Sunday, December 02, 2007

Meaning and power

I was reading today about Cordelia in King Lear. When she refuses to flatter her father with how much she loves him, King Lear accepts the blatantly meaningless praise of his other two daughters and banishes Cordelia.

This 'lazy' unwillingness to probe deeper seems to plague us today. We are too willing to accept results that a computer produces than go out and do the work ourselves. We make a mistake when we say to ourselves 'computers know best' because computers only show what somebody else has told them to do.

So when I write an email about Cockatiels it gets accused of being pornographic and in the most extreme case this email may lead to me getting into trouble.

We have lost the ability to think. A teacher in Sudan is in jail because of this.

We are told that 'the facts speak for themselves' - the facts say nothing but what other people want them to say and the sooner we come back to this fundamental understanding of language the better.

Monday, October 22, 2007

James Watson

I feel I must stand up for James Watson at this time. I think he has been completely misunderstood and I believe him when he says that he did not mean those scandalous comments.

It is true that Watson has a history of causing controversy and playing devil's advocate but I suspect this is a genuine case of a journalist twisting and misinterpreting his words.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Post secret mini-movie

Everyone should go to the Postsecret blog and watch the mini-movie:

Postsecret Blog

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Alvarez - 'The Writer's Voice'

I have just finished reading 'The Writer's Voice' by Al Alvarez. A fascinating read, Alvarez is so intense and lively, his passionate is clear and right on the surface. The last chapter has a vigorous critique of the beat writers. They lost their touch, their vitality in their rush to find oblivion. I get the feeling he is the sort of person who is quite traditional and the only writer of merit who is relatively modern is Jean Rhys.

Alvarez is as always fascinating and exciting, this is certainly a book to be noted(!)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

"Because isn't it time this oldest of heartaches
finally bore us some fruit? Isn't it time,
though still loving, we learnt to wrench ourselves
free of the beloved and, though trembling,
endure as the arrow endures the tensed bowstring,
becomes something more than itself in the leap
of release? For our point of rest is nowhere."

From Duino Elegies, 'First Elegy' Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Martyn Crucefix.

Rilke is talking about love, I suspect he is quite jealous ofwatching lovers in the park, he wants more to life than the pure intense thrill of initial love. There is more, even though we still love, we have to move forward.

You really have to read the first elegy complete but this totally amazed me. This is for Christine - be like an arrow, endure the bowstring and do not fear the leap...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Sorrow concealed ...

"Sorrow concealed, like an oven stopped
does burn the heart to ashes where it is"

from Titus Andronicus (Act II, Scene IV)- Shakespeare.

I'm trying to figure out this phrase, although it seems obvious, I suppose it means if an oven door is forced closed rather than the oven turned off. 'Titus Andronicus' is about revenge, pure revenge and it seems to be very applicable to the situation today in NI. How do we move forward? How do we cope with the past? I don't think we cope with it by trying to 'conceal' the hurt that has been caused.

I have gone all Shakespeare, I bought a 'guide' to Shakespeare yesterday and a 'Complete Works' today and I have been reading as much as I can. The theme of revenge fits in well with my other book 'You got nothing coming' by Jimmy Lerner. Lerner in prison in Nevada USA soon realises prison is only about revenge, there is no rehabilitation programmes, nothing to encourage him to do well - 'he has nothin' coming' and deserves nothing. It seems the people of Nevada have got so sick of seeing prisoners in a 'holiday camp' that they had stripped almost all the programs and rehab functions out of prison. Jimmy aka OG (old goat) is told that the parole board looks well on prisoners who take the rehad programs and even though they are not running, he has his name placed on the list but this isn't good enough - he got nothin' coming.

When it comes down to revenge, the only people who suffer are ourselves - Shakespeare realised that and if only more people could see that today. One prisoner in Nevada is released to re-offend within a week, instead of the governer realising the damage that is being done to the ordinary citizens by the lack of rehab programs in prison, he merely stops the parole of all other prisoners, including OG.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Evangelisation v Civilisation

You may have to click on this image to be able to read it properly but it does add and link in with my last two posts quite neatly:

Page 19 'On being the Church in the World' J. A.T. Robinson

Death of the Beloved

Death of the Beloved

Of Death he knew what we know generally: 
Death takes us and it thrusts us into silence.
She was not torn from him, but silently
the sight of her was washed out from his eyes

till, gradually dissolved, she must have gone
gliding away into that unknown land
of Shades; there she would smile and shine upon
them like a maiden moon, forever kind.

