ashwednesday: (Ticktock)
There is plenty you can read online about the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. There are just a few notes I want to make here. My life has been thankfully free of the violence of Northern Ireland, but my mother and her family are from Belfast and the region around Belfast, and their daily lives were shaped and fundamentally affected by the Troubles. It was a difficult, chaotic, frightening time, and no one party or group of people can really be "blamed" entirely for what went on. The Troubles are used to talk about a short period of time, but really they started centuries ago and they continue, in a thankfully smaller and less damaging form, today. But Bloody Sunday was one of those situations where there is clearly a wrong side, and it was the British Army, and its reckless, revolting, unjustifiable resort to arms on that Sunday in 1972 had a profound effect on the course of the Troubles. Many Catholics had initially welcomed the presence of the Army in Northern Ireland, because they hoped it would be a neutral force that would help protect them. Bloody Sunday underlined the fact that Catholics were the enemy, not only of the Protestant Irish but also of the British generally, and that Catholics could not hope that what they were supposed to accept as their government would protect them or their interests.

Patrick Doherty was shot as he tried to crawl to safety.

Bernard McGuigan was shot as he went to help Doherty; he waved a white handkerchief to signify his peaceful intentions.

William McKinney was shot as he went to the aid of Gerald McKinney (no relation); he had left cover to help the other man. Both died.

It is no wonder that after this the Provisional IRA began to attract more and more radicalised and disaffected young people, nor that the divisions between Catholics in Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain deepened. They were on a civil rights march. They died for nothing, and that day of violence led to who knows how many more pointless, bloody deaths on all sides.

Now David Cameron, on behalf of the Government, has officially apologised. I hope that it can bring the families of the deceased some kind of peace, and mark another step toward reconciliation - a process that began in one way or another 12 years ago and continues today. It will take a long time for these wounds to heal, and they will always leave scars; but this is something. It is an important something.
ashwednesday: ocean (Default)
I jumped on the Tumblr bandwagon. A lot of Tumblr accounts seem incrediby pretentious, but I like the way you can integrate lots of other sites into Tumblr with the greatest of ease. We'll see how that goes. This post is partly to test whether Tumblr will, in fact, automatically update with the RSS feed for this journal...

If you're on Tumblr, feel free to add me.
ashwednesday: (spilled milk)
I am, at long last, finally reading The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis, having merely read extracts from it before. I've long been a fan of Lewis; raised on the Narnia books and then finding myself uncomfortably wriggling as I read The Screwtape Letters, seeing in them many of my own sins reflected, I find his presentation of Christianity and the Christian life to be intelligent and humane. The Four Loves is one of those books that if I underlined things in books, it would be full of scribbled lines. There are several ideas in it that I'd like to discuss at some point, but for now I'm interested in the chapter on friendship. Lewis's ideas about friendship in particular reveal his sex, class, and the age in which he grew up. Friendship is homosocial (although certainly not homosexual - he dismisses "pansies" in a way one would not expect of a Fellow of English Literature today!), and it is curiously dispassionate and intellectual. His idea of what constitutes friendship makes this chapter for me the least convincing of the work. But what he says about what friendship should not be resonated with me a great deal.
Among unsympathetic companions, I hold certain views and standards timidly, half ashamed to avow them and half doubtful if they can after all be right. Put me back among my Friends and in half an hour - in ten minutes - these same views and standards become once more indisputable... Theirs is the praise we really covet and the blame we really dread... A circle of friends cannot of course oppress the outer world as a powerful social class can. But it is subject, on its own scale, to the same danger. It can come to treat as 'outsiders' in a general (and derogatory) sense those who were quite properly outsiders for a particular purpose. Thus, like an aristocracy, it can create around it a vacuum across which no voice will carry... The group will disdain as well as ignore those outside it... A coterie is a self-appointed aristocracy.

