Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I am getting quite frustrated with Blogger. I have tried to insert pictures into my blog several times and for some unknown reason the picture is visible for the first viewing then it disappears. I am going to ask for help and then I am going to re-consider my future with Blogger.
this is a test blog

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Open your eyes !

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

How do we gain knowledge? If knowledge is like light, visible to the eyes then surely it can be said that through teaching we can be exposed to the light and hence be enlightened. But what if to extend the analogy we imagine that we are only temporarily blinded perhaps because the light is too bright, or the room is too dark. Then it would be better if we were left alone to adjust before being able to see perfectly ...

For more info see Plato ' The Republic '

Monday, November 03, 2003

I found myself reading another one of my Pelican's this morning - 'Body and Mind in Western Thought' by Joan Wynn Reeves. It is a history of psychology and a study of the mind / body problem. She starts off the early Greeks. Timaeus was the only text of Plato available in the middle ages and I never realised that Plato had such a curious idea of a 'world soul'. The basic idea is that the creator made a world soul with everything and then divided up the soul and gave a little bit to each star. This soul was then fashioned into human beings, specifically men. Each mans job was to live righteously so that when he died he could go back to his origin of living on his native star otherwise he was reincarnated first as a woman and then as the 'lower' animals.

Another interesting feature of the book is that over half of it contains exerpts from the original texts so I have a fascinating source book on the history of psychology!

I remember puzzling over the idea of the soul 12 years ago in university. Nobody told me about Plato, I wish they had. I had this idea that the soul was a Biblical concept and decided to cling to it, which is rather hopeless when almost everyone is rejecting it, even Christian friends are saying they don't need to hold on to the concept of duality.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Last Saturday I left a lot of books back to the Linenhall Library, Graham Greene and Robert Graves. I felt that I had to move on and even though I was enjoying them sometimes a break is required. This I have tried, unsuccessfully to read 'Islands in the Stream' by Hemingway. Unfortunately it contains some wonderful passages and some quite disappointing passages, I am still in the middle of disappointing. This book was published posthumously and it is understandable that texts he wrote may not have even been intended for publication. I sense that parts of this book were just notebook jottings. In a way they are fascinating because this was the real man, in a way I really want to read the artist, the genius. I have quite a strange relationship with Hemingway, I admire him and yet most of his ideas are quite different to mine.

I am also reading 'Embers' by Sandor Marai, btw when I said 'in the car' I meant when the car was parked. I used to read a lot of books this way as it was the only time I had some time to myself but with the nights getting darker it is more difficult. Embers is a very mysterious book. I am finding it quite slow and yet there is a lot of tension, every time I suspect I know what is going to happen it changes. It takes patience to read a book that is slow and yet shows great promise.

The past day or so I have been thinking about Teilhard de Chardin. On my last day in Lima I went with Isabel to get CDs. While she went shopping I sat in the square reading 'The future of Man'. He gave a picture of the human race as a number of boats sailing down a river. Unknown to most of the sailors around the next corner there is a whirlpool. Apparently we had some choices, to turn around, to ignore it, or to face up to the challenge and overcome it. Unfortunately just as I was getting interested the book was misplaced and left in Peru. It does seem more relevant now considering the past century and that it was probably written at the latest around 1945. I wonder what Teilhard would be doing if he was around today.
Here is a link to an article about Teilhard de Chardin with a similar theme: Teilhard de Chardin and the Noosphere

I am also reading 'The Ukimwi Road' by Dervla Murphy. The quite incredible story of her bicycle ride through Kenya, Uganda to Malawi. She seems to be completely calm about the fact that there are tribal riots and shootings everyday. I have this grand idea of getting to grips with Africa, so occasionally I read something African. She did the ride 10 years ago, Africa is such a dangerous place I am amazed at the number of people who are friendly towards her. I didn't really think she would impress me but actually it is interesting.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

As I was saying here is the text of that Billy Collins poem from 'Poetry London':

Billy Collins
In the weak gray light before dawn
the bird song is so sustained and chaotic
it is as if every member of the orchestra
decided to sit wherever they wanted
and began to play without a conductor
and with only one listener sitting,
well, lying, really, on his back
in this great philharmonic hall
of hills, rivulets, and fields
where trees are circled by their shadows once a day,
where stars appear then disappear,
as they just did, on the high blue-black ceiling.

"Faith is a bird that feels the light,"
my mother used to say
quoting some Russian author,
"and sings before the day is bright."
Nice, now that she has boated off for good,
the way that couplet couples us
so well I can see us standing on a prominence.
She says the first line,
a pause, then I add the clincher,
then silence, no bird or songs,
only the two of us gazing over a wide, featureless expanse
like something out of Milton or Dante.

The hermetic library

As you probably suspect libraries are quite important to me. I just want to say that the library in Castlereagh college is one of the most difficult and strange libraries I have ever been to. A library should encourage free information, but no, if you want to search for a book you have to ask the librarian, no cards, no computer index nothing. I am convinced that they hide the fact they are open on Saturday mornings. Perhaps hermetic isn't the right word but what sort of library hides information? It is bizarre.

I went in yesterday and although there were cars nobody was around, the place was absolutely deserted. The librarian was sitting doing nothing and when I asked him to get a library card he says 'Oh, I don't know if I'll get it done today' I'm like' what, are you busy, there is no one here! Bizarre

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Yet again hardly any reading this week at all. I have been trying to read Hemingway - 'To have and have not', 'How to be happy and human' and 'Embers'. Also I got the new copy of 'Poetry London' this week and there is a great poem by Billy Collins on the very first page. Some people say Billy Collins is a very light and trivial poet but Turgenev is quite good and perhaps when I get the scanner back I will quote it in full - in this very Blog.

Something very strange is happening, Ken Smith died in July, one of the great modern UK poets and I can't find any tributes to him in Poetry magazines. I was sure Poetry London would write something but nothing. Ken Smith was a wonderful poet and a great man, perhaps not my favourite poet but he deserves pages and pages of tributes and praise.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

It is hard to think what to write about because this has been an extremely busy week for me. I may not have the luxury of reading time in work because things have changed. I'm still reading 'Goodbye to all that' almost entirely for entertainment value, at the moment his school life makes me laugh, at the moment anyway.

I started re-reading 'Embers' by Sandor Marai in the car this week. In the past the problem with this book was that it was small and had large print but in the first few pages I'm starting to see sparks of an interesting read. There is a part where one of the characters meets a girl from Paris and he is describing how he convinced her to travel from Paris to Hungary. He says 'she asked me where I was from (Hungary) and that was the first intimate word we exchanged' I sat in the car thinking about this gruff Hungarian at a Parisian ball saying 'Hungary' and enchanting this poor young girl. It is something I've never really thought of, that one word, especially your home land could have such power and the whole Hungary / hungry connotation. 'I'm hungry for you'

Thursday, October 16, 2003

I read some more of 'Goodbye to all that' by Robert Graves. I am going to have to email my brother to check if the rumour is true about the morgue in Munich. Robert Graves was in Munich as a child and he was told that when officials or important people die they put them in a special chair in full uniform or dress for several days with bells attached to their fingers and limbs by strings. This is to make sure they are really dead.

I finished 'Mystic River' today. The ending was incredible, I can truly say I had no idea how it would end. The book wasn't entirely a good read, the middle went on for too long. I think the film will be incredible, films don't tend to stay still for too long.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

I decided to try another story by Borges tonight and I was richly treated when I read 'The shape of the sword'. It must be one of the few stories from Latin America that include an Irish character and the story is quite shocking and probably still true or at least have some relevance for today. The main character is an Irishman, a coward, one who is an economic genius but on the battlefield was turned into a traitor for money. There is one line that sums up the strength of the whole story 'for a gentleman only lost causes should be attractive'.
I just found out that 'Mystic River' by Dennis Lehane has been made into a film directed by Clint Eastwood - very cool. That means I will have to finish the book and it could be one of the few films that I read the book and a film comes out immediately!

Sunday, October 12, 2003

I thought for a while I would sneak in blog journal mode and tell you about two surreal things that have happened to me recently.

1. Whilst in Lima we left one of my new and favourite t-shirts into a laundry. The process of going to a laundry in Lima is something incredibly Peruvian, I don't know how they manage to make something so simple incredibly complicated. Isabel had to go through the bag and describe all the clothes, write down brand names, count the number of socks and underwear and all this whilst trying to deal with a shop worker who I didn't perceive as being very pleasant, even though I don't speak spanish, there is always discussion and negotiation in Lima. So something that takes 5 minutes or less in Belfast took 30 minutes.

