... was the anniversary of the death of Alan Brunton and also of my sister Rachel. But the day began with news of another death, that of Thelma Clairmont. She was 85, or thereabouts. I got to know Thelma quite well while researching and writing a book about her son, Philip, an artist, with whom she was completely obsessed. It's not too much to say she lived only for him and, after his own death in 1984, for his memory. The curious thing about this obsession was that it required her to ignore what his work was actually about. I don't want to go into all that here, suffice to say, perhaps, that although she worshipped his art, in her house she only ever had photocopies of it on her walls. Thelma once tried to make me promise to write my book without mentioned drugs or the police. I said I couldn't do that - both were intrinsic to the story - and at that moment knew the book would end our relationship. So it proved. I received a nine page letter from her after she had read and then burned it (there had been many, many earlier letters) in which she said she would never speak to me again as long as she lived. And she didn't. I had joined the long list of enemies: of art, of promise, most of all of Philip, by which she meant herself. She subscribed absolutely to an heroic, romantic view of the artist as misunderstood genius, whose virtues included purity of heart, greatness of soul, an intellect that was unfathomable to ordinary mortals. She was herself, in this version, the fount of these qualities. Phil spent much of his life deconstructing this heroic myth while remaining in some sense helplessly bound to it. I liked Thelma for her irreverence, her courage, her amazing energy, her commitment; I'm sad to think she's gone and I wish there could have been some reconciliation between us while all the time knowing that such a thing was, as she herself was, impossible.



Walked out this morning into the garden to see a flock of silver eyes grazing the micro life in the bottle brush bush outside the window of this study. Sometimes they're called wax eyes. A small green bird with a white ring around the eye. You get them in New Zealand too, as well as on many other islands in the Pacific. Their Maori name is tauhou, which means stranger; and thereby hangs a tale. The bird was unknown in Aotearoa until the middle of the 19th century, when a few individuals arrived, apparently blown across from Australia. They are now ubiquitous, to the extent that I was surprised and excited, not long after I arrived here, to find a 'New Zealand bird' in Oz. It was of course the other way round. Hence the name.

I knew other Australian birds for what they were: the magpies that are everywhere there, the kookaburras you find in North Auckland, the caged birds like cockatoos and cockatiels; and after a few years living here I thought I detected similarities between birds that are endemic here and native over there. Some of the Australian honey eaters have cries that resemble the harsher register of their New Zealand equivalents. Some of them have wattles like that strange family of New Zealand wattle birds, which includes the huia, the kokako and the tieke. There are scrub birds down in the Royal National Park south of Sydney which, to the casual eye, look a lot like bellbirds, although they don't sing like the korimako.

And then there are the parrots: the kakapo, the kea, the kaka, the kakaariki, which, except for the last, do not really resemble any of the individual species in the wonderful profusion of Australian parrots; yet that just might mean they were blown across the Tasman Sea a longer time ago than the tauhou, say, or more recent arrivals. Because when I was in Auckland last year, I learned that at least two more strangers have crossed the water. One, the rainbow lorikeet, appear to have been deliberately released over there; the other, the Sydney spotted dove, might too. I don't know.

They could hardly be more different. The lorikeet is brilliantly coloured (it has a purple bill), loud, aggressive and intolerant. The spotted dove is delicately plumed, shy, beautiful, with a pink breast and a black and white checkerboard pattern on the sides of its throat. Yet you always know when they are around because of their insistent, throaty, repetitive call. Temperamentally, you might be tempted to say the lorikeet is typically Aussie, the dove the ideal of what a New Zealander is like. Except that's really nonsense. We only exist, after all, in the exchanges we make with others; what is strange to you is familiar to me; and vice versa.

