Showing posts from January, 2015

I and Thou

Having read, from my university library, a short, introductory book on Martin Buber by Aubrey Hodes, I decided to read his seminal text, I and Thou, choosing (of two) Walter Kaufmann's translation because I knew his work in philosophy and theology and regarded it with a dual sense of appreciation and sceptical questioning. 
In passing, I note that Kaufmann's translation is the one that most Buber scholars openly (or subtly) devalue. Since I do not know German I cannot come to my own determination but I notice that in this 'devaluation', there is more than a little resistance to seeing Buber's text as iconoclastic when it comes to 'religion' or a 'religious perspective on the world', an iconoclasm that Kaufmann relished, and which, I think, Buber respected. He was, after all, delighted that there was no word for religion in the Hebrew Bible! You get more than a 'whiff' of the followers not wholly appreciating the 'master'!
I remember…

Neil Gunn goes to Davos

'The Well at the World's End' was the first of Neil Gunn's novels that I read and I found it magically suffused with the recognition that there is another world, wholly enfolding this one, a world of light. This world reveals itself when you stop seeking and allow yourself to look, looking you step into the way of things and the barrier between yourself and unfolding reality dissolves, if only for a moment (but then how long does a moment last?) and you are at one - within your self integrated, with the world joined.

"A Celebration of the Light: Zen in the Novels of Neil Gunn" is a beautifully lucid exploration of how this coming into oneself through belonging with the world's unfolding is expressed in Gunn's art. It was present at the beginning and deepened through time in a way that, sadly, made his novels appear less accessible to his wider readership. Those that came expecting the social realism of his works, woven with the fabric of communal Sco…

Religion and violence

Father Joseph was born into the minor aristocracy in France in the sixteenth century and chose the path of a Capuchin friar. He was both schooled and versed in the art of mystical prayer and founded an order of contemplative nuns. He was known for his contained and gentle manner as well as his continuing aura of an erudite and accomplished gentleman, behind his simple, ragged robed exterior.

He was, however, also the right-hand man of Cardinal Richelieu, effectively France's foreign minister and spy chief, and, had he not died would have been Richelieu's successor. One of his key policies as foreign minister was to deliberately set out (successfully) to prolong the Thirty Years War, weakening France's encircling enemies (ironically) Catholic Austria and Spain. This was a notoriously brutal war, especially painful to the ordinary citizens of Germany, many of whom were reportedly reduced, in desperation, to cannibalism!

He did so, believing that France was the providential …

The ecology of consciousness

Seth entombing Osiris
Though the New Year's resolution holds - a moratorium on book buying - the post person on their very efficient tricycles and trailers (would that UK post persons were so blessed) keeps up the flow of 2014 orders (that probably accelerated as a result of the forthcoming moratorium)!

Today arrived 'The Philosophy of Emptiness' (Gay Watson) and 'Waking, Dreaming, Being: self and consciousness on neuroscience, meditation, and philosophy' (Evan Thompson). This illustrates one of the challenges of the modern age - the ability to buy books at any time of day or night, from anywhere and, thus, the possibility that one bought them when not wholly sober! This is not to say that both are not excellent texts (and they certainly look like it) but only to note that my ability to digest philosophy is limited (and slow).

This I discovered (and periodically need to rediscover) when I went to university to study philosophy and theology. This was a mistake! Th…

All Hallows' Eve

A painter has completed two pictures - one is of a London transfigured by an inner light, the second, a commission, of Father Simon, a prophetic leader, being attended by his adoring flock (or by bowing beetle like figures, depending on your perspective). Both paintings will prove prophetic - London will be seen through the eye of the dead, the day to day city accompanied by a parallel waiting place for the newly dead, held in an encompassing light. Father Simon's gospel of love will be unveiled as a narcotic for the masses for he is a magician bent on world domination.

We are in the familiar territory of a novel by Charles Williams - 'All Hallows Eve' - where a person (or object) is manipulating (or being manipulated) to achieve power over the world (or some portion of it) and is thwarted by a thrown together group of people who have seen through the mask and the disguise and through love and sacrifice restore balance to the world.

This, I think, is his most accomplished…


This new report from a two year research program at the RSA (based in London) is a compelling attempt to discuss spirituality and its relevance to the public square in a non-religious context.

I liked it for its 'metaphysical openness' as it judiciously refuses to enter the debate about the ontological status of the embodied experience that is seen here as spiritual whilst granting the conversation a robust and elegant status.

It argues that 'spirituality' is a useful category that needs definitional boundaries but not 'a definition' that relates to our core concerns for love, our relation to our own death, our identity as selves and a reality to our language and usage of being souls (that carries the qualitative, indefinable qualities of our life). It does an excellent job of summarizing what in recent scientific research anchors this discussion …

A day at the art gallery

A day of foggy melancholy dawned so off I went to the Kunsthaus in Zurich so that winter doldrums might be moved by art.

Nothing will persuade me that I ought to spend any time looking at Ferdinand Hodler whose multitudinous canvases bedeck every museum in Switzerland with their figures that always appear to be strangely performing to be figures in a painting and landscapes drained of colour and artificially lit. I am struck by how much I dislike him. I usually just skip paintings that do not speak perhaps since love borders, rather than opposes, hate, I will suddenly see him, but not without a Damascene conversion)!

However, since I have not spent much time with the permanent collection (for many years), there was so much else to explore. There is a perfect Fra Angelico (is there any other kind) of the Saints Cosmo and Damien and two by Hans Memling in a similar spirit. There are several Claude Lorrain landscapes for which I noticed that his figure work is much more accomplished whe…