Wednesday, May 31, 2006

And did those feet in ancient times

Walk upon Kashmir’s rolling hills?

And did some Brahmin from the jungle climes

Instruct Him in the Vedic skills?

And did Neil Armstrong really tread,

Upon the rocky, lunar face?

And were those famous words, famously read

Upon the moon, or in some other place?

Within some secret basement room

Were pictures cunningly contrived

To seem as if men walked upon the moon

(Who jumped and hopped and leapt and dived?)

Who was the author of Macbeth?

Did Francis Bacon bear the pen?

Or was it through Kit Marlowe’s life-in-death

That “Will” became the pseudonym?

Who said the Earth was really round?

How can we know it isn’t flat?

Has Darwin’s cogitations really found

That man’s a mammal? (like a rat!)

Did Einstein truly conquer time

And space (through relativity?)

Or was such hybris deemed a fatal crime

Against our primitive ennui?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Death of Gerard Manley Hopkins

“His mind runs in eccentric ways”
(Its wonders to perform)
The Bishop thought: “He’s in a daze
Of stressed and instressed form”.

He passed away in old Kildare,
As “happy” as could be.
At least it seemed he didn’t care
For death (that set him free).

A private man, a public priest,
A living question mark;
Did he slay the inner beast, Howling in the dark?

What were his thoughts on that last day
Devoted to the Son?
Did all his words just fade away
In silence, one by one?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Billy was a six-gun kid;
Scared the law to death.
When he rode up, sheriffs hid:
Or else drew their last breath.

Delia is much like that;
Her ammunition belt,
Is loaded with a broken twat;
Though child-birth she’s not felt.

Her slugs are shot from blue-green eyes;
Her effluence is rank.
You think she’s trapped: Surprise. Surprise.
She’s busted in your bank!

Sweet Delia’s a mean machine
(At only twenty-one!)
She’s beautiful and very lean,
Yet poof. Bang. Bang. You’re gone!

Saturday, May 27, 2006





Monday, May 22, 2006

Gaius Valerius Catullus

I discovered Catullus as a young man, while studying ancient civilizations at university. I can hardly express the delight with which I first read him! It was incredible to think that someone from such a distant time and place, could talk across the millennia to me more intimately than most of the people I was surrounded by at university. It was certainly an intriguing point, that Catullus had also been let down by false friends--even if the context had been rather different!

Aurelius, father of hungers,
you desire to fuck,
not just these, but whoever my friends
were, or are, or will be in future years.
not secretly: now at the same time as you joke
with one, you try clinging to him on every side
In vain: now my insidious cock
will bugger you first.
And, if you're filled, I'll say nothing:
Now I'm grieving for him: you teach
my boy, mine, to hunger and thirst.
So lay off: while you've any shame,
or you will end up being buggered.

In spite of such homo-erotic poems, most of Catullus' output is heterosexual in content--though the bawdiness often remains.

To Ipsithilla

Please, my sweet Ipsithilla,
my delight, my charmer:
tell me to come to you at siesta.
And if you tell me, help it along,
let no one cover the sign at your threshold,
nor you choose to step out of doors,
but stay at home, and get ready
for nine fucks in succession, with me.
Truly, if you should want it, let me know now:
because lying here, fed, and indolently full,
I'm making a hole in my tunic and cloak.

Not all Catullus' verse is lewd in character, though it's fair to say that lewdness is an intrinsic part of his character and is liable to express itself at any time. However, he is probably most famous for his poems to Lesbia (named for the poetess Sappho, who came from Lesbos). This affair is traced from its beginnings, through to its love making peak and bitter aftermath.

An Imitation of Sappho: to Lesbia

He seems equal to the gods, to me, that man,
if it's possible, more than just divine,
who sitting over against you, endlessly
sees you and hears you
laughing so sweetly, that with fierce pain I'm robbed
of all of my senses: because that moment
I see you, Lesbia, nothing's left of me....
but my tongue is numbed, and through my poor limbs
fires are raging, the echo of your voice
rings in both ears, my eyes are covered
with the dark of night.

"Your idleness is loathsome Catullus:
you delight in idleness, and too much posturing:
idleness ruined the kings and the cities
of former times."

Another exquisite lyric speaks of the poet's return to his home in Sirmio (the modern Lake Garda) after a long period of absence.

Sirmio, jewel of islands, jewel of peninsulas,
jewel of whatever is set in the bright waters
or the great sea, or either ocean,
with what joy, what pleasure I gaze at you,
scarcely believing myself free of Thynia
and the Bithynian fields, seeing you in safety.
O what freedom from care is more joyful
than when the mind lays down its burden,
and weary, back home from foreign toil,
we rest in the bed we longed for?
This one moment's worth all the labour.
Hail, O lovely Sirmio, and rejoice as I rejoice,
and you, O lake of Lydian waters, laugh
with whatever of laughter lives here.