And in both countries the common owl, bobook here, ruru there, is also called morepork.


the company of birds

For some reason Mark Young's luminous post on augurous birds triggered a childhood memory. A pack of cards we had. I don't know what game was played with these cards; I don't recall what they had on their backs either. But on the front they featured colour pictures of New Zealand birds - the tui, the kereru, the huia, the kokako, the kea, the kakapo, the kiwi and many more. Perhaps it was one of those games where you make pairs? Anyway, these cards were large format, more like a Tarot deck than playing cards, and the illustrations were very high quality, with a soft depth, iridescence and refulgence in the colour that you just don't see any more. I loved these cards. Not to play with, just to look at. I used to spread them out on the floor and gaze at them for timeless hours. Their loss - unlike so much else from that faraway childhood - I still mourn. They were precious. They were also the source or inspiration for my lifelong interest in watching what birds get up to. Not in any obsessive way, I'm not a twitcher, I just have always thought of birds as companions and acknowledged that in my relations with them. This may have something to do with having grown up in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

When humans first arrived in Aotearoa, they found a place without land mammals of any kind, with the exception of two varieties of bat. Polynesians brought with them the kuri, a dog, and the kiore, a rat, both of which were used as food. For some reason two staples of Polynesian life, the chook and the pig, never made it. It didn't matter: those early arrivals found a strange place where most ecological niches had been filled by birds. The top predator was an enormous eagle that preyed upon the top grazer, the moa, a flightless bird a bit like an ostrich which came in all sizes from huge down to merely goose sized. There were carnivorous parrots, ground dwelling parrots, burrowing sea-birds that shared their homes with an ancient suriving dinosaur, the tuatara and many other marvels. Most varieties of bird had developed giant forms and these were quickly hunted to extinction by those early future eaters. The giant eagle died when its prey, the giant moa, was gone. What was left, was, mostly, songbirds. Birds of extreme and subtle beauty of plumage, which I will not even try to describe and, concomitantly, birds who sang beautifully: notably the bellbird, or korimako, whose massed dawn choruses are spoken of with wonder by those who have heard them.

Of the birds that remained after those early extinctions, the one most prized by Maori was the huia, a forest dweller whose white tipped tail feathers were used as insignia by the high-born. The huia is also extinct, but it disappeared almost within living memory, a casualty of shrinking habitat and human profligacy, in this case of European collectors who shot the chiefly bird with insoucient abandon throughout the 19th century, so as to preserve specimens of it. In my youth I used to mourn the huia like I now mourn those lost cards, and fantasise that someday, in some forgotten pocket of bush, a breeding pair would be found again. This seems unlikely. However, among my books is a de luxe edition of Buller's Birds of New Zealand which my mother gave me many years ago. The coloured plates in this book, including a very lovely pair of huia, are as beautiful as those cards in my memory, and I sometimes try to persuade myself that the cards were in fact only a portable version of Buller. But it isn't so; they were different pictures, more homely perhaps and anyway there was something marvellous about the way you could actually handle as well as look at them. And they presaged - what? Hard to say, beyond a lifetime of pleasure in the company of birds.


Ten Questions ... & the Answers

Which are the most numerous, the living or the dead?

The living, because the dead are not at all.

Does the earth or the sea produce the largest beasts?

The earth, for the sea is but a part of it.

Which is the cunningest of beasts?

That which men have not yet found out.

What argument was used to Sabbas to make him revolt?

No other than that he should either live or die nobly.

Which is the eldest, night or day?

Day is eldest, by one day at least.

What should a man do to be exceedingly beloved?

He must be very powerful without making himself too much feared.

How might a man become a god?

By doing that which it is impossible for men to do.

Which is stronger, life or death?

Life, because it supports so many miseries.

How long is it decent for a man to live?

Till death appear more desirable than life.

Then Alexander turned to the tenth man and asked his judgment of these answers.

All I can determine, said he, is that they have every one answered worse than another.

said the king, then you shall die first, for giving such a sentence.

Not so, O king,
replied the gymnosophist, unless you said falsely that he should die first who made the worst answer.

In conclusion he gave them presents and dismissed them.


