Posts Tagged ‘cultural studies’

Dracula TV Series

Posted: January 11, 2020 in Chat
Tags: , , , ,

The new 3 episode TV series has recently finished.
So now you start to wonder, remember and laugh, and remember and look puzzled, and all the other responses it calls from you.

Was it as good as you hoped?
I’m undead; I’m not unreasonable.‘ was a good start: sharp, snappy, and yet… and yet, in that part of the action he was, yes, very unreasonable, as he sat back allowing his wolves to slaughter all of the nuns. Not for his ‘hunger’, note, but for the wolves.

‘The Dracula effect’ gets its impact, its punch, from transgression. That is its dynamic: something, an evil from long, long ago, bowling into the modern, sophisticated world, and wreaking havoc.
There were moments in this series: released from his Hannibal Lector/Skyfall cell, by his lawyer, and all London open to him…. But no, he did not go on the rampage.
It was as though the writers were ticking boxes on the required-modern-attitudes scale, as well as layering with cultural references. There was even a Dark Lord in there i.e. Voldemort.

Each work sets out the parameters it is constructed, and is to work, within. The older versions of the tale have very clearly demarcated moral and ethical borders and boundaries. Transgression was guaranteed.
In this new series the parameters were open, its was a broad field of equality and diversity. Where were the borders? Where could the energy come from?
Even his cold-bloodedness: the baby to feed on, the killing of the nuns, the apparently conscienceless killing of ship companions, blatant betrayals, and gratuitous self-serving, are all too well known from our recent wars and their attendant war-crimes, recent political regimes, experiences of survivors still very much alive. And in the case of refugee camps, still being perpetrated as we speak/write
It says much in Claes Bang’s favour that he could smoulder and threaten with more than enough contained violence to carry off the larger-than-life character he was portraying.
And yet also a worthiness kept creeping in. And clunkiness: instantly picking up on modern technologies, as well as displaying an expertise? I still have trouble working Skype, but he did it first try – from someone else’s blood-memories, was it? Everyone knows the hand book approach, but the fiddly bits around the functions are something else.
And constant, dependable, broadband?

Which brings us to the most important question: what is the present-day sensibility? What, of what we are doing, will be found to be worthwhile in years to come?
What will survive of us – and not in some comedy channel’s You Will Not Believe This! type formula.

Because these are the questions the series deals with, ultimately.
Here was someone from 15thCentury Central Europe: what did he find, here? And what else did he bring through time with him?
Something that we could recognise, use, applaud?

His vampire parameters: sunlight, silver, crosses… all acquired dependencies? Believing his own, created, myths? Very contemporary.

Reblog: Magic

Posted: October 25, 2019 in Chat
Tags: , ,

With it being Halloweeny time, I thought, Why no reblog that Magic piece again? And so, here it is:

A book I’ve had hanging around for ages: there it was again, so this time I read it:
Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic – Empedocles and the Pythagorean Tradition, by Peter Kingsley.
It was published by Clarendon Press/ Oxford University Press, 1995.

Then there was a free FutureLearn course: Magic in the Middle Ages, run by Barcelona University. Lovely people, by the way.

But, back to that book, first.
Empedocles is the one who coined the four basic elements, building blocks of all things: earth, air, fire and water. Each was also connected with a god/goddess.
The hierarchy was:
Air – Zeus. It was aether intitially, a rarefied form of air.
Earth – Hera
Water – Nestis. She was a localised goddess, native to Sicily.
Fire – Hades.

Empedocles was a native of Sicily. It was to Sicily that Pythagoras came from Samos, Greece. This was all in the 4th centuryBCE.
Sicily, of course, has always been volcanic. Not just the presence of Etna, but Empedocles’ birth town was based on hot springs: the island is full of volcanic-related geography. Then there are the Liparan Islands off the north coast, connecting to Vesuvius.
Is it any wonder the Pythagorians had Fire as the centre of the universe? This was not just ordinary fire but the fire of Tartarus, where the Titans and rebellious gods were confined.
The Underworld, next, ‘as far above Hades as the Earth was above the Underworld’; it was envisioned as a place of rivers of water, and of fire. Nestis was a localised name for Persephone, and she was partnered with Hades, as Hera was with Zeus. We see differences in nature and purpose of each couple in this.
Some initiates took all this later to Egypt. It found a home there, met eastern cults, and became interested in Alchemy (another fire-based ideology).
This was all big-concept stuff – compare it with the Eleusian Mysteries, with closely related Orphism, the mystery cults. They are all surrounded by ritual, initiation, even rebirth scenarios.

