(Remember, what follows is opinion, as always in these essays, it is not an incontestable truth.)


The following passage is from Robert Browning’s Red Cotton Night Cap Country or Turf & Towers:

Have you, the travelled lady, found yourself
Inside a ruin, fane or bath or cirque,
Renowned in story, dear through youthful dream?
If not,—imagination serves as well.
Try fancy-land, go back a thousand years,
Or forward, half the number, and confront
Some work of art gnawn hollow by Time’s tooth,
Hellenic temple, Roman theatre,
Gothic cathedral, Gallic Tuilleries,
But ruined, one and whichsoe’er you like.
Obstructions choke what still remains intact,
Yet proffer change that’s picturesque in them;
Since little life begins where great life ends,
And vegetation soon amalgamates,
Smooths novel shape from out the shapeless old,
Till broken column, battered cornice block
The centre with a bulk half weeds and flowers,
Half relics you devoutly recognize.
Devoutly recognizing,—hark, a voice
Not to be disregarded! “Man worked here
Once on a time; here needs again to work;
Ruins obstruct, which man must remedy.”
Would you demur “let time fulfil his task,
And, till the scythe-sweep find no obstacle
Let man be patient?”

In short Browning is saying, the ruin obstructs the progress of time, & in consequence, life; the work of man— the shell-of-what-was worked for prior generations & it is in its nature to continue to be of use. In its disused state, “picturesque” yes, but as he says “little life begins where great life ends.”
Browning’s protagonist Monsieur Leonce Miranda, renovates an old priory inherited from his father, called Clairvaux. Rather than live in a comfortable Paris apartment on the Place Vendome, Monsieur Miranda opts to renovate the ruin & house his love Clara de Millefleur there.
There are scenes in which Monsieur Miranda ascends the tower & surveys the land; the tower at Clairvaux becomes a metaphor of self-mastery, of working on oneself, of noting the inner mechanics of self, as if the labour expended on the task compensated for the stain of sin.
The tribulations of Monsieur Miranda make the renovation of a priory ironic; what was Browning saying about religion, owing that Monsieur Miranda’s efforts fail? Browning has some interesting speculations in religious matters, which i may go into in another post.
(Aside: Though the poem is by no means one of Browning’s most popular & can prove a difficult read, it is worth the effort for his diverse, unexpected speculations & the strength & ease of his line. Moreover it is an interesting approach to a long poem, being a conversation between Browning & his friend Anne Thackeray. The critic C.H.Herford called the style of the poem “special versified correspondence”. Browning borrows some of the journalist’s methods in the telling of this story. Browning is an overlooked Victorian in my opinion, worthy of more devotion, with a much more interesting vocabulary than say, Tennyson, who is a lesser poet.)

Why leave a ruin to the ravages of time? i can only speak for England (but i’d hazard to say the same concerns most cultures): we do it because we suppose in the ruin is relic & relic is a matter of identity, it connects us with an authenticity, a chapter of our history that we take pride in, that we amalgamate together to compose our cultural identity. Why we venerate periods of time few really understand, & even with such scant understanding, find indomitable commonality, becomes stranger to me as i get older— nationalism is built on such monuments. Why we have made family fun out of dungeons is very peculiar. It discombobulates to think the largest exodus from a war torn nation, since WWII is taking place across the continent of Europe, & idle landmarks are preserved for passive Sunday outings & the country is deemed full.
England is full of ruins. i remember some outrage about Tesco (a supermarket chain) renovating an old church & people were saying how disrespectful it was, yet they don’t care when the chain-pub Wetherspoon’s turns a stone masons or cinema, or any other 2nd grade listed building, into a pub. The church was idle, a business moved in, employed people, provided a service to a local community, made a use out of it: “vegetation soon amalgamates.”