Perhaps at this point I should state the few facts and likely conjectures that we know about the life of Gaius Valerius Catullus. He was born into a rich equestrian family in the modern city of Verona around 84 BC and his father was a personal friend of Julius Caeasar's. It appears that that neither Catullus nor anyone in his set, desired public office and other than spending a year in Bithynia on the Black sea coast (to please his father), Catullus seems to have occupied all his time by writing poetry and making love. The fact that none of his poems are dated after 54 BC or refer to events that took place after that time, lead scholars to assume that he probably died around then: though we have no definite proof of this. In spite of Catullus' close link with Julius Caesar, he was quite prepared to criticise the great man, when he thought it necessary. In particular, Catullus seems to have disliked a friend of Caesar's called Mamurra.

to Caius Julius Caesar

Beautifully matched the perverse buggers,
Mamurra the catamite and Caesar.
No wonder: both equally spotted,
one from Formia, the other the City,
marks that remain, not to be lessened.
diseased the same, both of these twins,
both somewhat skilled in the selfsame couch,
this one no greedier an adulterer than that,
rivals in shared little girls.
Beautifully matched the perverse buggers.

Catullus' verse has had a significant influence on the English lyric. Take a look at these verses to Lesbia and see if they don't remind you of something.

Let's Live and Love: to Lesbia

Let us live, my Lesbia, let us love,
and all the words of the old, and so moral,
may they be worth less than nothing to us!
Suns may set, and suns may rise again:
but when our brief light has set,
night is one long everlasting sleep.
Give me a thousand kisses, a hundred more,
another thousand, and another hundred,
and, when we've counted up the many thousands,
confuse them so as not to know them all,
so that no enemy can cast an evil eye,
by knowing that there were so many kisses.

I expect Ben Jonson's, "Drink to me Only with Thine Eyes" and Marvell's, "To His Coy Mistress" were evoked by the reading. Catullus has been perhaps the third most influential Latin poet after Horace and Virgil. I will finish by quoting the above poem to Lesbia in the original Latin. Anyone who has an ear for the modern romance languages, all derived from Latin, should certainly appreciate something of the exquisite music.

Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoresque senum seueriorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis!
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit breuis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Comic Erotica

I guess, first of all, we need to define what “comic erotica” is. Taking a minimalist view of things, we might reply that it is something that is both comic and erotic at the same time. Needless to say, the two don’t automatically go together. What is comic is not necessarily (or even probably) erotic and erotica is by no means usually funny. However, there is a long and distinguished tradition of famous writers who have linked the two together. If we go back to the Roman poet, Catullus, we can find lyrics such as this.

I entrust my loved ones and myself to you, Aurelius.
And I humbly ask a favor from you,
that if you have ever valued anything,
which you might have wished to keep pure and true,
then modestly guard my boy for me,
not I say from the populace, I don't fear
them who just pass by here and there on the street
occupied with their own affairs.
In truth, I am afraid of you and your penis,
hostile to boys, both good and bad.
Because you let it go where it pleases, as it pleases,
as much as you wish. When it is out, you are ready.
This one boy I ask humbly, I feel, you exclude.
For if foul thought and senseless passion drives
you, wretch, to such a crime
that you plan in your mind treason against me,
Then you will have a miserable and ill fate.
Because with feet tied together you will be run
through your backdoor with mullets and radishes.

I believe that this piece most definitely combines comedy and the erotic. It begins seriously enough with the pleading of a favour. However, before long we discover that the favour is for some friend (Aurelius) to guard the poet’s “boy”. Now this clearly doesn’t refer to his son! This point is fully elaborated in the lines that follow about Aurelius’ promiscuity with boys. Shocking? Perhaps, for us today. However, it was merely whimsical for the readers of Catullus’ verse.

At the end of the 19th century, Richard Burton, the English explorer and Orientalist translated the “Arabian Nights”. Although famous as a children’s book, much of the full length version deals with situations which might be labeled as “comic erotica”. One example would be the story of Abu Nowas and the three boys. Let me quote a relevant section from the Burton translation.

And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
When it was the Three hundred and Eighty-second Night,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when Abu Nowas beguiled the youths with his wishes, saying, "We hear and obey;" and accompanied him to his lodging, where they found all ready that he had set forth in his couplets. They sat down and ate and drank and made merry awhile, after which they appealed to Abu Nowas to decide which of them was handsometh of face and shapliest of form. So he pointed to one of them and, having kissed him twice over, recited the following verses,

"I'll ransom that beauty-spot with my soup; * Where's it and where is a money-dole?Praise Him who hairless hath made that cheek * And bid Beauty bide in that mole, that mole!"
Then he pointed to another and, kissing his lips, repeated these couplets,
"And loveling weareth on his cheek a mole * Like musk, which virgin camphor ne'er lets off it:My peepers marvel such a contrast seeing; * And cried the Mole to me, 'Now bless the Prophet.'"

Then he pointed to the third and… kissing him half a score times…(same format)

Presently the drink got into his noddle, drunkenness mastered him and he knew not hand from head, so that he lolled from side to side in joy and inclined to the youths one and all, anon kissing them and anon embracing them leg overlying leg. And he showed no sense of sin or shame, but recited these couplets,

"None wotteth best joyance but generous youth * When the pretty ones deign with him company keep:This sings to him, sings to him that, when he wants * A pick-me-up lying there all of a heap:And when of a loveling he needeth a kiss, * He takes from his lips or a draught or a nip;Heaven bless them! How sweetly my day with them sped; * A wonderful harvest of pleasure I reap:Let us drink our good liquor both watered and pure, * And agree to swive all who dare slumber and sleep."

