Archive for the ‘First Knowing’ Category

Cave Art These Days

March 12, 2013

Do you remember a while back we were riffing on the dystopian fantasy world, Warhammer 40,000, which, rather than being set a paltry fifty or one-hundred years from now like timid/typical sci-fi, is set forty-thousand years into the future?!

A comical, almost unfathomable span. Except: whenever I think about Warhammer 40K I think also about Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the incredible Herzog film exploring the art of Chauvet Cave—the oldest paintings ever discovered—which date from… more than 30,000 years ago. That is: We, now, are roughly equidistant in time from the artists of Chauvet Cave as we are from Warhammer Chaos Space Marines. (And, to these early human draughtsmen, surely we would be as freakishly post-human sci-fi as any 40K space marine—oh, if you’ll kindly excuse me while I update the RSS feed on my handheld device for an anonymous Yemeni blog about unmanned drone warfare… hmm, while I wait for that page to load (must be a slow signal from the telecom satellite—go figure) I’ll just read this week’s news about how the FDA approved 3D-printed synthetic skull replacements; the new worldwide network for robots to communicate and give each other advice; and how a rat brain in North Carolina remotely controlled the bodily functions of a rat body in Brazil via the internet.) (The thing, then, about Warhammer 40,000 is that we are Warhammer 40,000.)

One of Herzog’s basic contentions is that the wonder of the Chauvet Cave art rests not only in its extreme antiquity, but also its expressive quality—that is, the drawings are not only artifact, but art. The powerful, realistic drawings transcend the centuries and convey something essential of prehistoric experience.

A kaleidoscope of big cats, sketched 32,000 years ago

A kaleidoscope of big cats, sketched 32,000 years ago. The eyes…


The motion of a ferocious horn.

The ferocious motion of a ferocious horn.


The most iconic image from Chauvet Cave: the Wall of Horses. Among the noble team, note the smallest horse panting to keep up.

The most iconic image from Chauvet Cave: the Wall of Horses. Among the noble team, note the smallest horse panting to keep up.

Herzog argues that the drawings of Chauvet Cave announce the dawn of human culture.

I was happily reminded on the bus today of T.S. Eliot taking a similar line. In discussing the artist’s relation to her cumulative cultural heritage, Eliot draws the long line back to cave art. The cumulative cultural “mind” is a mind which changes, but “this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawings of the Magdelenian draughtsmen.”

At the time when Eliot wrote this (1917) it’s true that primitivism was en vogue, and appreciating Magdelenian cave art fit this aesthetic program. But Eliot isn’t praising Pure Premodern Man, pristine before all the muck of centuries piled upon him. He’s rapping about Premodern Man and all the subsequent stuff piled atop. For Eliot, the artist is situated in a long procession of cultural moments, and to become a mature artist

…involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year (LoL); and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.

(It’s not a coincidence, I think, that this was written at the crest of WWI, when Europe was imploding. One senses an anxiety to gather and footnote all the achievements of culture, against the tide of oblivion.)

So, as the Mind of Europe crawls onward through the centuries it accretes new experiences, builds upon the past, and develops new tools for expression, but, crucially, Eliot contends, it does not improve. “This development, refinement perhaps, complication certainly, is not, from the point of view of the artist, any improvement.” Reflecting upon the past, the artist “must be quite aware of the obvious fact that art never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same.”

This is what Herzog is up to in the cave, right? He would not argue that Chauvet has been surpassed, certainly not by his own art. And, in a broad sense, he too is trying to capture, to corral, to hold still, the wondrous experiences of being human—in a meta sense (art about art) as is his wont—but not unlike the original cave artists. Yes, the “material of art is never quite the same”—in the Chauvet Cave Herzog ‘draws’ with 3D cameras, and his cave images are displayed to others on distant glowing screens, but he is up to the same game. (By echoing the “dreams” of his forebears, he shares in them). And I think he’d welcome this comparison/compliment, and roll with this last quote from Eliot:

One of the facts that might come to light in this process [of criticism] is our tendency to insist, when we praise a poet, upon those aspects of his work in which he least resembles anyone else. In these aspects or parts of his work we pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of the man. We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavour to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.