Alexander's Ragtime Band

There's an aspect to Plutarch's Life of Alexander that suggests a group of young men roistering through the world, as young men in their twenties like to do. This is charming in its way, also shocking, as the casual brutalities unfold. The consciousness of divinity does not belong alone to those fathered by a god, but to anyone experiencing the immortality of youth. The tone changes after he turns back from India, after he does not cross the Ganges but makes the melancholy return to his ungovernable empire. It can be sensed already in his questioning of the Gymnosophists, who each, under pain of death, return elegant paradoxes to his queries: Who are more numerous, the living or the dead? The living, because the dead are not at all ... The Ten Gymnosophists (Indian philosophers) accompany the Emperor on his seven month voyage down the rivers to the sea, after which Alexander returns to Mesopotamia by land while his admiral, Nearchus, goes by sea along the desolate coasts of Sind. After Admiral and Emperor are reunited:

Here his admiral, Nearchus, came to him, and delighted him so with the narrative of his voyage, that he resolved himself to sail out of the mouth of the Euphrates with a great fleet, with which he designed to go round by Arabia and Africa, and so by Hercules's Pillars into the Mediterranean; in order for which he directed all sorts of vessels to be built at Thapsacus, and made great provisions everywhere of seamen and pilots. But the tidings of the difficulties he had gone through on his Indian expedition, the danger of his person among the Mallians, the reported loss of a considerable part of his forces, and a general doubt as to his own safety, had begun to give occasion for revolt among many of the conquered nations, and for acts of great injustice, avarice, and insolence on the part of the satraps and commanders in the provinces, so that there seemed to be an universal fluctuation and disposition to change ...

Which suggests, among other things, that in the 4th century BCE (or at least in the 2nd century CE) people already knew what da Gama would 'prove' a millennia and half later. But that melancholy ... not so much that there were no worlds left to find as that no one, howsoever 'great', can go on forever. What to do? This was his not unparalleled solution:

... he could not refrain from leaving behind him various deceptive memorials of his expedition, to impose on aftertimes, and to exaggerate his glory with posterity, such as arms larger than were really worn, and mangers for horses and bridles above the usual size, which he set up, and distributed in several places ...


Alexander in Babylon

"When once Alexander had given way to fears of supernatural influence, his mind grew so disturbed and so easily alarmed that, if the least unusual or extraordinary thing happened, he thought it a prodigy or a presage, and his court was thronged with diviners and priests whose business was to sacrifice and purify and foretell the future. So miserable a thing is incredulity and contempt of divine power on the one hand, and so miserable, also, superstition on the other, which like water, where the level has been lowered, flowing in and never stopping, fills the mind with slavish fears and follies, as now in Alexander's case. But upon some answers which were brought him from the oracle concerning Hephaestion, he laid aside his sorrow, and fell again to sacrificing and drinking; and having given Nearchus a splendid entertainment, after he had bathed, as was his custom, just as he was going to bed, at Medius's request he went to supper with him. Here he drank all next day and was attacked with a fever ... "


Reading Simon Schama's Hang-Ups, subtitled Essays on Paintings (Mostly), I'm impressed by his perceptive, generous and undogmatic views of artists as various as Vermeer and Chaime Soutine. As you would expect of an historian, his biographical sketches of the painters he reviews are excellent; perhaps less expected is the brilliance of his insights into the works; but the best essay in the collection that I've read so far is about Christopher Columbus. Written for the quincentennial in 1992, this surveys most of the recent literature on the navigator and revises it in terms of another view entirely: not a man with a vision of a New World at all, but a religious maniac obsessed, like the Crusaders, with the recovery of Jerusalem and the re-occupation of the Holy Land. Schama suggests Colón's quest for the riches of the East was never for its own sake but in order to undertake yet another crusade into Palestine. He wanted to re-build the Tomb of Solomon and sought jewels and gold for the specific purpose of adorning the sarcophagus. His religious obsession extended to himself and particularly to his name: he was the Christ seeker, the populator who would bring the heathen into the fold of the Church, and the Dove of Peace foretold in the Bible. He also thought his Voyages would inaugurate the Last Days. As he wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1500, in the Letter which acts as a preface to his Book of Prophecies: I was not aided by intelligence, by mathematics or by maps. It was simply the fulfillment of what Isaiah had prophesied.