When I got my t-shirt back I noticed something sharp and itchy digging into my side. I looked and found a label, coloured black with 'Edition' in gold letters. I am not sure if this was on the shirt before it went to the laundry. Also it is sewed with invisible 'fishing-line' thread and not with the usual red thread. I get the feeling this was added for some very strange reason.

2. Tonight we still had shopping to do so we went to the 24 hours Tesco in Belfast. Unbelievably it was closed. Isabel was furious and I was embarrassed. It ended up we couldn't find a decent supermarket open which was quite disappointing. Isabel calls Belfast 'undeveloped'. Who says reality is dull and predictable?
Perhaps I was being a bit harsh in my criticism of thrillers considering that I read quite a few, mostly crime books, some which could be called thrillers others probably not. The question of genre in my opinion is most of the time a red herring when trying to classify the strength of a book. Some thrillers can be just as rewarding as the so-called literary fiction and some literary fiction is read for the sake of reading it and not purely for enjoyment. However a sensible writer such as Robert Harris shouldn't make statements that are complete rubbish like the one he made.

Another statement by a journalist also made me think. Some journalist on CNN was saying that he had lived in Northern Ireland and in Washington D.C. and that comparatively Northern Ireland was safer. George Pelecanos lives in Washington D.C. and it got me thinking what would it be like if one of the Belfast gangsters moved to or was kicked out and went to set up business in D.C. Someone like Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair would go down quite well with Pelecanos I think.

I haven't had much of a chance to get anything read today. I read some poems by Robert Graves last night and I have this idea to get a Henry James novel out of the library but that is as far as it goes I am afraid.

Friday, October 10, 2003

I started reading 'The Picador book of Latin American Stories' (again) I pick this up every so often and most of the stories are short and pleasant. On the plane I read 'The handsomest drowned man in the world' by Marquez. It is indeed quite a marvelous story. The world is turned upside down when a drowned man becomes the most important citizen on a small island. Indeed the island is so small they have to make a boat for him and put him out to sea, very reluctantly.

I don't understand these people like Robert Harris are scared of magical realism and claim it is artificial and nonsense. This story was perfectly clear, no fairies or fantasy but somehow it just clings to you. Still a very enjoyable read. It is like sometimes we have to cling to reality obsessively and people only want to read what is real, or what could really happen. First of all, most of the thrillers I have read are very unreal, raising the titanic, finding treasure, being an action figure, these are all events that either do not happen or happen so rarely that people read them to find an escape from reality.

Other writers such as Dostoevsky, the action goes on in a mans head, what is so real about that?
The counter works !!! Hurrah, I just sent an email complaining to Blogger, I'm sorry honestly but I was up until one o'clock in the morning last night trying to get it to work. Let's hope it will move off zero or I will look very sad!

Thursday, October 09, 2003

just testing my new web page counter #3
Unforutnately I am back in Belfast now but it does mean I have more time to explain some of that garbled nonsense I was writing in Lima.

'All Souls Day' is a very interesting book. Although it appears to a very meditative / thoughtful book with very little plot there is something much deeper. I couldn't really put my finger on it in Lima because I only had 15 minutes but it is something like an allegory / parallel. The storyline is that Arthur Daane is quite a lonely figure, a dutch man living in Berlin. He has friends but they find him very mysterious. He meets a young female called Elik who is researching an obscure medieval spanish queen. At the same time as the process of two people testing each other trying to find out each others past his friends are trying to help her to study the process of history, finding secrets about each other and about the events that happened to people in the past.

It starts off with looking at the dutch word for history - geschiedenis ie the study of niches, the study of hiding places.

The style is fascinating in that the narrative voice changes between characters quite frequently. This can be confusing but once you get to grips with it, it becomes enlightening, you even have dead people talking and aliens!

I loved reading this book, I was reading it when I was traveling through the jungle in Peru and it was perfect.

Friday, October 03, 2003

This is the first post from Lima, Peru:

Finished Perfume by Patrick Suskind, a thriller - good but slightly disappointing at the end.

Reading {All Souls Day{ by Cees Nooteboom, incredible book. History it starts off in dutch is similiar to {study of niche{ the study of secrets and finding the hidden things. It seems to be in the form of a parallel between the historic process of researching ancient spain and two strangers getting to know each other. Plus it is wonderfully meditative and philosophical. Really enjoying it.



Sunday, August 31, 2003

Last night when I got home from the Pizza evening I started to read 'Medieval Thought' by Gordon Leff. This is an old Pelican book that I read sometimes when I am interested in obscure philosophy. Pelican books are usually quite well written and even though this book is old (1958) I quite enjoy reading it.

I was reading about the school of Chartres and the debate between dialecticism (logic / reason / debate) and the older approach of learning 'through faith'. He gives a very interesting quotation from John of Salisbury about the perils of the dialectic approach to life:

'Disdaining everything except logic, they spend their entire lives on it; having become old they are puerile doubters; they discuss every syllable and even every letter of words and books; they hesitate over nothing, they search everywhere and they never come to knowledge'

(Directed originally against the new school of logic on the left bank of the Seine under Adam of Petit-Pont.)
Although I haven't had a chance to study the article by Zimbardo, the aspect that interests me is the emphasis on how social situation determines the ethical / decision making process. He makes the claim that even those with 'high moral' feelings were still changed through extreme social situations (like in Nazi Germany) or were likely to be changed. This is something that we need to learn when we decide on how to make ethical decisions - we need to realise that we are strongly influenced by our environment and that we can be 'seduced' into doing bad things. Once we realise this we can work to minimise these effects.

It is also important that governments and organisations working for social change realise that a good social environment is crucial for a good society. I don't think you can just expect people to behave 'properly' - crime, terrorism etc needs to be fought not only in the minds but in the social conditions of where people live.
Hi Rod,

I've read the article by Zimbardo. There's an aspect related to the electroshock and the jail experiments I want to discuss here.
The first experiment is about behaving as someone deemed to be in authority directs us to. But the second is about behaving as it is expected according to one's social role -there wouldn't necessary be an 'authority', except that we consider a wider group or society at large as such. This makes the second example far more worrisome, as the 'script' is not written down by any person in particular -it's someting we all learn through socialization. In the first one, we behave in a given way because this is what we are told to do by someone whose authority we accept. In the second one, we behave in a given way because we know, or think we know, how a person in our situation would behave and we know, or think we know, that we are expected to behave in that way. It's a spine-shivering fact that this hypothesis has been widely validated!


Sunday, August 24, 2003

I stumbled across the incredible web page of Professor Zimbardo. He has a very interesting new publication which you can read online:

A Situationist Perspective on the Psychology of Evil: Understanding How Good People Are Transformed into Perpetrators. (2003)

In this article he explains his theory that it doesn't matter how much people try to think they are good and moral, when they are put under extreme social conditions they will start behaving exactly as they are directed, he even lists the conditions that have to be set up to create these changes, such as providing anonymity and giving the volunteers positions of responsibility.

Home page of Professor Zimbardo

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Just found another wonderful quote from 'America's receding future':

'Kiss the beautiful satin lining of her coat'

wow what a line!
Just finished reading the first chapter of 'America's receding future' by Ronald Segal. Written in the 60s it describes Dallas as the crime capital of America. With 10 murders per 100 000 people it was higher than New York or Los Angeles. Segal described the culture of vacant Dallas where money was the only important thing and culture patrons openly admitted they were only interested in classical music to get more money.

This is interesting considering that George W Bush sprent a lot of time in Dallas.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Hear this, O ye wayward winebibber, for you will be as welcome as a fart in the queen's bedchamber!

I could not resist giving you this quote from this very bizarre web site that I just found:

Biblical curse generator

It is supposed to be from Ezekiel, Isaiah or Jeremiah. - but I doubt it!

Ship of Fools seems also quite cool.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Just started to read 'Mystic River' by Dennis Lehane. This is proving to be an excellent book, I haven't read any of his books before so it is quite exciting. Mystic River is a stand alone crime book and even has a slight 'whodunnit' theme which doesn't seem to be that fashionable any more. It is based in Boston in the Irish community. It starts off with three school mates who are fighting in the middle of the street. A car pulls up with two bogus policemen, one of them gets in and from then on their entire lives change.

