Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Easter looking

"The Resurrection" by Paolo della Francesca is housed in the museum of his home town, Sansepolcro in Tuscany. It is a striking painting, the figures almost life size, Christ emergent from his tomb, three guards asleep, a fourth covers his eyes, as if knowing what is unfolding and unable to look.

Being unable to look seems an appropriate response to the unfolding moment when death is rolled back into its place as a transient moment between life and Life and sin, the capacity to miss the mark of our being, is no more. Humanity is on target, once more, the divine image being realised as divine likeness, all being restored to one.

That is the gift of it, the freedom of it, yet we slumber on or refuse to look and receive.

Today I was having a conversation about the tendency of theologians to make the simple, complex, it is a comforting response to the simplicity of the Gospel that rather than receive the gift and practice the life it offers, we first examine it, seek to explain it. It is rather as if at Christmas before we accept a present, we open it and carefully see if it meets our expectations, and if not hand it back! We are all guilty of this 'theology' of covering with our hands the gift of what is to be looked at. Rather than cleanse the doors of perception, we don thicker, darker glasses.

I often wonder what it is that would make me more receptive to that gift and as I walked home, wind draggled and rained upon, I found myself with a phrase of the poet, Kathleen Raine, rattling around my brain: "a face too merciful for my own devil peopled soul to bear". It is from her extraordinary cycle of poems, "On a Deserted Shore", written on the death of her more than friend, Gavin Maxwell, from whom she had become estranged. She is contemplating the passage from life through death and anticipating who she may find there.

It circled back, in my mind, to this image of Christ who seems simply to accept everything in a watchful forgiveness and with extraordinary, penetrating stability. There is nothing to do but to bear the image, knowing that no amount of coalesced devils, in fact, can ultimately obscure you from beholding that face. The face of the Other who is your own face. How many of us have practiced that exercise of looking into another's face, awkwardly at first, until slowly we begin to discover a binding friendliness and empathy, often in spite of ourselves?

That brings us back to Easter whose central message is that nothing, not even death, can destroy being beheld by the face that is forgiveness - now 'simply' take away your hands or wake up and look.

Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Being Leonora

Having finished 'Leonora', a novel based on the life of the artist and writer, Leonora Carrington, by Elena Poniatowska, I came away ever more deeply both captivated by the beauty and complexity of her work (that I have been looking at, in parallel, to the unfolding narrative) and by her story.

I had known that she had found herself incarcerated in an asylum in Spain during the Second World War but I had never caught both the intensity of her descent into derangement nor the horrors of her treatment. It was an inferno of suffering where the relative brevity of the timeframe is wholly irrelevant. Its waves flowed on in her life, always threatening to upset its hard won stability. That it did not is testimony to her sheer resilience, key friendships, motherhood and her persistent, necessary vocation.

Reading it I was reminded of James Hillman's 'The Soul's Code' his re-telling, in contemporary guise, of Plato's myth of Ur, where the soul, having seen its chosen future life, drinks of forgetfulness yet carries with it, into incarnation, traces of memory of what can unfold, of the soul's calling. For some that memory overwhelms establishing the certainty of their future course, and it emerges at an early age. Julie Garland was feted to dance at a child's talent contest yet froze and in compensation burst into song. Elias Canetti, novelist and autobiographer of genius, chased his elder sister around the family garden with an axe because she refused him a story. Leonora drew the images of her inner life from the earliest moment she could to her last days, a span of over eighty years, of a haunted imagination.

The Juggler by Remedios Varo

It was also a delight to read of her restoring friendship with Remedios Varo. Having met her briefly in France at the edges of Surrealism, she sees Remedios in the street in Mexico City just at the point when she is feeling that this city is too strange a place of exile. Varo's friendship and love returns her to a group of friends, all similarly exiles, that grant her an intellectual and felt home. They become, until Varo's untimely early death, inseparable and Varo offers not only a wry sense of humour but also a spiritual seriousness that aids Carrington in shaping her own views of the world.