The online course was based on documented sources: Papal edicts, religious records, even Inquisition records.
Magic was either earth magic: herbology, charms and amulets, even star reading – and the other: necromancy, prophecy etc. The first were accepted; the latter were considered to be due to demonic agencies.Then they all became classed as the latter kind: who gave you knowledge of these things? Why, demons, of course.
We touched on the Kabbalah: the course leader ruefully commented that this was only intended for those who had studied the Torah and The Old Testament, for at least 40 years. No one went straight into it, that would be seen as utterly stupid, pointless.

So, magic was either big-concept theory with rituals, orgies and bachanalian revels, or it was table-rapping, charms, astrology, and what we now know as spiritualism, automatic writing, dream visions etc.
That was about it.

There are no records outside of the Bible of the dead actually being raised, reinvigorated. Within the book, we have the Witch of Endor who cured Saul/St Paul’s heaven-caused blindness. But there are no extant records anywhere of witches, say, throwing fire balls, of actually being seen riding broomsticks; or of spells compelling living people to do things supernatural. No great wizards with staffs; no actual records of demons raised, djinns released, or even angels on earth.
Simon Magus? You tell me.
The Three Wise Men? Reputation and mystique. Persia was a whole other matter, though.

Curses and charms depend so much on coincidence and interpretation: you need narrow horizons and desperate lives to see the patterns, so to speak.

Everything else had been recorded; you can bet such weirdy stuff would certainly have been recorded too.

*

I have been wondering for some time about, you know, Satan.
Surely he must have begun as a kind of god of the Underworld, like Hades, Pluto.
His penchant for evil. sin, and corruption, are they his because of his role in the cosmos, to rule over all that is antithetical to life?
A fallen angel? You can see the problematical shiftings of old myths in this description: how to accommodate new influences, new characters, from maybe further east, tinges of half-known/remembered Egyptian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Sumerian, Babylonian, Persian cultures.
Evil, sin etc, are so human in nature. It is near impossible to find anything there that goes beyond human capability. Unfortunately.
So, there are no excuses, kids.

*

This bit you didn’t hear from me. OK?
Visions and vision quests.

In each case the person has to put their self in mortal danger.
This is always played down, and tactfully forgotten.
– The quester fasts and purges to the physical limit;
– the hallucinogenic user purposely imbibes toxic material.
– The sun-dancer puts his body through life-threatening torments.

The aim in all cases is to get the body to react to the ultimate threat.
That is not to react consciously, but on a purely physiological level, way below awareness: the body pumps in its danger and panic chemicals, its point-of-death chemicals, that enhance the hallucinations, the visions.
– It has been noted by some clinicians that the brain experiences a burst of activity immediately before death.

The whole vision procedure is a literal life-and-death one.
The result is a glimpse of the death-life relationship, and where, if anywhere, the self fits in.
The problem is, you have to survive, and you have to come back intact (or more or less: even Odin lost an eye!).

Don Not Try This At Home!

Image result for tanabata festival

On the 7th day of the 7th month, every year, is the Tanabata Festival in Japan.
Why only then?
It is all based a story from early Japan.

This is the story, one of the many, connected with the Milky Way in the night sky. In Japan it is known as the River of the Sky.

It is the story of two lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, who represent the stars Vega, and Altair. They are only allowed to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month, every year, at the River of the Sky.
It is a based on poems in the Manyoshu volume, ‘Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves’.  It can be traced back, in turn, to an old Chinese tale, The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd. The corresponding Chinese festival is the Qixi Festival, of the 7th of the 7th.

The Weaver Girl,  was, of course, a princess, and… was she weaving the pattern of the stars and constellations? Her father grew concerned that in her lonely profession she was not able to meet any young men. He invited the cowherd (who herded the cows of heaven?), to meet her.

The meeting went very well, and in time they fell in love. They were able to marry.
On marriage, however, they neglected their duties.
It was thought best for all if they were separated, and only allowed to meet once a year. On meeting, though, they found themselves on opposite sides of the Sky River. Orihime wept so much and so hard that a flock of magpies took pity, flew down and made her a bridge with their wings.

If it rains on the seventh day of the seventh month, though, the magpies may not be able to come.

