Belated Call for Submission

While studying toward my MA, I am doing assistant editor work for the University of Exeter postgraduate journal Exclamat!on. If you are a postgraduate & want to submit, the guidelines are below. You’ll need to be fast, so hopefully you have something hiding away in a folder somewhere. If you miss this round, keep us in mind for the next issue. Daniel.

Call for submissions 2019/20

Submissions are now being sought for the fourth issue of Exclamat!on, to be published in the summer of 2020. The focus for this fourth issue is ‘Borders, Boundaries, and Margins’, and we welcome submissions on any aspect and interpretation of this theme. Areas might include, but are not restricted to:

Borders of memoryThe frontier (land, sea, space)
Travel, exploration, mappingBoundaries between the real and imaginary
National identities and marginalisationSub-cultural margins
Disputation and reconciliationMarginalia in books
Diasporic literature and filmEthnicity, national and racial and boundaries
Migration in fictionBoundaries between life and death
Permeability of bodily boundaries (disability, relationships, body politics)Narratives of oppression, marginalisation and/or activism
Hybridity and duality (bodily, geographical, fictional)Topographical and political boundary formation/breakingPhysical and geographical boundaries/bordersCirculation of texts; censorship and suppression of movement    

We would be delighted to consider long articles (5,000-8,000 words), short articles (3,000-5,000 words), short stories (3,000-5,000 words), and poetry (up to 100 lines). We would also be delighted to receive book, film and performance reviews (c. 500 words).

Submission guidelines

All submissions must be the original, previously unpublished, work of the author and must adhere to the following:

  • All word limits must include footnotes and bibliography
  • Submissions must have permission for the use of images
  • References must use MHRA referencing: submissions which do not conform to this are unlikely to be accepted (http://www.mhra.org.uk/style)
  • Submissions should be in 12 point Times New Roman and single spaced
  • Submissions should use British spelling; alternative forms are permissible in direct quotations

Submissions, along with a 100-word biography, should be sent to exclamation@exeter.ac.uk. Please address any queries to this email address.

The deadline for submissions is 13th January 2020.

We are also keen to hear from anyone interested in acting as peer reviewer for the journal. Please email us at the above address with details regarding your discipline and specialism.

                                       
Read more at:

https://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/english/research/publications/exclamation/

Gift Exchange in Willa Cather's 'My Antonia'


A noun matters, it signifies implicit meanings, enabling those who understand what the noun is signifying, to utilize it for axiological, praxeological and ontological assessment, which furthermore, can have material socio-economic and cultural repercussions, as I hope to illustrate.

    Somebody asks if we like the taste of something, a mushroom, for example. The word mushroom evokes experiential sense data, which we have assessed axiologically. We have tasted mushrooms, smelled them cooking, we may know a little about foraging them, or their biological peculiarities. Without having the thing-to-hand, we can make an accurate judgement if told that a particular mushroom is delicious.

   If two people do not speak the same language, the signifying essence of the noun, essential to identification is in jeopardy. Chris Tilley explains “It is only through the use of words that we can claim, assert, investigate and understand why things matter and why a study of them is important, why it makes a difference to an understanding of persons and their social worlds.”[1] This opportunity is missed during an exchange between Mrs. Shimerda and Mrs. Burden in Willa Cather’s My Antonia.

    Mrs. Burden after hearing the Shimerda’s hardships from her husband takes a “hamper basket”[2] to alleviate the pressure. In exchange, Mrs. Shimerda gives them some “little brown chips that looked like the shavings of some root.”[3] Neither Jim, nor his grandmother trust the unidentified things; Mrs. Burden stating, “I’m afraid of ‘em.”[4] Fear of the unknown is caused by the thing not being unidentified. At the close of the chapter Jim, narrating from the future, explains, “I never forgot the strange taste; though it was many years before I knew that those little brown shavings, which the Shimerdas had brought so far and treasured so jealously, were dried mushrooms.”[5]

    Antonia and her mother’s desperately physical articulation of their value, is cause for Jim’s use of the word treasured, “She clasped her hands as if she could not express how good—‘it make very much when you cook, like what mama say. Cook with rabbit, cook with chicken, in the gravy—oh, so good!’”[6]

    Determining the axiological and ontological ramifications of the unidentified thing, why it is “treasured”, it is necessary to identify it. From the description of “a salty, earthy smell, very pungent”[7] thing, which makes stews taste better, I would identify them as Boletus edulis. Roger Philips in his comprehensive book Mushrooms describes Boletus edulis as having a “taste and smell” which is “pleasant”[8] adding, “Note this is perhaps the most important edible mushroom because of its excellent flavor, large weight and size, and the way it keeps its flavor when dried.”[9]  To further this identification, that Mrs. Shimerda has a “flour sack and half as wide”[10] filled with dried mushrooms, suggests a large quantity, which means the mushroom must be common.

From Marek’s reaction, that he “began to smack his lips”[11], this is an exchange of equal values, despite the quantity of one being more than the other. What the Burden’s gift, despite having being worked for, is easily given, but the Shimerda’s gift the only thing they have, a small amount, but nonetheless their most treasured victual. Theirs is a sacrifice.

    Despite Antonia and her mother’s efforts to imbibe the mushrooms with value, they are discarded by Mrs. Burden, which I read as metaphorical of the conservative argument in Americans’ contemplation of foreigners during the Americanisation debate, which I will go into later in the essay. First I want to look into the praxeology of gift exchange.  

    The reciprocation of gifts is important in praxeology as it provides an act through which peoples and cultures come together. Marcel Mauss’s work on the forms and functions of gift giving can, if the context of his ideas is extended beyond primitive and archaic cultures, provide us with a paradigm with which to talk about gift giving in any society. Karen Sykes makes this extension, clarifying that “Marcel Mauss began to think about gift exchange as a totally human social act.”[12]  Sykes, extending this context to the ‘human’, suggests we may expand Mauss’s theory beyond the parameters of the primitive and archaic, to human social acts in general. She goes on to say:

Mauss also poses a central question in what it means to be human by asking why a person should feel obligated to give back what he or she had received from another. The problem of ‘the gift’ comprises two kinds of questions: how people keep their social life at the centre of consciousness, and why it should seem meaningful for them to do so.[13]

    We find this obligation in Mrs. Shimerda giving the only thing of pleasure her family possesses: reciprocation is a meaningful social act, bringing potentially beneficial returns. If she were to give them nothing, it would be charity and charity is undignified. Her hysteria is owing to her being taken out of her culture, where she had equal status to the Burdens; we learn from Antonia that “My mamenka have nice bed, with pillows from our own geese in Bohemie. See, Jim?”[14] Antonia is trying to persuade, through objects brought from Bohemia that they are on an equal social footing. Objects mark status. A social group, without the accuracy of language to tell their history and their autobiography, is left to rely on things. Unfortunately, in their current context (a dark cave), the objects aren’t persuasive without autobiographical authority. That Antonia speaks only broken English, illustrates the ontological tension of language and thing to provide sufficient evidence of an equal social standing.

    All Antonia’s efforts are thwarted by Mrs. Burden failing to follow her instructions. If she had, the mushroom may have proved revelatory, as the sensory satisfaction would have indicated to her that these were cultivated people. This is the capacity of the immaterial to be discovered through material, for properties of cultural knowledge to be learned through the understanding and enjoyment of an object.

    Mauss talks about “the spirit of the thing given”[15], which, borrowing Maori a term, he calls the hau (spirit). Mauss explains:

Suppose you have some particular object, taonga, and you give it to me; you give it me without a price. We do not bargain over it. Now I give this thing to a third person who after a time decides to give me something in repayment for it (utu), and he makes me a present of something (taonga). Now this taonga I received from him is the spirit of the taonga I received from you and which I passed on to him.[16]

    In my example, the mushroom is the taonga, but it is the taste, which must be tasted, which is hau. It would not be a material thing that is passed along, as the Burdens are gifted too few mushrooms, but rather, information. Word of mouth in the prairie is paramount. An anecdote from the Burdens to another family as to the rare value of the mushrooms, would return the hau of the taste back to the Shimerdas in the form of compliments (utu), which may turn to a further exchange of mushroom for commodities (also utu); there is the potential for a cyclical return of the material, passing through the immaterial (word-of-mouth) returning again to material form. Imbibed with hau, the thing (taonga) is memorable, and the giver remembered until the spirit of the thing returns. The taonga in our example, has the capacity to develop changes that are socio-economically beneficent and diversifying for the prairie community. Jaco Kruger further clarifies the reciprocity inherent in gift giving:

To speak of the interest involved in the giving and receiving of a gift is to speak of some kind of interaction. The interpretation of the logic of the gift under consideration is therefore adamant that gift implies the invitation to gift exchange, whereby relation is precisely maintained. This is in line with Marcel Mauss’ original observations that the giving of a gift, which is at the same time the receiving of a gift, brings with it some kind of obligation to give in turn, or in return. [17]

    Sykes explains that “How people give and receive is a matter of what kind of relationships they imagine they make and keep with each other; immediately immaterial or ideal concerns become a part of the issue.”[18] Gift giving is obligatory if there is to be conservation of pride. Pride of character is not itself a material thing, it is only through a thing in exchange, and that thing having significance to the person giving, that the immaterial can be discovered through the material. Both rely on each other. Mrs. Shimerda gifts in hope that the compensation of material for material will bridge misunderstanding (the absence of language’s specificity) and create a concrete understanding of the immaterial: that her family is domestically knowledgeable. Status matters to them, because they have none.

