1st November 2002
Psalm of Montreal
Stowed away in a Montreal lumber-room
Beautiful by night and day, beautiful in summer and winter,
When I saw him I was wroth, and I said: "O Discobolus,
I turned to the man of skins, and said to him: "O thou man of skins,
"The Discobolus is put here because he is vulgar,
Then I said: "O brother-in-law to Mr. Spurgeon's haberdasher,
Preferest thou the gospel of Montreal to the gospel of Hellas,
- Samuel Butler, 1878
that object he became
Why do we evolve culture? What does it do for us? One suggestion is that the whole basis of human specialness is our ability to cooperate - and to cooperate you have to be able to imagine what it would be like to hold another picture of the world. You're unable to cooperate unless you can mentally be in at least two worlds at once - your own and that of the person with whom you're working. The failure to grasp other pictures of the world is what we call autism, and in its extreme form is something we regard as a severe dysfunction. Well, all animals are by our standards relatively autistic - unable to see into each other's minds, lacking empathy.
So how do we develop this ability to experience and speculate about other ways of thinking and feeling about the world? I think we do it by continually immersing ourselves in cultural experiences that rehearse us. This is obvious in films and novels - where we explicitly enter an imagined world and then watch imaginary characters in imaginary quandaries. In so doing we develop a lot of surrogate experience about what it is like to be someone else, somewhere else, with different assumptions. So I can imagine culture as being a kind of empathy lab, a way of trying things out with only symbolic risks attached.
- Brian Eno
And why do we tend to enjoy most stories about characters who go through difficulties and arrive finally at a happy ending? Because we evolved as problem-solving animals, and we got where we are today using brains which are hard-wired to relish complex tasks and look for that most buzzy of buzzes, a perfect solution. We also enjoy a darned good tragedy to, but with a certain naughty frisson and the inwit that this is definitely not what we require in our own existences.
in their shifts itself, maybe
Sir William Roper, of Eltham, in Kent, came one morning, pretty early, to my Lord [Sir Thomas More], with a proposal to marry one of his daughters. My Lord's daughters were then both together abed in a truckle-bed in their father's chamber asleep. He carries Sir William into the chamber and takes the sheet by the corner and suddenly whips it off. They lay on their backs, and their smocks up as high as their armpits. This awakened them, and immediately they turned onto their bellies. Quoth Roper, I have seen both sides, and so gave a pat on the buttock he made choice of, saying, Thou art mine. Here was all the trouble of the wooing.
- John Aubrey, Brief Lives
Thou brakest the heads of Leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.
another perishin' day of five-flag hoists
And there I've been all this time thinking that the above phrase was the caption to a cartoon: one of those meticulously drawn half- or quarter-page Punch cartoons of about 1910, full of detail and steel-nibbed crosshatching, and an 'unfunny' or existential tagline (prefaced by a description of the speaker - in this case BORED RATING). The kind of cartoon which resurfaced in the New Yorker of the 50s or the Private Eye of the 80s, with progressively les importance paid to the realism of the drawing.
'Think o' the pore little snotties now bein' washed, fed, and taught, an' the yeoman o' signals with a pink eye wakin' bright an' brisk to another perishin' day of five-flag hoists. Whereas we shall caulk an' smoke cigarettes, same as the Spanish destroyers did for three weeks after war was declared.' He dropped into the wardroom singing:
'If you're going to marry me, marry me, Bill,
It's no use muckin' about!'
The man at the wheel, uniformed in what had once been a tam-o'-shanter, a pair of very worn R.M.L.I. trousers rolled up to the knee, and a black sweater, was smoking a cigarette. Moorshed, in a gray Balaclava and a brown mackintosh with a flapping cape, hauled at our supplementary funnel guys, and a thing like a waiter from a Soho restaurant sat at the head of the engine-room ladder exhorting the unseen below. The following wind beat down our smoke and covered all things with an inch-thick layer of stokers, so that eyelids, teeth, and feet gritted in their motions. I began to see that my previous experiences among battleships and cruisers had been altogether beside the mark.
subway map of the month
Tashkent eschews the usual mapping conventions of rectangularity and straight diagonals, and goes where it likes. And when you have the biggest city square in the world (the earth's curvature is almost perceptible) you can get away with that kind of stuff.
Turned a corner in the path and there
(having picked mushrooms and read eeksypeeksy)
In Richmond Park.
* * *
A reader sends a haiku:
Tashkent Metro map;
I climbed the clock tower 'neath the noonday sun;
'Twas midday, at least, ere my journey was done.
But the clock never sounded the last stroke of noon,
For there from the clapper swung Mrs. Ravoon.
Mrs. Ravoon, Mrs. Ravoon,
I stole through the dungeon whilst everyone slept
- from Mrs Ravoon, trad(?)
Friday 16th August 1872
The stories about the baboon at Maesllwch Castle grow more and more extraordinary. It is said that when vistors come to the Castle the creature descends upon their heads, clambering down the balusters of the staircase. He put Baskerville and Apperley to flight, routed them horse and foot, so that they clapped spurs to their horses and galloped away in mortal fear, the baboon racing after them. He carries the cats up to the top of the highest Castle Tower, and drops then over into space, and it is believed that the baboon seeks an opportunity to carry the young heir up to the top of the Tower and serve him in the same way.
le mythe de sisyphe
Street theatre in Trafalgar Square today: several employees of Westminster Council were slowly circling the square carrying megaphones broadcasting bird-of-prey screams to scare away pigeons. This presumably at the behest of our Mayor, Ken Livingstone (pleasingly and misleadingly described on French Yahoo News as 'un ancien gauchiste surnommé "Ken le rouge" '), who seeks to rid of the area of pigeons on the winged rats/vermin/disease-spreader ticket (and of course although we ourselves may not have been affected, we all know, don't we, someone who has suffered a pigeon-related disease).
An artist's impression of our new headquarters, which will sit alongside one of Britain's vast arterial roads and so be within easy reach of the capital. My own office will occupy the whole of the upper floor and will be furnished thus. And now I'm going to go down and watch them pour the concrete.
home ~ retrobhikku