Saturday, March 31, 2012

An indescribably awful meal...

We were seduced by the cushions. They looked so 'authentic', colourful and inviting. We were choosing a restaurant last night in Istanbul. The dampness of one of the cushions might have alerted us to something amiss (as might the absence of any other diners). But most of our party were punch drunk after liberation from a four day workshop. The signs were ignored.

The waiter appeared cheerful, extolling the virtues of Manchester United and a stew baked underground in a clay pot and brought flaming to your table, where it is broken, liberating the said stew onto your plate. We ordered two of these.

Whilst waiting for the food, the dampness began to acquire an odour - of cats. They apparently liked the cushions and had made themselves fully at home in them, if not domestically trained to them!

We debated whether we should leave but the appetizers had arrived and were boundary acceptable.

The waiter had become yet more jovial. His favourite British TV programme, he declared, was 'Celebrity Tunes'. What did we think of it? None of us, though all British, had ever heard of it. He looked crestfallen, declaring that we could not be 'proper British'!

The cats pee was beginning to penetrate the noses of the sensitive (thankfully not mine) and two people found their trousers becoming suspiciously damp.

Like mesmerised participants in a horror movie, none of us moved!

The main courses arrived. The first - an indescribable splat of a grey-red substance claiming to be moussaka - was declared inedible and sent back. The second, a vegetarian casserole, seemed to be have been made with chicken stock. It was sent back. Third was a pile of 'meat' surrounded by cucumbers. This appeared to be edible.

The two clay pots arrived, surrounded by flames that appeared to be fuelled with diesel, and which the waiters showed no signs of knowing what to do with. Nor did the pots show any signs of having been buried. The flames swirled round. The waiters struggled. I thought one was in danger of self-immolation. A Japanese tourist took a photograph and hung around ghoulishly hoping for more. They were finally broken and a dark brown, watery sauce encompassing some kind of 'meat' slopped out. If you avoided the sauce and simply ate the meat, you could eat some for hungers sake. It was accompanied by a cold spoonful of rice and a mound of 'Smash' (re hydrated mashed potato, last encountered in our remote childhoods)! The waiter even called it 'Smash' in a tone that suggested it was some form of local delicacy!

At this point, distraction was needed, and we found ourselves recounting past experiences of terrible hotels and frightful meals, to much laughter. This episode could join them, eventually. At the time it was too disappointing (and frustrating).

The mesmerism finally broke and we paid (a reduced bill) and left. My last act was to warn off two Australian ladies who were about to sit down to 'dinner'.

We went elsewhere for dessert, and copious alcohol to drown taste, and dull the memory! 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Julian of Norwich: seen and unseen



Denys Turner's 'The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism' is a tour de force of interpretation, a challenging read that bears continuous fruit; and, places medieval mysticism in a context that properly allows it to speak out of its place across time in a way that, they, medieval mystics, would recognise. It makes people both stranger than they appear to modern eyes and more fruitful and challenging as a result.

So it was with expectation that I turned to his recent book on Julian of Norwich as theologian; that remarkable spiritual writer, the first women in the English vernacular to be so.

It is characteristically lucid and clear, and with much that is interesting to commend it, most especially his discussion of Julian's theology as a narrative of how the world is, just so and, more personally, on how thinking of ourselves as divided into parts, rather than woven out of competing desires, is usually unhelpful.

He defends Julian admirably from possible heterodoxies - indeed were she to be accused of heresy, Turner would have made a sterling advocate for her defence.

But the missing piece, the piece that would have granted an interesting text vitality, would have been an exploration of what this admirable clarification and defence is for. Julian is laid out as a skilled and compelling medieval theologian but that is not why she is read today. She is read as a compelling spiritual writer. What if anything is the connection between the two? And why should we read Julian as a compelling modern theologian? If we should?

There is no bridge (except of one's own speculation), not even a suggestive postscript. It is a disappointment.