Roger Scruton made a documentary some years ago called Why Beauty Matters, for the BBC. His concern, that “we are losing beauty, and there is a danger that with it, we will lose the meaning of life.” because, he continues, “[beauty] is not just a subjective thing, but a universal need of human beings.”
i don’t entirely agree with Scruton. He relies heavily on a spiritual dimension that establishes the talent & vision in the artist, suggesting that in tandem with talent, there is an element beyond the will of the artist.
He oscillates between examples of modern ugliness, starting with Duchamp’s urinal, & what tend to be irrefutable examples of high art, often Renaissance works that people don’t usual have a leg to stand on when criticizing, part-of-the-canon art; such as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, which, if i am honest, i think a horrible painting. When he says things like true art (& beauty) “show the real in the light of the ideal” he just shoots himself in the foot. i don’t see how this isn’t subjective, which he says true art isn’t, it is revelation & realization of a universal, irrefragable truth expressed through the aesthetic.
What is the outcome of such a upholding? Does art not fail to change in response to the ideas that we fall prey to?
In his hometown of Reading, Scruton tours abandoned offices & a bus station built in the 60s, on the premise of Louis Sullivan’s edict “form follows function”. The buildings are plastered in graffiti, a wrecked eye sore. “No one wants to be in them” he explains; they are ugly. However, he takes us to a relic of the past, an old forge turned café, lovingly restored, full of people. You get the picture.
i see much the same in Jeju where i live. The old native houses sell without struggle & people, though they take a great deal of hard work to restore, put the effort & capital into the endeavor. However, we might contest, that our beauty is informed by what we are told is beautiful & that demolished, disused buildings, whatever their history, don’t have to remain so, if we only alter our perception of what is generally regarded as beautiful. Is a structure aesthetically valuable because of its history & decoration, or can the use it is put to, the cause it works for, not be the object of its beauty? Surely a worthy endeavor with enough effort can elbow an aesthetic leaning into the renovation? If a ruin can be renovated then surely an ugly factory built under Sullivan’s tutelage can be beautiful in its usefulness?
The historical landmarks Browning asks his friend Anne to picture, are not languishing unwonted due to ugliness, they need only reformatting for a new purpose, they need less attention & could have maximum effect. Imagine Buckingham Palace, rather than packed with paying selfie obsessed tourists, full of refugee families. Instead of Saint Paul’s Cathedral serving up the diatribe of Christianity, imagine if it housed the homeless on London’s streets; same goes for the numerous cathedrals across the whole of Europe. Idealism, yes; but this is what Scruton thinks high art does to us.
Do we really have the space available in this overpopulated world, to be as finicky as Scruton is saying our sense of the aesthetic is? i am not challenging beauty’s importance, but that it isn’t a matter of what Scruton determines is important based on art that is canonized as high art by an elite. i don’t particularly wish to defend Duchamp or Damien Hirst, why do i need to— i certainly don’t think Scruton sees the whole picture though.

Interestingly, a short sub chapter of George Santayana’s The Sense of Beauty is titled The Influence of the Passion of Love. In this chapter Santayana expresses something deeply profound that “If any one were desirous to produce a being with a great susceptibility to beauty, he could not invent an instrument better designed for that object than sex.”
But sex is not constricted to the act of copulation, the effect of our desire for it is the same effect that instigates our sense of beauty for things or devotions, it becomes a blanket term: “If the stimulus does not appear as a definite image [a lover], the values evoked are dispersed over the world, and we are said to have become lovers of nature, and to have discovered the beauty and meaning of things.” Including art.
Returning to Scruton’s question of why beauty matters? We have an answer. Beauty endows things with a sort of “sexual passion” (as Santayana puts it) thus we are attracted to them & give them value. This is probably just Plato’s Eros termed differently; i think Santayana goes into more depth though.
It may be a monstrous thing to say & i may risk making myself very unpopular, but beautiful people, models or actors & the like have an advantage over others when they walk into a room, they are responded to with our gaze, a mark of value that jumps ahead of any knowledge of who the person is— don’t judge a book by its cover we say. We don’t aim to but sometimes we slip up with the parapraxes of our attentions.
I have always thought it a genius move on nature’s part to make the infants of any species, cute. What is cuteness if not a sort of evolutionary reaction to the possibility of neglect or loss, designed to elicit the cooperation of the environment; to get people to care for you, educate, feed etc? How many times do we see in a film, someone who hates kids take the kid under their guardianship?

i always like to get something about how the poet fits into this & we do of course. We poets & writer-types are all mining each other in some way. i acquiesce to the charge, it is probably called learning.
i’ll read a poem, it jolts something in me enough to want to make use of it; there is a theme or subject the poet raises & i think to myself “i like that, it’d fit snugly in something i’ve been working on, but i could make it more in my aesthetic register.” The thing extracted feels so connected with something we would say but never got around to thinking yet, it feels natural to borrow it for our own circumstance. No compunction necessary.
What would be the opposite of this? A sort of inverted aesthetic, where the poem is so terrible we ache to set the balance straight. Would this reaction still begin from an aesthetic point? Does the bad aesthetic of a crap poem teach us how not to write a poem & in the negative influence retain some aesthetic if only indirectly?
Eliot as we know was a great borrower, the greatest i’d say. His borrowing was a sort of renovation of the towers of the past, giving them a lick of paint & some new curtains.
i don’t think it necessary to borrow from that towering past, i’ll take what i can learn from it, then alter that new information. This is more interesting & cogent, not spraying graffiti over it, more noting it & writing what it left in the gaps, which is pretty much everything it isn’t & could never be; in that way it doesn’t only get re-contextualized it gets a new format too, enough so it wouldn’t recognize itself. My sense of its beauty is in the “sexual passion” for it, masked as my attention, my respect to still let it take me under its wing, even if the influence ends in challenge. It is partly our challenge of the past that enables us to keep our feet firmly in the happenings of the present.

