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WORDS

5 Jun

O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
The collars of the moonshine’s wat’ry beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone; the lash of film;
Her waggoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm
Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid:
Her chariot is an empty hazelnut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.

And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;

O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on court’sies straight,
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,
O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:
Sometime she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail
Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,
Then dreams, he of another benefice:
Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plaits the manes of horses in the night,
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:
This is she—

William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet
Act One; scene four.

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HAVEN’T SQUANDERED MY RESISTANCE

11 Apr

I was born with much luck, early sufferings – actually surfeit of said luck – had convinced me otherwise, so much so that I squandered many an opportunity to advance higher in the socio-economic pyramid. You have to start at the bottom of the ladder.

My grandfather’s people came here in the nineteenth century when Australia was, as Eric Hobsbawm put it, a paradise of labour. They prospered and became part of that most Corinthian of columns in the Sydney Establishment: the prosperous Irish, products of the excellence of Catholic education. They were dead set in the middle of that column; modestly well-off.

The family business was a small to medium sized firm attached to the construction industry. An Australian institution: the Blue Collar Enterprise. The son and heir always had to start of at the bottom and work his way up. Of course, promotion was assured. 🙂

But what wisdom in such a monarchy? By the time the Son became the Boss he knew the business from the ground up. He’d see what needed changing and what didn’t. How it all worked. What it was like to work here and there. Trouble was the limited pool from which to draw labour. It was, of course, explicitly sexist (girl had babies, boys had jobs). And the son might be guided by tradition but the chances are, sooner or later, you’d get a right berk or downright nasty bastard. It’s difficult for the rich to not spoil their children. Another rub. Thing is sometimes, fellas (quite often really) it’s the girls who’d make a better boss. The Spartans were miserable old sods, but they had wisdom when is came to their women.

It occurs to me that, in my own weird way, I’ve pretty much done the same thing. For what end I don’t know. I do not own the future, but, it is still open. I have relinquished opportunities yes: for prosperity, for advancement, for sex. But I have not relinquished my capacity to choose the many paths available to me in this Our Year of the Almighty Whatever – two-oh-one-one. I have a wide experience, I know what it’s like night shift in a factory. I know what it’s like 7am right thru to the early hours of the next morning. Paper cup coffee swallowed in gulps on the run while answering the relentless call of an electronic master. It never stops long enough for you to quietly view the beauty of the city skyline from high up behind a glass and steel window.

Ferris Bueller said life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around every once in a while you might miss it. If you work the skyscraper high-life; if you get all the way to helicopter level where you only ever need touch the ground to switch to the Gulfstream en route to allover; the higher you go… The more you need to remember what Ferris said. I like the view from high up but it ain’t worth the palava.

Other people I’ve known are heading for that apex of the democratic monoliths that mark the architectural symbol of early Technological Civilization. And, if they’re well-grounded in a spiritual tradition, it doesn’t drive them crazy. If not, well I’ve seen these people – drink.

Dry-cleaning everything is a bitch, forget about it. But I could’ve chosen that life. If I had, I wouldn’t be me tho’, I’d be someone else. And, if it was me personally, I don’t think that someone else would be very nice. It’s moot now because that life is a path closed to me. That sort’ve thing you have to commit when you’re at what Americans call Junior High. I have options but also many burnt bridges.

I am privileged and fortunate. Others are not, they have been chosen for a difficult path. Hard, hard, hard! From the time they’re born. Last night I made another friend (weird: Sunday nights!) and he’s Jewish and Muslim and Christian. We met and spent hours talking, so different and yet connected. He’s struggling, he has a kid, chancy employment opportuities. The migrant experience. The refugee experience. I saw a fragment of his world. Interesting, this city’s third-world underground.

Born on the roof of a Saudi jail, this guy. Truly. Brought up an ultra-orthodox Muslim and now converted to Christianity. Still he’s a son of Beta Israel, believed by many to be famed lost tribe of the ancient Hebrews. He believes Jesus was black. My friend has changed his name to that of a very popular saint (not Francesco d’Assisi). We ate dinner in a restaurant run by Hindus. Lots of Ohm signs about. But also a painting of the Buddha and a newsclipping of Mary MacKillop’s canonization.