One reason for reading her, I think, is one that Turner rather dismisses - she makes theology out of the contemplative regard for her visions. A contemplative regard that is both deeply felt and thought through (over probably twenty years between her short and long texts). The status of those visions Turner does not discuss except to say that modern theologians rarely have visions or dream dreams. It is a dismissive remark (and, as it happens, only partly true, possibly the greatest theologian of the last century, Hans urs von Balthasar, work was grounded in that of a visionary: Adrienne Von Speyer). Maybe we should pause to regret such a diminishment.

Vision matters, and the disciplined cultivation of vision is a neglected art within the Christian fold, leaving the field open to the unmediated paths of dry theological speculation or emotion charged fantasy.

Julian is an icon of the disciplined and felt imagination and as such an icon invaluable.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Pictures at an Exhibition

Yesterday I went to the local 'cultural centre', an old refurbished building, standing in a square opposite the kremlin in Nizhny Novgorod, to see an art exhibition. It was a splendid amalgam of 'stuff'.

There was a room of paintings and ceramics for sale - a tad overpriced to my trained eye - of wildly varying quality and style - though vases of flowers and houses amongst trees, as always, were resolutely popular. You could, also, buy a half body size ceramic angel in gold and paled lime green - a meek and mild protecter with an open handed gesture to greet guests to your house!

There were three figured artists with space to themselves and several more rooms devoted to others. Excepting that the works were overwhelmingly figurative, there was no apparent connecting theme.

Of the three figured artists, one was irredeemably awful. The second was schizoid - when painting the world 'out there', she was bright, extroverted, intelligent: two elderly men talk on a park bench, both in their slippers, turning over familiar talk or a group of musicians informally collect in a park, tipsy and improvising.When painting the world 'in here', she treated us to her visions that drifted into the ethereal empyrean that simply reminded you of Blake's instruction that the visionary world requires greater, not less, clarity of line and form.

The third, and most extensively treated artist, was a highly competent figurative painter, whose portraits were especially vivid, effectual and effective. His most interesting paintings were of a subject I had not seen treated before - two large canvases concerning the murder of Tsar Nicholas and his family. In the first the family are gathered together, with their trusted aides. There is no sign of their captivity. Alexis haemophiliac induced vulnerability, beautifully suggested, is the only focus of anxiety. In the second, the family lay sprawled on the ground, dead or dying, with their assasins poised over them, arms at the ready, to finish off any signs of life. It is brutal, disturbing and not softened by any suggestion that this is marytrdom, rather than tragic political assassination. The two sit together powerfully.

But as is often the case the ultimate gems are hidden and here it was two drawings of an accordian player in thick drawn lines and bold shading. In the first he sits hunched at a table, gazing out of the window, his accordian and crumpled jacket on the only chair. In the second he is lying in visibly evoked exhaustion, face down, on a narrow bed, fully clothed, down to his hole ridden socks, the creased lines in his clothes speaking the creasing of tiredness. They were economical, simple and powerful and the best things there.

On the way there, I noticed the continuing transformation of Nizhny's centre - the walking street spruced up and dandified - as was the kremlin. Walking here later, it was wonderful to stand on this hilly outcrop and look down to the frozen Volga and out across the seemingly limitless plain beyond. It immediately gives you a sense of why build here and of the scale of the place that is Russia.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On a fast train with the life of a great poet



They let me on, finally, after much consultation of my ticket print out and punching combinations into their hand held consoles, and calling upon higher authorities. It would have justified R. S. Thomas' instinctive distrust of technology.

I was on the fast train to Nizhny Novgorod...

What a jolt to memory! When I first came in the 90s, it was an overnight train, a coupe of four beds with admirably starched sheets, a coupe kept at a temperature that stifled, guarded by a uniformed harpie of formidable bulk.

Now you arrive in Nizhny Novgorod (at 11.30pm) when previously you would be departing Moscow, sitting in spacious seats, well lit, and kept at room temperature (rather than that of tropical glass house). A trolley appears with coffee and snacks, whose custodian is young, male and charmingly polite. His name badge indicating that he speaks English and German as well as Russian.

Both trains had a valued similarity: they always seem to run on time.