 

Tonight he takes his one journey of the year
             Over the Heavenly River, passing Yasu Beach –
He, the love-lorn Oxherd longing for his maid,
Whom he can never see but once a year,
Though from the beginning of heaven and earth
They have have stood face to face across the Heavenly River

……………………………………………………………………………………….
 Tonight, this seventh night of the seventh moon – 
Strangely it thrills my heart.

(excerpted from: Japanese Love Poems, Selections from the Manyoshu. Edited by Evan Bates, Dover Publications Inc., 2005)

People write messages, poems, prayers, and hang them from trees on this day.

Image result for tanabata festival

Astronomically, on this date, the distance between Vega, part of the Harp constellation, and Altair, The Eagle constellation, is bridged by a group of stars called The Coathanger, more properly Brocchi’s cluster.
This arrangement forms a straight line with a few dotted stars above this in the centre.
hImage result for brocchi cluster

Image result for brocchi cluster

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brocchi%27s_Cluster

 

 

Is this the magpie bridge?

The following blog many will find distressing. Be Warned.

The Liverpool Care Pathway was a palliative care package for the dying.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liverpool_Care_Pathway_for_the_Dying_Patient

It could be said that each procedure has its own identifying image.
For the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP), it would be the butterfly syringe.

The ‘body’ of the syringe is one main inlet to the patient, while each ‘wing’ has portals for other drips etc to be attached simultaneously. This allows many drugs to be administered at the same time, and continuously.

Once the butterfly syringe has been applied, however, then the person is ushered into the ‘ways of dying’. No food or water is given, a coma induced, and the patient monitored, usually visually, for signs of pain, and then the necessary drug given.
The whole aim is to create the conditions for an assisted but relatively less distressing slide into death.
Once inserted there is no going back, and no stopping: the procedure is taken through to the end, the person’s death.

The main decisions to do with the Pathway are the decisions of usually experienced nursing staff etc.
Mistakes can be, and have been, made. Where  visual assessment of someone’s condition is crucial, it is relatively open to misjudgement: how do you distinguish ‘agitation’, from ‘pain,’ or even distress? For the former the patient is merely monitored, for the latter,   measures are taken.
It has been found that in some cases that people haven continued living ten to twelve days after the pathway was initiated.
To go without food or water for this period, even though the person was comatose, would have produced agonising pains as the basic levels of the body fought.

And so the Liverpool Care Pathway was discontinued.

What has taken its place, however, is a procedure so similar it is easy to confuse the two: is it just the name has changed?

To sit with the dying under normal conditions is terrible enough (a doctor said, ‘Do not die in hospital!’ The noise and lack of privacy take away all dignity.)
But to sit with the dying, knowing that you have agreed to the intrusive procedure being administered… that is on another level.

And so we see a surge in applicants to Dignitas. Dignitas may seem a very antiseptic, clinical, mess-free alternative, but it does allow a person a measure of choice.
The heartbreak, naturally, comes with it.

Religion, it will be noticed, plays no part whatsoever in these procedures.
The Last Rites are administered, as normal, and prayers said, but afterlife considerations play no part in the decision-making.

Let’s face it, folks, our hearts are going to get broken, no matter which way is taken/chosen.

 

Oh, and never agree to have one’s loved one embalmed.

from GIFTS OF RINGS AND GOLD, by Michael Murray
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gifts-Rings-Gold-Introduction-Ring-composition-ebook/dp/B01IRPODPW

 

The Monk’s Tale contains seventeen out of, we are told, a hundred possible tales, of fall from fortune. All were falls from high estate, and the fall was cataclysmic for all: humiliation, death, and punishment by God. The tales range from Old Testament Lucifer and Adam, through classical, to historical figures; we find figures from Dante in (H)Ugolina. It has been speculated that the Monk’s tale was in part a satire on a similar work by Boccaccio.

Some of the tales: Adam, Samson, Hercules, Zenobia and Holofernes, reflected the Canterbury Tales’ seventh fragment’s concern with the role of women in society, and of the danger of acquiescence to their rule. Pride, ambition, disobedience, treachery and committing one’s secrets into unsafe hands (ie those of women) all figure here. All these themes were reflected in the other Tales of the Seventh Fragment. But they are on such general and widely known subjects, as the Christian lists of sins and vices, that they are bound to figure prominently.

Is there a structure to the Tale?
We need to think as an audience.

