Archive for April, 2015

philosopher

he spent his whole life
listening to emptiness
— hearing only the
deafening cacophony
of his own concentration

I dreamed last night of Fred Plaut, who was an analyst of some standing within the Jungian community up until his death in 2009. As usual, I struggled with a title for my poem. Philosophy — and its cousins psychology and religion — are things I dabble in enthusiastically. Perhaps I should have entitled the poem: dabbling.

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decrepitude

seventies heartthrob
David Soul — look at him now
barely able to
walk — so old, so old — more like
a wizened tree than a man

I don’t really have much to add to this by way of explanation. Dreaming of the name Soul must certainly have been suggested by the chapter of the book I’m reading by Charles Nicholl called The Chemical Theatre. It’s about the influence of 16th century contemporary alchemical publications upon the imaginations and writings of Shakespeare, Jonson and Donne. I was reading about Donne yesterday, with examples from his poetry. There was much talk of souls.

The theme of old age — or at any rate late middle age — i.e. the age I am now — cropped up yesterday in the course of my delivering a testimony of lived experience of paranoia as part of my job. I succeeded quite well, better than usual when I do these talks, in getting across the general shape of my life (as it appears to me), as being largely a story of homelessness and mental illness with just a little coda of the most recent ten years spent being ‘normal’ with a job and a relationship. My audience, during questions, kindly asked me how difficult must it have been to adjust to the ways of society at such a late age.

Arising out of my blog two days ago about Stendhal, I was reflecting that he died aged 59, the age I am now. Shakespeare and Beethoven both died in their late fifties too (actually Shakespeare was 52). In that sense, I am an old man.

pencil scribblings #9

taoist-meditation

Despite everything, the idea persists with me, that somehow I relate to women differently — more intensely perhaps — than ‘most people’. If I wanted to be brutally dismissive of this notion, I would call it believing myself to be God’s gift to women. If there is some special intensity, though, it doesn’t lie in how I relate to individual women, but rather, how I relate to the idea of the human race as being divided in two according to gender. Admittedly, this mindset has also had a deeply personal aspect. It was born out of a series of specific experiences which related to individual women, and it continues to inform how I approach my relationships.

pencil scribblings #8

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I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that, back in the eighties, I used to consider the idea in all seriousness that I might be a reincarnation of the French novelist Stendhal. My other fairly-serious-contender for a past life was John the Baptist. Of course, for me to cherry pick famous figures from history in this way, was both illogical and vain. Even assuming I could believe wholly in the principle of reincarnation (which I couldn’t), chances are several billion to one that my past lives would have been inconspicuous and anonymous. Not John the Baptist or Stendhal. So I tended to nurture these fancies in quite a vague sort of way. Rather than believing literally in reincarnation, I thought probably there might be some special link of some other sort between these historical figures and myself. Maybe their discarnate souls remained discarnate, but were taking an interest ‘from the other side’ in the events of my life within time and space.

I remember feeling quite strongly convinced that John the Baptist, because of the way his life had ended, might, in the afterlife, be particularly interested in exploring the female realm and learning about feminism in the 20th century. In life, he had been some kind of hermit and presumably celibate. In the afterlife, he would want to make good that one-sidedness, and maybe use my 20th century life on earth as some kind of learning curve for himself, even though he remained ‘on the other side’. He would want to understand what made Salome tick. I felt that in my own life I had been victim of repeated random acts of cruelty by women, comparable (psychologically) to Salome’s cruelty in demanding the Baptist’s death. What had women done to me? Well, mainly it was simply a matter of their saying ‘no’ — either to sex or to marriage. Why this felt like such an incomprehensible cruelty, is quite difficult for me to recapture, in writing about it.

In April 1985 I met and fell in love with a girl named Petra. She took some interest in me, but explained patiently that there were some men she lusted after, others that she didn’t, and unfortunately I fell into the second category. I never quite believed her, and thought she was lying for the sake of the pleasure to be gained from denying me what I needed. Some months later, I came across a picture in a book about Stendhal, which was a painting of Salome by Bernardino Luini in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. This painting had been a favourite of Stendhal, because the looks of the model reminded him of the great unrequited love of his life, Matilde Dembowska. To my eyes, there was also a resemblance to Petra: so I felt this one painting affirmed my connection with both of my ‘previous lives’ at once.

pencil scribblings #7

Remembering and honouring and preserving the Christian rituals/beliefs I was taught in childhood — is incredibly important. But hang on a minute. If these beliefs are no longer alive and vivid and literal, surely they must resemble museum exhibits. Do I have some kind of inner museum of my own past, which I visit and view with a detachedness which is vaguely disquieting, because there is a lack of connection between the exhibits and the present moment? I think the answer is probably yes. And it goes deeper, because it applies to a good many more aspects of my past than just my Christianity.