Next time you’re out at an art gallery or buying pottery in an antiques shop, reading a poem or even about to eat a cream cake, i hope your hounded by the feeling of a “sexual passion” for the object; however, remember it may not be an idea, but mechanism— the trigger of beauty.

Streets of Jeju part 1

i was aiming on this day to get out of my abstract, narrowing habit & let the lens breath a little by opening up the periphery & see if i can’t capture something of the bustle of architecture, the way buildings & parked cars scrum & squeeze each other in a jostle for space. The continual work & construction that is a daily sight here— & the calm of facades.

Something else interesting happened this day: the weather was gloomy, but not just dark, the cloud was a white blanket, without any definition in the contours that you get with individual cloud, or even a cloudy day, when it is windy, which means the clouds are in motion; these days are ideal for photography, but milky, soupy skies, sap any opportunity for light & just create a matte effect across the landscape. i’d usually find it hard to find my stride in this atmosphere of weather & call it quits; however, i was able to alter my perceptions, pull myself up out of this coma of light & find a mood that i could work with. This feels like a leap forward in my sensitivity with the camera & i wasn’t disappointed with the results when i got the photos back for editing.


Hallim & Ongpo

These locations have appeared in numerous poems & i have written a great many of my poems whilst out walking or riding around these places. They are not the prettiest places & i sometimes wonder what it is about them that appeals to me. i think it is their ruggedness. There is a sense of desolation, that they have been forgotten & left to the weather.  & yet, they are so noisy with shape & shade, with dilapidation & trash, with motion & sound— forlorn, yet impressive. Real, unpretentious aesthetics that the camera laps up.  This is where the tourists never come & yet they are the most vibrant areas of the island. i shouldn’t complain & i sure don’t wish for tourists to discover these places.

Thinking out loud on the subject of tourism & authenticity & the problems in their relationship

Thinking out loud on the subject of tourism & authenticity & the problems in their relationship

To experience authenticity, it should be more difficult than this. More than a taxi ride, cable car, which takes you for a modest price to the summit & thereabouts. & thereabouts, you can purchase all you require to fill your back pack & your belly. Here at the shelter, before the ascent up Yeongsil to Witsaeoreum, you can eat wild roots, ginkgo nuts, ferns & rice, foraged from the surrounding forests & prepared, sizzling in black clay pots. You can eat rice cake & oranges. You can buy a broad hat to block the sun, a handkerchief for mopping sweat. Extra pairs of legs. Chocolate bars & coffee. omija or citron tea with a healthy bitterness to sting the tongue alive.
These are not authentic things in themselves. They are an amalgam, guaranteeing a volume of tourists to an authentic environment, equipped with myth, religion & local produce.
You don’t even need to clean your own boots when you get home, no need to dirty a sponge, there is an air pressurized machine, which cranks & whirs angrily, frightens the crows into bewildering caws. It is as they’re trying to fend off a threat. The machine blasts the scum off your soles.

Tourism vitiates quality. Yeongsil shelter isn’t so bad, i’m more flummoxed by ease; which i am beginning to understand as a stumbling block for authenticity. Elsewhere isn’t so fortunate. To maintain authenticity is time consuming. Time is money. Less time spent = more money made. Volumes of the product should be kept to a minimum, like winking in a blizzard.

A mist falls like rags of lace over the temple. Cools the packed pines. Tourists feels their skin again, as if it were a slab of white marble. They forgot the feeling of horripilation. They welcome the old sensations of the skin that summer forgets for them. The statues of Siddartha & Dangun gasp as if they took a gulp of carbonated water. There should be a traffic of mountain streams, pristine & audacious running beneath the small bridge leading to the temple & bifurcating throughout the forest. i can feel the afterthoughts of its energies in the light wind. The rain has been unsatisfactory this summer.

