Tuesday, 29 June 2010


The Camels of Mystical Aspiration

Clogged up with tradition, suggests a review of a new anthology of Sufi poetry. Reduced to a genre recycling a fixed set of symbols and metaphors – making the concept come before the feeling; at least over time. In the freshness of the early years I imagine these boundaries, in flux with their own tensions, would have channelled the creative energies, forcing them in new and surprising effects. Later, they become overbearing; too fixed and rigid to invigorate, they become easy handholds for imitative and lazy verse.

Sufi is more than just a genre. It is most famous for its mysticism, expressing experience several layers below the conscious personality. For the reviewer this creates its own problems.

But most mystical treaties and poems are drab. The sort of experience they describe is private, not that it must be secret, but the telling of a love affair with the Invisible and Intangible can be as tedious to others as relating one’s dreams… (Robert Irwin, TLS 18/06/2010)

So we have a dual problem. A poetry reduced to ritual exercises, and an experience too impoverished for representation, because it lacks the concrete specificity of true art; which in turn must contain some transcending quality, some force and liveliness.

All art at its best? Or are we describing only Western art, while the others play by different rules…

Monday, 28 June 2010

Rousseau (III) Hiding the Facts

The guidebooks are all wrong. What must you do to find your way around... use your nose, ask people; walk around the blocks. You miss some monuments? Create you own! That dilapidated house? Look at the blue rafters! A temple of strange beauty.

What can we believe these days…

Reasons Galore!

Swiftly the years, beyond recall.
Solemn the stillness of this spring morning.
(Arthur Waley from the Chinese)

William Empson quotes these lines to show that though it lacks rhyme and meter, and any metaphor

…these lines are what we call poetry only by virtue of their compactness; two statements are made as if they were connected, and the reader is forced to consider their relationship for himself. The reason why these facts should have been selected for a poem is left for him to invent; he will invent a variety of reasons and order them in his own mind. This, I think, is the essential fact about the poetical language.

Is it?

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Do You Mind Dreadfully?

Katherine Mansfield’s short story, The Man Without a Temperament, follows a man trapped in a tropical present, administering to his invalid wife’s every demand. This enervating existence is punctuated by sentimental memories of the colder, more comfortable existence they gave up to support his wife’s health.

Where do these memories, or more generally,where do ideas, come from?


Two Nice Americans

Looking at Kandinsky
They talk about Wales;
A Welsh man listens
Watching their words

Is it the Russian soul
They see? That lopsided
Drunken view of things;
A picture painted in a pub

Is that what they see?
They’re nice though,
And if you look a while
There is something…

Black and green
And wild heather,
Early evening
Under a white sky

The Black Mountains!
Car lights, an icon,
Searching to escape
From hills that rear up and fly.

Keeping the Workers Down

People’s ideas about art can be very strange indeed. It is a religion, therapy, a cash point machine… and a symbol of class warfare. It is Van Gogh fighting it out with Che Guevara!

It is certainly true that art has been used to define the cultural borders of the rich and privileged, of the social climbers, and the emerging middle classes. Has been? It still is; but perhaps a little less so today – there has been a cultural leveling. So no longer is it socially unacceptable to enjoy TV programmes or watch football matches. Rather, it is positively encouraged.

But what is art? Above all, it is pleasure: both for the creator and the enthusiast. Here’s Pasternak:

To become a source of pleasure, and of such pleasure that, when addressed to someone, it has a nature and dimensions that presuppose not that individual at all but ‘all the four compass points’ whence pleasure comes – to send a wave of such pleasure and, thanks to its special quality, to experience it for oneself in someone else – to give in order to receive back again through one’s neighbour – in this lies the entire closed circle of creativity that rebounds upon itself. (from Christopher Barnes, Boris Pasternak)

His view, emerging from the Russian Symbolism background, sees art as a kind of divining rod, accessing the reality, or the godhead, underneath the phenomenal world. Creation, or creative engagement with a work of art, thus has an ecstatic quality (Barnes calls it the poet’s ecstatic consciousness) which comes from tapping this aesthetic energy. Here is the source of pleasure, of art’s purpose, when for a moment we stand under a shower of mentally sensuous excess.

So yes, there are ball gowns and dinner suits, and champagne at private views, but to allow this to define art? How strange. It is an outsider’s view, of course, of a life seen through a political lens; which misses the pictures by focusing on the fancy clothes.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Machine Politics

You read an article and you predict the decline and fall of a Prime Minster:

Tony Blair is a highly risk-averse politician who nevertheless likes to play for very high stakes….

