precondition for the achievement
of some new and more comprehensive socialism

the pedagogical and the didactic age-old functions of art
can be reinterpeted to suit our age –
perhaps the development
of a new aesthetic of cognitive mapping.

the alienated city is above all a space
in which people are unable to make mental maps
of self or of urban social totality
in which they find themselves:
the traditional markers
(monuments & nodes & natural boundaries – built perspectives)
gone –
there’s no longer a felt direction

the practical reconquest of a sense of place
and the reconstruction of an articulated ensemble
which can be retained in memory
and which the individual subject can map
and remap
project a new cartography
on to larger national and global spaces

the cognitive map is not exactly mimetic –
it works on a higher and much more complex level
as the representation of the subject’s imaginary relationship
to a real condition of existence
enabling an individual situational representation
to fit the vaster totality
which is the ensemble of society’s structures as a whole

right now we are involved in pre-cartographic operations –
itineraries rather than map-making:
diagrams organised around the subject-centred
existential journey of the traveller
along which various significant key features are marked –
pathways & oases & mountain ranges
rivers & monuments
and a nautical itinerary –
sea chart with coastal features noted
for the use of those navigators
who rarely venture out into the open sea

what’s required is a compass
for a new dimension in our sea charts
one which will utterly transform
a problematic itinerary allowing us
to pose the problem of
a genuine cognitive mapping
in a far more complex way;
the new instruments will have to
introduce a whole new coordinate:
a relationship to a totality,
particularly as it is mediated by the stars
and by new operations that track the changes
induced by measurement;
cognitive mapping comes to require
the delicate coordination of existential data
(the empirical position of the subject)
with abstract conceptions of the geographic totality

the map precedes the territory –
the question is who are the map-makers?
and how broad is the territory that will fill the map?

there can be no true maps
of social class and national or international context;
no certainty about the way we cognitively map
our individual social relationship to local,
national, and international class realities
but it’s worth reformulating the problem in this way
in order to come starkly up against those very difficulties
in mapping which are posed in heightened and original ways
by the very global space of the postmodernist
global moment

there are urgent practical political consequences
in depicting the way traditional production has disappeared
where social classes of the classical type no longer exist –
there is an immediate effect on political praxis

the existential positioning of the individual subject
with experience of daily life –
the monadic ‘point of view’ on the world
to which we biological subjects are necessarily restricted
is implicitly opposed to the realm of abstract knowledge
a realm never positioned in
or actualised by any concrete subject
but rather in a structural void

it’s not that we cannot know the world
and its totality in some abstract or ‘scientific’ way;
it’s not that the global world system
is unknowable
but merely that it’s unrepresentable
which is a very different matter;
we thinkers must somehow
invent a way of articulating the gap
between existential experience and scientific knowledge

a historicist view would propose
that the production of functioning and living ideologies
is strictly relative to different historical situations;
that there may be some
in which it is not possible at all –
like the current crisis perhaps

enter the notion of cartography –
an aesthetic of cognitive mapping –
a pedagogical political culture
which seeks to endow the individual subject
with some new heightened sense of its place in the global system –
it will necessarily have to invent radically new forms
not by returning to some older kind of machinery
some older and more transparent national space
or something more traditional and reassuring;
the new political art (if it is possible at all)
will have to hold to the truth of postmodernism,
that is to say, to its fundamental object –
the world space of multinational capital –
at the same time as achieving a breakthrough
to some as yet unimaginable
new way of representing the dichotomy
in which we may again begin to grasp our positioning
as individual and collective subjects
and regain a capacity to act and struggle
which is at present neutralised by our spatial
as well as our social confusion;
the political form of postmodernism,
will have as its vocation
the invention and projection
of a global cognitive mapping,
on a social as well as a spatial scale

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WHAT IS THE NATURE OF REALITY? PEOPLE WILL KEEP ASKING…


A Large Rock

Here I am sitting on a seat in the sun in a warm conservatory on a large rock hurtling through space at a good few thousand miles per hour and spinning round the heat of the sun at an equally unimaginable speed and there are chaffinches conversing across the gardens ─ you hear one stop and another over the road make some kind of answer. It seems pretty clear that there really is all that going on out there ─ no room for any kind of philosophical doubt ─ but it’s not at all clear how or why. You could call it ‘reality’ and imagine your very own self to be at the dead centre of it all; whatever it is that you are the pivot of stretches out into regions beyond distant galaxies and back ─ right down to the earth you dug ready for sowing & planting yesterday ─ Spring Equinox 2014.

I know that when I move, everything else changes location; the very act of talking about it changes whatever it might have been before I started talking; when I speak with another person I find, as if surprised, that their perspective is different from mine, tangential to it or by-passing it completely. Embark upon a paragraph and pressurised by words it all changes from what I first thought of writing. Heisenberg behind the arras. Things emerge.

But there certainly are real things out there ─ galaxies, sun, moon, clouds, chaffinches, hedge-shadows, daffodils, sleeping cat, green sward… There is a lazy habit of bundling all this up together with relationships and socio-economic systems to call it ‘reality’, mine, yours, somebody else’s. All that’s, without doubt, out there in its complex kind of way ─ interrelated systemic cycles of Being ─ it impinges ─ my cycle overlaps yours somehow is overlapped by the latest news of an airliner that’s mysteriously disappeared to gum up the ‘news’ bulletins, interfused with a report on the most up-to-date bit of brain-washing from some politico indifferent to the systemic nature of… huh, ‘reality’, relying on virus words to spread contagion ─ something about ‘having to make difficult choices/difficult decisions…’ when anybody with a square inch of intelligence knows very well that a millionaire chancellor has no qualms whatsoever about putting people out of work and dismantling the Welfare State ─ the easiest thing in the world when the quality of your own living space is not affected in the least. Well, until the riots arrive at your gates – then they might start hopping around…

There are realities out there: multiple thinginesses in structural relationships. In a single moment of time it may be that one can bundle it all up and call it ‘reality’ and make a pretence of ‘meaning’. But then, attitudes to language being what they are, it’s so easy in the process of thinking for the abstraction ‘reality’ and the abstraction ‘meaning’ to come to assume some significance quite apart from the complexity one might have been fishing around for in the first place.

‘In the first place…’ For the neonate it’s all one huge Undifferentiated Unity; it doesn’t think at all in terms of ‘reality’ or ‘meaning’: there are just sights and sounds & feelings in contemporaneity ─ not even a bundling up which is a reductionist activity for later on, after First Education differentiation.

Education is fragmentation ─ choose your own favourite bundling mode.

Language, attaching words to what happens, is fragmentation & categorisation. In fact, things just happen, as Gurdjieff says.

The Infinite Unclassifiable

There is no central organising principle to fundamental ‘reality’. Even the idea that it might conceivably have had such a principle is part of the categorising process. You can call it Thereness, maybe, but it has no core. Human-beings, faced with the infinite flexibility of just-thereness, have sought to tie things down by inventing words, producing models, schemes of thinking, in order to contrive a core or at least a way of categorising the just-thereness that seems to suit them.

