Cockatoo, Dunedin (28.12.09)
reclining on a sofa hearing rain patter smelling vegetables cooking in a steamy room and a moment to defocus
These fought in any case (9.12.09)
These fought in any case,
and some believing
pro domo, in any case...
Died some, pro patria,
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;
usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.
Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
fair cheeks, and fine bodies;
fortitude as never before
frankness as never before,
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies.
— Ezra Pound
A Crisis (29.11.09)
I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on to Judea. Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to ordinary human standards, ready to say 'Yes, yes' and 'No, no' at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been 'Yes and No.' For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not 'Yes and No'; but in him it is always 'Yes.' For in him every one of God's promises is a 'Yes.'
— 2 Corinthians 1.16-19
It is easier to say 'Yes' to people. But if you say 'Yes' to everyone, you end up contradicting yourself: saying 'Yes' to one thing logically means saying 'No' to something else.
— George Connor, retiring Bishop of Dunedin, 28 November 2009 (paraphrased)
crisis: c.1425, from Gk. krisis "turning point in a disease" (used as such by Hippocrates and Galen), lit. "judgment," from krinein "to separate, decide, judge."
The Fault of It (11.11.09)
- Some may have blamed us that we cease to speak
- Of things we spoke of in our verses early,
- Saying: a lovely voice is such as such;
- Saying: that lady's eyes were sad last week,
- Wherein the world's whole joy is born and dies;
- Saying: she hath this way or that, this much
- Of grace, this way or that, this much
- Of grace, this little misericorde;
- Ask us no further word;
- If we were proud, then proud to be so wise
- Ask us no more of all the things ye heard;
- We may not speak of them, they touch us nearly.
— Ezra Pound
Something and Nothing (19.10.09)
- If you had known how little
- you would have had to give
- to drum into this brittle
- hope the desire to live
- would you have changed the venue,
- your greeting or your tone
- or planned things better when you
- knew we'd have hours alone
- and if you heard a hollow
- voice spit these ill-advised
- questions, would nothing follow?
- I wouldn't be surprised.
Proust on Motivation (17.10.09)
The disgraced ambassador, the civil service chief forced into retirement, the man about town given a chilly reception, the lover shown the door sometimes spend months examining the event which destroyed their hopes; they turn it over and over like a bullet fired they do not know from where nor by whom, almost like a meteorite. They want to know what the strange device is made of that struck them down so suddenly, whose ill-will it embodies. At least chemists can turn to analysis; sufferers from an unknown disease can call in a doctor. And criminal cases are more or less clarified by the examining magistrate. But the disconcerting actions of our fellow-men rarely reveal their motives.
Freedom and Command (13.10.09)
In the Republic [412-421c] Plato says that, qua leader, no leader proposes or orders what is useful for himself, but what is useful for the one he commands. To command is then to do the will of the one who obeys [...] A will can accept the order of another will only because it finds that order in itself. The exteriority of the command is but inwardness. If the order is contrary to reason, it will come up against the absolute resistance of reason.
— Levinas, Freedom and Command
Mid-Term Break (8.10.09)
- I sat all morning in the college sick bay
- Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
- At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.
- In the porch I met my father crying —
- He had always taken funerals in his stride —
- And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.
- The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
- When I came in, and I was embarrassed
- By old men standing up to shake my hand
- And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"
- Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
- Away at school, as my mother held my hand
- In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
- At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
- With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
- Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
- And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
- For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
- Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
- He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
- No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
- A four foot box, a foot for every year.
— Seamus Heaney
a humility a girl and a smile is a place next to a car, some other route, unstuck and untaken who there is and where would they play where since the surface was uneven, an uneven bounce and an anger, an anger that is a circle and a block a remedy became the problem and that was the end of that. A run and a glow a look in the mirror which is long gone, broken now I hope bringing luck bad luck to some other place a translucent intention unlined untended untacked broken and drawn drawn back touched and closed. First too high then too low an overbearing independence a freedom looking inwards a substitute and inversion of rage a sleeping watchfulness an insomnia Would it be a question if we Is not a question a rebellion? rebellious question, an opposition, a resistance to the given Rationality a volition and yes I'll cry I wanted to so badly but this is what's left and do you still feel it like it was yesterday it was not yesterday any more my love
Verge and Brink (21.9.09)
Beauty and the Face (10.9.09)
How is it that someone can look so different from one moment to the next? The face is not a static thing, not a premeditated expression worn for the day like a piece of clothing. This would not be an expression at all: clothing serves to conceal, while the face, in all its nudity, is a site of revelation.
