how we write

muquaq-script (1)

 

Above: Muhaqqaq script, Iraq or Iran, ca 1350-1420

This image and the Arabic proverb quoted below with thanks to Ewelina Mlodawska

https://ewelinamlodawska.wordpress.com/tag/calligraphy/

Does the way we write effect the way we conceive of our reality? Are our thoughts in some way shaped by the technique and mode of our writing them down? And if so, can differences between say, the way Islam framed it’s world view and the way for instance Protestantism – with the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press – shaped it’s own weltanschaung, be attributed in some measure to their respective typographical expressions?

 

“Purity of writing is purity of the soul”

old Arabic proverb

What would this mean for we who express thoughts on computer or mobile keyboards? Are our thoughts effected by the way we set them down?

 

 

 

paper friends

 

 

unnamed

 

I confess to finding genuine pleasure in old postage stamps. Yes, those little perforated squares of paper which become increasingly anachronistic in our rush to the sterility of electronic communication. In our impatient emails and sms’s and our enthusiasm for phantasmagorical, shiny new devices, who values the simple satisfaction of choosing a selection of stamps for their visual appeal as much as their functional value? I rarely send letters nowadays, and when I do, the local post office worker just sticks an ugly computer-generated label on the envelope and tosses it on a pile of similarly bland envelopes. All in the name of progress: surely only an old fool like me would feel nostalgia for the taste of the gum on the back of a stamp, or deciding where to place the stamps on the envelope in relation to the handwritten address… and the satisfaction or pressing the stamp down into position with a sort of tap of approval. I have a vague regret at the loss of one more small instance of tactility fast becoming obsolete for any number of sensible reasons. The loss of the tactile may mean the loss of a more nuanced sensibility – but I might be wrong.

Continue reading paper friends

blog against the blog

“If you don’t tell your stories, no one else will.”

That was the first thing I stumbled upon in cyberspace when, having decided that blogging was for the birds, I had a change of heart and looked to see if there was a convincing reason to continue.

And I am still not entirely convinced that I shouldn’t just abandon the preject. I have this nagging sense of it’s futility; that it may simply be a narcissistic dalliance.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Well that’s Macbeth for you. And his views on the brouhaha of life fit my view of blogging rather well. 

If it is true that some 172,800 blogs are created every day – two blogs every second – it seems I have just joined a vast hubbub of hubris, a clanging clamour of clapping clams – 152 million of them to be exact.


It gets worse: with the rush to “monetize” and to raise one’s voice in a cacophony of raised voices – it seems that once again I have fallen headlong into a vacuous vortex of vanity. Why? Why Anything? Why
my story?  In a rookery of penguins, who really cares if Sidney Penguin at the back there between Stan penguin and Floyd Penguin has a tale to tell of his narrow escape from a shark? Or his penguiny existential dilemmas?

So once again, why blog?

Is it the innate desire to share, to express, to know ourselves? To journal? To report and comment? To provide hope, or a laugh? To make money? I guess there are as many reasons as there are bloggers – that is :152 million and counting.

I don’t know, and I’m wary of all who claim to have a monopoly on the answers.


work

I have always felt disquiet at the “Do What you Love, Love what you Do” brand of motivational quotes that one finds printed ad nauseum in those horrid faux-leather diaries each year. I mean how many of us could ever live that grandiose ideal?

I came across “The Cult of Work: What is lost to our love of labor?” by Alana Massy online (http://hazlitt.net/blog/cult-work).It got me thinking about the whole notion that work should make us happy. She writes that, “the very concept of a dream job (is a) perverse notion that we ought to love that which is, in our current economic structure, compulsory for survival.”

Perhaps the whole concept of finding fulfilment in our work is a formula for unhappiness? She continues,  

“When we ask children what they want to be when they grow up, they often don’t tell us professions at all. I personally wanted to be my sister but with a mermaid’s tail. My childhood best friend legendarily reported a desire to be a stove in a wall. When children do dream of professions, they often aspire to work in productive fields like medicine and space exploration or entertainment jobs like singing and acting. I have yet to hear a child report their dream of becoming a marketing associate, an account executive, a general manager, or any other vacuous title given to the three quarters of the US labor force employed in professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service work. Anthropologist David Graeber dubbed these “bullshit jobs,” and he posits that they exist to serve moral and political goals. He writes:

The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger… And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

We rarely consider the perversity of asking children who have scarcely learned to spell their own names what they hope to do when they’re eventually ushered into an economy wherein we increasingly labor for the sake of laboring in the service of survival. (Or the perversity of the language we use to do it: “What do you want to BE? What do you want to DO?” as though a job is the only defining element of making a life.) We laugh and shake our progressive heads when a little girl wants to be a princess, gently clarifying, “No little one, I mean how do you hope to toil so that you and your family might not starve?” This refusal to recognize the cleverness of knowing that the best gig is often to inherit wealth and go on to marry well is part of our pathological commitment to work as something that shapes our identity and makes us whole.

