Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Michaelmas



Term is about to start...

Friday, 17 August 2012

Keeping On


At college I had a wise, melancholy friend called Peter. Perhaps a little bit on the spectrum, he had a vast, kindly, and humane intellect, and I learned a great deal from him. We were one of three students reading for Classics and English in our college and had a cheerful rivalry, making topic choices for Finals that absolutely thumbnail us. Peter went for Satire and Victorian Receptions of Classical Literature, wading through The Unfortunate Traveller and Marius the Epicurean; I chose Pastoral and Medieval Welsh, struggling haltingly from Mantuan to the Mabinogi. We both did Ovid, for which were taught by a magnificent old dame who was as bald as an egg and who imparted in me a deep and abiding loathing of that clever-clever Roman lickspittle.

Peter once impressed me deeply by outlining his book of short stories, to be entitled Failures of Nerve, all of which were about doom-blasted self-thwartings in rainy Midlands towns, spun with wry despair. (The tone was Sophocles-reincarnates-as-Alan-Bennett.) I was in awe at the idea that anyone I knew might actually become a creative writer, having not an ounce of ability in that direction myself. Years earlier, at school, I'd been flung into an envious funk by a GCSE English classmate who announced smugly that he'd written a novel. Sheer native invidiousness has burned the title---No Drums, No Trumpets---into my mind, seventeen years later. I never read a word of it but (in the permanent state of elemental shame that characterized my teens) I was certain that I was falling behind, would never amount to anything, et relicta.

So I retreated into an involuted mental landscape of dodgy Celtic antiquarianism, mist-shrouded dolmens, and dangly druidical tat. I can still improvise a Carmen Gadelicum on the spot: 'I bathe your brows in the juice of the wild bee, in the milk of the rasps, in the fruit of the loom! Sea-cast of the seventh wave be to you, sea-fruit of the ploughed field be to you, sea-weed of the sea-like sea be to you! May the Encompasser encompass you about, from day until dark, from dark until day!'

Still, romanticism (as Natalie Barney said) is a disease of childhood: catch it young and you become robust.

Books and failing nerves are on my mind at the moment: absolutely shattered by the process of finishing the current chapter in Ireland's Immortals, currently standing at 20,000 words on 'Fiona Macleod', James Stephens, James Cousins (interesting man but a dreadful poet, by the way), W. Y. Evans-Wentz, and others. That's still only half the length of the previous chapter I wrote but it was almost more work: lots of secondary material in Scottish Gaelic (thank GOD I did that paper on the language in 2004), biographies for most of the major figures, much more theory. I've also been aspiring to a more polished writing style with less clunkiness to it. I've been waking in the pit of the night and wondering if I can actually pull the damn project off: 1500 years and hundreds of primary texts. Ronald Hutton does this sort of thing with marvellous, Zen-like ease---I've watched him working at the kitchen table and it verges on the uncanny---but I'm finding it more like a hair-raising bronco ride. Still, as Tom Paulin says, don't get it right, get it written

Back to ‘Alasdair MacGilleMhìcheil agus Cultar Dùthchasach’...

Monday, 13 August 2012

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Years passing like sand in the corner of an eye...


I found a mixtape (remember those?) which my friend Ian had made for me c. 1998. Ian changed, and indeed made, my musical taste more than anyone else, introducing me to Dead Can Dance, the Cocteau Twins, and a whole series of bands and singers who have long since become touchstones of my identity. Listening to the tracks on YouTube was a wonderful trip down memory lane, back to a more innocent time when Ian, suave in a velvet smoking jacket and eyeliner, used to cart moony, morose old me around Oxford in a Citroen 2CV with moss growing out of the roof.












Monday, 16 July 2012

Madge


As a student I worked for a several years for a monstrously obese old queen called Norman Gray, who ran a crammer in Oxford. He was famous for bon mots ('I have given up the pleasures of the bed [wheeze, wobble] for the pleasures of the table...') and for a series of outre stories. One of the worst was that he used to take his Rolls (yes) to Italy every summer, and leave it unlocked in some piazza while he went for dinner. 'And when I came back', he averred, 'it would be full of boys.'

How nice, therefore, to see Madonna applying much the same principle in the deliciously instagrammed  video for Turn Up the Radio. As nugatory and meretricious as anything she's done lately, it's still worth a look.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Jeff covers Nusrat



This is an extraordinary performance by an extraordinary artitst. Ben first alerted me to the fact that Jeff Buckley had covered one or two of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's ecstatic qawwali songs. What a talent the poor fellow had, dead at 30.

The song starts at 3.30ish.

* * *

And again: here Tori Amos does something wonderful with Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Fall



My dreams are just like this!

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Esther Ofarim



Stunned. Rubbled. 

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

UCAS Personal Statement


I've just spent the day doing Open Day meetings with potential applicants to my college for English, who were quite naturally particularly anxious about what to put on the UCAS Personal Statement. I thought I'd do something constructive and show what I would actually like to see from a sixth-form student applying to read English. So here's a fantasy UCAS form, with a commentary explaining why it is as eye-catching as it is. Just to be clear: I wrote this myself in the style that a VERY good Oxbridge applicant might just about muster. This represents the work of no actual candidate, and is merely one individual don's view of the features which would announce an applicant to be potentially top-drawer.