This is an area that seems to receive little attention from anyone nowadays, beside some fretting over 'peer pressure' (which only ever seems to be applied to teenagers - as if we were not all affected by our peers!). But I think it is - or should be - a pressing moral issue in our lives. It is a sin of which I am guilty, and which I see regularly happening in my peer groups generally and in my friendship groups specifically. The joy that can be found in shared ideals and interests can so easily be transmuted into contempt for other people. It is very easy for a group of liberals, for instance (choosing this example because I would class myself as politically liberal), to one the one hand speak very sympathetically and passionately about the necessity to be compassionate and unjudgemental - and in the next breath be contemptuous of those who disagree with their politics, assuming them to be uncharitable, thinking their conservatism is monstrous. Human beings are very rarely monstrous - even when we find their opinions distasteful or even morally repugnant - and to see whole swathes of the populace as either mindless brutes or selfish machiavellians is dangerous. Moreover, it encourages a fatuous and contemptible sort of self-satisfaction, and self-satisfaction encourages stagnation and self-absorption.

Some degree of self-satisfaction is perfectly fine - and it's hardly like I can forget that I am, essentially, a vain human being - but an absorption with a group of people in itself that encourages myopia, a lack of interest in human beings outside of those who share their particular world view? That is a danger indeed, and it can mean that very good, very clever people end up cutting themselves off from the world, because the satisfaction they get from a small group of people is better than attempting to engage with the wider world and taking their ideas beyond it.

I don't mean to say at all that we shouldn't seek comfort and solace in our peers. Particularly if we are from marginalised groups, or we differ particularly from the norm in any way, a group of likeminded friends is like a safe harbour. But the temptation to stay forever in those shallow, still waters is a temptation toward never discovering anything. True friendship of like minds lets us traverse wider waters, knowing we always have a port in a storm.

Another danger is that if we have a very tight knit group of friends, we can shy away from conflict with them. We don't want to rock the boat, to continue the watery analogy! And so we can keep quiet when our morals or social consciences or whatever names we want to give our ethical lives do not mesh with our friends, and sometimes we can go so far as to abandon what we have so far considered to be 'right' because our friends do not agree. Some degree of mutation in outlook in inevitable when one finds good friends. Friends influence us, and it is often for the better - and if one's morals are not strong enough to withstand a little outside contradiction, they were probably not worth very much. But I think that sometimes - and I know I am guilty of this - we can turn away from contentious topics because we are afraid of getting into arguments with friends, or we are afraid of what they will think of us, learning that our accord on certain matters may be marred by disagreement on others. This is partly caused, I think, not only by a desire to avoid awkward scenes (and that is a very human and understandable impulse!), but also by a modern preoccupation - particularly amongst the kind of liberal people to whom I belong - with being 'nonjudgemental'. We mustn't judge one another, we must all give equal space to each other's opinions as if they were all equally valid. This all sounds very nice, but in the first place we all judge people and to pretend we do not is patently ridiculous, and in the second place what use are one's values if one does not think they are better than anyone else's? To be tolerant is a noble thing; to be nonjudgemental is moral cowardice. And to be afraid to disagree with a friend is a sign of a lack of confidence in your friend or in yourself, or in the friendship between you. A true friendship can withstand some debate.

This is not to say that every difference should be brought up and debated, every difference between you and your friend analysed. What a bore that would be, and a waste of time besides. But it is not a sin to sometimes not like the way your friend thinks, nor is it that your friend does not love you if they do not always like the way you think. And more importantly, it is not a sign your friendship is fundamentally flawed. Friends can disagree on quite profound things and still be friends. The axiom "hate the sin, love the sinner" is often nowadays interpreted as a way for people to cloak their prejudices, and so it can be. But it can also be an acknowledgement that we are human beings, and thus imperfect, and not everything we do can be right. In life, your mileage may vary. If we don't discuss with our friends, those people whose hearts sing a song most like our own, the places where our values vary, with whom can we discuss them, test them, strengthen or discard them?
ashwednesday: ocean (Ocean to the granite shore)
A bitter Good Friday it is today, with rain lashing down from a leaden sky. The church was as cold as December through the hour and forty minutes of the service until at the very end the clouds broke and sunlight streamed through the emptying church - a sort of reversion, one would think, of the appropriate weather for Good Friday. Surely the sky should darken, the clouds roll in, as we exit in mourning for the crucified Christ? It seems a dark sort of Good Friday indeed, with the Vatican once again putting its foot in its mouth in a fairly spectacular fashion. There are so many dark clouds of late. And yet -

