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From Henry James’ The Europeans, a novel about two impoverished European aristocrats who visit their cousins in America; the Europeans’ mother turned Roman Catholic and made a bad marriage. Here we have the Baroness Eugenia meeting her American cousins for the first time:
The Baroness laid her hand upon Charlotte’s arm very tenderly; but she reserved herself. She was wondering whether it would be possible to “stay” with these people. “It would be very charming – very charming,” she said; and her eyes wandered over the company, over the room. She wished to gain time before committing herself. Her glance fell upon young Mr. Brand, who stood there with his arms folded and his hand on his chin, looking at her. “The gentleman, I suppose, is a sort of ecclesiastic,” she added to Mr. Wentworth, lowering her voice a little.
“He is a minister,” answered Mr. Wentworth.
“A Protestant?” asked Eugenia.
“I am a Unitarian, madam,” replied Mr. Brand impressively.
“Ah, I see,” said Eugenia. “Something new.”
Polytheism is too delicate a way of thinking for modern minds.
(John Gray, Straw Dogs)
There are polytheist and monotheist energies in every religion, and i don’t think one can, or should even try, to do away with either. The tension between the two, for example in Heraclitus and Wallace Stevens, is titanic and delicate – and not to be swept under the rug for the sake of spurious simplicity; and perhaps something of this tension underlies the profound shift in Wittgenstein’s philosophy, from the Tractatus to the Philosophical Investigations. i could say that the Tractatus fulfills a roughly monotheistic energy, whereas the later philosophy is polytheistic, but even that is crude – the tension resists easy resolution, it is i think central to human imaginings. If the early Wittgenstein seems rigid, confiningly singular, the later Wittgenstein enters a confusion of plurality. i agree with neither; or rather, i agree with elements of both – for language is underwritten by the power from whence we came; as Frank Wilson has written:
It occurs to me just now that the word spirit means breath, and that in turn reminds me again that words were spoken and heard long before they were ever written and read. Suddenly I am prompted to juxtapose in my imagination the beginning that is the word and God’s breathing into man the breath of life.
i am enjoying Gray’s book, a loan from Murtaugh, and the first Gray i have read. On the plane from France it occurred to me that had i written up (bits of) the notebooks i have kept since 2001, the result would be similar to Straw Dogs – there are even passages which run closely parallel to things i’ve scribbled on the bus home from work, alongside musings on the awfulness of data entry and the desirability of MILF.
Gray is correct to see polytheism as very very different to monotheism, as enabling a wholly different view of the world, and of humanity. My own understanding of polytheism comes from my experiences with gods, and from my other life memories, long before the Old Testament was written. Gray’s, i presume, comes from sane reflection and erudition.
i feel i would like to write up some of my ideas, on polytheism and related subjects. i don’t think i could blog them – the blog form is too superficial, too light (hence i had no qualms about deleting The Lumber Room). However, i’ve decided to write up some of my ideas in a Word document and, if i like the result i’ll put it on Lulu – i can set it to cost very little (or possibly nothing) as an electronic document, so if anyone wants to read the book, they can. If i could i would handwrite them all but i’m still not sure the book will be any good, and handwriting is arduous work – anyway, i already have handwritten the notebooks, from where i will draw this book.
This probably won’t be complete for a while yet, as most of my notebooks are in a box in a friend’s garage in England, and i can’t really foresee having the money to return for at least six months, probably more. i half-forget most of what i write (it seems the price i pay for having new ideas), so there’s no point writing without them.
If i get round to it, the book will be about polytheism and monotheism, God and gods, language, fate, free will, animals and birds, magic, science, music, Taoism, with perhaps a little light reincarnation thrown in if i feel it necessary. i don’t want to write something so weird and personal that only my dedicated readers will like it – but on the other hand my sorcerousness and memories are a part of me, and not to be wholly denied.
Provisional title will be “The Lumber Room” – or perhaps, “An Uninteresting Lumber Room” (Eine Uninteressante Gerümpelkammer).
Post of mine here.
Am back from France with a virile laptop and internet access. May the blogging commence!
Image from here.
Power cut last night, briefly. This morning Murtaugh found that the freezer had switched off, disastrously. He brought out half a dozen pies and informed me soberly, “these all need to be eaten immediately.” Luckily Elberry is in the house.
To quote from U571, one of the worst and most dishonourable films ever made, “get down there son and do your duty”. And i mean to.