There seems to be a few extremes in crime books that I don't like, one extreme is the 'all evil' approach where crime is evil and we have to do our hardest to fight it, as seen in Patricia Cornwell. The other extreme is all crime is a reaction to the environment. Pelecanos, although he is an excellent writer reflects this and I don't really like it either. Lehane fits into the middle of this and I am enjoying his book. Of course a lot of other writers won't fit into this but - we'll just ignore them.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

“For a totalitarian regime,” wrote Arendt, the ideal citizen isn’t a chest-thumping Nazi, but rather the man for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (meaning the reality of the experience) and the distinction between true and false (meaning the standard way of thinking) doesn’t exist any more.”

Read this in Autodafe, which sounds like a very worthwhile online magazine.

(btw the new blogger edit screen is very cool)

Monday, July 28, 2003

I finally managed to get a copy of the book I ordered for my birthday - Alexander the Great's art of strategy. At first I thought it was a bit too small but it is making a fascinating read. Unfortunately it is not purely a biography of Alexander but also a business manual. Partha Bose works for a large international law firm and he is always talking about business. I just finished a chapter on the battle of Chaeronea. It was a fascinating battle, Alexander and Phillip defeated an enemy that had a superior force and a superior position by a little bit of clever thinking and manoeuvering.

Makes me want to be an international lawyer.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Over the past few days I have been reading from The Oxford Book of Essays. The essays are arranged in chronological order so I read them alphabetically. It was an eclectic mix - Churchill, Baldwin, TS Eliot, Churchill's was one of the best where he describes meeting his dad in a dream and telling him all the things that had happened over the last 50 years. At the very end his dad says 'and what were you doing over this time with wars and tragedies for civilization?' then he wakes up.

A host of different quotes and interesting articles.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

When I was a fighter pilot for the FBI, I discovered God as a hard boiled egg in my lunchbox. I ate him.

Among the graffiti in the men's lavatory of a beer-garden in Austin, Texas.

Just found this in another book I found in my old house - America's receding future by Ronald Segal.

Friday, July 18, 2003

When you read this quote from 'The Organization man' it makes business life seem interesting, it might even be from a spy film, or maybe even 'the matrix'!

"The real conflict, I am going to argue in these chapters, is the
conflict within work. Of all the organization men the true execu-
tive is the one who remains most suspicious of The Organization.
If there is one thing that characterizes him, it is a fierce desire to
control his own destiny and, deep down, he resents yielding that
control to The Organization, no matter how velvety its grip. He
does not want to be done right by; he wants to dominate, not be
But he can't act that way. He must not only accept control, he
must accept it as if he liked it. He must smile when he is trans-
ferred to a place or a job that isn't the job or place he happens to
want. He must appear to enjoy listening sympathetically to points
of view not his own. He must be less 'goal-centred', more 'em-
ployee-centred'. It is not enough now that he work hard; he must
be a damn good fellow to boot.
And that is the rub. Executives have always had to play a role,
but the difference between role and reality is becoming increasingly
difficult to resolve. Even executives who would hate to be ac-
cused of philosophical thought sense that they are poised midway
in a rather perplexing shift of values. They applaud better human
relations, permissive management, and the like, yet for them per-
sonally these same advances ask them to act out something of a
denial of the kind of people they really are. The organization
ideology can help people endure the pressures, and the mere
playing of the role of the well-adjusted team player can help
quiet the inner worries. As Pascal pointed out, if one acts long
enough as if one believes, the grace of faith will eventually be

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Here is a quote from 'The Harrad Experiment' that I was thinking about today. (They are talking about love):

"Everyone has it, Sam." Asoka said. "The trouble is, most of us don't ever learn to give it. We think if we give love and don't get it in return somehow or other our supply dwindles."

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

I haven't really had much of a chance to read the last few days. Last week I read a fascinating article in Vanity Fair about the New York Times escapades and I registered for the electronic edition. It is a very interesting newspaper. Even just the book reviews are quite good. I would recommend registering and looking at it every so often.

I have just heard that Bill Keller has been appointed to be be Raines replacement. I don't think this is good news for the paper. Raines was an editorial writer too. They have an office 7 floors above the news room and I think this gives a rosey view of journalism that is shattered when they start leading the newsroom. I suspect he is not 'pragmatic' enough to become someone who is better than Lelyveld.

See this news story

Sunday, July 13, 2003

I am getting slightly 'irritated' with Blogger. This google thing is not good and things are getting worse.
"One applicant not accepted was Crazy Paul, a spaced-out young man who had visions and who eventually found his way to New Buffalo. His membership, he was told, would be contingent on his taking a bath - something that evidently conflicted with Paul's principles. One member recalled that 'he stood there looking up at the shower head for hours.' Then, without turning it on, he left the community."

This is a quote from 'Getting back together' by Robert Hourier. One of my favourite books about the sixties.

Link to use this link to see the book details on and if you are brave you can order a secondhand copy from the USA. (not usually a problem though)
I finally finished 'The Harrad Experiment'. It got interesting in the end because it became another utopia book. The group fantasise about creating a new society in America based on their principles. These principles included everyone being allowed to live with their partner for as long as they like before deciding to get married and that if they have children - they have to get married. Also once they are married divorce is incredibly difficult because once they divorce the children are adopted and the biological parents never get to see their children again. Very interesting but not very practical

I didn't like their idea of a group marriage where you sleep with a different person depending on what night of the week it was. That doesn't seem that pleasant and I know from books like 'Getting back together'by Robert Hourier that it is a nightmare.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

My brother Jonny wearing night vision goggles! I got my brother night vision goggles for his birthday so he could show off to his techie mates. He seems to be enjoying them, very smart! He lives in Munich and works with computers.

Anja in night vision goggles! This must be an all time classic photo of my brother's girlfriend Anja.

I finally discovered an easy way of posting photos to the web. If you go into my Photo Album in Yahoo you might also find some interesting lighthouse and maybe a few other pics.
Isabel is reading a book that I found for her in the Linenhall Library. 'A very Peruvian Practice' by John Lane is about a British aid worker who goes to help a private maternity hospital in Lima. She chuckles and giggles the whole way through it. She has only read a few chapters but she loves it.
I think I finally have the organization man figured out. White is concerned with anti-intellectualism. If the future business leaders take business degrees and ignore the traditional academic subjects, then the world will become dull and bland and business will lose the flair that real intelligence and creativity brings to work.

In a way this has already happened. I think I understand what the book is about now and I appreciate it but there is always something about people who claim to be intellectuals that I don't like. I would prefer it if he stod up for real leadership, not just bean counting. Personally I think the subject of leadership and character building is more important for today.

This means I can put the book into its context. It is good because I was struggling with the idea of what he was really trying to say. I like it, even if he might just be another snobby journalist who likes to use big words.

Friday, July 11, 2003

This is my web page please be patient while I edit it and get it into shape.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Over the past few days I have gone back to reading 'The Organization Man' by William H. Whyte. It has some fascinating insights into business life in America in the 1950s. He describes how he joined an executive training scheme after leaving university and ended up driving around eastern Kentucky trying to sell Vicks vaporub to sour general store owners and pharmacists. How when he left university he had about 8 offers of a job and he was able to quiz each employer to see who would give him the best deal. What a difference to graduates today! Also he describes the career adviser as as a 'sales man' for big business whilst nowadays the career adviser is more of a trauma counsellor / self help coach.

Also he did something very interesting. He sent a letter to 150 human resource departments and the same letter to 150 chief executives. He gave them two choices of a potential candidate - 1. the administrator, skilled in 'people skills' or 2. the pioneer ready to meet the challenges and expand the company, ready to make tough decisions and make unorthodox choices. Curiously 50% of the human resources leaders favoured type 1 whilst only 30% of chief executives favoured type 1.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Read another Borges story today 'The Lottery in Babylon' definitely feel that the more I read the more I can grasp what he is trying to do. It seems to be more of a meditation on a certain topic than the tradition idea of a story - such as a young couple adopting a stray puppy. It's getting better.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Reading Borges today, I'm only getting a fleeting glimpse at a possible genius because it is so intense. I think it might take a while to get to grips with it. I keep thinking I will understand it some day but then I think maybe its not meant to be understood. He always writes from the first person and he makes you think that maybe the narrator is tricking you. For example this neat little part from the introduction of 'The Lottery in Babylon':

Look: through the rip in my cape you can see a vermillion tattoo on my stomach. It is the second symbol, Beth. This letter on nights when the moon is full, gives me power over men whose mark is Gimmel, but it subordinates me to the men of Aleph, who on moonless nights owe obedience to those marked with Gimmel.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Yesterday my Mum went to Malawi to visit my sister for the summer. My wife comes from Peru in South America so at times I get what I call a certain 'unease' at the problems with this world. Yesterday I was reading an article in an old copy of the New Yorker about the situation in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone was placed under the supervision of a UN beaurocrat and one of his first broadcasts contained the words 'your future is in your hands'. From that point on the rebels started to abduct civilians including women and children and chop off their arms or their hands. The article was the story of a guy in New York who tried to help by providing prosthetic limbs but he got caught up in the enormity of the situation and he failed because he was working as an independent.

