Month: June 2009

Snow White

Jacques Lacan’s article on ‘The Mirror Stage’ describes a pivotal stage in ego formation: the recognition of one’s own image in a mirror. He theorised that the child, in apprehending his own reflection in a mirror, is captured by that image, seduced by its apparent perfection, its immeasurable potential. The mirror image exists in a separate domain to its originator. Reflected, it deflects. However the child may try, he cannot impinge upon the image. It feels no pain when he beats it. It feels no envy, no isolation, no love, no hate. It feels nothing. Except what we project upon it: our own fear, our own yearning, even our own love. These bounce back to us from the mirror image.
Blogging is a paradigm of the mirror, suited to volatile projections of anger, love or other strong emotions. It is a virtual, imaginary space where normal sanctions do not apply and conflictual emotions vie for supremacy. I am allowed to be enraged, sexually deviant, uncaring and immoral within the self-created vortex. When I write, I am speaking to a screen upon which I have projected something of my own, my own libido, of individuation of self, my creative juices smear its surface. Whether someone reads the screen subsequently is initially not relevant. While we can comprehend this temporarily, it is a concept bloggers all too easily forget. Sometimes, we may aspire to being an imaginary community but usually it is as a large, ill-disciplined family to which we offer infantilised complaints and appeals for validation and affirmation to Mama whom we neither know nor understand.

Ecclesiastes 12:12

….for beyond this, my son, be warned. For the writing of many books is endless, and much study is wearying to the flesh.

But, not always. Great writing sings lullabies to us, whispering comfort, even reassurance in a world where shapes shift and shadows startle.
… For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.
They are full of all the things that you don´t get in real life – wonderful, lyrical language, for instance. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I´m grateful for it the way I´m grateful for the ocean. …

I so wish this were original. It isn’t. Anne Lamott, thanks for the ‘carbonated holiness’. LOL.

Tragically Human

Terry Eagleton’s review of ‘The God Delusion‘ became a minor publishing event in its own right when first published in The London Review of Books in 2006.
It is so juicily good that an excerpt follows…
Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is ‘The Book of British Birds’, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.

For the whole deal, look here
Eagleton’s new book is reviewed in The Guardian here
I haven’t read it all yet, but found one of the final conclusions illuminating. Dawkins suggests that the worst excesses of human behaviour can be ascribed directly to the pursuit of religion(s), yet he seems unable to grasp the extent of the depravity and moral turpitude to which homo sapiens is capable of sinking, unassisted by religious or any other conviction. Eagleton advocates what he describes as a ‘tragic humanism’; in acknowledging the depravity to which the human species can sink, it confronts the reality of the death camps of the 20th century and the exploitation of the 21st. Christianity is an admirable form of tragic humanism, in order to address the extravagant defects of human nature, it has an equally extravagant, almost outrageous remedy. It goes like this, be prepared to love until you die. The Dominican philosopher and scholar, Herbert McCabe summed up the gospel in this way: if you don’t love, you die; if you do love, they kill you. My codicil to this is that it’s the kind of love which matters. Peter’s ‘phileas se’ to Jesus won’t do. ‘Agapeas se’ is the only one that cuts it. There’s a whole theology on the bride of Christ here, but…not today.
The dodo is unfortunately not mentioned in ‘The Book of British Birds‘; this Mauritian dodo has been extinct since about 1650. Its meat was described by passing mariners as ‘poorly flavoured and indigestible’, much like Dawkins’ attempts at theology.

Restrooms

Went out to eat tonight. The restaurant had a faux antique sink with similarly vintaged anticlockwise taps like those in Japan to turn them on adjacent a ‘restroom’ where one might perhaps drop in for a bit of a lie-down between courses.

Since the last few posts have been doom-laden I thought that a return to toilet humour might be the gastronomic equivalent of an ounce of civet, to sweeten the imagination. Those who know me know how deeply I care about cleanliness and its proximity to Godliness. There is a sensible point in here somewhere. Between wiping – or in this country, hosing down – one’s nether regions ( I was going to say ‘arse’) and scraping off the bacteria, one often has to open a mechanical tap with bemerded mitts. After washing, one turns off the same tap with freshly scrubbed, squeaky-clean hands.
Are we getting this?
The best “toilet space” design is at Olbia airport in Sardinia. The Italians love high-tech bathrooms, and this one is totally hands-free, from the beautifully named ‘proximity faucet’, infrared operated and water-saving, to soap dispenser and warm air dryer, (the Italians also have a great line in voice-activated flushes in some public places – is it triggered by a cavernous fart or, what’s Italian for ‘flush!’). The only bug in the system is that in order to leave the room, one has to pull a huge, spring-loaded door with an immovable handle the size of an old-fashioned refrigeration unit, requiring Popeye-sized biceps, thus getting both hands dirty again. Presumably the door stylist and sanitary designer weren’t at the same meeting. King Lear, of course, needed more than civet to sweeten his mad imagination. Gloucester asks to kiss his hand, Lear refuses and said it ‘smelt of mortality’. Oh. No in-line sanitation there, then…