Views rather than view because Carrington remained ever an explorer, enterpriser after truth rather than the disciple of any particular tradition; and, though her visions were shaped by her thought, they were never put at the service of an over-arching system of myth or intellect. She could always see not only the hopes but also the flaws in any pattern. The world remained mysterious but always wondrous. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wandering the Cosmoses

Today I went to Zurich's wonderful Museum Rietburg, focused on non-Western art, to their exhibition, 'The Cosmos - An Enduring Mystery'. http://www.rietberg.ch/en-gb/exhibitions/the-cosmos.aspx

Cosmic Man from Jain tradition

It was a beautiful and informative walk through the cosmological imagination of diverse cultures, exploring how we have envisaged our place within a meaningful order and how we have depicted it in story, image, artefact. You journey through the vast spaces of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain universes (and in the Hindu case, cycles of universes) or find yourself with the Haida (in the Pacific North West of the Americas) telling stories of a trickster raven whose antics bring forth key components of the world both necessary such as light or useful as in weaving.

The story 'ends' with the Copernican revolution and the birth of modern science and there is a film, hosted by a professor of theoretical physics, that compresses the story of the unfolding universe within 24 hours, enabling you to 'see' how short a period it is (two fractions of a fraction of a second) since we, humans, emerged to play the part of 'civilisation' and indeed fashioned the stories through which I had just walked!

What struck me was how the exhibition carried a narrative conflict. Each culture was honoured in the telling of its story (and some of those cultures are very much 'alive' - the Dogon of Mali or Hinduism) but there was an undoubted privileging of the 'culminating' story - the 'Western' scientific one. This is, after all, where we, the viewer, end up; and, on the curator's part perhaps the 'enduring mystery' is not a mystery but a problem, that if we do not have all the answers now, we will, in due course, if we follow the route of this progress...

Except, of course, when you listen carefully to the presenter of the film, when what is 'known' becomes ever more complicated by the not known, and possibly the unknowable, certainly by the standards of science. We do not know how the universe started, or why, much of what it consists in, dark matter and the new entrant dark energy, is necessary if our understanding of the universe is 'correct' but we have no idea what they might be, etc etc. To say this is not to devalue the enterprises after knowing, only to inject a humbling sense of what needs to be discovered, and indeed in the discovering possibly a radically re-envisioning of what we imagined.

And, of course, this 'privileged' account fails to wrestle with any real question of meaning. It has often been said that the sheer vastness of the universe and our apparent 'littleness' in comparison renders this question null and void - it was this reality that terrified Pascal for example. But I left with a dual feeling that this was a profound mistake and for two reasons. First because the human imagination, as the Hindu and Buddhist accounts demonstrated, is perfectly capable of fashioning meaning within vastness. Second because all of these accounts, including the privileged one, are only possible because they come to birth in the querying consciousness of humans.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


'Leonora' is a novel based on the life of the artist and writer, Leonora Carrington, written by Elena Poniatowska, a friend of Carrington's for more than fifty years. It is, at the outset, a wonderful performance that tells the life of a 'cuckoo' born in a (very comfortable) nest not her own. A highly privileged and wealthy family acquire an only daughter (of four) who is highly imaginative, directly perceptive and gloriously unpredictable.

From the beginning art was a core preoccupation. She draws incessantly and drinks paintings down, absorbing masters and traditions. Likewise she is subject to visions, her imagination was concrete and before her, not fancifully 'within her head', and expressed in a language that is reminiscent of the youthful Blake, except that for Carrington the reference points were more the Irish folklore of her beloved nanny, and of the sidhe,  the people of the mounds, rather than the informing Biblical actors of Blake's formation.

Knowing the outlines of her life, and loving her art, you can see not only the origins of many of her motifs - of horse and hyena to name but two, both present above - but the gathering doom of her early life when the conventions of her family's expectations collided with the necessities of her calling.