The seventeen tales fall into three distinct groups, with four variations.
The first are biblical figures, then we have a central four historical figures, and lastly classical figures.
This is a clear and intended arrangement. We need to know if it is a purely rhetorical arrangement, or whether it has some other function.
The four exceptions are the classical tale of Hercules (tale four) amongst the biblical, and of Zenobia, tale seven, also a classical tale amongst the biblical; and the tale of Holofernes, a biblical amongst the classical, tale thirteen, and Antiochus Epiphanes, tale fourteen, another biblical figure amongst the classical.
Do the positions of these four tell us anything about structural concerns of the Tale?
The Hercules tale follows immediately the Samson tale, and reiterates the untrustworthiness of women. The tale of Zenobia on the other hand is the tale of a strong woman of noble birth, one who chose when to bear children, and what the relationship with the father should be. Her fate for not following the traditional ‘office of wommen’ was one of utter humiliation, by Roman Emperor Aurelian.

Then we see the tales of Holofernes and Antiochus together. Holofernes follows the storyline of Nebuchadnezzar and Balthasar from the biblical half of the Tale; it is pertinent to the structure that he was killed by a woman, Judith. Antiochus in the latter half was a warrior general whose abuse of the Jewish people was punished by a series of increasingly terrible illnesses that corrupted him bodily.
The tales are generally lengthy, and the latter especially very colourful.

The four central historical tales provide the transit from predominantly biblical characters, to classical. This is illustrated in the sources of fall they record: we see the brother of King Pedro turn against him; the vassal lords of King Petro of Cyprus turn on him; the son-in-law of Barnardo de Lumbardie throw him into prison; the terrible turn-around of fortunes of imprisoned (H)Ugolino and sons, whose sons offer themselves up to him as sustenance.

Immediately following these is the Tale of Nero, and how the people of Rome turned against him and hunted him down. Whilst, before this central four is the Tale of Zenobia, fearless and triumphant warrior hunted down then humbled and paraded through Rome by Emperor Aurelian.

The opposing parallels of this Tale are pertinent: we see
Zenobia paralleled with Nero;
Balshasar with Holofernes;
Nebuchadnezzar with Antiochus;
Hercules with Alexander;
Samson with Julius Caesar, and
Adam with Croesus.

As has been noticed the Holofernes tale refers to both the Nebuchadnezzar and Balthasar tales: it is appropriate it finds its parallels there. Nebuchadnezzar, a Babylonian king we are told twice defeated Jerusalem; here we see the link between the two: defeat of the Jewish people and nation. Both were punished severely.
For the Monk it seems the Jewish people were still sacrosanct.

Do they form a chiasmus? I would argue that yes, they do, based on paralleling and antithetical structuring.
They have no ring, though, with beginning, middle and end devices. It can be seen that there is no central tale, nor interruption by the Host or other listeners. We have the introduction to the tale, and the rush to cut off further doom-laden tales at the end, but no essential middle turn.

 

Scotland’s Merlin, A Medieval Legend and Its Dark Age Origins, by Tim Clarkson. Published by John Donald, of the Birlinn Limited imprint, 2016.
ISBN 97819065669991

This is a meticulously researched and even-handed investigation of the Merlin phenomenon.

Our story comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s book, Historia Regius Brittania, AD 1139. The Merlin and also Arthurian topics were based on early Welsh sources.Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Arthurian characters were then transformed through the French chanson de geste. Their Vulgate Cycle became a magnificent and expanding series of tales around King Arthur, his court, and chivalry, and all in a British (southern) setting.
Geoffrey of Monmouth first published a collection, Phophetiae Merlini, in AD 1130.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s main book mentioned Merlin only marginally. He later dedicated a whole tale to his story, Vita Merlini. This tale was not as popular as the earlier book; the tale was set in southern Scotland.
Sources used the name Myrddin Wyllt, for this figure. It was this Welsh form, Myrddin, that supposedly gave the name to Carmarthen, in south Wales: Caer Myrrddin ie the castle of Myrddin.
The Merlin story also occured in earlier Irish sources.

The Scottish Merlin story dates from the 6th century AD, where the Merlin character, known as Lailoken,  runs maddened from the carnage of the battle of Arfderdd (AD 573). He lived in the forests and woods of Celibon in southern Scotland as a madman, spouting prophecies. His sister persuaded the king to help her find him and bring him back. His prophecies became famous. He later returned to the woods.