So the face makes us known to others in a way that is beyond volition (which we might also call rationality). But the face, this origin of knowledge, makes us desirable at the same time as sealing our fate — a fate we would not have to face if we were absolutely, primordially, alone. This is the great burden of beauty: a permanent fear, a heavy awareness of the passing of time.
Freedom and Suicide (10.9.09)
Life is disappearing before our eyes and we are all draining away together. Yet the way we behave, an alien would imagine that the existence we share is permanent — not mortal. The final humiliation of liberalism is death, non-existence, ultimate passivity, unfreedom. Action resists death as a recurrent and deluded protest. Even the contemplation of suicide is a resistance against death, an attempt to control our end, to bring the passivity of passivities into a domain, a sphere of influence.
And yet, when we become sick, we are filled with fear and, to our great surprise, we want to LIVE. To paraphrase Franz Rosenzweig: on that dark night of terror, when it comes to it, man does not by nature fall towards the darkness but turns towards light, by instinct he grasps for survival at all costs — at the expense even of misery.
EDUCATION breaks and enters where TEACHING would knock.
Radical Friendship (7.9.09)
O, my friends, there is no friend.
What is friendship in a world governed, according to the philosophers, by enmity? We are told that the State of Nature is War and civilization nothing but War by Other Means. So friendship in an antagonistic world would be nothing more than the suspension of hostilities, a temporary state of affairs made possible by constant threat of fresh violence; a ceasefire whose terms and activities would obtain meaning only from my permanent option to take up arms. Is this a true account of friendship? Perhaps it is true as far as it goes: necessary, but insufficient. There can be no doubt that our subjection to each other is always a subjection to the risk of violence. Our friends can do us more harm than a stranger because our very closeness heightens our vulnerability.
Yet perhaps we can look at things another way. We need not reject Hobbes to concede his limitations: because for certain, friendship occurs in a violent world and this can never be otherwise. But is not friendship, rather than a convenient by-product of war's absence, really its radical alternative? Is not true friendship — resistance? In this radical friendship we do not simply affirm each other in our established positions in the way that tyrants appease each other in diplomacy. Rather, radical friendship takes the form of judgement: friendship is the duty to challenge violence, not to repeat it by absorbing it as the enabling principle of our relationships. The translators of Matthew 7 implore us: "Judge not, that ye be not judged." But this will not do. Radical friendship is not a relativistic free-for-all — and yet, unlike the judgement of violence, the judgement of a radical friend does not atrophy into condemnation. Could Matthew really mean, "Condemn not, that ye be not condemned"?
O, my friends, there is no enemy.
Presence and Separation (7.9.09)
Are we ever sure about love? Is love anything but grieving in advance? Is love anything but fear? In the words of C.S. Lewis, "it gives life a permanently provisional feeling [...] I can't settle down, I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much..."
Old friends are often close friends, even though they may also be distant ones. It is a connection created by sharing the passage of time, being quietly aware of the other's existence as you watch the clock tick. Memories of friends are always a form of presence. But in love, memories become absence and proximity a source of separation. Love tries to capture, stop, or waste time — we are forever beyond each other's reach, insufficient, untouchable, and it seems to be Time's fault.
Is there someone you loved so long ago, someone you have loved continuously, if tacitly, passively, since then? You see his muscles and his skin, yes, older than when you first loved him, but as lovely as ever, because they are him: and you know you really love someone when you can see them in any condition, at any age, and see what you saw when you first fell in love, you can see beauty even where others wouldn't when you see that same muscle working under the skin, and you know it is love, the same body, the same mind, the same eyes, conspiring against you, conspiring not to love you.
Is the separation of love something to mourn? Love makes us teeter on the edge of death, unfree, poised to make the involuntary jump into darkness that obsession demands. And yet, even though love — that true, immediate obsession — may make us suicidal, the moments when we feel it are also the moments when know ourselves to be most truly, sincerely, directly alive.
He is a fleshy being, and it scares you. You came here in search of flesh. But a search for flesh is quest for death. We are ephemeral, gone in the blink of an eye; before the universe has taken half a breath our bodies are buried, rotten, returned to the ground like we never were. We stare at our navels and watch ourselves age — and we are passive. Time, ageing, is a passivity no freedom or action can restrain or overcome.
If he ever has someone next to him on that sofa, will he dare to touch them? The warmth he would feel would be a communion with the imminence of death. Leaving one flesh for another made him desperate: the old life is already so far away, so irretrievably damaged, irrevocably changed, that he is afraid he will never know the same happiness again.
But for this, humans have the word FAITH. Faith is the writing of a diary with your back to the night; blind trust in the safety of darkness and its patient anticipation of day.
Centennial Milk Bar, Ranfurly, I (14.7.09)