Amongst the Faithful, these days, there are those that crave war and there are those instinctively moving toward other creeds – including Atheism – in a spirit of catallaxy. My friend is a mystic and it’s hard to follow him sometimes but he is amongst the latter, he moves toward convergence in a spirit of peace. All the while knowing that outside in the cold distance, a wild cat growls. He knows a lot more about religion then I ever will. I am lucky, I have have been born lucky consequence of war-torn centuries and persistent wilfulness. Of conquest, plunder, slavery, lies: and glory too. What a piece of work is Man:

Jeffersonuniversity

My friend has it tough because his ancestors were on the other side of all that business. I am lucky to meet him. He thinks I am his guide perhaps, but he is mine. I am lost, I think I’m found, I realize I’m still lost and then I find one also lost. But he has read the map. He will show me the way on the other side of the wall erected ‘twixt Reason and Dream in the Western World. What will I show him? How should I know, I don’t own the future. No-one does.

HORSEMEN HAVE LEFT OUR PRECINCTS

7 Apr

Aurelius

In Joseph Brodsky’s “Homage to Marcus Aurelius”, he writes:

He wasn’t a great philosopher, nor was he a visionary; not even a sage; his Meditations is at once a melancholy and repetitive book.

True, all of it. Aurelius never introduced a new concept like Descartes, he never codified a tradition like Aristotle, he didn’t announce the problems of an age like Nietzsche. There is nothing new or especially penetrating in Meditations, so why is it my favourite book of philosophy?

I’m not widely read enough to qualify to teach the stuff but I’ve read some and retained that that appears to apply to actual life as I know it. Aristotle’s Politics, for example, is a healthy anchor for a dream-prone mind that may be tempted to believe Shepard Fairey’s contribution to the last presidential election. It’s in Aristotle’s run-down of the history of Greek polities, in Machiavelli’s similar musings that you’ll find at least one facet of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return well polished and gleaming in its depressing lucidation. But Meditations, this book that is “no match for Epictitus”, is the book I cling to in times of trouble. It is for me what the Gospels are for Christians. And I suspect, despite his disinterested qualifications, Brodsky felt the same.

How would Aurelius feel among us barbarians, Brodsky asks? “For we are barbarians to you, if only because we speak neither Greek nor Latin. We are also afraid death far more than you ever were, and our herd instinct is stronger than the one for self-preservation.” Perhaps therein lies one clue for the Meditations is stuffed with the contemplation of death, of its coming and of its ultimate desirability. It is, after all, in concordance with nature. Is there fear at the heart of this interest in the subject? But in his words is there not also comfort in the continuity?

Aurelius was probably the closest thing to the Platonic ideal of the ruler we’re ever likely to get. Democracy, that guards so well against tyranny, won’t permit of the likes of Aurelius consequence of the same constitution and statutes therefrom. He was a reluctant ruler. His ambition had been to follow his ancient Greek masters to the Agora and the Academy. When he accepted the highest office he left that behind. Meditations is therefore not really a book of philosophy. The man had no time to write such. It is a kind of moral diary:

Meditations is thus a patchy book, nurtured by interference. It is a disjointed, rambling internal monologue, with occasional flashes of pedantry as well as of genius.

We live in the democratic age of the car. And we fear death perhaps because “we can’t conceive of dwindling into particles again”. That “after hoarding so many goods [it’s] unpalatable”. The fact that Aurelius was a virtuous and powerful may have something to do with the aura of his work tho’ I doubt it much. My reasoning is grounded in my capacity to visualize without much trouble someone coming upon the small volume, drawing inspiration from its contents without ever knowing who Aurelius actually was.

But still I can’t entirely discount the fascination with the Equestrian Age – of which High Rome was the high point – extant amongst the wistful and nostalgic. Indeed, Nietzsche’s problem of rank may manifest in small part in a longing for the definitive hierarchies of the eras of sword and sandal; of toga and marble. What’s the fascination? The straight up metaphysics of a dead civilization whose glory has never been quite surpassed, even by the Americans? Perhaps the spiritual cure for those of us, acutely aware of the soul but unable to bear with the rigid absolutes of Christianity that appear to deny the complexity beloved to some of us: the universe is change, life is opinion. Aurelius was aware, as an adherent of the Greeks, of what we do not know. Many advocates of Abrahamic Monotheism appear to believe that that, that is not in the Book is not worth knowing. They certainly believe that the Book cannot be questioned. Aurelius asks questions. His convictions are based on them. I think (and feel) that it’s as it should be.

Perhaps it’s the lofty aspiration to Virtue expressed in the book. The Christian God is one with which “you trade in virtue to obtain eternal favours”. But to Aurelius and myself this renders virtue a mere commodity. Something one does out of fear and desire. The value of Aurelian virtue, Brodsky writes, lies “precisely in its being a gamble, not an investment”. There is no pay-off.