She was a debutante, presented at court, and courted by a procession of eligible men bewitched both by her incredible beauty and the prospects of her inheritance and she disdained them all. What point the artifice of courtly and country lives of privilege when what you truly needed to do was paint. And needed, not wanted, the soul's character was shaped well beyond and before the womb.

I have arrived at the point when, reluctantly, her parents are about to let her study art, hoping that having acquired some competence, it will 'settle' her. Little do they know that it will make her and break her relationship with them, utterly. She is about to find too her first great love, the painter Max Ernst, and plunge into the vortex of the Surrealists and the wider Paris art world.

Breton, whom she admired, described her as the Surrealists' muse, an epithet that she dismissed, reminding them that it was still their women who cooked their food and emptied their ashtrays! She always declined the "Surrealist" tag, after all she was painting her reality. There was no 'Sur' about it!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Spirit of Place

I was ten, once again on holiday in Cornwall, and I had come, one weekday, to my favourite spot - Polruan Castle. In truth, it was a ruined tower, on the edge of this fishing village, from which a boom had been swung in the sixteenth century, across the Fowey estuary, to keep the Spanish out. I spent hours their playing, wrapped in a solitary happiness.

It was usually deserted, the tower and the rocks running from it to the sea, but that day, I found a family occupying it. I was uncharacteristically outraged! They were violating 'my place'. The boy, my age or slightly younger, had a football and it rested, away from him, by the rocky sea edge. I fixated on it. If I cannot have it, no one will, I thought. It was a thought that utterly surprised me for I had no interest, at the best of times, in football. I kicked it into the sea (from which, owing to the rocks, its recovery was unlikely). It was an action that cleaved me in two - my normal self looked on, aghast, at the behaviour of this newly emergent self, jealous and angry.

'What did you do that for?' shouted the father, noticing my act. 'Do what?' I asked as if butter would not melt (observed by me in quiet horror). 'Kick our ball into the sea'. 'What ball?' I responded innocently, all the time edging away to the steps and flight. I ran so hard that when I got back to where we were staying I collapsed on the bed with panicked breathing, heart pulsing against t-shirt, but happy not to have been caught. And I was suddenly two - broken into self-consciousness and expelled from Eden.

Any place can gather to itself a personal significance - as this recalls - but what happens when this is shared, when there is cumulative noticing of a place's spirit and what gives rise to it?

This is the theme of Philip Marsden's 'Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of a Place' that beautifully balances the story of his family's finding a house in Cornwall and making it home, a place personally bounded and loved and known with an exploration through the lens of Cornwall's pre and unfolding history of communal ventures at revealing and making of spirit filled places. We journey across time (and the county, heading west) from prehistoric barrows and tors, through Geoffrey of Monmouth's myth making of Arthur's connection to Tintagel, through the birth of historical exploration of place to the struggle of an artist trying to bear witness to the particular beauty and reality of Cornwall whilst under the pressured influence of modernism's urge towards abstraction.                                            

It is a book of stories about the importance of the question: what makes for the spirit of place - and the multitude of responses, themselves often more a significant gesture than rational answer. We do not know, for example, why, in the Neolithic, human beings embarked on such a widespread and integral pattern of building - barrow, stone circle or colonnade or Tor  - excepting that they weave a ritualised pattern over the landscape and are aligned with deeper, cosmological patterns of star and light and season. But we can, at least, recognise the urge, the necessary response of people wanting to see themselves at home in the universe, by making themselves connected to particular places.  Or that of the sixteenth century antiquarian who traveled the length and breadth of Henry VIII's kingdom collecting all that he could find that witnessed to the country's embodied past so that we might celebrate its history and its blessed future, evoking from that very history a veneration for particular place after particular place.

It is a beautiful book - both for its textured exploration of Cornwall and for a celebration of the urge to make of a place a revelation of spirit, even if the shadow side of a spirited place is, as I did, to slip to the wrong side of possession!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

On economic determinism...