And gradually the dead and he were kin
as if through her they had been close-related.
Although he heard the words the living said

he thought them false and paid them no attention:
Death's land he thought, seemed kind and doubly sweet.
He read its braille for traces of her feet.

Rainer Maria Rilke from ‘Neue Gedichte’ (New Poems).

This beautiful poem that I have read several times catches the idea of the impact of love. The person who has loved feels the love after death, the beauty of the moment keeps him going and it emphasises how we should all live for the beauty of love. He still feels the love, like a blind person reads Braille and death is now something that is sweet and kind.

This afternoon, I managed to find another book by J. A. T. Robinson, the Bishop of Woolwich who in the 60’s was one of the most controversial Bishops. I find a lot of common sense in his writing and I can’t help admiring him. Chapter 1 is called ‘The Christian Society and this World’. He is discussing the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 15 – ‘O death where is thy sting?’. The Corinthians were struggling with a new problem – What does the resurrection mean? Instead of life after death, the Jewish ideal was that at the point when the Messiah comes, the dead will be raised, in other words there was no life after death in the sense that we think of heaven, the religious person went to 'sleep' and their body was raised when the Messiah returned. Christians in the first century were convinced that Jesus was going to return in their lifetime, they did not think they would die. They believed they Jesus would return to earth and if they died – they would not be there.

The new hope that Paul argued for was that they had a new life in Christ after baptism and that death would make no difference. It was this idea more than the common conception of immortality that was most common when the Bible was written. In this sense the ‘new world’ is already with us. We as Christians should live with our focus on this world. He writes:

“For much the greater part of the biblical period that distinctly Hebraic virtue, hope, was nourished and maintained without any living faith in an after-life. Again, contrary to what is usually supposed, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, properly speaking, finds no place in the Old Testament or the New. Moreover, as we have just said, the early Christian writers centred their hops, not in life after death, but in the new resurrection order of ‘life in Christ’, which they entered at Baptism and to which death could make no difference.”

I find this quite incredible, it seems that the emphasis placed on ‘life after death’ is not an idea that was held in New Testament times and that the current idea of ‘believing in life before death’ is more of a Christian idea than the Marxists would make us believe.

Bishop Robinson continues with this thought writing:

“The Communist conception of ‘the new world’, as something that is coming despite the death of the individual, is at this point nearer to the New Testament, though in treating every generation but the last, and consequently every individual within a generation, as a means to an end, Marxism has a radically sub-Christian doctrine of Man.”

Security Measures

Yet again, we have two entirely unpredictable and unexpected terror attacks in the UK. It seems that the 'security men' are not deterring these attacks. Why should we sit so meekly and face all the delays when security men do all their bizarre liquid, body searching and questioning all based on what has been attempted before today. Do they not think that terrorists do not know what security measures are being used? Do they not suspect that since liquids have been banned and there has been huge expense and mothers have had to throw out milk and ordinary tourists lose their aftershave - what is this all for? Has it stopped the attacks? No. No. No.

For all our security and our hi-tech gadgetry, we are still under attack, in fact I think we are now in a worse position than what we were in 10 years ago.

Now, as you all know, I have a hatred of security checks, they are unnecessary, they are rude and they are ineffective. No terrorist is going to use a liquid bomb, I suspect ever again, even if they allow liquids in our hand baggage again. They are at this moment dreaming up new types of bombs, they are putting all of their energy into how to plan the next attack and while they are doing this, we are not and will never win the war against terror.

UK has had two attacks in the last two days, this shows how effective we have been, I would say we don't have a clue and it is going to get worse. The world is not a safe place.

The only way we can can stop the terrorists is by stopping the reasons and causes that the terrorists join up. We have ignored this, we have not tried preventative action, we have not even tried to understand their cause. Talking is the only way, positive action is even better, but whilst smug security men sit seizing aftershave and babies milk the poor people of Afghanistan and Iraq sit in desperation, they see their hopes crushed and unless we do something about their lives and even if we just tried talking, we might reduce the level of terror.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

What is Poetry?

"When Stevens writes 'A man and a woman/ Are one' we can understand without difficulty, but 'A man and a woman and a blackbird/ Are one' we are flummoxed. We set off on a path in the anxious hope that we will arive sooner or later at a single main sense for the poem that will include the blackbird. But, perhaps, losing our bearings is a fundamental part of the process. The playground game of Heaney's title 'Finders Keepers' has loss as its counterpart."

Thus writes Martha Kapos in the latest editorial for 'Poetry London' magazine and she is right in my opinion in illustrating why we still need poetry.