p.s. BUT. To get back to our Warhammer space homies…. Eliot & Herzog contend a certain universalism of human experience—that mature art in any period rings roughly the same bell. But as we increasingly become psychic cyborgs of our former selves old art might become impossible—or merely a quaint hobby. No more “human experience”! Do we not have a renewed existential anxiety—like Eliot at the crest of the Great War—of a new Great Divide & an old world irrevocably crumbling? Gather ye rosebud paintings while ye may, for tomorrow we’ll be disembodied algorithms stalking the holographic horizon hunting/gathering network information packets. [Oops, Nevermind: I just received communication from Dunru, a Paleolithic shaman and art critic: “You think we didn’t have disembodied avatars? After Barnak, King of the Valley, perished from the earth his spirit was transferred to an obsidian stone, which was consulted for major clan decisions and conferred powers of fertility.” I stand corrected! Humans, always forever weird.]

p.p.s. Here’s a shout-out track for the Warhammer Space Marines: “Space Cowboy” by Sly & The Family Stone (perhaps obsidian?). Got some nice funk yodeling in there! Also, if you gulp the new JT album, The Mad Dog 20/20 Experience, I think Timbaland has been feeling the Sly Stone lately. Check in particular the outro on “Strawberry Bubblegum”.

p.p.p.s. To soundtrack the gaping span from Chauvet to Warhammer it’s probably best that we turn to sci-fi honky-tonk. From the compilation Nashville Sputnik, Brad Wolfe “Changing Times” and Joel Mathis “Time Machine“.


Flora on Sand

November 19, 2012

A rose in the sand. Drawn by a pendulum during an earthquake in Olympia, Washington.

 Futility Closet relates the story behind this beautiful occurrence.

When a magnitude 6.8 earthquake shook Olympia in 2001, shop owner Jason Ward discovered that a sand-tracing pendulum had recorded the vibrations in the image above. Seismologists say that the “flower” at the center reflects the higher-frequency waves that arrived first; the outer, larger-amplitude oscillations record the lower-frequency waves that arrived later. “You never think about an earthquake as being artistic—it’s violent and destructive. But in the middle of all that chaos, this fine, delicate artwork was created.”

This marvelous natural expression is reminiscent of an aesthetic experiment discussed by Paul Klee. In a lecture at Bauhaus, Klee suggested that if you take a thin sheet of metal, cover it with sand, and stroke the edge with a violin bow, the oscillating vibrations will express themselves in a corresponding rhythmic pattern in the sand. For Klee it was an analogy of the artist and her medium; the artistic spirit rendered into the material world. “That is to say, impetus to vibrate (or will or urge to live), then transposition into material happening and finally visible expression thereof in a new ordering of matter. We (the artists) are the bow, we are the will to expression, matter is the intermediary, the figures in the sand are the ultimate formal product.”

With this & the earthquake-rose in mind, what a beautiful coincidence that Klee should have a painting called “Flora on Sand”.

Paul Klee “Flora on Sand” (1927)



September 11, 2012

In his review of two new Noam Chomsky books, David Hawkes discusses the “Chomsky problem”—that Chomsky’s notable work in the fields of linguistics and political commentary “appear to contradict each other”. That may be the case. But the terms of Hawkes’ review seem guilty of the same charge.

Discussing Chomsky’s disdain for popular religion, Hawkes writes that Chomsky “cites the fact that ‘about 75% of the US population has a literal belief in the devil’ as the clearest possible example of American ignorance and stupidity”.

But is it really so different from his own beliefs? Throughout his career, Chomsky has depicted a world ruled by demonic forces of quite incredible malice and guile. Whatever is running the world Chomsky describes is undoubtedly a very greedy, violent and selfish entity—it would be hard not to call it “evil” or even Evil, were such tropes not sternly prohibited by the monochrome literalism of our age.

Well Said & Tru Dat. Indeed, the prevailing language of public discourse allows no room for going front spear into the Spirit World, or Mystik Tyger Danse (results guaranteed), or for the many totems that were until very recently very intelligible and for which we have found no serviceable replacements. I mean, moreso than Stephenie Meyer, wouldn’t it be more concise & accurate for the Wall Street Journal to speak of vampires?—were such tropes not sternly prohibited by the monochrome literalism of our age?

Agreed. And yet. In the next paragraph, Hawkes demeans Chomsky’s perennial characterization of the United States.

The America described here is a crazed, bloodthirsty monster, hell-bent on the destruction of humanity.