All manner of linguistic conjuring tricks have been contrived. As with all such tricks the effect, if not the aim, is to prevent us from recognising reality when it’s staring us in the face; words get in the way of what’s actually there: the word ‘tree’ gets in the way of the actual perception of the object in itself ─ it enforces the conventional perception of ‘treeness’, the Form of Tree, rather than, say, ‘bug-home’ or ‘bird-hideaway’; in metaphysical systems, the notion of the permanence of substance with God at the top of the hierarchy was offered as the ground of ‘reality’ from the pre-Socratics onward. Now, substance has fragmented into atoms, particles, energy, force-fields, quanta, laws of nature…

Descartes offered us subjectivism: mind is the primary substance of which things are merely extension or projection; the ultimate was Berkeley’s idealism which had it that mind was what kept things in their place, ultimately the Mind of God; without human mind or the Mind of God nothing would exist. This led to the dichotomy of science v philosophy, science claiming to deal in sticks & stones, their independent and certain existence, while philosophy was about fairyland.

Another linguistic conjuring trick, one designed to bridge the conceptual dichotomy brought into being by those who made the substantialism/ subjectivism distinction, was that which suggested that everything is part of an absolute and mysterious One ─ Parmenides’ metaphysical invention to be compared with the neonate’s pre-conceptual Undifferentiated Unity but one deriving from intellectual rummaging rather than a natural state.

A fourth great conjuring trick is the suggestion that all we can do is think in terms of models of reality: it’s not that any of them depict things as they really are ─ that idea in itself might well be the result of the application of a model or indeed form the basis of one ─ but that each acts as an instrument for ordering and explaining observations and predictions in spite of themselves. Everything is a mental construct: both philosophy and science (and religion & all other systems) are models of how the mind invents ‘reality’. What’s called ‘Instrumentalism’ is not about things as they are (or might be) but about collections of statements about the nature of reality; it is a meta-position neither subjective nor objective but ratcheted up a level. The very notion of ‘reality’ is denied: the question ‘What is the nature of reality?’ ought never to have been asked since in itself it posits the existence of that which it seems to ask about – viz ‘reality’. All we can do is to think in models ─ engage with an information process that does not concern itself with metaphysical questions about ‘reality’.

So there are four fundamental bits of intellectual prestidigitation: assertions about the substantiality of things out there; surrender to a subjectivity which takes things to be merely an extension of mind; the invention of holism which takes everything to be part of a great Oneness; and instrumentalism which has it that all that’s possible is to fiddle around with a variety of models of what might constitute ‘reality’ ─ something designated thus.

With a shower of verbalising, each fortified position becomes more and more tied in to the way things are and, to confuse matters even further, the historical development of arguments between their proponents produces a variety of what are regarded as subtle alternatives. All this gets in the way of what one might call the Interface between pure mentation, the reception of Pure Impressions, and what’s out there just as it is & always has been.

Is there a way out of all this? Is it possible to produce a way of thinking that is not just a conjuring trick? Or is it all rabbits out of hats & sawing the boxed up lady in half? If anything, it would maybe have to partake of the quality of provisionality, a constant approximation to the way things really are or might be…

There are things out there, including our own body-mind system; one can shift attention so that it certainly does feel as though everything is an integral part of a whole; and we do create models of reality for ourselves. And, except for those who cannot tolerate such ambiguity, it’s all provisional in the sense that constant seeking & exploration has to take in what’s gone before and work with it into an uncertain future; ideas & concepts that once seemed stable & certain get modified and are always subject to transformation; new ways of looking at things emerge from the old ones. Stuff arises like now ─ in immediacy. Things happen as a result of other things happening. Everything is systemic.

The poem-writer looks at the world from which patterns constantly emerge: they act as metaphors for a state of being ─ objective correlatives, in TSEliot’s familiar phrase; they can be ambushed and fashioned into sequences of words; a poem is born that way.

Ted Hughes wrote a poem called The Thought Fox which is, for me, the best expression of this process that I know of:-

I imagine this moment’s midnight forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

The context is real and centred on self ─ this moment now, an awareness of something else alive, a forest of thinking perhaps ─ the poet’s loneliness & blankness, current emptiness. Something (which may even at this stage be the beginnings of a poem) begins to emerge from the context of real & conceptualised events ─ the fox, perceived or not, a gathering together of visual & olfactory impressions enter the dark hole of the head to be worked at. The emergent property of the whole experience is the poem itself. Once it’s done the ordinary focus returns to window and clock.

One foot in front of another along a lane results in the emergence of what’s called ‘walking’ which can be extended into stroll, hike, tour, trek… The observer and the things observed brings about the emergence of visual and feeling-reaction. There’s a Being with its reaction to the quality of being. The emergent property is artefact, gesture or simply an awareness, a thing in itself except that it runs the risk of being generalised into the abstraction ‘consciousness’.

Arisings and the conditions of arising. Events and their interactions and emergings. Everything that arises does so because of other things; there is no independence: what you see depends on where you look; what you hear depends on what you direct your attention to or stop to listen for; what you feel depends on the liveliness of your senses; what you think depends on the grasping of input; what you imagine you know depends on the athleticism of your faculties. Then there all these emergings out of each system which in turn become parts of systems. Particles or waves; waves or particles? ‘Cause’ has no meaning apart from ‘effect’.

The upshot of all this is that there is no firm core of ‘reality’, simply vast numbers of systems of systems with emergent properties. Things appear separated but all is connected – thus Ouspensky.
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So one escapes from the mind/body/knowledge problem by producing a model which is meta to the problem; it depicts the way things interact in an objective kind of way; it’s a spacious mind-field.

Get Real!

What does it mean – to get real? What is a reality check? What could you possibly check ‘reality’ against? Some other ‘reality? Yours against somebody’s else’s?

One can certainly have a picture of ‘reality’: it can be rich or impoverished; a rich picture is complex; impoverished pictures lack detail and systemic interrelatedness – they are disentangled, often produced in a hurry.

To get a rich picture chunk down for detail and up for entanglement & interrelationships; particles & waves, waves & particles. This is called ‘complementarity’ in the Quantum World. What with that movement up and down and the fact that the very isolation & measurement of what you’re considering changes it, the fundamental ‘reality’ becomes one of constant interaction. The forces of interaction are what glue things together – there are forces of attraction & repulsion.

It’s all Greek to me really, but I can grasp the idea that quantum physics is a new physical concept of reality that overturned dichotomous notions and replaced them with a systemic approach, substance & force and interchange. Heisenberg called elementary particles just the idea of matter – fields of force are the ultimate reality.

The mind requires something a bit more solid than this: it is content to opt for an escape into the relative simplicity of holism or instrumentalism, subjectivity or substantialism; each of these is a relaxation of intellectual focus. It’s a bit of a blow to mechanical intellect but it’s just not possible to get away from the double-sided nature of quantum objects; the fundamental physical reality consists of clouds of interacting quantum objects – it requires a leap of intellect to keep the clouds floating in air. I think this is the constant dance of ideas; it’s how I understand the Quantum world as a metaphor for thinking.