“Swive” also appears in Chaucer and is an ancient Anglo-Saxon verb for copulate. Abu Nowas is obviously involved in pederasty here, but the intention is clearly comic. This is reinforced by the fact that the ruler of Baghdad, Harun Rashid, bursts into the room unannounced at this point and though he is initially angry with his poet, Abu Nowas, he soon sees the funny side and pardons him.

More recently, Philip Larkin has approached erotica from the comic point of view. For example, there is the famous poem, "Annus Mirabilis" with its provocative opening lines, "Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three(which was rather late for me)/ -Between the end of the Chatterley ban/And the Beatles' first LP."

It will come as a surprise to no one, that both Burton and Larkin had a deep interest in pornography and after their respective deaths, were found to have maintained large collections of erotic material.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Twilight Zone

Ludwig Wittgenstein believed
The world was all that was the case:
A multiplicity conceived
Of facts (which made the human race!)

Thoughts were vital propositions,
Statements with a gist of sense:
"Truth functions" of an erudition
Simply complex--briefly dense!

"The case" was all the facts, not things:
Logical pictures were the thoughts;
The propositional function brings,
A photo of Grable in white shorts.

Beyond sweet Betty's pretty legs,
There lies a realm of mystic forms.
(The world is where one whines and begs
Within "the case's modes and norms!)

Take me to that land of silence,
Where the mystic truths are known;
Let me suddenly--at once!
Experience the "twilight zone"!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Einstein On A Beam Of Light

Einstein on a beam of light,
Deduced the Cosmos in his head;
Gerald on a boozy night,
Fucked a student in his bed.

Wittgenstein broke all his words,
Delivering his notebooks up.
Gerald just passed out his turds;
Then motored off to feed and sup.

Gallileo scanned the stars,
With his new fangled telescope;
Gerald merely bears the scars
Of killing those who cannot cope.

The Prof. produced a book last June:
Called it "Pound and Metaphor";
Made good sense of a baboon
(Which hadn't been explained before).

They say that Gerald, when he's pissed,
Will show his penis for a pound.
He's on the New Year's Honours List!
(Sir Gerald has a pleasing sound!)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Bigger Bang--Jon Aristides, Sept. 7, 2005

Forty years ago, when the Stones were at their peak, I was unconscious about most of my surroundings, sucking on my mother's breasts: George W. Bush was probably occupied with his first experience on cannabis (or getting into trouble for drunken driving?). Surely, he was a long way from becoming the man who the Stones were eventually to write the song "Sweet Neo Con" about ("Call yourself a Christian...You're just a crock of s*hit"). It's quite amazing that the personal and song writing partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards has lasted so long! And now, here they are, once again, with a new album and world tour.

We are used to the Stones breaking all known records for touring, but their recent albums have left a lot to be desired. The last three studio albums, to my ear, have seemed like blues influenced heavy metal--and I certainly don't mean that in any complimentary way. The blues rock with which they made their name seemed to have disappeared for good. Goodbye to "Aftermath", "Beggars Banquet", "Let It Bleed", "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile On Main Street" forever! But it ain't true! "A Bigger Bang" is a great Stones album, in their classic blues rock mode. Not every one of the 16 tracks is a masterpiece, but there are no clear duds (unlike other recent Stones' albums) and they keep close to their classic, blues based, intermeshing guitar rock sound, throughout. The rhythm section of Keith and Charlie Watts is particularly strong on this recording and MJ sounds more or less the same as he did forty years ago, as a twenty two year old stripling. As USA Today put it in their recent review, "if this album is not exactly another Exile On Main Street, at least it's recognizably in the same zip code!"

Stand out tracks are the dirty blues sounding "Rough Justice", "Back Of My Hand", and "Infamy" ("you got it in fer me"--Keith on lead vocals). "Streets of Love" is a better than usual Mick inspired ballad and "She Saw Me Coming", is the best track of the lot with it's pounding country honk rhythms and Mick's ironic vocals..."She saw me coming...she had me on the ropes...She saw me coming...she took me for a dope". All in all, it's great value with a running time of well over an hour and I'd happily give it a score of 9 out of 10.

Wonder what Geoge Bush will be doing with himself in four years? These guys will probably just be setting out on another world tour!

*Originally published on

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Well played, Arsenal, though the European Cup proved to be a step too far. After having goalkeeper Lehmann sent off early in the first half, the Gunners actually took the lead against Barcelona through a Sol Campbell header in the 37th minute. For a half hour of the second half, it looked like the ten men were going to hang onto their lead and win the cup, but in the last 15 minutes, tired legs were overwhemed and two goals were conceded. 2-1 to Barca then. Have to say, that this final was something of an anti-climax after Liverpool's fantastic come-back last year.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The following article was first published on the website, "useless-knowledge" (see URL below).

Chronicles, Volume One, by Bob Dylan--Jon Aristides May 21, 2005.

Well, we have all heard so much about the great man from other sources: there were even stories about journalists going through his garbage in the hope of getting a story. Now at last the man who has been called "the voice of a generation" (much to his own discomfiture), speaks out for himself. So how does the "voice of a generation" sound, now that the generation he spoke to, are ready to start taking their pensions?