    What takes place between the two families is, in addition to a gift, a form of transaction; a promise to help each other. Theirs is a barter economy of sorts, self-regulated according to necessity and moreover, annexed to a growing albeit, peripheral consumerist culture. The economy of those living on the prairie is an admixture of economic forms. The Shimerdas must, even by sacrificing their paucity of victuals, endeavor to engage in this economy. As Rebecca Colesworthy explains regarding Mauss, through quotations from David Graeber:

If there is a keynote of Mauss’s essay that my authors also register, albeit in varying styles and contexts and to differing ends, it is mixture: a shared sense, sometimes welcome and sometimes resisted, that seemingly antithetical impulses and social phenomena—generosity and interest, freedom and obligation, persons and things—in fact intermingle: “Everything holds together, everything is mixed up together” (G 46). The mingling of persons, things, gestures, symbols, and lives—“This is precisely what contract and exchange are” in archaic societies, according to Mauss (G 20). Yet this is also what contract and exchange are increasingly becoming in modern capitalist societies at the time of The Gift’s publication in 1925—a mixture.[19]

    As a Modernist text, My Antonia falls into this ‘mixture’, a mixture not only of economic forms, compensating for regular access to goods, and being at the clemency of the elements (as the exchange between the Shimerdas and Burdens illustrates); but furthermore we can extrapolate from this ‘mixture’ the polemic of Americanisation, a debate which flared between conservative and liberal camps, who were nonetheless united by how to integrate a rising immigrant population, with their own unique culture: the melting pot of America. The intersubjective polemic, pivoted on whether their inclusion would be a boon to America’s rendered axiology, or whether it would dissolve the identity rendered up to that point. In the historical period of the novel, America’s identity remains, arguably, nascent, but the period in which Cather is writing My Antonia, America is a player in global politics and Cather is suggesting American identity centers around not misunderstanding the role exchange played in the formation of America, even simple misunderstandings caused by stray nouns.

    Cather said in a 1924 interview that “This passion for Americanizing everything and everybody is a deadly disease with us.”[20] Guy Reynolds outlines the two sides of this polemic. In the conservative corner was Royal Dixon who “In Americanization (1916) discussed ‘hyphenates’, the term he used for recent immigrant into the United States.”[21] Dixon’s prescription was “the teaching of English”[22] from which “the immigrant would be acculturated and lose his or her foreignness.”[23]

    In the above scenario, we can see Dixon’s point, however, Cather’s view is not so simplistic as to express the failings of language, but that the reciprocal failings of the native Burdens to embrace the offering is a case in point of the Americanisation debate. The boletus edulis are a cultural oblation for a kindness, bridging the social imbalance the Shimerdas suffer due to not being in their country of origin. The liberal position in the Americanisation debate was that “the new world could only be created with due appreciation of the European heritage.”[24] It is “through similarities with the world that was left behind”[25] the immigrant and the American will benefit and come to understanding. It is through pride in culinary proficiency and work ethic that the Burdens and Shimerdas can find common ground. Cather pointedly illustrates the break down of trust, which is made easier with the familiarity of language. She creates a position liminal between the liberal and the conservative. Tacit in the actions of the Burdens is a criticism of distrust and the necessity of the native to listen, even if the clarity of the message doesn’t meet with the immediate sensory impulse toward a thing; they can try. The ingenuity of Cather’s choice deserves mention.

    Regardless whether Cather knew much about mushrooms, they are a suitable metaphor. Philips explains “woodland areas would fail”[26], if the “intimate relationship of fungi with the roots of trees and plants, the mycorrhizal relationships,”[27] didn’t make their “important contribution.”[28] This, for me, works as a metaphor for the liberal Americansation argument. In this microcosm of that debate, the boletus is utilized to try and form social “mycorrhizal relationships” through taste.Taste is visceral, my point in revealing the identity of the mushroom as boletus edulis, I hope exposes that it was a minor leap of faith for the Burdens to connect the impoverished Shimerdas to their own proficiencies. Language aside, what Cather has us consider is how close we are to each other if we countervail our intuitions, and open ourselves to the cultures of others. The potential results are, metaphorically, a good stew. The Burdens’ missed opportunity of a good stew becomes a metaphor of the utopian potential of an America that embraces itself as a melting pot. America discovers its strengths are the differences that define it.


[1] Chris Tilley, “Metaphor, Materiality and Interpretation”: The Material Culture Reader, ed by Victor Buchli (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2002), pp. 23-26 (p. 23)

[2] Willa Cather, My Antonia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) p44

[3] Cather, My Antonia, p. 48

[4] Ibid., p. 48

[5] Ibid., p. 48

[6] Ibid., p. 47

[7] Ibid., p. 47

[8] Philips, Mushrooms, p. 276

[9] Philips, Mushrooms, p. 276

[10] Ibid., p. 47

[11] Ibid., p. 47

[12] Karen Sykes, Arguing with Anthropology: An Introduction to Critical Theories of the Gift, (London: Routledge, 2004) p. 2

[13] Sykes, Arguing with Anthropology, p. 4

[14] Cather, My Antonia, p. 46

[15] Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, 5th Ed (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), p. 8

[16] Mauss, The Gift, p. 9

[17] Jaco Kruger, ‘Human Dignity and the Logic of the Gift’, South African Journal of Philosophy, Vol 36 Issue 4 (2017), 516-524 https://doi.org/10.1080/02580136.2017.1362930, p. 520 (I think it cogent to add as an aside my interest in Kruger’s focus on dignity, which does play a minor role in my argument, namely, Mrs. Shimerda’s purpose in sacrificing a cup full of mushrooms is an act to rescue her dignity).

[18] Sykes, Arguing with Anthropology, p. 59

[19] Rebecca Colesworthy, Returning the Gift: Modernism and the Thought of Exchange, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), Oxford Scholarship Online

[20] Guy Reynolds, Willa Cather in Context: Progress, Race, Empire, (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1996) Springer Link https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230376243, p. 73

[21] Reynolds, Willa Cather in Context, p. 74

[22] Ibid., p. 74

[23] Ibid., p.74

[24] Ibid., p. 77

[25] Ibid., p. 77

[26] Philips, Mushrooms, p. 6

[27] Ibid., p. 6

[28] Ibid., p. 6

My Review of Polly Robert’s ‘Grieving with the Animals’ up at The High Window Press

It’s been a while since I posted anything. I just can’t seem to find the time despite a multitude of things I’d love to write & post, owing to my recent indulgence into an MA in English Literary Studies at Exeter University. My studies are mycorrhizally fruitful, bringing me up-to-yet uncharted insights. The future of this blog will no doubt benefit from them, eventually.

For now, & belatedly, I have a review I wrote & which I really should have posted 2 weeks ago when it was published by the amiable David Cooke, editor of The High Window. My thanks to him, as ever, for publishing this review. You’ll need to scroll a bit down the page, here: https://thehighwindowpress.com/2019/11/10/new-titles-from-against-the-grain-press-demspsey-and-windle-and-the-blue-nib/?fbclid=IwAR0InCoplz8jTu1q1aUCTz2Sp1qgjJnUpEGtI9EDCGitI2ccdcFgMCYD83s to find my review, but of course, take some time to read the others.

Here are the D & W page for Polly & her website: https://www.dempseyandwindle.com/polly-roberts.html https://pollyroberts.wordpress.com/

I have an essay on Willa Cather’s My Antonia, which, when I receive my mark, I will post. As a little insight, it regards the exchange (& my identification) of a desiccated mushroom, which I have linked to Americanization in the early 20th Century & Gift Exchange, as expressed by the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss.

Daniel

Ecology of Kyne

I am currently reading Frank Herbert’s Dune. I am not an inveterate science fiction reader, despite always feeling pulled to sci-fi themes. I have been particularly affected by the death of the Imperial Majesty’s Planetolgist, & planetary ecologist of Arrakis, Liet-Kyne. The Baron Harkonnen realizing Kyne’s betrayal forces him adrift into the unforgiving density of Arrakis’s terrain, without a stillsuit, (a specialized suit designed by the native Fremen of Arrakis, which traps the body’s moisture, making it drinkable), an essential tool for survival in the waterless landscape. Exposed to the unforgiving environment, his fate is to be killed by the planet he has made it his life’s work to turn into a verdant utopia. Remind you of anyone.

In his death throes, deluded, Kyne is visited by a mental projection of his father, a memory transfigured into a tangible form, on the periphery of his life, nagging him with quotations from his childhood, on the knowledge needed to begin Arrakis’ transformation into a biosphere gravid with life; his father’s presence as figuratively obvious as his dying.

The mélange (or spice) Arrakis is rich in, means it has become the principal political-battleground of elite families vying for control of the mining rights. Why it is in the interest of this economical model of production for Arrakis to remain a desert, I am not certain. It is likely that the Harkonnen’s who had been in control & seek to control mining rights again, simply found no cause (owing to their nefarious nature) to ameliorate the native population. Before Duke Leto Atreides is betrayed & bumped-off, he makes it clear that he wishes to veer from this course & cure Arrakis.  

Seeing the potential for Arrakis reveals how fortunate it is to live in an ecologically balanced environment, where natural elements buoy life, allowing it to flourish, & how chaotic life is without them. Something may survive in such insensitive environments, but there is no quality to such an existence.

The scale of complexity necessary to transform Arrakis reveals certain flaws, which lead to the breakdown of ecosystems. The planetary ecologist must foresee these flaws. Kyne has “a thought spread across his mind – clear, distinct: The real wealth of a planet is in its landscape, how we take part in that basic source of civilization – agriculture.” Our own circumstance is analogous: agriculture was an important developmental factor in the history of our planet. Agriculture is an essential civilizing factor. We don’t civilize it through cultivation, we are rather civilized by it in the same way that people in the Dune universe are manipulated by the spice; it establishes a source of currency & a subsistence on which culture can be built. If were to lose our minds & pollute all our sources of food, we would soon see how civilizing an influence crops have on us. Agriculture’s properties make it too attractive a prospect for human beings to ignore. What is farmed survives by making itself attractive, like the petals & scent of a flower attract butterflies or bees. Wheat made itself attractive by growing abundantly, being cultivated easily & providing a reciprocal crop on which to plan for the future. Agriculture brings ubiquitous sustenance, on which a large coagulation of people can flourish. Spice is harvested & the leader who controls this is most powerful. In ancient times grain was hoarded by kings & queens as a source of income & power, just like spice is. Spice is rare in the universe but abundant on Arrakis; it is a crop that makes itself attractive through its properties. The relationship is reciprocal. Something gives & in return is propagated & in its propagation a process can begin, in this case, a culture.

