Pause for Thought

Posted: December 5, 2018 in Chat
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My father-in-law died fairly recently – aged 96, not a bad span.

We are having to sort his house for sale: that is going through slowly. He had saved everything pertaining to his life, from early school reports in the 1930s, to bills, receipts, up to the time he died. We are slowly having to burn the personal papers. There are also tangential papers, news clippings, usually related to the war – he’d kept a very active interest in those issues throughout his life.They were all neatly and methodically filed, except for the last few years where his stamina must have been on the wane.

1.
The other day I came across saved newspaper articles covering a Japanese Prisoner of War testimony. With a lot of trepidation I opened this cache, and read through.

The man had been one of a group in forced labour, working a coal mine for twenty hours out of every twenty-four. In effect, they were being worked to death. As prisoners of war who had chosen to submit, rather than the nobler death, they were subject to the harshest regimes because they were seen as oath-breakers – in Japanese military terms, that is.

The man said that they had just come off shift; it was morning. He collapsed, and his comrade was bending to pick him up because a guard was just about to rifle-club them. They were distracted by a plane high overhead. That was not unusual; what was unusual was the small parachute floating down from it. They watched in fascination.

Then it happened.

That was Hiroshima, 6th August 1945.

When he came round, badly burned, deafened, half-blinded, his comrade was no more than a shadow on the wall, and the guard left only his rifle.
He was collected much later after having been left for dead, with a burst stomach. But he survived, and was later well enough to return home to England.

And this is what most troubles me:
He said, up to that point in the Pacific War, the Japanese military considered themselves invincible.
It was only the H bombs, he said, convinced them otherwise. Without them, those horrors would have carried on relentlessly, endlessly.

The man suffered from radiation sickness, and other connected ailments for the rest of his life, but said he never once doubted the use of those bombs.

I have supported CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) most of my life. I do admit to doubt and dubiousness over unilateralism, nevertheless.
Here was testimony, though, not just conviction, or ideals.
This certainly gives me pause for thought.

Conditions in the world, and between states, now, is very different from those days, the 1940s. Nuclear arms are much more powerful, more strategically aimed, portable, with ranges greater.
It is very doubtful now that the man’s argument would apply in any current or future situation.
The unilateral argument has gained in strength, but I retain doubts.

The newspaper story does knock one of the founding blocks of the nuclear disarmament question, though.
But as I suggest, the modern scaffolding is tough and well-grounded enough to keep the question to the forefront of world concerns.

2

There is another narrative – there are many narratives, but take this one.
Most narratives are based on the role of the two H bombs. Japan did in fact surrender the day after the 9th of August second bomb, on Nagasaki: 10th of August.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/05/30/the-bomb-didnt-beat-japan-stalin-did/

The Japanese Supreme Council were meeting the day of the second bomb; they were discussing the unprecedented move of surrender.
Was the second bomb’s ‘impact’ superfluous, then?
The above article cites the kilotons of bombs dropped previously on Japanese cities, that they were equivalent to a H bomb in destructive power. That had not swayed the Japanese Supreme Council.
What was the cause of this crisis meeting?
The article puts it down to the levels of Soviet aggression on their doorstep.

There are many narratives.

They should all give us pause for thought.

 

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The Poet’s Wife

Posted: December 2, 2018 in Chat
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All he remembered was her undressing
and tuning into the night sounds of Venice.
For her it was the night fragmenting
around their son’s cough, and all that went with this.
She purposely did not look his way, to not betray
her irritation: He obviously would not
be fretting all night. Sleep had taken him anyway.
At least he won’t be pestering: she just could not.

The setting perfect, a cheap flight.
She blamed herself for coming to this bathtub’s
off-season chilly canals; the vapour rub
much more expensive here. She thought it might.
She counted off the minutes to their departure,
one for each cough. She wrote this
threw it away.

When you review a film, this film, say, a whole load of considerations crop up.
Is this film as good/bad/indifferent as the last one in the series (I have come to hate that term ‘franchise’)?
Is this film as good/bad/indifferent as the last film I saw?
Is this film as good as what I think of as good?
Have I seen enough/sufficient films to make a judgement?

I enjoyed the film.

