Archive for February, 2014

In the Egyptian section of my small local museum I came across two odd little objects.  They are unglazed ceramics, quite crudely made. But when you look closely they are full of detail – there is an outside stair to the roof, on one; another has domestic details.

Both has a dark chamber behind pillars. This is what caught my imagination: imagine if… souls exist, if a soul still dwelt there!

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I looked up some background details on this objects.

From Egyptian prehistoric times to the Vth Dynasty (Old Kingdom 2750-2625 or 2494-2345BCE) for the wealthy merchants and inhabitants, there was a mat laid on the grave, and on the mat a sort of flat pan for food offerings.

Running concurrently with this was the use of a carved stone table for offerings (III Dynasty, 2980-2900 or 2686-2613). And then in definite stages the following additions and changes were made to the basic structure:

The stone table was copied in the form of a pottery tray (X Dynasty, First Intermediate Period, 2445-2160 or 2181-2160)

A shelter was added, copied it has been suggested, from the form of  a Bedawy tent.

A shelter on columns was added (?)

The shelter gained columnar foreground.

A ‘hut’ was put into the portico.

Chambers were added.

Wind openings were added

It gained roof courts.

Verandahs were added to the roof.

It became a complete two-storey house/building.

Furnishing and furniture were added: couch, chair, stool, fireplace, water jars. It even gained the figure of a woman making bread.

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There were two Death books in ancient Egypt: what we know as The Book of the Dead, which is a collection of coffin texts, spells and incantations. The other is an earlier piece known as the Book of the Two Ways. These two ways were two means by which the soul (ba) or spirit (ka) negotiated the after-death existence. In one the ba could take residence with the sun during the day, but must return to the tomb at night. The other was far more dangerous, here the ka travelled through the night land with the sun on its journey back to day. It had to negotiate dangers and challenges, monsters and evil spirits. The end of this was a paradise, a ‘field of offering’ from where the spirit could possibly be accepted to spend eternity with the great spirits.

In each case the families of the deceased had to leave offerings of food, as well as grave goods. The food offerings had to be regularly renewed. The ka and ba partook of the essence of the food to sustain it on its journey, and through its travails.

This also demonstrated that the family of the deceased were of sufficient quality, had respect for tradition, and the deceased, and sufficiently wealthy to keep up the food offerings through the lean parts of the year, and periods of scarcity.

Soul houses were the constructs of wealthy merchants, then became the desirable resting place of what could be called more upwardly mobile people.

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SOUL HOUSES

UPDATE

Maybe we should have a go at making some! Need clay, and a kiln – oh, and some talent in making things!

 

In an earlier post I wrote a little of Ken Goldsmith’s thinking in his book Uncreative Writing. It is based on concepts of recycling text. The argument runs that there is more than enough text in the world – it is everywhere, in and on everything – so much text it is coming out of our ears, so to speak. As such meaning has become devalued. We are either isolated from any sense of ourselves by this loss of meaning, or we are so mapped out that there is no sense of our self anymore. The result is a kind of ‘screen shot’ of our time.

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One cannot but detect a strong political undercurrent to the ideas: distrust and disgust at political rhetoric, sloganeering and manifestoes. We live amongst their effects, our environments are their results.

His practice is to use texts, from any and every source, cut them up, enjamb them, mate them with each other… no, I made that one up… and ‘play’ with them. His results have been very interesting. There needs be a good, strong determining eye and ear in the arrangements.

Now the British Poetry School is running an open access course on similar principles: ‘Hackwriting’ and run by Alex Macdonald.

Found text is set with self text – and what results can be an exciting revitalizing of material.

And then I came across an article by Heather Glen, from 1983. It is titled ‘Blake’s ‘London’: the Language of Experience’. The article is reproduced in a book, New Historicism and Cultural Materialism, edited by Kiernan Ryan, 1996.

London

Heather Glen gets us to look at Blake’s poem ‘LONDON’:

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,

Near where the charter’d Thames does flow

And mark in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks  of woe.

