Monday, 25 April 2011

New Blog Banner

Yes, these do vary with my mood, and I do try to make them striking and dramatic. My favourite is probably the gold-and-white Alexander McQueen one that pops up every few weeks, but when I began blogging I initially went for Remedios Varo in a big way. Since then I've varied between Quirky Goff (Dave McKeans and pictures of creepy old dead things, like hybrid taxidermy and Edith Sitwell) and Thoughtful Hippy (Antony Gormleys in the rain, the less grim sort of Paul Nash painting, images from my own Archetypal Tarot.) I am currently trying to decide whether it would be a) enormously annoying and/or b) colossally vulgar to do that thing whereby a piece of music starts to play when you open the blog. It would probably be Lisa Gerrard playing the Hungarian cymbalon v. quietly, but I am trying to avoid turning this blog into one enormous Gesamptkitschwerk.

Talking of Lisa Gerrard, massive hat-tip to Black Nyx for this clip:

I got as far as the sight of the performer's back walking up to the stage and I thought, 'No. No!!..YES!!! It IS! IT'S A LISA GERRARD DRAG ACT!'

For so, dear reader, it was. I'd have performed this service to mankind's greater joy myself, were it not for the fact that when it comes to impersonating a six foot, blonde, enigmatic Australian chanteuse, looking like a younger version of Brian Blessed probably isn't the best place to start.

Anyway, back to the banner. The figures are taken from the extraordinary terracotta figures by Niccolò dell'Arca (1462-63) in Santa Maria della Vita, in Bologna. On the left, Mary of Cleophas, on the right, Mary Magdalen. I saw this picture---the women's elemental anguish and horror at the deposition of Christ's body---in a copy of Church Times last night, which is right up there in my magazine rack next to the latest Journal of Nonlinear Phenomena in Complex Systems. I think we all agree they have an eerie and haunting power.

Plus, if you flipped Mary Magdalen's hands over at the wrists, she'd look just like a mediæval bacchant. Which I thought was cool.


κάλλιστον μὲν ἐγὼ λείπω φάος ἠελίοιο,
δεύτερον ἄστρα φαεινὰ σεληναίης τε πρόσωπον
ἠδὲ καὶ ὡραίους σικύους καὶ μῆλα καὶ ὄγχνας

The most beautiful thing I leave behind? Sunlight.
Then the bright stars, the moon's face;
cucumbers in their season, the fruit of appletrees, the pears.

This fragment by the 5th century BC Greek lyric poet Praxilla survives only because the sophist Zenobius quoted it in order to explain the expression 'dafter than Praxilla's Adonis'. In the fragment, the god Adonis is languishing in the underworld, and is asked what he misses most about the world of the living. Sun, moon, and stars, comes the reply---that, and a decent greengrocer.

I have come to the conclusion that this fragment has something sublime about it: an innocence, an immersive joy in quiddity and the quotidian. He doesn't say 'bright gold' or 'an army in array', something patriarchal and aristocratic, but rather fuses cosmic delight with the homely, earthy, and peasantlike. The poignancy of the still life. There's something Adamic here, a great uncorrupted and wondering love.

Sunday, 24 April 2011


St Anthony and the Centaur

(for Maggie Ross)

There is another world, and it is this one.

He knows this is no devil, which breed
only the nausea of loss. No. Here is horse sweat,
sage, wild scent of trampled spurge,

flanks like oiled wood, and human eyes.
The slow rhythm of four lungs, two hearts,
beating wary vigil by the forest edge.

―Where is the path? To holy Paul of Thebes.
You must know him. He dwells in this wilderness, at a spring
beside a single tree. A raven brings to him his bread.

The centaur gives no answer. The nostrils flare
with shifting breath, stirring flies in chestnut hollows.
How can the hooves among the ferns be shod?

―We another. My kind. As thine do not.
Our bloods are knit in mercy. We have not forgot
that we are earthborn, and know no exile hence.

A blessing passes. Now the centaur points out the road,
and each to each bows low. Behold: shy annunciation
of the fathomless and hybrid Word.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Blogs I actually read---and envy

The blog list down the side has needed updating for an age. But here is a little rundown of the writers whose words I hang on every day: the criteria include the excellence of the writing and the 'liveness' of the blog (I know I've been bad about updating regularly this year, but I've paid for it by haemorrhaging readers all over the place); extra points for glossy visual style too.

Black Nyx

Wholly fabulous audiovisual spectacle: moody urban chic meets elusive occulture.

Lathophobic Aphasia

Magnificently dyspeptic wit and rhetoric from Vilges Suola: giving people a piece of one's mind elevated to the status of high art, with an effect oddly like Victoria Wood interviewing Gore Vidal.

Heresy Corner

Always outstanding current affairs blog, with stratospherically good writing. Worth it especially for this affectionate skewering (if such a thing is possible) of Guardianista Laurie Penny's fathomless self-involvement.

Voice in the Wilderness

Compelling, austerely beautiful writing on the contemplative life and the Work of Silence by my friend, the extraordinary Anglican solitary Maggie Ross.

A Don's Life

Prof. Mary Beard of Newnham College, Cambridge on UK academia, politics, and the ancient world. Profound learning put across utterly unpretentiously and with tremendous wit.

Nico Muhly

Frighteningly good, hyperkinetically hip writing from the dismayingly brilliant, handsome and successful composer. Who's, like, younger than me.


Knottily precise, learned book reviews with obiter dicta and assorted thoughtful gadelica, of simply astounding, humbling quality, and impossible quantity.


Language-creation, confessional Celtica, and spluttering rage from the ever-witty Deiniol.
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