You do miss, however, the happy randomness of intimate acquaintance with your travelling companions. I remember the man with the magic plastic bag that continually produced copious food which he shared with me. The woman who lay perfectly still making strange squeaking noises as if dreaming she were a mouse, perhaps she was! Or waking from fitful sleep to loud American voices next door demanding to know who had the 'coke' and wondering momentarily where one was, and what kind of 'coke' was sought. And finally the strange, polite choreography of undressing when sharing a mixed coupe - men disappearing to the corridor conjured by a feeling that the time was right, rather than a word. Returning to darkness and feigned sleep to allow you your own undressing space.

On the train, I was reading Byron Rogers ' The Man who went into the West: The Life of R.S. Thomas'. It is a magical book exploring the life of this exceptional poet, and blackly comic in a way that a poet's biography is not meant to be! He was undoubtedly a very strange man who invented roles for himself woven through with a disconcerting sense of dryly dark humour and Roger's evokes this complexity deftly, affectionately and imaginatively.

He was by no imagination an easy or even competent Anglican priest but in providing this man with a sustaining home, it helped give birth to one of the most imaginatively gifted lyric poets of the twentieth century. The church has unexpected uses.

One thing the book achieves is capturing how remarkably differently we can be seen by others; and, that intimacy (in this case of Thomas' long suffering son) does not necessarily bring insight, that paradox of being too close to see that can stalk even our closest relationships.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cantinetta Antinori

I knocked my chair over on departure from this restaurant yesterday. Was it the excitement over the cuisine? Or was it shock over the bill?

Possibly both!

If you wanted your conviction confirmed that Moscow is expensive, come here. If you wanted your conviction confirmed that this expense can be (partially) warranted, come here!

Apart from the over-salted quail in Andrei's main course and the rather ordinary cherry tomatoes in my opening salad (whose quail, especially the eggs, was exceptional), the food was universally excellent, the ambiance good and the company superlative.

The only shadow was one that stalks many a Moscow restaurant - the over-zealous (if, in this case, the wholly polite) waitress. You feel that no sooner have you finished your plate (and in the case of your glass or bottle before you have quite finished), they swoop down to clear away, as if staring at an empty plate was a culinary offence rather than a sign of a satisfactory task completed to be enjoyed, nay, celebrated.

The other niggling doubt is that rarely does the food eaten out compare with that prepared at home (even by a modestly competent cook like me) but, I suppose, you eat out for the occasion and for trying new things (and for respite from domestics).

Do go...once..but take out a mortgage first!

Monday, March 19, 2012

The disgrace of memory

I remember my first visit to Moscow (in 1993) and being taken to Lenin's tomb. It was a sight of faded glory where the guards were agitated at the patent lack of reverential respect from the curious onlookers. On the other side of the tomb, along the kremlin wall, were the tombs of the famous fallen and many of the graves were accompnied by offerings of flowers. In this informal popularity contest, Yuri Gagarin, was the clear winner - a universal symbol of respect and national pride, followed a close second by Josef Stalin.

I remember my surprise, equipped as I was with a thoroughly Western consciousness of this man's evil. Yet here he was a figure of praise to many - the strong leader who made Russia a preeminent power and protector of the nation during the Great Patriotic War.

This ambivalence continues. When I lived in Moscow a decade later, a sweet little old lady sold a pamphlet at my local metro station exalting the life and legacy of Stalin!

Recently I visited the 'State Historical Museum of the Gulag', it is, I fear, a national disgrace. Off the road, three rooms in an ageing building, each on its own level. The first contains random artefacts of a selection of random victims lives, and their brief histories. Little or no historical or social context is given - nothing to guide you to any appreciation of the enormity of the tragedy that was woven into the very fabric of the Bolshevik revolution, and came to its height under the paranoia of Stalin. In the basement a feeble representation of an interrogation and a 'typical' prison dormitory. Between them is a large room with a big screen television showing a documentary - made in English without subtitles for its commentary - as if the country itself had no film makers to tackle their own history!