* * *

Jo Hertford: PERSONAL STATEMENT

Reading literature is my passion, and I'm keen to study English in order to broaden and deepen my knowledge and my engagement with literary cultures.

At school I've been studying Othello, and as an AS psychology student I was particularly struck by the range of emotional and psychic extremes in the play: Othello's induced jealousy and insecurity (very different from that of Leontes in The Winter's Tale), Desdemonda's hero-worship, Iago's terrifying manipulativeness and bleak sociopathy. I've become aware of how intricately these emotional contours are tied to and constituted by the different registers of language: when Othello tells Desdemona about his adventures, the bombastic language echoes Marlowe; as he smothers her, it anticipates Milton in its mixture of learned polysyllables and stern monosyllables. I've not seen Othello on the stage but I have had some exposure to Shakespeare live by visiting the Globe Theatre. Last year I saw The Tempest and I followed this up by reading the play and watching two very different film adaptations of Shakespeare's text: the painterly Prospero's Books by Peter Greenaway, which I found confusing though beautiful, and Julie Taymor's version with Helen Mirren as a gender-switched 'Prospera', which I felt was the less artistically successful of the two.

Beyond Shakespeare, I've tried to increase my exposure to poetry in English. In school I've read Carol Ann Duffy but also some of D. H. Lawrence's poetry, in which I found the mixture of vivid images with a prosy, structureless style fascinating but frustrating. I've also read Derek Walcott's Omeros for A2 and I was interested in the way that it rewrites---indeed, radically reimagines---Homer, and so is itself a kind of epic of Caribbean identity, a recursive transplantation of a great western classic. (I'm aware that critics have also seen The Tempest as an early postcolonial text, with Caliban, who gets the most beautiful verse in the play, as a kind of enslaved native.) I've also read Wuthering Heights, which startled me with its constant violence (child mutilation, casual animal cruelty). I was interested to see that level of turbulence and brutality enclosed, 'nested' really, within a narrative structure of remarkable complexity and overlapping voices. To find out more about the Brontes I read Jane Eyre (and watched the recent adaptation), and then from that I went on to Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea---a novel which makes the (once again) Caribbean postcolonial subtext of Jane Eyre terrifyingly explicit. I'm currently reading Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies, which chimes well with my A2 study of Tudor history though I find the immersive first-person voice difficult to follow at times.

I'm conscious that some of the courses for which I've applied emphasise full period-coverage; I've not had much exposure to medieval English literature yet, so I find this an exciting prospect. Last Christmas (fittingly enough in snowy weather) I read Simon Armitage's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the beautiful, ironic perfection of the poem's structure---as well as its vivid picture of slightly callow courtly life---impressed me deeply. I went on to get Jane Draycott's exquisite version of Pearl by the same poet, and though I got a lot from Bernard O'Donoghue's introduction I'm sure I was missing the deeper implications of this mysterious work, so I'd love to study it in the original.

In extracurricular terms I like singing and acting and going to the cinema; I'm an outgoing person and likely to flourish in a friendly and close-knit place. I'd be very grateful if you would consider my application.

* * *

Commentary


Jo Hertford: PERSONAL STATEMENT

Reading literature is my passion, and I'm keen to study English in order to broaden and deepen my knowledge and my engagement with literary cultures.

Completely straightforward, unshowy, and reasonable statement of fact. No artificial attempt to grab the reader's attention or impress, which usually backfires and sounds histrionic or vapid. ('Since I was a foetus I've been filled with a coruscating passion for English literature...')

At school I've been studying Othello, and as an AS psychology student I was particularly struck by the range of emotional and psychic extremes in the play: Othello's induced jealousy and insecurity (very different from that of Leontes in The Winter's Tale), Desdemonda's hero-worship, Iago's terrifying manipulativeness and bleak sociopathy.

Gets straight on with it. Attractively written, alerts us to other AS/A2s beyond English and shows that the applicant can think about the links between subjects. Unusual Shakespeare play dropped in, and rather sweetly demonstrates in parentheses the crucial ability to make thoughtful comparisons BETWEEN plays. Lots of potential questions here.

 I've become aware of how intricately these emotional contours are tied to and constituted by the different registers of language: when Othello tells Desdemona about his adventures, the bombastic language echoes Marlowe; as he smothers her, it anticipates Milton in its mixture of learned polysyllables and stern monosyllables. 

Ties it down to language and intimate knowledge of the play; the observations come from Harold Bloom, but the candidate has the sense not to mention him.

I've not seen Othello on the stage but I have had some exposure to Shakespeare live by visiting the Globe Theatre. 

Anticipates obvious question.

Last year I saw The Tempest and I followed this up by reading the play and watching two very different film adaptations of Shakespeare's text: the painterly Prospero's Books by Peter Greenaway, which I found confusing though beautiful, and Julie Taymor's version with Helen Mirren as a gender-switched 'Prospera', which I felt was the less artistically successful of the two.

Striking: shows excellent engagement and capacity for extracurricular reading. Lovely to hear about adaptations of Shakespeare and the plays in performance. Nicely directs us to questions the candidate would like to answer. ('Tell us more about why you thought...')

Beyond Shakespeare, 

aware of importance of variety

I've tried to increase my exposure to poetry in English. In school I've read Carol Ann Duffy but also some of D. H. Lawrence's poetry, in which I found the mixture of vivid images with a prosy, structureless style fascinating but frustrating.