It brought home the fact that in certain parts of this world things are getting worse. Young children are being abducted, brutalised and then becoming rebels. This circle goes on and on when the economic situation is bleak. It happens everywhere, I saw an article on the news about similar events in Uganda. I also heard of Al Quaeda suspects being arrested in Malawi. The New Yorker article was trying to say it is hopeless, the guy shouldn't have tried anything. I don't know if that is the case. People are individuals and they all want the same thing - something better.

One of the things I think should happen is that their vision should be lifted, they need something to aim at. I have a theory of what I call 'Lowest Common Denominator Syndrome' or LCD. Sooner or later people realise they live in the gutter and that is all they want but their aspiration can be lifted and it is up to us to try to do that. At the end of the day the only way things can get better is if we get rid of the LCD mind set and try to get people to raise their hopes.

Maybe you think I am geting too sentimental but I don't apologise for that. Art can get rid of LCD and that should be what art or literature is for.

Friday, July 04, 2003

I have just received an email from Laura Hird. She has asked me to include a link to her web site and I have done that. Her last book 'Born free' is a classic and I loved it.
It was my birthday yesterday -

Happy Birthday to me!

Jose bought me a wonderful book 'Labyrinths' by Jorge Luis Borges. I'm still reading the preface and it describes his stories as metaphysical. I have only read 'The Aleph' and that makes more sense. He said 'why write novels, if, you can put what you want to say in a short story'. I like that, it makes sense. I am very excited at the prospect of reading this.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Picked up a book by Kaunda in the library today in their sale. Kaunda was the President of Zambia during the war in Rhodesia. Just one glance at the back cover amazed me because it is incredibly relevent. He says 'we all love to be pacifist but not weak and as soon as somebody taunts us then we have to take action.

He also says 'sometimes bayonets are preferable to chains'. I think this is very pragmatic and in general I have found African people like to be straight and not waffle. Therefore his 'meditations' om violence should prove interesting. He also warns to be wary of people who say 'let history be the judge' because those people do not care what a history book says about them. It reminds me of something else I was reading where they said Hitler and Saddam also made the same excuse.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

While I was at my old house today I was going through some of my books I found a copy of 'The Harrad Experiment' by Robert Rimmer. I thought a little bit of 60s idealism would do me good. It is a highly fictional account of a 'group relationship'. It is about a college professor who decides to experiment with students to see if he can create more mature and stable sexual people if they live together and learn openly about sex at university. I admire the idealism of the 60s even if at times it seems a bit comical. In this section the group try to do an experimental porn movie. This is 'over the top' and then a little bit more! (btw meshugana seems to be jewish slang for crazy - cool word)

Shelia, Val, and Beth played the parts of fashion models
wearing wigs that Jack had brought They swayed their hips and
behinds modishly as they modeled the gowns. Wearing rhinestone
sun glasses, no wigs, but with suitable admiring and haughty
expressions they also played the parts of the female audience.
Although Jack kept insisting that somehow he would end up
with a serious experimental movie, and he spent half his time
either lying on the floor shooting scenes or hanging from the
rafters of the cottage to get interesting camera angles, each re-
hearsal for a particular scene became more horsed up and insane
than the previous one. Most of the time we were helpless with
laughter at our own antics. Jack's pained expression of frustration
reduced Shelia and Beth to hysterical laughter and finally they
got hiccoughs from drinking too much champagne. This morn-
ing the whole meshugana project finally came to an abrupt end.
Jack set his tripod up outside the cottage. Stanley and I (wearing
the ape masks, Henri and Cecil Apenee) were to run past his
camera pursued by Val, Sheila and Beth. Our coat tails flying,
wearing our jockey shorts with the grinning cod-pieces, we
scrambled up the ladder to the roof. Below us the girls were
begging us to come down. They adored our Fanny and Titty
Fashions. In a happy inspiration the girls took off their dresses
and tossed them up at us. We responded by tossing our jockey
shorts back at them. And that's the way our world ended. Not
with a whimper but with a literal bang!
Ebeneezer Schnook emerged from the bushes, actually shoot-
ing a revolver over our heads. He was followed by his deputy,
both screaming hoarsely. We were a disgrace to the human race.
Like Doukhiboors, naked but unbowed, Sheila, Val and Beth
stared at them contemptuously angry at their invasion of privacy.
Stanley and I tried unsuccessfully to make our exit over the op-
posite side of the roof. Jack, a model of propriety, in his bathing
trunks excoriated Ebeneezer and his deputy, who paid no atten-
tion to him. Triumphantly they corralled Stanley and me, their
guns levelled at us in a very determined, no nonsense manner.
Blogger have changed their format for creating new posts and I don't know why. The old way was more elegant and stylish, it might even be more straightforward. I don't think it is more reliable.
First of all, some business on the weekly challenge, plase go to:

Works of Fulke Greville

to find a sonnet beginning 'The earth, with thunder torn'. I particularly like this sonnet. It is quite dark and despite the fact that he holds on to his religious faith it is something that would be relevant today and could even be said today. Swinburne would probably like the bit about whipping. (I think it is sonnet 86, even though the website refers to it as sonnet 87)

I have started to read Lucretius again on the advice of a new penguin class that I bought yesterday. This book isn't supposed to be interesting just a collecting of scientific meditations. I am fascinated though because this guy hasn't thought about any of these things before and some of his insights are quite close to what we think today. Also he has some marvellous interludes where he waffles about anything and sometimes they are more interesting than the actual science.

The book that I bought yesterday is called 'The reader's guide' it was published in 1960 and it has a panel of experts who recommend to the 'general reader' the best books to buy. It is quite interesting I like the photographs and the biographies of each of the experts.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Here is your exercise for the day:

Find the line this poem comes from and tell me if there is an answer:

"Life is a top which whipping sorrow driveth"

Answer is hopefully soon

Thursday, June 12, 2003

I'm reading two books - 'Medieval thought' an ancient pelican by Gordon Leff and 'How the mind works by Stephen Pinker. It is quite funny because last night I was reading about Anselms ontological proof for God and today I'm reading about robots and genetic coding of behaviour. Quite an eclectic mix.

Not much fiction I'm still trying to read Crime and Punishment and I finished a Val McDermid book which was a little bit trashy and too much on the horror side for my liking.

Monday, May 19, 2003

a bit of a return to form hopefully ...

I tried reading 'House of the Spirits' it flopped and then I tried reading a Sister Fidelma mystery which was dismal, I really think this historian thought he would be clever and disguise a text book as a very naive crime book. Hasn't this guy read any crime books in the last 20 years.

Jose asked me to post his letter which is incredibly interesting, I had not caught up with the news in Argentina because I have been in Edinburgh the last few days.
Hi Rod,

Sorry to mess your blog up with some thoughts about Argentina's current political situation, but I wanted to share with you a letter I sent to the Financial Times -which I don't know whether it will be published or not, of course.

As you may know, there was a Presidential election three weeks ago in Argentina and no candidate got over 25% of the votes. Therefore, a run-off was due for this Sunday. The guy who came up first (with about 24% of the votes) was the former president, Menem, and the runner-up was Kirchner, just 2% below. But opinion polls showed Kirchner was about to get a landslide victory on Sunday, notching up something like 75% of the votes. Menem pulled out. The FT is echoing some analysts in Buenos Aires who claim Menem's decision has weakened Kirchner's legitimacy -as, in the end of the day, Kirchner will have only obtained 23% of the votes.

Here's my opinion, as I sent it to FT.



FT's leader on Argentina's new president (Argentina's choice, p. 18. May 16, 2003) claims that Mr Kirchner will have the 'weakest mandate of any president in Argentine history' as a result of Mr Menem's withdrawal from the run-off that was due for this Sunday 18.

The leader also states that opinion poll results do not confer the legitimacy of real electoral vote. However, this statement should be qualified as all opinion polls suggested Mr Kirchner would have won the election with over 70% of the votes this Sunday -the highest percentage ever in Argentine history- hadn't Mr Menem backed out.