Arrakis is a blank slate as far as establishing an environment goes. “‘To the working planetologist, his most important tools are human beings, his father said. ‘You must cultivate ecological literacy among the people. That’s why I’ve created this entirely new form of ecological notation.’” He goes on to explain “‘We must do a thing on Arrakis never before attempted for an entire planet…We must use man as a constructive ecological force – inserting adapted terraform life: a planet here, an animal there, a man in that place – to transform the water cycle, to build a new kind of landscape.’” We can begin to see the scale of complexity emerge. There is a foundation, the ‘ecological notation’, an information conditioned into the native generations to come.

It seems an obvious point, but the individual (either being or thing) as an assemblage is essential to the creation & maintaining of an environment. Each individual item to its place, in the process to becoming part of ‘a planet’s life…a vast, tightly interwoven fabric.’  Moreover, a population that understands ecology through a short hand “notation” is less likely to fail in the upkeep of a planet. Arrakis has only pockets of hardy, scattered bands of people who know only survival. They cannot be utilized to their full potential if scattered; they are everything to a planet’s potential, which the ecologist with such bold designs must utilize. Those that misunderstand Arrakis’ natives, do not see that they all share a common goal: the flourishing of their planet.

This ‘ecological notation’ is information. Information is key to everything any conscious being does, as we are beginning to realize (as James Gleick’s The Information eruditely expounds). I take this notation Kyne’s father speaks of, to be a measuring device, allowing the planetologist & the population to undercut complexities & short cut to the snowballing of life into ever more simple, functioning & thus functional units, every member of the populace can use to their & the planet’s advantage.  

Part of the conditioning must be a fusing of ‘Religion and law among our masses’ so that ‘an act of disobedience must be a sin and require religious penalties.’ which ‘will have the benefit of bringing both greater disobedience and greater bravery. We must not depend so much on the bravery of individuals, you see, as upon the bravery of a whole population.’ This is to be fused into the conditioning of the populace through the ‘ecological notation.’ In the way that church propaganda installed fear & obedience by telling people ‘God is watching, so you better behave’, keeping people attached to the church, so a tactic of Arrakis’ religion & law, will be to attach people through these same principles. There is no mention of government in this system, only religion & law, but nothing of a literature or code of ethics. This is noteworthy as I think it is evidence that the ecological notation is to be a learned trait through ancestral, mythic consciousness; an oral tradition.  The sin spoken of, will, given the conditioning, not occur. Should it do so, the trigger mechanism of religion & law fused together, will step in to remedy the error.

However, Kyne’s father, it seems to me, wishes to establish a society without religion or law as phenomena in themselves, as nouns an individual or group of natives can point at, talk about & ultimately dichotomize enough to disagree upon; they cannot become anything other than what is. What feeds into & stabilizes this, is the impossibility of individuality, & out of this there will be no room for the populace to separate themselves from natural phenomena & nature as space & time. Not being able to point at nature without pointing at themselves, in that is stable kinship with the environment, which cannot lead to taking-it-for-granted. As a consequence, the slow dearth of the planet from reckless over-consumption is avoided. As Kyne’s father says, “‘Men and their works have been a disease on the surface of their planets before now,’ his father said. ‘Nature tends to compensate for diseases, to remove or encapsulate them, to incorporate them into the system in her own way.’ He continues, stating: “ ‘The historical system of mutual pillage and extortion stops here on Arrakis…You cannot go on forever stealing what you need without regard to those who come after. The physical qualities of a planet are written into its economic and political record. We have the record in front of us and our course is obvious.’”

Interestingly, Kynes father wants to, in his manipulation of Arrakis, ‘achieve the stature of a natural phenomenon’. Tacit in this, is that man is not part of nature. This is worth considering, as the indigenous Fremen of Arrakis have already evolved to survive the planet’s harsh environment. Creating a bounteous, vegetative environment, we might logically deduce, is unnatural, or rather counter-intuitive.  It begs the question, if such a bare subsistence livelihood is natural, how come a more fruitful, easier standard of living, can be realized despite the scarcity of resources available? This is because of information & the will for human beings to progress from disorder into greater forms of order, to make life easier regardless of past & current hardships. We are nature’s consciousness witnessing itself. A disease is natural even if it destroys its habitat. The irony of making Arrakis bountiful, is that it will increase the population, thus requiring reflexes in the consciousness of the people, to countervail abuses of the planet.  It begs the question whether a cancer is natural or unnatural? Everything that lives want its environment to work more efficiently for them.

What Kyne’s father must avoid at all cost is a populace that could one day propose a pastoral literature out of its religion, law & ecology. To write pastoral literature, as Terry Gifford outlines in Pastoral, is to propose (whether romantically or practically) a return-to, or retreat-to, a golden age —an Arcadia or Eden. If a culture is not thriving under its present circumstances, it must look backward, or take pains toward a better future. The worst of these is to admit defeat & cherish a mythic past through artifice—it has taken 2 millennia for literature to surmount this. It is suggested then, in the artifice of the pastoral, that the utopias of natural golden ages, when the world groaned with abundance, have been lost to history & memory. However the pastoral is artificial, it cannot be historical. Kyne’s & his father must surmount this hurdle before it can ever take root. It must be stamped out by conditioning, by a source of conditioned notation (or information) which incorrigibly leaves out any diversification of subject matter for a populace to consider. Can there be anything to learn for such a society? Gifford, summarizing Gary Snyder’s thinking, explains “that culture is nature, that our art is our natural way of thinking ourselves back into the natural world from which much of our previous culture has alienated us.” Kyne’s father must best hindsight, & can do so by learning from the failures of other civilizations; other civilizations we can suspect have made mistakes akin to those we ourselves are making. Synder outlines the necessary paradigm as follows: ‘Consciousness, mind, imagination and language are fundamentally wild. “Wild” as in wild ecosystems – richly interconnected, interdependent, and incredibly complex. Diverse, ancient, and full of information.’ This could have come from Kyne’s father himself. What we have is not separate disciplines in tension but ecological artifice as the existential meaning of a people’s conscience, without them having anything else, nor needing any other paradigm for being.

To establish a utopia is to contextualize repression in a way similar to religion: the people must exist within the principles of the paradigm. If the planet is the religion & law, the culture & the nature, then the consequence is harmonized living.  

Everything is information, & it may be argued that it is clarifying information & finding loopholes in redundancy that not only produce greater complexity, but also greater stability. Think of rudimentary stone tools found in the Gona River of the Awash Valley, carbon dated to 2.5 million years, one of the Oldowan people using a stone crafted (if crudely) to break open bone to suck out the marrow. Here is an example of something very simple, requiring insight, to utilize an abundant material to obtain another, better source of nourishment, encouraging more complex environmental interaction & inevitably, a more complex agent within the environment. Information snowballs into greater complexity. The tool’s usefulness is in the effectiveness, which is discovered through more detailed knowledge on how to manipulate the properties of available materials. Complexity breeds simplicity & thus utility for the handler, leading to trajectories of progress.   

Kyne’s father understands this, thus an additional meaning of his ‘ecological notation’. Kyne’s father needed to create an economic shorthand to propound his plans into a set of precepts that will have lasting consequences. I consider this as his effort to skip over some evolutionary points, necessary to establish a planet; such as those we see in the evolution of stone tool making. In this way Kyne’s father will create a population that limits the errors that other planets’ populations have made. We don’t need to learn to make a stone tool in order to be able to make a modern tool. There is a form of notational shorthand that is part & parcel of receiving knowledge down the assembly line of history. Kyne’s father seems to want to jump ahead of this, & he can: his people don’t need to evolve their abilities to survive or make tools, they only need to be indoctrinated into a habitual realization that being & nature are indistinguishable.

There is a criticism Kyne’s father may be overlooking: it may be essential to evolution that mistakes are made if only to be learned from. Perhaps this is the origin of God’s testing of man, & therefore the planetologist’s reason for allowing religion in society.

The climate crisis moves slowly in relation to human time spans. In geological time it is a blip.  There is time, owing to the foreshadowing of certain events within the elapsing crisis, to make alterations to avert catastrophe. While it is not a given that the realizations will be noted & action taken, nor even that after action is taken & crisis averted, the population won’t simply return to old habits. Nevertheless, mistakes have unfolded, & this offers something smooth-sailing through utopian constructs, cannot offer. Of course, this is only problematic in the inception of the utopia, otherwise, should the mechanism to avoid the need for mistakes work, it will become perfunctory.  

Later in the book, Jessica & Paul are shown a pool filled by wind-traps that are just one of a handful of large water reserves dotted across Arrakis. This devotion is the populace putting Kyne’s father’s work into action. Jessica soliloquizes ‘They’re in league with the future…They have their mountain to climb. This is the scientist’s dream…and these simple people, these peasants, are filled with it.’ She realizes that Paul must follow the hand of the ecologist that guided the people to this goal. The future is essential to Kyne’s father’s plan. Without a response to the necessities of future generations, the struggle to establish a populace indistinguishable from their environment, becomes increasingly difficult.

What arises from this chapter, for me, are the foundational principles for revitalizing a desert planet (or a planet becoming aware of its fragility), & the scale of complexity from a principle notation to a shared ecological consciousness & stable attitude that cannot be reckless with resources,. From the context of our planet, on the crossroads of ecological breakdown, or radical change, there is something key to be learned: an implanted information, which brings being, nature, law, science, biome, religion, literature & art under one noun, is essential. What that noun is, is immaterial. For everything to be as important as anything else, for all the things aforementioned to be experientially what is, is all that matters. One phenomena integrated into the mindset of the populace. I suppose now is as good a time as any.