There's a resonance here with another book I picked up at the weekend - literally, it was in a pile outside the Summer Hill St. Vincent's de Paul and I was unable to resist taking it, along with a copy of Gray's Anatomy - that is, a Modern Library edition of Plutarch's Lives in a version overseen and perhaps partly translated by Dryden, then revised by the Victorian Arthur Hugh Clough. I turned straight to the Life of Alexander who was, like Colón, convinced he was the instrument of destiny and tended to regard his own acts, self-consciously, as expressions of divine fate. His father, he believed, was not Philip of Macedonia but a god, variously identified as Apollo, Jupiter and Ammon; the snake found sleeping in his mother Olympias's bed was said to be an avatar of this god, thereby abating Philip's passion for his wife. Alexander's famous visit to the Temple of Ammon in Egypt just after he had laid out the City of Alexandria was to ask a direct question about his paternity of the god; and he swore never to divulge the answer he received to anyone but his mother. Because of his early death in Iraq, was it? (I haven't got to that bit yet) I don't think he ever did.

These religious madmen who attempt and sometimes succeed in conquering the world might seem quaint and somehow faraway, if it weren't the case that they are still very much with us ...


... in beautiful dreams

Last night's dream made me remember a book from my parents' library. It was a disintegrating Faber & Faber paperback with an orange cover called An Experiment With Time by J. W. Dunne. Whether the 1927 original edition or, more likely, the 1945 expanded edition, I'm not sure ... it disappeared long ago now, gone to dust. I read it in my mid teens I think and got very excited. Dunne was a British engineer, perhaps an aeronautical engineer, and a mathematician. He travelled a lot, was in South Africa during the Boer War. He was subject to vivid dreams, particularly dreams of disasters - volcanoes exploding, ships sinking, planes crashing - and at some point began noticing correspondences between his dreams and real events. Sometimes these were events that had occurred before his dream of them, but which Dunne himself, usually via a newspaper, only found out about afterwards. Being of a sternly scientific mind, he refused to believe in the possibility of astral travelling and such like, preferring to concentrate his attention upon working out a methodology by which he could study this apparently precognitive phenomenon. He trained himself to remember his dreams and began keeping meticulous records of correspondences, not just with future events, but with past ones too. What he discovered astonished him: that in his and others' dreams (he later extended his inquiries to his family, friends and associates), there was a measurable proportion of dream events with a relationship to real events and that this proportion was the same for both future and past events. His conclusion was that during dreams our consciousness literally expands, so that the present as we perceive it waking, a kind of momentary continuum through which we move, becomes day wide, or week wide, or wide enough to encompass events a year either side of where we are. This stretching of time in dreams, like the widening of a lens, naturally includes the past as well as the future in its ambit. As I recall, the later part of the book became too abstruse and technical for me and I seem to remember Dunne asserting that his theory of regression was itself a mathematical proof of the existence of God; but I've carried with me ever since his notion of the widening consciousness of dreams, not as dogma but as working hypothesis. For that dream last night told me more than I have yet dared to say ...

only in dreams

Last night I revisited an island I have been to before, but only in dreams. This island, which I know quite intimately now, does not correspond to any real place I have ever been. Nor does it appear to be made up syncretically of details of real places I have been. I never know how I come to be on the island, nor how I might leave. The only shores I see are the northern shores, towards which I am always making my way. I did not realise until last night that there are thermal springs there ... on another visit I remember travelling north in fear of wild animals, as if the island were somewhere off the coast of primordial Europe, but last night they were absent; instead, it was a festive time, people celebrating, going to the beach, exploring, eating and drinking. My children were there, friends and, by the end, my whole birth family in a happy ensemble. There is far more detail than this, of course, but I will not relate it because, as we all know, there is nothing more boring than listening to prolonged narrative accounts of other peoples' dreams. This is probably because it is very difficult to convey the emotion(s) of a dream, intensely and entirely idiosyncratic as they are.