But… is it not a monster? What was the United States government in 2003 if not an eye-stung Cyclops, stomping the globe in wreckful reckless revenge, swinging wild blind limbs, crushing villages?

I mean, when the band of the same name appeared didn’t we all nod “mmhmm, yup”?

The USA is a Monster — “No More Forever”

[Brace yrself for terrible word play: If Yahweh means “I am” does it not follow that a strident atheist should be called “No am”? Chomp on that.]

My Soi Disant Life

August 31, 2012

Several years ago the anthropologist/philosopher Jonathan Lear wrote an fascinating book (excellently reviewed here by Charles Taylor) about doomspirals’ fav topic: kultural devastation.

Lear explores this theme through an account of the Crow Tribe’s forced relocation to a reservation in the 19th century—& how this uprooting deeply undermined Crow society. Before displacement, the Crow were a nomadic people of the Great Plains whose way of life was intimately linked to the buffalo. The movement of the buffalo dictated the movement of the Crow; the social status of Crow men hinged on their relation to the hunt and the courage displayed protecting the tribe’s hunting grounds; the roles of Crow women revolved around facilitating the hunt and managing its bounty; and Crow women derived great pride in the ability and courage of their kinsmen. In this way, the hunt influenced the rhythms and rituals of the tribe, influencing marriage selection, social hierarchy, burial honors, as well as daily activities.

The central text through which Lear tells his story is a recollection of Chief Plenty Coups, who led the Crow through the transitional period into the confinement of the reservation. “When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again,” Chief Plenty Coups recounts. “After this nothing happened.”

Lear’s book takes great lengths puzzling over the words “after this nothing happened”. Plenty Coups, presumably, does not mean that nothing transpired after the tribe was confined on the reservation. But the motivating purpose of the tribe had been suddenly removed; the acts of greatest importance and symbolic value ceased to hold meaning, and the very roles that constituted a Crow being a Crow ceased even to be possible.

[The Crow] problem, then, was not simply that they could not pursue happiness in the traditional ways. Rather, their conception of what happiness is could no longer be lived. The characteristic activities that used to constitute the good life ceased to be intelligible acts. A crucial blow to their happiness was a loss of the concepts with which their happiness had been understood.

A principal example of this dissolution of cultural meaning was the transformation of “coup sticks” from elevated cultural object to inert ornament. On the Plains, it was the practice of Crow warriors to plant a stake (a “coup stick”) in the ground, which marked a boundary that if the enemy crossed, the Crow warrior would defend to the death. It was of supreme status in society to be a man who could “count” many “coups”. Thus, the significance of the chief’s tribal name: Plenty Coups. But, with life on the reservation, after the buffalo, all significance was emptied from coup sticks. Old virtues were no longer possible. No more coups could be counted.

Was this morning reading an crazy story of a Montana man who was killed attempting to stage a Big Foot hoax. Stalking along a wooded highway in a full-body Chewbacca-type camouflage outfit, the man meant to spook passing motorists, but was instead struck by a passing car. It was one of those sad, weird ephemeral stories that float across our internet radar screens and pass as entertainment(?) in our nonsense culture. But what caught mine eye was a comment beneath the story by “BonzoDog1”:

“Highway 93 is notorious for being one of the most deadly roadways in Montana without any hijinks.  At least only the fool died. The two young women could have easily died or been seriously injured, too.
I thought too of several young members of the Crow Tribe who died in the 1990s trying to count coup by slapping the fenders of passing 18-wheelers going 80 mph on I-90 through the rez.

I don’t know if “count coup” is a phrase in current/regional circulation, or if any Crow actually used this phrase to describe the horrible event, or if this internet commenter is merely a royal butthead trafficking loaded phrases. But is it not vastly sad how the old rituals have been made low, profaned? Not that these young men profaned the old rituals but that there is no possibility to practice them? (As when Aristotle tells us that happiness is the function of exercising noble virtues, and we think: ‘I can’t really do those in junk-house trash-life 2012′?) Though Lear paints a devastating portrait of the reality of culture death, he does so to tell another story. After all, the book is titled Radical Hope. Lear writes of the continuity of the Crow people. He discusses how, through mobilizing Crow imagery and history, Chief Plenty Coups was able to re-imagine Crow values and rituals, transplanting them into the new context of the reservation, ultimately helping the tribe adapt and persevere. But… the slapping-truck-fenders story is a discouraging sign of the grim state of Plenty Coups’ project, and of, y’know, the centripetal tug of ye olde Boschian gyre. [&BTW, TanFin tells me that “counting coups” is the source of the band name “The Counting Crows”. Ugh/Ack, Modrn Lyf = Long December.]