I have said a lot about this already this week, and once again T.S. Eliot does it better, anyway (though for a change I'm not quoting Ash Wednesday). He may have been an Anglican, but Eliot always seems able to turn to words the own fumblings of my own lazy Catholic heart. This strikes me today:

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away -
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

Good Friday is a day to be tested, not to be comforted. I think of the disciples, the agony of despair they must have felt, seeing Christ crucified, the sun pulled down from heaven as the earth fell dark. If they could bear that, what should we not be able to bear? That our hearts can be broken is a sign that our hearts love, and Good Friday is a day of love stripped of its pretenses, of its grace, a day when love is blood and death and a hope that is closer to agony than comfort. O Man. O God.

Perhaps then it is fitting that the sun came out after the service today, as we turned away from the cross, the empty tabernacle. This is only one ending.

I want my church to shine. But I understand that everything, from our institutions to our innermost beings, are seen through a glass, darkly. Arms outstretched, listening for the Word, and its echoing liturgy, I make my way forward, in bright hope.
ashwednesday: blossoms (Spring has sprung)
Note: this is Jesus Bizniz - if that makes you uncomfortable, do move along...

See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Zechariah 9:9-10

It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.
Pope Benedict's letter to Catholics in Ireland, 19 March 2010

"...He performed a sexual act on me. At that very moment he murdered my soul."
German victim of sexual abuse by a priest

I've been wanting to write about the paedophilia scandal which has once again reared its head in the press, but I have not been sure how to do it. I do not have anything to say that has not already been said about the terrible crimes that were committed against children by men who were trusted by those children and by those communities. There is little more monstrous than the abuse of children. How do I articulate the disappointment I feel in knowing that my Church covered up crimes against the vulnerable? Such things can make it harder to hold up one's head and pronounce oneself still proud to be a Catholic, even in the face of such evils. And yet I still have such faith in my Church. How can I reconcile this disappointment with my love?

click to continue reading )
ashwednesday: (Academic at work)

The future of arts and humanities research in the UK?

Tonight I heard that King's College London is making substantial cuts, including eliminating the palaeography programme. This despite King's having, according to their own prospectus, "the only established Chair of Palaeography in the English-speaking world." For those of you who don't know, palaeography is the study of pre-modern handwriting as well as the practice of reading manuscripts. (As far as I know; can one be a palaeographer of modern documents? I don't think so, but do correct me if I'm wrong.) It's not necessarily the sexiest subject, but it is a vital one for the advancement of ancient, medieval and early modern studies. King's College has done some wonderful work in the world of palaeography, and to lose this programme is a real blow.

But this is not an isolated incident. This ties in to the government's £900 million cuts to universities. Of course I understand the UK is in a difficult financial position right now (and who got us here? But that's another post), but to strike at universities, the heart of the UK's intellectual life, is to potentially cripple us for years to come. The UK will, if cuts like these are sustained, become an academic backwater. We're not a great power any more; our top universities have somehow managed to remain bright spots even as our global star has faded, but for how much longer?

And that's without even thinking about "impact". University research must now be shown to have "impact", that is it must “achieve demonstrable benefits to the wider economy and society”. Sounds great, right? No, not really. "Impact" doesn't include intellectual impact on other scholars, or the intrinsic value of work in and of itself. It must have value outside academia. If you think education is about utility, this may not seem a big deal to you. If you think that learning has value in and of itself, that to be educated is about more than functionality but is also about enrichment and intellectual development, you should be very worried indeed. This article sums up the whole sorry mess better than I can. Here is a succinct summary:

[It] is worth insisting that what we call “the humanities” are a collection of ways of encountering the record of human activity in its greatest richness and diversity. To attempt to deepen our understanding of this or that aspect of that activity is a purposeful expression of human curiosity and is – insofar as the expression makes any sense in this context – an end in itself. Unless these guidelines are modified, scholars in British universities will devote less time and energy to this attempt, and more to becoming door-to-door salesmen for vulgarized versions of their increasingly market-oriented “products”.