So welcome to my ‘museum’ then. Let me roll out an exhibit for you now. Many of my exhibits are dreams, which I still remember from decades ago. I want to display now a dream — about museums — which I had on the morning of 14th May 1985.

In the dream, I saw the French novelist Stendhal (real name Henri Beyle) exhibited in a glass case. He had female genitals which were displayed for all to see. He was alive in the sense of existing in some kind of afterlife, and aware of the indignity of it all, but seemed philosophical about it. Awake, it was obvious to me that his physical transgender status in the dream was symbolic of a psychological disposition while he had been alive, towards women, whereby he both studied them and loved them. Women were so supremely important in his life that now, after death, he had become one himself. So his fate — his being here in this museum — had a kind of dignity about it despite everything. Attached to the glass case was a label which bore the Russian word meaning ‘science’: НАУКА

About twelve months earlier, I had read a biography of Stendhal by Joanna Richardson. I had not at that stage read any of his novels. I’d also begun toying with the idea that I might be a reincarnation of Stendhal. This was partly because our respective attitudes towards women were so similar. For example, we both made a big deal of unrequited love, refusing to surrender the loved one spiritually, even though physically there was no possibility of consummation. It was also because of a couple of biographical coincidences. Like me, he had a sister named Pauline. He was born on 23rd January and died on 23rd March. I was born on 23rd March and my sister was born on 23rd July. There were also some parallels with his hating his father, as I did mine (at least during my teenage years), and a certain emotional dependency on his maternal grandfather.

The label НАУКА in the dream, deserves a few words of explanation but it is difficult to know how to begin to convey the depth of felt irony attached to the idea ‘science’ for me, both in the dream and in waking life. There was definitely some kind of notion in the dream, that science was being mocked or at least taken down a peg or two. I felt, in the dream, that I was in a future world, far in the future, when ‘science’ itself would be viewed as a quaint museum exhibit. I regard this with my waking mind as entirely plausible, not to say likely. The explosion of science in the last couple hundred years is a fleeting phenomenon viewed on the timescale of centuries. Science tends to have an inflated view of its own importance, to put it mildly.

I read an interesting article yesterday about the relation between science and the humanities, by Iain McGilchrist. Actually it is not just interesting. It’s brilliant.

pencil scribblings #6

I love Christ. First and foremost because I was encouraged to do so as a child, and have never really lost that habit of mind. Remembering and honouring and preserving the Christian rituals/beliefs I was taught in childhood (my schooling was at Anglican Church schools up to the age of 16) — for me, is a kind of dramatised, immersive, microcosmic anthropology. What do I mean? Well, I’m trying to draw a parallel between the naive magical thinking of my own personal childhood, and the naive magical thinking of hundreds or thousands of years ago, when the society and culture I belong to was in its infancy. As a generalisation, it seems to be true that (whether as individuals or as civilisations) the further back we remember, the more suggestible — the more at ease with magical thinking — we appear to have been. I ought to explain that for me, religion, suggestibility and magic are more or less just different ways of referring to the same state of mind.

pencil scribblings #5

Christmas 1992 I was homeless, penniless, wandering around England and Wales believing myself shadowed every moment by the CIA. A day or two before Christmas itself I attended a church service in the town of Llangollen, North Wales. My attendance at that particular church was unusual because the service had a very Evangelical flavour. I was (or am) a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism: so the Evangelical tradition has mostly passed me by, in my life, apart from one or two brushes with it. This was one such. Generally I can cope happily with Methodist and Baptist services but anything smelling even slightly of Billy Graham (is that still a name people recognise?) turns me off. Anyhow this particular experience of Evangelism was one of my best ever. It was more like a big room than a small hall , and there was lots of enthusiastic singing with which I joined in, enthusiastically. After the service, the Pastor took the trouble to quiz me. I felt he was “testing” me to see if I was of God or of the Devil. He was nevertheless genial and benign. “Do you love Christ?” He threw the question at me and I had to justify myself at that moment and find a way to reassure him. Of course there flashed through my mind the inconvenient fact of my disbelief in the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. But he hadn’t asked me about my faith. And even though the name Christ begged the question of Jesus’ divinity (which I didn’t believe in) I felt totally able to answer: “I love Christ”, and to mean it. That man’s own sincerity had drawn forth a sincerity from me in return. I am grateful to him for encouraging me to declare my truth in this way. At that moment it didn’t matter that I meant ‘Christ’ as a symbol while he (most probably) meant to pin me down to literal belief. We somehow met and understood one another at that moment. By the grace of God.