So finally it’s the metaphysics being aesthetically agreeable perhaps. Or perhaps, like Epictitus and unlike so many others, this is a book of philosophy that serves you in times and places when you are made acutely aware of your limitations – your lack of liberty. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps – in this limited life with its fear and its addlepated herd – perhaps I read it because it was written to no-one but its author.

I’m sure Aurelius would be surprised, perhaps delighted/perhaps dismayed, to see the Penguin Classics edition in all the bookstores. The thoughts, the aphorisms, open up any page and read a chunk. It’s good. Maybe Aurelius is, far from the face of antiquity, the ideal philosophy for the Modern Era. Short, to the point, practical and honest advice in easy to digest bite-sized pieces.

THE SOURCE

1 Apr

I’m listening to this, reminds of someone who might be a friend.

I’ve got a little piece I made up, a sequence of melodies punctuated by a rhythm that’s not fully baked. I’m a white guy so the melody comes first then I add the rhythm. I played it this morning. It wasn’t bad. No fans, sometimes I get fans. Someone or other who’s been sitting quietly, listening. Sometimes there’s even applause. Fans are good, I like having fans.

But this morning no. And I didn’t deserve them. It wasn’t that I kept hitting the wrong note in the right key for evoking memories of mating cats. I didn’t, not too often anyway. It wasn’t that I forgot how to play it or anything, there was just something… missing. Something blocked. When I play well I forget myself, there’s no reflection. My mind is not on the task, it has surrendered to the task. There’s a flow that runs straight thru my heart out onto the keyboard and beyond. When I play that way, that’s when I get fans.

Does that make sense?

I don’t know how to play piano really. Haven’t done the work, not like with the guitar. I know hundreds of chords on the guitar, used to. I can transpose without much effort (not that transposition on the guitar requires much). But on the piano I’m proficient merely in the keys of Gm and C. And C’s, like, sooo hard on the piano, not. Still, composition’s a breeze on the piano. Select a melody. It’s not hard. Questions and answers. Dah-dah-dah; Dum. Dah-dah-dah; Dum. Dah-dah-dah; Dim. Dah-dah-dah; Dum. Dum-Dum-Dim; Dum. It’s stupid easy.

Turning it into something requires work tho’. Like coming up with a verse/chorus combo. Getting the lyrics right, striving for days to get the hook, the middle-8, the riff. Or maybe you start with the riff and it writes itself. I don’t know how it works. There’s a language but I don’t speak it like a native. I can’t just churn it out. I’ve only ever written one bit of music and it’s not arranged yet. I don’t have the gear.

But sometimes there’s a public piano where I play. Where I wrote it. There, some of the officials approve. It helps that Head of Security is a fan tho’ he keeps his distance. It hurts that my enemies are senior staff. What can I do? I don’t own a piano these days. And the time’s a little ways off when I’ll once again have a private place for music. It’s come as far as it can, it’s organized, memorized. Sometimes I play it.

And when I play it well I’m hooked unobstructed into the source. Something with a red-yellow glow. Something that’s not really there but actually very much is. Sounds like mystical hippie bullshit and it would be if I wanted to take it on a speaker’s tour: buy the book, buy the crystal pyramids, buy the magic dust and the moisturizer. Join the movement. No!

Fuck that! Anyone reading this, you have my permission to give me two twice in the back of the head I ever do something like that.

No. The source is my way of describing a feeling I hold to be important. And other musicians know what I’m talking about. When you’re in the groove. When you’re in the zone. Not just my music, anyone’s. In these moments you know the song you’re playing at the level of instinct. Like breathing.

This morning was not such a moment. Oh well, shit happens.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

30 Mar

It seems to me the snake was telling the truth; God was lying. The woman says to the snake: we may eat of the fruit of any tree in the garden but that one. The one that lies in the centre of the garden. God tells us it’s bad for us, that it will kill us.

AdamandEve
“Adam and Eve”, 1528
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553)

And the snake says, “Oh sister, that’s horseshit. You eat the fruit from that tree and you’ll know things. You’ll be able to understand stuff. You’ll know the difference between right and wrong. That’s why the Old Bastard tells you not to eat it. He knows, you eat that and you’ll be like Him.

And so she eats it. And she gives it to the man and he eats it. He always does what she wants him to.