 

In every cry of every Man

In every Infants cry of fear

In every voice; in every ban

The mind-forged manacles I hear.

His notebooks had a slightly different version, and this draws out the intent of the piece. As it is here, the first stanza is a take on the period observation-piece we find in Defoe, Gay, Johnson. Theirs is a take on city life; they note the variety and variousness they find. For Blake the first stanza alters the stance: his earlier version had I wander thro each dirty street/ Near where the dirty Thames does flow.

So why change to charter’d? It is a term of the time used by Thomas Paine – his pamphlet explains how the term is double-edged: it can allow certain persons access to, say a region, place, but only by excluding the majority. To Paine it was a term that denoted control, exclusion, preferment.

Blake’s use shows knowledge of Paine’s argument: his denizens were very much the excluded, they were the chartered excludeds, who later we see populate Dickens’ novels.

So what of the term Mark? This would seem to a biblical reference to all those who wore the mark of Cain. This Cain was marked in blood, marked by God, but also very tellingly the maker of the first city of men. Blake emphasises his usage of the term Mark by drawing our attention to it, and also registers his sense of difference as ‘one who marks’, one of the angels, in effect, doing God’s dirty jobs of casting out people. In Blake’s sense we have a self-awareness in the poem, of his separation-by-observation of the populace.

The second stanza is auditory as opposed to the first as visual.  That last phrase ‘mind-forged manacles’ is a direct reference to a piece by Godwin. The argument is between conservative thinking and radical thinking. For the conservatives if the populace will not discipline themselves, their behaviour and appetites, then they will have to submit to being disciplined from without, by law and statute. Everyone had their place, and none must transgress: The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate/ the lord made them high and lowly, and order’d their estate.  Blake leaves it open, but demarcates the options.

This highlights Blake’s attempts to wrest God from the hands of those corrupted by power and privilege, and interpret Him so the people could find Him again.

The latter half of the poem is different in tone:

 How the Chimney-sweepers cry,

Every blackning Church appalls,

And the hapless Soldiers sigh

Runs in blood down Palace walls.

 

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear

How the youthful Harlots curse

Blasts the new-born infants tear

And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

 

A sense of the mark is here again, Heather Glen, notes, in how the city walls at the time began to bear anti-war slogans. Also we see the industrial marking of city buildings.

There is much, much in the article that is truly fascinating. But my point is, before enthusiasm threatens to swamp it all: Is not Blake using a version of the technique of these new works? He brings in a selective range of pamphlet material: texts. He enjambs them with self-texts that reflect on the source material, as well as re-contextualise them.

By Blake’s time the rampant pamphleteering, and the endless stream from Grub Street were commonplace. The excess of material has a dual image: the literate among the populace were indeed growing rapidly, but access to concepts and ideas still restricted to University men. Thom Paine and Godwin, as two examples attempted to bring down the fire from heaven. Without the discipline of the university-tutored, what could the common person make of, say Hume, Kant, Hegel?

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Of course, I am being a little disingenuous. One of the main characteristics of the writing being promoted here is its non-sequiturs. I think the idea is to ape/suggest the ‘fractured narratives’ and discourses of the city experience. In my earlier piece I used the phrase about this approach that it is ‘submissive’ to language. Here is another example of that. By setting out the fractured discourses, the broken thought, the non-carry-through of discourse and narrative due to the endless distractions of the city experience there is a critique of shallow thinking and short-term attention. And yet the non-sequiturs also promote them.

By, instead, deliberately developing discourse, thought and narrative we could, I suggest, do far more for future concepts of behavioural norms. The tendency over time is to see the novelty rather than the reasoning.

And also see how the New Historicism book recycles material, in this case, essays – and how therefore I am also reusing material, and putting it with self-material to give a recycled effect.

I’ll let you work out the rest.

I have taken down a whole section of blogs.

What?

The whole section on ring-structured texts.

Why?

