Rock Signs

simonhlilly

Preseli Meditations (Rock Signs)

Eye
Is a palindrome,
As is
Sees.
Voices distant
Speak in tongues
From cracks in rock
Split open by light.

Split open
By light
A heaven swing
Through star roads.
A cloud hymn
And the sing of insects.

The sing of insects
Deep in winter.
Sunlight clicks
Its fingers.
One door opens.
Another closes.

Another closes
Creeps seeps
Through the
Butter of time,
The honey of space.
Dressed in bones
They come
Rolling down
With news
From heaven.

From heaven
Fingers prise
The smallest chink.
An eye blinks
The mirror
Cracked becomes
A door.
Backwards the
Paths lead
Backwards to
The beginning.

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The struggle against silence

Z grand rouge

Z grand rouge

In her novel, The strange letter z, Debra Daley puts into the mouth of one of her characters an apt insight into what readers require from writers: “If you insist that the world is complicated you could at least offer an explanation or some dumb comfort.” Because it is, isn’t it? Complicated, I mean.

A precocious and mouthy boy, I quickly learned that the answer to certain questions was “Yes and no.” More perplexing, however, were those conundrums for which no meaningful explanation could be formulated. Memories of the prickling of childish truculence return to me now as I write.

Roland Barthes (see note below) asserts that language is neither an instrument nor a vehicle: it is a structure. “[Language] can never explain the world,” he writes, “or at least, when it claims to explain the world, it does so only the better to conceal its ambiguity” Does that perhaps count as “dumb comfort”? reassurance? inspiration? Or is it deception and treachery?

Susan Sontag, reminding us of Barthes’s assertion that the aim of literature is to put ‘meaning’ into the world but not ‘a meaning’, also warns that “Barthes is always after another meaning, a more eccentric – often utopian – discourse.”

The rhetorician Quintilian (c 35–100 AD) famously asserted that we should not write so that it is possible for our readers to understand us, but so that it is impossible for them to misunderstand us. That’s okay, as far as it goes; as Dada poet Tristan Tzara scornfully declares, “Any work of art that can be understood is the product of journalism.” Not all writing is intended as art, of course. But Tzara is pointing to something else: rather than telling readers what to think, literature must give them something to think about.

“Here is the world,” says Frederick Buechner. “Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” John Cage captures something of this when he writes: “There is nothing we need to do that isn’t dangerous.” Jesus, at his last supper with his disciples, said something similar: “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:31, NRSV).

In the first of Rilke’s Duino Elegies,

………. … For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,
and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every Angel is terror.

Lankavatara Sutra

Lankavatara Sutra

So writing is, among other things, a response to the realisation that “we are not really at home / in the interpreted world” (ibid). One might ask, at this point, whether it’s the world itself that scares us, or our interpretations. For me, some of the most satisfactory answers to such questions come from Zen, which teaches that “Things are not as they seem, nor are they otherwise” (from the Lankavatara Sutra). Alan Watts puts it another way: “Whose mouth could possibly be big enough to describe things as they are? (cited by Timothy Freke – see note below)

“Nothing but lies come out of my mouth,” said the master. “There – see! I’ve just done it again.” (ibid)

American writer, reporter, and political commentator, Walter Lippmann considers we’re all captives of the pictures in our heads. In his view, we’re all caught up in “our belief that the world we have experienced is the world that really exists.” Marshall McLuhan and Bruce R  Powers, writing about what they dubbed “the global village”, braid threads from Lippmann’s thesis together with the ancient Buddhist teachings when they assert, “We make ourselves, and what we make is perceived as reality.” Which is a neat fit with words from the Dhammapada: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.”

For Carlos Fuentes, “Writing is a struggle against silence.” But I think he’s referring to something other than the silence Ludwig Wittgenstein meant when he wrote: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent” (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,  Proposition 7).  The struggle to utter the unutterable is one thing; the struggle against the things that silence us is something else entirely.

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” (Sylvia Plath)


NOTES:

The image “Z grand rouge” comes from a web site calling itself New Z Testament. It’s a web-based game of some sort, but seems to be updating its server at present.