No, what intrigues me is the existence of this particular place as an aspect of my consciousness - for what else could it be? The island of the dead? Is that why my father and mother and sister were there? An island of the blest perhaps? So it felt last night, though not always before. And if I think hard about it, the landscape was different, more antipodean perhaps, than on previous occasions; yet the geography, the map if you like, was the same, to the extent that I could choose to take another fork in the road on my journey north, go to another shore than that I visited last time. This because I was looking for my sons, who had gone ahead without us; and I did not think they would have been at that other beach. And I was right too, for we found them soon after, near the estuary. And then went back to the reunion. For this dream always ends with a return.

Now, thinking about it, I want to make that return. But I can't. It is a place to which I can be transported only involuntarily. It will wait there, wherever there is, for weeks, months, years until I am allowed (until I allow myself?) - what? Latitude? Permission? Or is it grace?


A jet flies in front of the sun, darkening my world. I call it Alexander, imagining, in the instant before light returns, that I am a Diogenes. Alexander goes on to occlude other worlds than mine. Later that evening I see the pinpoint that is Jupiter near the convexity of our moon and realise the moment of its occultation has passed without my observation. It will disappear on the dark side, said Dr Lomb. No matter, since it has surely reappeared. Was it then, as sister planet occluded gas giant and worlds seemed to but did not collide, that someone skimmed my bank account of all the little it contained? Was that when the violation occurred? Man’s luck is found in strange places, said Pelsaert to two criminal Dutchmen he marooned on the West Australian shore, circa 1629. When you think that you’ve lost everything/You find out you can always lose a little more … sings Dylan. Premonitory words I’ve been entertaining for a while. If I could have got them out of my head would the disaster (= unfavourable aspect of a star) not have happened? Is it even a disaster? At the bank they are sympathetic but powerless to help. I must report the fraud to the police so as to get a case number for the counter claim. It will take twenty-one days. The policewoman says: Fill out this form. Do you have a pen? I ask. No, she says. She rummages through a drawer and comes up with a green one. I write my stat. dec. in bilious ink. Later, waspishly: We’re only following procedure. Everyone gets treated the same. I know, I reply, knowing it isn’t so. But the stars are indifferent. The planets too … or are they? My horoscope for that yesterday says: Power plays are going on around you and your working life is now in the hands of brokers. Learn the subtle art of manipulation ... Today’s egregious suggestion is that I should try to see the positive in the situation. I’m not sure if I can. I need to be Diogenes for longer than the pause of an Alexander. When power confronts thought, is it always just a passing shadow? When thought encounters power … what? Jupiter hangs now yellowy and pendant to the boneyard moon. Stars glitter in the cold air. Planets shine, I recall, stars pulse. The moon waxes. Then it wanes. I would like to think that there will be a reckoning.

Memory ...

Memory is the only paradise we cannot be expelled from ... ascribed to Jean Luc Godard in the previous post, may not have originated with him. I came across it in Alan Brunton's script Grooves of Glory, published by Bumper Books, with two other performance scripts, in a book of the same title in 2004. But a Google search suggests it was the German writer Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, usually known as Jean Paul, who said it. Alan may have deliberately mis-ascribed the quotation, which occurs in dramatic dialogue. Or Godard may have been quoting Richter, with or without acknowledgment. Provenance aside, what does it mean? It came into my mind, perhaps, because of something David Hilbert wrote: No-one shall expel us from the paradise Cantor has created for us. Both remarks are full of irony. Cantor's mathematical paradise, while certainly fruitful for those who have continued his work, is vertiginous, intoxicating, fearful, enigmatic, in about equal degrees for the lay person. Memory as a paradise may be similarly described. We can be both tortured and exalted by things we recall. And isn't memory itself a record of something already gone, a paradise lost? Isn't it the case that we cannot be expelled from that paradise because we have left it already? Or should we look at it another way, and say that memory is a paradise because it endures in a way that the evanescent events it recalls never can? Another thing that was in my mind as I wrote yesterday was Jean Vengua's site Mnemosyne's Hem where Mnemosyne is currently doing battle, as it were, with Lethe. What if we were to say Forgetting is the only the paradise we cannot be expelled from? I've toyed for years now with a paradoxical description of what writing can be: We remember in order to write but we write to forget. I've wanted to ascribe this insight to its author and quote it as an epigraph to a book, but I haven't worked out yet who said it. I don't think it was Jean Luc or Jean Paul. It might have been one of Pessoa's heteronyms, but which one? Alexander Search? No, it would have to have been said by Bernardo Soares who was, I now recall, only a semi-heteronym. And maybe after all I've misquoted him, maybe what he really said was: We forget in order to write but we write to remember.