The source this Scottish tale drew upon was the St Kentigern tale of Lailoken, the madman in the woods. Connected with this tale is the 9/10 century Irish King Sweeney/Suibhne tale. Once again there is the warrior running maddened from the battle, but this time through being cursed by St Ronan. He was a prince/chieftain. There are two very moving episodes where his wife contacted him, to bring him back into the world of people. The first one Sweeney turned away from her; the second time he turned to her, but she had turned from him thinking him beyond help.
Sweeney met Lailoken, who was called Alladhan in the tale, on his sojourn in Britain. The region is identified as the south Strathclyde region.

The prophecies, Tim Clarkson, notes, were back-referenced: writers gave historical accounts of the figure, then fitted prophecies to past events (mostly AD 12th century local events).
The supernatural element to the story is an essential part, however.
The later Thomas the Rhymer legend took over a lot of the Lailoken characteristics.

The major researcher of the Merlin story was the Victorian scholar, William Forbes Skene. He went so far as to identify the site of Lailoken’s immediate locale, and supposed grave. He visited the most likely place for the tumultuous battle of Arfderydd, and identified from scattered sources the major figures of the battle.

The name can be traced back:
Merlin
Myrddin Wyllt (Myrddin the mad)
(Alladhan – Irish through the Dal Riata cultural and settlement connection)
Lailoken
Llallogan (Cumbric language)

2
What we now know of the Merlin story seems to be the remnants of a much older and more complex one.
Merlin, the wizard and prophet, was confidante of King Arthur. In old age he was lured away into the woods by Morgana La Fay/Vivian and imprisoned within a tree/cave.

It is always these three, though: the man who runs mad in the woods, the king/chief who he was close to, and the woman who is wife, sister, or lover.

There was something niggling me about framework of this tale. What did it remind me of?
It was the Gilgamesh story, all the way from 1800BCE, and what is now Iraq. Gilgamesh and his companion the wild man, Enkidu.

Tim Clarkson notes the similarity of basic theme, but not the three-person structure.

Enkidu was lured from his wild life and into Uruk with Gilgamesh, by the temple ‘prostitute’ Shamesh. On Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh himself went wandering in Enkidu’s wilderness. He did not begin to prophesy, but he did go to seek out immortality. Already part god, he sought out the only survivor of the Flood to learn the secret of not-dying. He had to seek admittance from Siduri, the keeper of the tavern at the end of the world, to the domicile of the one survivor.
She allowed him through, but it was refused him.
One version has Gilgamesh later become a king of the Underworld, lord of the dead.

The Gilgamesh tale hinges on the roles of women: Enkidu accented to Shamhat; Gilgamesh refused the advances of love goddess Ishtar. That refusal cost him Enkidu, his state of mind, and his city of Uruk.
Gilgamesh spurned Ishtar’s advances; he sought out Siduri.

Contemporary with this tale is a tale from the Middle Egyptian period, The Tale of Sinuhe.
In this tale Sinuhe was returning from fighting in North Africa with the king’s son and their army. He overheard a messenger to the king’s son telling of the death of the king. The news caused him to lose his mind, and he wandered off. He wandered ‘like a rudderless barge’ and eventually ended up as warrior to a chieftain in what became Syria/Lebanon. Eventually he recontacted the new king, and was welcomed back to Egypt having won new territories for the king.
There is no prophesying, or seeking wisdom or secrets.

There are aspects of the tale, however, that suggest his wanderings as a vision of the realm of the dead, a traverse through the Underworld. He ‘comes forth by day’ back in Egypt of the semi-divine ruler, the new king.

 

How far can we take this?

Think of the Buddha in 5thBCE India: a prince who wanders off with other ascetics into the wilds. An extreme ascetic, he eventually accepted a bowl of food from a woman: In a famous incident, after becoming starved and weakened, he is said to have accepted milk and rice from a village girl named Sujata. Such was his emaciated appearance that she wrongly believed him to be a spirit that had granted her a wish.
He realised from this that extreme fasting was not the way, that there had to be a Middle Way – he went on to develop his Middle Way, and with followers.
Think of Jesus of Nazareth, once again in the wilderness, and preaching, praying. Think of his relationship with both Herod, and indeed, God. And think of the relationship with Mary Magdalen. Think of him spurning Satan in the wilderness.