Reality is a Vast System of Systems

No system can possibly consist of one single independent entity.
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Out of all the things I could have been doing in the last couple of days I have chosen to keep at this essay, a trial of provisional sense-making, a little attack on the infinite, an attempt to reduce a bit of it, my corner, to a trail of things for scrutiny. I have a determination to get some temporary order out of just this small portion of the universe, centred as it is on I-myself.

It’s an entanglement for the time being. I have chosen to be entangled in a cluster of thinking concerned with entanglements, meshes that last for a concentrated period of time & space, anything from half a minute to an hour or so, requiring getting up to consult a book, engaging in sub-entanglements like turning the LP record over and adjusting my ear-phones or stopping to look at gulls flying up or down river.

Any entanglement exists only for so long as I want it to: commitment to writing an essay just a few hours; commitment to concocting a book a few months or so; commitment to composing a piece of music anything from half-an-hour to a couple of weeks; a poem might fox its way on to the page in next to no time.

Entanglements, quantum packets, categories, bracketing…

Bracketing

See: http://colinblundell.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/bracketing-a-way-of-thinking/

I am not now sitting in a seat in the sun. That was a couple of days ago, the day after the Spring Equinox. Space-time has changed. I am in a different pair of brackets: I am in my ‘office’ entanglement, currently with Alan Rawsthorne’s Cello & Piano Sonata entering the hole in my head, looking out on a bright morning in spring and considering the things that are beyond my immediate apprehension of reality but which I know to be constitutive of it, an extension of this here & now (of budding apple tree and silver birch), holding me in place.

It reaches… in [some] fixed order of being into the limitless beyond. What is actually perceived and what is more or less clearly co-present and determinate… is partly pervaded, partly girt about with a dimly apprehended depth or fringe of indeterminate reality…

This is Edmund Husserl (in Morton White’s Age of Analysis – ancient Mentor paperback I absorbed 55 years ago – I wonder whether all the foregoing is a result) who rather beautifully describes the Undifferentiated Unity of the neonate which can also be the uncluttered moment of ordinary being. He calls it the Natural Standpoint.

Our first outlook on life is that of natural human-beings, imaging, judging, feeling, willing, from the natural standpoint. Let us make clear to ourselves what this means in the form of simple meditations which we can best carry on in the first person.

I am aware of a world, spread out in space endlessly and in time becoming and become without end. I am aware of it which means first of all that I discover it immediately, intuitively. I experience it. Through sight, touch, hearing… sensory perception, corporeal things somehow spatially distributed are for me simply there, in verbal or figurative sense ‘present’, whether or not I pay them special attention by busying myself with them, considering, thinking, feeling, willing. Animal beings also… are immediately there for me; I look up, I see them, I hear them coming towards me, I grasp them by the hand; speaking with them, I [seem to] understand… what they are sensing and thinking, the feelings that stir them, what they wish or will. They too are present as realities in my field of intuition even when I pay them no attention. But it is not necessary that they and other objects likewise should be present precisely in my field of perception… I can let my attention wander from the writing-table. I have just seen and observed, through the unseen portions of the room behind my back to the verandah, into the garden, to the children in the summer-house, and so forth, to all the objects concerning which I precisely ‘know’ that they are there and yonder in my immediate co-perceived surroundings – a knowledge which has nothing of conceptual thinking in it; it first changes into clear intuiting with the bestowing of attention and even then only partially and for the most part very imperfectly.

One moves freely in a moment of being through a more or less specifically chosen bundling up of ‘reality’, a little entanglement. I can shift my standpoint in space and time, look this way and that, turn temporarily forwards and backwards; I can provide for myself constantly new and more or less clear and meaningful perceptions and representations, and images also more or less clear in which I make intuitable to myself whatever can possibly exist really or supposedly in the steadfast order of space & time. Choice of bundling depends on values, desires, interests, simple focus, concern, intention, accident, enthusiasm and practical considerations. There are so many shifting spontaneities of consciousness making up…

…the bringing of meaning into conceptual form through description, comparing and distinguishing, collecting & counting, presupposing and inferring, the theorising activity of consciousness… in its different forms & stages. Related to it likewise are the diverse acts and states of sentiment and will: approval & disapproval, joy & sorrow, desire & aversion, hope & fear, decision & action…

‘Thinginess’ is always there to be acted upon; other categories come into play – the structures of thinking, feeling, doing impinge constantly on the Natural Standpoint. This is the same for all of us and we all project what we take to be the only reality – our own – on to other people. Thus strife & difference, nuclear war & terrorism.

The Natural Standpoint is prior to all theories, ‘anticipatory ideas of any kind’, ‘agencies for uniting facts [in some way] together’, and it’s always worth shedding all those theories in order to return to the start.

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Certain it is that there are things out there and then ideas about things: such a position ‘…endures persistently during the whole course of our life of natural endeavour…’ Descartes might have proposed systematic doubt (exempting God) but any such endeavour would not have affected what it was he might have chosen to doubt. I can contrive to doubt my current apprehension of cloudless blue but the expression of dubiety includes a reference to what I am supposed to be doubting. Blue sky just happens to be there.

Descartes chose to put God in brackets and work his system around them. At this late stage in history, we can bracket ‘systematic doubt’ as a stance – go ahead and doubt everything, especially ‘God’ but exempt my current apprehension of blue sky and the sound of Peter Racine Fricker’s Cello Sonata that not a lot of people have ever heard of…

More & More Brackets

…In relation to every thesis and wholly uncoerced we can use this peculiar ε͗ποχη, a certain refraining from judgement which is compatible with the unshaken and unshakable… The thesis is ‘put out of action’, bracketed, it passes off into the modified status of a ‘bracketed thesis’ and [any] judgement… is bracketed.

In brackets, Plato’s concept of Forms works – it’s a very neat idea. Outside the brackets it runs wild and causes philosophical, political & religious chaos. ‘God’ and his hierarchy in brackets is a pleasant model of reality but outside them it doesn’t compute. Doubting in brackets is OK but outside it’s a riot. You can put anything in brackets and delight in its stance: (any grand narrative), (any political or economic arrangement), (everything is illusion), (everything is absurd – has no meaning), (I make my own meaning – you make yours), (any theory under the sun) and so on.

…We put out of action the general thesis which belongs to the essence of the Natural Standpoint; we place in brackets whatever it includes respecting the nature of Being: the entire natural world therefore which is continually ‘there for us’, ‘present to our hand’, and will ever remain there is a ‘fact world’ of which we continue to be conscious, even though it pleases us to put it in brackets…

In brackets (the Natural Standpoint itself)…

If I do this, as I am fully free to do, I do not then deny ‘this world’, as though I were a sophist, I do not doubt that it is there, as though I were a sceptic, but I use the ‘phenomenological’ ε͗ποχη, which completely bars me from using any judgement that concerns spatio-temporal existence. (Dasein)Thus all sciences which relate to this natural world, though they stand never so firm to me, thought they fill me with wondering admiration, though I am far from a thought of objecting to them in the least degree, I disconnect them all, I make absolutely no use of their standards… I may accept [them] only after I have placed them in the bracket. That means, only the modified consciousness… in disconnection…

Husserl’s intention was not at all to discover a science free from theory. Every theory was acceptable when bracketed off; theories about anything are acceptable in brackets as possible ways of seeing things: (assertions about the substantiality of things out there), (subjectivity which takes things to be merely an extension of mind), (holism which takes everything to be part of a great Oneness), (instrumentalism – only a model)… One must be very careful when taking things out of their brackets to multiply them together – it could result in chaos & dissension.