Zeno to Cantor

One of the griefs of my education was a choice I had to make at the beginning of my fourth year at secondary school. Although I no longer remember the actual marks, I do recall that, in the nationwide School Certificate examination the previous year (1967) I'd scored equally well in History and Maths. In the Sixth Form, however, which I was entering, these two subjects were mutually exclusive options: you couldn't 'do' both. I tried to work out a way. My father, a former History teacher who was then Headmaster of Huntly College, though leery of showing any favouritism, also tried. There were family discussions. I was going to attempt some kind of alternative study programme during free periods, sport etc. In all of this was an unspoken assumption, which I shared, that, if one of the two subjects was going to have to go, it would be Mathematics. So it proved. And, in the way of such things, a door closed that would never really open again.

Mathematical understanding, like memory, is a muscle: it strengthens with use and atrophies without. But while, as Jean Luc Godard said, memory is the only paradise we can't be expelled from, the subject matter of mathematics, if neglected, quickly turns into unbreakable code. I am as if stalled at age fifteen when it comes to the higher arcana of numbers. This doesn't mean my fascination with some, not all, of the conundrums of the count has faded, only that these puzzles seem forever beyond my reach, not simply to solve but even to formulate. I am like someone trapped in a darkened room, unable even to see the pencil and paper with which I might work out the formula that would show me the way to the door that closed so long ago.

It's the philosophical end of the subject that interests me. And I keep worrying away at those bits I can keep in mind. Among my books there is a two volume Pelican paperback called Men of Mathematics by E. T. Bell. First published in 1937, republished by Penguin in 1953, reprinted in the 1960s, it consists of thirty odd essays that are mostly, though not exclusively, structured around the biographies of notable mathematicians. Bell writes beautifully. He is elegant, concise, witty, knowing and, if not exactly irreverent, certainly never misses an opportunity to burst a bubble or prick some pomposity.

As I read these essays (I have just reached Pascal by way of Descartes and Fermat), there always comes a point where the writing stops making sense and I have to skip forward to where it does again. These are the passages, of course, where history and/or biography recedes to make way for pure mathematics. There's something ineffably frustrating about my inability to understand the figures ... they seem to float just beyond my reach, in a zone that once looked as familiar to me as the garden of the house where I grew up, but is now as strange and threatening as the landscape of an Anselm Kiefer painting, say, or the planets of some other solar system than ours. I sigh, flick forward, and pick up the thread later.

Towards the end of the last essay, Paradise Lost?, about Georg Cantor, Bell writes: We are back once more asking the Sphinx to tell us what a number is ... thus closing the circle that began with Zeno and Pythagoras two and a half millenia before. Cantor's speculations with infinite sets opened the way for, among much else, Mandelbrot's insights. Chaos theory depends partly on what the Russian born German mathematician achieved. I was brought back to Men of Mathematics by a fascination with the so-called Cantor Set which, to my mind at least, is a variation upon Zeno's famous paradoxes of motion. I'll try, with the help of James Gleick, to give a non-mathematical explanation of this:

You take a line and remove the middle third; then remove the middle third of the remaining sections; and so on. The Cantor Set is the dust of points that remains. They are infinitely many, but their total length is zero.

Cantor was a tragic figure who ended his days in a mental asylum in 1918. Much of his later life was consumed by an attempt to prove that the Works of Shakespeare were written by Francis Bacon. Part of his depression originated in the implacable opposition German academic orthodoxy expressed against his work. They felt, in Gauss' 1831 phrase, horror of the actual infinite. Bell divides mathematicians into two classes: those who believe that mathematics is a purely human invention and those who think that it has an independent existence, containing universal truths we can discover. It was not so much horror of the infinite that sent Cantor mad, but rather the horror of the horrified for his work.

