Showing posts from February, 2011

I Know Where I'm Going

I watched "I Know Where I'm Going" by Powell and Pressburger. It is a beautiful film with their striking marks, not least the remarkable dream sequence depicted here. Every time I see one of their works, I am struck by how 'modern' and 'experimental' they are and yet wholly woven into the fabric of contemporary cinema. They manage to be both serious and entertaining.

Within the fabric of a romance, they manage here to set two sets of values starkly against each other: a traditional culture of  the Hebredes and a way of being modern (of knowing where one is going) that is both narrowly individualistic and stratified by class.

There are lovely set-pieces - most notably a ceilidh celebrating a diamond wedding celebration that quietly celebrates both a marriage and one rooted in community, made in community. It speaks of a community that is shaped by a common inheritance of shared life and art.

Ovid made real in exile.

I re-read David Malouf's Imaginary Life on the plane back from Nairobi. Originally, it was given to me by a friend suggesting I would not realise fully why until completion.

It is so lyrical and on the surface simple. Ovid is in exile. He lives on the very edge of the empire, amongst 'barbarians' in rude simplicity. He meets and befriends a child, the Child, nurtured by animals: wolves or deer, it is never made definite. After months of mutual tutoring and failing to lay the suspicion of the tribes people towards the Child, he goes with him into the steppes and dies.

It is, however, a profound meditation on language and its ability to create humanity and to veil direct contact with the suchness of things. They offer each a gift - the shaping creativity of language is the poet's gift, only slightingly realized before his death. The wholeness of a shaping world made of particular things, sounded and tasted, felt and sensed is the Child's gift to the poet.

It is craft…

Disruptive change

As part of the innovation event I was helping to run this week, we were given an introduction to a process of encouraging disruptive social innovation.

As part of this, we were given the tool of a graph. Across the vertical access we listed all the organizational forms we had imagined addressing the problem (we had chosen) and along the horizontal access all the characteristics the organization would need to present an optimal solution.

This helps you identify, as you plot the organizational form against the characteristics (on a scale of optimal to not), under utilized opportunities. An example would be the 'netbook' where people recognized that current computing left a space where simplicity and accessibility and inexpensiveness were not occupied by any current offering.

My partner and I and another couple chose 'big themes'. We chose inequality and they chose our consumerism and its ecological consequences.

Both recognized similar gaps - current solutions are not se…

Gratitude to a poet

I first wrote to the poet, Kathleen Raine, at university. 

It was one of her books on Blake (Blake and the New Age) that had at school given me a key to understanding him. I used to feign colds, when bored, and take the odd afternoon off and lie on my bed reading this alluring, powerful and incomprehensible poetry, and getting shards of understanding. It was Kathleen's work that enabled me to begin assembling the shards into some resemblance of the whole I sensed but had yet to see (and to this seeing, as Yeats said, there is no end for Blake is a prophet: one who speaks out of the divine).

I loved her poetry and her autobiographies too. They spoke of a world that was mine: a common inheritance of all, obscured to us by our own limitations and that of the world's common, materialist assumptions.

I wrote and she replied and in her reply left the door ajar for further correspondence. For three years it flowed and then at the first Temenos conference at Dartington Hall, we met.

She w…

Not the ideal city but hopeful

I went today on a programme visit to a Nairobi slum.

They are tight packed, of corrugated iron houses, often owned by slum landlords with deep pockets and political connections. Narrow lanes wind between blocks of houses with dirt packed walkways now dry, later to be flowing mud. Rubbish is strewn everywhere including human waste, collected in 'flying toilets' - plastic bags with ties, dispensed with by hurling onto nearest designated (or customary) dump, hopefully.

They are violence wracked - both domestic that is amplified by the stresses of living in such uncertain and difficult circumstances, criminal as gangs proliferate; and, political as the tensions between political blocks remain, co-habiting uncomfortably in government.

Yet it is a place where hope emerges.