See the Lost series on Flickr or go to the following

Go here to see the 'lost' posters.
The Art of Asbestos

Friday, June 22, 2007

Communication of Managers

I bought this book quite a while ago, but I have been reading little bits every so often in the past few weeks:

(Apart from one of the ultimate questions - is the manager on the left male or female?)

This book was written in 1960, it was before the time of '5 secrets to management' books and is more realistic. Wilfred Brown is writing down his 'experience' as a manager and it is far more interesting to get insights into 1950s executive life than any smarmy management consultant. The main thing is office life isn't really that different, you still get power struggles, communication errors and minefield politics. What is more Brown is coming from the approach that management has never been written down like this before, he is starting a new academic discipline.

My favourite bits are the examples from his real life that he gives of 'how not to manage'. The following gives an example of this, Brown is explaining one of the mysteries of communication:

"If a manager describes to his subordinate, with obvious approval, the technique being employed for a particular job elsewhere, it is an instruction to his subordinate to learn about it. The more deeply one thinks about these managerial-subordinate communications, the clearer it becomes that they are always instructions.
Now consider the position when B(1) says to his colleague and equal B(2): 'I advise you to do this or that', or 'Please supply me with the following information or assistance'. Clearly, no instruction has passed. The position arises, therefore, is that the same words have quite different meanings according to the roles occupied by the people between whom communication takes place."

Saturday, June 02, 2007

T.S. Eliot 'The Family Reunion'

Eliot wrote several 'verse plays'. Whilst 'The Family Reunion' was initially considered a failure in the theatre it is considered to be his best play and to contain his best poetry. A modern 'Christian' re-telling of Orestia by Aeschylus. The play works in two planes, the trivial and the mystical and the main characters moving between.

This short quote is from Dr Warburton, the family doctor. I'm quite enjoying reading this play:

"I used to dream of making some great discovery
To do away with one disease or another.
Now I've had forty years' experience
I've left of thinking of the laboratory.
We're all of us ill in one way or another:
We call it health when we find no sympton
Of illness. Health is a relative term."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The teacher as protagonist

I have had a very interesting comment from a reader in Turkey concerning my post on B.S. Johnson (I include my brief reply):


I am terribly upset about finding Albert Angelo. ı live in turkey. thus I couldn't find a way to purchuase it. I am interested in the novels and short stories whose pratogonist is a teacher for my postgraduate thesis. Can you suggest some????

8:01 PM


This is definitely something that deserves a front page post. Off the top of my head I can think of two quite different examples. 'The Last Summer' by Boris Pasternak has the main character as a tutor who has a romantic connection with one of the other girls in the family he is living with. On a completely different level how about the Indiana Jones films series where you have the main character as a university lecturer.

9:48 PM

Some may scoff at the idea of Indiana Jones but I have just checked Amazon and there are about 20 childrens novels on indiana jones and I am quite sure that he is probably still a university lecturer in these books and that children could be considered as getting a perception of the teaching profession from these books.

I am also reminded of the famous Mr Gradgrind from the Dickens novel 'Hard Times' a dictatorial teacher in Victorian England - I haven't read the book myself but it is another good example.

I would also suggest to Daral that if he can afford it, it is possible to order from or - even if you live elsewhere in the world. There may be an issue with the postal service but there shouldn't be a problem buying the books. (Also I can vouch for secondhand - most secondhand sellers on Amazon are decent and they sell v cheap books).

If anybody else has any suggestions I am sure they would help Daral.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Cult of the Individual

The Cult of the Individual

This morning I read an edited version of the above speech by Khrushchev. I found it astounding. It must have been one of the many moments when history changed. It was said that 30 people fainted as he gave this speech. The speech is a condemnation of Stalin, perhaps that is too strong but it is a stern cautionary note against people who are unwilling to work with other people and how they become paranoid and corrupted and how they corrupt all those around them.

I would highly recommend that you read or re-read it. I think that everyone applying for promotion should be given a copy of it ;)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Sun


Czesław Miłosz

in Collected Poems 1931 - 1987

Thursday, April 12, 2007


From 'The City of Dreaming Books' by Walter Moers. The Detroit News describes Moers as J. K. Rowling on ecstacy - more like Rowling on LSD!

Buy one of his books and join in the fun. Here is a toast for the Bookhunter!

[notice the jellyfish lantern!]

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Teleology and progress

Despite the fact that teleology has been vehemently removed from most of science since about 1830 and according to a very interesting essy by Bernard Towers, it is still tempting modern scientists who merely refer to it under a different name:

"It has been said that all scientists have a secret passion for teleology but that, like a mistress she has to be kept out of sight of polite company. For myself, I would be happy to take her into public as a respectable married woman and call myself openly a teleologist, provided that I am allowed to specify in what senses I am using the term."