Drakkar Noir [Dark Arts Now]

August 16, 2012

It is well established that the rulers of Egypt are practiced in the art of Dark Numerology. They take sinister pride in sly calendrical communications. Take, for example, the court case against the American NGOs. When, of all dates, was it scheduled? The Fourth of July. BAM. EAT IT, UNCLE SAM.

This morning I was revisiting Mubarak’s super slick jailbreak from Tora Prison and I stumbled onto a coded message I shouldn’t have missed. Recall: Mubarak was on trial for directing violence against protesters during the January 25 revolution. The uprising is famously remembered as the “18 Days” that toppled his regime.

And the time from his conviction on June 2nd until he broke out of jail? 18 Days. BAM. EAT IT, EGYPTIANS. “You said I wronged you for 18 Days? Well here are your measly 18 days. No more, no less. Peace—I’m out!” &With that he sauntered out the front gate en route to chillax at his plush military hospital in the upscale suburb of Maadi.

Opening (The Wiccan Gates) Ceremony

July 31, 2012

What was most wonderful about Danny “Slamdog” Boyle’s artistic direction of the Olympic Opening Ceremony was that he took this unprecedented opportunity—a television audience of 1 billion, unlimited artistic budget—to boldly share with the world the unique cultural identity of the British Isles. Above, he generously grants his global audience a sight rarely seen: an insider’s view of the pagan sleep ritual of a gigantic ghoul baby idol (possibly Welsh?) performed by a coven of nurses encircled by a protective ring of imitative devotees each praying that the toddler god (Todd) grants divine sleep / safe passage through the Moon’s Journey, thus protecting their vulnerable souls from GrimBone DarkPuppet (below) who wields the corruptive power of Night Mist with his vulture leg wand and a silken hijab.

Sike, this was his audition to direct the Spinal Tap sequel.

First No-ing

February 3, 2012

“No Thanks” from Futility Closet.

In June 1744, the College of William & Mary invited the Indians of the Six Nations to send 12 young men to be “properly” educated. They received this reply:

We know that you highly esteem the kind of learning taught in those Colleges, and that the Maintenance of our young Men, while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinc’d, therefore, that you mean to do us Good by your Proposal; and we thank you heartily. But you, who are wise, must know that different Nations have different Conceptions of Things; and you will therefore not take it amiss if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same with yours. We have had some Experience of it: Several of our young People were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your Sciences; but when they came back to us, they were bad Runners, ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, unable to bear either Cold or Hunger, knew neither how to build a Cabin, take a Deer, or kill an Enemy, spoke our Language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters, Warriors, or Counsellors; they were totally good for nothing. We are, however, not the less oblig’d by your kind Offer, tho’ we decline accepting it; and, to show our grateful Sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take great Care of their Education, instruct them in all we know, and make Men of them.

“I Never Kiss and Smurf”

December 17, 2011



Independent Music

June 21, 2011

Tim Maia, the great Brazilian soul singer, was an huge personality. Impulsive, indulgent, independent, his bio is filled with all manner of amusing insanity. As a teenager drawn to American R&B, he conned a local priest into buying him an airline ticket to the States and lied his way past immigration officials in order to form a vocal group in New York… only to be arrested & deported for stealing a car in Florida. Later, when he was wealthy & famous and getting injured fighting a hawk (in his underwear, in his apartment) and test-firing a machine gun (in his underwear, in his apartment) he got deeper into drugs and tried to “‘open the minds’ of the uptight employees at his record label, Philips, with a sheet of acid brought back from a trip to London.” He “approached each and every Philips employee, beginning with the accounting department, which needed more immediate ‘salvation’…”

Several years later, on a bonkers mescaline trip, Tim came across a book on a friend’s coffee table, Universe in Disenchantment, became entranced, and fell deep into the cult of Rational Energy. He now saw his musical career as a vehicle to proselytize on behalf of “Rational Immunization”. During this “rational” phase, Tim produced a series of albums, including the slammin’ double-album, Racional Vol. 1 and Racional Vol. 2, which is where I first heard his music. (The music for these albums was actually recorded before his conversion—he simply erased all the vocal tracks and wrote new lyrics.) Before band practice, Tim demanded that his band members read at least 30 pages of Universe in Disenchantment. He was so convinced of the book’s universal power that he sent a version (in Portuguese) to James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, and John Lennon. John Lennon responded with a photograph of himself completely naked + a note: “Dear freak, I don’t understand Portuguese. What about LISTEN to this photo? John Lennon”.