Interesting, unusual: gone from Shakespeare to the 20th century: bearing out the earlier comment about breadth.

 I've also read Derek Walcott's Omeros for A2 and I was interested in the way that it rewrites---indeed, radically reimagines---Homer, and so is itself a kind of epic of Caribbean identity, a recursive transplantation of a great western classic. (I'm aware that critics have also seen The Tempest as an early postcolonial text, with Caliban, who gets the most beautiful verse in the play, as a kind of enslaved native.) 

Well written: shows the candidate has read a very unusual text, anticipates obvious question ('How does it adapt Homer and why?'), and also shows that the candidate is capable of reading either the introduction to her Arden text of The Tempest or looking at the wikipedia page. Demonstration of awareness of critical traditions.

I've also read Wuthering Heights, which startled me with its constant violence (child mutilation, casual animal cruelty). I was interested to see that level of turbulence and brutality enclosed, 'nested' really, within a narrative structure of remarkable complexity and overlapping voices. 

Away from drama and poetry to the novel: again, wide-ranging and engaged. Lifts us out of the level of plot-recitation by commenting on narrative structure.

To find out more about the Brontes I read Jane Eyre (and watched the recent adaptation), and then from that I went on to Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea---a novel which makes the (once again) Caribbean postcolonial subtext of Jane Eyre terrifyingly explicit. 

Capable of following own intellectual lead: more novels, awareness of intertextuality. (Also demonstrated in discussion of Omeros.) Evidently a wide reader: excellent.

I'm currently reading Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies, which chimes well with my A2 study of Tudor history though I find the immersive first-person voice difficult to follow at times.

Keeps abreast of contemporary literature; links between subjects studied again.

I'm conscious that some of the courses for which I've applied emphasise full period-coverage; 

capable of reading a website...

I've not had much exposure to medieval English literature yet, 

Sweet! And honest, without great reams of self-promotion...

so I find this an exciting prospect. Last Christmas (fittingly enough in snowy weather) I read Simon Armitage's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the beautiful, ironic perfection of the poem's structure---as well as its vivid picture of slightly callow courtly life---

very observant

impressed me deeply. I went on to get Jane Draycott's exquisite version of Pearl by the same poet, and though I got a lot from Bernard O'Donoghue's introduction I'm sure I was missing the deeper implications of this mysterious work, so I'd love to study it in the original.

Humble, and yet learned and observant. Has now demonstrated reading in four periods, in multiple genres, an ability to write, clear analytical power, and an attention to the way texts reflect or speak to one another. Exemplary.

In extracurricular terms I like singing and acting and going to the cinema; I'm an outgoing person and likely to flourish in a friendly and close-knit place. I'd be very grateful if you would consider my application.

Keeps the non-English stuff to an absolute minimum; sensibly, as it is barely relevant to anything. Clean, adult, straight-up close, without any frothing, fawning, or flummery.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Tales


I asked the Unconscious for a dream the other day to illuminate a particular emotional problem, and promptly got back two unknown Canterbury Tales. The first---The Tale of the Tailour---was a beast-story along the lines of Androcles and the Lion. The second, The Prologue and Tale of the Clerkesse, was about my dear friend Melanie, and I can just remember some of it:

Hire shoon in sooth were redde and blakke,
And in hire scarlet ledyr sacke 
She carried Tully and eke Jherome;
And yet she wold nat goon to Rome,
But ysettled was in Chirche of Engelond,
For there had she gret joie yfond;
But for al that verray mirth and blyss
Housbonde hadde she noon, ywis...

So...that was helpful. Perhaps more will emerge.

Monday, 18 June 2012

'My cold mad father, my cold mad feary father...'


...to quote Finnegans Wake. Families are funny things. I've popped back to Canterbury for the weekend, and walked straight into a saddening row with my dear old father.

A little background. My dad is an odd fellow, and over the years I've learned---have had to learn---that the price for his splendid beholden-to-no-man, I'll-do-as-I-please eccentricity is a certain tendency to enter a bewildering state of fugue when confronted by any emotional obligation. (The minute my grandmother died, he went off to play his usual Sunday game of tennis; my mother, bereaved of her much-loved mother that very hour, was left to drive herself home from the hospital.) In other words, he will sometimes behave as if the feelings of other people close to him do not exist, and as if any attempt to argue for their claim upon his time is an outrageous form of persecution. He's also, I should add, a generous, kindly, amusing and reliable man, who loves nature and gardening; in many ways I resemble him.* I love him very much.

Anyway. On the 18th of August, my mother and father are coming to Oxford to attend a half-cousin's wedding (my grandfather's second wife's granddaughter). They are staying overnight in my college, which I've arranged, and the next morning are going to see the wonderfully-refurbished Ashmolean Museum, which is five minutes' walk away. The row happened because dad made it clear that he would not want to---and would make no plans to---'socialise' with me while they are in Oxford, despite staying in a room fifty feet from my flat: 'If you can just get us the room and the parking space, that would be great.' He was actually quite angry at the suggestion that they might walk up the stairs to have a cup of coffee with me and see my flat. (I feel rather upset writing this.) 

Further background: my mum and dad have never visited me anywhere I've lived since I left home at 18, and never expressed any desire to do so. They never saw my old house and garden in Lake St; they never visited Cambridge. And yet this time they are staying the night in the building in which I live and yet dad seems horrified by the idea of dropping in. Why?! He's always delighted to see me when I come back to the family home. 