And they begin to understand. And what do they understand of themselves, man and woman? What do they do? They see each other naked and are ashamed of that. Of the poo and the goo and the in-out squishing noises; the feasting on each other’s flesh that never troubled them before. More than that she realizes she’s always spreading her legs even tho’ it doesn’t seem to feel half as good for as it does for him. They didn’t understand before, they just did it. And now the man understands he’s always doing what she wants and now she’s really gone and done it! How he longs to get back to his nice comfortable rut when he was happy and stupid. Well no more of this obedience shite, now he has to face brutal existential reality. From now on he’ll be picking much more the fruit of the hemp tree. And he better invent beer.

And now they have to work. (Or did they really always have to work they just didn’t understand what that means?) Now they feel pain (or did they always feel pain?) Now they understand: death is waiting for them.

Did God lie? Sure. Don’t we tell our children hyperbolous stories in order to prevent them from doing stupid stuff? How useful to how many parents over the aeons has the Boogie Man been? And sure the snake was telling the truth. I’m sure there are pedophiles skilled in the art of appraising children of the truth of parents’ white fibs in order to win their trust and lure them toward perdition.

In an older version of the story Eve is given a choice between the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. One brings immortality, the other understanding. She chooses, feminists like to say, because her man cannot. Did she make the right choice? Would she? Had she known she would be ashamed. And shamed?

It’s a story.

I’m amused and moved almost to pity when I see people fight for the literal interpretation of scripture. I understand. It makes things nice and simple, clear and easy to understand. How many times has the law fallen to disrepair because of the excessive deployment of interpretive metaphor?

It can be made to say anything! Thus cries the priest in Jesus of Montreal when confronted by a Passion play that deploys the actual facts (and lack thereof) concerning the actual life and death of one Joshua from the Sticks. That this Passion also expresses most beautifully the gift that Jesus bore is immaterial to the priest. It contravenes doctrine and therefore his cushy job in the Cathedral is threatened.

It’s a story. The truth is not the story, the truth is in the story. The story is simply a vessel for it. And like a child that’s been taught not to go wandering in the bushes for fear of the Boogie Man the story will morph and elaborate as s/he grows and ages. S/he’ll know that it was a lie yes, but one that fundamentally told the truth. Does that not make sense? What truth now in the Book of Genesis, second episode.

Modern people reading it will know better, if they wish. We have always known that the human female, unlike other animals, feels excruciating pain and is in actual mortal danger during child-birth. But we now know (if we wish) that this is the dual result of our relatively recent evolution to a bipedal mammal and the subsequent increase in brain size requiring of course larger skulls. Because of our large brains women suffer pain. The little brats, their heads are too big! It’s another story but it says the same thing: the pain in childbirth is consequence of our capacity for understanding. Different story, same basic truth.

Still the stories are different. They are composed in different times and told in different ways. In these differences there is also a truth, perhaps one that sits on a larger scale of existence.

What is the difference?

Well obviously we can forget all that palava about ‘shame’ (can we? should we?). Sex is natural, necessary and should be fun. We have thousands of years of contemplation of the subject (mostly by males). We have thousands of books, documentaries, internet soundbytes, magazine articles, newspaper items coming out every year (mostly by females). We have understanding. What we don’t have are the rituals and beliefs that create from all that a new idea of ‘the good life’ in this brave new world.

In the old stories the woman chooses, from willful wickedness or courageous determination (mostly willful wickedness). She knows not the consequences but more than anything she wants to know. It’s the artifact of a culture asserting the political rule of men, no more soap operas. It is the artifact of a culture that radically chooses to assert the primacy of monogamy and sobriety in sexual matters. No more bouncing from girl to girl. But the woman chooses. Within the old story an older story leaves an essential, now submerged, thread.

The story of the Fall of Man was originally a rebellion. Rebellion against the then dominant culture with its god-kings, its bedazzling religious spectacles, its rituals of blood and sex. In these scary creeds there is also an Original Couple. But they are gods. Human were not then worth remembering except if they were great kings who won a war. The Book of Genesis was a Book of Revolution. It declared that we were cosmically important. That our… what we moderns would call – ‘sexuality’, is not a giant force that drives us writhing into the maelstrom but the site of a virtue that the One True God commands.

Naturally we know that the pagan tale corresponds more with the facts as ascertained by science. But we are modern people, three thousand years after Moses, and we no longer feel the need for human sacrifice or blood soaked ritualistic orgies. Perchance our war with sex, waged over millennia has something to do with this? We understand. And understanding has cultivated our hearts, some of us. What is the literary difference between the Book of Genesis and the Theory of Evolution? In the old story the woman chose and we blame her: Eve the temptress! scowls St Augustine, Woman is defective and misbegotten shouts! St Acquinas. Let them die in childbirth! scoffs Martin Luther.