Dylan's prose voice is both more poetic and more mundane than one might have expected. It is difficult to call him "anti-intellectual" given his friendships with people like Archibald McLeish and Allen Ginsberg, but that is how he comes across much of the time. He openly admits that his grades at school were below average and the overall impression is of a man struggling to understand why so much hope and trust were invested in an "everyday Joe". The truth is, however, that Bob Dylan is sometimes more than a little disingenuous in these pages. Did he really not see how his early work like "Times They Are-A-Changin'" had set him up as the spokesman for the protest movement? The truth would seem to be that Dylan never did much believe in anything except himself and his own spiritual journey. In the early days, he used the protest movement as a ready made power pack to jump start his career. After he'd made his name, he wanted to move on and discard the people who had helped him---and was surprised to find that these same people believed he had betrayed them.

The voice in this volume is often similar to the image crunching voice of the songs: there is little analysis. We just have the Dylan perspective on everything from Marxism to Robert Johnson--and that is really quite a lot. This book definitively demonstrates that Dylan is not, nor never was, any great thinker. His skill is to wrap up common events and ordinary people's lives with dignity and a certain poetic majesty. Why should we ask for anything more?

*By the way, I'm beginning to enjoy this Blogging lark. I'd like to thank Ashish Gorde for opening my eyes to the medium's possibilities. He has his own well established Blog and Webpage which talk about contemporary social issues and give an enormous number of useful links. The addresses are:

Monday, May 15, 2006

Come to think of it, perhaps we're being a little harsh on Syd. After all, David Gilmour hasn't aged any better. It's just that we've seen him get old, whereas Syd as a recluse is always contrasted with his former self. These days, Gilmour could be put on the cover of D.H. Lawrence's "The Prussian Officer" and not appear out of place.

It seems that Syd and Gilmour were great buddies when they were children and that while Syd was always the poet, Gilmour was the better guitarist. Wonder why Gilmour wasn't invited to join the band in the first place? Maybe there was some rivalry between him and Syd? Likely enough.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I've been thinking about poor Syd Barrett, the founder of Pink Floyd, for a few days. The story is well enough known. Syd burnt bright early in his life and was the founder, songwriter, guitarist and singer of the early Pink Floyd. After their early success in Britain and America he declined into madness and the other members of the band decided to get rid of him and replace him with David Gilmour. As PF became ever more massive, the songs became more and more a lament for the absence of Syd. The man himself, meanwhile, had returned to his Cambridge home where he became an almost complete recluse. He is still living there today. His sister who lives next door does everything for him.

I wrote a poem about poor old Syd.

Ave Syd

Was incipient madness always there?
Or was the startling suddenness of fame
Too much for one of temperament so rare
And fine? I guess it’s difficult to blame
Any of the band too much. The crazy eyes
Were always fixed upon them in disguise.

Those early videos of black and white
Presaged an odd rejection of the real;
As if some stricken soul had taken fright
And hidden in a lunatic’s surreal
World… Ave Syd! I think you were relieved
When finally you had to leave the field.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Absolutely fantastic! There's only one thing I can write about today and that's the victory of my beloved football team, Liverpool, in the F.A. Cup Final. We were 2-0 down after 20 minutes, before pulling ourselves back into contention with goals from Djibril Cisse and Stevie Gerrard. Unbelievably we then went 2-3 down when Reina misjudged a cross and watched it sail over his head into the net. In the 90th minute of the game, Captain Fantastic (alias Stevie Gerrard) unleased an unstoppable thunderbolt from 35 yards out: 3-3! There were no more goals in extra time and so the match went to penalties. Liverpool had been there before last year in the European Cup Final and Hamman, Gerrard and Riise calmly put away their penalties. Reina, on the other hand saved three out of four West Ham penalties. Liverpool had won the penalty shoot out by 3 goals to one! Congratulations boys!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Who was Homer? No one can be sure. In the past, most scholars seemed to subscribe to the idea that a whole series of poets had created and embellished the two Greek masterpieces, "the Iliad" and "the Odyssey". Now it appears that for various reasons, most academics have once more come around to the idea that Homer actually existed and produced most of the two great poems of the Myceanean age. Whatever the truth, the world created in these poems is unforgettable in its beauty, simplicity and barbarism.

I wrote a poem about Homer.


What is it in a simple tale of romance
That makes each man a fascinated child?
Is it by iron fate or merest chance,
That we like tales of violence hot and wild?
Why do I love of all legends the best
Great Homer’s saga of the warring West?

“Homer!” The very name rings like a bell
Down all the centuries of western art!
Great Ulysses was forced to visit Hell
And know his mother’s lost and broken heart!
It is the archetypes that fascinate
Us most (a gritty courage, Love and Hate!)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Trojan War myth has always fascinated me as a colourful archetype. There is romance, adventure, travel, war, skill, hardship and eventual triumph for one side and defeat for the other. Of course, it is the fact that the war was ostensibly fought for the return of Menelaus' wife, Helen, that has proved so eternally fascinating. She has been visualised in many different ways down the centuries and millenia. Here she is in her most recent incarnation by the German actress, Diane Kruger (left).

Diane makes for a beautiful blonde Helen. The tradition mostly suggests that Helen was dark (like most people of the Mediterranean and Aegean areas), but it's certainly not impossible that she was a blonde (if she ever really existed at all!

I wrote a poem about the Trojan War.