A cluster of youth groups who have come together to recycle plastic, navigating the perceptions of city government and the general  populace as idling sources of threat, to produce a credible source of income gene…

Imagined healing

It was a early morning, and the mist was clearing at Great Zimbabwe. At the exit sat a fallen tree that was being carved by an extrovert sculptor willingly sharing of his work in progress. It was to be an image of the Zimbabwe king, sheltering his people, a king after the order of David, restoring peace to his country. A king out of time, redeeming time. Peace would descend if the statue were shaped, raised and honoured aright.

This effortless blend of traditions - African and Biblical - creating a sacred harmony, embodying Tradition is what Yeats found in Ireland.

The sculptor reminded me of Paddy Flynn, from whom Yeats gleaned most of the stories in The Celtic Twilight:

"A little bright eyed man who lived in a leaky and one-roomed cabin in the village of Ballisdore...He was a great teller of tales, and unlike our common romances knew how to empty heaven, hell, and purgatory, faeryland and earth, to people his stories. He did not live in a shrunken world, but knew of no less amp…

East is West and West is East and n'er the twain will meet

In England all Thai restaurants strive after the ambiance of the exotic 'East': all carved wood and paintings on silk and low ambient lighting.

In Bangkok many Thia restaurants seem to strive after replicas of 60s cafeterias: all brightly lit fluorescent places of utilitarian eating.

We each pursue the image of the other and miss!

By Nightfall

I read in my insomniac state, in the early hours, Michael Cunningham's 'By Nightfall' appropriately given that the central character, Peter, is an insomniac.

It is very beautiful and soberly sad.

Peter is in his forties, a modestly successful gallery owner in New York with the compulsory loft in SoHo. He has never been able to possess or be possessed by beauty neither in the art that he has dealt in nor in his wife, his disappointing daughter or, fatefully in his encounter with his wife's much younger brother who is fragile yet, as we discover, swiftly manipulative.

The leitmotif that resonated with me is Peter's 'failure to imagine the lives of others' - and the recognition that such imagination is not delivered in bold brush strokes, in the grandiloquence of  yearning desire but in the painterly attention to the lived particulars, the listening to other's lives that liberates cumulative shared insights into the grain of things.

I was reminded of a dis…

William Morris ponders Rick Owens

Standing in the designer Rick Owens' London store (not overwhelmingly familiar territory), I found myself thinking of William Morris -that great Victorian designer, poet and political activist.

If evangelical Christians can ponder 'What would Jesus do?', I find I ponder what would Morris think - especially when confronted by good design, well made that is recognizably itself.

I expect he would take its 'androgynous' feel, its fluid sexual boundaries in his stride.

But the questions that Morris would ask, I think, would include - who has made the clothes, with what level and intention of craft, how have they been remunerated and do they share in the fruits of their sale? Does the designer concern himself that the fruits of his work can only be enjoyed by an elite few (though many are the imitations available at much reduced cost) and does that matter in the moral and political scale of things?

Morris, in his own work, ensured the former (the conditions of his worker…

The Horses

The Horses

Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, heading north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thou…

She who hears the cries of the world

Kuan Yin is a Bodhisattva, an emanation of Avalokitsevara, the embodiment of compassion, of whom she is the female form in East Asia: a goddess of mercy in the traditional folk traditions of both China and Japan.

I am reading John Blofeld's charming book on her, "Bodhisattva of Compassion : The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin". Blofeld is a wonderful writer - an English convert to Buddhism who encountered China in the 1930s and 40s before established traditions were swept away.

As a teenager he had encountered a statue of the Buddha and developed an intense urge to possess, venerate and lay flowers at his base (a curious reaction for a middle class English boy of the 1920s with no obvious familial connection to Asia). It was an experience that later made him ponder the possibility of reincarnation: imagining for himself a previous life as a Chinese Buddhist monk. If nothing else this imagination suffused his descriptions of both Buddhist and Taoist hermitages in China (…

The Silver Bough

Neil Gunn's 1948 novel treats, amongst much else besides, of the hoped for restoration of a man to life after the horrors of war.