I did not enjoy the last one, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. Why? Because of the fantastic beasts, those yucky cgi embarrassments.
In this film they were dangerous, threatening; an encounter with one of them would have been life-changing.

And I am having problems with Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander character. A lot of people are rooting for him, but I cringe at the mumbling, bashful, Hollywood-idea Englishman he portrays. He seems to be part-modelled on Hugh Grant’s character in Notting Hill.

American film and Tv uses very strange English stereotypes. There’s currently a TV series, Sleepy Hollow, whose previews have two main characters talking this odd English. They pronounce the first syllable of their words, then swallow the last bit, and it’s all spoken/gabbled so quickly. The result is a kind of upper-class patois. I’ve never heard it in real life.

 – The Simpsons have done some superb send-ups of English people: all yellowed snuggle-teeth, with long thin noses, and this kind of purring voice – almost Kenneth Williams. –

We all could do with a recap on who’s-who in the film, so:

https://www.pottermore.com/features/a-closer-look-at-the-characters-of-fantastic-beasts-the-crimes-of-grindelwald

There seems to be a big back-lash against Johnny Depp, at the moment. I cannot fault him as Grindlewald. There is comment that the character is still waiting to be fleshed out in the films.
But then, a lot of people rate Jude Law as the younger Dumbledore. It didn’t work for me.

And I would love to have seen/known more about Bunty, Newt Scamander’s London assistant.

So, what of Queenie? I read her as coming apart, mentally. She was vulnerable in then first film, here she rapidly losing control. Even so, the defection at the end? How was that built to?

To cut a long list of problems short – as you can see, there are holes in the film. Huge holes.
Blame the writer!
Not on your life – J K Rowling works very hard to keep the integrity of the script, and the screen portrayal. There are just those who can override her decisions. But she keeps on pushing where many would turn away in disgust.

If you want a good idea of how the ‘finished’ film has been mangled, then follow this link:

http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/crimes-of-grindelwald-deleted-scenes/

The http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com site is a treasure-trove of information, speculation, deep research, invaluable insights. I heartily recommend it.

I’d certainly go see the film again, though.
Maybe in 3D this time,  what do you think!

Menno Wigman, the Dutch poet, is dead.

Ok, he died in February this year.
He was aged 51. He had been diagnosed with Loffler’s (I cannot get the  a to umlaut!) syndrome. Of only forty reported cases in the world, he was one.
‘How come I manage to go running around with it?’ he’d said.

He was born in 1966, in Santpoort, The Netherlands. He eventually relocated to Amsterdam in the eighties. Drummer for a punk band; self-published early poems. His drive and commitment to his work was consuming.
From 2012 to 2014 he became Amsterdam’s own Poet Laureate.

In 2016 the excellent Arc Publications (https://www.arcpublications.co.uk/) brought out Menno’s selected poems, WINDOW-CLEANER SEES PAINTINGS. It is Number 40, of Arc’s Visible Poets series, and translated by David Colmer.

The first poem in the book, from his first book, All Cities Stink in the Summer, 1997, opens:
Ik zag de grootste geesten van mijn generatie…. translated as
I saw the best minds of my generation….

Yep, we start of with a bang, quoting Allen Ginsburg. The tone is low-key, enervated. In sonnet-form, it ends :
They came too late. Their promise unredeemed.
   The cities gleamed as black as caviar.

And whose last line gives the title of his next book.
More and more his models, his emotional brothers, became Charles Baudelaire, Jules Laforgue, poets of that period, the ‘dark Romantics.’. He described the appeal as that of recognising with them that one lived in the ‘end time.’ A fascination with a falling-off, then, that went hand-in-hand with the revelation of the riches in the here-and-now.

The poem that first caught my attention was Misunderstanding, from the next book. It starts:

This will not be an upbeat poem. And why
I’d even let the secret slip’s a mystery to me….

We’re straight into liminal regions, places where nothing is as it seems, not certain, but part of the flux of one’s being.