Therefore, we are dealing with an interesting case in political theory of democracy and legitimacy which I think the leader failed to notice: Mr Kirchner will become president with, on the one hand, the weakest electoral support in Argentine history according to real electoral results and, on the other, the highest electoral would-be support according to all opinion polls, which couldn't be crystallised because his only contender pulled out of the run-off owing to precisely the future President's overwhelming support according to those polls.

Does it really make any difference that the run-off will not take place as there will be no run-off because one of the two candidates ran away ... and, as you know, it takes two to tango?


Monday, April 21, 2003

Here is another quotation that I found today that can be contrasted with the Kingsley Martin quote:

this transformation of love is quite possible.
What paralyzes life is failure to believe
and failure to dare.
The day will come when,
after harnessing space,
the winds,
the tides,
and gravitation,
we shall harness for God the energies of love.
And, on that day, for the second time
in the history of the world,
we shall have discovered fire.

It is be Teilhard de Chardin from his 'Meditation'

Thursday, April 17, 2003

I was also reading A.N. Wilson's 'God's Funeral'. The chapter is about the poet Swinburne. It starts off describing this Victorian rebel, a drunkard, into flagellation, enthusiastic atheist. I was thinking 'what could possibly interest me about this guy?' and then I started to read his poetry. It is incredibly appealing, it has structure and it sounds good, even just reading it to yourself. Then he started talking about the poem 'Hertha' and I looked it up on the Internet and I found a very good poem. Of course it is opinionated but it is also very well written and in parts quite beautiful, I'm even considering learning parts of it off by heart.
The poem is something like an 'earth goddess' giving advice to people on earth. She is telling us how to live, what to do etc. and who she is and how to understand the earth. I particularly like the following stanza:

I the grain and the furrow,
The plough-cloven clod
And the ploughshare drawn thorough,
The germ and the sod,The deed and the doer, the seed and the sower, the dust which is God.

A.N. Wilson points out that this poem would seem to indicate that he was not a complete atheist and his campaign for the 'death of god' was perhaps tongue-in-cheek, this would seem to indicate a more mystical outlook, more intune with the 60s hipsters than 1860 victorians.
My reading of 'House of the spirits' today was a little bit disappointing. Yet again the male character has been turned into a nasty monster. This time not quite as bad as in Eva Luna because you know his history and he has had a traumatic past. Maybe it is useful to understand this aspect of the male character and maybe in latin america males deserve this kind of attention but I don't like repitition.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Despite being a stressful day I did manage to read some more of 'House of the Spirits'. Started thinking about the magical realism of other cultures. One thing that struck me was that in Njals saga from Iceland prophets are a highly respected part of society they are 'merely' thought of as highly intelligent.
In Russia and Eastern Europe it is more difficult to discern because they appear to be more concerned with realism. One of the characters in Eva Luna was born in Norway and I think one aspect that was stressed was that Latin America is a melting pot with different people from everywhere and we all share this perspective on life.
Mircea Eliade from Romania has written some stories based on folk legend. They have an appeal in that they are mysterious, you don't quite know what is happening or what will happen. Mircea Eliade I believe is also quite a mysterious person, an academic who fled Romania to the USA he had some links with far-right movements that tainted his reputation for the rest of his life.

Just some random thoughts.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Started reading 'House of the Spirits' today. At first sight it appears to be slightly more surreal' than Eva Luna. There is the same crazy wild streak and it is interesting that there is a male character. I am intrigued and looking forward to getting into it.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

On my own magic realism tangent at the moment. Contemplating, the role of magic realsim in the world. My husband Eric and I were talking about it today on our train ride into Kobe. Specific instances, blurring of metaphor and reality. Eating spicy food and realizing your body is on fire. Looking out the windows from our bedroom, the apt. lights through the back yard trees became Lothlorien for a moment.

I'm an avid reader and a writer, traveller. Eric and I are planning trips to Tibet, Nepal, India during our time in Japan. I'm interested in the magic realism of the cultures, the complete blending of fact and fiction in the oral tradition. We may stay with Lama Dawa, Eric's old teacher when we go to Nepal. I want to tape him, record his history as I attempted to record my grandmother's history before she died. As I attempted to record my friend's lives in Belfast and sought in vain for old folktales on the Aran Islands. The telling of stories is deeply interesting. It's what most deeply influenced Marquez, his grandparent's story telling. It's the direction I want my own writing to take and I'm seeking it out everywhere. Started reading Haruki Murakami's South of the Border, West of the Sun today. Not as magic real as some of his other novels but he writes
with exquiste simplicty, touching on adolescent emotions and blunt cravings, honest and lucid.
As I read I cannot help but think about the world around me, I sent the following reply:

Hi Jose,

Again a very valuable comment and something that should be posted to the blog. I don't know about you but I can enjoy reading non-fiction almost equally as good as fiction and it doesn't have to agree with what I'm thinking but I tend to play a game with myself to search out answers. For example that quote from Kingsley Martin, I will be searching all that I read for anything with reference to it, for or against and I will try to work out if it is true and what we can do about it. The organization man book was something that I found by chance and books like that are quite rare I think because management studies have become quite popular and scientific.

I think it is quite an important book purely because it seems to be at odds with the attitude today. At the moment I am still formulating a theory but what I am trying to suggest is that the study of the arts could provide a way back to a new way of living in the world, if we could learn to control 'the animals inside us' first before leading in business or politics or before being scientists or military commanders or anything. I am still working it out so that is why the book was exciting. I would suggest that almost all books on management, all the business books I have read before have been at odds with this statement and Queen's Belfast has just closed down the classics department.

To defend the study of the arts we need new stronger arguments, and I'm talking from the perspective of a scientist, as my background is science. I know that when it comes to funding, research, science is key and the arts almost totally ignored. I don't think this should be the case but I can understand the problem. Perhaps I will keep reading until I get an answer, perhaps I will find another problem but that is what I enjoy doing and reading at the moment.

with best wishes,

Jose sent me this email, yesterday:

>On commenting upon Whyte's 'The Organization Man', you wrote: "This is an incredible book, I have been reading it all night and I am very excited...It is exactly what I have been thinking about".
>This made me think that there might be (at least?) two types of 'incredible' books: those that present things in a completely novel way (say, for example, The Perfume, by Patrick Suskind) and those that just concur with our views (as 'The Organization Man' does with yours).
>Have you ever ended up deeming a book 'incredible', which was totally at odds with your ideas?

Friday, April 11, 2003

With fifty pages left I'm beginning to see a culmination of plot in One Hundred Years of Solitude. It's incredible to witness the passage and non-passage of time. He weaves details and characters in a series of original repetition, laying memory on memory, detail intricately linked to detail. It's a style that I've never experienced anything of the like before.

"One burning noon, a short time after the death of the twins, against the light of the window he saw the gloomy old man with his crow's wing hat like the materialization of a memory that had been in his head since he was born." (Marquez, 384)

I almost take the language for granted until I ask my husband for the meaning of a word, read it aloud in context then marvel over the sentence that almost escaped me. His writing is definately like a fine tapestry. And I can't believe that this is just the English translation. I wish I read Spanish.

I've enjoyed the comments that I've read about magic realism on this site. And I agree with Jose that life is surreal. I think that life is mostly surreal but most western cultures impose a mental order over top of reality. The war in Iraq is surreal and completely ridiculous, laughable; a comedy of chaos kind of laughter when we look at our own existences and find the absurd, sad, and incredible.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

In support of my theory that the leaders of tomorrow need the arts more than science here is that quote again from Kingsley Martin:

"Men are more nationalistic, violent, and stupid than they thought they were. We control the earth and the air, but not the tiger, the ape, and the donkey inside ourselves."

Welcome Robin!, good to hear from you, hope you can write more and come back more often.

I went into a secondhand bookshop today looking for books on ancient greece as I have become fascinated by them. I went round and round with a book on morals and just at the last minute changed for a Pelican book 'The Organization Man' by William Whyte. This is an incredible book, I have been reading it all night and I am very excited.

It is exactly what I have been thinking about. The book was published in 1956 and he was warning people that business and all sorts of workers are become too obsessed with organisation. They are becoming so scientific that business is being turned into a beauracracy. This seems especially true today with all the global companies. Everyone wants to do 'the right thing' and that meansdoing exactly what they are told and not objecting because that is a bad thing. I also have this general theory that leaders used to learn and develop through the arts, through reading the classics for instance but now they want to be scientific, they want to figure how to manipulate people and not how to inspire people.

Also he has a chapter at the end on how to cheat personality tests, it is so hilarious I think I am going to send it all out on my mailing list. What he is saying is you have to pretend to be as normal as possible - even if you are not! He ends with the classic line: "In all of us there is a streak of normalcy" [you just have to find it!]