For 55 years I have found ‘bracketing’ to be a useful thinking process: outlandish things work when you contemplate them in brackets; behaviour is always justifiable when it’s in brackets; the positive intentions one can attribute to even negative actions take off in brackets; put any methodology in brackets and it probably makes sense, but only while it’s contained there; a relationship, no matter how lovey-dovey, is a bracket set against all that flows around it; fantasies of one kind or another always make consecutive sense inside their brackets; put some damn fool resolution of a novel plot in brackets and it’s OK; bracketed off a particular writer’s quirks are fine; put a theory in brackets, making sure it doesn’t escape, and it will remain water-tight. Then you can find out what happens when you do multiply brackets: what systems emerge, what interesting juxtapositions occur, what connections can be made, and so on?

I put this essay in whatever brackets it might deserve.

Reality is in brackets.

 

 

 

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ELEMENTAL


Owls Hoot and Wood Pigeons Chunter

Often, these days, towards the end of Time, I fail to notice the sunrise, the silver sky & clouds in the evening, the movement of birds in the hedge between us and the river, the ribbon of chaffinches conversing from one tree to another in the back garden… Well, of course, I do notice them in order to say that I don’t notice them but perhaps they do not make their mark as they used to do.

What does that mean—things not making their mark? Is it perhaps the Wordsworth thing?

There was a time when meadow grove & stream
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light…

Things certainly carry on as usual—owls hoot and wood pigeons chunter at dead of night, seagulls fly up and down the river morning and evening, white against grey sky or green field—but something has gone out: it all fades into the light of common day. What I see around me at dawn surely can’t be ‘celestial light’ which sounds like something extra special—if I could tap into that I wonder where it might come from? A ‘celestial’ source? Or some species of interiority? Something we are capable of projecting on to ‘reality’ to make it shine with life & enthusiasm? In retrospect, things did seem to me once to be out of the ordinary, non-usual, and I can, even now, with conscious effort and the raising of arms, transform a sunrise or a sunset, for instance, into an event that penetrates to the core of my being; the sight of dogs or small children running across wet sand down to the edge of the sea has the same effect on me…

They (small children, says Wordsworth) make ‘…some little plan or chart/ some fragment from the dream of human life…’ and think of it as unique, as if it will go on forever, but the dead hand of custom & habit dismisses their precious fragment. There are these incessant ‘…Fallings from us, vanishings…’

The noise, the jabbering of life, the prison-house door that keeps on slamming. It still echoes down all my time, though Wordsworth’s prison-house itself has long since fallen into disrepair; I exit through low piles of broken bricks & fallen masonry.

The distractions, the awful distractions…

But the ‘first affections’, the ‘shadowy recollections’ are all still there for the picking, still there for the poking. First sight of the sea after long absence, the sound of wood-pigeons in a summer garden, bats circling the house in the evening, cycling down to Lulworth Cove sixty years ago, Salisbury Cathedral Close—soul container—just one of many, like my father’s garden… Climbing Box Hill, the magic in the distance…

Stoenbreaker

The Stonebreaker – John Brett

Catching the sunset over Wimbledon Common, the smell of gorse in bloom cycling between Farnborough & Fleet on a summer evening in the mid-fifties, walking the Roman trackway from Box Hill to Epsom of a dying afternoon, Melbury Down—staring across the valley from Shaftesbury for a week from 20th August 1955 when the whole course of my life was determined.

Journeys, soundings and scents, uniquely and, be it noted, solely mine; they can belong to nobody else. But anybody can make this kind of collection reflecting on their own key places and events in the past; you can breathe new life into such ‘first affections’ and ‘shadowy recollections’ by deliberately seeing, hearing & feeling what they were like now. There you will find

the fountain-light of all our day
master-light of all our seeing

It does seem as though, for Wordsworth, the light, the master-light, is an interior quality deriving from such self-reinforcing early experiences. Along with him I feel quite clearly that even now, resurrecting their preciousness, they

have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake
To perish never…

Within the Silence such a catalogue stimulates new perception. You can attach your Being to something simple from the past, a sight, a sound, a texture or shape and you can do it now like this:-

The self fixes its attention upon a patch of barren earth, let us say, or an empty flower-pot, or a broken flagstone, or a stretch of sand, or a door-threshold, or a dead tree-stump, or even a little fragment of sky, and by flinging forth its spirit into this thing, it creates for itself and for it—even in the midst of the hubbub of the city—a circumference of isolation, the gates that enclose the mystery of matter roll back and deep calls unto deep.

(John Cowper Powys: A Philosophy of Solitude)

You can isolate the smallest fragment of Being in ordinary consciousness—this awareness right here and now—feel it, get into it, without words or psychologisms—and, quitting whatever’s going on around you, represent it to your self in a new, light, celestial maybe. To grasp what John Cowper Powys calls its ‘static sense’; we should, he says

…aim for a static view of life, as against all this whole business of striving towards something. By a ‘static view of life’ I mean that attitude wherein the mind, sinking back upon itself, envisages all the events of its existence in a sort of simultaneity, as if they were spread out before it like an unrolled map…’

…the sunset over Wimbledon Common, the smell of gorse in bloom on a summer evening, the Roman trackway stretching before you from Box Hill to Epsom of a dying autumn afternoon, Melbury Down… from ever so far apart and ever so long ago in simultaneity now.

The Philosophy of Elementalism

We have to stand up for this, the mystery in the inanimate, the uplift of the spirit faced with tree-shapes & trackways, cracked paving-stones & slippery newt because, in the midst of daily distractions, to escape our existential aloneness we seek to lose our awkward sense of being in gregariousness:  ‘…the whole current of crowd-instincts in these days is so fatally perverted [by]… the stress laid upon outward things, upon outward achievement, outward progress, outward activity, outward publicity. The idea of what might be called the ‘Philosophy of Elementalism’ is that all this outwardness should be reduced to the vanishing point…’

In crowd consciousness, we lose the sense of what is to be gained from the real things, from the thinginess of things which can only be apprehended when we are steeped in solitude, since ‘…only when the soul is alone can the magic of the universe flow through it…’

No day, no night, should pass without a gathering together of the inmost core of our being with its defiant cry: “Alone with the universe! Alone against the universe!”…

*

At This Moment Now

So here I am at this moment now—cat on my lap, log fire, Dvorak’s First Symphony just started on the gramophone, thinking about the ice-berg Time—so much of it submerged; for me, just the cold tip of it to bother with in a practical way—replace a fuse, dig up a pernicious weed that invades the rockery every spring, post a letter, re-point some brickwork at the corner of the house where the gutter leaks, or hire a man to do it..

Once upon a time every turn of events was significant—the upshot of each had a long future which needed working on: I made gardens, collecting rock-stones against the time when I could sit on a lawn, admire sedum & sempervivums and read with the pattern of leaf-drift & bird-song while my shadow in the sunlight made of me a human gnomon all the long day. I visited towns and villages in the full expectation that, having made a quick survey of their delights, I would return for further exploration on later occasions—just as I thought that seaside spots would be revisited year after year. Apart from one or two key places at different times, this never happened.