But no, I was wrong – the first poem of his that caught me was In Conclusion:
I know the melancholy of copy centres…


Technically he was very much a poet of steady, driving rhythms, strong metres. He used sonnet forms, pantoum (Hotel Night), half-rhyme, assonance.
‘You write poetry with a drum-kit in your head,’ another writer had commented.
It’s how to convey this layered interlacing was David Colman’s challenge. He gives in his introduction illustrations of the original sound and rhythm structure of lines, and his equivalences to these. This is priceless.

*

Menno Wigman also wrote as part of the Lonely Funerals scheme (see my last posting).
There are several pieces here from the scheme, and they reveal a lot about the way he worked, wrote, felt, hoped… was.

Beside Mrs P’s Council Coffin, begins:

Is she asleep? She is. After eighty-three years
of combing her hair three hundred and sixty-five
days a year, of walking to the shops and back….

He ushers us into an intimacy with her life, the personal and mundane; an identification with people as they show themselves to us. That is, the ordinary, that constitutes most of our lives, like it or not. It is our mastery or not, partial or fluctuating control, of the ordinary gives us our kudos, our tags, our recognisable social factors.
The last verse veers away from any demeaning sentimentality, any further diminishing of Mrs P as a person, the one lying dead there, in that plain council coffin:

…. Call it tragedy, rhythm, rhyme –
time, that dirty carnivore, ensures an end
   that stinks. But she’s asleep at last, asleep.
So cover her up, make sure her weary feet
          don’t need to tread the streets again.

What I especially appreciate about this verse is the range, how it veers from the reality of death, the dead body, to the humanity we shared and continue to share with her. That ability to shift register I applaud. And listen to its sound patterns: David Colmer gives good indications, even in this extract I quote, how the poems work to the ear.
In another Lonely Funerals poem, we see something altogether different:

Earth, Don’t Be Hard (this from his last collection, in 2016)

Earth, a virtuous body has now arrived.
A royal sun rose in it once,
its eyes shone brightly like a long July,
a breath of mellow twilight filled its lungs,
a spellbound moon traversed its breast.

He knew himself dying at this point. But if you need uplifting poetry, words to gladden and celebrate, here it is, this is it.

The palms of its hands felt water and stroked pets.
The soles of its feet kissed beaches and rocks. Insight.
A strange insight formed in its head, its tongue
grew sharp, its fingers found the fists they held,
it fought for bread and money, love and light.

Notice that ‘its‘ – there’s no ease of relationship; the sense of self has sharpened, become individualised, rather than considered a social statistic.

You can read an awful lot of books about it.
You can even written your own. Earth, don’t be hard
on this man who had at least a hundred keys,
but not a map or a compass for this blind path,
and now has come to spend his first night here.

His control of the change of register by this time was masterful: from the quiddity, the detail that could be mockery, of ‘the hundred keys,’ we go straight to the common fate, the all-end, to all our own blind endings on that same path to that first night in the grave.

– I don’t think Menno would mind me saying how that last line reminds me of that moment in the film, The Hunger, with Catherine Deneauve and David Bowie, when he was laid the first time among the ones who had gone before him, in that attic among the coffins: ‘Be gentle with him on his first night,’ she said tenderly to them. –

How well do you know the poetry of Jules Laforgue?
Let us consider this early poem, The  First Night.
It begins:

Here comes Evening, sweet to the old lecher…

It is the last verse, though, I call you to:

I imagine myself in the heart of the graveyard, and I put myself in their place, and I enter the coffins of those who are about to spend their first night here.
(plain prose translation by Graham Dunstan Martin, 1998, for Penguin Books).

This does not distract from Menno’s poem, but enhances. Jules Laforgue’s poem is almost flippant, it has the bravura of youth (he did not live long enough to outgrow it), but he given gravitas. It is interesting to see how that has been done.

Jules Laforgue was greatly enamoured of Schopenhauer, but his greatest love was Hartmann. With him he found a fellow-in-arms against the bourgeois world. Hartmann (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Robert_Eduard_von_Hartmann) created a distance, rather than empathy – though acknowledging that the two positions are intertwined, co-dependent.
It is here that I think Menno’s ‘it‘ (above) was found, his love-hate relationship with life, the world.