…His friend and rival Gordon Brown is another risk-averse politician, but one who prefers to play for low stakes, endlessly and tirelessly working for percentages to build up his political reserves, never willing to put all his eggs in one basket. (David Runciman)

Too cautious! And how he upset the Fleet Street hacks; who wanted their excitement and their election expenses. But Brown was frightened off; apparently by the Conservative policy of changes to the Inheritance Tax; that rich man’s crusade... he wobbled; and fell. The hacks hated him – not only did he lose them their bonuses, but their respectability: they have neither insight nor inside knowledge, it appears.

During all that frenzied speculation I remembered Runciman’s analysis. The prediction was easy.

And here is Russell for some hindsight:

A politician, if he is to succeed, must be able to win the confidence of his machine, and then arouse some degree of enthusiasm in the majority of the electorate. The qualities required for these two stages on the road to power are by no means identical, and many men possess one without the other. Candidates for the Presidency in the United States are not infrequently men who cannot stir the imagination of the general public, though they possess the art of ingratiating themselves with the party managers. Such men are, as a rule, defeated, but the party managers do not foresee their defeat.

Age War

Class War…. We leave it nowadays to the Socialist Workers Party. But can it be resurrected into mainstream politics?

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The Bomb

Can one idea fit all? In a new book Garry Wills says yes! you can explain American foreign intervention by ownership of the Bomb (nuclear weapons); as it gives the president unique authority, allowing him dictate the country’s foreign policy:

The president has been conceded life-and-life death authority over use of the Bomb. “He doesn’t have to check with anybody,” said Dick Cheney.

Is this really the cause of the Iraq war?

Monday, 21 June 2010

Votes For All

Why are we in love with the rights of the individual?


Too Difficult

How difficult is it not to know? In a previous post I referred to the willed ignorance of our politicians. This was most obvious in the parliamentary debates leading up to the Iraq War. Never was I so angry! Our elected representatives, our statesman who are paid to be informed, ignorant of even the most basic facts; reluctant to voice the most obvious arguments. How could I know more than them – no parliamentary libraries, no departments of state, no security contacts… just a simple internet connection.

I was reminded of this by a recent article:

…and most significant, is the CIA’s failure to find Saddam’s WMDs or the laboratories and factories required to build them. By the time Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the UN in February 2003, it was obvious to anyone paying attention that the CIA did not know where to find anything connected with WMDs in Iraq, and it knew it did not know (a fact that was being confirmed by approximately seven hundred UN inspections of some five hundred sites, including about three dozen given to the inspectors by intelligence agencies…). From that moment forward, no claim of imminent danger could be described as intellectually honest.

During that infamous parliamentary debate, which gave the British government the war approval, this was the very question I was shouting at the screen. Too arcane, too nuanced a question it would appear for our politicians.

The rest of the article is good, and shows how academics can miss the real questions by concentrating on purely technical matters; avoiding the power politics that force policy. Politics is messy, and power ugly, and therefore, as Russell says in another context, is considered unworthy of the dignity of these works.

In a different book Russell rights the balance:

…the fundamental concept in social science is Power, in the same sense in which Energy is the fundamental concept in physics.

But if you are a technician, all that matters is the technicalities, the internal mechanisms:

It is evident that Jervis loves the whole process of intelligence analysis… but he avoids the things that give the game away.

A mechanic testing his engine parts – it doesn’t matter if it’s a car or a tank. Only understand it, to make it work; that is all that counts. The rest you can leave to someone else.

In Pieces

A young woman discovers the beautiful Uncle Gabriel of family lore is a drunken, ugly failure, who has ruined the life of his second wife; a terrible shrew. While his great love, her Aunt Amy, who died young and who he cannot give up, may have been a cynical flirt. She has lived in world of fairy stories and legends!

This is her reaction.

The Bohemians

Certain people would not clean their buttons,
Nor polish buckles after latest fashions,
Preferred their hair long, putties comfortable,
Barely escaping hanging, indeed hardly able;
In Bridge and smoking without army cautions
Spending hours that sped like evil for quickness,
(While others burnished brasses, earned promotions).
These were those ones who jested in the trench,
While others argued of army ways, and wrenched
What little soul they had still further from shape,
And died off one by one, or became officers.
Without the first of dream, the ghost of notions
Of ever becoming soldiers, or smart and neat,
Surprised as ever to find the army capable
Of sounding ‘Lights out’ to break a game of Bridge,
As to fear candles would set a barn alight:
In Artois or Picardy they lie – free of useless fashions.

