Me … less than a month ago at the Alhambra. I wonder how many people over the centuries sat on this ledge to gaze out over the Albayzin. Adding to my last post, ‘sunny places,’ these are images taken by my son on his IPhone …
Me … less than a month ago at the Alhambra. I wonder how many people over the centuries sat on this ledge to gaze out over the Albayzin. Adding to my last post, ‘sunny places,’ these are images taken by my son on his IPhone …
In a previous post I mentioned my erratic filing, which, when working on a writing project, results in phases of strolling through my inner jungle in search of a spot marked for attention, often years back, or wandering through a library in a kind of trance, ignoring categories, with only a vague sense of purpose. On route, I explore seemingly unrelated and often incongruous themes, before a match creates coherence in a new context.
While searching for an invisible gestalt, I tend to reread authors that inspired me. Last week it was Six Memos for the next Millennium, by Italo Calvino (translated by Patrick Creagh.) Like him, I’m all for the shared magical. His Memos are lectures he prepared during 1984 for presentation at Harvard University. It was the year when computers moved into our lives. Maybe he was concerned about Orwell’s dystopian Newspeak being just around the corner. In any case, it made Calvino reflect on a set of literary values. His sudden death meant he never presented these lectures, and only five Memos made it later into print: Lightness – Quickness – Exactitude – Visibility and Multiplicity … keywords, expanding on ways we perceive.
Though it’s a small volume, the material is too rich and diverse for my humble post. Still, I want to share a few quotes and reflections from re-reading the chapter on visibility. Calvino wrote …
… For successful imagery, writers must do two things: convert the visuals of the mind into words, and at the same time make sure that the words are so well-crafted that when read, the reader can instantly visualise every setting, every character, every chosen detail as if they were looking at it directly, and not at a page. It’s a deliberate process, this transmogrifying from image to text and back to image ….
He describes the progression … something that is painstaking but not necessarily painful, from the moment you grasp the significance of a single image and then associate it with other images, forming a field of analogies, symmetries and confrontations, and then organising this material, which is no longer purely visual but also conceptual, to try and give order and sense to the development of a story. Here the writing, the textual product, becomes increasingly important. From the moment you start putting black onto white what really matters is the written word, first as a search for an equivalent of the visual image, then as a coherent expansion of the initial stylistic direction, so that eventually it is the image that is being pulled along by the text, and not the other way around …
My poems, and certainly my first novel, started with a spark, a solitary image, like a cypher compelling me to uncover its meaning. An unfolding message can be drowned or crowned. Writing (like any creation energised by passion and craft) occasionally achieves such a finely tuned nuance that an invisible quality resonates deeply through the visible.
During my recent reading of Calvino’s chapter on visibility I recalled my entry into black and white photographic processing, which, before digital technology, happened in the darkroom … to start with, in complete darkness, with the celluloid film being developed in a chemical bath, regularly shaken, like the preparation of a homeopathic tincture, then rinsed and fixed in another bath, rinsed again and dried. Creating prints is the next stage, for which red light is allowed. The negative is placed into the enlarger, from where it is projected through a lens with a sharp beam of measured light onto a light-sensitised sheet beneath. Correct duration of the beam results in a positive print that, at best, develops very slowly in a tray of chemical developer.
Watching the print of a well exposed negative emerge under the red light has always given me enormous pleasure. Like a dream emerging from the unconscious and becoming visible.
The image first appears as a sketch, until grey and dark tones assume saturation, ideally without losing highlights. Once perfection is achieved, the print is shortly rinsed and transported into the fixation bath for a while. Only then is it safe to introduce daylight, for further rinsing and drying of the print on a hot press.
No doubt the experience of a slowly developing image in the darkroom influenced my writing. A sketch to start with, suggesting a mood, a lightness of touch, and, with some stroke of luck, an emerging symbolic element, which black & white photography is particularly well suited for. In short, a feast for the imagination, inviting associations for … poems, stories, and even cosmologies.
Are you a visual writer – in Calvino’s sense? Do you bring vision into focus with your eyes shut? Do you use images to think, and words to imagine what never existed?
Back in 2012 I posted a very short review of Italo Calvino’s Six Memos on Goodreads
related post – imagination …
In my last post, Teddy mentioned my fascination with AI. This interest became obsessive while doing a sabbatical film degree that ended in 1997 – my lucky chance to catch up on cultural history and post-modern theories. I plan to re-type my dissertation, which includes pages of tedious notes and a bibliography. But presently, like so many papers I wrote at the time, the master piece rests in an old Mac disc in a format I can’t translate to Word.