Well, I’ve written them all up and expanded and analysed and just generally played around some more. Now I’m looking for a publisher. I think they’re kinda Cultural History – I’m a big fan of les histoires des mentalities and was hoping to fit in there.

Ah, but to do that you have be, you know, ‘affiliated’. And your blog is called Outside the Academy. So, you’re not, like, affiliated, yeh?

Drat and drumgoes! I knew I’d forgotten something.

So whatya gonna do now?

Well, still look for a publisher – more kind of popular but intelligent. Not academic, not intellectual, but….

Yeh, but this topic is not, like, General Reading, or General Interest, it’s more… skewed, off on aside road.

Alright, alright! But it does have ramifications for the general reader. And that is exactly the point.

Does this book have a name?

GIFTS OF RINGS AND GOLD. It’s all in the position of the g’s; like in a ring structure. Geddit?

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This is a line-for-line literal translation of the whole Vercelli ms of the poem. I miss all the metrical tautness and alliteration. I hope, however, that it does give some impression of the period tone of the poem.

The Ruthwell Cross excerpts are lines 39-42, 44-45, 48-49, 56-59, 62-64

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THE DREAM OF THE ROOD

     Hwaet! Ic swefna cyst   seegan wylle

h(w)aet me gematte   to midre nihte

   sythan reordberend   reste wunedon.

Listen, I had the best of dreams – I will tell you

well I dreamed this middle night,

when word-bearers had won their rest.

I thought that I saw a wonderful tree

in the air raised, light wrapped around it

bright shining. All of that symbol was

sprinkled with gold; gems stood

fair on the earth surface, and five there were

on the tree’s axlespan. Gazed on there by angels, the Lords’ all,

fair in creation. Nor was this a felon’s gallows

but beheld there by the holy spirit

in men upon the earth and all this great creation.

Marvellous was that sign of victory, and I a guilty sinner

stained with sins. I saw glory’s tree

dressed in honour, beautifully shining

covered with gold, gems it had on it

covered magnificently, this forest tree.

However by virtue of that gold I perceived the mighty

wretched former struggle earlier, as it began

to bleed on the right-hand side. I was all with sorrow distressed

a friend I was for that beautiful vision. I saw that dressed symbol

change covering and colour; at times it was with wetness bestreamed

soaked with blood flow, at times with treasure adorned.

However I long lay there, a long while

beholding the sorrowing of the Saviour’s tree,

until, I understood, I heard it speak.

To begin with the words spoken by the wood were great:

“That was very long ago ( I still remember)

When I was hewn, at the end of the wood,

Removed from my root. Taken away by strong foes

To become then on show, bid me to bear their felon.

Bearing me on their shoulders, until on a hill they set me

Fastened on me foes. I beheld the Lord of mankind

Made haste with great strength on me to mount.

There I then durst not over the word of the Lord

Bend or break, there I saw shake

The earth surface. I might have

Struck  foes down, however I stood fast.

Stripped then they the man (that was God almighty)

Strong and resolute; he ascended the gallows

Brave in many man’s sight, that he redeem the mocked.

Trembling I was embraced by the man, nor dust I bend to earth,

Or fall to earth’s surface. But I was obliged to stand fast.

Rood was I raised up. I lifted the powerful king,

Heaven’s Lord; bend I durst not.                 45

Piercing he and me with dark nails; on me the wounds are visible,

Open malicious wounds. Nor durst I injure no one.

Mocked were we both together. I all with blood wet

Sprinkled from this man’s side, when his spirit left him.

Indeed I on the mound endured this

Cruel event. I saw God

Stretched out. Clouds had

Covered the sky altogether. The Lord’s corpse’s

Its bright radiance, overcome,

dark in shadow. All creation wept

lamenting the King’s fall. Christ was on the rood.

However, there hastened from afar coming

Followers of the Lord. I beheld all.

Sore I was with sorrow distressed, bent down to their hands

Humbled by their mighty courage.  They took away the great almighty,

The followers lifted off the heavy torment, left me a sorrowful warrior

Standing moisture drenched, as if all with arrows wounded.

