a new year wish

Entelechy, the concept, derives ultimately from Aristotle, who used the word to describe the condition of a thing whose essence is fully realized, an actuality. Subsequently entelechy has been characterised as a force directing us towards fulfillment ... in the words of the old song, who could ask for anything more?


This was the word I was looking for:

entelechy (en-TEL-uh-kee) noun

1. Perfect realization as opposed to a potentiality.

2. In some philosophies, a vital force that propels one to self-fulfillment.

[From Late Latin entelechia, from Greek entelecheia, from enteles (complete), from telos (end, completion) + echein (to have).]

As in (Ern Malley again): An entelechy of clouds and trumpets



Woke up this morning with a word in my head, thinking: what does it mean? Stumbled to the Concise Oxford that's always open on the desktop but in a fug of not-quite-awake-ness looked up entellechy instead. It wasn't there, though I did find enteric nearby. As in the Ern Malley lines: And not until then did my voice build crenellated towers/Of an enteric substance in the air ... Also Entellus, the Hanuman, from Virgil's Aeneid ... so went to Google and found myself in a talk by the late Terence McKenna. By now I'm wondering where I've heard of this guy before so I Google him too and end up at my old fave, Wikipedia. After a few cups of lapsang souchong I'm able to proceed further and I find McKenna's theory of human origins which, self-styled aficionado of such theories as I am, I'm ashamed to say I've never heard before. Goes like this:

McKenna theorizes that as the North African jungles receded toward the end of the most recent ice age, giving way to grasslands, a branch of our tree-dwelling primate ancestors left the branches and took up a life out in the open—following around herds of ungulates, nibbling what they could along the way.

Among the new items in their diet were psilocybin-containing mushrooms growing in the dung of these ungulate herds. The changes caused by the introduction of this drug to the primate diet were many—McKenna theorizes, for instance, that synesthesia (the blurring of boundaries between the senses) caused by psilocybin led to the development of spoken language: the ability to form pictures in another person's mind through the use of vocal sounds.

About 12,000 years ago, further climate changes removed the mushroom from the human diet, resulting in a new set of profound changes in our species as we reverted to pre-mushroomed and brutal primate social structures that had been modified and/or repressed by frequent consumption of psilocybin.

Then it was on to Novelty Theory, Timewaves and the Eschaton, by which time I was speculating that this was actually the word I woke up with, not Entellechy ... today is after all the 21st December, the Solstice, which means we have just seven more years before the Eschaton.

B-b-but ... I'm not going to worry about that ... it's holidays ...


the surging waves

... a christmas greeting turned up my comments box last week from a guy called Avik. His site, The Surging Waves, references articles, mostly science based, from all over the world and is full of wonders and warnings. Here's two things I found there:

Jupiter's moon Io looking like a ripening cheese and:


which means fear of the number 666 ... I began to suffer from this as soon as I knew it existed.


the colour yellow

Before I started reading Huge's Goya, I'd only really looked at the graphic work - Los Caprichos, The Disasters of War - and the late black paintings, all of which are more or less monochromatic if not actually black and white. I had not realised what a superb colorist he was. Out of all those many, varied, beautiful shades, it was his yellows that lingered in my mind: of a highwayman's jacket, of the trousers of an about to be executed street fighter, of the bodice of a maja on a balcony. Then these shades began to remind me of something, someone else, who turned out to be, of all painters, Vermeer.

Vermeer's yellows are different from Goya's - less ochre, less gold, more diaphanous - perhaps best seen in the colour of The Lacemaker's dress. (I also learned that Vermeer had used the same garment, a yellow robe trimmed with white, black-spotted fur, in no less than four other paintings, though not on the Lacemaker herself.)

I found that before sleep or upon waking, this, or these, shades would come to mind, a kind of membrane made not of pigment or cloth but of whatever materiality floats behind the eye in moments of recollection or reprise. And then, a stranger thing, I noticed that when I went back to the books to check my recall, what was on the page was never as vivid or as resonant as what I remembered.