I think I understand it a little. Like me, dad's a committed Taurean and he just really hates disruption to his routine, or (worse) any sense, as I noted above, of being obliged to take someone else's feelings into account in determining how he behaves. (My friend Bill aptly quoted Auden at me today: '...so obsessive a ritualist, / a pleasant surprise makes him cross'). He will have things on his own terms or not at all. Nevertheless, I found the idea that when I see mum and dad we are 'socializing' particularly odd, as though I cease to be their son when not chez eux, but become something between a meddling nephew and a tiresome golfing acquaintance. Talk about alienating. I find it bizarre that they had decided to stay overnight in Oxford some months ago but clearly weren't going to mention this fact to me; until I got them the room in college, the idea that they might visit me had clearly simply not occurred to them. It's all just a bit...mad, and rather reminiscent of the time I was trying to help my dad access his voicemail and found that my number is in his phone under my full name, complete with surname. I mean, wow.

I'm trying to decide how to proceed. Mum, of course, would love to see where I live and have a tour of Lazarus College; Father Williams wants to be out of there as quick as possible, ideally (and this has been made overt and explicit) without seeing me at all, even for ten minutes.

I suppose you just have to take people as they are,  don't you?


* * *


* When I got home on Saturday I went to open a door near the front of the house. 'Don't open that!!' hissed my father. 'It's full of bees.' What next? A gnu under the stairs? Clockwork Nazis in the attic?! It baffles science.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Orvillecopter



Reproduced without comment.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Normal Service

Sorry, all: I'm marking a half run of scripts for English Finals, c. 345 individual essays. It's not, in all honesty, one of the happier tasks demanded by academe, but I promise that will come to and blog again shortly. Just clinging on until the end of term here.

Monday, 14 May 2012

What?!

Asked for ID in Sainburys AGAIN! This is ridiculous. I am 32 years old.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Nodding off


When I'm drifting off to sleep (which I do much better here in quiet Oxford than I did in crazily noisy Cambridge) I have a series of rituals which take the mind over the threshold from waking to dreaming. Often at this point a lot of creative images start pinging up, or phrases from unwritten poems, or snatches of music, but I usually end up in some random fantasy. A favourite one is that I am a 17th century Jesuit converted to Tibetan Buddhism, sitting with some butter tea in Kham and trying to write an account of Buddhist doctrine in Latin to send back to Europe. I set myself a little task---'explain the nature of a meditation deity'---and convert it into Latin prose.* I usually get a couple of paragraphs in before I start zedding away merrily.


I did Latin from eight and Greek from twelve (and then read Classics and English), you see, so effectively I did thirteen years of intense Roman stuff. It's surprising how much of it has stuck and how it doesn't take me long to start chatting away to myself. Just to reassure you, I do realise this is the absolute definition of being a) absurd, and b) over-educated. I started translating verses in honour of Tara the other night into hexameters, but I was always rubbish at Latin verse composition (I can't scan very well).

| - - | -     - | -  - |     -  u u | -    u   u | - - |
Tara te Autumni accumulentem et lunas

|- u  u | - - | -    - | -   u    u | -  u u | -   u |
dea saluto sic stellarum et millia sancta...

'O Goddess Tara, you I greet, who gather the moons of Autumn thus, as well as holy thousands of stars...'

Except there'd be bloody, BLOODY elision between the -i of Autumni and the a- of accumulentem. Drat.

Still, I was quite pleased with IO TARA TUTARE TURE SOTERA, 'Oh! Tara Saviouress, preserve [us] with [the] incense [of your compassion]', which is actually quite close to the Tara mantra in Sanskrit.

* * *


* '...diuinitates, ut uidentur, non sunt numina superiores mundos remotos incolentes qui homines e periculis retrahunt, quamquam manifestationes eorum ad hunc modum apparent in specie; si modo naturam ueram mentis intellegeremus, di uel diuinitates sese patefaciant non alteros esse quam mente nostrum. Nobis uiuentibus in dualitate et inopibus intellectus, diuinitates dualitatis theatrum intrabunt sic propinquitatem instituentes inter cultorem deosque. Propone tibi deum in somnio occursum: et diuinitas et somniens (ille est, tu ipse) existere uidetur. Sed uero diuinitatis perceptor et diuinitas manifestationes ex essentia inexpressabili una ambo sunt, scilicet mens ipsa. Natura uera mentis est mentis natura in se, ut est, uacua et sine elaborationes uel errores uel rationis imagines. Cur natura mentis diuina appellatur? Propter impassibilitatem eius inopiamque perturbationum, et quia felicitas superior est; haec felicitas non est illa reletiua huius mundi, quae gaudiorum sensus nitens in euanescentibus est, sed felicitas quae in mente ipsa inhaerescet, ultra dualitatem.'

[...deities, as they seem, are not numinous powers inhabiting faraway worlds who rescue humans from danger, although their manifestations appear thus; if we understood the true nature of mind, gods or deities would reveal themselves to be not other than our mind. Given that we live in duality and in a want of understanding, deities will enter the theatre of duality thus establishing a closeness between the worshipper and the gods. Imagine a god whom one has met in a dream: both the deity and the dreamer (that is, yourself) seem to exist. But in truth he who perceives the deity and the deity are both manifestations of a single inexpressible essence, namely mind itself. The true nature of mind is the mind's nature in itself, as it is, empty and free from elaborations or errors or the images of thought. Why is the nature of mind termed 'divine'? On account of its freedom from suffering and its lack of disturbances, and because it is superior bliss; this bliss is not that relative bliss of this world, which is a sense of happiness resting on things which pass away, but a bliss which is inherent in mind itself, beyond duality.]