Did both of these life stories purposely use the older tale of the madman/holy fool/seeker of mysteries in the wildness?

Ok, maybe the Jesus one is stretching it. But Wiki does give us this:

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_man):
The description of Nebuchadnezzar II in the Book of Daniel (2nd century BC) greatly influenced the medieval European concepts. Daniel 4 depicts God humbling the Babylonian king for his boastfulness; stricken mad and ejected from human society, he grows hair on his body and lives like a beast. This image was popular in medieval depictions of Nebuchadnezzar. Similarly, late medieval legends of Saint John Chrysostom (died 407) describe the saint’s asceticism as making him so isolated and feral that hunters who capture him cannot tell if he is man or beast.

And, of course, Esau was an hairy man.

In the Greek world the figure of Heracles seems closest to the wild man in the woods. He does seem to have similarities in some respects to the earlier Enkidu figure.
The Roman world gives us Silvanus – although, as protector of woods, there is an echo here of the role of Humbaba, the cedar wood ogre of the Gilgamesh tale.

There are copious examples of ‘wild man’ tales – some become blended with other tales: Robin Hood, maybe even Hereward the Wake fits here. Think of William Tell. The madman element is essential, though, and these tales seem to omit that.

Where, if at all, does the Green Man figure fit into the story? He is more like the Roman Silvanus. Maybe that was the source of the Green Man legend: left-overs once again of Roman occupation, or even of Romans who stayed on after the dissolution.

What was it about the Lailoken tale that made it so memorable, though? There must have been many driven mad by battle over the centuries.
Was it the St Kentigern connection, hagiographic reverence, and the huge trade in Saint’s stories?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

/8 the tribal chief, and the wife/sister/lover?

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my piece on Henrik Nordbrandt I mentioned the Swedish writer Gunnar Ekelof as one reference point. Pia Tafdrup has also spoken out in favour of Gunnar Ekelof’s work. She comes in from a completely different direction. Much of her poetic sensibility is based on the feminist critiques and theories of Julia Kristeva and Helene Cixous; her body-centred explorations of the here and now utilise the rhythms and languages of desire.

For Pia Tafdrup writing the body is very much that of the ‘Écriture feminine’ of Helene Cixous, and of Elaine Showalter who writes, “… the inscription of the feminine body and female difference in language and text.”. Écriture feminine places “experience before language, and privileges non-linear, cyclic writing that evades the discourse that regulates the phallocentric system.”

The book Spring Tide, translated by Ann Born, Tafdrup describes as just one aspect of her writing: Spring Tide and White Fever constitute two parts, while The Bridge of Sounds became a third quantity, which could not have been thought of without the preceding ones. Seen like this the three works are related to one another as thesis-antitheses-synthesis… A continuous, dynamic praxis.’ (Walking Over the Water. 1991).

It has been noted by some that Tafdrup set out from the beginning to be one of the top Danish writers; something like W H Auden’s career plan in English. And yet she has not been so beholden to the Danish canon. Her earlier works have been controversial, foregrounding the body, sensual experience, women’s perspectives. Her travelling companion in this was Marianne Larsen, whose writing, “analyse(s) sexual repression, class struggles and imperialism…”. Pia Tafdrup’s  previous book, The Innermost Zone, 1983 “sets out to explore unknown regions of the body and mind…” that is, unknown in literature. Pia Tafdrup’s assault on the canon has always been from a radical perspective. Her concerns echo Rosemarie Tong’s comment on Helene Cixous: “(Helene – sic) Cixous urged women to… the unthinkable/unthought… in words”.

Pia Tafdrup’s two major volumes are Spring Tide (1985) and Queen’s Gate (2001). There is detectable a move from “short lines… mounting impatient rhythm… ‘(Horace Engdahl) to “a many-voiced, multi-layered…” (Bloodaxe) style. In between we have the Arkpoem (1994); a very different experiment in form, it opens:

I was writing this long and labyrinthine poem in which I opened up

 and at the same time stepped into that openness, stillness, with a white voice

 as word after word drank from its stream, and the further the poem extended

 the more difficult it became, its syntax gradually transforming underway…

 

Her structure here is the cyclic exploration of self and the world as outlined by Elaine Showalter in her writings on feminist theory.

In 1991 she published Walking Over the Water. Outline of a Poetics. (part-translated by David MacDuff), a long series of meditations examining and elaborating upon her working methods. A key part of her strategy for major recognition. At every point it can seen her intent has been to situate the feminist perspective within the Danish canon.