The problem is - how? I feel quite powerless. Having only recently gained my PhD and not holding an academic post, I feel helpless in the face of all this. I want to do something, and I hope that my fellow academics - and well-wishers in other fields! - will also want to do something. The question is: what do we do?
ashwednesday: (Christmas tree)
And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing's small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from Aurora Leigh.

In the Christmas carols that we sing at this time of year, Earth is so crammed with heaven that out of every verse tumble rejoicing angels, stars comet-bright streaking portents, men struck with visions. The presence of God is tangible, touchable. Those of us who are Christian believe that two-thousand-years-and-change ago, our God was physical. Our God was touchable.

There are really no words that adequately express the wonder of that. The Resurrection is a more solemn feast than the Nativity, but if the Resurrection is a deep and abiding Mystery, how great a miracle that God was ever made flesh at all. The Universe was incarnate. The Universe was Man. As a concept it borders on absurdity.

Earth's crammed with heaven

(In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct.)

As a Catholic, the body is of vital significance to me. We are not ghosts in machines; our bodies are as vital to our humanity as our souls are. In the quickening of our bodies, each tiny tremor of our veins, our humanity cries out for good and for ill. And God came among us as a man, not throwing on a body like a suit but truly incarnate, sharing with us the experience of a shitting, hungry, thirsty, aching, joyful, delighting, precious body. At that time Heaven was very close to Earth. Today's miracles are harder to see; but they are in each of us, every day, if we can mark the mystery of the mundane, recognise the flame of the divine in - perhaps Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it best -

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Merry Christmas to you all, and to all - good night.

Row on row

Nov. 11th, 2009 10:35 am
ashwednesday: ocean (Ocean to the granite shore)

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work -

I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:

What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.

Grass, Carl Sandburg
ashwednesday: Marilyn Monroe (Happiness)
Exciting news: I passed my viva with flying colours! Huzzah huzzah, I can haz PhD.

But since this blog is more about bits and bobs that I find interesting rather than my life's events (I have lj to detail all that), I am currently irked by this:

The UK's chief drugs adviser has been sacked by Home Secretary Alan Johnson, after criticising government policies.

Professor David Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, criticised the decision to reclassify cannabis to Class B from C.

He accused ministers of devaluing and distorting evidence and said drugs classification was being politicised.

The home secretary said he had "lost confidence" in his advice and asked him to step down.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) is the UK's official drugs advisory body.

Following his sacking, Prof Nutt told the BBC he stood by his claim that cannabis should not be a Class B drug, based on its effects.

He described his sacking as a "serious challenge to the value of science in relation to the government".

Absolutely outrageous. Prof Nutt isn't saying anything that hasn't been said by many other scientists, medical professionals and those involved in drug rehabilitation and social work. In 2004, cannabis was downgraded from Class B to Class C. But this didn't last long - it was put back into Category B in 2007 - against the advice of official advisors who had presumably been hired to determine whether this was a good idea or not. But who needs SCIENCE or LOGIC when there is a fun IDEOLOGICAL WAR ON DRUGS to wage?
ashwednesday: ocean (Default)

Don Alfonso and Despina disguised as a lawyer

Last night I saw Così fan tutte performed by Opera North. This was the first time I had seen Mozart's 1790 opera buffa (or comic opera), and hearing that the production had had excellent reviews and was elegantly staged in a period-appropriate setting, I looked forward to seeing it. And the production didn't disappoint, even if we were up in the balcony at an angle that induced mild vertigo in my boyfriend and which apparently did not have the benefits of the costly new airconditioning system that has recently been installed. No matter when the actors are accomplished, the music is elegant, and the laughs are genuine and unexpected.

The production was performed in English, which will displease purists but is quite a common trick for Opera North, who like to make opera accessible to a wider audience. Often, of course, operas being sung in English are not actually that readily understandable, but the enunciation of all the singers was very good, and the conversational quality of much of the music (if that makes sense!) means that it is easy to follow.