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Derick Thomson

The great Prof. Derick Thomson is dead. I never met him, but was exposed to his work when I was learning Middle Welsh and Scottish Gaelic as a graduate student; he produced one of the most useful student editions of a major medieval Welsh text, Branwen uerch Lyr, for the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, and a slew of crucial works on his native Gaelic, including the excellent A Companion to Gaelic Scotland. A great---a very great---man.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Edyucayshun


We are absolutely bloody doomed. 

Monday, 2 April 2012

Truth or Dare



Great ad, but has anybody smelled it yet?!

Battle of the Sexes




Beautiful, beautiful. And even more beautiful if you're in on the twist.

Jammy


Sitting in my parents' lovely sunny kitchen at midday. My father is drinking his first glass of wine and singing his usual śvānagita or Song of Dog ('Who's a lovely doggie? Where's the lovely, beautiful big doggie?? Go on, bring me the slipper, yes, the slipper, there, no, the SLIPPER, oh, for God's sake, you miserable useless bastard bloody hound, the slipper....') 

I myself am typing the book, and contemplating the astrological weather. That conjunction of Jupiter and Venus has been having a lovely time rocking back and forth over my natal Sun-Chiron in Taurus, making an exact aspect yesterday with my Moon-Mars-Jupiter conjunction in Leo. One might have expected a stroke of good fortune, but I was nevertheless a bit wary when an elderly friend of Mother Williams asked if I would like to have a look at his Anglo-Saxon library, because he wanted to divest himself of it and would like it to go to a good home. 

We trotted round yesterday afternoon, and my hopes were not much higher than a moth-eaten copy of Heaney's Beowulf. What I actually got was £3,000 worth of superb academic hardbacks on every aspect of Anglo-Saxon life and literature, including many long out-of-print volumes which would cost £30-50 on abebooks. These included a FULL RUN of the crucial, heavyweight journal Anglo-Saxon England. I've just gone from having a threadbare Old English library to having---I'm pretty sure---one of the best in Oxford. I was speechless with gratitude, and I am trying to think of what I can send as a present to say a very heartfelt thank you.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Gamekeeper turned Poacher

I quote from the cheerfully insane and inimitably swollen-headed website of Welsh we're-not-witches 'Y Plant Don' (no need for the article, dears, because the proper name makes it definite). It's tedious, but hang in there for the delicious twist:

* * *

Now to the realities of Cosmic Order.

The earth orbits our star, the Sun, in an anticlockwise direction, and indeed spins in a similar motion on its axis every 24 hours. After noon, therefore, WE travel from the Sun's light in an anticlockwise movement, and after the depth of night, WE travel back towards the sun - still in an anticlockwise motion. (All planets orbit anticlockwise and our entire galaxy rotates in this manner.) This is Nature's reality.

With this in mind we should now start to doubt the validity of compass points which are arbitrary, as our luminary does not rise in the East, nor sink in the West. Of the five main compass points, only the fifth (upon which all the others depend for existence & meaning) remains certain and sure - the point HERE!

1. While facing the sun (usually called South) our position is simply 'AT NOON'.

2. Having rotated in a quadrant away from the sun in an anticlockwise direction, we are at the so-called East of OUR journey, while the Sun is to our so-called West. Subjectively, the important thing is we are still here, but - during EVENING.

3. Similarly the commonly termed North of our circle is our NIGHT, with the Sun behind us.

4. The common position of West in our anticlockwise journey in twenty-four hours is simply our position at MORNING as we continue our spin back to noon. Therefore in all our dealings, on one natural truth we can rely without fear of error - WE ARE ALWAYS HERE. And with that statement the star of our system will smile in agreement!

To fully appreciate the issue one should investigate it diagrammatically on paper then, if required, walk it through. The basic benchmark is this - keep the Sun behind you in your working.

^
<
V
>
^
(noon)
.(even)
(night)
(morn)
(noon)
sun in S
sun in W
sun in N
sun in E
sun in S
fire
water
earth
air
fire

The V points in the direction you are standing as you rotate through each quadrant anticlockwise.
Sun in S, W, N, E = the position the sun appears to be at - TO YOU.

Are there hints in the Legends pointing to this genre of thought? Indeed Yes. In the Legend of Amaethon Uab Dôn, we read: "‘He will come from the south’, said Lleu, ‘he and his finest men and his hosts.'"

He refers here to Arawn the Lord of The Underworld, Otherworld or Invisible Realms - the kingdom of protyles whence the High Deities are invited. And at night, the sun is in the North as is Kaer Dathyl, the home of Gwydyon (Sun God) who has inherited the seat from Math. Arawn confirms this as he says: " ‘I will send you as a messenger’, said he, ‘to your lord, Gwydion son of Dôn, where he is in Caer Dathl.'"