Is this perhaps more, perhaps a denial by the male animal in furtherance of controlling the sex instinct so wild in humanity? His sex instinct. For who is it that thinks most of the consequences on the brink of coitus? Who’s the one more likely to ask: is this a good idea? Defective? Misbegotten?

Canova
“Three Graces”, 1817
Antonio Canova (1757-1822)

Methinks they speak in denial. The early Christian women tried hard to accommodate the image. They dressed in bags and rags and had to mutilate themselves because sometimes the drab threads didn’t do much good. In CE 585 the bishops at the Council of Mâcon decided that , yes, women do have souls after all. The motion was carried by one vote.

What difference between the stories? We now know we did not choose. We know that that doesn’t matter – things are as they are regardless. We know we can’t blame women, that blaming women is surfeit of the bully instinct in the human animal, the result of the prime bleak fact of violence, and consequence finally of the male tendency to use their penises for thinking with. All this is to modern people banal, matter-of-fact. We know that that’s the way of it and what can you do? And we know, if we can face it, that we don’t know. We are like children who have grown up.

What has our tough adolescence made of us?

Lucasfriedeggs

Sarah Lucas, b. 1962
“Self-portrait With Fried Eggs”, 1996

COMIC BOOK

27 Mar

NewGodsKirby

New Gods cover, 1971
Jack Kirby (1917-1994)
America

THIS IS NOT ABOUT ARABIC TECHNO

25 Mar


Cute isn’t it?. That was Lou Reed’s best moment and he didn’t know it. Listen for Bowie’s soaring vocals at the end.

Later on there were reports of the guy lurking in the corners of Max’s Kansas City throwing back whiskey doubles and being a jerk par excellence. Read John Cale’s memoirs viz the Velvet Underground’s ’90s reunion tour. What a sublime arsehole the dude seems. I remember New York coming out in the ’80s and I was thirsty for a tune that meant something. One that was recorded now. And tho’s I tried to like it I knew Sick Boy was right: in my heart I knew. It’s shite.

The song that defined my era, as it seemed to me then, was recorded when I was ten. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was eight years away. What a desert is crossed twixt the ages sixteen to twenty-four? Did Nirvana define my generation? Well yeah – for fans of Nirvana. For the hip-hop crew it was “It’s Like That” by Run-DMC. For the first wave of raver bunnies it’s probably DJ King Piddly-O’s remix of that track that goes Doof- boing-boing, Doof-boing-boing, buzzzz. You know the one. For me it’s nothing. How can a song or a movie or anything else define a generation. To do that you need a whole compilation.

By the time I was in the workforce I’d noticed the mundane (that is, the largest) slice of my contemporaries were already fixing into the 80s. Hipsters like me might go to raves and Ice Cube concerts but the rest were turning conservative. They knew what they liked and what they liked came out when they were sixteen. The best years of their lives. What a curse: to live your life’s highest moment in high school.

Right now I’m listening to Philip Glass’s Metamorphosis II I discovered this via a Falstaff-like mentor I had back in the day. Introduced me to stuff like Concrete Poetry. Next I’ll be booting up Hank Williams, no. Maybe I’ll search for ‘Arabic Techno’ instead. I’ll tell you when I get there.

Youth, Oscar tells us, is wasted on the young. Aye ’tis true. We waste our youth because we don’t know who we are and when we find out we wish we’d done things differently. But how would we know unless those mistakes’d been made? There’s the rub. There’s always a rub. It’s at the heart of the truth.

I don’t miss my youth which was awkward, neurotic and ugly. And I haven’t wasted my youth, much, because I wasn’t busy doing what the Herd was doing. I hadn’t figured out much when I bought Nevermind but I knew something: these monkeys are dickheads man. Not all of them. Individually most of ’em have a brain I’ve found. But get ’em going in a large enough group and it’s like crazed cattle. Ain’t nuthin’ for it cowboy, ride into the sunset and forget ’em.

Still, as the poet wrote, I wished I possessed a spirit that was calm . Yet, if I hadn’t the wilderness inside would I’ve ever thrown myself into the maelstrom and emerged pristine (but somewhat slightly dazed?) A little bit ruined sure, but would I now be experiencing such fascination with new forms of music? Would I have found the new depths inside, the deeper love of music? Is that normal?

Can you be found if you were never lost?