Reading Duncan Green's excellent blog on development http://oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/what-to-do-about-inequality-shrinking-wages-and-the-perils-of-ppps-a-conversation-with-kaushik-basu-world-bank-chief-economist/ today, I was reminded of the perils of economic determinism. This curious affliction not only infects the world's shrinking number of Marxists but also the practitioners of the more 'classical' versions of that dismal pseudo-science.

I am sometimes tempted to think that a century hence, if we blunder our way through to a happier world, that we will look back on economics as we now are presumed to do on 'astrology' or 'alchemy' - except I think that the predictive power of the former and the spiritual richness of the latter both outstrip any offering of the peculiar modern priesthood that is comprised of economists. (I am deeply comforted that they never appear in Star Trek or indeed in any imaginative, peaceable view of the future I can think of).

Meanwhile, back to the present, and on Duncan's blog today we have the opinions of the World Bank's chief economist, Kaushik Basu who I am sure is a wonderful person, not least because he recognises the importance of inequality, though appears less sure of what might be done about it or, given political constraints, what the Bank might do about it.

However, this is now what caught my attention but his remarks on labour.

On labour, he said ‘The declining share of labour’s income does worry me. Multiple crises over the last 7-8 years have at their base a tectonic shift in the structure of global market. The regulation v deregulation argument doesn’t tackle that problem. The real challenge is that you can’t stop the march of machinery that is a) displacing labour and b) linking up labour in distant lands’ (which is a good thing). He argues that we have to identify other ‘pools of cash’ (taxation, natural resource revenues) and use them as compensation for the declining share of wages, both because it is the right thing to do, and in order to prevent social and political disorder.

What interested me especially is the phrase, 'you can't stop the march of machinery' as if this was an indubitable truth framed in a deterministic system. That it is a likely truth as to how the world will go in the near future I miserably grant him but it could be different. We could choose to tax land, capital and resources and free labour from taxation. This would make complete economic, environmental and social sense. The former are depleting assets in need of conservation and care, the latter, labour, is a renewable asset able to offer care in abundance. Rather than subsidise people's income (or idleness) as Basu suggests here, we could allow people to fully benefit from the fruits of their labour, their work. This would be both renewing and prospective of social peace. In other words, there is nothing inevitable about our economic order unless our imagination is bound to certain patterns of fixed thinking.

I was reminded of this because as I read Basu's remarks I am also reading the latest collection of essays from Wendell Berry. Berry is my candidate for the world's sanest person, not always to be agreed with but you must always carefully think yourself through to the real source of your disagreement.

Prioritising labour over capital would immediately suggest to the pseudo-scientist, formerly known as the economist, that we were being inefficient. To which the answer is two fold - inefficient by whose standard - from an abstract, monetarised notion as distinct from that of an actual human community - or indeed from those very abstract standards for as Berry remarks, "The computerisation and robotification of the United States Postal 'Service' far from improving the service, has impaired its ability to transport and deliver the mail on time or at any time'!

Berry's essays continuously undermine Basu's assumptions not least by inviting us to imagine an ordering that we may want to build rather than an ordering with which we must comply.

More than once, Berry points us to a highly successful community, namely the Amish, that would see Basu's remark as complete nonsense. They have quite happily stopped the march of the machine, not because they have not, selectively, appropriated the benefits of developing technologies but have always subjected their adoption to a deeper, more meaningful criteria, namely is this or that innovation good for the community? Does it promote the health of our common life together (which, critically, is seen as both people and land as one commonwealth)? If yes, it can be adopted (or tolerated), if no, then it will be declined (or shunned).

This standard might be applied not only to the adoption of technology but also in other contexts. For example, the ability of a corporation to function might be periodically licensed and judged not simply on its ability to generate 'profits' but for its contribution to the whole of which it is a sub-set and if it consistently failed to meet this social and environmental, as well as economic, audit, its license to operate would be forfeit.