The great appeal of Spring Tide lies in its sensuous, breathless lines: “…to write the syntax of desire…to a great degree demonstrate it…” (The Syntax of Desire, author’s foreword). The book is based around the first recognition, enjoyment, waning, and loss of desire “in all its manifestations…”:

Spring Tide

                 I lie down

                 bare myself

                I’ll be your animal

                  for a moment

                 with senses stretched out

                 between neck and heel

spring tide

           ……………………………………………………..

Spring Tide is a book honed on public performance. The incantatory effect, the feel of transgression, the building rhythmic force of these lines all must have been electrifying.

In the structure of this poem, its paralleling of clauses, we have something of kin with perhaps, a rhapsodic, biblical style.

It is not all pleasure and sunshine, however. As Horace Engdahl comments: “Her poetry has a shadow side… the prevailing season… is actually winter, the harsh, windy Danish winter with its endless wet snow.” And it is. The reader does not notice at first, but predominantly it is very much desire in warm places.

This darker side makes itself more known in the later book of aphoristic four-liners The Thousandborn:

                            Don’t look for poetry’s black box,

                            it hasn’t recorded any answers,

                            ……………………………………………………………….. 

 It is perhaps she is indeed “demonstrating …all its manifestations..”, even the desire for the dark, the cold, that is a part of all our make-ups.

Queens Gate (translated by David MacDuff) at times achieves a great elegance of line and phrase:

                             Clear is the water, blue as in a flame,

                            like a sky that floats,

                          ………………………………………………………

from The Shining River)

and

                            Here an undercurrent gathers,

                            here is a well with water

                            ……………………………………………………….

                            and the creatures still cry.

from The Acacia Valley

There is the kind of almost classical reticence here, and a tone that the Scottish Gaelic writers often achieved.

As can be seen, the two poems are water-based in their imagery; the whole book with its nine sections gestates a mythology of origins:

From water you have come.

                                                          The Shining River

The “white voice” of the ‘Ark’ poem echoes the ‘white ink’ of Écriture feminine.

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.

Writers on the Spectrum, by Julie Brown. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010
ISBN 978 1 84310 913 6.

Neuro-diversity.
The term first widely appears as a sociology thesis, by Judy Singer under the title, NeuroDiversity: The Birth of an Idea.
She uses it in her fight for people with an autistic or aspergers to own their space in the commonly accepted human population.

The phrase refers to the Autistic Spectrum, and to people with Aspergers Syndrome. Now it is recognised they are part of the same spectrum, that people with these ‘conditions’ exhibit behaviour varying in degree and intensity from the accepted, usual behaviour of people. And that there are many, many variations of these differences of behaviour.

Researcher in the field, Michael Fitzgerald, identified several behavioural markers, which consist of:
social and bodily awkwardness,
narrow interests,
repetitive routines,
speech and language peculiarities,
non-verbal communication problems.

It is essential to understand that lists are not people: we can all list our behavioural traits, but as far as explaining us goes, forget it.
People with NeuroDiversity are, yes, people, who have cognitive differences –  not medical or psychological conditions that can be ‘treated’. For NeuroDiverse people counselling, psychological talk-throughs, make no sense: it is not due to trauma (in most cases that comes later, when the world pitches in against you), or a medical condition.

There are extremes, of course: I have known people having to wear protective underwear at night into their teens, whose social awkwardness has left them virtually non-communicative, avoiding eye-contact – this is especially among those whose handling by the community has been far from gentle, understanding, or accepting.
Because, yes, the impact of one’s community has a lot to answer for, in later diagnoses of the condition.

*

Julie Brown identifies a range of authors with a strong likelihood of spectrum-identification.
They range from Hans Christian Anderson, Thoreau, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, W B Yeats, Lewis Carroll and Sherwood Anderson.
There is only one woman author in this list. Odd. But then women did not tend to be diagnosed as on the spectrum, as readily as men. This is such a box of wasps – open it and you will certainly be stung: the guilt of the male perspective overriding everyone else, like a steamroller.