Millions of people were imprisoned over 70 years, a significant proportion of whom lost their lives or had them wholly blighted, when imprisonment was followed, even when 'rehabilitated', with lingering disgrace and accompanying ostracism and this is their monument?

Listening to the descriptions of survivors on the film was the most moving part - extraordinary, haunting tales of degradation endured and in their case survived.

So many did not - and they deserve a history and a place commensurate with that history. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The bridge over the Leach


This is my favourite place in the world - the medieval wool pack bridge over the River Leach in the Cotswolds, pitched between the two villages of Eastleach, Martin and Turville, and their two Norman churches. It is a place where my grandmother used to come for her holidays (from Birmingham) staying with friends.


I first visited it when I was seventeen, when my mother came to collect her mother-in-law, and after lunch, whose apple pie remains a vivid memory, I slipped away on a hot July afternoon and sat on these steps, feet dangling in the water. I read Gerard Manley Hopkins that extraordinary Victorian poet: the modernity of whose verse kept it unpublished until the opening of the twentieth century.


It was a perfect day, wrapped in a stillness that danced. The forms of the world held in grace. I was centred on what truly mattered, adolescent confusions dissolved, and you sat and saw. Saw not only the giftedness of creation but the generosity of my grandmother's friends, and their humour. I was told a story of how in the Second World War our host had spent a hot summer's day in 1940, in the Home Guard, lying under a bush by this bridge, with an old shotgun, waiting for German parachutists - they, thankfully, were non-existant, what he was precisely supposed to do, had they existed, a mystery!


I greeted the Millenium on this bridge, in solitude, with a bottle of exceptionally good Sancerre, the distant rumbling of parties rippling across the frosty silence of a night star filled, brilliant, and reading by torchlight, one of Hopkins' poems...


The Kingfishers catch Fire


As king fishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves -- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is --
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces. 
What I do is me: for that I came would appear to be a good motto for a millenium...

Monday, March 12, 2012

An R. S. Thomas poem


Chapel Deacon by R. S. Thomas
Who put that crease in your soul,
Davies, ready this fine morning
For the staid chapel, where the Book's frown
Sobers the sunlight? Who taught you to pray
And scheme at once, your eyes turning
Skyward, while your swift mind weighs
Your heifer's chances in the next town's
Fair on Thursday? Are your heart's coals
Kindled for God, or is the burning
Of your lean cheeks because you sit
Too near that girl's smouldering gaze?
Tell me, Davies, for the faint breeze
From heaven freshens and I roll in it,
Who taught you your deft poise?

I swear I have a book fairy lodged at home. Volumes I thought I had disappear, nowhere to be found, so I must acquire them anew. I bought R. S. Thomas' Collected Poems on being reminded by Ron Ferguson of their difference from George Mackay Brown's in their treatment of faith. Both poets had a bare, spare language but if Mackay Brown celebrated being at home in a world ritualised in faith, R. S. Thomas was more aware of the fragility of faith and its purchase on a more austere, remote God (and the converse - the fickleness of humans and their ability to keep God's intruding claims at bay). This latter ability is beautiful caught in the chapel deacon's dual nature described here, so deftly and economically.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Marriage difficulties

Our (UK) Arch/bishops are in a tizzy over the possibility of gay marriage. 


After last week's intervention by Cardinal Keith O'Brien where he compared the possible legalisation of such marriages to the prospect of legalising slavery (yes, my mother could not understand that one either), the Roman Catholic bishops' conference had a letter read this Sunday in all 2,500 churches in England and Wales warning against the radical nature of such a step and how it would undermine the traditional understanding of marriage, out would go 'the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children'. 


The letter had the virtue of greater coherence than the rambling article of the Cardinal in the Sunday Telegraph but neither his intervention nor that of the Roman Catholic bishops nor the Anglican Archbishop of York (who appeared on television to tell us that marriage and civil partnership are different and that this difference is important and should be upheld) truly clarifies why the traditional understanding of marriage should be maintained rather than it be extended to same sex couples?