A little bit about Yoon Yong

It has taken me longer to get this done than I promised. I started writing it just before I was due to move to Exeter. I am beginning to settle in here. But Jeju & Korea are never far from my thoughts.

Genesis

Yoon Yong as both hero & poem germinated together. I had read Trevor Joyce’s The Immediate Future published online at Smithereens Press & though it has nothing much in common with Yoon Yong it burrowed the nascent idea to write a narrative poem.

The poem was to be unbroken originally, heavily abstracted & more suggestive of a clear plot than acute enough to actually have one. I recoiled from this. Yoon Yong was persuasive, she wanted to be rendered.

My initial conception had begun from a lack of intrepidity. I was & remained & still am concerned that this could all be misconstrued by the current climate of criticism toward the stale pale male. But writing is about a certain willingness to challenge yourself. In tandem with this, I had direct experience of not only Jeju, but also of Korean women married to English men: I was in such a marriage & it was going badly.

Yoon Yong is not my wife & I am not the belittled husband. The characters are completely fictional. But the loss of identity that Yoon Yong is struggling to get a handle on, is not. It was something I felt as someone who was speaking less English. My wife & I did not know each other’s language to a refined enough standard that there was absolute understanding between us. This created tension. So the germination of Yoon Yong’s identity crisis was a fictional realization of my own & my wife’s communicative struggle taken further. There are plenty of Westerners in relationships with Koreans who speak hardly a word of Korean & make a poor effort to familiarize themselves, or make a gestured attempt at understanding their partner’s culture. Too many Westerners in such relationships are prone to assume the superiority of their culture because of its standing in the world. Cultures are different & familiarization breeds understanding & understanding breeds acceptance. It isn’t always easy, but it is simply arrogant to assume superiority. Regardless of efforts to familiarize yourselves with each other, cultural barriers do assert their effects on the relationship. There need be extra vigilance & acceptance, & a certain amount of letting things slide, if such a relationship is to succeed.

Yoon Yong is complex, in large part because of her Westernization. Through the prism of her identity crisis, we find her using westernized habits of behavior, but using them to criticize the west, which is an irony caused by the replacement (or temporary exchange) of one cultural characteristic for another, more recently conditioned characteristic: she complains, which is not what I’d consider a Korean attitude; Koreans tend to keep shtum about anything worth complaining about, rather opting to do something productive. In the opening poem, Yoon Yong exemplifies this critical attitude:

Nor fall in line with the cultural stereotype like
young couples taking in-flight selfies | nuzzled

in the crease of one another’s elbows | dressed
in couple-clothes & silly hats—they look inter-bred |

arms numb with romance.

My ex-wife would not see any point in criticizing people for something this shallow. But by thinking this way, Yoon Yong becomes an individual, her isolation from both cultures comes into focus.

Why I didn’t use my own marriage, was owing to it not being challenging enough, moreover it felt impossible to make it interesting. By weaving the fictional with the experiential, I could materialize a much more coherent & cogent world.

Fictional poems using the individual poem to develop a narrative have always grabbed my attention. John Berryman’s Dream Songs are ever present, & ever pressing on me as an influence, an anxiety-of. But I am under no illusion where I am as a poet, career-wise.

In addition to Berryman, Roethke’s Meditations of an Old Woman is something of a precursor, if loosely. 

Who is Yoon Yong?

The name Yoon Yong is simply one of my favourite Korean names. I have only met one woman with this name. Each character when written is almost a mirror of the other (윤용) but the mirroring is thrown by the ㄴ swapped for ㅇ. This is symbolic of her relationship with her husband & her culture(s)—she is so near to being balanced but that slight hitch is enough to discombobulate the balance: it has aural similitude to yin yang. In Marriage is crap Yoon Yong explains:


He still can't say my name correctly | (is that it?)
pronounces it | ironically as Yin Yang—how does he

 continually mistake the ‘i’ with ‘oo’ | which makes
 a deep ‘you’ sound—the ‘a’ with diphthong ‘eo’.
  
 He is an idiot of the rarest sort.
 It is panic at being confronted with alien
  
 forces beyond his control. I gave up on him getting
 it right | he calls me by my English (slave | lol) name
  
 Rose | which sounds ridiculous…
 I know the way out of a rose…
 

Her explanation of how to pronounce her name reveals a deep rooted, subconscious issue with “you”, an incongruity in not just his being taken out his cultural comfort-zone, but with her blind reluctance to sympathize with him; she knows well enough the difficulty of adjusting to new environments as we discover in Homesickness in Birmingham where the husband’s action of making her a pot noodle is both a foreshadowing of their strained relationship & also comfort to her. So the problem is established as each other: “you”. This is hyperbolically analogized as a slave name, which even Yoon Yong in her ire, realizes is “lol”.

The final line adds to the irony if the rose is a metonym for Englishness. She thinks she knows the way out, but her conflict suggests otherwise. The line is taken from Roethke’s Her Becoming, part of Meditations of an Old Woman. Where the rose is obviously seen as a labyrinth out of the subterranean depths of consciousness.

Language is a key element to understanding Yoon Yong. It is both her success in utilizing it & her failure to use it for the purposes she would prefer to use it for, which hint at her dissatisfaction. Yoon Yong’s precursor is Kim Seung-hee, a poet who writes about being a domesticated woman in patriarchal Korea. She writes poems on domestic boredom, children, pregnancy, films, dream, body, & all in a muscular, idiosyncratic style. Only Kim Seung-hee could be Yoon Yong’s precursor. It is her struggle & accepted failure to be a translator of Seung-hee that destabilizes her intentions & her confidence. There would be meaning to her existence if she were able to do this, so we must not be fooled by her examination of poet & translator in the poem There’s no need to be a poet (time is forgotten):

  It’s probably for the best I never became a poet
 or translator: a poet has the anxiety to write
  
 something new |to transmute so much mundanity
 into a coagulation of symbols that raises bpm
  
 —else they must make a life busy with happenings |
 dilemmas & so much heart ache & madness.
  
 The translator must be at the beck n’ call
 of this poet of happenings this force of nature
  
 prone to the altercations of time & the motions
 of weather with such acuity it makes my cells itch.
  
 & isn’t the outcome of the translator |jealousy?
 No permit by the public to be reckless & intense.
  
 The poet gets to be the eyes of God.
 The lodestone of the universe.
  
 The precious birth of atoms damming space & time.
 There’s no need for me to be a poet.
  
 I need to be plain & pleased
 with the me that I am. If I’m not what then…?
 



At the point where “time is forgotten” Yoon Yong makes an effort to forget her anxiety of influence. In the following poem More insight we find Yoon Yong in a laconic mood, where “There is so little effort needed to be alive | it’s mostly automated”.  Her insights on the poet & translator, encourage her to a state of “plain & pleased”, which turns out to be too direct, leading to dull, repetitious, just-being-sterility. But in almost the same lung of air, she hastens back into her critical habit: “Most people are still animals. Aren’t we beyond that? / “Man is not a beast” (thanks Kim Chi-ha). / Why does low intelligence equate to lower entropy?” Quoting Kim Chi-ha, she quotes a poet who was imprisoned for speaking out against the government of Park Chung-hee, Park Geun-hye’s father (note that Yoon Yong marched against Park Geun-hye in the December marches & was successful where Kim Chi-ha was imprisoned, perhaps she has taken for granted her power to alter fate).
  
Narrative Structure
 
I wince, but Yoon Yong is, at a structural level, a travel poem. The decision for this narrative structure was a simple one, if you understand who visits the island, & for how long. Koreans rarely spend more than a couple of days touring Jeju, as it is less than an hour’s flight from Seoul Gimpo Airport, & ticket prices aren’t exorbitant. Out of season, hire cars are relatively cheap, as is accommodation. The place became a vehicle for the passage of time, thus the narrative structure.
Using the sub-title enabled me to dissolve the time as Yoon Yong became more detached from her Seoul-life. Thus the passage of time moves from precision, to inexact, to not even thought about.
I have written many poems in Jeju about Jeju & my will to show the island through poetry would still not dissolve when it came to writing Yoon Yong. It is crammed with atmosphere. It really is an ideal place for a contemporary fiction on the dark night of the soul.
The poem is an invitation to a place. A place fraught with tension between an indigenous populace (of sorts) & an El-Dorado for mainlanders to get rich & most importantly, escape Seoul. For tourists Jeju is freedom from city landscapes. It is an unfamiliar landscape, with its foundation of scoria, its temperate & almost tropical climate in the summer & its white sand beaches & turquoise ocean, offer a taste of paradise—a paradise seen on digital billboards in the subterranean depths of the Seoul Metro.
I would often see women travelling alone in Jeju. Some were very young, perhaps testing the waters of independence, seeing how they’d get along with only themselves for company. It was a no brainer to have Yoon Yong alone, in an environment that symbolized freedom. The poem became a single soliloquy. But what is interesting about Jeju is that it is Korea, so Yoon Yong becomes a tourist in her own country (essentially) & so we have another contextual device alluding to her identity crisis.  
 