You do not have to be Amish to see that this is a sensible and life giving measure by which 'marching' can be turned aside in preference for the more humane and peaceable standard of walking. There is a beautiful moment in one essay where the standard of walking is used to imply the ecological health of the land - water that walks off the soil, rather than runs, is less likely to erode that soil for example - and this is contrasted, pointedly, with the politician who 'runs' for office (or is always running). The only way, Berry maintains, that we will restore a right balance with 'Our Only World' (to give the title essay of the collection) is if we allow ourselves again to have the time and pace to truly care for the particular places we find ourselves inhabiting.

For this jobs will have to become vocations and vocations will have to be the pathway most deeply rewarded, qualitatively and quantitatively, by the communities we inhabit. You can see how far we must travel from the political expediency and determinacy of the World Bank's chief economist.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hesse's way

Bernhard Zeller wrote his biography of Hermann Hesse before Hesse became an icon of Sixties' counter culture when, had he lived, Hesse's mailbag would be swollen even further. By the end of his life, Hesse's principal preoccupation, served diligently, was responding to his correspondents, many of them young, that had sprung up in the post Second World War era.

Many of the letters, Zeller, tells us were confessional and saw Hesse as a sage, able to find a 'word by which they might live' (to quote the oft used expression of the earliest disciples of the first Christian elders of the desert, a tradition which Hesse knew and wrote about). Though Hesse was skeptical of his own sage status, recognising that he bore as many questions as he did answers, he nevertheless offered his readers encouragement and hope, always individually tailored, always trying to treat each as the unique person he believed them to be. Their right to follow their own path was a right both Hesse had sought for himself and sought to defend and extend in his work. But equally like the Chinese sages he most deeply admired, advice could be terse and pointed to those who sought not to take up their own struggles but projected their predicament onto others or sought excuses for their own moral laxity. It struck me, however, reading of this correspondence that here was a man who walked his own talk, that was a living embodiment of his own convictions, crafted after a long life, complexly lived.

I was struck again, in his adolescence, how sudden his fall into turmoil had been at the seminary at Maulbronn. One moment he appears settling and happy, the next he is seeking to run away and it is years, schools and apprenticeships later, until he finds a real rhythm and a way of navigating his sensitivities, and their accompanying fears. It as if a disturbing force fell upon him from above (or welled up from below) suddenly accomplishing a phase shift in life (and accompanying struggle). It is a salutary reminder of the suddenness of change and a claim on our sympathy that lives do encounter such dramatic changes and we may not be able to offer them any short term, satisfactory explanation. We can only go with them in compassion, often bewildered, as Hesse's parents clearly were.

Meanwhile, the book beautifully reminds you of the body of work that emerged betwixt adolescent struggle and elderly sageness: not only the novels but essays, travel pieces and poems (and I, for one, am sorry that not more of the latter have been translated as there were six hundred in all). However, it is undoubtedly the novels that continue to stand the test of critical time.

The last I re-read was the greatest, 'The Glass Bead Game', and Zeller captures its import wonderfully well in only a few short pages. Here in his imagined realm of Castalia was not a future, utopian place within history, but a concrete embodiment of ever present values of order, harmony, contemplation. Where the invitation, here and now, is to find your own uniquely personal way of bringing them to bear, first into one's own life and then to transmit to others. Those values need embodiment because they can only be shown rather than said or perhaps a better analogy is sung or played. For Hesse, music was the supreme art because it can only live when being embodied. It exists only in a fusion of time, here and now, and eternity and it is better heard than discussed. It is, as always, a difficult message, because it requires a discipline to achieve the art. A complex struggle to find a necessary simplicity.

For Hesse, it was one that was never complete but he was on the way and could point others onto their way too.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

God is wherever we allow God in

When I was ten, I discovered there were people called 'atheists'. I was surprised. How was it possible that people could not be touched by presence, presence that enfolded and gifted the world and addressed you, drawing you on into meaning. They were, obviously, using now a word I did not know then, 'obtuse'!