One of mine fav tracks on Racional Vol. 1 is called “Guiné Bissau, Moçambique E Angola”. I presume it’s about the solidarity & brotherhood between the former Portuguese colonies, but I’m not sure. (I mean, if I spoke Portuguese I wouldn’t be blogging right now… or on the internet ever again.) A few days ago I happily came across another geography jam, “Rodésia”, released in 1976, several years before their independence. (Though a British possession, Rhodesia was influenced by the independence movement in nearby Mozambique and much of the Rhodesian opposition eventually was based in Mozambique.) Now I’m just waiting to find a cut about Timor Leste! Anyhow, thought I’d upload both the post-colonial jams.

Guiné Bissau, Moçambique E Angola” (1975)

Rodésia” (1976)


The above quotes are from Allen Thayer’s article, “Soul Searching”, in Wax Poetics No. 36


Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth

June 11, 2011


Memories, Dreams, Reflections: School Years

May 28, 2011

By Mr. Carl Jung:

Great Paintings

February 16, 2011

As many have noted, the pivotal moment of the revolution came Jan 28th in a stunning event on Kasr el-Nil Bridge. After hours of struggle, 20,000 determined protesters pushing toward downtown overpowered a brigade of riot police armed with tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons. The protesters reclaimed Tahrir Square for the people and held it tenaciously for fifteen days until their revolutionary aims were achieved.

Strolling across a bustling, jubilant Kasr al-Nil Bridge Monday night it was incredibly moving to see a row of citizens repainting the signature green railings of the bridge. Not workers, just normal proud Egyptians—and Egyptians of every stripe, Islamists, university preps, young rascals, dads holding babies, everyone. Someone might paint for 15 minutes then hand off the brush to the next passerby, who would gladly continue her revelry through doing her part for the city. I told a teenage painter I’d be very happy if he would autograph my book.*

Despite the vain efforts of the Mubarak regime to paint the protests as destructive, what has shone through most brilliantly is the genuinely constructive aim of the revolution. Amidst great motion, there was incredible focus. The fury was governed by a sense of purpose and pride and love of Egypt that moved millions to the street. It succeeded because it was beautiful.


* An elderly woman in niqab painting next to him overheard our conversation and said something to the effect of “write something about Egypt also”, so I handed him my pen. I can’t make out his handwriting very well except for “25 January”. Maybe Francesca or Neil can clue us in better…

The Life Aquatic w/ Eric Naiman

February 9, 2011

Critics gone wyld. From an review of an new Nabokov book penned by some ponce called Eric Naiman:

[Nabokov] mocked and celebrated… elephantine pedantry… in his novel Pale Fire, which is composed of a 999-line poem by an imaginary poet, John Shade, and a textual apparatus written by a crazed scholar, Kinbote…. Like most recent critics, Naiman belongs to the Kinbote school…. Every time Nabokov uses the words “associate” or “banal” in Bend Sinister, Naiman finds in them “ass” and “anal”, the clues to a homosexual sub-theme of the book. Every time in Lolita a word appears with “con” in it, from “constructed” through “connûmes” to “Conrad”, it contains a sexual equivocation on the French con…. In Pnin, a professor called Konstantin Chateau illicitly harbours not only con, of course, but also chat, and therefore pussy—a key to “Pnin‘s theme of aquatic pussy”.

What. Lit Crit.

Take it to the bridge

February 1, 2011

A soundtrack while you follow Al Jazeera updates all day: Leila Mourad, the voice of the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, singing her famous “Life is a Song”.

(Remember when there was no need to qualify “Egyptian Revolution” with “1952” because it was clear to what you referring? An old story, from long ago, remembered in black & white, when Cairo had spacious gardens and beautiful people spoke always in song.)