How can this be? I know I am looking at reproductions, and that reproductions are not to be trusted; but is it possible that what I am remembering is not the reproduction at all, but the original? Is this how painting works, by giving an image of the unseen along with the lineaments of the seen? In my memory of those yellows was I remembering things I had never before seen?

Now, even when I look at something as ambiguous and haunting as the image below, it is the yellow of the enormous space above and behind the dog I see, not the previous gloom:


Can be tricky re-watching a loved movie a decade later, you might find the resonances faded, the relevancies irrelevant, the significances turned trite or opaque; but Clint Eastwood's masterpiece stacked up for me, I was rivetted all the way through.

One thing: my favourite exchange used to be the one between William Munney (Clint) & Sheriff Little Bill Dagget (Gene Hackman), just before the former delivers the coup de grace to the latter:

I don't deserve this ... to die like this, Little Bill squeaks. I was building a house.

Deserve's got nothin' to do with it,
Munney replies.

Maybe it's changing times, but now I can't go past this:

You just kicked the shit out of an innocent man, sez the madame of the brothel, Strawberry Alice (Frances Fisher) to Little Bill.

Innocent? Bill says. Innocent of what?


Huge's Goya

Reading Robert Hughes' Goya which I approached initially with great enthusiasm. Despite the undoubted virtues of Hughes' convict book The Fatal Shore, I've always thought his best writing has been about art and his best book, of those I've read, the collection Nothing If Not Critical which is informed, incisive, resonant, brief ... lapidary, even. So it is a surprise and a disappointment to find this ... a plod. And hence, a slog. There's something painfully dutiful about the way the history of Spain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries is narrated, something equally rote about the way Hughes marks off the works Goya made contemporaneously with these events. Occasionally the prose takes off, almost always when a work is being discussed, but these odd flashes and gleams are rare enough. Much of the rest is both dull and repetitive, as if, like so many books these days, not enough time was given over to editing the text. Also the balance between word and image seems wrong, there is so much writing that the illustrations, while high quality, are just too small for the detail to be properly seen, so that I often find myself peering into the shadows looking for something Hughes remarks upon, unable in fact to see it properly. All of these defects are bearable, plus Goya is such an extraordinary artist and his story so compelling, that I will certainly read the book to the end, though not without regret for what might have been.

But there's something else, which I guess could be described as Hughes' personal intrusions into the narrative. These begin in the first chapter, Driving into Goya in which Hughes reprises some aspects of the very bad car accident he was in in Western Australia in 1999, specifically the long and painful recovery period during which, he says, he 'met' Goya. This haunting and the attendant suffering, finally showed him how he could write his long contemplated book about the artist. So far, so good. But for anyone living in Australia who follows the news, that long-running episode of Hughes' accident and the aftermath does not recall the author's nobility of suffering and humility of insight so much as it does his pettiness, spite and anger at what he saw as his mistreatment by the State authorities and, by extension, his country as a whole. He doesn't go on here as much as he has in other places but what he does say is enough to taint, not so much his inquiry, as his tonality. And once that tone is established, it keeps recurring.

Nothing if not opinionated might be another way to describe Hughes and I'm comfortable with that so far as it relates to the subject of his book ... but do we need to hear what he thinks about the current fashion for Thanksgiving turkeys in the United States? Is it necessary for him to ask us to imagine him in bed for an afternoon with The Naked Maja? Do we want to hear his opinions about the West Australian government? Can't help thinking if there were less of this kind of bluster, less repetition, less Hughes, we could have had a lot more Goya. As it is, I have to read the book with another, one that has decent sized reproductions, to hand, so I can see the paintings, etchings and drawings. But, inevitably, not everything in the one is in the other and I end up frustrated.