As for me, lacking the tools of understanding, I can't decide where I stand. I'm still back there in Egypt, asking the Sphinx to tell me what a number is ...


limbo and/or cyberspace

I had meant to mark a year in the blogosphere with a post last Friday (10.6.05) but in a lather of disorientation I wrote something else entirely. So, belatedly ... a few thoughts. It was Mark Young who suggested I start this site and he who also helped me set it up. By remote control as it were, because at that stage we had corresponded but not met. It was something I approached with quite a deal of trepidation. An obsessive reviser, I was not used to the process of instant publication, as it were, and doubted that I would be able to sustain any long term engagement with what is effectively an electronic diary. In fact I now think of writing here as somehow analogous to what playing every day is for a musician ... a practice, a discipline perhaps, a means of increasing fluency. For a while I used to joke about feeding my blog, as if it were a demand I had to satisfy. I still feel like that, I don't like to let too long pass between posts. On the other hand, I don't always have something to say. I've also noticed, on the odd occasion I've taken something from the site and used it elsewhere, that the writing is more casual, or less rigorous, than I want it to be and must be revised. Sometimes the name bothers me: when I first started I was writing a book under the same title and much of what appeared here was outtakes from, or pieces of research that pertained to, the book. That book was finished earlier this year, though it has not yet found a publisher, and so the overflow from it into this site has ceased. I loved the tone of some of the exotica I was posting last year; now the writing seems more humdrum than I would like. It was to exile the humdrum to another place that I started a companion site, dérives which might paradoxically show more flash and gleam than this one does. Or not. I'm always dissatisfied when I'm not working on a book, which I'm not now, and maybe that's all I mean. I have two folders on my desktop, both with titles I really like, neither with any definite plan. One, I can't decide whether to write as a film or a book, which probably means it should be a film. The other is certainly a book but, although I know what the subject matter is, I still haven't found the voice in which to write it. And, because it is difficult subject matter, I keep shying away from really engaging with it. At the back of my mind is the thought that there might be some other thing that has not yet lurched forward into the light. I feel, I suppose, strangely adrift from my unconscious, or dream life, or whatever ... a state I recognise having been in before. A kind of limbo perhaps. I think of what Keats said about negative capability, to be able to be in a state of suspended disbelief without irritable reaching after fact or reason. (I might be misquoting here). I think of another phrase, the discipline of indiscipline. However. On the other side of the scales, outweighing all introspection and doubt, there is the wonderful, sustaining, always stimulating sense of being a part - however obscure, hesitant or refractory - of a community of writers also engaged in this extraordinary process of extending consciousness to cyberspace.

PS: ... capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason ...


Hotel Centaur

Have just returned from three days (felt like years) in a swank hotel in Coogee. A marketing seminar hosted by the federal film development funding body for selected project teams working on low budget features. On those odd occasions when I get to stay in hotels of this kind I am unable to get the picture Barton Fink out of my mind. Those lowered ceilings in the corridors, the absolute uniformity of decor and doors, the perhaps sinister absence of anyone else at all, most of all the sense of some kind of ambient music playing just beyond the reach of my hearing ... how many times has this air been breathed, I wonder? Whose lungs was it in before mine? What will I find when I swipe the card through the slot and re-enter my room? Not a murdered Judy Davis? Not, surely, a dead horse head in my bed? Not ... another copy of New Idea? Yes! Michael Jackson is moving to Australia just as soon as his trial is over. Bad Pit is entering a monastry. Princess Anne is dating Camilla Parker-Bowles ex. Lindy Chamberlain will save Chapelle Corby from her doom. Or should that be room? Also staying in the hotel is the NSW State of Origin team. These guys look smaller than they do on TV (which is not saying much - they are massive on screen). They never meet your eye. They do not stand aside if you intersect on the way to the breakfast bar. On the third morning, one of the coaching staff collapses with pancreatitis. I become Barton Fink. I am someone from the East Coast sent down into the West, except the terms are reversed: West is East. It is suggested that this is what we call our currently untitled film: East : West. My mouth moves but no words come out of it. A fat man in the horseshoe of tables is shouting out Virus Marketing! Nobody knows if his girlfriend is a/hypnotised b/transexual c/an android. The components of the Mazda promotional device he has circulated through the room will not go back into their cylinder. It's something to do with Batman. I come to on the beach with a cardboard box in my hands. I know that it contains a severed head, I just don't know whose. After an age of prudence, I open it. It's the horse's head! I don't know who to thank, I only know it isn't god. Then I see the horse itself, headless, natch, galloping along the golden sands. With a salute to those who have accompanied me thus far, I vault onto its palomino back. We ride together into the sunset.