Why Yoon Yong will not be resurrected
 
Yoon Yong is a series & I do not see it as essential, nor am I curious to take her further than where I have gone. Yoon Yong had to break out of the loop she was caught in. She has. The weather of her psyche materialized actually & helped her make the decision she needed to make. You can assume Yoon Yong made the right decision. Leave it at that. The loss of her ring is the clearly symbolic sign she needed, which in collusion with her 2 days of dreaming & seeing, is not something to ignore. I leave to the reader to envisage Yoon Yong’s future.
Though Yoon Yong is done for me, the narrative poem isn’t. I wrote Yoon Yong without access to books. I had little for intellectual stimulus other than what I could forage from my reaction to my own imagination coupled & massaged by my experiences. With access to a larger pond of ideas, I am certain I can construct a not necessarily more complex, but certainly a different & potentially better informed characterization.
I am currently working into notes another Korean character, this time a young man, early twenties, who is very sensitive. He is not very good at making money. He is estranged from the particularities of the orthodox Korean manner. A photographer who is trying to evade his military service. His name is Pureum, which has an interesting meaning. Pureum, is the feeling you have when you are looking at a turquoise ocean, or a blue sky, or even an emerald. It isn’t the colour but the feeling toward the colour. Pureum is based on a young lad who worked for me in Korea. He is a friend of mine & I think his story, fictionalized, will provide me with ample material to write another series.
Despite a non-fiction foundation, the poem about Pureum will be a fiction. To write a fiction is not to lie. Terry Eagleton in How to Read a Poem explains that “to fictionalize, then, is to detach a piece of writing from its immediate, empirical context and put it to wider uses.” Bearing this in mind, if I write the truth it is biography, which would make it difficult to put signifiers to symbolic use, which provides the poet with opportunities to make the poem ambivalent, ambiguous, more literary, in short; the poem chews off more than it can bite. “Fiction instructs us in what we are to do with texts, not in how true or false they are.” Just because I fictionalize a person I know, does not mean the poem is full of lies. The poem will still  get something done, it may even, were the real Pureum to read it, reflect his character in a truthful way he recognizes, & if not, it may be that it provides a spur for him to reassess, or simply assess, the characteristics of the fictionalized Pureum in relation to what he understands about himself. As Shenandoah Fish considers in Delmore Schwartz’s story America! America! we cannot know ourselves accurately unless we add to this how everyone we know perceives us.
 
Due to the volume of interesting people I became acquainted with in Korea, it isn’t out of the question for me to write a number of these narrative poems. Here’s to hoping.

Learning the art of not-taking-for-granted

(More untidy, preliminary insights from reading Heidegger. )

Taking a thing for granted is complex. There is an art to not taking something for granted. Being in the world is firmly established, as we interact with other things, tools or technologies, in order to provide the balance needed to be alive, we don’t exactly sense ourselves doing this, it just happens; there is something a priori, a fore-knowing conditioned into how we go about being & interacting in & with the world. For Heidegger we fall prey to the world, & “falling prey to the world means being absorbed in being-with-one-another as it is guided by idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity.” (Being & Time) For Heidegger in order to be in the world we must be tranquilized with it to some extent, there must be barriers to staunch us so that in our everyday mode we function as a unit. “Idle talk and ambiguity, having-seen-everything and having-understood-everything, develop the supposition that the disclosedness of Dasein thus available and prevalent could guarantee to Dasein the certainty, genuineness, and fullness of all the possibilities of its being.” (Being & Time) What this means is that there must be a mechanism for a status quo to be maintained, a default mode of being, which is being ontically. Ontic being is a conditioned being, it is how we exist day by day, but it does not preclude other ways of being, it allows for them by being ontic, everyday. “This tranquillization in inauthentic being, however, does not seduce one into stagnation and inactivity, but drives one to uninhibited “busyness”. Being entangled in the “world” does not somehow come to rest.”  

Conditioning must be taught & learned, nevertheless (to varying degrees of proficiency owing to undeniably cultural factors, which I don’t wish to go into here) we assume someone is there for a new born child when they come into the world, to help them get started, as Father John Misty sings in Pure Comedy “we emerge half formed and hope who ever greets us on the other end, is kind enough, to fill us in” Although his error here is giving the agency of perception of hope to an unborn, who we can only assume has no such pre-established, potential bias. It may be that not asking for our births, not having to solicit parents, we inevitably become takers-for-granted. The system works, we are entangled & tranquillized in by our conditioning.

It is self-evident that we must eat, sleep, work, defecate, consume, procreate, watch TV, check Facebook, take selfies, talk with friends, love our family. This is being, ontically. The qualia of things, their inherent “handiness” (Heidegger) & shown-ness, their apophansis is something learned, but in essence, speaking from the stage in human development currently reached, taken for granted. But something incredible still happens regardless of how perceptive we are about that which is taken for granted.

We take them for granted up to a certain point: when things run smoothly & provide for us, we don’t need to think about why they are the way they are or how they do what they do. We take little note of our sewage system till a fatberg or concreteberg blocks them & we suffer blockages that interfere with our senses through stinks we are unaccustomed to. We understand the relevance of something in their failure. Knowing the relevance of something we confront the

substance it carries forward into our everyday. Heidegger says of relevance: “The totality of relevance reveals itself as the categorical whole of possibility of the connection of things at hand. But the “unity” too, of manifold presence, nature, is discoverable only on the basis of the disclosedness of one of its possibilities.” (Being & Time) The blockage of sewers alerts us to the excretive function of our being, which must be handled; just as the throw-away culture that leads to landfills is an ever present reminder of our waste potential. We see our nature come to the fore as a problem to be solved, for the course of which to be changed in the failure of something.

Ontological being is in no way superior to ontic being: “Being is always the being of a being.” (Heidegger) Ontic being takes a decent chunk of what it is about being that seems insignificant but which, once investigated, has a profound impact on what it means to be a being.

Biological processes happen to us, & we know instinctively that we must keep the body nourished & only when we note failures of the body, do we really note how our body feels; as in noting the failure of a structure that carries waste away we note that we waste. You are very aware of your head when you have a headache, but once it is gone, you return to taking your head for granted. We take a thing or process for granted because it works especially well.

Only that which works exceptionally well can be taken for granted. There is a wonderful irony to this: it is very difficult to appreciate something when you cannot perceive it for being too close to you. Heidegger explains:

The concept of meaning includes the formal framework of what necessarily belongs to what interpretation that understands articulates. Meaning, structured by fore-having, fore-sight, and fore-conception, is the upon which of the project in terms of which something becomes intelligible.

Heidegger Being & Time

“Meaning is that wherein the intelligibility of something maintains itself” (Being & Time)

Only we can be provided with a meaningful existence & provide that existence through our own efforts. Ontic being, being everyday, is certainly not so much less meaningful for not being ontological, but I would contest that it is not as intense. When we endeavor to develop our ontological sensation of the world, the attunement of our thoughts, perception, intuition & our proprioceptive responses become amplified because we are aware of awareness, & moreover, aware of the art of not-taking-for-granted. We perceive at once the necessary ontic functions while  we perform them.

Heidegger cannot begin to get into being without first qualifying that there are these distinctions that while not exactly apart, are distinct owing to the quality of experience that comes with choosing to look ontologically. To be ontological we must look beyond the a priori ontic mechanism that works well enough to in some regard pull the wool over our eyes, so that we do not reveal distinctions about ourselves, to ourselves. Heidegger, explaining Dasein (being presence):

Dasein is a being that does not simply occur among other beings. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that in its being this being is concerned about its very being. Thus it is constitutive of the being of Dasein to have, in its very being, a relation of being to this being. And this in turn means that Dasein understands itself in its being [Sein] in some way and with some explicitness. It is proper to this being that it be disclosed to itself with and through its being. Understanding of being is itself a determination of being of Dasein.

Heidegger, Being & Time

In tandem with ontic being is the inevitability of taking being one step further ahead of the ontic. In its preliminary development, ontology was religious, it was cave painting, hand prints in ochre. This nascent becoming aware of our being, like a baby first recognizing its own body in a mirror, became religious & then philosophical, scientific & so on (for the sake of brevity).

Psychology has gone some way to getting us to be more open with ourselves, to be ontologically mended through the thinking of our emotions. We take notes in real time to determine patterns of behavior that we might switch them at our will rather than leaving the switching to the ontic, instinctual whim.

There is an art to not taking things for granted. It is somehow becoming perceptive of that which is indivisible because it works so well, that we come to be experts in a field or create aesthetically. For ontic being, words are something spoken because we do so. But for ontological being, they can be used to express poems. The poet can never take words for granted, else how could they be poets? An architect cannot possibly take a material, or shape for granted. 

A poet must listen to language, in hearing language there is heard, more than revelations of the shape of sound, more than the significance of showing, more than intelligibility & access to meaning, even more than feeling, because all this & more coalesces, which is a whole not being greater than the sum of its parts, but each of the parts being greater than the sum of the whole (Morton); the intensity with which the distinctions of the parts are felt to be intrinsic to each other is the only way good poems can be written. It all must come meaningfully together to avoid the shortcomings of an ontic use of language, which while important, is just a tool. Language must mean more than expressiveness to a poet, or else poetry stagnates. We cannot have a poet like JH Prynne or Roy Fisher, even a poet like Michael Symmons Roberts, if poetry is to be only a matter of being perfectly intelligible. Language & the distinct necessities that constitute any artistic practice, must not take what allows for it in its manifest potential, for granted. There is no ontic art as such: as soon as we create anything we are immediately transferred into the ontological & what gorgeous intensities await us there. God should be proud & grateful to us for creating him, to paraphrase the poet Rawcliffe from Burgess’s Enderby novels.

Finally, the question stands: does the ontological become ontic, in that the everyday becomes experienced as purely ontological? Sort of. A pure ontological existence, I assume, would be too overwhelming & though I don’t believe society would collapse in any sense, it may, become something like the failure of the society of Alphas in Brave New World, where the difficultly became a matter of the orientation of people on the same wave length into a stable hierarchical order, so processes get done: we need people who perform functions that make society stable. But therein lies a conundrum. Who decides? Well we all can, if we choose to reconfigure how we perceive the efforts of people in different roles in society & how we compensate them. This is pretty obvious & telling when we consider how useless footballers are & how much they are paid compared to the team of men who must descend into a sewer to clear a fatberg, which is of an importance far in excess of a footballers role in society. The irony isn’t missed. A footballer has not taken the ball, nor their body or training for granted & yet it is likely the man who cleans the sewer would rather be anything other than the clearer of his own kinds’ detritus & ordure.