Those bombasts, like Hughes, who turn against their country the way he has are not so very different in the end from those others who wrap themselves in the flag and proclaim, over and over, that this is the best country in the world. On other hand, he is a formidable scholar and a very learned man, so it might be better to end with a speculation he gives us quite early on in the piece: the young Goya sharing lodgings with Piranesi in Rome, circa 1770-1.

the Goya self portrait dates from the time of the illness in the early 1790s that left him deaf; the Piranesi was done in and of Rome about 1770.


smoke & mirrors

One of the oddest of Australian books is Michael Wilding's Raising Spirits, Making Gold & Swapping Wives: The True Adventures Of Dr John Dee & Sir Edward Kelly (Shoestring Press, UK; Abbott Bentley, Sydney). I came across a copy of it in, of all places, the Umina Public Library, several years ago now. However, sadly, so far as I could see, it was another book that did not allow itself to be read. This was partly because it was physically a very unsympathetic object: poorly printed, poorly bound, poorly made as a book.

I have somewhere read another novel about Edward Kelly (or Kelley) and Doctor Dee, quite a good one, but can't remember now what it was called or who wrote it. It was specifically concerned with their trip to central Europe, together with their wives and children, during which they visited various monarchs and attempted various transformations, including, it is said, a successful transmutation in Prague. Later the two men fell out, Dee returned to England, Kelly was imprisoned, then broke his leg apparently attempting to escape, and shortly afterwards died. A curious detail: Kelly had no ears, they had been lopped off in punishment for, I think, coining.

Kelly was Dee's scryer. They would collaborate in the calling up of spirits, which Kelly could see in whatever instrument they were using; he would dictate to Dee, who would write these visions down verbatim. Out of these collaborations, it was said, came several books and it is sometimes alleged that the Voynich Manuscript was one of these. Well, perhaps.

What is curious is that one, perhaps two, of these scrying instruments have surivived and are now in the British Museum. The first is a small crystal ball, about whose provenance there is some doubt; the other certainly belonged to Dr Dee and was used by he and Kelly. It is a polished obsidian mirror of Aztec manufacture, brought back from Mexico in the 1520s by Cortes. How it came to England is not known. The Aztec god of night, of rulers, warriors, sorcerers and all material things, Tezcatlipoca, carried such a magic mirror that gave off smoke and killed enemies; in fact his name can be translated 'Smoking Mirror'. Aztec priests also used mirrrors for divination and conjuring up visions.

A British artist, Rosalind Brodsky, along with much else, has interested herself in Dr Dee's mirror as part of one of her Time Travel Research Projects, Hexen2039. It's worth checking out, especially for the curious connections she makes between seemingly but perhaps not unrelated things.


The Voynich Manuscript

The other day, while I was looking online for information about a book - that does not allow itself to be read - mentioned in an Edgar Allan Poe story, I came across an article by sometime Time magazine book reviewer and novelist Lev Grossman. The piece is called When Words Fail and dates from the late 1990s. Subsequent checking suggests that not all of the information in the article is accurate or up to date but it will do as a summary introduction.

The Voynich Manuscript is, literally, a book that cannot by read, since it is written in an unknown language or else in a cipher no-one has yet decoded, at a time of which no-one is sure, by a hand that has not been identified. It is named for one Wilfrid M. Voynich, an American rare book dealer who found it in 1912 in the library of the Villa Mondragone, a Jesuit college in Frascati, Italy, near Rome. The Jesuits who owned the manuscript knew almost nothing about it. Recognising it as unusual and potentially valuable, Voynich bought it and took it back with him to America.

He circulated copies of the pages to scholars he thought might be interested in deciphering it: paleographers, medieval historians, cryptographers, linguists, philologists, even astronomers and botanists. (The book is beautifully illustrated with botanical drawings, astrological symbols, maps, and other arcana.) To date, nearly a hundred years later, no-one has succeeded, although many have tried and some have destroyed themselves in the attempt.

Evocative names swirl about the Voynich: St. Hildegard von Bingen, Roger Bacon, Doctor Dee and Edward Kelly, Rudolph II of Bohemia .... between the pages of the book was a letter, the date of which is probably 1666, from Johannes Marcus Marci of Kronland, rector of the University of Prague, to polymath Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit famous for trying and failing to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics and for having himself lowered into the crater of Vesuvius to observe the play of subterranean forces. Kircher was also the author of one of the earliest attempts at devising a universal language and Marci was seeking advice re: deciphering.