Stone lanterns with peaked roofs have space enough for a single candle. Capaciously they guide monks through the trunk of night. A shrine beside the temple smokes incense, erodes gifts of chocolate & fizzy drinks, as if the heavens developed a sweet tooth. The monk went to eat soup & catch up on Kakao Talk. There are families wearing the same clothes, a Siberian tiger on the adverse & reverse of their t-shirts. They make brief surveys of what’s on offer. Father’s with hands behind their backs & a brisk pace though their steps are shored by their height. Mother’s with purses full of tissues & small vials of perfume. Children with the scent of sugar in their mouth & red stains on their clothes. They seem disinterested, but it’s more likely the next place on their bucket list is lodged in their mind. i can’t grudge them time’s footfalls. There are countless steps to take up the mountain where the 500 Generals bang granite fists on the sky, to make their grief heard over growling motorbikes & families giggling at photographs of themselves, fastened in mid-air.

The crows bark in registers that remind me of gesticulations from a pulpit. Wings aren’t the best tool for annunciating, like using Claude Chappe’s semaphore on the radio. You need fingers for such emphasis. One crow i saw whispered in the ears of another, unlike the irritating flies & mosquitoes who zip in mine. Somewhere a circumference is made from one crow whispering to another, a clear center, except the boundaries, though felt to be somewhere, are of uncertain demarcation— greater progress is expected. Things were off to a good start for not knowing.

The cloud drifts away. The summit ridge jollies into a modern blue. Everyone is the same. Their scale is similar to a platoon of ants. Slowed by altitude. Met by a wind that never makes it down. Seeing them i think of Jacob ’s ladder & wish them the best of luck. The striated façade of a cliff beside them, a reminder of our stature. Dead trees. Medicinal flowers. Rocks & dry grass.

Teenagers follow parents to the temple next to the car park. They look up at the eaves hand painted with lotus in teak, red, blue & orange. Hand crafted by master builders who study for years, who carried fallen pines from somewhere deep in the forest. Treated them to a new incarnation. Objects arranged into adoration like 2 chopsticks that fell into the shape of a rood. Even the window shutters carved into a diamond lattice the sad browed bend of the roof is of no interest to them— its gable shelter for small birds, ignored. After impersonating crows they check their cell phones & never resurface. i don’t blame them, but i want to. What is this lump of wood to them? They can’t use it for shelter, it inspires no aesthetic climax, its interior & exterior is without LED or halogen fixtures. The temple doesn’t flash unless the wind extinguishes & reignites a candle in the same breath. This is a remote place & they have no gauge on the distances of solitude. They are yet to abstract the dimensions of peace.

The crows signal each other with a spectrum of caws. They speculate on our commotions.
Time’s urgency is lost in the pull of so much umbrage, in so many dried sticks of the dead carpeting the ground. Branches that if brushes were attached at their tips would paint master pieces with a little encouragement by the wind.

Only our presence brings time here. Geology has its own. & tries to ignore our vested interests. Goes around us. Will always take the long way round.

But i’m only here for the difference in degrees.

Crossing the Yellow Sea for Seoul

i made a trip to the mainland by ferry the other day to make an Ikea run for our new pension. Though being inside Ikea literally makes me feel like i’m being crucified while a crow pecks at my viscera, i at least had an opportunity to take some photos of the ferry & Seoul— gotta make the best of a skull numbingly dull situation such as any situation involving Ikea.
The ferry gave me ample chance to use the windows for reflection-shots & people were pretty off guard. In Seoul i was only interested in the buildings, as they provoke so varied a response in me & in people generally, but i was so busy in Seoul i didn’t have much of a chance to take as many photos as i’d have liked.
On returning i haven’t been all that well, the schedule was a bugger, having to sleep in a public room over night, next to snoring ajeossi & then having to cook breakfast for a full house as soon as i got back; plus, Seoul’s overbearing noise & pollution always does a number on me— i don’t know how human beings have come to develop a tolerance for thriving in cities, they are vile places. i am on the mend now after walking down by the sea & drinking in some sea air. Enjoy the fruits of my 2 day trip.

there’s ∞ a photograph going on

tips: look everything up & down. look into things. looks around them. try to see beyond them to anything on the otherside. hold still. hold breath. keep your eye out. sometimes be patient. know you may have to rush. be ready. imagine your head can swivel 360°. become light & shadow. know the seepage of light. up. down. in slants across n’ up. so much is happening at every moment. there’s ∞ a photograph going on


a mishmash of photographs

i’ve got a thing about windows— the depth of focus they offer is staggering at the correct angle. i thought i’d plaster a mish-mash of stuff here rather than focus on a particular style.

i. am. so. tired. the. weeds. are. unending. but. i. love. them. somehow. they. help. my. concentration. studies. but. down. side. is. my. brain. won’t. write. properly. so. have. pictures.