Towers goes on in the next essay to quote Dobzhansky who was a strong supporter of Teilhard and gives Dobzhansky's translation of the following passage from Teilhard:

"Man is not the centre of the univers as was naively believed in the past, but something much more beautiful - Man the ascending arrow of the great biological synthesis. Man is the last-born, the keenest, the most complex, the most subtle of the successive layers of life. This is nothing less than a fundamental vision. And I shall leave it at that."

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Letters to a young poet

Also in the same vein as yesterday is Rilke's advice to a young poet. I like this piece of advice about answering life's questions:

"You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them."

and when it comes to difficult things:

"But they are difficult things with which we have been charged; almost everything serious is difficult, and everything is serious."

Friday, April 06, 2007

A new beginning

I don't know how it happened but I picked up the biography of John Adams tonight and I started to read about the events of July 2nd 1776. John Adams was one of the main figures arguing for the process of American Independence. This is strikingly reminiscent of today in Belfast because here we have Ian Paisley arguing strongly for devolution and our own government whilst all around him people are criticising him and trying to move backwards when here we are, with one crucial chance to create our own future for once. I can't believe it that anyone would consider direct rule to give us a future especially considering the mess, the lazy and arrogant direct rule ministers have left us in.

John Adams faced almost the same thing. The British government were sending a fleet of 400 ships and they had to decide if they were ready to fight for their own independence. John Dickinson, the main opponent, said they were about to 'brave the storm in a skiff made of paper'. We are not ready - that is what people are saying, the deal is not good enough, the conditions are not right. I hope we are brave enough to weather this storm.

Adams wrote in his journal:

"Some people must have time to look around them, before behind, on the right hand, and on the left, and then to think, and after all this to resolve. Others see at one intuitive glance into the past and the future, and judge with precision at once. But remember you can't make thirteen clocks strike precisely alike at the same second."

How true!

And when we look at the health system, education, corporation charges, and all the millions of things that need to be changed the following lines from John Adams also ring true:

"Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, measures in which the lives and liberties of millions, born and unborn are most essentially interested are now before us. We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Picked up a secondhand book by Randolph Stow today and quite by accident discovered my first Australian Penguin. The logo is simple yet quite stunning.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Newman and Sainthood

As some of you will probably know, there is a campaign to make Cardinal Newman a Saint. Here is the web page:

Venerable John Henry Newman Association

Here is a quote from Newman that I found in the preface to a book by F. W. Farrar:

"I have made many mistakes. I have nothing of that high perfection which belongs to the writings of the saints, namely, that error cannot be found in them. But what I trust I may claim throughout all I have written is this - an honest intention; an absence of personal ends; a temper of obedience; a willingness to be corrected; a dread of error; a desire to serve the Holy Church; and through the Divine mercy a fair measure of success."

A very worthy statement - if only more people could say it.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Political Function of Religion

It has been a while since I have been able to post anything - apologies. I have been very busy but at the moment the writings of Leonardo Boff have interested me. With the upcoming elections, he says this about politics and it seems to apply specifically to Belfast where politics has exploited religion for so long:

"Politics operates on the old adage, 'If you want peace, prepare for war.' It is dominated by a self-interested and reductionist realism in the sense that it is organised around the interests of the most powerful rather than of all peoples and all human beings."
For so many years politicians have exploited a distorted view of religion that is followed by people who have no idea what real religion is. As a result religion all over the world suffers because of this so-called 'religious war'. Politics here is a disgrace let us hope that in a new future we can real politics.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Go Shilpe!

Occasionally I do allow myself to make a post about things that are outside the sphere of books! I must admit that I feel quite proud that Shilpe won Celebrity Big Brother and that for once, we have a chance to reflect on the distasteful aspect of English culture that we see in so-called celebrities such as Jade.

I must admit I still have a soft spot for Jade, she is just ignorant and has been taken advantage of for not being bright. The issue we have is that when it comes to racism a lot of people depend on being told what is rascist, rather than going out and finding out what is really going on. Too many people are happy to accept that we can create a 'wordlist' of rascist terms and that as long as we don't say these words they are not rascist.

This is not the case when we have 'poppadom' being a rascist word. All of a sudden the PC 'big brothers' are rushing out and modifying their word lists in a huge panic, I find it quite amusing. The reality is that rascism is not about words, it is about tolerance and acceptance and treating people with dignity. Shilpe has been a perfect example of this, she has shown how forgiveness and kindness can make someone strong.