* * *

I've been cackling like a witch for the last twenty minutes. The ancient 'Legend of Amaethon Uab Don' quoted here as evidence for this mystic cosmological bollocks was penned over a month or so by yours truly, c. 2008, while glugging back the diet coke in Jesus College Oxford computer room. The website of this bunch of chumps not only has copied my entire text (in English and Middle Welsh), but also begins with a long and pompous screed about how wicked it is to steal other people's material. You only have to read my original introduction---or do a little googling!---to see that Amaethon was an act of homage, a piece of Iolosim. And, significantly enough, my name (even as supposed 'editor' of this 'rediscovered' text) is not mentioned anywhere.

Whatever else 'Y Plant Don' may be, they're thieving dolts.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

KJV

I've been reading Harold Bloom's latest, The Shadow of a Great Rock: a Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible, which is repetitiously full of his usual tics but also very much worth reading. The oddest verses quoted have to be Jeremiah 4:19-20, which remind me strongly of that episode of food poisoning I had in late January:

My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.

Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled: suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment.

The first verse is self-evidently appropriate, but I can vouch that there was a point about 3am on that apocalyptic night when the chintz might well have been at risk also.

Four new songs





Wasting time

Playing with my new iMac. It has a creepy function on photobooth which gives you the eyes of an insect (or of Gaga in Bad Romance) but it also makes a lovely Coptic icon. Here is me as Abbot Makarios the Terminally Dim.


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Exeter College Homophobia

I am LIVID, here, thanks to the most egregious breach of LGBT rights in Oxford that I can remember. I'm not a tremendous banger of the gay rights drum personally (I used to feel quite lukewarm about gay marriage, for example) but current events have me hopping mad.

It's common for Oxford colleges to make cash in the holidays by renting out student rooms and their facilities as conference venues. Exeter college, which is right next door---I can practically touch it from my kitchen window---has, in its wisdom, signed a contract with a Christian group of such staggering nastiness that it leaves me speechless. 'Christian Concern'---forgive me not linking to the scumsucking bastards---will be descending on Exeter in the next few weeks, for dinners in hall and all sorts of jolly discussions. No doubt of things like 'corrective therapy' for gay people, which they have publicly supported---A QUACK 'THERAPY' WHICH CONSISTS OF THE TORTURE OF VERY VULNERABLE PEOPLE, let's not forget---and how they can carry on opposing every single advance in human rights for LGBT people tabled in the UK or US.

This is not a free speech issue, as this kind of organisation usually tries to claim. I think their views are repellent and damaging but they are welcome to hold them. But what should never have been allowed is that they should have been given a forum by a constituent college of the University of Oxford, complete with the patina of respectability that confers. The University makes it absolutely clear that it opposes discrimination, values diversity, and works to provide a space where LGBT students and staff can feel safe. I doubt I'll feel very safe with people scheming ten yards from my flat to get my human rights rolled back, or get me sacked because of my sexual orientation, or liken me to a paedophile, thanks (all things which Christian Concern and its allied bodies have supported). How is it possible to 'value' your LGBT staff and students and allow this?! What were Exeter thinking?!

Exeter's Rector, an apparently fundamentally incurious economist called Frances Cairncross, seems to have shown no understanding at all in her public statements of the seriousness of the situation in which she finds herself. There needed to be a grovelling apology and a cancellation, immediately. Instead, Cairncross---who seems adept at pouring soothing oil onto troubled flames---released a statement of stump-like immovability, saying, effectively: 'they've agreed to abide by our rules while they're in College, but we're not going to check.' Perhaps we'll see neo-nazis at Exeter next, hosting conferences on the enduring value ofThe Protocols of the Elders of Zion. After all, the College has to make money somehow, and if such people abide by the College's rules while they are under its roof, what's the problem?

The bottom line: if Cairncross is not considering her position as Rector, she damn well should be.

Hanging On



Spectacular remix of a favourite song: Pat Grossi's beautiful falsetto with its recurring trilling, upward phrase and the occasional melismatic vocalise, all meshing in a thrumming, passionate, choral texture. I love it. It's even more beautiful than the unremixed version.

The Lleu in the Hay

I am at present merely surviving until the end of term, eight days hence. Addled with tiredness, I keep coming out with non-sequiturs and randomised riffs. Yesterday began with my graduate Math uab Mathonwy class, in which we had the passage where Lleu Llaw Gyffes describes to his wife the elaborate, folktale circumstances necessary for him to be killed:

'It is not easy to kill me with a blow. It would be necessary to spend a year making the spear with which I would be struck, working on it only during Sunday Mass....I cannot be killed indoors, nor out of doors; I cannot be killed on horseback nor on foot.'

'Well', she said, 'how can you be killed?'

...'By making a bath for me on a riverbank, and constructing an arched roof above the tub, and then thatching that well and watertight. And bringing a billy-goat, and standing it beside the tub; and I place one foot on the back of the billy-goat and the other on the edge of the tub. And whoever would strike me in that position would bring about my death.'

I began my usual brand of rambling commentary. (In order to follow what happened, you have to understand that I had recently seen this video of the lunatic lisper Tim Tebow reading Dr Seuss.)