THE MASK OF PRIAM (and its strange disappearance)

Not far from modern Istanbul, there lies
Upon the blue Aegean’s Western shore,
A place where ancient heroes’ battle cries
Resounded in a struggle for the whore
That we call Helen. Give me your breath
O Muse, that I might paint Troy’s savage death.

The modern hill of Hisalik was once
Home to Priam and his noble sons. Great
Illium mounted its ordained defence,
Despite the evil auguries of fate
And clear fault of Paris in his lust
For Helen (whom no man could ever trust.)

Agamemnon and his brother Kings,
(Outraged and set upon their swift revenge),
Sailed out from Greece as if with eagle wings
And each man seemed alone: without a friend.
Achaean ships at last crashed on the shore:
And men and Gods made ready for a war.

Achilles slew great Hector and at last
A ruse by wily Ulysses condemned
The Trojans to their own heroic past
And poets to their lays of Troy’s swift end.
The Greeks killed almost everyone they found
(Some sleeping in their beds) without a sound.

After the annihilation was complete
Great Agamemnon ordered that a mask
Be taken of dead Priam in defeat
And made from beaten gold: a simple task
Enough: yet though they finished it at noon,
The Mask of Priam vanished with the moon!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Man is destroyed by vanity and desire. These are also the qualities, however, that achieve great things in this world.

Monday, May 08, 2006

From Shakespeare and Co.

I really need to stop losing my long posts through putting an unreasonable faith in the program's functionality to operate properly. As soon as I pressed the "Preview" button I knew things looked bad...oh well, I'll just have to summarize.

As a Roman Catholic, I am particularly interested in the parallel with the Spanish Conquistadors. It should be pointed out that they did what they did with the full support of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope. There was a long discussion about whether the natives were people and had souls--and finally it was decided that they were and they had. In these circumstances, naturally, they had to be converted. The punishment for failing to accept the True Faith was death (as indeed it was in Europe itself at the time). No end was thought to be too gruesome for those who had rejected the faith (in any case, it could be no more than a foretaste of what was in store for them in Hell).The attempt to extrapolate certain basic human rights and apply them generally is admirable, but fraught with difficulty. Governments have always ruled, more or less, by violence. Majorities have persecuted minorities and opponents of the system have always been cut down without mercy. Women's equality has not been fully realised in technologically advanced societies (which seem to give more political, liberal and cultural freedoms), so it would be strange if backward Talibani supported them. Why in fact, should we expect the Taliban to respects women's rights when they fare hardly much better in large swathes of Asia, Africa and Ameica? Furthermore, we are stepping on egg shells because another basic human right is freedom of religion...and for a Muslim it's perfectly acceptable for a man to have 4 wives, but he will never permit a woman to have 4 husbands!In theory, I too am against the death penalty. However, there is nothing new about beheading people. The French populace had a long love affair with "Madame Le Guillotine" (as the Roman populace had with the Gladiator Arena)and there has traditionally been a dual concern: to entertain the people, while warning them what the results of certain actions will be.

I'm afraid this is rather shorter and more hurried than the original post.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Who is right and who is wrong in this world? So often it seems to depend on which side of the fence you were born. A Palestinian is 100% sure he's in the right--and so is the Jew. The hardliners of every religion believe themselves to have a monopoly on the truth. Right and left wing fanatics think they are right--and what's more they believe their positions (which most of us abhor) to be perfectly reasonable. Democrats righteously declare the superiority of their mode of government to other systems, without closely examining just how democratic--or undemocratic-- democracy really is.

One man's drink is another man's poison. One man's hero, another man's warmonger. One man's fanatic is another man's prophet. One man's mediator is another man's weakling.

And I'm afraid there are no easy answers.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Sometimes I wonder how I made it to 50. I have to thank Saudi Arabia for keeping me going from the ages of about 43 to 48. It was a little bit like the Foreign Legion and, in that closed off world, I was able to live a simple life and perform a worthwhile, if repetitive, task. I also earned a lot of money. I really think the alternative might have been a nervous breakdown. Odd that while Saudi may have been a curse for many, for me it was a blessing. For this reason, I never have a bad word to say about the place.

Friday, May 05, 2006

There is too much stupidity in the world. What is the correct attitude in the face of stupidity? Anger? Violence? Indifference? Patience? Love? A little bit of each?

I have been working on an Eng. Lit. page, where many famous poets and writers can be heard reading their own works. The link is:

Thursday, May 04, 2006

From Shakespeare and Co.

Just wrote a very long reply to this and then lost it due to a computer failure (damn!...should have saved it on Word). Perhaps it was my karma! :))))

Anyway, I think this will be briefer. I began (begin?) by saying that sometimes David hardly seems to pay attention to what other people clearly write. He uses so many words himself (and is happy to throw in so many half formulated ideas) that he will talk around anything--though not necessarily give satisfactory answers! In my earlier post, I said that Yeats rarely used archaisms in his later poems. The poem quoted by David is NOT a later poem by Yeats. Even if it was, I didn't say you will NEVER find an archaism in later Yeats. Yeats began as a pure archaisist (if there is such a word), but developed into something far more. We might say that Yeats is the last great English speaking poet to write in an archaic style. The course of his career took him from the late 19th century world to the modern era and his poetry is a record of that. The later poems that Eliot thought showed Yeats to be the greatest poet of the century, show no sign of archaisms. Look for example at the beginning of "The Second Coming":

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

It is very powerful indeed--but also curiously modern. This is the new voice of the Twentieth Century and neither Yeats nor we can go backwards from this to Tennysonian archaisms. Of course, we CAN write in unnatural inverted ways and even produce half decent poems (just as I--from a physical point of view---can write a sonnet). However, in the ultimate scale of things it is not destined to be taken very seriously.