Also they required you apparently to believe (or not) in God. God was not a question of belief. I did not believe that the fabric of the breakfast table furniture bench was blue nor that my parents loved me. They both simply (or complexly) were part of the fabric of reality just as that fabric was woven on the weft of God's presence.

I was reminded of this reading Kenneth Paul Kramer's 'Martin Buber's I and Thou: Practicing Living Dialogue', one of a series of books where Kramer explicates and makes practical the thinking and spirituality of this great, Jewish, teacher. This book focuses on the meaning and purpose of his seminal text.

In the course of the book, Kramer has Buber retell a critical incident. Buber has been visited by an elderly pastor friend and as he escorted him back to the railway station, the pastor turned to him, laid his hand on his shoulder, and asked, 'Dear Friend! We live in a great time. Tell me! Do you believe in God?' Buber reassured him that he should have no concern about him on this point. The pastor leaves but as Buber returns from the station and reaches the exact spot at which the question was asked, he pauses. 'Had he told the truth?' he asks himself.  Does he believe in the same God as whom the pastor assumed his reassurance was about? Buber tells himself if it means a God about whom one can talk in the third person, then the answer is no. If it means a God to who one can speak in a living dialogue of call and response, out of one's joy and one's suffering, the answer is yes.

But a better word than 'belief' is trust. God is one in whom one can trust, dwell and live in fullness, a reality shaping presence, not a concept or an object, however, exalted.

This is why, when I first read Buber, at university (though not for university) I was touched deeper than by any other author (except possibly Hesse, who nominated his friend, Buber, for the Nobel Prize for literature for his Tales of Hasidim). It was because he responded to God in the way I imagined was the fullest way possible - as the presence that asks you, continuously, 'where are you?' as he asked Adam in the Garden. Meaning what account can you make of yourself in the invited journey to be ever more fully human. An act of grace and work that completes creation, brings the divine sparks contained within it to a bursting light in their redeeming.

A rabbi was asked where God was and he replied wherever a human being lets God in. We let God in when we hallow every thing as an end in itself, a particular of unfolding glory, and where we stop talking about God (good) and entrust ourselves, vulnerably, to living in God. That I do this all too rarely is undoubtedly true but Kramer's book is a happy and challenging reminder to stay on the trail of it - of finding God in a vulnerable, open dialogue with the world that allows everything its unique voice.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Today's crop

The New Year resolution has long since been forgotten and the 'postperson', on their fab tricycle, has kept feeding my habit for books.

Today, as opposed to yesterday's one, there were three! I wish I could say that they were reflective of a disciplined and focused mind; however, as usual they reflect my dispersed interests - though if you stare hard enough you can trace a common thread (or two or three).

Yesterday's offering was 'The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning' which is not, as its title might suggest, a tract that having demolished science pulls form its hat the rabbit of religion. It is by Marcelo Gleiser who is a double Professor (of Natural Philosophy and Physics and Astronomy) at Dartmouth College and wishes to explore the inherent limits in our capacity for knowledge as an invitation both to a better understanding of ourselves and to the adventure of fashioning ever more compelling models of reality whilst never confusing the more detailed, imaginative mapping with reality as such. The scientific project is humbly enfolded within our own capacity to experience and yet recognises the extraordinary nature of our awareness.

Today arrived, first by way of opening, Paul Kleber Monod's 'Solomon's Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of the Enlightenment'. This is an intellectual history of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in England recognising that the dominant narrative of the advance of science and a certain version of reason needs to be counterpoised with an entwined, continuing belief in the 'occult' and the 'supernatural', often harboured in the same breast. Newton was as occupied with alchemy as he was with physics; and, the eighteenth century ended with a Romantic resurgence of the more than natural.