Substitute the modern corporation for the army, and bureaucrats for soldiers, and we have the makings of a new manifesto.

Some great lines here:

and wrenched
What little soul they had still further from shape,


free of useless fashions.

Ruled by routine and other’s ideas; the conformity of the modern corporation - how we need Gurney’s lines.

Sunday, 20 June 2010


Political OAPs

Old Labour. Pensioned off, and sent to Florida. Hasn’t been heard of for years…

If it succeeds, the Conservative-Liberal coalition risks dismantling the British wing of the alliance that brought about most of the great progressive achievements of the last century. Universal suffrage, the New Deal, the postwar European welfare state and the Civil Rights movement were all the product of an alliance between an intelligentsia that wanted an expansion of individual and social freedoms, and a working class that needed a more equal and just society. (David Edgar)

Not wholly wrong of course. Though I’d question the role of the “alliance” in the Civil Rights movement. And is this coalition really strong enough to remove what exactly…. the Hampstead liberals, the NUM, the Socialist Workers Party? This is even before we assume the progressive achievements of the post war period haven’t already been rolled back to a significant extent. For let us not forget that the last thirty years have been a time of Reaction. Jean Bricmont knocks a few years off the period; he starts it from collapse of the Soviet Union; and interestingly compares it to the years after Napoleon’s defeat, where the French Revolution’s ideals were snuffed out and betrayed. But wherever you start, I think we both agree it’s been a hard one for the progressive Left.

No, it’s not so much the content as the language. I hear a political dialect, it’s something in the phrasing: not quite the rigid formulas of Communist pronouncements, but still a hint of the party platform; of the orator sure of his audience, the confidence that his abstractions will be understood. Then there’s the tribalism, as if New Labour upholds the values of freedom and social justice; of fair shares for all. As if the party hasn’t sold out to big business and the United States.

If the “alliance” is broken I think we can blame Blair and Brown – already in decay (and see David Marquand for a realistic assessment of the tensions between the intellectuals and the unions within the Labour Party, which go back a long way) it was shattered by the decision to go to Iraq.

And finally, of course, there’s the recognition of class and injustice, and the poor’s need for economic reform. That does feel like ancient history, a time when we were subjects and citizens, before the shopping centres and out of town supermarkets; which turned us into consumers.

Those were the days! We need them back again.

Waiting for Leaders

Tariq Ali recalls a recent conversation with John Reid.

ME: I always had a visceral hatred of New Labour.
REID: If we'd listened to people like you the Tories would have been in power for another 13 years.
ME: They were. Just called themselves New Labour.

In Leeds recently, on a stall selling Palestinian dates and olive oil, I talked to a visiting MP. How far Labour has fallen.....

Stone Them

There's wonderful Shirley Jackson short story, called The Lottery, where an American village draws straws to be the sacrifical victim of a stoning. The shock when you realise! Such a homely scene, such respectable citizens... turned into murderers.

A new film achieves something similar:

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Trapped in a Money Bag

We are told how wonderful his life is, all the glorious things he owns and sees, the commercial and natural splendour of his town and residence. Then we read the words of the General.

Lawrence Durrell

We’re looking for Lawrence.
He's lost! not to be found

In the Eighties
He was alive still

Like old friend Henry
With Pound, and Eliot.

But today?
Has he gone for good

In a hundred years
Discovered, suddenly?

Poet Knocks Out Philosopher!

Controlling the ring suddenly Russell finds himself floored by Durrell.

Now the commentators shout and scream! They talk about mind and body, about natural selection; and god, of all things. A Russian cries out "idel specoolations”, but no-one listens.

Now on his feet Russell, wobbling badly, sees an opportunity....

In his Political Ideals Bertrand Russell, whilst acknowledging that the good society is far away, writes of how easy it would be to achieve: “many of the evils we suffer… could be abolished within a few years.” He blames our apathy, our sluggish imaginations…

This is a rational man’s interpretation of the world – even down to his view of the non-rational drives that fuel our reason. Of course, Russell knew it was more complicated than this, but his vision, his ideals, are based on a world governed by reason and creativity; a world of the mind, and of thought.

But is reason all? Emotions, feelings, ingrained habits, these are more troublesome characters, and are less easy to move, especially when buttressed by cultures that encourage them – more so now, than in Russell’s time.