BOOK REPORT: Have You Ever Seen a Hydra Eat a Man?

August 24, 2010

Some useful context: The preface of Adam Curle’s To Tame the Hydra (link to awesome cover) describes his school years as spent “playing the flute (mostly Bach), writing poems, and reading the mystics.” He was appointed as “the first university lecturer in social psychology at Oxford” and was a soldier in World War II (achieving “senior rank”). For the last 50 years, he has devoted himself to large-scale conflict resolution in “a dozen war zones, mostly in Asia and Africa but also in Ireland, attempting to disentangle one lethal imbroglio after another.”

What a fucker! And he wrote letters, and he fished!

So essentially, the conceit of the book is using the mythical creature “hydra” as a metaphor for the manifold clusterfuck that is our contemporary cultural-socio-political economy; that we are all guilty, etc., etc.; points that bear repeating, of course. Representative excerpt describing said cultural/social/political economy since the Cold War era:

Statehood was growing weaker but often cruel and more tyrannical; gulfs between rich and poor were growing wider, both between and within nations; warlords were taking the place of statesmen; at the local and national levels desperate crimes of violence increased; the health of the environment was increasingly jeopardized and no political leader powerful enough to retard the deterioration was brave enough to do so; great transnational corporations, unaccountable save to their shareholders, had an increasing control over global markets; individual speculators acquired the ability to shake the world; everywhere it was the rich who had the power — they called, so to speak, the shots and in some places had little hesitation in shooting, literally or metaphorically, if their interests were challenged.

However, the chief characteristic of this emerging world is, I begin to see, the interconnectedness of the destructive forces, the interwoven and increasingly interacting worldwide forces of economic, political, and military power: a global culture of violence. This is fuelled at all levels, from individual to nation and perhaps even to international bloc, by the hope for power and profit. The greater the hope, the more urgent the craving. And the hope is intensified by a wealth of evidence showing amazing and unprecedented possibilities. By the same token, the fear of not gaining the advantages, or the dread of losing them, aggravates the despairing anger. These are explosive feelings.


But millions of people — most of the rich in the G7P [G7 plus/G20] countries, with their clients, agents and representatives in the poor ones — get some spin-off from the collective wealth of the Hydra. Even if they don’t actively support it or participate in its activities, they share by osmosis much of its outlook and morality. Usually without fully realising the fact, they are accomplices in the execution of violent acts. The acceptance of violence in the schools, in the prisons, in the homes, on the television, and above all in the minds of most of us, represents the hidden core of the worldwide culture of violence richly nourished by the Hydra, particularly in the globalisation of the last decades.  Even the majority who gain absolutely nothing from the Hydra, who are indeed ground down by it, are profoundly influenced by their longing for what it offers: they and we, the more prosperous, are BOTH a part of the Hydra.

Familiar territories for the (as previously noted) modest readership of this blogpage. To add a wrinkle to the robe, Curle’s prescription for humanity is “happiness” (something I fully support), which  incorporates certain Buddhist philosophical elements, such as desire begetting suffering, the profound interconnectedness of existence, and the semi-illusory nature of individual consciousness, etc., leading to the one significant theme of the book that I’m uncertain about (besides the poetry), which is his concept of the “extended mind.”

For the most part, the “extended mind” business is  a Jungian collective unconscious sort of thing (reminiscent of the type of over-lapping consciousnesses that Douglas Hofstadter proposes in I Am a Strange Loop); a somewhat nebulous entity that Curle explicitly describes as “NOT something extraordinary, exceptional, mystical,” and yet in the following paragraph he relates an episode wherein the Dalai Lama communicates directly TO HIM BRAIN. To further complicate things, in one of the final pages of the book, he suggests that the Hydra may be “a feature of the extended mind.” Would that the book, and Adam Curle’s life, were longer!

Also, for auxiliary context, check out some of his poetry (both excerpts from untitled pieces):

Loosen those lips, that sphincter, redeem that heart. Imagine with the

inner eye opened, the multitude of refugees.


the throngs of dispossessed criss-crossing each other’s trails

throughout the world, the ravening hunters ever closing in

with yelps of pleasure to drag them from their rickety shelters,

to strip them, dowse them with petrol, dance around excited,

masturbating, then strike a match


The light at the end of the tunnel

flickers and dies out;

there is no healing night,

only cover for more killing.