The essential storyline of the opera is (to borrow Opera North's synopsis): "Ferrando and Guglielmo, two army officers, are convinced of the fidelity of their sweethearts, sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Manipulative philosopher Don Alfonso, on the other hand, claims all women are fickle and bets the officers that the sisters will prove unfaithful if put to the test". Don Alfonso enlists the help of Despina, the sisters' maid, and disguises Gerrando and Guglielmo as Albanian travellers (!) who attempt to win the hearts of Fiordiligi and Dorabella. The women ultimately give in, thus proving that cosi fan tutte - all women are the same!

Such a cheerfully misogynist message can be difficult to stage nowadays. Directors who stage The Merchant of Venice can find presenting it as a comedy problematic; Cosi is not as riddled with difficulties as that play, but it does pose some of the same issues: how do you keep the spirit of the piece whilst also ensuring it is appealing to a modern audience? This production of Cosi relied a great deal on the mathematical principles involved in the complex partner swapping of the opera, with the play being staged as a drawing room inside some kind of camera obscura, and the positions of the movements of the furniture (and thus the players too) marked out carefully on the floor. I was not quite convinced by the programme notes which tied the opera into Enlightenment era scientific developments, but the staging did emphasise that not only is this a game to the quixotic and rather callous Don Alfonso, it is also a scientific experiment, conducted with an eighteenth century philosopher's curiosity and rigour.

The costume also played a part in establishing the mood of the production. At first the four lovers were dressed in matching costumes. As the play progressed, their clothes changed. The women, who had worn identical pale dresses and wigs, ended up in constrasting and richly coloured outfits, whilst the men went from the grey formality of their uniforms to the bright and ludicrous fun of jewel-toned robes and false moustaches. It felt as if this experiment actually made them start becoming individuals, with more really felt emotions. In the first act, the quintet Sento, o Dio, che questo piedo è restio was played for laughs, as the four lovers show affected and dramatic feeling. By the time Fiordiligi sings Per pietà, ben mio, perdona, the aria where she wrestles with her conscience, conventional platitudes have given way to expressions of real emotion. The experiment makes the lovers reassess themselves and their feelings; the men are forced to realise that the women they love are human beings, not unresponsive angels, and the women are left wondering that if they can fall in love in a day with a stranger, what value did their original love have?

It is this journey that makes the ending work, because the final scene has an uneasy quality that can sit oddly with the lighthearted atmosphere of most of the rest of the opera. You do not see the four lovers wed; it is assumed that it will happen, but Mozart does not supply the complete reconciliation you might expect. I get the impression that this is what Mozart wanted, and rather than necessarily being a wholly cynical comment on the nature of women or love, it is instead a fitting end to an opera that delivers the surprisingly modern message that it is better to be uncertain in truth than certainly deceive.

This all sounds very serious. In fact the opera was a delight, the six performers all showing fine comic skills, particularly Amy Freston as Despina and Geoffrey Dolton as Don Alfonso. It's not often there is full and wholehearted laughter at the opera, but we got it in spades last night. Being made to laugh and then being made to think - I can think of few better ways to spend an evening.
ashwednesday: (Academic at work)
I posted these on eljay, so I may as well share them here as well since I have not updated on dreamwidth in a while...

A couple of weeks ago I read Pashazade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. This is the first novel by Grimwood that I've read, and I get the impression that he's a cyberpunk writer. There are certainly elements of cyberpunk in Pashazade; however, one issue I have with cyberpunk is that it's often very slick, very stylish, and quite cold, but this novel is a bit grittier and warmer. more here; not very spoilerish, but cut in case you're cautious )

Overall, this is really energetic, well crafted and intelligent sf. The murder mystery ends up actually not being that interesting, but that's not really the point. A reviewer says the book is "Raymond Chandler for the 21st century" and although it's a lazy sort of journalistic comparison, they have a point. Marlowe's stories often aren't about the denouement - they are about the drawing of a culture and a particular time, and following the hero's world-weary journey through it. Ashraf Bey isn't a gumshoe, and he's not as disillusioned as Marlowe, and Iskandryia isn't like sultry, rain-slicked LA, but Grimwood's evocative future noir and smart-talking hero are perhaps successors of a sort to the Chandler mantle. I am definitely keen to read the next two books in the Arabesk series.