How can the man who cleans out the sewer be ontological about/in their role? Society’s habits as to scales of importance is in desperate need of an overall. With this switch of insight an inveterate ontological perceptiveness can arise & bring with it immense benefit to our sense of meaning & the purpose with which humanity goes forward.

Metaphor to Magnify

Metaphor to magnify

This may be a bit rambling, it may chime, but this is a semi-riff-with-structured-argument on a number of books (provided at the end) I have read in the past month (except Being & Time, which I am currently reading, but which has featured in good measure in Morton’s & Harman’s books). I hope it provokes some discussion.

Metaphor has extensive reach in how we perceive reality. That’s quite a bold, counter-intuitive assumption, isn’t it? Well yes, or not. Stopping, considering, it seems remote that a device, which uses another thing to point at a thing, indirectly, can’t possibly extend downward in such a perforating manner, to the core of perceiving a [the?] reality of things (maybe that’ll prove to be taking things a little far). But maybe metaphor is one (of potentially numerous) mad method for doing so.

Metaphor has taken a bit of a haymaker since Pound’s Imagiste Manifesto, especially the 4th criteria:  To present an image. We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art. I have always taken this to be a contributing factor in the shrugging off of figurative language, as if simile, metonym, personification or the like were a taint on the gracile sheen of a thing chosen for its already rendered, veneered perfection. But that seems to me problematic. It sort of embodies the assumption of a surface-reality exclusivity & moreover that things are in & of themselves without any capacity to affect each other. I have no quarrel with direct perception & the artistic validity direct focus on stuff for stuff-sake, is one I find admirable & can & often do subscribe to in my own poetry & gandering at the world.

Graham Harman is a contemporary philosopher in the “New Theory of Everything” OOO, which stands for Object Oriented Ontology. His friend & fellow OOO enthusiast, Timothy Morton expresses ontology as “the how of what” which is pretty succinct, but accurate.

The justification of OOO’s necessity is complicated, but the actual action needed to live by its tenets is pretty easy: respect inanimate things as you would animate things. Why? Well, when you do, you come to more rendered considerations of the reason-for, & what-will-happen-if of creating something. As Morton likes to highlight in his book Hyperobjects (:enormous entities stretched across time & space, non-local, viscous, affecting; global warming, being an often used example) if we’d thought in such a way earlier in our civilizing capacity (hindsight not really helpful here), we’d have been more cautious in our plastic usage, more ready to outline the potential negative feedback loop it would initialize; realize sooner it takes the potential rise & fall of cultures to degrade. Same with nuclear fission, yes, it powers our homes, provides comfort, concludes our ancient fear of night, but it has also affected the ecological imbalance of the world, penetrating the ecosystem, leaving lasting damage 24,000 from now in the form of plutonium-239 “Gamma rays shoot out of” (Morton) through its lifetime & iodine-129 which will still appear in the sediments for future archaeologists to discover 15 million years from now.

These examples show how our rash progressive nature is acted upon without proper interrogation of the lasting effects.

This is becoming increasingly incontestable in the context we find ourselves in: we are actually, seriously debating altering the geological period as we exist through the tipping point of our effect on the ecological system. There is no going back on what we have done—we are in the Anthropocene; (elegantly treated in Simon L. Lewis & Mark A. Maslin’s recent book The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene, a text worthy of everybody’s attention.)

In his book Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything Harman lays out some of the “principles of OOO”, number 1 being: “All objects must be given equal attention, whether they be human, non-human, natural, cultural, real or fictional.” How so? Well, easy. Look at the effects of pollution, the examples of which are numerous. As Morton explains, we live in “a world in which there is no away” because when you begin to treat even a typical process as a thing (object), then something always has an effect, we get “context explosions” which Morton articulates better than I can in an article titled Subscendence:

The thing about ecological contexts is that you can’t draw a line around them in advance, because ecology is profoundly about interdependence. The biosphere depends on earth’s magnetic shield to protect lifeforms from solar rays, and this depends on the way earth’s iron core is spinning, and that depends on how the earth formed in the early stages of the solar system, and so on. We are dealing with a potential infinity of entities on a potential infinity of scales—there is no way to ascertain whether the pleroma of beings has an end point, at least not in advance. Ecological awareness just is this context explosion.

This all ties in with metaphor & how it gets at the substance of stuffs. Kenneth Burke highlights that “etymologically ‘substance’ is a scenic word. A person’s or a thing’s sub-stance would be something that stands beneath or supports the person or thing.”(Burke: The Paradox of Substance) Because of the “context explosion” affecting things with things, in the context of an [the] environment we can see that sub-stance of reality is the propping of things by things. “The leg bone’s connected to the toxic waste dump” (Morton).

Harman breaks down an essay by the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, in one of his chapters. Harman thinks the essay a “neglected masterpiece in the realist tradition of philosophy.” Harman’s extolling the virtue of Ortega’s essay is due to how Ortega pinches shut the gap jacked by Kant, who saw phenomena (everything we are “able to encounter, perceive, use, think about”) as irreconcilable with noumena, which we are unable to access directly. A thing [being] is ultimately ungraspable (something, which Heidegger when to great lengths to remedy). The repercussion for OOO is that objects become (potentially & demonstrably: people are clearly not making adequate alterations to veer away from planetary catastrophe despite the evidence) insignificant, they are unworthy of attention unless they attract us through a conditioned pleasantness: a flower’s scent, a beautiful object, fashion, cute animals; while ugly animals, weeds, algae, lichen, fungi are not as clearly represented as beautiful in & of themselves & thus of a lower degree of importance. This perpetuated bias is of little use to OOO.

Ortega’s great insight is that “there is nothing we can make an object of cognition, nothing that can exist for us unless it becomes an image, a concept, an idea—unless, that is, it stops being what it is in order to become a shadow or an outline of itself.” This happens often when a scientist tries to explain (turn into metaphor) to a layman what would otherwise be an equation, or complex technical process only an expert would normally understand. This may be considered a belittling of the thing, but actually, in the context of a scientist informing a layman, the reach of the idea is expanded, the context explodes into language rather than confined to a specialized jargon. Carlo Rovelli, is a fine example of a physicist who captures the poetry of his profession & articulates its merits, through metaphor to a wider audience; I wish I had his book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics to hand for examples, but I left it in Korea.

Music is another example. The musician writes the music & then reads it. To the average person the written music is unintelligible, it could say anything. The musician transforms the jargon of written music into something accessible to anyone, on top of which value can be obtained. Imagine if music was a mystery in the Eleusian register?

What the metaphor provides is a similar access. This is because art does something spectacular, something data & empiricism struggles with: it aestheticizes the thing, making it accessible. Ortega qualifies this: “Notice I am not saying that a work of art reveals the secret of life and being to us; what I do say is that a work of art affords the peculiar pleasure we call esthetic by making it seem that the inwardness of things, their executant reality, is opened to us.”

This is my qualification for beginning this essay as I did. It helps give perceptual context to the quality of objects.

Metaphor I consider to be a magnification of sorts. Magnifying is to make the small larger, what metaphoring does is remove the insignificance of a thing & make it more significant, this has repercussions across all things, because of the proximity-making effect taking note enough to transform has. Metaphoring provides adjectival comparatives & superlatives a whole new reason to be. Think of looking into a petri-dish & then looking at a Hubble photograph of the observable universe. Two scales that resemble each other. The result: a conversation on scale, which in turn provides a context that oscillates between the macro & micro.

The performance of likening something to another thing[s] introduces us into the equation because it is only through the agency of a being (something like Heidegger’s Dasein) that the transubstantiation of stuffs into stuffs can become a force for understanding a closer knit relation we have with things. We come closer to objects in the act of likening them, because OOO brings us into an akin proximity with anything whatsoever: you are not so much indistinguishable from things, nor are you as or less important, only that by seeing them as accessible they become important tools, with a reduced likelihood they’ll be taken for granted. The bacteria, nor the cells or DNA in your body is not human, but they are the constitutive factors that allows you to be human; love your bacteria.

Ortega goes on to clarify that “the esthetic object and the metaphorical object are the same, or rather that metaphor is the elementary esthetic object, the beautiful cell.” [my italics] A cockroach is no replacement for a doctor, but that doesn’t mean the cockroach should be afforded less right to exist, otherwise what sort of repercussions on being-responsibility can that have? Where is the demarcation & why make it, how even? Who gets to say? Look around you. Essentially the swatting of a cockroach can produce the deleterious fixation of consumerism: both actions are thinking one effect has no effect on anything else.

To metaphor well, the properties of things can be listed & parallels founded on the evidence of their likeness, which intensifies both, bringing us into contact with the textures, uses, degrees of scale, shape & form of the thing being likened. (Degrees of scale is something I really want to talk about now, but will leave for a treatment all of its own.)

Take Alice Oswald’s metaphor in her poem Sisyphus from Woods etc. where she has the “thundercloud shaking its blue wolf’s head” & immediately both objects, though dissimilar in their structure & motive enhance each other through their puissance, texture & shape. We recognize immediately both objects as powerful, so they complement each other regardless of their dissimilitude. The properties of each are irreconcilable except through the aesthetic binding in the magnifying metaphor.

Metaphor allows us to interrogate the thing & in our interrogation we integrate ourselves, enabling dissimilarities to coalesce through aestheticism. This is why Morton analyzing Plato, arrives at the conclusion that “art is demonic: it emanates from some unseen (or even unseeable) beyond in the sense that I am not in charge of it and can’t quite perceive it directly, in front of me, constantly present.” (Morton, Being Ecological)

Metaphor is a telling phenomenon, it not only enhances aesthetic effect, it enables the restructuring of jargon accessible to a minority, to be opened to a majority. This is akin to the move away from the sacerdotal securing of knowledge for itself to control others, to the information age where we carry the whole history of human thought in a small, easily accessible, easily manipulated device. Whatever the problems the contemporary world spumes up from its well of complexity, I think we are more provided for & prepared to formulate solutions under the current paradigm than at any other period in history. Go forth & metaphor.