Second came a modern vindication of the continuing concern for that which steps beyond the boundaries of our conventional science namely Ervin Laszlo's 'The Immortal Mind: Science and the Continuity of Consciousness beyond the Brain' which seeks a story for the priority of consciousness from the evidence of near death experience, after death communication, etc. Evidence that mainstream science tends either to ignore or attack often departing from its principles of enquiry in the process, finding that things cannot have come to be because our current theories will not let them.

Third came Karen Armstrong's 'Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence'. I expect that the aim of the book, based on the reviews, is to liberate religion from the apparent confines of its presumed history and show forth its actual life and potentiality for good - religion as caught up with violence rather than its cause. However, I expect that I will not agree for, I sense, with Aldous Huxley, that religion, when practised from a certain, all to common perspective, does become ideology and can wreak the havoc of the same!

The commonality is, I suppose, knowledge and its connection to the spiritual core of what it means to be human, variously interpreted; and, an accompanying high minded seriousness. Now that is a reflection of this particular addict!

The dictatorship of law

Karl Kraus, the Austrian intellectual, satirist and 'anti-journalist' confessed that over Hitler he had nothing to say because satire has its limits and when the 'reality' has appeared to step over the bounds of the known into the 'surreal' (and potentially terrifying), it falls silent as there is nothing to exaggerate to illuminating or humorous effect. Kraus did not live to see his intuition completed, dying in 1936, he saw neither the annexation of his homeland nor the fate of the Jews, a fate, that as a Jew, he would have shared.

This brings me to Mr Putin, not to compare him with Hitler with regard to the latter's terrible results, but as someone who is increasingly immune to satire. Indeed perhaps this is a warning indicator around any regime that as soon as it achieves this immunity, it ought to, in truth, be time for it to go (or, at the very least, for everyone to be highly wary of it and, sadly, prepare for the worst). Or as Lao Tzu would say if it cannot be the subject of humor, it cannot participate in the truth or goodness of things.

Thus, one of your opponents is murdered, on your doorstep, ahead of a rally against your rule. However, this does not prevent you from personally heading up the investigation committee into your opponent's death. This neither occurs to you as (a) offensive to your murdered opponent and their family who appear to share your opponent's belief that you were certainly capable of wishing him dead and of killing him (whether you did or not is beside the point here); (b) that you may indeed have been responsible (which is to the point here) - as you had motive and opportunity or perhaps someone associated with you took it upon themselves to do the deed; (c) you announce the lines of enquiry you are pursuing that, naturally, exclude (b); and, (d) if your country enjoyed 'the dictatorship of law' (to use your phrase) or due democratic and judicial process (to use a better one), you would realise that the executive branch should neither investigate nor prosecute crimes. These carefully constructed, though certainly never water tight, boundaries are there for a reason!

The truly sad feature of the oxymoronic 'dictatorship of law' is that Mr Putin has created a state where it would be exceptionally difficult to appoint a person of the necessary integrity and competence to investigate the said murder of Boris Nemtsov because the atmosphere of trust in which any such investigation needs to unfold is so poisoned as to make any such investigation virtually inoperative. Would anybody trust its results unless it emerged with their own predetermined conclusions?

That this is not simply a Russian problem is true, the corrosion of public trust is a global phenomena and one that requires a vigilant response everywhere; but, that it is exceptionally difficult and corrosive in Russia is depressingly evident.

Nemtsov in his last interview suggested that political opposition in Russia had collapsed to the point of dissidence, suggesting this was a decline but maybe, in truth, this would be a step back in order to step forward. For the characteristic of dissidence is precisely to continually and persistently tell the truth - rather than offer oppositional propositions about how one might potentially govern - and perhaps most of all, what one needs now in word and, critically in gesture, are honorable truth tellers, more than politicians, as they may be the people who begin to recreate the necessary environment of trust.


Everyone is interesting, even if to requires a few sherries to find out how

V.S. Naipaul, who died recently, once asked one of his interviewers, before he would permit them to start, "What have you read? And do...