'So, we have an elaborate, deliberately bizarre series of unfulfillable stipulations here. Lleu can't be killed on horseback, nor on foot, and he has to be in an environment which is doubly liminal between land and water (on the tub's edge and on the riverbank). With a bit of thought we can reconstruct the 'destiny' about his death which we have never in fact seen sworn upon him in the text itself---presumably with Math or Gwydion as the source of the magical conditions: neither inside nor outside; neither on water or land; neither on horseback nor on foot. The version we have in the text has clearly drawn more matter to it at some point in transmission, with the 'addition' of tub, thatched structure, and those puzzling goats, which as we have seen Patrick Ford has elucidated for us. Not that that makes much difference to poor Lleu: after all, he does not like it with a goat, he does not like it in a coat; he does not like it in a bath, he does not like it on a path; he does not like it in a box, he does not like it with a fox; he does not like a killing spear, he does not like it there or here, he does not like it in a tree, he does not like it in the sea; not in the sea, not in a tree, not with a spear, not there or here, not with a fox, not in a box, not on a path, not in a bath, not in a coat, not with a goat---he DOES NOT LIKE IT, Sam I Am!!'

[Tumbleweed. Bo is taken away by some nice people for a long lie down and some special pills.]

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Being a Medievalist

I've posted this before, but by God it resonates.

From A. S. Byatt, The Game, p. 18.

'Like most mediaevalists she had chosen her subject out of an essentially Romantic preoccupation with the satisfactory remote violence of both the religious and the secular literature of the Middle Ages. She had come to Oxford hungry for the absolutely worked drama of Lancelot and Guenevere, Tristan and Iseult; she had slowly transmuted this into a passion for the symbolic possibilities of the Grail Legend. She combined the mediaevalist's love of the strange with the mediaevalist's passion for precision. The complexities of existence were the interrelations of roots and roses, strange beasts and fruits, in a walled garden, outside which a sea rose in formally dangerous peaks. She had elaborated, and believed, a network of symbols which made the outer world into a dazzling but comprehensible constellation of physical facts whose spiritual interrelations could be grasped and woven by the untiring intellect; suns, moons, stars, roses, cups, lances, lions and serpents, all had their place and also their meaning. This network was overlaid by another network interweaving other roots, footnotes, cross-references, bibliographical data, paleographical quirks. [Emphasis mine]. Somewhere, under the network, the truth shone; Cassandra had come, like many others looking for final Authority, logically to see it in the Church. This was a symbol, and also real; it was a guarantee. A passion for symbols is in some cases an automatic precursor of a passion for theology. Cassandra had embraced both.

But now and then, in certain moods, Cassandra remembered the root of this passion in the wash of romantic feeling with which she had first seen Oxford, having read indiscriminately in Walter Scott, Tennyson, Morris and Malory, looking for a life as brightly-coloured as books. She had not then had an interest in the conventions of the courtly love of the Roman de la Rose; she had cared about the feelings of Lancelot and Guenevere, disturbed in their blood-stained sheets. She had come, not from Ritual to Romance, but in the other direction, from romance to ritual. Her feeling for completeness had betrayed her to a way of live she had not quite chosen; the academic life had become almost accidentally a branch of the contemplative life. She had cultivated her walled-garden skills at the expense of any others she might have had. We become what we are, she told herself, by a series of involuntary half-choices; if this was not what she had meant, she did not know what else she could have done.'

Snow White and the Huntsman


Looks thrilling!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Dreamscent


I dreamt last night that I came across an imaginary perfume while in Selfridges, called VENISONWOOD. Red and black packaging, with a design of black bare trees against a scarlet sky, and tissue paper in the box the colour of dried blood. The fragrance itself (my dreaming perfumery nose said) was a rich oriental, heavy on the incense and with a peppery smokiness. If you think 'caramelising, brambly red wine jus' you're halfway there, but the fragrance swerved off into inedibility thanks to a dominant resinous-smoky accord. The notes were thus:

TOP: 'red-wine' accord (spiced stewed blackberries, juniper, tannin), a metallic-salty 'blood' accord

HEART: pepper-resin-caramel accord (benzoin, dragon's blood, black pepper, clove, frankincense); a very subtle rose-cumin angle

BASE: woodsmoke-musk (cypriol, aged vetiver)

It was gorgeous: think of the murky, fairy-tale quality of a medieval hall in winter---wine and honey, spiced meat oozing blood, woodsmoke from the braziers mingling with incense from Mass in the chapel.

Twenty minutes' tinkering with a dropper and my collection of perfumes and basenotes later, I have here a very reasonable approximation of VENISONWOOD, sitting on the desk in a small bottle. Eerie: something that never existed now exists, thanks to me having seen and smelled itfully-formed in a dream. I didn't create it: I merely copied it. It's enough to make one a Platonist.

NB I think if I were to flog it, I'd rename it HARTSWOOD.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Home III

My new phone has a much sharper camera. Here are some snaps of my place.





Snow

People occasionally wonder how a sensible guy like me got so deeply into myth and fairytale and Jung; the simple answer is because this was where I grew up. I must have been one of the only readers ever to find Angela Carter 'homely'....






Corbin

For years I've been following Tom Cheetham's blog on the philosopher, orientalist, and theologian Henry Corbin. I have finally decided to unfollow, not because Tom's blog isn't splendid, scholarly, and beautifully written (it is all those things), but just because I realised today that I have never once been able to fathom, even in the slightest degree, what the bloody hell Corbin is supposed to be on about. To me, his writings always seem like some wierd-ass Gnostic angelology commented on by Ibn 'Arabi but then rewritten by Jacques Lacan. And yet he has all these links with Jung and Hillman and Eckhart and lots of other things I not only really like but which I also know something about. It drives me absolutely crazy.