Artificial intelligence is unstoppable. I’m curious as to your take on the subject, so I’m sharing a few quotes from my exploration of human identity in the digital age.
I pinched the title for my dissertation ‘Body Electric,’ from Walt Whitman’s poem ‘I sing the body electric.’ He celebrates the body – of man, of woman, of child, bodies of flesh, sinew and blood. Do follow the above link, the invigorating poem stands in ironic juxtaposition to the theme of AI. Could a mechanical electric body ever convey the curious, breathing, laughing flesh that Whitman hearts because it pleases the soul? How would its divine nimbus compare to a form governed by mechanical algorithms? For Whitman the human body is sacred. Its magnetism comes through eyes, from the soul, a term shelved by neuroscience. Call it what you will, soul or consciousness; its light will forever seek vessels and new direction.
Fronting ‘Body Electric’ is my translation of R M Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus X, which, even at his time, bemoans machines that ignore the hesitant gesture of a radiant hand. Here only one a few lines:
Yet our being remains spun in mysteries of birthing
Origins from enchanted wells, a play of pristine powers
To behold only with eyes closed and in adoration.
The text develops as an intuitive assembly and starts with a quote by Michael Foucault:
‘Man is only a recent invention, a figure not yet two centuries old, a new wrinkle in our knowledge; he will disappear again as soon as that knowledge has discovered a new form.’
For the artist Maya Deren (1917-1951,) who created some highly influential films in her short life, scientific findings were but the raw materials of creative action: ‘The first step of creative action is the violation of the natural integrity of an original context.’ She saw the function of art and its validation in the creation of mythical realities. Her symbolic images of personal significance also chime universally.
In dreams, time vanishes. This applies equally when dream worlds are shared, with the additional ecstasy of an interactive virtual reality:
‘… we would enter the world of fluids … Over with the solid, over with the continuous and the calm; some dance quality would invade everything and Cartesian philosophers would go through a trance, floating on history like chops on gravy.’ – Henry Michaux
But what about the vanishing space? In the public realm of instant ‘in’form’ation’ nothing keeps its form long enough to take root. Spaces to hide or resist the other fade as human nature is flood-lit. Jean Baudrillard foresaw a silence of the masses as ironic and antagonistic coping mechanism:
‘… hyper conformist simulation of the very mechanism of the system, which is another form of refusal by over acceptance …’ Jean Baudrillard
Simulated reality blinds with the Gestalt of our collective mind, where every viewpoint exists at the same time. It lacks context and shadow definition, over-exposes our field of consciousness. For Baudrillard, the schizophrenic subject can no longer produce the limits of its own being, or produce itself as a mirror. It becomes a screen, a switching center for all networks of influence. The electric sphere of the internet simulates our nervous system and turns it inside out. There remains the reality of our psychological experiences, where shadows have to be reckoned with.
Donna Haraway, a biologist and professor of the History of Consciousness, sees pleasure in the confusion of boundaries. She once said, ‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.’ This intrigues. The inspiring, if manic torrent of concepts pouring into Haraway’s lectures requires extreme co-presence from her students. I resonate with her thought that contradiction is the criterion of the real, which is a theme in my planned third book (following Course of Mirrors and Shapers.) I like it that Haraway’s favourite story teller is Ursula Le Guin 🙂
CYBORG – a human, enhanced with integral technology. Visit this link for a taster – a TED talk by Kevin Warwick, a Professor of Cybernetics.
When it becomes possible to clone super humans one has to ask, why the need for babies, why the need for women, and what’s the point of males. Can myth be banished, and what if the human being – that pack of neurons – is squeezed into microchips like genies into bottles, how will future societies hang together?
An emerging idea proposes that to maintain homeostasis requires a new religion, DATAISM. Check this link to an extract from Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari on WIRED …
Would shadow entities of the collective psyche slip through data and act out hidden agendas? Kevin Kelly wrote: ‘… as we unleash living forces into our created machines, we lose control of them. They acquire wildness and some the surprises that the wild entails. This then is the dilemma all gods must accept: That they can no longer be completely sovereign over their finest creations.’
Besides the above quotes, my dissertation includes thoughts from Marshall McLuhan, Paul Virilio, Roger Callois, Walter Benjamin, Gregory Bateson, Don Cupitt, Francis Crick, D Dennett, Goethe, Anthony Stevens, John Searle, David Chalmers, Horst Hendriks-Jansen, Sherry Turkle, Danah Zohar and many more – all of them google worthy.
