Dull drums

they dig and dent
without relent

Abandoned
“No way of escape”
I shall quote no one whatsoever.

Nah, I will. & here — with a bit of “Beyond Good and Evil,” penned by Nietzsche — I bloody fucking go again:


In the Jewish “Old Testament,” the book of divine justice, there are men, things, and speeches of such impressive style that the world of Greek and Indian literature has nothing to place beside them.  We stand with fear and reverence before these tremendous remnants of what human beings once were. … To have glued together [the] New Testament, a sort of rococo of taste in all respects, with the Old Testament into a single book, as the “Bible,” and “the essential book,” is perhaps the greatest act of daring and “sin against the spirit” which literary Europe has on its conscience.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) (1886)
The bold highlight is mine.

A sinful act. A guilt upon one’s conscience. As in: when one’s upon their knees in the dark of the polished mahogany confessional box, willing themselves out loud to think of baby lambs and flower beds yet fully savouring the feeling of being aroused by the tantrically intimate intonation of the gentleman upon the other side of the divide who may or may not himself be now highly aroused by one’s confession-cum-fantasy of the ‘thing’ that happened with the milkman. Would a gentle touch be too much, you silently ask yourself as he begins to describe your Angelic Salutations and is want to linger on the requirement not to allow your hand, with or without object, to saunter (satanically) southward. But, ain’t the bible in fact the greatest work of literature peer-ee-ud? And the King James version one of the greatest works of translation and/or English prose full•stop? Well, here’s this post’s first purpose, to introduce you — one & only — to Jacke Wilson’s sonorous but soft voice. The voice is the narrator of a podcast called: The History of Literature. The narrator’s name (Jacke Wilson; that’s pronounced by him as ‘jack’ not ‘jayke’ / ‘jacki’) is, intriguingly, a pen name. I discovered this when I’d wanted to put a face to this mesmerising voice. Jacke, you see, touches upon the Old Testament (“The Hebrew Bible”) here and basically says that this compendium of stories far surpasses its one know literary predecessor: Gilgamesh and its near contemporary Greek works (i.e., Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad). Noah’s flood, Adam and Eve, human sacrifice and daughters laying with their dad, I mean, who could possibly make such stuff up ipso facto (by that very fact or act) it’s just gotta b divine, ain’t it? Hasn’t it? Well, let us see what Jacke has to say on this and some two hundred other works of literature: 

01. — Jacke Wilson | The Person
02. — Jacke Wilson | The Podcast

#1 — 1839
William Wilson

William Wilson is a short story by one of my current favourite writers: Edgar Allan Poe. The novel covers a doppelgänger scenario and as I’ve read it said, it clearly explores the theme of the double (the delusional, the inner voice that will be called in extreme cases schizophrenia). In this mini novella, the second self haunts the protagonist and leads him to insanity and at the same time somehow represents his own insanity:

01. — 🔊 William Wilson
02. — 📙 Willian Wilson

William-Wilson-cover


Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.
 
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
 
Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.

#2 — 1899
The Heart of Darkness

The Heart of Darkness is by Joesph Conrad. Conrad one of my all time favourite authors not least because his mother tongue wasn’t English, he loved the sea and he wrote so well about the loneliness and torment of the human soul. Some of his stuff, especially The Secret Sharer, speak flipping volumes to those who just cannot, and do not, quite fit in. To those who can’t be ‘just another number,’ weekenders, latter-day talent show and reality TV viewer who today seem content (sedated/duped) with snapping and instagraming and content just to be, not, in other words, to think beyond and ask the question of why… Adam Curtis would explain this by way of his Century of The Self thesis. Never you mind my mercurial friend:

01. — 🔊 The Heart of Darkness
02. — 📙 The Heart of Darkness

The-Heart-of-Darkness-cover


The sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.
 
We live as we dream – alone.
 
The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.

#3 — 1951
The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea is a novella by Ernest Hemingway. Now, like everyone wants to retrospectively label Conrad as racist (by today’s standards okay, yes) I hear most critics say about Hemingway, amazing master of succinct prose but an awfully misogynistic fellow (seems so I guess) yet, I’m all confused here and I ain’t no debutante gadfly. You see, I never know if we should judge authors/artists or simply consider the work of fiction or the painted picture or the chiselled nude as a thing of its very own being. I mean, we aren’t wanting to make acquaintance with long since passed away people, and we can’t — with justification — judge them (too harshly from afar) because how can we know the extent to which their parents and/or the societal norms that pounded and pummeled their formative years impacted on their empathy for other modes of fellow human being. ANY WHICH WAY, this little story may be meant for men, men that like to hunt and kill, but who cares! I see in it a tale of dogged determination, nature’s turning of the wheel and the reality of us being but a handful of dust; for however high we soar we will all be grounded by gravity’s pull and the biological clock that would have us dead and left out to the vultures/ hyenas/ wolves by the age of say, 37. Alas, now is the time to think of only one thing (doing my f’ing assignment on Hermann H. Hesse). Here without further ado is this quaint work:

01. — 🔊 The Old Man and the Sea
02. — 📙 The Old Man and the Sea

The-Old-Man-and-the-Sea-cover


There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
 
There is no friend as loyal as a book.

#4 — 1963
The Bell Jar

This is the post’s second purpose to introduce The Bell Jar — a sort of autobiography by Sylvia Plath (it could be termed a Roman-à-clef too as we are told that real people and events appear in each and every chapter). It will be known to most that Plath took her life soon after writing this book (1) and that she decided it to publish it in England under the pen name: Victoria Lucas (2). It often comes with a public health warning, but come on, nobody here (who is actually no body) who’s stared so deeply into the abyss would wanna b chaperoned and spoon-fed mollycoddle. You see, I’m hearing the dull sound of drums, I’m not getting sleep, but I am letting Jacke try and rock me off, I’m not getting into the set texts, but I am getting more into the mind of Plath (**her works I should say) so here, my dears, are a quartet of resources for you:

01. — 📙 The Bell Jar (HTML & 🔊)
02. — 📙 The Bell Jar (PDF)
03. — The Bell Jar, a literary analysis

The-Bell-Jar-cover


If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.
 