If Tony Blair wants to find out what is wrong with the UK, he only has to look at Celebrity Big Brother. He has to realise that the education system has failed Jade and it is failing a whole generation. It has failed to teach people how to think, it has failed to give people values. It is too concerned with giving people an education 'they can use' rather than giving an education 'to make them a person'.

The problem is that the subjects that teach us how to find values, how to think are exactly the same subjects that have been victimised as being 'pie-in-the-sky'. It is history, literature, philosophy, religion, art, music that help us to be better people and it is these subjects that have suffered the most because vocational subjects have become the big thing.

I am proud that Shilpe won, I am proud that we had three non-UK people in the last three and all three of them were disgusted with how British people behave.

I still feel sympathy for Jade, even if that totally contradicts my entire argument!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Welcome to my new layout

Guess what:

Welcome to tictac!

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Never, in short, was there a great warrior of any nation, Roman, Greek, or any other beyond the pale, save only of Portugal, who was not at the same time a man of science and learning. I say it not without shame, for the reason why none of us stands out as a great poet is our lack of esteem for poetry. He who is ignorant of art cannot value it. For this reason, and not for any lack of natural endowment, we have neither Virgils or Homers; and soon if we persist in such a course, we shall have no pious Aeneases or fierce Achilles either. And worst of all is the fact that fortune has made us so uncouth, so austere, so unpolished and remiss in things of the mind that many are scarcely interested even that this should be so, or concern themselves at all with such matters."

Here at the end of Canto 5 from 'The Lusiads' Camoens states that heroes are dependent on poets because it is only through poetry and art that we see what it means to be a hero and what it means to be brave. When a nation loses touch, loses interest in art and poetry it no longer has the ability to know what bravery or heroism means. We see this today when a new war film comes out, it tries to inspire, tries to uplift you. When I see a good film I walk out wanting to be a better person.

Camoens foretold the downfall of Portugal, soon after their discovery of India they became corrupt and greedy and lost all the power and pride that their skills had developed. They lost the ability to know what it means to be a hero. I think this is a good way of explaining why we need the arts - because we are not able to remember heroes without artists or poets.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Lusiads

A few years ago I found William C. Atkinson's 'A history of Spain and Portugal'. I wasn't sure about it but it was a Pelican (published 1960). Atkinson graduated from Queen's in Belfast and ended up teaching hispanic studies in Glasgow. Apart from anything else it is very well written and I was fascinated to read that he had produced a translation of the Portugese epic 'The Lusiads'. Ever since I have been searching for a copy, thinking I would find a copy in a secondhand shop. I have just decided to purchase a copy over Amazon and at last I have a copy and it is wonderful.

One thing that did make me very frustrated was that I noticed that Penguin Classics had re-published it briefly around 2003 and then removed it. Especially as it sounds so exciting:

"Camoens' poem, the national epic of Portugal, is the story of a people who in the space of a century and a quarter spread over the waters of the globe, carried their flag and their faith from Brazil to Japan, and established not merely an empire but a new conception of empire based on mastery of the ocean routes.
The lusiads is more, however, than the mere narrative of that achievement; it is also an interpretation of the underlying greatness of those who achieved it, and as such the best possible introduction to Portugal and the Portuguese. It is concieved in essentially poetic terms."

Add to this that this is a prose translation of what was originally in ottava rima, ie in 8 line verse. I can't understand why all previous translations have tried to imitate this, it must have been very constricting to keep this going for over a 1000 lines. This is an epic heroic tale of the first navigators. Add to that it also features the mythical 'love island'. Venus awards the heroes with an Island populated by Tethys and her nymphs. Many Camoens' scholars have spent time trying to locate this 'love island' in reality. Just imagine somewhere in the Indian Ocean, perhaps near Goa (governed by Portuguese) or somewhere like that.

As soon as I started to read the poem I realised why Penguin Classics had removed it (from the poems dedication to the Portuguese King Sebastiao):

"Let Africa and the seas beyond begin to feel the weight of your armies and their exploits, until the whole world tremble. The Moslem fixes his eye on you in terror, recognising the symbol of his destruction"

Obviously in the 16th century the Portuguese were only concerning with fighting against Africa and the middle east. Things have changed now, you would like to think and we shouldn't let this cloud our judgement over classics of literature.

You can imagine the big boss of Penguin reading this in horror and imagining something like what happened to the Pope happening to Penguin and the book was quietly removed from the publication list breathing a sigh of relief that hard line muslim fundamentalists don't read Penguin Classics.

Such a shame though that we can't put the conflicts of the 16th century behind us and be able to read what looks like such an incredible and awe-inspiring poem.