no diabolical power

February 16, 2019

I need not mention the universally known fact, that no diabolical power can pursue you beyond the middle of a running stream.

Lucky it was for the poor farmer [ he’d witnessed a witches’ dance in the haunted kirk ] that the river Doon was so near, for notwithstanding the speed of his horse, which was a good one, against he reached the middle of the arch of the bridge and consequently the middle of the stream, the pursuing, vengeful hags were so close at his heels, that one of them actually sprung to seize him: but it was too late; nothing was on her side of the stream but the horse’s tail, which immediately gave way to her infernal grip, as if blasted by a stroke of lightning; but the farmer was beyond her reach.

Robert Burns
Letter to Francis Grose, 1790

It is a well-known fact that witches, or any evil spirits, have no power to follow a poor wight any further than the middle of the next running stream. It may be proper likewise to mention to the benighted traveller, that when he falls in with bogles, whatever danger may be in his going forward, there is much more hazard in turning back.

Robert Burns
Footnote to Tam O’Shanter

Knife crime

February 12, 2019

Knife crime is on the increase in England. Kids carry blades for protection against other kids carrying blades. The police can’t find who’s carrying a knife without ‘stop and search’ – and the ensuing complaints of racism that follow such police activity means they do as little as possible. So what’s the answer?

Easy.

Parliament passes a law to ensure anyone under the age of twenty-five must wear (at all times while away from the home) a skin-tight leotard – no coat or hoodie. Also, any bag carried must be see-through! A knife, then, would stand out like a sore thumb, wouldn’t it?

Simple!

We live in a culture where violence or violent behaviour has become the norm. Violence is widely assumed to be the best way to resolve conflict. We witness it in the actions of government: the UK has engaged in almost one hundred years of conflict since the first world war, small wars with inevitably large casualty lists. Just to mention a few of these more recent military actions: Northern Ireland between 1968 and 1998, the Falklands war, the first Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afganistan, Iraq, Libya, Sierra Leone, the list is feckin’ endless, boys & girls – and we now have a Minister of Defense preaching confrontation with Russia! Was the Crimean war not lesson enough for these idiots – ?

Remember, kids learn by example. Violence begets violence. Confrontation is met by confrontation. Throw economic insecurity and hopelessness into the mix, then you’ll have kids on the streets carrying knives – so why be surprised?

A toxic mix of racism, austerity, societal deprivation and corporate greed is ultimately to blame for this situation. As a nation we should get ready to purchase and supply “free of charge” several millions of those skin-tight leotards – and thus eradicate the problem of knife crime for good! A fresh tax levied on squillionaires would easily cover all costs; but I suspect that any action engaged in by the government will fall far short of what is required. It’s more likely that Ryan Air will introduce flights across the Andes by green gulper frog than a UK Government will find a solution to this problem of knife crime. No, best the government continues to concentrate all its attention on Brexit – after all we don’t want that to end up in a mess, do we?

The keeper of the flame

February 12, 2019

The first known poet in history, Enheduanna, was an Iraqi woman. She wrote about Inanna on tablets in the cuneiform language. The interesting thing about her is that she had a position or title. It was “The keeper of the flame.” I think that if a poet should have any role at all, it should be (wherever and whenever) the same: “keeper of the flame.”

Dunya Mikhail
Interview with Cathy Linh Che, Cantos April 2010

beginning life

February 10, 2019

I dream so much and I live so little, that sometimes I am only three years old. But, the next day I am three hundred, if the dream has been sombre. Isn’t it the same with you? Doesn’t it seem at moments, that you are beginning life without even knowing what it is, and at other times don’t you feel over you the weight of several thousand centuries, of which you have a vague remembrance and a sorrowful impression?