As a golden thread through my dissertation I use scenes from the film Bladerunner, where replicants are indistinguishable from humans and develop emotional responses. If we give them a past, Tyrell says, we create a cushion for their emotions and can control them. A fail-safe device makes sure of that. Familiar? It turns out that ‘mother’ the equivalent of history, is a trigger word for lack. One replicant blasts his tester to smithereens and seeks revenge on his maker. The film leaves one with the uncomfortable sense that we are all replicants, with memories implanted by history. There is no escape from the burden of existential insecurity.
Relationships and the context of place are vital to experience a sense of identity, like an energy field that grows in relation to the reality we create for ourselves. In other words, we are artists of our continuous self-invention, and we must choose our horizons.
Reverend Don Cupitt wrote the self is an animal with cultural inscriptions on the surface. Not that he is wrong, but when he assumes the soul has died, he must refer to his personal version of soul and its loss of meaning.
The Soul, the light of the universe, eternal life and consciousness, is essentially independent of matter and mind. Once embodied, we tend to forget the light’s source and feel trapped and homesick. Whether there is a purpose to the cyclic embodiment of consciousness may be a useless question, since purpose can only emerge through living and through the myths we create. Bless our imagination. Presently AI is the most generously funded myth, forging ahead, regardless of the dire state of humanity and our planet as a whole.
Birth and death remain the ultimate spinners of life. In the parlance of the mystic, the moment of exaltation is in the immanent glimpse of the curl of the beloved. Can the beloved be the beloved if she is fully known? And what do we know of the various dimensions where she resides?
Don’t miss this worthwhile article by John Gray in the New Statesman (Oct 2016) on the upgrade from Homo sapiens into Homo deus. The page may take a while to load.
All links open a new page. They are part of post and totally worthwhile.
… like a motherless child … This famous Spiritual is known the world over, maybe because it touches the orphan child in us. The lament of being a long, long way from home speaks of the universal desire to feel safe, to be accepted, have one’s talent nurtured and simply be held. Listen to this deep-felt ache in Odetta’s voice from a late recording on You Tube.
In most cases we leave the nest in order to become our own person, but winning the obstacle race of growing into an adult and finding self-worth is a remarkable achievement, made easier when a child is welcomed and loved by a parent, a mentor or a community.
The latter presents a grim challenge for people who are forced to leave their homes, for whatever reasons. Affluent societies are now faced with a surge of refugees. There is much goodwill, but equally resentment, often based on ignorance. Public debates seem to miss the acknowledgement of how the wealth that brought about commerce and stability in the west was and is part-indebted to slavery and the exploitation of defenseless countries. The lesson for humility and tolerance is implicit – and ongoing.
Before I get carried away, this post is in memory of my mother, who died three decades ago to this day.
I miss her, and yet …
Sometimes I feel like my mother is near At home, right here in my heart
With the vast volume of creative expressions by innovators, scientists, thinkers, writers and artists of any kind in our climate of over-saturated productions – some unique works will flicker shortly and then sink to seeming oblivion, temporarily invisible on the crossroads. Does it matter?
My Sufi friend, Fazal Inayat-Khan, once said, ‘If Einstein had never published his theories, his ideas would still have irrevocably changed the world of science.’
What makes products succeed in the public domain? Is it genius, fame, skill, merit, sponsorship, contacts, money, timing, luck, or the phenomenon of strong desire and expectation? Over years of psychotherapy practice I’ve met people, who, let’s say, were the apple of the eye of a parent, a friend, a teacher, a mentor, or maybe an angel of synchronicity that inspired confidence towards success. While some people may be born with faith in their desire, others, whose confidence was knocked, need a nudge. Expectation feeds success. Expectation is uncanny; it’s like carrying a magnet.
Still, even meteoric success can be short lived. Weighed down with superlative praise, a work can sizzle out and draw ridicule. When a lauded product doesn’t impress me, I ask myself – is this because of my acquired taste, my hugging of precious time, my complex mind, my standards, my arrogance, or my jealousy? A half-truth sneaks through all these questions, embarrassing. Shouldn’t creative people support each other?
Yes and no. Triggers that stimulate us vary. I must catch the tune of an authentic wave that keeps me in the zone. My interest wakes when an unnameable quality shines through a work of art. I call it an internalised idea transformed in the heart. This kind of deep assimilation is often transmitted by poets, like Rilke, Rumi, Neruda, Warsan Shire, to randomly pick only a few artists who reveal multiple layers of meaning.