A line of Lawrence Durrell (from Midnight Dialogue) captures this well:

Snapped in the manacles of reviving error.

Reviving. Such a good word! Captures exactly the power of our body, and the perennial problem. To escape it our mind has to have more drive, more energy; and even then… error prone it can succumb to new phantoms of its own creation, some new god to save us from the messy reality of our daily life. Can we ever be free?

Or is the very idea of freedom a mistake? Larger questions follow in its wake. It may not be the body, but the mind that is the reviving error. What if the mind is a by-product of some other evolutionary change, a kind of spandrel.

A spandrel is one of those more-or-less triangular spaces that you find at the junctures of the arches that hold up a dome. They are often highly decorated; painters competed in devising designs to fit them. Indeed… casual inspection might suggest that the spandrels are there because they provide the opportunity for decoration; that, an adaptationist might say, is what spandrels were selected for. But actually, according to Gould and Lewontin, that gets things backwards. In fact, spandrels are a by-product of an arch-and-dome architecture; decide on the latter and you get the former for better or worse. Arches were selected for holding up domes; spandrels just came along for the ride. (Jerry Fodor)

Not designed for the world the mind is a stranger to it; always looking for that right of citizenship it can never have.

The alternative, of course, is to fashion the world from our minds, to make it rational. Since the rise of science and modern capitalism this has been remarkably successful; though still quite limited, thus Russell’s words. However, is this to create a permanent error? Of a human world permanently out of kilter with its natural environment; because of the dominance of a particular kind of reason: of what Ernest Gellner has called instrumental rationality.

If it is true that the mind is a by-product of evolution, it is curious that now, when we live in a world more mind-saturated than any other, a new religion of Neo-Darwinianism should be formed which insists on the natural selection of all things. We shape the environment more than ever before, but our thinkers say that everything is adapted to natural processes. Everything, it appears, is grounded in nature, which we know and understand – we know that nature has a purpose. For within this theology is the central belief of utility – everything has a use, a function. Which curiously mimics the workings of industrial societies; with its mix of capitalism, science and bureaucracy; its profit motive, its means and ends.

However, these new beliefs may represent only the essence of a particular part of the mind, which is then projected onto all of creation. A belief, moreover, that grows out of the encompassing economic and cultural environment. Lewontin puts it well:

…science, like other productive activities, like the state, the family, sport, is a social institution completely integrated into and influenced by the structure of all our other social institutions…. Scientists do not begin life as scientists, after all, but as social beings immersed in a family, a state, a productive structure, and they view nature through a lens that has been molded by their social experience.

Every religion has to be grounded, like every thought that must, at its base, have some observable fact if it is to have validity. In Christendom the absolute ground was in the mind - in belief. What could not be seen and verified was the foundation of the Christian worldview. Today, the natural world is the absolute ground; is the new metaphysical foundation. This may well be true. However, just as we created god in our own image, we must be wary of doing the same with the natural world. We cannot infuse it with our thoughts. Moreover, returning to Durrell’s reviving error, it is possible we will never completely know what it is; even when we think we do. Chomsky has noted that our minds may be constructed in such a way that there are certain things we will never know, or even certain questions we can never ask.

However, a religion has to know the truth; it must have certainty. To do this it must create it – from oneself. Richard Lewontin sums this up well:

Even biologists who have made fundamental contributions to our understanding of what the actual genetic changes are in the evolution of species cannot resist the temptation to defend evolution against its know-nothing enemies by appealing to the fact that biologists are always able to provide plausible scenarios for evolution by natural selection. But plausibility is not science. True and sufficient explanations of particular examples of evolution are extremely hard to arrive at because we do not have world enough and time. The cytogeneticist Jakov Krivshenko used to dismiss merely plausible explanations, in a strong Russian accent that lent it greater derisive force, as “idel specoolations.”

Even at the expense of having to say “I don’t know how it evolved” most of the time, biologists should not engage in idle speculations.

Monday, 14 June 2010



In discussing the danger of administrators and officials, who want to tidy up the world, to run it along efficient and predictable lines, Bertrand Russell reminds us about the power of laziness:

Laziness is not one of the political motives recognised in textbooks on political theory, because all ordinary knowledge of human nature is considered unworthy of the dignity of these works; yet we all know that laziness is an immensely powerful motive with all but a small minority of mankind.

How true. A reminder of how hard innovation and radical change can be – it must fight not only the prevailing political and economic system, but human nature itself.