Now whatever I do seems like a one-off. Ilfracombe is always there to go back to, the South Downs to be cruised over; once these kinds of repetition into the future always seemed a possibility; but whatever happens now is just for the day; it does not have the feel of possible repetition. However, now more than ever before, it seems important to record just that and to figure out the consequences, frozen in time though they may be.

Apart from all this, I choose, intellectually, to linger in the NOW, to decorate it, knowing that it’s always possible that it may be the last time. The sensation of this has only been with me since I turned 70—till then there was always a sense of futurity attaching to events as they occurred. Now there’s a sense of absence. This is the decade in which I may die—if not this one then with awful creeping certainty the next…

Then there’s the matter of the diminishing pattern of days, weeks, months, years: they will keep on repeating so; no sooner has the day begun than it’s more or less ended. Of course it doesn’t help matters that for many years now I’ve had what to others will probably seem to be the astonishingly curious belief that when it gets to 10 o’clock in the morning the day is more or less done for (it’s 9.30am as I write…)—that it’s all downhill from there. In one of my workspaces I keep an old electric clock, modern design, out of the 1930’s when, in spite of everything, modernity began; it won’t work any more, so I have its hands permanently set at five minutes to ten so that I don’t have to think of day’s depletion—but, of course, it serves as the perfect anchor for precisely that!

I detest Christmas because it marks time in such a disgustingly meretricious manner and seems to arrive more and more quickly under the banner of Capitalism—fast buck from uniquely spiritual event. In winter cold and darkness, like my father did, I have begun to long for spring, chaffinch at the window, blackthorn whitening in the hedges, all the trees & bushes that blossom before they leaf, rising sun moving to the left a little earlier each day. But by eight o’clock of an evening I’m ready for bed having begun to shut down much earlier on…

at 4 of an afternoon
my thoughts incline towards
cool sheets & pillow

On the other hand I think nothing of rising at 4 of a morning to read or start writing in the hour snatched from Paradise, as the Sufis say—that gives me a whole six hours before the day starts to subside into nothing.

It’s a conceit, I suppose, a way of constructing things, a little story I tell myself to pass the time. But I know full well that I can always recreate the old agility with the thought of lighting a bonfire or going off on a motorbike journey or writing a piece of music or a poem…

Bonfire1

The Gale Had Ceased

At the open window there was just the general sound of all the trees for miles around, wind running through a trillion twigs creating the cumulative small background roar of mildly whipping branches. I was suddenly awake after five hours of deep sleep & dream at 2 o’clock in the morning with the memory of an essay by Robert Lynd I read at school all of sixty years ago called, as I remember, ‘Reading at Night’, which I cannot find amongst my old books. I think about writing such an essay myself.

I had awoken from a mildly tantalising dream during which I had been contracted to run a series of lessons (wearing teacher-hat) designed to aid self-awareness. I was in a street with just one person on the course. My instruction was that she should close her eyes and turn her head; on opening her eyes she should really focus on what she saw. It was a de Chirico street scene, shadows round corners and silent steam trains in the far distance. The person I was working with seemed utterly incapable of keeping her eyes closed to obey the rules of the game; she would keep peeking at me. “Keeping your eyes closed now,” I repeated, “when you open them again now I think you’ll find that when you look to your right you’ll see a wicker basket stood on the pavement…” There certainly was one there but she seemed to lack the control over her eyes to do exactly what I was suggesting and so I practised the exercise for myself. The wicker basket became the only one of its kind in the whole history of the universe.

Waking, maybe out of frustration or a feeling of failure, I began to make the exercise more precise: one could deprive oneself of vision and then make new sight or even gain insight by swivelling the head while the eyes were closed and really focus on what you saw when you opened them while remaining aware of what you were looking at when you last had them opened.

I sit up—
the swoop of a blackbird
from an ivied roof

You could then do the same with sound, feeling, smelling & tasting—a whole series of stopping each sense in turn and restarting it as though the whole world were suddenly a different place. This would be to track change and therefore emphasise things as they are, to be aware of the moment of transition, the act of self-remembering. Then, only just half-awake, I thought you could do this with books—the object of the exercise would be to open a book at random and expect to find the author writing about something very ordinary but making it new by the very act of writing about it, as though it had never happened before, nor would ever happen again.

The sweet sound of rustling leaves, as soothing as the rush of falling water, made a gentle music over a group of three persons sitting at the extremity of a lawn. Upon their right was a plantation or belt of trees, which sheltered them from the noonday sun; on the left the green sward reached to the house; from the open window came the rippling notes of a piano, and now and again the soft accents of the Italian tongue. The walls of the garden shut out the world and the wind—the blue sky stretched above from one tree-top to another, and in those tree-tops the cool breeze, grateful to the reapers in the fields, played with bough and leaf. In the centre of the group was a small table, and on it some tall glasses of antique make, and a flask of wine.

And again:-

But, for the hour, the sun shines brightly, and a narrow line along the upper surfaces of the metals, burnished by the polishing friction of a thousand wheels, glints like silver under, the rays. The red brick of the booking-office looks redder and more staring under the fierce light. The door is locked, and there is no waiting-room in which to take shelter; nothing but a projecting roof over a part of the platform. On the lintel is the stationmaster’s name painted in small white letters, like the name of the landlord over the doorway of an inn. Two corded boxes lie on the platform, and near them stand half a dozen rusty milk tins, empty. With the exception of a tortoiseshell cat basking in the sunshine, there seems nothing living in the station, and the long endless rails stretching on either side in a straight line are vacant. For hours during the day the place slumbers, and a passenger gliding by in the express may well wonder why a station was built at all in the midst of trees and hedges without so much as a single visible house.

One of the great joys of reading is to come across such descriptions of unnotable things that have nevertheless been noted by a mind that deemed them worthy of being recorded; in this case Richard Jefferies in two separate essays in Hodge and His Masters; all such minutiae are worthy of recall; this being the only time when they will ever be recorded thus. The selection and the reading of such passages acts as a guide to what is important in life; in this way we are alerted to the mystical nature of Being. Istigkeit.

Here’s another extract that works in the same way. It’s from Tideline by Edward Seago who was an English artist of some note. The book was given to me when he moved away by a naval commander who lived in the lighthouse at the end of our road.

The Way this particular disposition of clouds seems to be of momentous significance…

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Edward Seago writes:-

Hanging over the bureau in my sitting-room there is a drawing by Sickert. It is a pencil sketch of an old costerwoman. She might be the daily ‘char’ who has paused for a moment in her work, one hand on hip and the other, beyond the margin of the picture, seemingly holding a broom handle. I chose that particular spot for the drawing because it goes so well with the statuette of a soldier… which stands beneath it. There is something remarkably similar about those two figures. Each of them are warriors in their own way—a couple of tough campaigners, who can face reality without losing their sense of humour, blessed with that quality which is commonly called ‘guts’.