Bibliography:

Burke, K. (1989). On Symbols and Society, ed by Joseph R. Gusfield. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Harman, G. (2018). Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. Great Britain: Pelican Books.

Heidegger, M. (2010). Being & Time. trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: State University of New York Press, Albany.

Lewis, S. L & Maslin, M. A. (2018). The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene. Great Britain: Pelican Books

Morton, T. (2018). Being Ecological. Great Britain: Pelican Books.

Morton, T. (2013). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis, London: The University of Minnesota Press.

Morton, T. (October 2017). Subscendence. https://www.e-flux.com/journal/85/156375/subscendence/ e-flux journal #85.

Oswald, A. (2007). Woods etc. London: Faber & Faber.

Review of Stephanie L. Harper’s The Death’s Head’s Testament

The Death’s Head’s Testament continues on from Stephanie’s previous book This Being Done & fortunate for us Stephanie is in the present progressive, hammering out the dimensions of poems. The poems here continue to wade in the difficulties of womanhood, family, child-rearing, love, life, memory & death.

There is wakeful invention, an intellectual alacrity, sure-footedness even on the tremulous ground of the heart in the track of each advancing line. Something common-place, is elevated to heightened importance if only for it being what it is: a potential for articulation & loving.

Despite the morbidity of the title, I hope (well-founded on the verve of being a life-bringer & cultivator, which Stephanie wears unashamedly on her sleeve) that Stephanie isn’t concerned as Roy Fisher expresses in Poplars that“I think I am afraid of becoming a cemetery of performance.” Stephanie’s performance is to be anticipated.

Stephanie sets off from a harbour in the American tradition with an echo of “Call me Ishmael” but we are steered away by Stephanie’s humble admission “i’m no kind of Ishmael” continuing “to expound some great protagonist’s wayward saga” but I’d say that, no, she isn’t, this isn’t a saga. Stephanie’s poems are more Heidegger’s Dasein made into an expansive zone: a being-present-in. They are ruminations on humanness, the sort of humanness we read in Wallace Stevens’ verse from Chocorua to its Neighbor:

To say more than human things with human voice,
That cannot be; to say human things with more
Than human voice, that, also, cannot be;
To speak humanely from the height or from the depth
Of human things, that is acutest speech.

Stephanie is acutely aware of her woman-ness ruminating-through the Dasein, she explains she hasn’t

the slightest inkling of other 
 
women’s misfortunes, nor do i know
if i’m even justified in such grief over a life
squandered on an endless vigil’s cries of    
who sees me now?  & now?  & now?
 
who, besides this mirror i face,
knows my bulging litany of failures,
my spurious assumption of a character i detest?

She’s wide open with herself, comfortably, easily of & for women, but also-for humanness; without hint of difficulties spreading herself between the various camps within gregarious humanity.

There is something contained, something only to be there in the poetry, to be leeched out with effort. Stephanie’s poems are not easy, they might even be her “globed satellites” a humourous metaphor for her breasts, also a metaphorically “gravitational force” which she has “abhorred since youth.” They become the “murdered albatross”. The fleshy albatross is the burden of womanhood, the burden of parturition, as well as the difficulty in the creation of poetry. I am wary of taking this to a more profound level than humour. Line by line the mood can turn without warning. Where there is the lightened mood of “globed satellites” we end “downcast like a faded damask rose”, as if the lightness of humour doesn’t expel the burden of the flesh.

Things I Cannot Say is anecdotal, humourous & revealing:

a burned-out Graduate Assistant 
(who couldn’t have distinguished a metaphysical marvel from
her left elbow)

using an orangutan puppet called Andreas “recruited to teach German reflexive verbs to Undergrads”, an object manipulated, like a metaphor, to work for the teacher to increase the likelihood of getting verbs to move into a workable order. That they are reflexive, punning on reflective, which this poem is: a reflection to a previous life & time.

The albatross turns into the orangutan. Now, the orangutan works for the budding ruminator, rather than weighing her down. This act of metamorphosis illustrates the disparities of ourselves from one age to another as we get people to witness us. Despite the awkwardness, the weariness & Andreas, a decision to take the elevator becomes a moment never to be forgotten:

you decided to take the elevator back up from your 
third floor classroom to your eighth floor office in Van Hise,
& discovered yourself being flanked for five flights by two
Tibetan Buddhist Monks in their maroon & saffron-yellow robes:
Geshe Sopa, whom you recognized from the Asian Studies Department
on the twelfth floor, & his brightly-smiling companion, none other than
His Holiness the Dalai Lama—even though you’ll never forget how
Andreas clasped his banana, while you summarily exited your body
on a silent wave of preternatural warmth, the mouth of the thing
you would never again inhabit fixing itself into a ridiculous grin.

Andreas is an object. But Andrea becomes so much more. Andreas is a real object who transforms through Stephanie into a sensual quality. We glimpse how metaphor works. As a metaphor, an actor, Andreas is able to transmute the difficult, perhaps even mundane regime of rote learning into something feasible, interesting, while also attempting to get at the core of language & even to establish a memory to be reflected back to. So Andreas becomes an object of not only the poetic foreshadowing of Stephanie, but also an objectification of metaphor itself. Moreover, Andreas is a tool, as is metaphor, used to get a fix on the essentiality of not just meaning, but things in themselves & their extensive usage.

The tone is often easy, the anecdotal, effortless as if they’ve been told countless times, & like myths gaining new interpretations, improved upon; so the poems arrive here.

Twenty years ago
I received a birthday gift
from a close college buddy-slash-sometime lover
(What on earth were we thinking?).
Back then, our past was already in the past
& twenty-four was already not young.
He gave me a coffee mug
covered in chickens—
 
yes, painted chickens—

Through this intimate tone, Stephanie becomes comfortable with us, inviting us to be comfortable with her. The chicken, a motherly, robust, fertile symbol. For Stephanie is unashamedly a mother & any mother & reader of poetry would find a friend & familiarity in poems such as Briefing from the Sunday Review Board with its religious tone moving seamlessly with the normality of home life:

Blessed be the Teenagers 
   
greasified & bespectacled
though they be     for lolling with you on the couch
to watch an “old” movie from two thousand & three    
for getting most of the cheesy references to last century    
& even laughing aloud (albeit dubiously)     as you’ve
been all the while vaunting the previous night’s travesty
of red flannel covered in Mickey Mouse heads    
purple soccer shorts     & magenta knee-high socks    
& for not onlyseeming not to mind your ensemble    
but also refraining from being put out by the three-inch-
long grey whisker sticking bolt straight out of your temple    
from whence it had migrated     undiscovered     until crossing    
the evidentiary vista’s periphery

The evident shape of Risen could be either a waxing or waning moon, a sail (recall the opening allusion to Moby Dick) or a pregnant paunch. The poem bows outward toward the right hand margin, fertile, the lines motioning into myth. There is talk of the body, magma, moon song “like the shape of her burning / a song like her mouth” song that rises, like inspiration that rises like the down-trodden, like the pain which rises with child birth, the pain of emotion, trauma. It is one of the more complex poems, open to symbolic interpretation, deeply personal, yet accessible through a universal dream-like, mythological lens. The poem reminds me of a line by Hart Crane in the poem Voyages: “Her undinal vast belly moon ward bends.” There-in completing the relationship between the moon, ocean, pregnancy, emotion.

The Death’s Head’s Testament is an erudite, intimate, inviting set of poems, full of turns, motioning like an unsettled ocean, yet discovering peace in detail, memory, family, whilst constantly shifting the reader through an evidently busy & thoughtful mind, not bogged down, but seeing the potential in duty, in the responsibility to family; these poems are tender, full of rehearsed, unique memories that you want to be involved in. There’s a whole life here to engage with.

You can pre-order a copy of The Death’s Head’s Testament here at the Main Street Rag’s home page. To stay up to date with Stephanie’s publications, you can visit her blog.

A sort-of-review of Marie Marshall’s T.S.Eliot Prize nominated ‘I am not a fish’

You’ll never believe me…I was waiting to Skype God. You can imagine the anxiety! I mean…the Almighty, the Alpha & the Omega, Tetragrammaton—YHWH. It was buffering his end, ringing out. There was a lot of eeking & blare. The postman dropped his delivery. I was gripped on what God was going to look like. I suspected a primate for some reason. Nothing ichthyic I thought, nor feline, leonine or arachnid. I was going primate. Still buffering I opened my mail. It was Marie Marshall’s T.S. Eliot Prize nominated I am not a Fish. I forgot all about my natter with God—what had he to do with me, now?

This book is unlike anything. A mellifluous mash of hilarious, playful poems, evading the reader whilst prodding with long boney digits of joy. There is alchemy between word & imagination, infused with hallucinatory & hypnotic substance, which sounds painful, but actually manifests in unparalleled, rib-tickling humour & a spectrum of idiosyncratic oddities.

There is something off-the-cuff in their childish, almost athletic inventiveness, the cardiovascular characters totally out of their minds & extremely entertaining; poems utterly impossible to anticipate, twisting & turning like a fish out of water.  

If you were to take a bowler hat, write lines from Wind in the Willows, The Rig Veda, Aesop’s Fables, a collection of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, a book of puns & dirty jokes founded by Gershon Legman, put the Moebius Strip lines of poetry in the hat, shake that hat, then take those lines & knit them, then you might begin to rustle up poems as inimitably brilliant as the poems in this collection.

The world can be fanatically dull when it comes to being superficial. & yet superficiality, when done right can drag you out of the safety in numbers, the bludgeoning quotidian.