Next point: Tin pan alley was often influenced by old archaic English literary forms in their lyrics. Agreed! However, a higher standard of quality and awareness is expected from a serious poet than a Tin pan alley word grinder! Robert Browning is a fine poet but he lived a long time ago and I can only be influenced by him today in subtle ways--certainly not in his inversions! It is, by the way, a false choice to suggest that the inverted version of a poem gives a better result than with the verb (or whatever) displaced elsewhere. The point is, that the music of the whole line would have been developed in a different way if we were writing with one eye on the avoidance of such inversions. We have a responsibility to write as we speak (though also investing special power in various ways).

Of course, this philosophical discussion has gone far beyond any one poem--though it was Rupa's fine effort that began it. Mine, was originally a casual remark which David picked up on--and it has gone from there. However, I repeat my belief that any modern poet who wants to be taken seriously must excise artificial and literary archaisms from their voice. If they don't do that, they may write pleasant, talented verses, but will never finally be taken seriously.

I will finish by admitting that sometimes I have doubts about David's ear. The obsession with syllables and da-da-da-da-ing is silly (go with the music!) and I note that he seems to have little interest or knowledge of the finest two English speaking poets of the last century (Eliot and Yeats). Also in his own poems I often note a lack of musicality and the presence of archaisms (in spite of all his prolixity). His discursive prose, when treating of the right subject, is often entertaining and I feel this is the area that he should concentrate on (an area where, to quote a famous tin pan alley composer, "Anything Goes"). I wonder if David has read Frederic Jameson, Edward Said, Homi K. Bhabha, Raymond Williams, Terry Eagleton, Eliot's criticism--or even Leavis on whom a thousand university syllabi were based? Without a knowledge of the tradition it is difficult to move beyond the mere traditional to what is original!

Final point: I will wait until all subsequent responses have died down before posting again!

PS--This is shorter and a bit different to the post I lost.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What is religion other than a particular way of seeing the world? All the stories are true and false at the same time. Don't search for historicity in religious works, but for an illumination that will inspire your life! All religions point to the realms of silence that we know nothing concrete about and they create comforting stories for us to believe in. We sense the mysteries that lie beyond us and therefore we describe them in terms that are appropriate to us. This fact points out the futility of arguing over the "rightness" of religion.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Well, I had an interesting long dialogue with Ashish on Gtalk today. It encompassed art, fiction, technology, the future of reading and other equally interesting topics. I transcribe it below.

John: hi ashish...did you see my blog?
Ashish: no
what's the link?
welcome to blogland
John: it's on the shakespeare and co page--at the bottom
Ashish: going there
John: ok looks the same as the rest
Ashish: yeah they do have a couple of the same templates
but some people change the look on their own
like what pragya did with the shakespeare adn company blog
but some html is required
however, the basic templates available are fine methinks
John: is she a programmer?
Ashish: no
she asked someone else to do it
John: rajendra?
Ashish: i like this stuff you wrote - i am a man, one of the billions that walk the earth
i think it was rajendra
John: haha..yes
couldn't think of anything profound
Ashish: it''s hard to answer those bits
John: yes it is
Ashish: well you can always change it later on
you can even add links
and site statistics to

John: well...i take it to be a spontaneous thing and not too thlought over
Ashish: that's ok... once you get in the flow of things
you'll find other people reading it as well
and then others
John: thought for the day kind of a thing
Ashish: or even comments
on life or whatever
John: yes
Ashish: if you focus on one particular thing, then, it makes your blog quite focused
and attract readers
John: is that what you do?
Ashish: kind of...
i started my blog with some essays and comments
and sometimes i would post short stories and poems
and pictures
John: about injustice?
Ashish: but now i am more or less going to write articles and commentaries
from an expat point of view
John: good...for me i think it will just be a few sentences each day
about something
Ashish: that should help
but i think one should just write and then it starts
John: thought for the day kind of a thing
Ashish: one must make it a little bit provocative because that certainly grabs more readership
provocative or anything that challenges something
John: ahh yes
Ashish: it usually gets more response and attracts readership
besides you can always use your blog as a way to promote your website, your books and yourself as a writer
John: i think i am naturally provocative in what i write
Ashish: i read a news-report the other day that said bloggers have a better chance of getting jobs as writers
John: yes but it gets to be a pointless circle...each is promoting the other but not much
Ashish: because prospective employers/ editors can read what they write
and since there is a discipline involved in posting regularly... that is also taken note of
John: well maybe
but a good page is important too
Ashish: plus if a blog is geared towards a specialised topic, then, that helps enhance a writer's prestige as well
yes that's important, too
John: several interviews i had asked me if i could show examples of my page building skills
Ashish: but again... it's all about good writing
John: so i gave the englit page and my home page
Ashish: and now you can show your blog as well
John: yes
you know i'm not sure it is all about good writing
Ashish: well some of the really good blogs are
John: or at least not in the short term
Ashish: some of the good and popular blogs are all about style and substance
John: journalistic?