So the book was certainly in Prague in the mid-seventeenth century, and may have been purchased by Rudolph for a large amount of money late in the sixteenth; but where it was before that remains a matter for speculation. Many scholars think the physical object dates from early in the 1500s but, even so, it may still be a copy of an earlier book; on the other hand, it may be a hoax especially concocted to fool the King of Bohemia into parting with 300 crowns.

Currently massive efforts through interlinked Web sites are under way to solve the mystery once and for all ... but part of me wonders if it might not be better to leave something as strange and beautiful as this is, alone?



Since I've switched to a Mac and subscribed to my current server I've had no problems with spam whatsoever ... until last week, when I started getting messages that came with attachments, all the same size - 54.2 k from memory. The first few suggested they related to mail I had sent which was unable to be delivered but were clearly not about anything I'd initiated. I deleted them without opening the attachment. A couple more came, again suggesting there was an error of some kind I could get help with by opening the attachment. I deleted them. Today one came purporting to be from the CIA. Langley, Virginia, it said and was signed by a Steven Allison. It informed me I had visited 30 (yep, that's all) illegal websites, the list of which was in the attachment and that they (the spooks) would like me to answer some questions about said sites. I deleted it. Shortly afterwards, I lost my connection both to this site and to dérives ... hell, I thought, they're onto me! They're shutting me down! I got so stressed I had to go out for a long walk, even though it's really too hot for walking. When I returned, half an hour ago, connection had been restored and a quick Google told me that, although there is a Steven Allison at the CIA, the email is a hoax and the attachment in fact contains the Sober.CF worm ... so, be warned.



For the melancholic the lost love object is partly unconscious. Unable to give it up, he clings to it 'through the medium of a hallucinatory wish-psychosis' (Freud) in which the deeply cathected memories are obsessively repeated. Along with the sublimation of seduction, this process effects the uncanny nature of de Chirican scenes, hallucinatory and reiterative as they are; it also compounds the ambivalence that they register. For just as the subject of the fantasmatic seduction is ambivalent vis-à-vis the seducer, so too is the melancholic vis-à-vis the lost object. As the melancholic de Chirico internalizes his lost object, he also internalizes his ambivalence for it, which is then turned around on the subject. This ambivalence for both subject and object is most apparent in de Chirico and for a time he sustains it. However, its destructive aspect soon becomes dominant ... here melancholy seems to pass over into masochism.

The working over of seduction, the paranoid projections of persecution, the melancholic repetition of loss: all of these processes in de Chirico fascinate. Certainly they fascinated the surrealists - that is, until they could no longer ignore his necrophiliac turn ... compulsive repetition was always the motor of his obsessional work. For a time he was able to recoup it as a mode of art, to make a muse of uncanny returns, as he did in The Disquieting Muses (1917). Eventually he could inflect it no further, and his work petrified in melancholic repetition, as is evident in the many versions of this painting. As petrification became its condition rather than its subject, his art came to intimate, as Freud once said of melancholy, 'a pure culture of the death instinct.'

from: Compulsive Beauty by Hal Foster, pp 71-3, MIT Press, 1993

the rich tapestry of life (not)

Analysis in today's press suggests the Gerard imbroglio is not exactly about what at first it seemed to be. Mr. Gerard, rather than Little Johnny's mate, is probably a closer buddy of Treasurer Costello, aka Mr. Smug, and the outing of his tax fiddle may in fact have been orchestrated by Little Johnny himself ... as a part of his on-going skirmish with his Deputy and (alleged) heir apparent over the Succession. I'd believe anything of this lot. Byzantine, scandalous, corrupt, nasty, ultimately meaningless unless you somehow derive meaning from the possession and exercise of political power for its own sake. Found out, inter alia, Mr. Gerard has a vineyard in South Australia. Tapestry, it's called. Looking for a bottle ... if it's good, maybe I can get my next instalment in kind?