Equally, the simple words of some prayers and mantras transmit the power of their initially intended blessing. Then again, if a quality is not already dormant in me, I may sense the love tincture, but the symbolic aspect drowns in crackling noises when I can’t fine-tune the relevant radio wave. This is why, when we return at different times during our lives to creative works that intrigued us, we may find the essence of a message and grok how it relates to us with sudden intuitive comprehension.
‘Grok’ is a word coined by Robert A Heinlein in his 1961 novel ‘Stranger in a Strange Land.’ A Martian term for intuitive understanding, though it means much more. The Wikipedia entry for Grog is totally worth reading.
Cloned, copied and reassembled work, in short, quirky experimental materials, often has deeply assimilated qualities, if one can detect the code. In today’s flood-lit cyberspace there is stuff that blinks and chimes, stuff that rings pretentious, and stuff the heart can’t decode, yet.
As for writers who tilled a patch of their inner territory and planted seeds that thrive, it can be a lone satisfaction when no promoter propels readers to seek out the garden so lovely and inspiring to spend time in.
When a few connoisseurs find and grok the hidden place, the pleasure is shared. And that’s not even addressing the mysterious process of any creative work, the reward of which lives on in other time-zones.
To bring back the question – does it matter if creative works don’t appear in the light, are invisible on the public crossroads? The publishing world, for example, geared to profit, accumulates mountains of slush piles, like compost heaps. When you think of it – all manifestations are constantly recycled, small bits, big bits. And yet, I sincerely believe that anything processed and transmitted through the heart’s intelligence leaves a coherent mark and demands eternal resurrection. In other words, the essence of these works will shine on.
This post may be a tad confusing, not telling you anything you don’t already know. But having been immersed in editing ‘Shapers’ and composing a short story for a local competition, and, sigh, fretting over practical issues, like a defunct heating system I have nil resources to fix, nor the nerve to tap into the bureaucratic nightmare of government grants, I wanted to pause and say hello to all creative warriors out there.
In this warm and wet autumn
fresh grass grows, as soft as silk …
Talking of growth and beautiful spaces, visit this plot of a friend with a brilliant mind, who inspires by planting riches in a real earth plot in the middle of a roundabout.
The rose-phrase is the enduring refrain of Gertrude Stein. In her surreal 1939 children book, ‘The World is Round,’ for example, rows of three words appear throughout. A girl called Rose carves her name round a tree in an endless loop to affirm her existence .
Rose is a rose is a rose – rolls from the tongue much like the prayer beads of a rosary roll through nimble fingers.
You want to stay with the rose, let it take root in your psyche, and from there let roses after roses grow.
By comparison – BrexitisBrexitisBrexit – sounds like the rusty hinges of a rotten door, or the croaking of a parrot with a sore throat. I try to resist the word’s grating in my skull, but it’s difficult to avoid its ugly edges from day to day, in bizarre discord with the rousing refrain of Britannia rules the waves.
There’s repetition and repetition. Applied with intention in literature, music, dance and the visual arts, repetition can strip the familiar to its essence. The arts, at best, alert us to nature’s spellbinding repetitive rhythms. Shield your ears and hear the blood-river rushing through your veins – touch your wrist and sense your heart pump the river round and round. Spirit is seduced into this trance-dance, or it would never get trapped in forms. Repetitive behaviour settles us into mollifying routines and gives us a sense of stability, as well as addictive habits. Beneficial as they can be, customary routines also have a tendency to dumb us down.
In this time of rapid changes, words and images topple over each other’s associations. Type ‘apple’ into a search engine and up pop pages listing Apple Inc., the multinational technology company that has seized the apple, bitten off a chunk of knowledge, like Eve, and deployed it as a metaphor for its corporation – brilliant, and disconcerting. It had trouble finding a title for my novel, where ‘mirror’ was not already owned as a label by tabloids or rock bands.
Most young folk today move along the electric cultural highway in fast gear. Facebook’s Zuckerberg famously said ‘Move fast and break things.’ Maybe he’s a speed-hatched modern-day mystic. I’m reminded of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s profound quote regarding the journey of life – ‘The ideal the means, its breaking is the goal.’
I suffer a long view. My first experience of TV was Queen Elisabeth’s coronation. What unnerves me is the speed of spear-heading elites, leaving ordinary people no breath to digest events, especially as history and the arts are being replaced by computer science in education. With automation the rage, the journey happens in a blur, as do thinking processes. Keywords have become mechanical codes, and shareholders bow to the omnipotent algorithms’ patterns of, let’s say, how existential fears relate to consumer behaviour. We hardly notice our choices being manipulated. How to catch snap assumptions that keep consciousness caged, or one’s imagination buried under debris of glib answers? With traditions and ideologies on trial, how to develop a filter of authenticity to stem the flood of information? Reflective minds are turning cynical. I have that tendency. Doubt is the new lodestar.