George Sand
Letter to Gustave Flaubert, 28 September 1866

insensible trance states

January 26, 2019

 Medieval folklore throughout Europe recognized a specifically female trance state closely analogous to divine possession. In popular culture, too, we find groups of laywomen entering into immobile and insensible trance states, during which they reportedly visited the realms of the dead and consorted with supernatural figures. Efforts to rouse such women when in this state proved fruitless: the trance was like a temporary death in which the spirit was wholly absent. These women often were credited with healing powers and oracular abilities, and sometimes they attained positions of local prestige – or marginalization – as a result to their activities. Known variously as the “good things,” the “good ladies,” or the “night-times ladies,” these women believed themselves to be destined, by an accident of birth, occasionally to leave their bodies in order to follow, in spirit, in the train of a mysterious female supernatural being.

Nancy Caciola
Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages.

Burns night blues

January 26, 2019

Burn’s night last night. I managed to avoid Haggis, Neeps and Tatties but did imbibe a Burnsian quantity of Glenffidich. We were last out of the pub.  Late to bed, late to rise.

P

No new ideas

January 13, 2019

This wood is, of course, nowhere near Athens; the script is a positive maze of false leads. The wood is really located somewhere in the English midlands, possibly near Bletchley, where the great decoding machine was sited. Correction: this wood was located in the English midlands until oak, ash and thorn were chopped down to make room for a motorway a few years ago. However, since the wood existed only as a structure of the imagination, in the first place, it will remain, in the second place, as a green, decorative margin to the eternity the poet promised for himself. The English poet; his is, essentially, an English wood. It is the English wood.

The English wood is nothing like the dark, necromantic forest in which the Northern European imagination begins and ends, where its dead and the witches live, and Baba-yaga stalks about in her house with chicken’s feet looking for children in order to eat them. No. There is a qualitative, not a quantitative, difference between this wood and that forest.

The difference does not exist just because a wood contains fewer trees than a forest and covers less ground. That is just one of the causes of the difference and does not explain the effects of the difference.

For example, an English wood, however marvellous, however metamorphic, cannot, by definition, be trackless, although it might well be formidably labyrinthine. Yet there is always a way out of a maze, and, even if you cannot find it for a while, you know that it is there. A maze is a construct of the human mind, and not unlike it; lost in the wood, this analogy will always console. But to be lost in the forest is to be lost to this world, to be abandoned by the light, to lose yourself utterly with no guarantee you will either find yourself or else be found, to be committed against your will – or, worse, of your own desire – to a perpetual absence; from humanity, an existential catastrophe, for the forest is as infinitely boundless as the human heart.

But the wood is finite, a closure; you purposely mislay your way in the wood, for the sake of the pleasure of roving, the temporary confusion of direction is in the nature of a holiday from which you will come home refreshed, with your pockets full of nuts, your hands full of wildflowers and the cast feather of a bird in your cap. That forest is haunted; this wood is enchanted.[…]

The English wood offers us a glimpse of a green, unfallen world a little closer to Paradise than we are.

Such is the English wood in which we see the familiar fairies, the blundering fiancés, the rude mechanicals. This is the true Shakespearian wood – but it is not the wood of Shakespeare’s time, which did not know itself to be Shakespearian, and therefore felt no need to keep up appearances. No. The wood we have just described is that of nineteenth-century nostalgia, which disinfected the wood, cleansing it of the grave, hideous and elemental beings with which the superstition of an earlier age had filled it. Or, rather, denaturing, castrating these beings until they came to look just as they do in those photographs of fairy folk that so enraptured Conan Doyle. It is Mendelssohn’s wood.

“Enter these enchanted woods…” who could resist such a magical invitation?

However, as it turns out, the Victorians did not leave the woods in quite the state they might have wished to find them.

Angela Carter
Overture and Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The crescendo of shocks which awaited me [on leaving convent life] began abruptly with my first introduction to up-to-date underwear.

Frankly, I was appalled.