In the case of the laird, Martin, this is not simply the case of re-finding his place - the familiar story of a lost pattern of intense friendship forged in the intensity of shared courage, fear and impending death. It is of the rediscovery of meaning in daily life that in its fragility (and inevitable loss) can be seen as resistant to carrying such meaning: how can something so easily destroyed (and we discover callously destroyed in Martin's wartime experience) be the place of man's delight?

That it can (or be hoped for) is shown by the last scene where Martin takes Anna and her child, his child until now disowned, into his boat and make away on a calm sea.

This being Gunn amongst the beautiful described 'action' of the narrative is a series of 'metaphysical strands' - of which Martin's is the one that arrested my attention…

Whirling Rumi

Something I wrote a while back introducing a volume of Rumi's poems, sadly yet to see the light of day...

It was the eight hundredth anniversary of his birth and Istanbul was alive to his memory. At night, lasers painted colourful dancing forms on the dome of the Blue Mosque. During the day, people flocked to Hagia Sophia to an exhibition celebrating his life and that of the Mevlevi Sufi Order that he had founded.

But it was in the incongruous location of the No1 exhibition hall at the railway station that had once hosted the Orient Express that Rumi came to life. Here members of the Galatta Lodge of the Mevlevi Sufi Order were to perform their ritual, circling dance: the famous 'whirling dervishes'.

I confess an element of scepticism played within me: was this to be transcending ritual or public performance? Could the two be combined? The music began, haunting, repetitive refrains, seeking to tease you out of thought as 'doth eternity'. The dancers a…

The Telling

I have re-read Ursula Le Guin's "The Telling". It is a cliche to say 'this is the book that changed my life' but like many cliches it happens to be true.

I read it twice during the critical process of discernment to a Dominican vocation and it twice forestalled the saying of a 'yes'.

The Telling is the process by which the people of Akan bring the world into being. People, unlike animals, need the guidance of words, shaping narratives, bodies of knowledge. This is what the Telling provides but as guidance, enterprises after truth, neither as infallible command or certainty. The Telling is a hallowing of this world and is rooted in cumulative experience: it cannot be definitive, it cannot create boundaries of belief. It does not ask that anything be sacrificed for a hoped for future. Its model in Le Guin's mind is Taoism, especially in its philosophic and empirical forms - an aid to contented living, here and now.

On Akan it has been rep…

The Good Man in Hell

The Good Man in Hell by Edwin Muir

If a good man were ever housed in Hell
By needful error of the qualities,
Perhaps to prove the rule or shame the devil,
Or speak the truth only a stranger sees,

Would he, surrendering quick to obvious hate,
Fill half eternity with cries and tears,
Or watch beside Hell's little wicket gate
In patience for the first ten thousand years,

Feeling the curse climb slowly to his throat
That, uttered, dooms him to rescindless ill,
Forcing his praying tongue to run by rote,
Eternity entire before him still?

Would he at last, grown faithful in his station,
Kindle a little hope in hopeless Hell,
And sow among the damned doubts of damnation,
Since here someone could live, and live well?

One doubt of evil would bring down such a grace,
Open such a gate, and Eden could enter in,
Hell be a place like any other place,
And love and hate and life and death begin.

Revolutions as innovation

Today at our first outing for the 'innovation module' we were asked to arrange ourselves in a line chronologically according to our favourite 'innovation'. These ranged from 'Skype' through television to the domestication of wheat and fire! (My own preferred option was monasticism)! But the nearest in chronology was the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. This was problematic as I tend to imagine that something counts as innovation only when it has worked, been adopted, is a part of our given reality.

The revolutions in both Egypt and Tunisia are works in progress. When Chou En Lai was asked what he thought the impact of the French Revolution had been, he is meant to have replied, 'It is too early to say'! But even with a more compressed time scale, it is certainly too early to ascribe to either North African revolutions the character of a success (given that we know what 'success' would look like). The Egyptian one in particular is not, even yet,…