Not least because the 'traditional understanding of marriage' probably never has cleaved to the reality of people's actual lives!


That marriage can include the procreation of children is undoubtedly true and that society should support frameworks that provide safe and secure spaces in which children can grow into well-being is utterly vital. But it is clear that not every marriage leads to (or intends to) the procreation of children. It is equally clear that in the world, there are many couples that support and sustain children they have not 'procreated' and that a binding commitment between them, where the intention is to share all, may help to support and sustain such safe and secure spaces. Why not, therefore, acknowledge that in truth 'families' are (and have always been) more diverse than the traditional definition of marriage would have us recognise? And work to extend and deepen that definition?


Meanwhile, I will leave better minds than mine to ponder the 'complementarity of male and female' - I only doubt whether such an abstraction has ever been the basis of any abiding or real particular relationship.


I find the opposition of the bishops to this extension hamstrung by a remarkably legalistic and instrumentalist view of marriage, not grounded in the actual tapestry of lived lives (neither in the present or historically). This would be the real testing ground of the usefulness of any 'instrument'! 


But beyond this, at heart, I find the bishops strangely areligious when it comes to marriage - in seeing it first and foremost as an institution (in the 1662 Prayer Book, according to the Archbishop of York, and that is defined by an Act of Parliament, so there)! 


If marriage is a sacrament - an outward and visible sign of grace - renewed in grace - it can only be the practice of a relationship that is continually broken open to the real, transforming presence of God. This makes it a spiritual practice, first and foremost, one that cannot be institutionalised (or only by falsifying it). It is as if 'God' as living presence is too embarrassing a one for our bishops (especially on Sunday television) and He barely gets a look in while we wrangle after tradition (one rooted in that recent, and dissolving, invention: the nuclear family).  Too idealistic I suppose to imagine the practice of the presence of God at the heart of our lives! Or that, at least, bishops be representatives of that idealism rather than the prim pedlars of  'morality' that the Daily Mail would like them to be!


P.S. Just in case one feels that it is the forces of reaction who have all the worst tunes. Here is a quotation from Mary Ann Sieghart in today's Independent -"I use the inverted commas because I don't believe sexuality is a moral issue at all unless it involves people getting hurt". (She is decrying the politicisation of sexual behaviour in the United States). Since the potential of getting hurt rests in every sexual relationship that I can imagine between sentient humans, I have no idea what she can mean!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

St Luke's hand - the other Russia

I recall when a relic of St. Luke's (if memory serves it was his hand) visited Moscow and came to rest at St Sava's Cathedral, thousands of people came to venerate it, long queues wove through central Moscow, principally women and children, who were strikingly 'provincial' in appearance. Polyester dresses and stout cardigans were accompanied by colourful headscarves and the children poked through their cheap sweaters and decidedly undesigned jeans. Driving past, as I was, were the Moscow middle class, looking on as if their city had acquired an alien invasion, from a different place.

I was reminded of this scene reading the first chapter of Orlando Figes' 'Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia' on 'European Russia' that opens with Peter the Great inaugurating, by fiat, the building of St. Petersburg, and explores the aristocracy's acquisition of 'European' (Western) modes of appearance and manner, alienating them from the country (and culture) around them and how the birth of Russian literature in particular was an enterprise in both mirroring and seeking to heal that split (though the sought for cures were many and disparate). There are many contemporary resonances - the elites 'anglomania' for one, conjuring up present images of Russian oligarchs piled up in their English mansions.

That sense of people traveling past one another, each in their own sphere, was very strong this week. There was Mr Putin, megalomania to the fore, identifying himself with 'Russia', with the now famous, much interpreted, tear in eye, having cheated at an election (but not stolen it, having wide support, especially in the provinces) being comprehensively rejected by 'liberal' 'middle class' Moscow.

I could not help but imagine the headscarved women trooping into the polling booth to vote for Mr P and the car drivers pulling up to their polling booth to vote for an(y) alternative. Like any image, the opportunity for stereotyping hovers uneasily around. But I am left with the question - how do these very different Russias converse with one another, rather than collide? And how deeply embedded that question is in the unfolding history of the country.