The garments to which I was accustomed had been contrived by thoroughgoing ascetics in the fourteenth century, who considered that a nice, thick, long-sleeved ‘shift’ of rough, scratchy serge was the right thing to wear next to your skin. My shifts, when new, had reached almost to my ankles. However, hard washing and much indiscriminate patching soon stiffened and shrank them until they all but stood up by themselves. Stays, shoulder-strapped and severely boned, concealed one’s outline; over them, two long serge petticoats were lashed securely round one’s waist. Last came the ample habit-coat of heavy cloth, topped by a linen rochet and a stiffly starched barbette of cambric, folded into a score of tiny tucks and pleats at the neck.

So, when my sister handed me a wisp of gossamer, about the size and substance of a spider’s web, I was startled.

She said, ‘Here’s your foundation garment. Actually, most people only wear pants and a brassiere, but it’s cold to-day so I thought we’d better start you with a vest.’

I examined the object, remembering 1914. In those days, a ‘nice’ girl ‘started’ with long, woolly combinations, neckhigh and elbow-sleeved, decorated with a row of neat pearl buttons down the front…
Next came the modern version of the corset. It was the merest strip of elastic brocade from which suspenders, in a surprising number, dangled. I thought it a great improvement on the fourteenthcentury idea. The only drawback was that you had to insert your person into it serpent-fashion, as it had no fastenings.

What bothered me most were the stockings. The kind I was used to were enormous things, far thicker than those men wear for tramping

the moors and shrunk by repeated boiling to the shape and consistency of a Wellington boot. The pair with which Freda had provided me were of silk, skin-coloured and so transparent that I wondered why anyone bothered to wear the things at all.

I said firmly, ‘Freda, I can’t possibly go out in these. They make my legs look naked.’

She smiled patiently.

‘Nonsense,’ she said. ‘Everyone wears them. If you went about in anything else you’d collect a crowd.’

Monica Baldwin
I leap over the wall: Contrasts and Impressions After Twenty-eight years in a Convent

prototypical woman

January 6, 2019

Eve has long been advanced as a prototypical woman. There have been allegations to the effect that Eve was ignorant and easily duped into eating an apple by a wily serpent. She then used her feminine wiles to seduce her husband, Adam, into eating the fruit as well. In so doing, Eve is said to have brought about the fall of humanity. Men in Western culture have used this story for millennia to explain and justify the subservient position of females in society. They have claimed that women, like Eve, are easily duped into committing wrongful acts and should therefore be under tight control of their husbands or fathers. Many also view women as dangerous temptresses who will lead men into wrongdoing. To bolster this argument, they point to the “fact” that Eve used her wiles to get Adam to eat the apple. Men are thus urged to mistrust even their own wives.’ Similarly, women have at times been barred from testifying on the theory that they, like Eve, cannot be trusted. Women are also viewed as weak in will and in thought. People have pointed to God’s statement to Eve, “[Y]our urge shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you,” to explain and justify the argument that husbands should rule over all in their households, including their wives. Eve is the source and symbol of many of the negative traits assigned to women; the story of Eve has been used to justify the punishment of women throughout history. Given an opportunity to stand before a tribunal herself, it seems unlikely that Eve would be able to escape punishment.

[ .. ..]

More recent feminist interpretations of the narrative also take a more favourable or sympathetic view of Eve. One writer, while accepting that Eve committed a sin, thanks Eve for bringing about the desire to come closer to God and to improve conditions we face.’ Poet Miriam Oren “clearly admires Eve, portraying her as a model of righteousness, strength, and courage.” Anda Amir believes that Eve’s actions bring sexual knowledge and pleasure to the world, which she sees as a positive change.” Phyllis Trible writes that woman is the “culmination” of creation.” She argues that the serpent spoke to Eve rather than Adam because Eve was capable of engaging in philosophic and theological discussions, whereas Adam was not.” Finally, she sees God’s response differently than some other commentators. “They describe; they do not prescribe. They protest; they do not condone . . . . This statement is not a license for male supremacy, but rather it is a condemnation of that very pattern. Subjugation and supremacy are perversions of creation.”

Sally Frank
Eve was right to eat the apple: the importance of narrative in the art of lawyering