train of thought

The spire ... is just emerging from the morning mist. Looks strangely yellow today.

Hawksmoor, that Peter Ackroyd book about the occult placement of certain London cathedrals.

Actually he got his (psychogeographic) inspiration from Iain Sinclair's Lud Heat, was it?

Lud ... would never say how he got that nickname. Took the knowledge with him to the grave.

The William Golding book of the same name, do I still have it ... yes, a Faber paperback.

& then Alan's poem, also called The Spire, from Messengers in Blackface:

see the light on the flying buttress
surely a visitation from the other
the sailor's beldame you fucked
will see her face on the stone vault
at the crossing of the nave
when she rises from prayers
the boy you loved will hear his voice
in the windlass for a thousand years ...

Golding who in one of his last published pieces said of a bibliography of his works: So now let the book stand on the appointed library shelf in the long, long silence.

Must read The Inheritors one day. About neanderthals, is it? Or ... some extinct branch of us.

Must check on the possibility that the Flores hominin is related not to erectus but to habilis ... journey after journey out of Africa, all dead ends until ours ... which is not to say ...

The main street at Labuanbajo, what was it called? Where every stranger laughed a greeting.

J'ai enfin le droit de saluer des êtres que je ne connais pas ... which Apollinaire poem is that?

The Musician of Saint-Merry.

How brilliant his opening lines are:

You are tired at last of this old world ...

From red to green all the yellows fade ...

we are going further without advancing
and from planet to planet ...

hmmm, this copy is broken backed at Les Fenêtres ... & I've misquoted the first line, it's

The yellow fades from red to green ...

but what does the French say?

Du rouge au vert tout le jaune se muert

I must have quoted another translation than Shattuck's? but whose? my own? The one in Calligrammes says all the yellow dies .... That's literal. I think I prefer fades. But I'm not sure.

The spire ... now buttery brown before the blue & haunted by sulphur-crested cockatoos. Guess I should ... do something ...


the listening room

Tagged by Jill Chan who has a fine interview on Navel Orange called Going Still to Listen. This is a disaster for me – I am far too secretive a person to feel comfortable divulging information of this sort. Anyway ...

The volume of music files on my computer … is unknown. I changed from PC to Mac earlier this year & all the music files I had on the PC refused to come across. So at the moment I just use the CD player. A young film maker I know is going to bring the story boards for his latest short film around sometime soon for me to look at &, as a quid pro quo, give me a tutorial on the finer points of i-tunes.

The last CDs I bought … were a couple of movie soundtracks: of John Sayle’s Lone Star & from a Canadian film called The Hanging Garden, written & directed by Thom Fitzgerald. One is Tex-Mex, the other, Celtic music out of, I think, Nova Scotia. I haven’t seen either movie. But I have just seen Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 & that has an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack to go with the equally gorgeous visuals.

I write listening only to the tap of the keys & the hum of the machinery. But I always have a song in my head & that could be anything. Lately I've been doing battle with Van Morrison's Astral Weeks which will NOT leave me alone.

In the next room … a Jimmy Reed compilation, You Don’t Have To Go; Césaria Évora’s Voz d’Amor; a Brian Eno collaboration with Harold Budd, produced by Daniel Lanois, called The Pearl; Buddhist Chants & Peace Music; and a burn of Chant Down Babylon, Bob Marley songs remixed by his son Steve with invited guests, which, dammit, won’t play.