Like never before, we perceive phenomena through multiple eyes, tap into the states of other beings – their joy, their ignorance and excess, their poverty, suffering and distress. We may blank out what upsets, but can’t escape the increasing experience of contradiction, the very function of reality. Greater awareness deeply conflicts us, as much as it inspires creativity. There’s hope. Seeing does not require physical eyes. Collective consciousness will expand, be it through chaos. The least we can do is to still our own mind, which is why I return to the rose.
The genus Rosa, according to fossil evidence, is 35 million years old and begun to be cultivated circa 5000 years ago. Due to its tessellated structure, dome-like shape and its delightful perfume, the rose has become a symbol of the heart, of wholeness, love, beauty and perfection the world over, frequently with mystical connotation, and often highly stylised, as in Islamic art.
When held, thought or spoken of, the rose lingers on and generates a mood. It may appear in different stages of opening or beautiful decay, in a particular colour, light. The name alone conjures up memories of scents, places, relationships, delight or melancholy. What ‘rose’ evokes derives from a time-wrought cypher that evokes all roses that were, are and will be. Rose is a rose is a rose – depicts a rose, no more, and yet, it kindles all the experiences and ideas humans formed around roses.
While fear of loss and abandonment engenders life, it also draws us towards the mystery of infinite consciousness, the one being with countless names. Various practices, derived from spiritual traditions, can calm a turbulent mind enough for a glimpse of harmony beyond divisions. For a while, at least, we sense the larger presence, the effortless zone, the flow – and given patience, come to realise that consciousness is what we are.
I invite you again to This guided rose journey I shared here three years ago, requires only your imagination.
It is a short imagery, easy to memorise. Enter with eyes closed, and it may work for you as a bridge to the recurring presence of rose – a reminder of continuous becoming and expanding consciousness.
An apple doesn’t drop by itself before it’s ripe. And unless fate delivers us a hard blow natural ripeness applies equally to experience. Experts are quick to tell us, or we tell ourselves, to let go of whatever – an attachment, a fear, a grievance, an addiction, a desire, melancholy, sadness, the ego, and so on, while we are enmeshed with our life and its phenomena. The best chance of ripening towards a possible potential lies in keeping one’s balance on the tightrope of contradictions, that is, the fine line between the particle state and the wave state – as in Blake’s ‘Kiss the joy while flies.’
Natural letting go happens every second. We breathe, well, we are breathed, though we mainly notice when the rhythm of our breath is disrupted – through pain, exhaustion, anger, anxiety, anger or sheer exasperation, when anyone uttering, ‘Calm down,’ deserves a punch.
(Thanks Joe Linker for the great doodle)
Emotional balance wavers from day to day, but when self-blame knots up our muscles it makes sense to focus on the body. There are plenty of ways to relax: exercise, sex, music, singing, mantras, doodling, magnesium, weed, pills, wine … or to imagine brilliant light circling through the breath, like the basic drone of a reed harmonium or a tanpura holding up multiple sounds. Everything in nature has an essential frequency, which tends to flush out what obstructs its flow, even if it takes earthquakes, storms and floods. To right imbalances of the planet is beyond individuals, we can however bring a clear intention towards balancing our body’s frequency. Try this:
Inhale through your nose – draw brilliant light from head the chest – counting to 7
Exhale through your mouth – let the light flow to your feet and out – counting to 11
Imagine the out breath taking along the tensions held in your muscles. A few rounds of this ritual should calm the heartbeat for a while. Being in resonance with your body draws the shy soul closer, bringing a sense of oneness – satiating our thirst for belonging. And it makes us aware that beauty is not in things, but in the soul of things, even the tiniest thing has soul.
However, a constant sense of oneness is not what evolution is about. In a time and space structured cosmos we cannot cage harmony. Reality is the result of contradiction.
Our struggle for balance can be intense. But each of us has the chance to live with zest, inspired by the earth spirit and its dark power for spontaneous creation born of sadness and pain. Garcia Frederico-Lorca talked about art being inspired in three ways: by muses of the past, angelic visons of the future, and by duende – inspiration of the present. Duende springs from the core of one’s being in direct confrontation with death. You can read Lorca’s remarkable speech here: ‘Theory and Play of the Duende.’
… You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves … from – Mary Oliver, ‘Wild Geese’