Ashish: some bloggers are read because they write well
some journalists blog because they can write stuff they cant
John: well..i don't reads any blogs just because they write well
Ashish: well it usually helps
i have noticed there is a particular style involved in blogging...
John: perhaps for information
Ashish: information as well as commentary
or even reviews
John: especially if i can't get it elsewhere
Ashish: during the tsunami
John: yes
Ashish: some bloggers came together to develop a 'rescue and aid' focused blog
that became very famous
John: that's very good
Ashish: and was even used and referred to by news organisations
and they were even rewarded
now they have used that experience to form a blog that's geared towards responding to any worldwide emergency
they did one for katrina as well
John: actually writing is a fairly minor activity, mostly in the pocket of big corporations
the nobel prize is a laugh financed by a gunpowder magnate
Ashish: that's true
nobel peace prize is quite an irony
John: yes indeed
just another form of patronage
Ashish: yup
John: the best age of writing is probably in the past

the internet is leading us in new directions
and making people less and less interested in the printed word
Ashish: i think the internet has the potential of shaking the corporates' hold on writing
John: they want interactivity all the time
it's amazing how many people see any kind of reading as a chore
Ashish: i dont feel too attached to the printed word because i feel it's a matter of technology
and it changes
interactivity poses tougher challenges, methinks
as far as writing is concerned
keeps the writer on his toes
John: with ythe stories i write i often get people saying "i really enjoyed that" if they are forced to read for some reason...but they would not read for fun in their own time
Ashish: true
John: they want the printed word turned into pictures
100 years ago it was very different
Ashish: well, as long as people read
John: 50 years ago it was different
yes..but read what?
Ashish: TV is a bigger threat to reading than the Internet
because TV is passive
John: all of it..the new technology taken together
Ashish: whereas Internet promotes reading ... whatever it is
John: not sure about that
Ashish: you can read poetry, plays... even shakespeare
John: it might promote reading in sound bytes
but not real traditional solid reading
Ashish: yes
John: we are in a minority that is shrinking smaller all the time
Ashish: well in that case we must try and ensure solid reading takes place on the Internet... at least
John: yes...but we are preaching to the converted
Ashish: because, i think, the converted need to harness the Internet's potential, too
John: even there...i put up poems now because i know that real long stories will mostly be ignored
ok if it's sound byte length
a few paragraphs
Ashish: was thinking about the topic the otehr day
and realised the way people use Internet has changed in the past few years
from emailing to chats..
we are now looking at networking
John: i put up what i thought was a really good thriller about a month ago
Ashish: which, again, is an evolution from the chatting
John: and it got zero responses
Ashish: that's sad
sorry i think i must have ignored it, too
what was the title...
John: then i put up a really long short story--and the responses made it clear that the writers hadn't even read the story
now i don't bother
Ashish: i could check it now since i am not as tied up as I was before
but yes i agree... tv has reduced the attention span
John: well that would be nice..but don't feel your own time

Ashish: mother should be discharged in a day or two
John: but the point is i am trying to entertain people
and mostly they don't even want to start reading!
that's a real problem
Ashish: yes, true
John: i don't know the answer
turn them all into film scripts
Ashish: people in search of soundbytes
John: yes
Ashish: but film scripts require a much more disciplined form of writing
John: well i wouldn't say it was more disciplined...just different
otherise we'll have to say that the lowest script writer was more disciplined than dickens
Ashish: no i didnt mean that
but a good film scriptwriter needs to be in control of so many elements
even the silence has to be scripted
John: oh yes
Ashish: even the silence has to be meaningful
John: it's a different skill
Ashish: the best script is the one where the actors use minimum words
John: reading abook is all silence
Ashish: and the worst script is the one where the actors speak non-stop
John: not dickens or shakespeare then
Ashish: even describing the very act that they are doing
John: who are both wordy

Ashish: i think shakespeare makes good cinema
John: well..he's wordy
Ashish: mainly because he doesnt spend too much time describing the ambinece
but the characters speak
and one can use silence very effectively in shakespeare
and even the way the scenes change...
almost made for film
John: perhaps fiction is dying
Ashish: true
unless that fiction has a film contract attached to it
John: yes
Ashish: like john grisham
John: if fiction dies i guess university fiction courses will follow
Ashish: unless technology introduces a very portable e-book concept
where one can download entire texts
John: like the radio
50 years ago everyone had a radio
Ashish: because until that happens, we'll find books on a deathbed
John: now almost no one
Ashish: yes... but radio reinvented itself
and FM entered the car
and now satellite radio has made a headway
John: well i don't mind reading e books now
Ashish: plus internet radio has also changed its contours
John: but i seem to be in the minority
Ashish: same here...