Bon Voyage, Neil Durnan

June 15, 2010

In William Dalrymple’s exceptional From the Holy Mountain, the author reports on the fading remnants of Eastern Christendom, retracing the spiritual travels of a sixth century monk from Constantinople through Anatolia and the Levant, across the Sinai, and down the Nile Valley toward the Great Kharga Oasis in Upper Egypt. After passing through present-day Israel & the Occupied Territories for several distressing & depressing chapters, Dalrymple and his account re-emerge in Alexandria, and repose in the sweet washed-out nostalgic air that that city has on special offer.

After the incessant tensions and hatreds of Israel, the glib self-righteousness of the settlers and the bleak despair of the Palestinians, Alexandria feels refreshingly detached from the troubles of the Middle East; indeed it feels detached from the Middle East altogether. The cafes with their baroque mirrors and gleaming tables have a vaguely French or Viennese air to them, while the facades or the townhouses with their stained tempera and shuttered windows are strikingly Italianate. …Always something of a European expatriate exiled on the coast of Africa… its art deco buildings still intact but emptied of the men and women who built and owned them, a city ‘clinging to the minds of old men like traces of perfume: Alexandria the capital of Memory’.

The author sits, writing in the first-floor breakfast room of the old Metropole Hotel on Saad Zagloul Square, where downtown meets the seaside, just a block or two from where Neil & I used to spend our weekends.

Pale warm winter sun streams in through the open shutters; outside you can hear the rattle and clang of the trams and the clip-clop of horse-drawn cabs passing up the Grand Corniche. The sky is clear, the wind is high, and beyond a shivering screen of palms the Mediterranean stretches out into the distance…

Ah, my human heart can see it now! And the heart’s memory can feel again how the sharp, clear Alexandrian morning will give way to a blanched midday and unfurl into a languid, heady dusk—like the one hovering beyond Baudelaire’s balcony:

Lovely the suns were in those twilights warm,
And space profound, and strong life’s pulsing flood

At this sky-painted hour in Alexandria, Neil & I would pour a pastis or two, pull the hotel armchairs up to our Juliet balcony, and profess necessary things about the Mediterranean: “look at that”, “that’s what I’m talking about”.

But the nights woke the real action—when the clip-clop of horse-drawn cabs found accompaniment in the clickety-clack of dominoes dancing on tables and the twin-twinkling of two light dice tumbling on backgammon boards. Night music!

Once night fell in earnest we’d hit the streets and, employing established methods of urban geomancy, we’d piece together a café crawl: Smoke a shisha and play a few rounds of dominoes at that warehouse-like café with the good lemonade; hit up the classy “wooden” café on the corniche to play some backgammon until the old men reading newspapers take over your game with unending advice; make the rounds to that semi-busted place with wicker chairs on astroturf in hope of running into the good hawkers peddling Gauloises and Al-Aqsa pocket-watches; and on and on and onward.

But eventually we’d end up at this little late-night dive dubbed “The Black & White” (for its checkerboard tiling scheme) and grab a table on the sidewalk patio away from the hissing TVs. The dozen or so two-person tables were covered in carpet (to grip the game boards), the domino boards were sprinkled with sand (to help the dominoes slide), and the floors were dappled with sawdust (to make it easy to sweep up Neil’s spilt tea, presumably). It was here that you could play some serious sports, filling up tiny chalkboard after tiny chalkboard with the hash marks of gentlemanly contest.

For those who like to hang out & make jokes, dominoes is a parlor game that has a lot going for it. For friends who play together a lot, the game’s simple routines can morph into amusing rituals, and the recurring patterns of play soon animate certain moves & pieces with particular significance; the pieces in particular adopt little identities, leading to a litany of funny terms & nicknames. Like a friendship in miniature, player-partners slowly build up their own inside jokes, jargon, and etiquette. [Egyptian Sports Professionals like Bronton, Frogcheck, and Franzo know this well.] On those many successive stays in Alexandria the game became a world unto itself, the site of endless riffing & laffs, the joy of rehearsing something you’ve perfected.

