Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I'm off to the wilds of Ireland with friends for the next month. See you in April.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hilary Ends

Went to Cheltenham this weekend to visit a friend after he finished his prelims. We met A at the bus-stop, red carnation still in his breast pocket for the coach to Gloucestershire. After a night well-spent with the best Shiraz I've ever had, admiring the almighty Aga in A's kitchen, we put on wellies, plaid scarves and November colours, grabbed the dog and headed off for a ramble in the Cotswolds. If it sounds idyllic, it's because it was - the only thing disturbing the picture was my dripping nose. A showed us where he used to live: a stone house undefended by border or fence from the woods, exposed to the late winter hills. We walked through the hawthorns and brambles to an abandoned farm where there was no sign of the promised owl, only scattered bones. A showed us his childhood swing, a leathery strap overgrown with moss, and the pheasant keep. The woods were entirely still, broken only now and then by a screaming kestrel or a startled pheasant. We walked in silence and did not grow uncomfortable.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I've had Newsom's 'In California' (from Have One on Me) in my head for the last week, and eventually I gave up and looked at lyrics (which are just as supple as the music). It's a kind of poetry that seems both embodied and fluid. Even if the words didn't string together - which they do - the pleasure of saying them would be enough. The words simultaneously portray and create longing.


My heart became a drunken runt
On the day I sunk in this shunt
To tap me clean
Of all the wonder
And the sorrow I have seen
Since I left my home

My home, on the old Milk Lake
Where the darkness does fall so fast
It feels like some kind of mistake
Just like they told you it would
Just like the Tulgeywood

When I came into my land
I did not understand
Neither dry rot, nor the burn pile
Nor the bark-beetle, nor the dry well
Nor the black bear

But there is another
Who is a little older
When I broke my bone
He carried me up from the riverside

To spend my life
In spitting-distance
Of the love that I have known
I must stay here, in an endless eventide

And if you come and see me
You will upset the order
You cannot come and see me
For I set myself apart
But when you come and see me
In California
You cross the border of my heart

Well, I have sown untidy furrows
Across my soul
But I am still a coward
Content to see my garden grow
So sweet and full
Of someone else's flowers

Sometimes I can almost feel the power
Sometimes I am so in love with you
Like a little clock that trembles on the edge of the hour
Only ever calling out "Cuckoo, cuckoo"

When I called you
You, little one
In a bad way
Did you love me
Do you spite me
Time will tell if I can be well
And rise to meet you rightly
While, moving across my land
Brandishing themselves
Like a burning branch
Advance the tallow-colored walleyed deer
Quiet as gondoliers
While I wait all night, for you in California
Watching the fox pick off my goldfish
From their sorry, golden state
And I am no longer
Afraid of anything
Save the life that, here, awaits

I don't belong to anyone
My heart is heavy as an oil drum
And I don't want to be alone
My heart is yellow as an ear of corn
And I have torn my soul apart
From pulling artlessly with fool commands
Some nights I just never go to sleep at all
And I stand
Shaking in my doorway like a sentinel
All alone
Bracing like the bow upon a ship
And fully abandoning
Any thought of anywhere
But home, my home
Sometimes I can almost feel the power
And I do love you
Is it only timing that has made it such a dark hour
Only ever chiming out "Cuckoo, cuckoo"

My heart, I wear you down
I know, gotta think straight
Keep a clean plate
Keep from wearing down
If I lose my head
Just where am I going to lay it

For it has half-ruined me to be hanging around
Here, among the daphne blooming out of the big brown
I am native to it, but I'm overgrown
I have choked my roots on the earth, as rich as roe
Here, down in California

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Memento Mori

It’s Lent at last. I’m going to St. Mary Mags at 12.15 for the imposition of the ashes. There’s something so fantastically solemn about the rite. I’ve always loved it, even when I was in my first few years of primary school with very little experience of liturgical ritual. I went to a Catholic school and all the Catholic boys and girls would be led to the chapel – the oldest RC in South Africa, I think; it was pretty in a purple, gaudy Italianate way – and the non-Catholics would be taken to the stone Anglican church around the corner. After we returned, we’d line up in the bathroom and compare our foreheads, who had the biggest cross and whose grandparents having died that year had been subsequently recycled to make the ashes.

I think the comfort of the rite is partly the reminder of mortality, partly the beauty of penitential language (how often do we welcome imposition?), and partly the feeling of being touched lightly, officially, publicly on the forehead.


This is the time between death 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.
- T.S. Eliot ‘Ash Wednesday’

Saturday, March 5, 2011

In which C Meditates on Selfhood and Receives a Visit

March; the end of seventh week; Kristin and Pat have gone home; the crocuses are out; Lent approaches.

In my last literary theory tutorial we discussed character and subjectivity. As with all lit theory, conversation begins with what seems like common sense and quickly deteriorates. Common sense and ‘what is obvious’ only becomes more of a target; the less evaluated an idea is, the more suspect it becomes. At any rate, the question of subjectivity – of what makes a person a person, or I an I, and if such a thing exists at all – is one I’ve been interested in for a while. It’s easy to think of yourself as a bag of characteristics, things you like, your behavioral traits and emotional tendencies. Patricia Waugh in her Metafiction writes that this is a construction created by the base (in the Marxist sense), and projected through the superstructure. It is convenient for capitalism to have subjects that can be reduced to unified tendencies, because once that subject can construct a set of desires, advertising can target that set. Virginia Woolf wrote about people who weren’t cohesive, characters (including herself) who were jumbled collections of fragments, distortions, contradictions. Twentieth century theory took this farther by exploring the ideal self (as in Lacan’s mirror-phase, desire, and lack) and the construction of self through roles (always non-essential, multiple, and existing in particular contexts).

K and I always talked through selfhood, our own and others. After knowing each other for six years, it’s a conversation that has built up quite a wealth of past material. What is continuous and what is lost from the self; what comes back, surprisingly, at times. I thought about this when coming across Hardy’s Tess:

‘As she walked along today, for all her bouncing handsome womanliness, you could sometimes see her twelfth year in her cheeks, or her ninth sparkling from her eyes; and even her fifth would flit over the curves of her mouth now and then.’ (Tess of the D’ubervilles)

Despite the purple prose, I think this makes the point. Whatever makes a person a person, which differentiates people, it is remarkable to see how continuous people can be. Not just the other person (the not-I) but also the I that is suddenly resurrected when the other person comes into view. I ran from the lit theory tute at Corpus and stood at the market outside of Gloucester Green in the rare sunlight, and was surprised by feet and Kristin’s shout, I felt entirely, unremarkably, called back to myself.