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

I've been thinking of yellow butterflies for the last couple weeks and searching for them for a few years. In word alone they were my first introduction to Marquez; hanging out with my Johns Hopkins friends the spring that Josh graduated. I miss understood their context, the butterflies. I knew they followed Meme though I didn't know her name but for some reason I thought yellow butterflies appeared during the act of going down on a woman. Could Aaron have meant Mauricio going down from the roof to see Meme? Probably but I like original conception of the thought better. His butterflies are beautiful but they were a bit anticlimatic for me. I'm going to write a poem about yellow butterflies but with my orginal thought. I like how things can be misunderstood, sustained through memory and made real.

One Hundred Years of Solitude reads like Genesis in some ways, a story that keeps weaving itself in pain and fascination. The first 100 pages are my favorite before Colonel Aureliano goes to war. I have about 100 pages left and I'm wondering if any of the characters will experience happiness and fulfillment, if the whole story is building to one sustained moment of happiness. Beautiful writing but I do prefer Love in the Time of Cholera. These are all I've read of Marqez. I love Love in the Time.. because of the richness invested in each character because of Marquez's utter commitment to their love affair. One Hundred Years.. is more like tapestry, finely woven in infinite detail, appreciated up close and in its entirety.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

This week, I got the email below from Jose and I have been reading a mixture of Hemingway, Homer and Allende. In 'Winner Takes Nothing' by Hemingway there are some wonderful stories. Quite gritty but I found something new this week, I found a real feel for the struggle of life in his books, something more than the old hedonistic love of life. 'The natural history of the dead' is a wonderful story about how he has reflected on the sight of dead bodies in the battlefield and it is experimental in that it starts like a wildlife program and ends as a story. I don't have anything to comment about the the other writers, they are very good perhaps something will come up next week.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Hi Rod,

I've read your posting of March 06, in which you said you had started to think about Magic Realism. Please, accept some humble further food for your thoughts. You quoted a definition that puts that MR is the application of surrealism to life in the form of literature. I would advance a different viewpoint: It's not that surrealism is applied to life but that life is surreal.

To begin with, although the expression was coined by Franz Roh, a German art critic, in the 1920s, it's no wonder MR has flourished in Latin America:

* Imagine Blair driving a brand new Ferrari at 150 mph down the M5. Unlikely, to say the least. Well, that's what a former Argentine president did while in office. The police officer who made him pull up at a hard shoulder couldn't believe his eyes when he realised it was no one else but Mr President in person who was at the wheel.
* How many junkies would you need to have so as to daydream with Chirac babbling out of control over the boobs of a girlie, and mind you, in public? Well, you wouldn't need any if you were in Venezuela because that's what a greater-than-life President did for all the journalists to relish.

However, in order to avoid a 'chauvinist' bias, I'd invite you to help yourself with these two examples of MR, one from here and one from India:

Do you remember when 30 Royal Marines invaded a Spanish beach, La Linea, in Andalucia, by mistake back in February 2002? The first official comment by the MoD was: 'No, they had not drunk too much wine and no, they were not part of an invasion force" (Financial Times, February 19, 2002). The Mayor of La Linea tried to downplay the episode remarking "It was a mere error on a map, nothing more."

In 2001 I read a bizarre news about monkeys attacking official buildings in New Delhi. We both know there are many people monkeying around in public offices but this was rather different: Rhesus monkeys have a sacred status for Hinduism (they are deemed to be the encarnation of Hanuman, a monkey God, you see), therefore nobody can touch them. Around 10,000 apes had taken up India's Stormont causing havoc everywhere, smashing PCs onto the floor, munching up top secret files, raiding the fridges, etc. There was no way they could be ousted by any violent means -let alone cordial ones. The big heads at the government came up with a clever solution: thousands of fiercesome-looking Langur monkeys have been 'appointed' to guard the premises. These monkeys don't bother people but would gladly have a feast with the brains of a Rhesus. They are being paid in bananas.

That's MR at its best. Isn't life made just of surreal stuff after all?



Jose, this is brilliant

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Hi, Rod.

As you probably know, Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was (and is) the greatest Argentina writer ever, and arguably one of the best 20th Century writers regardless language or nationality.

He was blind (he developed an hereditary condition which lead him to a kind of blurry vision as though amidst a heavy fog) and loved literature and books, which he had different people read to him. He became the president of the National Library in Buenos Aires until Perón ousted him for political reasons in the mid ?50s.

His first language was the English, as his grandfather was an ex-pat from across the pond and English was the language his family spoke at home. His father retired early due to his own vision problems and moved to Switzerland when Borges was 14. Borges attended a secondary school there (where he learned both French and German). After graduating, he moved to Spain where he met the crème of the Spanish poetic Ultraist movement. Back in Buenos Aires, he started his incredible work of poems, essays and short stories (he never wrote a novel or a play).

An excerpt for starters (was he speaking of himself?):

"A librarian wearing dark glasses asked him: 'What are you looking for?' Hladik answered: 'I am looking for God.' The librarian said to him: 'God is in one of the letters on one of the pages of one of the four hundred thousand volumes of the Clementine. My fathers and the fathers of my fathers have searched for this letter; I have grown blind seeking it.'

He seemed he had read it all. At least all that was (and still is) worth reading -and in its original language. He mastered Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Latin, Greek and Anglo Saxon (he was for several years the only authority on Anglo Saxon in Argentina).

I would like to recommend that you read whatever you can find by Borges, but the fact is that there is a difference between reading Borges in Spanish and in English, although his was very much a British mindset and was highly influenced by the English literature and philosophy. So, make the brave attempt and try and read him in Spanish. Anyway, I have a volume of short stories by Borges in English in the garage; when it turns up (you know), I?ll pass it on to you. Truly speaking, if you only study Spanish in order to read Borges, it will be very worthwhile.

Here?s an essay by Borges about the Cult of the Books, one of the only things I can have in common with this peerless genius. As far as I know, it has been translated into English and included in a collection of non-fiction works by Borges. I reckon it could be rather hard for you to read the essay that follows, but ask Isa, grab a dictionary, or just give me a shout.

For the past few days I have gone back to reading 'God's Funeral' by A. N. Wilson. Despite the somewhat gloomy title this is not a depressing book. He is accurately describing the process of many scholars feeling doubts over religion. The writing style is quite exciting and engrossing. He really gets into the head of his characters and has some genuinely interesting ideas. It would be the perfect textbook for my old A Level syllabus in church history since 1850.

Despite his obvious 'anti-religious' stance he is not over triumphant about the fact. At times he describes the 'honest doubts' of Tennyson as more palatable as the dry atheism of George Elliot and her friends.

Despite describing religion as a 'wild goose chase' Wilson still decides to write a book about it and I think his interest has a slight tinge of respect.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

I found my copy of 'Winner takes nothing' by Ernest Hemingway, a book of his short stories and I am really enjoying his stories. I don't know if I have changed or if Hemingway has changed but Hemingway used to turn me into a monster, I became a macho 'soldier boy' when I used to read Hemingway but these stories are actually quite touching, I can even sense a very faint strand of compassion. It might be something to do with rage, I can't sense the rage that some of his other stories have. I really found the rage quite unpleasant but even though some of these stories are brutal, they are still 'not-put-downable'!

Sunday, March 23, 2003

One of the things I do sometimes is to make up recommendations. Therefore to my friend Mike who I haven't talked to in 20 years I wanted to recommend 'First Light' by Charles Baxter. Sometimes I get intuitions about celebrities and over the past few days I have had the strange idea that Robbie Williams should read Ernest Heminways' 'For whom the bell tolls'. As much as I can see the limitations and negative aspects of Hemingways macho spirit would aid his rock n roll lifestyle and he wouldn't have to write 'I hope I die before I get old' and maybe teach him to be a rebel!
This is a test because blogger have been down all morning

Thursday, March 20, 2003

I went back to read Mikhal Sholokovs 'Quiet flows the don' because I haven't found a book to replace Eva Luna and once again I am amazed at this writer, how he can shock the reader and take his breath away. Everytime I read this book it haunts me and one of the reasons I read it so casually is that every time I read it I feel humbled / shocked / amazed.
"Like nocturnal birds of prey blinded by the hunter's torch, dark schemes hatched in secret will come to nothing once they are dragged out into the light."