So, how do Menno’s poems work? I mentioned above his extensive use of metre and regular forms. For him metre and rhythm are what pulls the reader through the poem. Not following the sense, the argument.
This is important.
For Menno Wigman this was his secret, and on this he worked all his short life. There was an lot of ‘attitude’ in those early poems – Jules Laforgue, at times, seems all ‘attitude’ – but he matured into a compassionate writer.

https://www.trouw.nl/cultuur/menno-wigman-1966-2018-was-poezie-al-kon-hij-er-ook-aangenaam-over-somberen~a1192853/

https://www.neerlandistiek.nl/2018/02/in-de-poezie-heeft-niemand-gelijk-interview-met-menno-wigman/

 

Earlier this year we went to a funeral for which the deceased’s family could not afford to pay. Payment for the funeral, interment, service, devolved to the local Council. It was, in fact, a pauper’s funeral.
The service was led by the undertakers, no priest was present. It was a good, dignified service, but there was no religious aspect, the focus was on the sense of loss, and our common bond. A plain coffin, a plain service.

How many funerals, though, have no mourners at all? No attendees, other than officials?

*

In 2001, the Dutch writer, Bart FM Droog, the city poet for Groningen, conceived of a scheme where writers could give readings at such ‘lonely funerals’.
The scheme took off; Amsterdam took it up, the rest of The Netherlands, then Belgium.

It is estimated that around 60% of Dutch households have a Funeral Plan.
Sounds good, doesn’t it – but that’s only just over half: a good 40% do not.
Poverty is always with us, and in our economic climate it is a close cousin of many. We do not hear of those who die alone. Those whose remaining family cannot be traced. Those with no assets at death.

This scheme, to me, seemed such a touching and wonderful achievement, and for it to get official backing and financing would suggest many felt so as well.

But then other things happen, once a thing becomes financed – a competition was started for the ‘best’ commemorative poem.
With winners.
So, those who didn’t win… are their commemorations… not valued?
Does the competition cause ‘better’ pieces to be written?

Or is another way of drawing people’s attention to the scheme? Better coverage=greater support?

It is still a moving and an excellent scheme, despite all that.

https://www.rnw.org/archive/lonely-funeral

http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/the-dutch-city-poets-who-memorialize-the-lonely-dead/

http://blog.sevenponds.com/lending-insight/%E2%80%A8%E2%80%A8lonely-funerals-remembering-those-who-everyone-forgot

https://www.dbnl.org/tekst/_low001200001_01/_low001200001_01_0006.php

I still cannot understand why the Christian minister did not take the funeral service at the funeral I attended. Where was the vaunted Christian charity?
It could be that the family of the deceased  did not ask for a specifically Christian funeral. I hope that was it – if they had so much as a choice.

We knew the deceased person, and were able to give our own short commemorative speech. She was young still, bright, intelligent, caring, a mother of two children
Without our words there would have been none.

Support the Lonely Funerals scheme.

PiM

Posted: November 4, 2018 in Chat
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Public Illumination Magazine first appeared on New York streets in 1979. It is a 7x11cm print magazine, retailing for 50¢, and whose contributors all use pseudonyms.
The editor is Prof. Dr Dr Zagreus Bowery.
It is rumoured some Big Names have contributed over time, all under false names, of course.

Time has taken its cut on distribution, and the magazine now also has an online presence and contact details, although postal and print mediums are preferred:
http://www.mondorondo.com/pim/index.shtml

There is no fixed publication time, or sequence for the magazine. There is a call-out for themed material, both text and graphics, on the back of each issue.
Content tends to be satirical, funny, pungent, impactful – page size and restricted number of pages add a strict and enabling discipline to the nature of the content .

Interested people watch the online site for publication. There may be months, a year, until the next.

PIM is unique.

Look out for the current issue: Monsters.

The Great God Pan, was published by Arthur Machen in 1895, London.
Arthur Machen was the son of a Welsh clergyman, and was born in 1863, near Caerleon, in Monmouth, Wales. He died in 1947.

Arthur Machen is one of those interesting people on the sidelines. And yet he had his own moments in the spotlight. In 1895 he published his ground-breaking novella The Great God Pan.
Even today the novella has its admirers – Stephen King reckons it one of the best horror stories in the language.
His roll was brought to a halt in the moral backlash brought about by the Oscar Wilde court case. Arthur Machen’s stories had already raised hackles by his themes of lust, unpleasantness, in fact for being ‘decadent.’ After that court case decadence was to be swept away by moral outrage, the re-imposition of sound Victorian values.