That this is not only a Russian question is obvious - how do we find the tools of empathy to cross conversational chasms (in multiple contexts) is an abiding question, and not only in situations of contest and conflict - perhaps it is the question at the heart of our future on a constrained, depleted planet.

But that it is an urgent Russian question is clear - perhaps it starts with exploring what precisely is it that people need in an image of strong leadership - what is secured by it and what anxieties are allayed by it? And why the need is felt to give away a portion of your own autonomy in the light of that need? This is not admittedly the language of political fixes - but it seems to me these prove temporary at best - what is needed is a reconfiguration of how social capital is built, nurtured and maintained in Russia, building on actual possibilities; and, that is a long, thoughtful, imaginative haul.


This is, in fact, the hand of St James the Great, on display, in, of all places, Reading near London. On a side note, I have never quite been able to grasp the draw of artefacts of this kind. They trigger a latent Protestant in me - that somehow one is missing the point in venerating a piece of somebody, rather than their living presence (and story). I know this is a wholly arbitrary, felt reaction, as I can be moved by an icon - perhaps it is the element of narrative that is critical. A skeletal hand has no story.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Annunciation

'I remember stopping for a long time one day to look at a little plaque on the wall of a house in the Via degli Artisti [Rome], representing the Annunciation. An angel and a young girl, their bodies inclined towards each other, their knees bent as if they were overcome by love, 'tutto tremante', gazed upon each other like Dante's pair; and that representation of a human love so intense that it could not reach farther seemed the perfect earthly symbol of the love that passes understanding.' 

From Edwin Muir's 'Autobiography'.

The Annunciation by Edwin Muir


The angel and the girl are met, 
Earth was the only meeting place, 
For the embodied never yet 
Travelled beyond the shore of space. 
The eternal spirits in freedom go. 

See, they have come together, see, 
While the destroying minutes flow, 
Each reflects the other's face 
Till heaven in hers and earth in his 
Shine steady there. He's come to her 
From far beyond the farthest star, 
Feathered through time. Immediacy 
of strangest strangeness is the bliss 
That from their limbs all movement takes. 
Yet the increasing rapture brings 
So great a wonder that it makes 
Each feather tremble on his wings. 

Outside the window footsteps fall 
Into the ordinary day 
And with the sun along the wall 
Pursue their unreturning way 
That was ordained in eternity. 
Sound's perpetual roundabout 
Rolls its numbered octaves out 
And hoarsely grinds its battered tune. 

But through the endless afternoon 
These neither speak nor movement make, 
But stare into their deepening trance 
As if their gaze would never break. 


Reading Ron Ferguson's admirable if flawed book on George Mackay Brown (for it needs both tighter editing and a gentle critique when it sprawls off point), I am reminded of Edwin Muir, one of Brown's key mentors and promoters. What shimmers through Brown's accounts of Muir is the incisiveness of his judgements and the gentleness with which they were offered. Judgements always aimed at building up or expanding vision and possibility. Muir refused to review books which he could not appreciate. This is one of my favourite Muir poems that speaks of his discovery of Italy, of incarnation, of a religion embedded in a visual, tactile culture, that is of grace, acceptance and mystery.






The painting is of the Eve of the Feast of the Annunciation by Mikhail Nesterov. I love the progression of youthful monk, followed by age, both reading in the dying light of day - the rhythm of prayer meets the timing of day and the emergent season of Spring - time wrapped in eternities.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Compassion at the heart of things

The Benedictine monk, John Main (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Main) had an image of the mantra in prayer, of it being laid down in the mind and heart like a feather on a pillow.

Last night, in a dream, I collected my own image. I was walking on the beach, barefoot, and the sea was grey and calm, and a mist rolled over it, stroking the waters as it came, touching so lightly.

As I walked on the beach, toes filling, un-filling with sand, I found myself saying the prayer of the heart (Lord Jesus Christ, mercy) in rhythm with the mist touched sea, in rhythm with my breathing: the same rhythm. 