Eventually the hour arrives when it’s too late to sensibly drink another tea, smoke another shisha, or start another round. Ideally this realization arrives before the muezzin’s dawn call comes down from the minarets, pinging you with the guilty feeling that the pious have started their productive days, while you are still up playing sports in a cloud of fruity smoke. It is time to settle the bill and float back to the Hotel Crillon with heads buzzing off several hours of Arosa tea and apple nicotine. My memory of these trips home, funny-stumbling down the dark seaside alleys, has a definite soundtrack. It was a song that played in our regular rotation in those days: Edith Piaf’s “Polichinelle”. The song has a ludicrous opening, like drunk popeye sailors stumbling around the wharf. (Do those hokey woodblocks perhaps represent the clacking of dominoes?) Ahh, but after a minute or so the circus soundtrack is joined by a lush wave of strings and the song’s sentimentality blooms. Not that I get sentimental, mind you!


Home of the Library and the Lighthouse, Alexandria was the scholarly capital and greatest port city of the classical world—Queen of the Mediterranean. At the hub of trade routes between Africa, Asia, and Europe, it was here that Euclid refined geometry, Eratosthenes measured the diameter of the world, the Old Testament was translated into Greek, and Marc Antony eloped to kiss & die with Cleo. “She is undoubtedly the first city of the civilized world,” wrote Diodorus of Sicily in the first century bce, “certainly far ahead of the rest in elegance and extent and riches”. Yes, true. But we just liked hanging out.

Have fun back in the motherland, Neil. Hopefully, we’ll come visit you soon.

LoL Creme

May 7, 2010

Sometimes people inadvertently bury a “time capsule joke”—a joke that doesn’t have any meaning until it’s dug up decades later. Case in point: the vocalist/multi-instrumentalist dude for 1970s smooth soft-rockers 10cc (most famous for their summer-breeze-after-a-divorce-style-jam “I’m Not in Love“—which for my smooth dollar sounds to be yacht rock cousins with Hall & Oates’ “Nothing at All“.)

As demonstrated below in the annotated snippet from 10cc’s allmusic profile, 10cc’s band name is derived from “the metric total of semen ejaculated by the average male”. And what happens to be the name of one of the band’s singer/song-writers? LoL Creme. A fake named developed before the advent of the internet, it’s abbreviations, or jokes about internet abbreviations. Truly a visionary joke.

“Weather outside is just wild; Springtime is in a frenzy”

April 2, 2010

No use in fighting it any more, it’s time to get seasonally serious about reggae. Please to get realistic about this track, a smooth real spunker from one my fav’rite reggae groups, Carlton & The Shoes.

Give Me Little More

Princess Mononoke: A Highlight

March 26, 2010

Spirit Animals

November 11, 2009

Recent Harper’s “Reading”:

SARTRE: Yeah, after I took mescaline, I started seeing crabs around me all the time. They followed me in the streets, into class. I got used to them. I would wake up in the morning and say, “Good morning, my little ones, how did you sleep?” I would talk to them all the time. I would say, “Okay, guys, we’re going into class now, so we have to be still and quiet,” and they would be there, around my desk, absolutely still, until the bell rang.

GERASSI: A lot of them?

SARTRE: Actually, no, just three or four.

Reminded me of this anecdote about Nabokov’s The Original of Laura, the existing fragments of which are being published this week:

In October 1976, asked to nominate three books he had recently been reading, Nabokov chose a new translation of Dante’s Inferno, an illustrated guide to North American butterflies and a book of his own, “the not-quite-finished manuscript of a novel”. He had recently been ill, and, in his delirium, kept reading the novel aloud to a small dream audience consisting of “peacocks, pigeons, my long dead parents, two cypresses, several young nurses crouching around, and a family doctor so old as to be almost invisible”.


Also, I love this aside near the end of the Sartre interview excerpt:

GERASSI: From the end of the war until de Gaulle’s coup d’état in 1958, you were haunted by neither crabs nor depression?

SARTRE: We keep calling them crabs because of my play The Condemned of Altona, but they were really lobsters.

P.P.S. From The Wall Street Journal, referring to The Original of Laura:

For decades, Dmitri Nabokov kept the manuscript locked in a Swiss bank vault, allowing only a select group of Nabokov scholars to read it, and occasionally suggesting in interviews that he would destroy the novel. In 2008, more than 30 years after his father’s death, he announced to a German magazine his decision to publish the work, saying that his father had appeared to him in a vision and told him to “go ahead and publish.”