This morning, when I was cleaning the glass on the drawing, I suddenly realised that it might easily be taken for a portrait of Emma Larkin. I know for a fact that she was not the model, and, anyway, her ‘pride’ would have forbade her to pose for a portrait except in her Sunday best. Emma Larkin came every morning and ‘did’ for me when I lived in Chelsea before the war. That was at a time when ‘dailys’ were easy to come by, and the registry office sent six of them to see me in one morning. Emma Larkin was the sixth. I engaged her on the spot. She was exactly what I had pictured a ‘daily’ to be. Her hat (so like the one in the Sickert drawing) was, indeed, a creation. Goodness knows how one would begin to make a hat like that. I suppose it had some sort of shape as a basis to work on, but after it came into the possession of Emma Larkin I think that she herself had a hand in its adornment.  Right in the front of it was a large bunch of glossy cherries, which rattled whenever she nodded her head, and protruding from somewhere in the rear was an enormous hat-pin which had been jabbed recklessly into its depths. She wore a shabby black coat with a bit of dyed fur round the collar. Her apron was rolled up round her waist, ready to be let down when she went into action. Dangling from her clasped hands was a black oil-cloth bag, which accompanied her everywhere, but I never knew what she carried inside it. She came into the room with a twinkle in her bloodshot eyes and a grin which revealed the only two teeth in her head. I shall always associate Emma Larkin with that grin. It was the first thing I noticed about her, and it was the last thing I remember of her as she stood waving by a station barrier.

But, to return to my teacherly dream… what was its Behavioural Objective, as we used to say in the Old Days? What was I hoping to achieve in the mind of the one course member? What was she supposed to be able to do by the end of the lesson? To Have a Strategy for Making New…  Perhaps… The whole sensory response to experience to be revitalised… A kind of self-remembering… The method—to get practice at really being instead of just ambling along in the habitual way deep in the business of receiving impressions but not being aware of the process itself, not being aware that you are doing so.

The kind of enlivenment that sets you up for getting shivers up the spine when certain extracts from books seem to read you rather than the conventional other way round.

Outside—black night. Here the ticking clock and a small lamp pitched against the darkness and the background roar of wind as down a long long tunnel.

All those sentences without a finite verb! Oh the joy of going against the rules!

Silence & Solitude

Silence is liberation, says Thomas Merton. It is being ‘…no longer involved in the measurement of life but in the living of it…’ Merton says that in a condition of silence ‘…my whole life becomes a prayer…’ I have a common problem with the word ‘prayer’: it comes so laden with mumbo-jumbo that I have to reframe it so that it makes sense to me: it might, for example, be an immersion in soul-life, no words, no paternosters to beam us up to another plane. Merton himself says that ‘…we put words between our selves and things. Even ‘God’ has become another conceptual unreality in a no man’s land of language that no longer serves as a means of communion with reality…’ So I wince for him whenever he relaxes what appears to be a firm linguistic stand and lowers his guard to cart ‘God’ in. Whenever he’s not thinking consistently, he succumbs to ordinary theistic encumbrance.

He continues: silence & solitude must be ‘objective & concrete’—you have to be in a ‘communion with something greater than the world, as great as Being itself…’ I can go with that—the paradoxically simple idea that there is something infinitely greater than myself gives me the appropriate mystical shivers—what I understand as ‘oceanic consciousness’. But then he trivialises things again by talking about ‘finding God’ in there somewhere. My own notion of Immensity is so large that the meagre thing they call ‘god’, projection of the superego on to a universal scale as Freud said, only occupies a very tiny corner of it.

Slipping into another mode, run perhaps by another of his ‘I’s, Merton pulls himself together and in  mystical state he is invincible. His ‘vocation to solitude’ is ‘…to deliver oneself up, to hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hills, or sea, or desert; to sit still while the sun comes up over that land and fills its silences with light. To pray [being immersed in soul-life] and work in the morning, and to labour and rest in the afternoon, and to sit still again in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars. This is a true and special vocation. There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but—silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence…’

‘Prayer’ here seems to be a simple wordless devotion to the idea of gratitude for being part of the Immensity and for the gift of being able to be a continual seeker.

‘If our life is poured out in useless words we will never hear anything, will never become anything and in the end because we have said everything before we had anything to say, we shall be left speechless at the moment of our greatest decision…’ says Merton. Solitude & silence are not intended ‘…to immobilise my life, to reduce all things to a frozen concentration upon some inner experience. When solitude alternates with common living it can take on this character of a halt, of a moment of stillness, an interval of concentration…’ Then it can become a habit: silence & solitude in the midst of the world’s hubbub.

In Parenthesis

A Quakers’ Meeting from the Essays of Elia:-

Reader, would’st thou know what true peace and quiet mean: would’st thou find a refuge from the noises and clamours of the multitude; would’st thou enjoy at once solitude and society; would’st thou possess the depth of thine own spirit in stillness, without being shut out from the consolatory faces of thy species; would’st thou be alone, and yet accompanied; solitary, yet not desolate; singular, yet not without some to keep thee in countenance;—a unit in aggregate; a simple in composite:—come with me into a Quakers’ Meeting.

Dost thou love silence deep as that ‘before the winds were made’? go not out into the wilderness, descend not into the profundities of the earth; shut not up thy casements; nor pour wax into the little cells of thy ears, with little-faith’d self-mistrusting Ulysses.—Retire with me into a Quakers’ Meeting.

The Art of Life

John Cowper Powys says that ‘the art of life consists in the creation of an original and unique self; something the simplest mind can achieve…’ which can be done by detaching oneself from all philosophical systems without dogmatically rejecting any of them. I savour that: the creation of an original and unique self… What would have to happen for that to emerge without all the mental encumbrances of vanity, self-centredness, over-weening certainty, without dogma, without attachment to theoretical invented structures but deriving some kind of eclectic mix?

‘It matters little whether some deep psychic secret of which you have luckily possessed yourself ought to be attributed to Plato, or Goethe, or Wordsworth, or Dostoievsky, or the Tao, or the wisdom of Zoroaster, or the doctrine of the Stoics. All the philosophers, all the prophets, draw their secrets from the same sort of fountain—that is to say from the solitary contemplations of their own lonely, anti-social ego, feeling its way by itself amid the smarting blows and the thrilling caresses of intimate personal experience.’

One should obstinately refuse to be finally committed to any one of them. What Cowper Powys calls ‘calm happiness’ is to be attained to by standing under (or alongside) the ‘fountain’ of ‘secrets’ from which all these great names have taken sustenance: ‘around the consciousness of the simplest among us float, when we are alone, images, fragments, tokens, memories, half-symbols, broken echoes, of the great mystical thoughts of the world…’ The chance to recognise them comes only when we are alone. Then we have to set up a ‘magic circle’ round us that cannot be invaded by ‘voices prophesying war’—the endless undeclared war on the spirit.

But ‘happiness’—such a poor word to describe the intense satisfaction of Being-to-oneself in what Cowper Powys calls ‘premeditated ecstasy’, obtained through the ‘machinery of the ecstasy release’ which we might now refer to as a re-arrangement of neurons. It needs, he says, ‘magnetic wires’—which, in my mind, can only lead to Magnetic Centre!