John: well..these are interesting tributaries of the internet
Ashish: maybe the coming generation will find it easy to use e-books
text books could be downloaded on e-books
John: but maybe people listen to internet radio for 30 mins a day
Ashish: would reduce kids from turning into hunchbacks
John: they used tob listen to radio 24 from 24
Ashish: oh i listen to internet radio almost 8 to 10 hours
i stopped listening to radio bahrain long time ago
John: well that's unusual i'd think
Ashish: when we were kids, radio bahrain was the universe
John: i don't listen to it at all
i am sure that within 100 years paper and print will disappear
maybe less
Ashish: maybe we will all have individual tablets or laptops
John: it's very expensive felling all those trees
Ashish: i agree
John: and making paper
Ashish: and with broadband becoming widely available
John: now you even sign your name electronically when fedex delivers
Ashish: yes
John: all this will develop apace
don't know where it's all leading though
maybe a wider and more varied education
Ashish: might happen soon but it all depends on how economical the devices are
the technology is already here
John: but less emphasis on reading long books
Ashish: but it's the economics
John: and on the concentration needed for that
Ashish: i mean if i can get all of john grisham's books in one e-book device... would love that
John: well that's what i do now
i have been reading a little known historical romance of arthur conan doyle on my computer
Ashish: or if i can have my entire library available to me at a single click... much easier and enjoyable than having to sneeze after picking up an old book from a dusty shelf
John: i've nearly finished
Ashish: neat
John: yes
obviously the only thing lacking is a really satisfactory ebook reading format...but that is bound to come soon
Ashish: they might integrate it with internet
and that should clinch the deal
John: well people like to read lying down so it will be some kind of portable format
Ashish: yes
John: all this is going to create a revolution in the economics of popular entertainment
Ashish: but with email and IM option
John: no more paying through the nose formusic or books
Ashish: it's already happening with music
John: yes
Ashish: iTunes changed things
maybe it's the next BIG idea
John: wewll as an internet bandit i get whatever i want absolutely free
Ashish: hahah
John: and i feel no guilt
Ashish: i meant, for non-bandits like us... :-)
John: for years the big record companies took about 80% profit from every record they sold
the prices were kept artificially high
and now they're moaning
Ashish: they were complaining about iTunes' rates, too
they felt a dollar was too less
but the apple people remained stubborn
said that if they want to increase the rates, they run the risk of losing additional revenue because people will then opt for pirated versions
John: maybe you'll be able to project a hologram into space of the page you want to big perfect script
Ashish: like star wars?
John: true
can't fight progress
as thge miners discovered
something spectacular
Ashish: yes
hope its not windows
then we'll have spyware mixed up with the hologram
Sent at 12:01 PM on Tuesday
John: in 20 years i expect windows will seem horribly dated
Ashish: well it looks dated even now
i find it so cumbersome
and complicated
John: yes..but even the whole concept
new and better GUI's will develop
Ashish: as a mac user, i would be a little biased, i guess
John: but beyond anything we currently know...
maybe they will work with holograms?
Ashish: yes
John: something like that
maybe the mind wiredup to make the OS do things
Ashish: but there is already some research being done on using the mind
to perform some actions
and make commands
John: i think our present pc's will look like sopwith camels to apollo spacecraft in 100 years
Ashish: 100 years may be too long a time
maybe even in 25 years time...
remember those clunky DOS pcs
John: but i mean really big change
Ashish: and we used to salivate over 1 MB RAM
John: that we can't even predict
Ashish: i dont think we even dreamt of crossing 1 Ghz
or even two gigabytes

Ashish: gigabytes seemed more like a theoretical concept
maybe virtual reality will be used
so we can virtually 'meet' people we want to communicate with
the other person will interact with our avatar who looks just like us
John: the next big step might be the demise of microsoft--going beyond windows
maybe so
Ashish: or maybe they'll adapt
and reinvent themselves
John: maybe
or maybe someone else will come up with the idea
someone with nothing to lose
Ashish: yes
but it requires the end of dial-up
and easy availability of broadband
John: i think that's almost finished anyhow
Ashish: maybe internet will be free
or very negligible charges
John: i have free 24 hour internet now
in the apartment
Ashish: we might pay for it alongwith electricity
i pay batelco for their shoddy services
John: yes so do i
but i want to stop this month
and the free cable has proved very good
in spite of everyone using it
Ashish: coool
John: sorry i didn;t do it before
Ashish: new companies ahve sprouted in bahrain
John: i was paying for nothing
Ashish: but they offer internet services only for businesses

John: right
well most of these new apartment blocks include free 24 hour cable internet connection
Sent at 12:17 PM on Tuesday
Ashish: so i hear
that's how they raise the rates
John: yes
i guess you pay for it in other ways
Ashish: true
i meant... the house rents are increased and this is one of their reasons
John: sure
well..i think i'll be off..if you have saved this dialogue maybe you could email it?
and i'll put it up
Ashish: sure
I'll send it now

Monday, May 01, 2006

Why are we here? If there was a big bang that started the universe which was enclosed inside a primordial egg, what surrounded the egg? We are prone to think of space as nothingness, but it seems this was produced by the big bang itself. What lies beyond space and time? Is my death of the same order as when I see a cow or horse die? If you cut my throat as a sheep's is cut, then I will die just as readily! Does God exist? Does he care? Is he a general principle suffusing the whole universe? Do we enjoy a closer relationship with "Him" than other life forms? What happens when we die? Are we born again? Do we simply sleep? Do we go to Paradise or Hell?

In spite of our progress, it's clear that many of our most important questions remain unanswered.

Time for a beer. DAMN! Wish I had some in the fridge!