It was only later, about 1899, he was invited to join the Golden Dawn through his friendship with A E Waite. It has to be admitted, for all the themes of his writing: the deciphering of lost texts, diabolism etc, he was not particularly enamoured by the Order, and contributed little to nothing.

What is it about, The Great God Pan, then?
It is a story that is pieced together from fragments, inching its way to a clearer picture. What obscures the picture? It is the outraged morals and also the lack of clues, information, of the observers and narrators.
It is a story whose power and impact are created by the breaking apart of the atoms of Victorian morality.
Ok, I am using metaphors from a later time. But on purpose: Arthur Machen was fully engaged with Darwinian theory, with contemporary medicine, with the dualities of perception of his age.
Without the moral high ground of the detractors to decadence, a stance that all ‘right-thinking’ Victorians were supposed to have some measure of a share in, without that high position, the story’s depiction of a fall to the ‘depths of depravity’ that was the supposed mind-set of savages, the story makes no sense.
Wikki writes:
Historian Harold Perkin wrote:

Between 1780 and 1850 the English ceased to be one of the most aggressive, brutal, rowdy, outspoken, riotous, cruel and bloodthirsty nations in the world and became one of the most inhibited, polite, orderly, tender-minded, prudish and hypocritical.

 

The story opens with the narration of ‘just a little medical procedure’, recorded by the ‘dry man’ Mr Clarke. The outcome of this operation on the brain of a young and trusting young woman (one of the lower classes, naturally), reverberates throughout the story. We piece together the incidents, connect the dots, while the well-meaning but at times a little too slow, a little too ‘upright’, characters in the story try to make sense of a series of suicides of eminent and honourable young Victorian men.

It is this slow procedure, and also the puzzle-solving, that actively engages the reader, and creates atmosphere, the feeling of impending horror.
It could well be, also, this active engagement of the reader in such a morally deplorable tale, that upset the authorities: to become unwitting participants in immoral activities.

One theme that returns again in another story, The Novel of the White Powder, is that of the human body, through an outside agency, reverting to its protozoan origins before ones eyes.

This may lack impact to us now, we who have seen regularly such ‘special effects.’ But when one’s sole vision-viewer was one’s own imagination, apart from the early cinematograph, and the first picture newspapers  like the Daily Graphic, black and white illustrations pre-Beardsley, then the intent of the author would be more readily apparent. The author is in reality introducing such ideas and scenes into one’s mind.

That, and the Darwinian challenge to the hammered-home Christian view, of the body as sacred, a temple of chastity, to be strictly curbed, disciplined.
You can also see here perhaps, the development through borrowing the concept for corporal discipline, for abuse of the body and soul.

The Great God Pan is described as the experiencing of the world in its original state, when lusts ran free, and keeping to the classical archetypes, bachanites actually tore men to pieces.
The ethical and moral concepts of human progress from savage times to modern man, provide the scaffolding to the story.
It is extremely doubtfull such savagery as was envisioned ever existed. Even as the early hominids emerged they carried with them respect for the dead, disciplines, and rites. Sea pirates had their own codes, honourable behaviour – wooden ships were extremely disciplined communities, they had to be.
The Christian stance created such moral distances as the depth of the fall into depravity. ‘The Old Adam,’ was the phrase used to euphemistically describe unbridled lusts.

The story has many enlivening details. There is described at one point how, walking home in  the early hours of a London morning to Holborn, the streets were silent, empty, but for the occasional horse-drawn Hackney cab over cobbles. And how the  horses’ shoes struck ‘fire’, in the night.
Is a hellish image implied? It is certainly one of surprising clarity, maybe a little unsettling, but also lively because of that.
The suicides are by hanging, mostly from bedposts. It may well be that auto-eroticism is being implied here.
Behind the seeming prosperous and morally upright, ‘advanced civilisation’ of late Empire London, lurk the old terrors waiting their time.

They had their prelude, of course, in the Boer War, shortly to erupt.