As a complete contrast, I have also re-read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall recently. Anne Bronte is overshadowed by her sisters, but this novel is so brave and bold - and in places really rather funny. Charlotte is my favourite Bronte sister, but I prefer Anne to Emily. Wuthering Heights is a work of genius, but its central characters are (for me at least) so unlikable that it's hard to engage with their wild emotions. Tenant I would describe as an early feminist novel. Helen makes a very thoughtful decision to leave her emotionally abusive husband. She doesn't flee in hysterics, and her husband isn't beating her, and so she doesn't have either the excuse of "feminine emotion" or a need for safety to fall back on. She leaves, and she has utter conviction that it is the moral choice for her and her son, and at the time that the novel was written this was an incredibly bold thing to write. I think I'd like to read a biography of Anne Bronte and get inside her head a little more - I know a lot about Charlotte, but I think from reading all the sisters' novels that Anne may have been the most cool-headed and the staunchest in her convictions.
ashwednesday: ocean (Ocean to the granite shore)
Tomorrow I'm attending the funeral of the mother of a dear friend. I have been thinking about this a lot tonight. I have also been thinking about faith. Those aren't really thoughts I wish to write about on the back of someone else's grief, though I may blog about them at some other point. I find that when I run out of appropriate words to say, I end up using someone else's. It's funny; I came to poetry quite late. I was a voracious reader from a very young age, chewing up books and swallowing them in great chunks, but I didn't read much poetry at all until I reached my twenties. I think my mind was too frantic in my adolescence; I needed the rush of reading a hundred pages in an hour.

In 2007 I fell in love with T.S. Eliot's Ash Wednesday. Since then it has been my favourite poem. 2007 was not the first time I read it, but because of several changes in my life it struck a chord with me then, and has continued to resonate in a way even my most beloved other poems do not. I have tried so many times to write about my experience of faith, and I keep coming back to the conclusion that I think Ash Wednesday says everything I could want to say, and more eloquently. Each time I look at it I see something new. I include it here in its entirety; I'm not really a fan of "favourite quotations", and sometimes it does us good to see things as a whole.

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.


At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man's mouth drivelling, beyond
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs's fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only.

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Whe walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary's colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary's colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking,

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but
spoke no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season,
time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.
ashwednesday: Marilyn Monroe (Happiness)
This will suffice for now.

Jeffrey Thomas, an illustrator, imagines Disney princesses drawn by Marvel. Evil!Ariel particularly makes me clap my hands with glee.

Zombie Sleeping Beauty might deserve second place, though. Wonderful. It's great seeing how these tropes can be revisited, and as someone with a long time interest in the darker side of fairytales, I find these images brilliant.

It also makes me think again of a story I wrote some years ago, which was about Sleeping Beauty, told from the perspective of the prince. The story began with his flesh torn by brambles as he dragged his thirsting body through a nightmare of a forest. I liked the story, but in the end it didn't have quite the punch I wanted. Perhaps it is time to revisit it.
ashwednesday: Marilyn Monroe (Happiness)
Ah, Irregular Choice. My very favourite brand of shoes. Whimsical and entirely impractical, Irregular Choice shoes are like works of art for the feet. I own three pairs, and a great deal of my joy in them comes from just looking at them. Sadly I cannot afford to buy any more for quite some time, but window shopping is fun, and I thought you might enjoy a little shoe-gazing too.

These are just pretty!

These are scifi high camp, Barbarella meets Flash Gordon.

Can someone even walk in something this shape? Who cares when they look like they escaped from a Tim Burton animation?

The sun would shine every day if you were wearing these rainbow flats.