This comes from a speech made by King Sihanouk in response to discovering the plans of a coup made by the CIA in Cambodia. Very grand and fascinating, one of the reasons I like Pelican books. Just imagine this being said in response to the Iraq situation or imagine those pharisees plotting the capture of Jesus and his trial at night.
I finished 'Eva Luna' today and despite some reservations in the end it was a wonderful book, sheer bliss and I loved it. I don't want to spoil the story but it really has some wonderful twists that you only discover at the end.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

I finished 'Eva Luna' today and despite some reservations in the end it was a wonderful book, sheer bliss and I loved it. I don't want to spoil the story but it really has some wonderful twists that you only discover at the end.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

I have been reading some more 'Eva Luna' today. It is a book about story telling and meeting strange and wonderful people. It encourages me to write stories and to just feel good about being a storyteller. I am quite enjoying it I must admit, some of her adventures are a bit too extreme but I suppose thats just all part of the fun.

Friday, March 14, 2003

I heard today on the news that Ingrid Betancourt is 'alive but in low spirits'. I bet she is after one year in captivity. I would recommend that you read my review of 'News of a kidnapping' to anyone new (it was one of my first). I thought they would have learnt that it doesn't work by now.

If she is in similar conditions then she is living in fear of the guards in constant fear of her life, depending on her relationship with the guards she may only be able to visit the toilet once a day. She does have a companion but I think it must be a very depressing and difficult situation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Last night I read 'The Reunion' by Richard Ford. His writing is very clear and so openly brash. He captures one of those moments when you meet someone you don't want to see and yet something drives you to talk to them. Like you want to get that dread out of your system. It is incredibly cruel and yet exactly what happens.

Emmett Grogan is explaining at the moment in the 'sixties reader' what went wrong with the hippies. I feel for him very strongly. There is an angry extract from his biography explaining how the hippy movement was taken over by 'alternative' marketing and totally exploited so that after Altamont there was a huge backlash to the right and they ended up with Reagan.

Monday, March 10, 2003

He he he

and then I put in a link to

Extra terrestrial encounters

I wonder what will happen!
The spirit of tea

I have also worked out that those clever people at blogger advertise a link according to any books you link! Therefore what happens if I give a link about tea!
Today I was reading about Emmet Grogan and the diggers and a fascinating reading in San Francisco where they had to split between two bars.
The more I read and think through the sixties reader the more fascinating it becomes. It certainly is a fascinating read and I am intrigued in particular by an essay on smoking dope with Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon is a recluse, no one even knows what he looks like and yet he got in touch with a writer friend and they had a night out together and then he never saw him again.

I am also enthusiastic about the reflective / meditative properties of this blog and I would like to extend it. I'm thinking about maybe inviting other people to blog with me or maybe a network of individual blogs. I definitely feel this form has potential.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

I've started to think about Magical Realism because I wanted to find out what it really means. I like the definition that it applies surrealism to life in the form of literature. You can see this quite clearly in 'News of a kidnapping' when the two enemies are forced to meet and become friends to get what they want.

In the 60s reader there is a comment by Baldwin on the prospects of the Black Nationalists achieving a separate muslim nation in USA ' although, in an age so fantastical, I would hesitate to say precisely what a fantasy is." It is interesting that he uses the word fantasy when you could equally use the word surreal. When it comes to struggling and the oppressed surreal is a common theme. How much more surreal could you get than saying the killing of 3 black children in a bomb was the crucial changing point in the civil rights movement and the final 'push' in helping the blacks to achieve social justice. It may seem cruel to say it but tragedies often have a surreal twist and for example the white supremists who planted the bomb in Birmingham 1963 didn't think they would be instrumental in gaining social change. They would probably feel 'offended' to think such a thing!

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

'The Portable Sixties Reader' arrived yesterday and I couldn't help but buy it. It is brilliant, I love it. I am also enjoying the luxurious American feel of books because you can lay it on the table and it opens without having to break the spine.
My word for today is gharbzadegi which means 'west-toxication'. What a great name for a rock band, imagine they come on stage

"We are Gharbzadegi, we are poison!"

It comes from Karen Armstrong's 'The Battle for God' a history of fundamentalism and is proving to be fascinating, although I only read a little bit every three months.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

You have to get my comments on fiction quick because now I'm back to an obscure Pelican on humanism!

'One essay in 'Objections to Humanism' by Kingsley Martin has really inspired me. It is called 'Is humanism Utopian?' and it is a breath of fresh air. First this quotation which has become my new motto:

?Mankind?s future is infinitely more dependent on our knowledge of the human mind than on our success in travelling to outer space and reaching the distant stars.?

And then another quote, that should be written today but for some reason the media is obsessed with animal pleasures. Unfortunately I think this quote from the 1960s is more relevant today than when it was published:

"Men are more nationalistic, violent and stupid than they thought they were. We control the earth and the air, but not the tiger, the ape, and the donkey inside ourselves."

Also this week I feel drawn towards books on terrorism because I still don't think that America understands the full horror of terrorism like we do in N. Ireland. Until they do they will continue to believe that they can stop it by brute force. This book by Walter Lacqueur appears to be one of the best:

The new terrorism

Friday, February 28, 2003

Now for some refreshing good reading. This incident from Isabel Allende in Eva Luna that has me feeling 'wow' for hours. In a small village in the desert the poor village is shadowed by a mysterious house on a hill covered by mango trees. The owner doesn't talk to anyone and gets very angry when children steal mangoes off the tree. One day he shot a young boy and killed him. This is the reaction of the village people (they bring wheelbarrows full of mangoes), led by Riad Halabi, one of many people who adopts Eva:

" The crowd advanced in silence, surrounded the house, broke windows and doors, and emptied their load inside. They went back for more. All day they hauled mangoes, until there was none left on the trees and the house was filled to the rooftop. The juicy fruit burst open, soaking the walls and running across the floor. At nightfall, when the harvesters had returned home, the criminal crept from the water into his car and escaped, never to return."

The house turned into a saucepan and burst leaving the village smelling of marmalade for months.
I got a reply from Waterstone's today with a book voucher for £20!

The letter of course was rubbish, about how she was going to investigate and punish those involved.

I immediately went into HMV and bought two CDs. I feel obliged to write another letter to Waterstone's explaining my actions but as far as I can swear / guarantee / make an oath, I will never set foot in Waterstone's again.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Good news! I got an email today from Sussex Academic Press and they told me that 'The Human Phenomenon' will be available in paperback at the end of the year.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Even though it costs £50 you should read this review of the new Teilhard translation:

"When first published, Teilhard de Chardin's seminal work attracted worldwide attention and immediately became a bestseller, but few realized then how many mistakes the first translation contained. Sarah Appleton-Weber has done us a great service by providing a much more exact, more coherent and more poetic text based on many years of meticulous research. This fresh translation invites readers to enter and share Teilhard's powerful vision of science and religion, of the direction and meaning of life." Professor Ursula King, University of Bristol, author of Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin
I am waging war with Waterstones. A friend once told me it was becoming a book supermarket and I agree only you get better customer service at Sainsbury's. I am tired of the staff being grumpy and unfriendly. This came to a head on friday when I was sent on a wild goose chase for a book, then told the guy had lied and the book was upstairs. I wrote a savage letter and hand delivered it on Friday. I feel totally justified in writing an angry letter because the staff are just unhelpful. If you ask about a book you must know the author and the title otherwise they don't know. Also I phoned up about a book and they told me it did not exist and I had the details in front of me on Amazon. I then gave her the ISBN to her total amazement, then she went away and never returned. I always thought Waterstones was the last resort, the last outpost of the bookshop empire but from now on I will go to Easons, if I have to and I will go Independent if I can but independent shops are a little bit too far to walk.
King Sihanouk's book is quite interesting, he has been talking about how he hated the USA after they tried to impose policies on him in return for letting them do what they want in his country. This sort of disgust at American imperialism is certainly not new and is still going on 30 years later.

I have exciting news- there is a new translation of Teilhard de Chardin's Human Phenomenon and I would not have discovered it if I had not stumbled across it on the web. Unfortunately it may be a few weeks before I can order it but the translator seems to be quite a cool lady who has studied four copies of the french text. I think a new translation is needed, it gets a 5 star review and the foreword is by Brian Swimme, a great guy. See for yourself at:

Also quite strangely it costs £50. Something I hadn't realised and has me very depressed!

Saturday, February 22, 2003

It has been quite a good week for reading, most of the week I was reading Eva Luna which is quite fascinating and rich, really full of energy. It hasn't been as 'magical' as I had thought, I was a bit scared everything would turn fantasy but in a similar way to 'News of a Kidnapping', it is the events that are strange and it is the enthusiasm of the young girl that gets her into lots of trouble. It is really centred on the people, what their lives are like and how their situation imposes pressures on them.