That said, a society used to rapid change, like ours, should be more open to innovation and activity; and within narrow bounds this is true (reading Russell I couldn’t but feel that we are a more varied and open society than a 100 years ago). However, the conformity of the culture is remarkable, with its narrowness of interest and opinion; it suggests a large passivity in the audience, which absorbs but does not contest the information it receives. A few conceive and invent, the majority simply consume.

We have a fast paced media world, and a dynamic economic system, yet we humans remain lazy…. It suggests, perhaps, that the ‘radical’ changes to society, and the people within it, are in fact a chimera. As Stephen Burt, discussing Facebook and the internet in the LRB, and the apocalyptic warnings of email alienation, writes:

…young people’s internet use just replaces hours spent watching TV; they have been trading one screen for another… Social networks in general…’do not appear to be radically altering the personal bonds and connections that young people make.’ (S. Craig Watkins)

Our cultural world is like the surface of a rapidly moving river, while the lives we live are like the river’s bed; its rocks only slowly eroding away.

Rousseau (II) Killing the Family

For Rousseau the family is the first model of society; where the ruler’s pleasure in command replaces that of paternal love. A common comparison, no doubt, which fits neatly with the structure of monarchical or patrician societies of the early-modern period.

Can we use this metaphor in the 21st century? For sure there’s the same tendency to turn political leaders into heroes and father figures - Obama the most obvious recent case. But the extraordinary illusions around his campaign, and the rapidity they were exposed, shows the weakness of a charismatic individual when confronted by institutional power. A strong individual can no longer rely on his own power to control and revolutionise society, within a democratic state. Instead we must talk of collective groups, of organisations and institutions. We have got used to abstraction in art, we need to do so in political discourse.

Note that Rousseau talks about feeling within an organic community – the feeling of power replacing that of love and sympathy. Yet today, with companies and states so vast, there is no emotional connection between front-line staff and senior executives – the relationship is one of rules and procedures, or rational thought, and not human feeling.

So, an old metaphor that once had content is now moribund. Yet it still influences the debate, and our perceptions of political life. We want our world to be human! Full of warmth and emotion, and we believe our political life to be just that; but for all the rough debates and election tears, the real governors are the large multi-national institutions and the impersonal rules we live by….

The model of society is no longer the family, but the modern corporation; with its need for growth, its tight hierarchical structure, the departmental battles; and over all: the ingrained rules and habits of a stable bureaucracy. We’re no longer human, we’re bureaucrats. But how difficult to accept! and to think accordingly.

Friday, 11 June 2010

DIY Worlds

We build a house, and paint the walls yellow. We furnish it with books and eat Greek salads on the floor - in a moment of inspiration from John Zorn, who ripped out his kitchen for book and record space….

The most remarkable feature of terrestrial organisms is that each one of them manufactures the immediate atmosphere in which it lives… individual organisms are surrounded by a moving layer of warm moist air…. In humans the layer is constantly moving upward over the body and off the top of the head. Thus, organisms do not live directly in the general atmosphere but in a shell produced by their own life activity. (Richard Lewontin)

We create our own atmosphere; we live inside shells….


Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Rousseau (I) A Duty to Know

Because I was born a citizen of a free state and a member of its sovereign body, the very right to vote imposes on me the duty to instruct myself in public affairs, however little my voice may have in them.

Rousseau’s Social Contract asks how can we be free in society – what government do we need? His answers, the questions he raises, are for the most part very interesting and still relevant today. That said, he was writing for a pre-state capitalist audience; reflected in his long excursions into antiquity, and the fashionable classicism of the time.

This important book highlights what is special about a great thinker – the quality of his insights. Many of the arguments are false; made so by later social changes. Nevertheless, even if the facts have changed the penetrating observations remain, raising new questions for our time. Thus when we read Rousseau, as with any great work, we must interpret him within the different social context of today. If we do that, he is no longer a ‘classic’ to be kept in the museum, an exotic specimen for worship and school trips.

Let’s take the quote above.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Mini Skirts in the Baroque

History. So ambiguous. Facts and arguments are collected from the past, yet interpreted in the present. This can set a historical event into a broader context, but risks injecting contemporary prejudices into it. Can we ever recreate the worldview of the 17th and 18th centuries?

Lost in a Footnote

In a letter to the LRB R.G. Collingwood’s Roman Britain is described thus:

…[it] remains an outstanding essay, with a comparative perspective and breadth not to be matched.

Later this view is qualified.

Though outdated, as any work of scholarship must become, Collingwood’s Roman Britain remains intensely readable, elegant and provocative.