Humph.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Tutorial; or, The Temper (I)

...which sounds like the title of one of the 'Days' in John Gay's hilarious 1714 pastoral parody,The Shepherd's Week. The third pastoral---about a shepherdess contemplating suicide---is called 'Wednesday; or, The Dumps', on which word Gay gives us a helpful note:

"Dumps," or "Dumbs," made use of to express a fit of the Sullens. Some have pretended that it is derived from Dumops a King of Egypt, that built a Pyramid and dy'd of Melancholy. So Mopes after the same Manner is thought to have come from Merops, another Egyptian King who dy'd of the same Distemper; but our English Antiquaries have conjectured that Dumps, which is, a grievous Heaviness of Spirits, comes from the Word Dumplin, the heaviest kind of Pudding that is eaten in this Country, much used in Norfolk, and other Counties of England.

I know how the poor girl feels. We're now entering 'fifth week', in Oxbridge parlance, which is a kind of termly hump-day when everyone is proverbially depressed or ill. I'm neither---just fit for the knacker's van to come and take me away sharpish. The reason for this glassy-eyed state is the relentless demands placed on the importunate academic by the tutorial system, Oxbridge's particular glory.

There is some mystery or glamour about the tutorial to those outside the system, based partly on the fact that they tend to be so personal and variable. Once a week, you, or you and a 'tute partner', rock up to some don's room and usually sit on a sofa while said don faces you from an armchair. Often one or other of you reads out your essay, but this is done more often in Oxford than in Cambridge and increasingly less in either. A dialogue or a three-way discussion them develops, in which your arguments get tested to destruction and/or ways are suggested in which they might be bolstered or finessed.

The Oxbridge tutorial is both very rewarding and a remarkably good teaching tool. There's nowhere to hide; if you say something ridiculous or wrong your tutor will tell you so, and they will also probe deliberately to see where your reading and thinking breakdown into bullshit. As I said, there is variation, as you are broadly allowed to teach tutorials in your own way. Some people will offer students coffee (I usually do when in a good mood and when I've remembered to buy milk), and many will take work in the night before and return it marked at the end of the tutorial, glancing at the essays on his or her lap as the material around which to frame the discussion and thus leaving the whole hour for dialogue. My own preferred method is: [two students + 55 minute hour + coffee all round + one 2,500 word essay read aloud], partly because---with the exception of the coffee---that is how I was usually taught. Students who have the misfortune to have a tutorial with me in the late afternoon of the very last day of term get given a glass of wine as compensation, because I'm basically benign.

I have one bad habit with tutorial teaching, though, which is that I talk too much and tend to turn tutorials into mini-lectures. I do respond in detail to students' work in comments on the essays, but I often spend the tutorial hour conveying to them exactly what I think is important about the text(s) we are looking at and what I feel should be brought to bear in a range of exam essays. This is not to say the essays are less than excellent: certainly by the second term of the first year most Oxford students are writing at a sophisticated level, simply because we make them write so much. But I always have to fight my own tendency to feel that I should be like a petrol-pump attendant, topping the students up. I'm sure this will come with time.

My own first term at Oxford in 1998 (engraved on my memory) involved twelve essays in eight weeks---eight on English literature 1509-1600 and four on Latin literature of the 1st century BC. They were as follows:


Wk 1: 'Where there is no private business, every man zealously pursues the public business' (THOMAS MORE). Discuss More's engagement with public life. Read A Dialogue of Comfort, Utopia, and A History of King Richard III.

Wk 2: To what degree was John Skelton a conservative, for all his linguistic innovations?

Was there such a thing as the "Callimachean aesthetic"? Write with regard to Catullus 64, and Virgil, Eclogues 4 & 6.

Wk 3: What kind of programmatic statement is Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender?

Wk 4: 'To fashion a gentlemen or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline' (EDMUND SPENSER, Letter to Raleigh). To what degree do you think The Faerie Queene fulfils this role?

How political are Virgil's Eclogues?

Wk 5: '"O wretched state of man in self-division!" (PHILIP SIDNEY). How does Sidney represent the self, with reference to Astrophil and Stella and The Old Arcadia?

Wk 6: Consider the representation of heroism OR sexuality OR intelligence in Marlowe.

'In the Pro Caelio, we see Cicero at ease, confident of victory and therefore free to give his wit free rein.' Discuss.

Wk 7: Does the period's inability to untangle the etymology of 'satire' (satyr/satura) account for the moral confusion of Elizabethan verse satire?

Wk 8: Justice, like rank and honour, is deeply problematic in The Spanish Tragedy. Discuss.

'More lasting than bronze' (aere perennius): how far do Horace's Odes live up to his own description?


Each essay has to be 2000-3000 words, so this really is a substantial amount of work, especially when one takes secondary reading, lectures and so on, into account. Most other UK universities will demand only three or four essays of that scale in a whole twelve week semester. (To my shame, I remember simply not believing this fact when I was told it as an 18 year old by a friend's hapless brother who was at Keele.) But the point is, it is simultaneously a tremendous privilege and absolutely mind-buggering to teach like this. The students have one or two tutorials a week but I regularly teach ten to twelve of the things a week, across several languages and literatures. It is a kind of mental pentathlon, and at the end of a week I---and most people I know in similar positions---often feel exhausted and lightheaded, as though we've actually given blood. 'Fifth week blues' all round!

More to come in the week----including an explanation of the (humorous) 'Temper' in the title of this post.
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