I also have a new fascinating book called 'My war with the CIA' by Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia. It is interesting to note that he was deposed during a coup in 1970 and this book was written during that time and he was writing about the forces that were involved in his downfall and how he was going to get back in power. He is now King of Cambodia, after about 20 years he was re-instated.

At times the book is silly and I want to shout at him, for instance during the Vietnam war, his country was neutral and yet he allowed the Vietnamese troops to come over the border and hide in Cambodia which infuriated the US. Also he travelled to Russia and China to see if he could get military support from them and yet he still thought he could keep away from communism and keep his country Buddhist, that sounds a bit naive to me.

He didn't write it, it is 'related' to Wilfred Burchett, I find the idea of a King in exile quite interesting and I think it would be fun to meet a King, although they wouldn't move to the UK, they are more likely to move to France, or maybe Belgium.

I got another book yesterday, another obscure Penguin classic 'The romance of Tristan' by Beroul. Beroul seems to be a monk from the 12th century and we know absolutely nothing about him - fascinating.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

I didn't get much of a chance to read today, or yesterday.I spent most of today at a brass band concert! I don't understand why people think badly about brass bands, when you feel music vibrating through your body, it's electrifying and it doesn't matter what type, as long as it is live and in front of you.

Apologies for my rant yesterday, of course I enjoy reading the newspaper like any other person and of course, I am against the war. I feel sometimes that the quality in newspapers is low and that journalists take advantage of their position.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

The media is brainwashing you.

Don't let them get you!

Right, this is the time for one of my rants:

The media is brainwashing people!

I'm sorry but I am fed up with the medias agenda to force everyone to think the same way as them. It seems that the only things people read are newspapers and to me all newspapers are the same and all tv is the same. They pretend to make us think we are all brilliant for deciding to read and watch it and then they draw you in to their evil plan.

Why can't people make their own decisions? Decide for themselves, eat for themselves, think for themselves? All we hear on the news is how terrible this war is and guess what, there's going to be a demonstration tomorrow with lots of people repeating and discussing what they heard on tv or read in the newspapers.

Wise up.

Even literature suffers from this. The media cover all the awards and then tell people what they will enjoy and so, they read it. It doesn't matter if they don't enjoy it, they read it anyway.

Read what you enjoy.

When will people realise that celebrities and pop stars are normal people who earn a lot of money and are probably not very pleasant to know. Fame is totally arbitrary, well most of the time it is. If you are lucky enjoy it.

Think for yourself and explore something that obsesses you. Who cares what other people say?

By all means you don't have to go out and become a conspiracy theorist or join some crazy cult - just search for the thing that you want to do.

Friday, February 14, 2003

In 'Objections to Humanism' I was reading about the ethics of humanism and if it could be considered as a religion. I used to think that atheism or humanism could be classed as a religion because people who hold those views seem to have a certain zeal, similar to some religious people but this book would argue against that, saying it is up to individuals to determine their own metaphysics and it is up to us all as actors to take part in the world and fight evil, not to be purely intellectual spectators who live hedonist lives but never achieve anything. Some people have said that the French were inbred humanists and they were so liberal they could not admit that Nazism was evil.

I got two books from Isabel for Valentines day (she knows the way to my heart!), both by Isabel Allende 'Eva Luna' and 'House of the Spirits'. Quite good considering I finished 'News of a Kidnapping' last night - a truly wonderful book. Villamizar is vindicated in the end and even promised protection by Escobar. I must admit, I enjoyed that book very much.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

I spent a highly enjoyable 'evening time' meal on Monday reading Lucretius 'On the nature of the Universe' and nursing a rather large americano in the new 'Roast' cafe in town (Wellington Place). A myth claims Lucretius died after taking a love philtre and he wrote the book in the lucid periods of insanity.

I find this theory appealing, even though the translator disagrees, everyone needs the odd myth or two even it's just the old office party stories. It also shows that weakness to certain substances doesn't completely ruin your life.

I'm on the post this week so I haven't been able to do as much reading as normal - my apologies.

NB - miscellaneous note - have you noticed the status blog hasn't changed all week since I started this new blog?

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

I attended a reading on Monday night 'In search of Fatima' by Khadi Gharmi. This was an incredible experience. It was also a highly fashionable political event as it appears Palestine is the popular issue of the day. Khadi explained how she had been forced out of Israel before the state was even official by warfare and had to move to London. Forcing people out of their homes is a nasty business and Khadi explained how her opinion is that the Iraq war is about Bush trying to protect Israel from Iraq. If this is true and I suspect it is, then I have to change my opinion on the war.

I should have known, you can never trust journalists. The news agenda seems to me to follow Blair or Bush and do your best to agree with them. Iam not convinced by the newspapers, her theory seems far more credible and it is a reason to protest against the war because Israel is an unjust state. I am sympathetic to Jews and Muslims, Jewish culture is exquisite with beautiful literature and a fascinating heritage but you cannot force people out of their homes.

I am still finishing 'News of a kidnapping', it is maybe a bit slow in finishing but I still can't wait to find out what happens to Pablo Escobar. I have resisted all attempts to look him up on the Internet. It is a story for today.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

I bought two books yeaterday in the new secondhand bookshop in North Street Arcade. 'Objections to Humanism' and a life of Teilhard De Chardin by Vernon Sproxton.

It is interesting to note that in the back of 'Objections to Humanism' they have a short blurn on the Penguin English Dictionary. I thought the New Penguin English Dictionary that I have (pub 2000) was the only edition and it does not even mention an earlier edition. I would have thought they would have been legally obliged to add details of an earlier version.

Also I went to my Mum's house today, where most of my books are and I brought over 'A multitude of Sins' by Richard Ford. I re-read rapidly the first story 'Privacy' which was incredibly good and I'm in the process of reading the second story. When I bough this book last year I did the same but stopped after the second story when he described a lady being killed in a car accident and then driving on. I thought this was shocking and it has scared me ever since so I thought I should read it again because any book that has that effect must be good. Actually the story doesn't seem to be as scary and I am enjoying it.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

One of the things Márquez captures is the idea that life is brutal and serious but also a game. When I went to Peru that seemed to be the attitude of most people.

Also Márquez seems determined to contrast the local traditions with the severity of the situation. The Antioquian area where Medellin is situated and where kidnappings are rampant and government corruption and massacres are huge is one the most well known for its hospitality and for the 'goodness' of its people. I did a search on the Internet and found the anthem for Antioquia, one that has extreme irony after reading a book about kidnapping:

Oh Liberty that perfumates
the mountains of my land
let my children breathe
your fragant scents!
Welcome to my new blog!

There are two main streams of thought to my reading at the moment. On the one hand I am fascinated by the Russian writers, almost any writer I have read seems to display a rigour and a thoughtful philosophy I have not experienced before.

I am also interested in Latin America. This week almost all my office reading has been from 'News of a Kidnapping' by Gabriel García Márquez.

This is the fictional account of a turbulent time when Pablo Escobar kidnapped several journalists and relatives of government ministers. I can describe exactly what happened with this book, I bought it about 5 years ago and started it but it was a little slow and I left it. Then I started to read it again this year and I saw how he described people with intricate detail and he he highlighted the absurdities of the situation - that government ministers are forced to negotiate with criminals to release their wives of their sister even though they are forbidden to give the perception that they are negotiating with them.

He describes people as real people twisted and tortured because they know what is right and also what they have to do to survive. Sometimes they are forced to compromise, both the criminals and the victims because they both have needs and to achieve their goals they have to work together. I still haven't finished it but I am relishing every moment with it.

There is a very funny moment in the book where Villamizar the unofficial negotiator decides he has to take the risk of finding Pablo Escobar:

"He took a cab from the airport to the Hotel Intercontinental, and some fiteen minutes later he was picked up by an Ochoa driver. He was an amiable, bantering twenty-year-old from Medellin who observed him for some time in the rearview mirror. At last he asked: "Are you scared?" Villamizar smiled at him in the mirror. "Don't worry Doctor," the boy continued. And added, with a good deal of irony: "nothing will happen to you while you're with us. How could you even think such a thing?"

I am still gripped with the situation, expecially as Ingrid Betancourt, a politician from Columbia with French connections who has just written a book was kidnapped last year and has not been released. The situation in Columbia seems terrifying, far worse than Belfast, in fact I feel lucky to be in Belfast.