They lay down the weary limbs, standing at the body’s head;

Beheld him their heaven’s Lord, then to his brief rest,

Exhausted after the mighty struggle.  They began a grave to make.

Warriors of the slain vision; cut down the bright stone,

Set him therein, the triumphant Lord. There began to sing the lament

Wretched in the evening time; then would afterwards depart

Exhausted from great joining, rested with followers.

However, they wept there a good while

Stood in position, afterwards they up and departed

Their warrior, the corpse grown cold,

Fair body. Then men cut me down again

All to earth;  that was a terrible fate!

I was buried as a man in a deep pit. Nevertheless the Lord’s followers,

His friends found me , ………………………..

Girded me with gold and silver.

Now thou might adorn, bend dearly to me

That am honoured far and wide

By men over the earth and all this great creation

Worship they my beacon. On me God’s Son

Suffered for a time. Therefore I am glorious to you

I rise up to heaven, and I may heal

Everyone who alone is in awe of me.

Evil people were before in life’s path,

The right way of is for speech-bearers.

Listen to me in this, honour the world’s Lord

On the wood on the hill, heaven’s Guardian

And there his mother, Mary herself,                                                              92

Of almighty God, for all men

And on behalf of all woman-kind.

Now, I who make these dear comments to you,

That this vision tell to mankind,

Disclose these words of a glorious tree,

Who saw almighty God as he suffered

For mankind, for people’s sins

And Adam’s former act.

Death he tasted; but afterwards the Lord arose

With his great might to help man.

He then to heaven ascended. Here afterwards to come

To this middle earth mankind to seek

On doomsday the Lord himself,

Almighty God, and with his angels

In judgement, with the power to judge the wretched

Every one , for what he earlier here

In this transitory life deserved.

Not able anymore to be afraid

Because of the word of the Lord’s lament.

He asked for many where he saw men

So in the Lord’s name would die

Tasting bitterness as He had formerly died.

Who had been afraid, and feared to think

He to Christ is to begin to declare.

No need then anymore to be afraid

He who before his heart bears this good symbol.

But he who durst the rood see reaching the kingdom

From earth each soul

With the Ruler dwells henceforth.”

Biding then by the tree made joyful

much strength there I alone strove

I of a small company. Strong  in spirit

urged on to depart, endured

a time of longing. I beheld now life’s hope

that of the tree of victory may he seek out

often alone, by all men

to be fully honoured. It was my desire though

the great heart, and protection as well,

I directed to the rood.  I possessed no great power

nor friends on earth. They were away from here

departed from the delight of the world,

they sought the glorious King,

a new life in heaven with God the Father,

to dwell in glory; and I hoped for

every day when I to the Lord’s rood,

which I here on earth formerly saw,

on this transitory life I fetched upon

that I bring from there great bliss,

joy of heaven,  of the Lord’s folk

a place at the feast, there I afterwards may

live in glory, fully with the holy

in joy partaking . To be the Lord’s friend.

he who here on earth before suffered

on the gallows tree for every man’s sins.

He us redeemed and our lives granted,

is home in heaven.  Gladness is to be renewed

with blessedness and bliss for they that endure suffering

the Son triumphant on his journey,

mighty and successful, then he among many came,

a multitude of spirits, on God’s ascent,

Lord Almighty, angels of bliss

besides all the holy, besides they in heaven before

dwelling in glory – to the Ruler came

almighty God, there his abode was.

One other important  point about the central section is it begins with the tree on the edge of the wood, cut down and taken away by enemies. The paralleling device helps us see in turn the end of the section where the tree is, in reverse, found by Friends, and put upright. Around it we glimpse a new wood, the Followers: the tree was at the edge of the wood, now becomes the Rood/Cross fronting the growing wood of Followers. The tree is a metonym as the tree of all trees, and as the growth of Christianity. There is also a deliberate supplanting of the Ash Tree of Scandinavian myth, whose roots are in Hel and crown in Asgard, in the Rood/Cross reaching up to Heaven for the believers.