And why don’t we all seek it? Why don’t we attain it, this simple re-arrangement of neurons? John Cowper Powys says the answer’s simple: ‘We do not desire it. We desire desperately external forms of pleasure. We desire power, glory, money, health, reputation. But not happiness…’

In fact the word ‘happiness’ has become attached to power, glory, money and all the rest of it. That’s why it’s such a poor word to describe the intense satisfaction of Being-to-oneself alone.

‘Crowd-consciousness’ distracts us from Being-to-oneself-alone. To build a magic circle around you requires that you ‘sink into your soul. Say to yourself: “Here I am, a living conscious self. surrounded by walls, streets, pavements, houses and roofs. Above me is the boundless sky, beneath me the solid earth…’ This is my universe to which I can stretch out my spirit but it responds only to loneliness and solitude; what I see before me, ‘…these walls, these half-open windows, through which the yellow sun or the dark night appears, are the fringes, edges, margins of an unfathomable universe on the brink of which we stand while our soul grapples with the unknown…’ This is ‘premeditated ecstasy’…

We can have a powerful grasp on life when we hold off the temptation to lose self in crowd consciousness—in what Gurdjieff might call A Influences. Chat Shows & Phone-ins, the Have Your Say mentality that’s destroyed the intellectual probity of, say, classical music programmes on the radio, twittering & ‘social media’—all that is an aspect of crowd consciousness; it holds the world in thrall.

It is worse than madness to be born conscious, and then to clutter up this miraculous gift with such incredible follies [the bagatelles of crowd fashion]. Swinging upon her terrific orbit by night and by day the vast rock-structure of the earth calls upon us to share her immemorial vigil. Horror unspeakable is never far from our thoughts; but it can be forgotten, forgotten, forgotten, as we stand—flesh-covered skeletons upon pavement-covered rock —sharing the patience of the Inanimate, enduring in stoical exultation ‘the Something that infects the World’.

John Cowper Powys’ recipe for separating one’s self from crowd-consciousness is to eschew all crowd pre-occupations: emotional turmoils, rivalries, ambitions, notions of superiority and inferiority. What’s left once you’ve done away with all that? Irritable anxieties & regrets. Make Poof! to them! What’s left? Nothingness, the not-self, the centre of the soul.

We must let go especially of ‘life illusion’, he says.

‘A person’s life illusion is that secret dramatic way of regarding the self which makes you feel to yourself a remarkable, singular, unusual, exciting individual. Everybody has a life-illusion; and it is something that goes much deeper than mere vanity or conceit…’

I wonder if this is akin to ‘Chief Feature’ in the Gurdjieff canon—that which obstructs progress in life. It’s certainly different from, and runs counter to the creation of an original and unique self… quite without illusory constructs.

‘Life illusion’ is the shadow cast by your subjective self, your false imagination, ‘…the etheric mask of the abysmal thing in itself…’  The shadow of the inmost ‘I am I’; the shadow is the life illusion.

So now I ask myself the question: What is my life illusion? How do I begin to get at it? It’s a shadow so it moves as I move; as I go to inspect it it slips away.

What is there deep in my subjective notion of my self that casts a shadow over all I say and do? I wonder if it’s a sense of superiority—that’s a story I tell myself without realising it: that my way of looking at the world is watertight as against many others who seem to lack a consistent weltenshaung. This is a ‘secret dramatic way of regarding the self’. I find that I most respect, feel drawn to, those who, in their solitary way, hold to a similar certainty. ‘Listen to what you say about others and notice how precisely it fits your own way of being,’ says Gurdjieff.

But I normally hold such a sense of superiority very much in check; I deliberately demolish this ugly statue of my self; I operate in the dark so that I cast no shadow. Whether I succeed or not is hard to tell but the fact that it is (maybe) my life illusion means that it has some effect on the way I do things. Who knows?

John Cowper Powys recommends ways to get to what he calls ‘calm happiness’. But the skimpiness of the word ‘happiness’ remains a bit of a block for me. An alternative is perhaps to make a beeline for the opposite of happiness: what does he define as the unhappiness from which we must try to escape?

One of the chief causes of unhappiness is that our mind is pre-occupied all the while with its relationship with other minds. Free yourself from this; make the friendliest and kindliest retreat you can into solitude—in a few moments your nature will have bathed itself so deeply in the cool baths of primordial Being that you will feel yourself able to return to the troubling arena of humanity with an inviolable and secret strength…

And, following this advice by refocussing my thoughts on the nearest tree, moving away from taking what somebody else seems to think into consideration, focussing instead on a chink in the curtain, on the rising scales in Beethoven’s first symphony, on the flickering log-fire, what happened to my life illusion? It dissolved into nothing; I didn’t have to work on it; it was just no longer there. It’s only there in relation to other people.

Anybody close to me who chances to read all this will maybe think that there’s some fault in them that I feel I must avoid but that is not the case. Nobody needs to know about your withdrawal into solitude even when you are close to them; there may be a certain growth of peace in your demeanour which they may or may not notice; it’s just a peaceable ruse to mend your own soul’s state of unrest. It does not have to affect others in the slightest.

They too could understand that ‘…a portion of our mind, an inviolable, indestructible portion, is outside all this whole burden of Time and Space; outside this whole astronomical universe…’ ‘Spiritual anarchism’ Cowper Powys calls it; acquiring the noble habit of being able to step confidently into the impenetrable Silence between action and inaction, relishing both. ‘The soul that has made a habit of interior solitude can withdraw, even in the presence of those it cares for most, into its secret communion with the inanimate; instead of withdrawal weakening its feelings for others, it increases it…’

‘This is the whole secret of the practice of Elementalism: it obtains happiness by the most rigid and austere simplification of the means to happiness. A person may know that he is advancing, for example, in the true direction when he can get as great a thrill from walking along a muddy or a dusty road as from walking over soft green grass; when he can get as much happiness from seeing a tuft of waving grass-blades reflected on a bare stone, as from a woodland glade that is like the sky itself by reason of its masses of bluebells.

It is by a process of simplification carried constantly further and further that happiness is won. Having once aroused in our mind enough faith in our own will-power to create a universe of contemplation and forget everything else, there are few limitations to the happiness we may enjoy.

And we have a right to narrow down our universe ever further and further; until like the world of the Iliad and the Odyssey it is made up of certain simple endurances, enjoyments, mental and physical struggles, surrounded by the washing of the sea, the blowing of the wind, the swaying of the wheat, the falling of the rain, the votaging of the clouds, and the motions of sun and moon and awn and twilight…’

The Ivan Osokin Touch

I should love to step forth back down the long tunnel of Time I carved for myself to be a young man or child again. Of course, in any re-run, just as for Ivan Osokin, it would all turn out exactly as it has done. Something there is that binds us to the wheel. I could do a re-bore but up would come the same regrets and the same awful falls from Grace.

A truism: you cannot change the past—it happened thus and thus—but you can change your attitude to it now. To which end I step often and boldly back down the tunnel of my time. What I always discover is a tearful need to put my arms round the little lad standing in his father’s garden full of a dream that it is the whole wide world stretching all the way to India & back, or looking up at the constellations to make the garden sweep up beyond galaxy after galaxy forever.