It is a curious phenomenon: hundreds of thousands (millions) of scholars, dedicating many years to their subject, yet they leave so little behind. Like the workmen in the great cathedrals, their memory simply a stone here and there… and often not even that.

Yet, the letter also points elsewhere: insight lasts. Perhaps we can create a dichotomy between the thinkers and the scholars. Easy, but not quite right. How many philosophers are remembered from the C19th? No, this will not do. No, a few writers have the power to penetrate to some truth, or at least to grasp something original and deep, and it is this quality that remains. Like the great artists, and their paintings on the walls….


Oh, if only the French intellectual stars of the C20th had listened to Jean-Jacques:

...I should complete my study by considering the foreign relations of the state, including international law, commerce, the rights of war and conquest, public law, leagues, negotiations, treaties and so forth. But all this would represent a new subject too vast for my weak vision; and I ought always to keep my eyes on fixed matters more within my range.

For Louise Bourgeois

I Do I Undo I Redo

A tower.
You climb.

At the top
A mirror.

Each visit
The same

Your past
Your present


You return
To yourself.

Sunday, 6 June 2010


Percentage Fisticuffs

What do statistics mean?

Take Vernon Bogdanor’s letter in the LRB. He criticizes David Runciman’s view that the BNP’s showing at the last election was ‘risible’. He cites a rise in their support from 0.74% to 1.9% in 2005, its 26 councillors, and the fact they are now the fifth biggest party in the United Kingdom.

The figures of course are extremely low, and at first glance support Runciman’s point – easily so. However, it could be significant as indicative of a trend: a doubling of support within just five years. Maybe Bogdanor’s right after all, especially when comparing Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, who couldn’t win a council seat.

Still, on second thoughts, I think Runciman is correct, when you look at the broader context.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


There is no common sense, says Amira Hass, the great Israeli journalist, about Israel’s latest atrocity on the high seas.

This is true. But why is Israel behaving in this way? Why doesn’t it care about the international community?


Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Listen to Me!

In a fascinating article David Runciman writes of how the polls at the beginning of an election campaign are closer to the result than those at its end. However, he disputes the received academic wisdom that people are not moved by campaigns – they are, and they do change their minds; only in the poll booth they return to their original position, before the election was announced.

He mentions the Responsible Voter thesis to explain this; going on to suggest particular reasons for the vote at this general election: widespread dissatisfaction with the ruling party in poor economic times. Though in trying to understand regional variations, and the difference between Scotland and England, he has the brilliant insight that in this election there were two opposition parties. The Conservatives in England, and the Labour Party in London and Scotland. This saved Labour from a much larger defeat.

The world's gone topsy-turvy!

Left Wing Music

One article answers another

…why could a national party explicitly claiming to represent the working class not win and then retain the support or more of the working-class electorate than it did?….how was it… that so many who were neither wealthy nor privileged had been recruited to cause which was not their own?

W.G. Runciman gives some possible reasons:

Charles Reznikoff has an Idea

He persisted in learning how to fall:
work his way up the inclined ladder, higher and higher,
and then drop to the ground.
The small, somewhat clumsy body would fall upon the hard-packed sand,
pick itself up,
and Saul – his body jerking –
would work his way up the ladder again.
The trick, he explained, was to land lightly
and not sting the soles of one’s feet.
By the Well of Living and Seeing

Why? the narrator asks. “I want to!”

So much of what we do is for the simple of pleasure of doing it. But later when asked we give reasons, when there are none; we say we’re in training, that we’re toughening up, or we concoct some fantasy we crib from Cervantes. Why? Are we frightened of pleasure – is Judaeo-Christian morality still planted deep into our soil? This is possible, as we may never completely uproot the past….

Let’s have another go: is it that our minds must always have their say? Like bullies left out of playground games. What, the mind is a tyrant, a kind of Joe Stalin? Umm, not quite. It’s possible, yes, it is possible. But no, it’s because the mind never stops, and like a river of the weir, it splashes over all our experiences; it just can’t help it, and through its course creates them anew.

Here’s some more lines from the same poem:

Once, when I was in his home, I stood at the window
looking into the yard:
it was full of wagons, the shafts high in the air;
along the back fence cats were walking
and now and then one jumped to the ground
landing lightly on its feet.

So first we get the excitement (that kick!) of an answer that is just right; then the excitement (that kick! again) of an explanation. Though it’s up to us, the reader, to decide if its merely a coincidence.