Even Simpler Minds

I used to enjoy going to the Pearl Continental in Karachi. It was cosmopolitan, discreetly luxurious and the Japanese rooftop restaurant served the best sashimi with wasabi in town. I was saddened that its sister in Peshawar had been so cruelly and unnecessarily targeted. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades would appear to have been named after Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian militant who joined the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan and was killed in 1989. An Internet website calls him “Bin Laden’s spiritual mentor”; or “The Man Before Osama bin Laden,” and notes that there is an armed wing of Hamas called the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. A favourable profile on Islam.org calls him “The Striving Sheikh,” while a 2002 account of his life on Salon calls him both “The Godfather of Jihad” and “The Lenin of International Jihad” which will almost certainly tick off both doctrinaire Leninists and James Brown fans.
This bombing was carried out to ‘pressure the government to stop military offensive against the Taliban in Swat and Bannu’. If the Taliban were to realise that civilisation perceives their organisation as backward, reactionary and mediaeval, with no place in the modern world, furthermore their violence cannot be tolerated by intellectually self-aware people and their brand of Islam is flawed, dangerous and criminal, then the sooner they would be welcomed back into the human race.
When, I wonder, will the rage and visceral hatred of this kind of impoverished Islam burn itself out? I also wonder, was the intention to kill and maim, or merely to cause damage to property? If the latter, then the charge is vandalism, if the former, it’s simply murder.
As an afterthought, I wonder how civilisation will react to the re-election of the Iranian despot – the word ‘re-election’ being used almost metaphorically since it seems clear that coercion, thuggery and baseball bats win battles at the polls in Tehran as efficiently as in Mingora. Obama’s reference to a ‘robust campaign’ seems uncomfortably pertinent, if naive. I wonder who he thinks runs the country and is he prepared to engage unilaterally with unelected clerics as well as an administration as racially venomous as Ahmedinajad’s? Dweebish, wide-eyed willingness to meet on the mat isn’t gonna cut it this time, Mr President. They actually do mean you harm.

Simple Minds


This was too good to miss and has been published elsewhere. It would appear that the Washington Post Style Invitational list has become iconic, in a farting, irrelevant kind of way, meandering like a lexicographic Tardis around the Internet. For those who missed it, here it is. Rules: add, subtract or change one letter and provide a definition for the new word formed.In some cases, the words are attributed to the Post, in some cases not. Sometimes they claim “Here are this year’s winners.” Well, no, actually. They weren’t the winners – of what, one might ask – this or even last year, nor when the list appeared on Usenet in 2003, when they also were labelled “this year’s winners.” No, some of those words—like intaxication, appeared in 1998 in the Washington Post.Others, like cashtration and beelzebug, seem to not be from theWashington Post at all. Sometime during their eight-year trip through the Net, they were, like Caesar,’ripped untimely’ from another list that has itself been travelling around since 1995, when it appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. God and little green Martians only know where that list came from.

Laugh? I almost smiled…

Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realise it was your money to start with.

Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future. Why, I wonder , does George Dubya (rtd) spring so instantly to mind?

Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
Inoculatte:To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.
Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, hey, a serious bummer.
Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
Glibido: All talk and no action.
Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

And finally…Ignoranus: (n): A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

The image is of a T shirt from the Bozone microbrewery in Bozeman, Montana, the original home of Gibson guitars. A real must-have, then…

Extra Miles

Arrogance is an unpleasant characteristic, especially when one thinks one perceives it in the morning mirror. I find myself musing on where arrogance ends and self-respect begins, and the grey patchwork in which I find myself seems a little directionless sometimes. The wisdom of the Gospels, Mahatma Gandhi and MLK did flit across my mind, however. When Christ invited his hearers to ‘turn the other cheek’ he was specific about the right cheek. A right handed man would slap with the back of his right hand on his victim’s right cheek, a symbol of arrogant disdain. Offering the other cheek is therefore provocative. ‘Go on! Be a man and hit me again with your right hand on my left cheek! I dare you…” Again, a penniless labourer in a field might pawn his coat for the day and the employer would take it as short term security. At the end of a day’s work and the man could not perhaps afford to redeem his coat, offering instead his cloak, this would leave him naked, thus shaming the greedy employer, who custom dictated might very well return the original garment anyway as a charitable gesture.

A Roman soldier had a legal right to demand that a civilian carry his pack for a measured mile. Volunteering to carry it for a second mile would bring the lazy soldier to the attention both of his comrades and of his centurion, who might well order the equivalent of a Code Red and the civilian ends up the moral victor. Moral conquest isn’t arrogance, it’s simply just.