There is difficulty in actually telling a story – the details take over and any story-arch, narrative strand, becomes lost. I have known people on the NaNoWriMo 1000-words-a-day-for-a-month marathons come out at the end with copiously detailed… prologues.
There is difficulty with language itself – usually a very wide vocabulary, but words that bend and blend, or become so strictly circumscribed in meaning, as to eschew all colourings but for one. It is as though the readers must know the key specific meaning used before communication can happen, only that can change as the writing… explores itself.
Their writing, work, can seem a sealed box that yields nothing to the give-and-take of communication.

I am sure we have all known someone like this.

And just think of the writing of, say, Samuel Beckett.
‘Nothing happens, twice.’ Ok, a glib critic’s waspish jibe to Waiting for Godot. But it also hints at a meticulously detailed work, whose story-line is not apparent. ‘But that is just the point: all is broken, there was nothing whole left standing after the Nazi’s retreated. They broke Europe.’ Beckett expresses that well, the dislocation of a PTSD Europe.
And can you mention Beckett in this instance, and not James Joyce: the bewildering snowstorm of detail that is Ulysses, that dislocated language of Finnegan’s Wake?

My first thought was Colette’s story Gigi: I was so bowled over by the detail of furnishings in that story, that the actual story seemed a half-hearted adjunct to this, the real heart.
Staying in France, can we ask about certain noveau roman writers? Alain Robbe-Grillet, for instance? The stifling detail of Jealousy… ok, it matches the experience (metacognitive) of being over-powered by jealousy… but The Erasers? And The Golden Triangle is so packed with words, images, at the cost of a through-line. Or Claude Simon’s Conducting Bodies, for example, where image transmutes into image. It is like Lewis Carroll in this, where events can be shuffled, with no harm to the piece, because they do not build, but are.
The proliferating detail of the novels caught the time and needs of the post-War mind-set expertly, where the loss of major narratives became glaring clear, or objectionable.

I was bowled over, recently, by the stories of Australian writer Christina Stead. Again they contain a great wealth of detail; the actual story itself takes on a preposterousness in comparison. She fought very hard for recognition as a writer, and achieved it. Then had to continue fighting to keep her reputation and position. And so when Virago approached her to reprint her work, she became known as ‘difficult,’ she feared being side-lined as a ‘woman writer,’ or ‘feminist’ writer, when she had fought so hard to be known as just Writer, and in the same room as the men. It’s a tricky and shifting terrain.
But maybe that ‘difficult’ also denoted her different awareness of social norms?

New Zealander, Janet Frame’s story is by now well-known, mostly due to the excellent film of her life, Jane Campion directed, An Angel At My Table, giving a good indication of the exclusion, fear and precariousness of someone living on the spectrum. Her books are books of wonderful details, of slant views on a half-understood world.

When you think back to past writers, you notice certain traits that suggest spectrum behaviour. I love Robert Browning’s work, but who can unravel his earlier works to any sufficient degree, without doing harm to the works? And the proliferating detail of The Ring and the Book?
The Brownings’ employment of end rhyme was a tactic that forced further and further elaboration of character and motive, as the line led onto line in order to keep the structure and form. It was as though language and the human mind were conceived of as so much a part of each other, as though the correct sequences of rhythms and rhymes-runs could create or capture a character.
But they verge on the excessive; it is as though this mind-language mutual expression was a construct, something not found in the ordinary world, just as the characters Robert Browning describes tend be shut-off, isolated and fanatical. Robert Browning’s universe is a wonky place.

Similarly, we hear tales of Tennyson’s ‘unworldyless’, his need for isolation, his symbolic world (The Princess; the King Arthur poems), his difficulties in public, his ‘melt-downs’. All part of the neuro-diverse life.

What of Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, an excessive, narrow, detailed, extensive writing, about social catastrophe? People on the spectrum know such these experiences as regular life.

Every Word Is A Bird We Teach To Sing, by Daniel Tammet (Hodder, 2018) discusses incidents and authors on the spectrum, in greater depth. Here we meet self-identified spectrum writer, the Australian poet Les Murray. And also, on the French connection, OuLiPo writer George Perec.

The NeuroDiverse writer then, can bring great things to writing, images that defy gravity, and appraisals of behaviour, the world, that startle, disturb, make new – this last with a proviso that what you find might not always please.
The NeuroDiverse writer has always been with us.
Long may it be so.

It is high time their lives were made better for them, by acceptance, patience, understanding, yes even the granting of ‘artistic license’ (for, was this not a form of acceptance of NeuroDiverse behaviour in its own period of use?).

See also: The Autistic Brain, by Temple Grandin. Routledge, 2017.