It is only in solitude that these ‘divine’ observations make any sense—attempt to explain them to somebody else, share them, call them ‘happiness’ and they dwindle to nothing. You will almost certainly have had cognate experiences just as valuable to yourself but nobody on earth could get into the mind of the ten-year-old staring out of the train-window from Waterloo in the dark night being the Controller of everything he saw—driving the trains that passed on other lines, sorting out where cars & lorries were going, their point of origin & destination, arranging for the lighting of streets… Why are there so many lights, such a waste of energy?

Nobody, not even its author, could fathom the impulse that led to a line of poetry (the first ever?) coming from the mind of the pre-teen young lad:

this is my bridge on which I say I stand

He was not able at the time to appreciate that this would stand as an emblem for the whole of his life. It was a bridge spanning a huge abyss, Escher-like (though I’d not seen his drawings then), stretching slender & awesome from one misty cliff to another—my bridge; I stood there; I gave myself leave to assert both the existence of the bridge and the fact of my being there—solitary, unmoved and unmoving. I didn’t go to either side of the bridge; I was immobile at its centre, not wanting or requiring the apparent certainty represented by either more firm side. The landscape stretched out miles below me in perfect clarity even to the far horizon.

An emblem for my whole life! But I suppose I did not remind myself of the implications of the metaphor sufficiently often; too often I strayed from the middle of the bridge to investigate the tops of the cliffs on either side, the towns & villages and all the people with their alien philosophies, mired myself in requirements.

I stand back there now and, in spite of the dizzy height, it still feels right just as it was 60-odd years ago.

this is my bridge on which I say I stand

The piece of paper I wrote it on is long since gone but the idea lives on. Owner-of-the-bridge-I, Meta-I, an I that can stand above and apart from everything in absolute Solitude.

When I go back down the tunnel of time, it’s clear that all the images I relate to most intimately are those which have me on my own, not having to relate to anybody else. No place for resentments, no requirements…

Chaffinch & blackbird, bat & owl, swifts & swallows and a whole series of cats… Gurdjieff was quite right: if you want to make sense of feelings & emotion expend your energy on animals—they are more straightforwardly honest in their feelings; then come back to humans if you wish. What can then be omitted is all the mistaken identification with their concerns, the ever-frustrated attempt to take their interior being into account in your own thinking Being. Chaffinch & blackbird, bat & owl, swifts & swallows, cats & dogs just get on with life, more than happy to root about in tree, sky & undergrowth.

The trouble with humans is that they make too many assumptions and act on them. They mind-read and act on what they have in their mind rather than on what’s there in front of their very eyes. I too, of course, except that when I put my mind to it, I can at least step back to the centre of my bridge. That’s the one and only difference: I have a bridge on which I can say that I stand. Otherwise I’m sucked into the melée, just like everybody else.

These central organising images we have must have some internal representation—there’ll be a somatic marker. The bridge is in my diaphragm I think… How does the marker manifest itself in everyday life?  My reverence for books—they behave themselves! If they do answer me back there’s no requirement for me to listen; more often than not they seem to have been written about me!  The long bicycle rides between one melée and the next & now motorbike journeys… The journey is a bridge between one event and another landfall. All the rooms where I’ve spent the night. Places I’ve invested with my self: the pantheon at Stourhead, Box Hill, Bournemouth just after the War, Brighton pier end in a storm, secondhand bookshops all over the land, Salisbury Cathedral Close, the gallery in the Albert Hall, cycling down to Taunton. Paintings & poems & music. All these things are the bridge on which I say I stand.

Each makes a bridge between one elemental source and another. Here are the multiple stimuli and this is the product and there’s always an ‘I’ in between.

Except that before very long the bridge will collapse into the abyss…

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Already Messed Up with Your New Year Resolution? Part Two


In Part One of this Glob, I outlined a template that I might encourage others to use when I’m doing what I euphemistically call ‘coaching’. It provides a framework for thinking.

I never do an exercise with others that I haven’t first tried out on myself! I walk my talk and talk my walk…

So I literally walked around my template. What comes up from the somatic depths is never uncomplex… There are so many ‘I’s in so many hidden corners of our being.

At every stage, more ‘I’s keep appearing, both obstructive and helpful or simply watching what’s going on. When I’m working with another person, I’ll keep asking questions like, “Which other ‘I’s are getting in the way?” and “Which ‘I’s might help you?” or “What would such and such an ‘I’ have to say about that?” and so on.  I check each answer and write it on a scrap of paper and put it on the floor for the explorer to stand on to see what happens next.

To illustrate something of the process, I worked with my self (another part of me, another ‘I’) on his annual resolution which is to ‘clear the workroom mess’. What makes it an ‘annual resolution’? What makes it an annual resolution—one that never has been sorted (till now!) is there’s an ‘I’ that regularly gets avoided—one that’s quite happy with the way things are, the mess; it seems to thrive on mess or heaps of bits of paper, books, cuttings, all accumulated for some lost purpose or the other. Call it Working-in-what-it-calls-‘creative-chaos’-I.  So there’s a Positive Intention behind keeping things in a mess; it imagines it works better thus. This year Making-resolutions-I brings another ‘I’ on board, viz Making-a-difference-I. Unfamiliar territory here but its workings are familiar in other contexts.

The diagram illustrates what happened when ‘I’ (Being-pedantic-I) took my self round the system. If I were to do this performance again this afternoon, other ‘I’s might put their hands up…

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And so on…

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Already Messed Up with Your New Year Resolution? Part One


So it’s already business as usual… That New Year Resolution has already bitten the dust.

The thing is that one part of you desperately wanted to make a change of some kind but, perhaps unknown to that part, another part is even now quite content being slap-happy, lazy, grumpy, bad-tempered, procrastinating—correction: other parts of your being, left to themselves,  are very content to continue to be slap-happy, lazy, grumpy, bad-tempered, procrastinating.

Let’s call these parts ‘I’s, for they are simply individual characters in the life-long play that works itself out on the stage of your mind…

There’s an ‘I’ that wants to make a change—call it Wanting-to-make-a-change-I.  Wanting-to-make-a-change-I summons up, for instance, Always-finishing-a-project-on-time-I—that’s the embodiment of your resolution, as an example.

But this well-meaning ‘I’ has not taken steps to circumvent Content-being-slap-happy-I,  or Happy-being-lazy-I, or Practising-to-be-a-grumpy-old-person-I, or Bad-tempered-I, or Being-an-ace-procrastinator-I or any of the thousands of ‘I’s that get in the way of Deciding-to-make-a-change-I.

So what has to happen?

It all comes from the understanding that the ‘I’ that decides to make a resolution is not the same ‘I’ that actually makes one is not the same ‘I’ that puts it into operation is not the same ‘I’ that checks progress is not the same ‘I’ that keeps practising.

It’s systemic:-

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In NLP lingo, it’s extended Parts Work.

There’s a well-developed exercise that takes people round this circuit and helps to resolve any resolution at any stage of the year from an empty abstraction into concrete reality.

It’s the basis of my coaching practice.

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Below, Patrick Lowery brilliantly outlines the background to this…

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