The emphasis, as always, was on 'mercy' and I woke with a calm sense of the compassion at the heart of things; and, still having the prayer say me.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Invasion of the Body Snatchers



It is a pity one cannot sustain the lucidity and vividness of dreams into waking day as last night I had a remake on my hands of this science fiction favourite.

It was one of those dreams that are prolonged, detailed, vividly imagined and continue even after your sleep has been broken. I woke at 5.30am, visited the bathroom, went back to bed and picked up where I had left off!

In the interval, before returning to sleep, I even reflected on its possible meanings and remember thinking that it was a commentary on the tendency to say, 'if only, I was my true and proper self, what could I not be or become?' The self-serving fantasy that it is not my self-disciplined 'inner work' that is missing, lost in the swamp of my laziness, but 'an external other'!  Hovering in the back of my mind too was St Paul's lament that his body refused to follow the desire of his will. The very things that he wished not to be, he became.

My body snatchers, however, were not as comprehensively victorious as in the 1978 film version, indeed by the end of the dream, the humans appeared able to both defend themselves against invasion and identify (and expel) the invader: a sign of hope for me!

There was, however, one especially glorious (and melancholy) moment.

In some way unexplained, in the manner of dreams, the world had warmed up (as a result of the invasion - of us blindly following our disordered desires)? The sun was setting over a lake of very warm water and I decided to go for a swim for one last time before the world (as I had known it) disappeared.

I found myself feeling-thinking how rare it is we simply taste the world, in the enjoyment of its just being so, and now it was passing. But just as I dissolved in this state of being from the apparently deserted houses by the lake shore emerged dazed and reawakening people (not apparently any longer 'snatched'). As if stepping into being is the 'trick' whose answering activity is a (re)newed world.

There was also a nice Freudian (or it might be Adlerian) moment of wish fulfilment of riding straight through a red light (telling myself since we were all being snatched who would care - if that is how the world is, is not everything permitted to paraphrase Dostoevsky)! 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Unresolved visits

Jung made several attempts to go to Rome and failed. He indeed collapsed on what proved his final attempt and decided that so powerful was his psychic relationship with the eternal city, he would not make any further attempts.

I have not collapsed at its thought but I am intrigued as to why I have never made it to the Orkney Islands.

They are the home of two of my favourite writers - one of whom, Edwin Muir, is so close I find it difficult  to find the rightly evocative description of our relationship. When I first read his 'Autobiography', I thought this is me (which, leaving aside forays into reincarnation, is, at the very least, intense)! The second, George Mackay Brown, a student of Muir's, I am both reading and reading about (in Ron Ferguson's 'George Mackay Brown: the Wound and the Gift') presently.

I have seen them. On a visit to Scotland in 2007, I spent a day driving north from Inverness and found myself on a blustery day looking across the Pentland Firth to their distant outline.

It was a land apart.

I was reminded of Chagall's refusal to re-visit the land of his youth because it might not sustain his imagination of it. Orkney is a place so clearly imagined and participated in, it might in actuality disappoint. At one level, this is inevitable - no place can sustain our imagination of it because we cannot sustain our imagination: the world roles back into its place, in dull materialisation.

At another level, I am afeared of it - what if its claim on my imagination proved absolute? What would my response be?

When Dorothy Carrington visited Corsica in the late 1940s, she was greeted on the quay with a warning to flee for if she did not, she would be captured. She did not flee, she was captured, and her life was shaped by her life and writing of Corsica to her joy.

But losing oneself in that way is always a challenge, one that Jung refused, rightly or wrongly, and one that I ponder - to visit or not to visit?

It might be splendidly anti-climatic - Jung may have come back, replete with experience and souvenirs, and fundamentally unchanged and yet he may have returned yet being someone other (to quote Eliot)!

How would 'I' bear that?

Lost Knowledge of the Imagination

When Goethe was a student in Strasbourg, he became fascinated by the cathedral which, for two centuries from its ‘completion’, had be...