But I don’t want to suggest this assault on the senses isn’t a serious one. This is a test for the reader. There are pitfalls: don’t fall into the trap of thinking no work needs doing on our side. These are poems to startle us. Shock & awe. Perhaps these fabrications are allegory, coping mechanism, the elenctic tug of war to tease out who we really are & why that is wrong, right or of no consequence. Don’t assume the counterintuitive cannot stun you into yourself more than the deliberate, hand held safe precepts of the bloody obvious.

We open with the book’s protagonist, a Mr Coelacanth
 

under a broad hat
and the pseudonym of Lazarus Jackson

Mr Coelacanth is hiding something. He hides in his character, & we are then correct to be cautious, as the poet may be hiding behind something too. Metaphor is after all a form of deliberate, systematic evasion of the thing itself, giving it a fresh label to throw the reader off the scent of the thing itself (the bloody obvious) & see it from a rearranged perspective, for the sake of dramatic effect. There is little reality, not much safe, chartered ground for us to move on here; we are dropped from the sky into somewhere totally unfamiliar & it is exhilarating.

Under his mohair suit and wing-tip brogues is, we suppose, a fish, but he’ll deny it out his lamellar skin. Plain as the nose on your face what he is, especially after he ‘refuses the breaded haddock’ which blows his cover.

His denial is what affirms these poems. They know what they are & Marie knows what they are to be: an exercise upon us to work the weft of our mind to seek out the false flags, false floors, doors, the tricks, the tromp l’oeil, allusions & language play. But the trick is that these poems can be anything you like. You can take them at face value, or read into them what you wish.

The tongue is continuously in the cheek. In Mr Coelacanth’s Nightmare, which is a recurring one

he is before a committee of hungry cats
who ask him the question: Are you now,
or have you ever been, a fish?
 
Never, he replies,
trying not to speak in bubbles,
trying hard not to let words
like gill and dorsal enter his mind.

‘Bubbles’ puns wonderfully on speech bubbles, inviting us to fill in any gaps with our own influence on the poem. I think that is what I love about the nonsensical in these poems: you could write them, like fan fiction, taking the characters on your own bizarre divagations through this surreal, comedy dimension of Marie’s devising.

In Old man-of-the-woods we get a taste of just what it might be like to write one of Marie’s poems. ‘Yesterday I tried to write a poem’ the old man tells us. Unable to find the tools to write he forgets ‘the words’. Happens to the best of us. But then: POW!

‘I would like to zip out my orange jumpsuit
and run, shrieking, through the trees,
my arms waving above my head;
I want to jump (goat-style) the fallen logs,
mate
(with enthusiasm)
make little old-man-of-the-woodses.
I would really like to climb to the forest-tops,
contemplate the sunset until my eyes ache,
my head is giddy,
my heart is full of
wonder.
Wow!’
 

There’s that energy, that’s a poem in the throes of parturition; it is a temptation, zapping ampoules through the characters that they might breathe like a cast of Franken-monsters & transmute into the poet, the reader; encouraging us to think & read creatively through their very existence.  

You feel wholly in the mode of myth. Called to cluster round the lambency of this dimension by the dung-chen, the iridescent bismuth; in this dimension where a monkey sent to death is reborn in a forest-heaven of a sort to live out infinity with an old-man-of-the-wood; where a rat called Beatrice recites the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, who is the Wolf; where the Lamb of Tartary is crucified & the last voice he hears is Mr Coelacanth saying “I am not a fish”.

I can’t really do justice to how much happens in this fecund ‘blueberry universe’ full of gypsy jazz, & daedal motifs rehashed in fresh contexts. I can only hope to articulate how pleasurable it was to read & to amplify the joy of being lost in Marie’s imagination & to encourage you to get a copy & indulge yourself in the ornate language & play.

If this piques your interest you can read Marie’s poetry @ https://kvennarad.wordpress.com/ where you can also find links to buy Marie’s books.

Idleness, a dog’s lot

The Rock (not the muscle-headed Hollywood Rock who doesn’t perform his own stunts but looks hard like he does) in T.S. Eliot’s play explains,

The lot of man is ceaseless labour,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.

Now assuming idle here isn’t a play on idol—which, with a lit-crit cone on my head I’d argue it almost, incontestably, must be—I get this, really, in a knuckling way, a dig in my plexus; especially the difficulty of idleness, especially when the idleness in question breeds guilt. Our 0 hour contractors would surely agree with that about ‘irregular labour’ too, I haven’t met any of them, but they must, mustn’t they?

I am idle. Yes, idle. It isn’t my fault, I don’t think so anyway, I won’t take that slap in the gob. My routine is a binge of uncertainty. I wake early, read (a sort of reading. I re-read most of the lines) whilst my attention is drugged by the early morning roster of horrible American sitcoms, fuzzy and warm, a safety net cueing us when to laugh, the correct level of laugh-intensity, so we fit in—how else would we know otherwise? Every fibre of my snobbish taste rebels against the magnanimous push to be involved.

Why my dad watches these I just don’t know, they are bloody awful. One features the archetypal fat guy, who inflects his sentences, a cue for us to be hysterical, in the present tense. His wife is gorgeous of course, which dismantles the reality of the aesthetic pecking order, when, we ugly people have expended enormous energy accepting the bottom-tier ranking genetics plugged us in.

There is 24hour news to cheer me up. I am become an inveterate consumer of all news. I’ll even stomach the berating tactics of the indefatigable Piers Morgan, God bless him and his uncompromising, style (?). Actually, the way that he is programmed entertains me immensely.

Despite the exorbitant sum of money Susanna Reid receives for stomaching the patriarchal knob rash that is Piers Morgan, I can’t help but pity her. She can hold her own of course, she’s probably got a PhD in political science for all Piers might know. If you watch carefully, as I have inevitably begun to do, you can see her gnawing through her bottom lip when he folds his arms, gathers himself and starts to expound; sure she’ll draw blood one day. The live, brutal bludgeoning with a stiletto at 7:30 a.m. of Morgan, will be a good day for women, and I for one will rouse from my idle stupor and petition Reid’s release.

The irony of this idleness is multifoliate.

First of all, looking for work these days seems to encourage idleness. I went to a local agency in town the other day & they had one job: a warehouse packer, part time, night shifts. Everything being done online, you find gob-shite jobsites, upload CV, scroll lists of a billion menial jobs you could do standing on your head, despite being worded in such a fashion as to make them sound impossible to do, and with a single click you have applied. There is endless disappointment when you look at a job for laboring only to see you need a special permit; or gardening or even data input, where you need a special qualification—as if you need a special dispensation by some ruling-body to be slow-roasted with boredom. This goes on until you start to feel disorientated, vomit in your mouth a little, collapse with such force on your keyboard a key lodges under your eyelid—what follows is rage, panic & a visit to the NHS, where a nurse will tell you off for wasting resources & time.

I cannot adequately express in English how soul-crushing a task this is. The inexorable sadness of it makes me loath our systems, which have infiltrated this process because of the encouragement we tacitly approve via our reception to convenience.

My father has always been a hard worker. It is etched into our family’s moral compass. I agree with it. Yet I can’t help but think that idleness is really something I need to explore, something that might actually need to be more encouraged in society.

I often hear people whine about work, but then before they’ve exhaled, they’ll admit how it halts any uncomfortable thoughts, helps them regulate what simmers beneath the surface of themselves: an existential crisis. Thinking is a terrible thing. This is a limit of consciousness, so people think. It is easier to complain about doing something you don’t want to do consciously or otherwise, than it is being left to be conscious of one’s human frailties. I think there is a certain idleness to be scared or unwilling to participate in your own humanity. We are estranged from animals because of our thinking, to sacrifice this for repetition is to fear the immense complexity and duty to being aware of ourselves. The irony is, the idler is potentially more inclined to this pit of existential waywardness than the hive-minded and duteous.

People (those bloody people) these days, often ask me what I will do with myself now. I have explained my plan to do my MA, then to work toward a PhD. Explaining that PhD’s are funded, has on numerous occasion provoked an outcry: “Why do I have to fund you reading books?” Some, more than makes me comfortable, think PhD’s are funded through taxation. Terrifying isn’t it. As far as I am aware, PhD’s are funded through universities or by businesses. It isn’t the taxpayer’s burden. (Brief aside: these same people forget the miniscule amount of the British budget that goes to people out of work, most of the money for the benefits budget, goes towards pensions, some 100 odd billion.)

Ironic then that that which un-idles us establishes idleness in other areas, areas essential to our development as human beings. Therefore, it takes a daring escape into idleness, to go without the securities afforded by employment, in order to work on yourself. Eliot was onto something, who’d have thought? Because of societal resistance to this, few people are afforded the luxury of being inveterate readers, having hobbies that involve training oneself to be proficient at an art or in studious pursuits. It is in the interest of those that structure society to demonize such pursuits. I think I half believe this, I mean I don’t really think our overlords demonstrate a keen enough intellect to sully our efforts to, get smart. I do still think this was why Gove said what he said about nobody wanting to listen to experts, and why education is no longer hailed as the cornerstone-decision of every school leaver. Plenty of statistics have been produced on how much more money non-graduates are paid than graduates—Google it. What is never remarked, is how little a properly educated person really wants. Maybe I am sheltered by my own requirements and a few I know, who manage with so little and while not exactly happy, probably wouldn’t  trade what they have figured out for flash cars and holidaying twice a year. Puerile aren’t we. Daft. Stubborn. Doomed to a life of misery, to be sexless, saggy, ugly, useless: human.

It is complicated. Everything is. Idleness simplifies. While I am not open to an extended period of doing nothing, I will try to make the most of my current idleness. Everyone’s doing something, a lot of those doers are making a right pig’s ear of what they do, I don’t see how it can hurt to just stop being a doer for a while and watch what’s going on.

There is in idleness the sensation of feeling invisible; I could do with disappearing for a while.