Our relationship with work is such that we see it not as an unpleasant or even morally neutral fact of life but as a potential source of personal enrichment and even love.

She has a point: there is something grimly utilitarian in the notion that we must “earn our living”; In this view, life is not a gift, but a commodity (which parallels the definition of ourselves as consumers – the ultimate depersonalization). But that we must love earning our living is akin to decking out our suffocating little prison cells in pretty pastel shades and choosing floral patterns for our bunkbeds. Nine tenths of humanity’s “labor force” (another dehumanising euphemism) work in shitty jobs because that’s how it is if you don’t want life to become immeasurably more shitty.

We live in a world in which increasingly the labor force is seen as an evil necessity to be “shed, rationalized, rebalanced” or just plain gotten rid of in order to maintain the profit share of the investors. If Jeremy Rifkin is to be believed in The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era there may in the not too distant future be very little work for us to love.

Continue reading work

myxomatosis

rabbit

I spent some of my childhood in rural Oxfordshire, not far from Wittenham Clumps, a pre-roman, iron-age fort comprising two grassy hills, the taller of which had a copse of beech trees on top. Some distance beyond was the River Thames with a broad weir, 18th century lock and a medieval watermill which to this day pounds the dark water beneath its large oak wheel. As a child I loved to explore the countryside, cycling, clambering, eating blackberries from the hedgerows, sometimes throwing myself down in the middle of a vast wheat field or, in winter, walking across an expanse of untrodden snow.

On one such occasion, I came across a rabbit dying from what I later understood to be myxomatosis, a disease deliberately introduced into nature by practical-minded humans to control the rabbit population. I knew none of this at the time, just that the little creature was in terrible distress, breathing quickly and heavily, it’s badly swollen eyes oozing pus, it’s furry body soaked in sweat and covered in superating tumors. I was afraid to touch it; I think it was too sick to feel any fear of me. I sat in the ditch with the dying creature for a long time.

Now this will sound melodramatic – but I will say it anyway: crouching in that ditch it was as if I had somehow become the rabbit, and the rabbit’s pain had ‘entered’ into me. (Nonsense! Such identification with – or empathy for – an animal, is unlikely in a boy of 10, and this whole story must simply be the colouring of memory!) But the intensity of the experience was, I believe, quite mystical. It was as if the animal’s suffering – once contained by the ‘wier’ of it’s solitary pain, now spread out like a river, flooding through invisible waterways and into me. In voodoo, in the tribe-totems of the native americans, in shamanic trance, in animist and other traditional beliefs systems, we can unite with the spirit of an animal, or the animal may enter us. 

Dama is … a joint where the living, the ancestors, and the animals of the bush meet to transact the deeper relationality of Dogon mythical thought… One’s animal kikinu (spiritual principles) can manifest in one’s eyes, and a skilled expert can determine one’s animal, or totemic, ancestor. The interrelationships of inner ancestral and animal dimensions are principles of personhood important during the Dogon maturing process… masks came from yénéu, the spirits of the bush and its animals … One of the cardinal beliefs in the traditional religious heritage of Africa is the interconnectedness of all that exists … for this reason certain objects in nature, such as animals and trees, feature in the spirituality of traditional Africa and are treated with reverance. Human faculties of consciousness, will, and purpose are attributed to objects with life, and thus communication between humans and other forms of life is possible.”

From “A Communion of subjects: Animals in religion, science and ethics” by  Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton

Of course, to the scientifically-minded among us, this is all nonsense. So was this then perhaps merely an over-active childhood imagination, or a stress-induced, psychotic experience of sorts?  The disorientation, intensity of feeling coupled with a sense of unreality and the disruption of normal time, suggest this might be the case. Yes, that must be it.

I stayed with the rabbit and only left some time after it had stopped breathing. My shoes and shorts were wet and muddy from the ditch which was used to bring water along the course of the hedgerows and into the fields. Returning home, I was met with my father’s anger and a telling-off from my mother because I had been gone so long. Somehow I had lost all sense of time in that ditch – I could have been there for a moment, a day, longer even. I didn’t try to explain, I couldn’t explain and there was no need to explain. Returning home after dark, I distinctly recall a sense of complete calm. Though just a boy, I understood at some level of my child-consciousness that I had experienced the sacred.

 I was born in 1963, the Chinese year of the Water Rabbit.

“Animals share with us the privilege of having a soul.”  ~ Pythagoras