And here's one for the boys in our studio audience. Just because you're a guy, don't you ever let anyone tell you that you can't wear crushed velvet.

ashwednesday: (Academic at work)

This was why I haven't updated this blog in a little while - I recently (as in a week and a half ago) submitted my PhD thesis. Now I just have to wait for my viva (see here for a quick recap if you're not familiar with how PhDs are examined), and hopefully in the not-too-distant future I will be Dr Rachel. Huzzah! Now my life is filled with job searching, but I want to update this blog a little more regularly. My livejournal friends get to see my daily witterings, but it is quite nice to have a public face for more general thoughts... Perhaps I will try to blend politics with pop culture by writing a review of Frost/Nixon, which I saw last week.

This might also be a good time for any of my new readers to ask me anything they might be wondering about who I am/what I do. (Uh, facebook friends who get this on my feed, this may be less relevant... But ask away if you are so inclined.)

Oh, and having just checked my spam filter, here is the best Ivory Coast money-scamming email I have seen in quite some time:


Good thing to write you. I have a proposal for you.This however is not
mandatory nor will I in any manner compel you to honour against your will.

I am Miss veronick keke , the only daughter of my late parents Mr.and Mrs
keke. My father was a highly reputable busnness magnet-(a Cocoa Merchant,
Diamond and Gold Dealer)who operated in the capital of Ivory coast during his
days. It is sad to say that he passed away mysteriously in France
during one of his business trips abroad on 2nd March 2008.Though his sudden
death was linked or rather suspected to have been masterminded by an uncle of
his who travelled with him at that time. But God knows the truth! My mother
died when I was just 4 years old,and since then my father took me
so special.

Before his death on 2nd March 2008 he called the secretary who accompanied
him to the hospital and told him that he has the sum of Seven Million,Seven
Hundred Thousand United State Dollars.(USD$7.7000) deposited in SECURITY
COMPANY in Europe.

He further told him that he deposited the Consignment in my name as the next
of kin,and he registered the Consignment as Family Valuables and finally issued
a written instruction to his lawyer whom he said is in possession to handle all
the necessary legal documents of the Consignment which he
deposited in the SECURITY COMPANY and he instructed the lawyer to handover the
documents to me whenever I need it.

I am a university undergraduate and really don't know what to do.
Now I want a foreign partner who assist me to retrieve this consignment from

This is because I have suffered a lot of set backs as a result of incessant
political crisis here in Ivory coast.The death of my father actually brought
sorrow to my life.I am in a sincere desire of your humble assistance in this

Your suggestions and ideas will be highly regarded.

Now permit me to ask these few questions:-

1.Can you kindly tell me what the type of a profitable venture this fund will
uesd to invest avoid waste of it.
2). Can you honestly help me as your daughter?
3). Can I completely trust you?
4). What percentage of the total amount in question will be good for you
after you have collected this consigment on my behalf?

Thank you so much.

Yours Sincerely,

miss veronick keke

Now there's a scammer/spammer who has put some real EFFORT in.
ashwednesday: (Academic at work)
There have been no updates for a while because I am finishing my thesis (eight days to go!), so whilst there's a whole bunch of stuff I could say, I will instead give you this extraordinary art performance:

This video, a "sand animation" by a Ukranian artist, is astonishing. So, so beautiful and very moving. And it was on the reality show "Україна має талант / Ukraine's Got Talent". Watching this I think of our version of this programme, Britain's Got Talent, and think there's no way we'd end up with something like this! An eight minute art performance about war? No way would ITV put that on. And that's our loss.
ashwednesday: blossoms (Spring has sprung)
Interesting article on a man who chose to take his wife's surname when he married.

I never suspected that as a man I had been given an extra portion of power in the global allotment.

I did it because any form of power comes with duties. I'm obliged to take responsibility for my power, to learn its effects - even unintentional ones - to see what it does to others when I'm not watching, to use it in the best way possible. Sometimes to relinquish it.

So far the name change hasn't cost me more than a few hours of paperwork, some explanations to public officials and a few strained conversations with brittle relatives who think I've joined a matrilineal cult. I still feel like myself. My identity remains intact. Marriage will demand larger sacrifices than this, I expect.