1. Watched some Christmas classics with Murtaugh: A Christmas Carol, Excalibur, Everything is Illuminated, Unforgiven. All extremely good. i enjoyed the book of Illuminated very much and expected a flawed film adaptation – instead, it`s if anything better, boiled down to a core of weird humour and horror and Russianness (or rather Ukrainness). It features a deranged dog, Frodo Baggins in an undertaker`s suit, a potato that falls on the floor, genocide, suicide, Nazis, and so on.
2. Murtaugh has two labradors. Amusing, amiable dogs. As something of a dog man, i appreciate the proximity of houndkind, and they respond to my appreciation with incredible tail-wagging and looks of glee, which in turn increases my appreciation, and so increases the almost lunatic tail-wagging, until the entire body wobbles as if made of jelly. i usually break this virtuous cycle by laughing at them till they go away.
3. Murtaugh has allowed me to accompany the family on visits to local American families. i study Americans with intense curiosity, having read many American books & blogs, but having in the flesh met very few – and those i think entirely Americans who have fled America for the Old World, and so not wholly representative. The second family said “it`s good to see that we`re not all like John Wayne”, to which i responded: “John Wayne is cool!” Impassioned conversations about guns, bullet types, wounds, Patton, Nam, etc., while Murtaugh (a peace-loving man) looked on in horror. Later he said, “why is it Americans always end up talking about violence?” – to which one answer would have been, “because i prompt and encourage them.”
4. i ate the pork pie and didn`t die. Murtaugh filmed me eating it but i might not publicize the footage, as i have an odd aversion to moving pictures (of myself). First damn pie i`ve had since August.
Am about to watch Excalibur with my host. Hopefully his young children will come in and ask wide-eyed questions like “dad, how can that knight in full plate armour have sex with that woman?” and “dad, can I summon The Dragon?” and “Elberry, why do you talk like Merlin?” Murtaugh`s four children actually call me Elberry – amusing and somehow more “me” than my slave name, or for that matter my pen name. My sister`s kids called me “Uncle Dog” – later, i discovered that the Wagners called Hitler “Uncle Wolf”. How pleasingly unsettling.
Amusing dialogue between my host (Murtaugh) and his family, as he prepares the turkey:
Murtaugh Child No 4: Daaaaaad, can you unlock this thingy for me?
Murtaugh emerges from kitchen looking harried: I can`t – my hands are covered in turkey fat.
This was repeated with variations of demand but the same answer. It occurred to me this would be an excellent catch-all answer to a boss`s request/command to do some tedious work:
Boss: Elberry, I want you to process 500 bank transfers in the next couple of days. You –
Elberry: i can`t right now, my hands are covered in turkey fat.
Or perhaps, more chillingly yet, “i can`t – my entire body is covered in turkey fat.”
Who, after all, would wish to dispute such a bold assertion?
Have been given a pork pie for Christmas (and some books and an old laptop). If the old laptop works and i can figure out how to steal my landlady`s broadband back in Das Reich, i hope to be back on line and witlessly & foully blogging as usual. The pork pie`s sell-by date is November 27, so it is entirely possible i will succumb to poison pie and never make it back to K___ – however, there can be no finer death than by out-of-date pie.
Last night i watched A Christmas Carol with George C Scott as Scrooge. i must have seen a film adaptation about 20 years ago but i haven`t read the book. i expected phoney sentimentalism but instead it was strangely moving, harrowing and terrifying and lovely. Scott, who i will always think of as General Patton, makes an excellent Scrooge; i found myself cheering him on in his cruelty and Patton-like brutality (i was half hoping he would slap Tiny Tim with his gloves and bellow “you`re nothing but a damn yellowbelly! There`s nothing wrong with you – you`re going back to the front, my friend!”. However, i was unexpectedly transfixed with Hamlet-like horror at Marley`s apparition; i felt how terrible such visitations must have been, to a Christian audience – not that i am remotely Christian, but i have a sometimes overpowering sense of being, like Marley, bound in the chains of my past. Judgement will always make sense to me; no other judge necessary – if you see yourself with clarity, you will condemn yourself. My judgement is not of myself as Elberry – for i cannot see myself with clarity, while i am alive – but it is judgement of my more distant past; perhaps enabled by the distance, so i am increasingly struck by how awful i often was, but can at least safely say “was” and not “am”. But many of my weaknesses continue; they are old, not easily done away with.
Oh, and Merry Christmas one and all.
Not dead yet, safely in France and about to watch Catch 22.