Daley, D. 1995 [“Copyright © 1995 by Debra Daley”]. The strange letter z. Auckland: Penguin Books. [p54]

Roland Barthes’s essay, ‘Authors and Writers’ dates from 1960. Published in Essais critiques, copyright © 1964 by Éditions du Seuil. In 1982, it was included in A Barthes Reader : Edited and with an Introduction by Susan Sontag. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd. Translated by Richard Howard; translation copyright © 1972 by Northwestern University Press. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Susan Sontag’s words are cited from her Introduction to A Barthes Reader [pp x-xi].

Freke, Timothy. 1977. Zen wisdom : Daily teachings from the Zen Masters. New York: Sterling Publishing Company Inc.

McLuhan & Powers. 1992. The Global Village : Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century. Marshall McLuhan and Bruce R. Powers from Oxford University Press Canada.

Gingko gold

gingko, Lambton Quay (05 June 2015)

gingko, Lambton Quay (05 June 2015)

After a simple lunch of donburi chicken from Wasabi Sushi in the James Cook Arcade, I returned to Lambton Quay and found myself standing under a canopy of gingko gold.

The photograph below – taken a little further down the street – is exactly thirteen months old. Click on it for a look at the piece I posted on 08 May 2014.

autumn reflection (05 May 2014)

autumn reflection (05 May 2014)

Conversation with a painter

found art (22 April 2015)

found art (22 April 2015)

The man up the ladder turns to see what I’m up to.

“It’s okay, I’m not photographing you,” I say, hoping to reassure him.

He’s puzzled. “Why would you photograph a wall that hasn’t been painted?”

“Because it’s art,” I assert, taking a second shot for good measure.

“S’pose you’re right,” he ventures, with a half-smile.


PS: The Boon Brothers know their café is cool. Located in the ground floor of the Opera House, it’s called Crumpet. Lately, the gracious old lady’s been undergoing a facelift.

 

Intertextuality

intertext (03 April 2015)

intertext (03 April 2015)

“Just a moment, please.” Walking with a friend along a side-street, I had (out of the corner of my eye) spotted a ‘photo-op’ – a wheelie-bin outside the rear entrance to a hotel. My friend’s arched eyebrow and crooked smile told me he didn’t ‘get it’.  But that’s okay …

The digital camera makes it easy for me to grab stuff in passing. I rely on being able to act quickly, without stopping to analyse what I am seeing. (There’s always time for that later.) But, in what can take as little as a few seconds, I often find myself with an image that seems to make some sort of sense – even if not everybody gets it.

I explain this to myself in terms of Roland Barthes’s theory of “intertextuality” …

“The intertextual nature of writing turns both the traditional author, and the traditional critic, into readers,” explains Voicu Mihnea Simandan, in a blog piece titled Barthes’s elements of intertextuality (see Note 1). The blogger elucidates further: “Barthes’s theory of text involves the theory of intertextuality because the text offers a plurality of meanings and is also woven out of numerous already existing texts. The text is not a unified, isolated object that gives a singular meaning, but an element open to various interpretations.”

Roland Barthes concludes The Death of the Author with the following lines: “… a text is made from multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused, and that place is the reader, not, as hitherto said, the author. The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up the writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination … the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (Barthes, 1977: p 148).


NOTES:

1/ Voicu Mihnea Simandan is a Bangkok-based Romanian expatriate who lives in Thailand. His blog is called A Romanian in Bangkok.

2/ This citation is the final passage in “The Death of the Author,” in Image-Music-Text, by Roland Barthes, translated by Stephen Heath (1977).

Eastbourne mamaku

This fine mamaku, growing close to the house in a friend’s Eastbourne garden, was planted many years ago by his father. A second, much younger specimen growing elsewhere in the garden was transplanted as a seedling from a bush garden in Kelburn, where I used to live.

Cyathea medullaris, popularly known as the black tree fern, is a large tree fern up to 20m tall. It is distributed across the south-west Pacific from Fiji to Pitcairn and New Zealand. It is called mamaku, katātā, kōrau, or pītau in the Māori language.” (Wikipedia)