I have no strong feelings on way or another about women taking their husbands' names. I don't think there's anything wrong with it, and I think that assuming it's an old fashioned harking-back to a woman becoming a man's "property" is a facile reading of the historical context. I would not think any woman who doesn't take on her husband's name is failing as a feminist, and nor would I think her husband was trying to lay some kind of archaic claim to her. However, Neufeld's act, and the popular reaction to it, does say interesting things about how hardwired our sense of - hm, what can we call it? - "patriarchal propriety" is. If Neufeld's gesture was shaking his fist in the face of male oppressors omgz I would probably not be interested. What is interesting about his decision is that it seems to be based on him coming to terms with the existence of male privilege, and is, in my opinion, a relatively graceful way of addressing it.

If I marry, which I hope I do, I won't be changing my surname - the idea of it is strange to me - and I wouldn't expect, or even want, my husband to change his. But it's always fascinating to see how people negotiate the terms of their new identities as married people.
ashwednesday: blossoms (Spring has sprung)
On Saturday I was lucky enough to get to see Dorian Gray, a newish ballet from Matthew Bourne, who's my favourite choreographer.

The ballet began with a dimly lit bedroom. An alarm clock's light flashed 8:00. Classical music swelled... And then the man in the bed hit the alarm clock and the music abruptly switched off. He stepped out of bed, a lithe young blond man clad only in tight briefs, and surveyed himself in the mirror. This was Dorian Gray. The stage revolved to show a photographer's studio. There Basil Hallward, photographer, was shooting models for a perfume advert. But no one seemed quite right... In the next scene, the White Box Media company is hosting a party, and guess who is a waiter? It doesn't take long before Basil is photographing Dorian, who at first is shy but then begins to enjoy the experience, and the photography soon leads to a passionate encounter...

Basil and Dorian

As you can see, the ballet has a quite contemporary setting. Dom said he felt the music and setting seemed quite early 90s, which jived with the "CK:One" feel of the colour scheme and costuming. Matthew Bourne said he felt the story had modern resonances, with its obsession with youth and celebrity. So there were various clever twists to the story, such as making Dorian's portrait the perfume advert he stars in, the billboard haunting him throughout the production until it begins to get faded and torn, representing his waning star and his desperate attempt to cling onto his beauty.

Basil dancing in front of the "Immortale" perfume billboard

This was a sexy ballet, with lots of near-nudity and sexual content. I think it's the first ballet I've been to that actually had a note that it was unsuitable for children. Bourne says in the programme "Things that people will happily watch on television are sometimes regarded as more shocking in the context of a dance performance." People often associate ballet with pretty tutus and fairytales. Something I've always enjoyed about Bourne (this is the fourth ballet of his that I've seen) is that he's willing to push the envelope in terms of content - not for the sake of it, but because he can tell an interesting story, and really, if you're going to tell the story of a beautiful young man, doing it with a ballet company full of beautifully toned young people isn't a bad way to go about it! So there was lots of seductive and very physical choreography. There was also quite a lot of humour, which is a Bourne trademark - when Dorian goes on a tv show and is introduced by what's quite clearly the Four Poofs and a Piano of Friday Night With Jonathan Ross fame, there were plenty of laughs from the audience. But the ballet got progressively darker as Dorian's corruption increased. He began to be sadistic rather than merely selfish, and the increasingly fractured nature of his mind is reflected both in the staging of his apartment - which moves from bare to sleekly opulent to claustrophically crowded with objects - and in the appearance of a shadowy Doppelganger, who seems to haunt him.

It was a really fascinating ballet. It wasn't as emotionally satisfying as Bourne's Swan Lake or Edward Scissorhands, but that of course is the point - Dorian's life, though beautiful, becomes a void that eventually swallows him. It was quite unsettling, but it was wonderfully executed, and I recommend it if you should ever get the opportunity to see it!

Dorian surrounded by admirers
ashwednesday: blossoms (Spring has sprung)
Although the title might make you think it is a Lord of the Rings parody, the Lords of the Blog is actually a group blogging exercise from eleven members of the House of Lords. It makes for interesting reading!


ashwednesday: ocean (Default)

January 2013

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