I wanted to crawl in between those black lines of print.
 
The blood jet is poetry and there is no stopping it.

Oh Brightest Star

you’re far paler than my moon


لا أخلو منك أبدًا
ولا للحظة / ولا لبرهة
ولا لثانيةٍ واحدة

A literary analysis of John Keats’ poem: “Bright Star” (1819) of which there are known to have been several versions.

“Bright star”


Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,

The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—

No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,

Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.


— John Keats (1819)

Literary Analysis

1. The poet

John Keats (1795–1821) was an English Romantic poet who died at twenty five and is today one of the most analysed contributors to English literature. The poetry of Keats is heavily loaded with sensualities and thus is in line with other Romantic poets who wittingly or otherwise wrote to accentuate emotion by way of emphasising (and poetically amplifying) the imagery of nature. I could dig a little deeper here, actually I kind of did, but I did not really want to over-focus on the poem’s context because somehow it makes the analysing of the poem more humdrum in that we would basically know its motivation (its muse and/or, for other poems, the implied and intended meanings — subtext, I feel, all too often is revealed by context). [1]  Maybe I’m being foolish, should analysis be but a guessing game? Should we concoct everything from the strings of punctuated words alone? Is it about us or them or the text? Yeah it’s a bit of all three but which should we emphasise? It comes down, I guess, to why we bother to pursue the task of textual analytics in the first place: is it for pleasure or is it for purpose?

2. The poem

Well, let us begin by going to the heart of the matter: the poem’s narrator — almost certainly Keats him very self — is saying: (i) I want to be with the one I love day and night forevermore else (ii), I want to die here and now. Put differently, a life spent without being intimately entwined with the object of one’s lust and obsession is not one worth living . . .

Paolo_Veronese_-_Unfaithfulness_-_Google_Art_Project
Faith No More
“Unfaithfulness”
by Paolo Veronese (1575)
Paolo_Veronese_-_Unfaithfulness
London Calling
Paolo Veronese (1528–1588)
Room 9 ‘Venice 1530–1600,’ National Gallery, London, United Kingdom

. . . In the first recorded draft of “Bright Star,” dated to early 1819, we read loves unto death; whereas, in a later version, death is an alternative to (ephemeral) love. This poem is a classic ‘English’ — or ‘Shakespearean’ — sonnet: three stanzas of four lines apiece then the two-line rhyming couplet at the end. It is punctuated as a single sentence and uses the expected rhyme — A-B-A-B-C-D-C-D-E-F-E-F-G-G — with a customary volta:

No—yet still stedfast, ...

occurring after the octave. Arguably there is something of a second volta marked by the caesura and the dash, when this turn of emotion is expressed:

—or else swoon to death.

As a dictionary will tell you, as it told me, an ‘eremite,’ or hermit, is someone who lives in seclusion from society, usually for religious reasons (to ponder the seminal question of why and/or in penance for an actual or imagined thought or act). This guides us to the notion of a solitary unblinking star, to a connotation of ever-present light and (reassuring) oversight.

2.1 Synopsis

Addressed to a star — this “patient, sleepless Eremite” — the poem tells of the narrator’s desire to be as constant as a star with regard to being beside their loved one. The first eight lines are not about love or even human life; Keats looks at a personified star. By the sestet we find the narrator upon their lover’s chest and read that that’s where they desire to spend every moment from that exact one, to eternity. Life is finite, youth and the intensity of initial love are fleeting. If one knows one’s end is fast approaching, why on earth, why in the world, would they not seek to be a star and lodge forever more, pillow’d upon their loved one?

2.2 Imagery & symbolism

The Star
The use of the star as an image within the poem will most likely have been to emphasise steadfastness; a dutiful and resolutely firm unwavering presence (as is my love for you). Could this star be Venus? But as a planet, it ain’t so steadfast. [2]  Could it be The North Star? Yet astronomers say this one ain’t the brightest of the bunch. Could it be the Andromeda Nebula (NGC 224) seen as a collective one?

In Greek mythology, Andromeda is the daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia of Aethiopia (the latter we are obliged to assume is some variant of a self-obsessed and overly vain step-mother). Andromeda is the Latinised form of Ancient Greek Ἀνδρομέδα (Androméda) meaning: “ruler of men.” When Cassiopeia boasts that she is more beautiful than the Nereids (the 50 daughters of Nereus and Doris — spirit nymphs of the ocean), Poseidon (god of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and horses; considered one of the most bad-tempered, moody and greedy of the Olympian gods) sends the sea monster Cetus to ravage the coast of Ethiopia as divine punishment. As a consequence, Andromeda is chained to a rock as a sacrifice to sate the monster, but is saved from death by Perseus (son of Zeus and, before the days of Heracles, one of the greatest Greek hero monster slayers; he beheaded the Gorgon Medusa for Polydectes and saved Andromeda from Cetus) . . . with a happy ever after ending for he escorts her on his magic carpet over Arabia to Greece to reign as his queen.
 
As a subject, Andromeda has been popular in art since classical times. In the Renaissance era, a popular source was Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.”

Andromeda & Perseus
From left to right: “Perseus (upper right) and Andromeda (left)” by Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638) (c. 1611); “Andromeda” by Gustave Doré (1832–1883) (1869) and, “Andromeda chained to the Rock by the Nereids” by Théodore Chassériau (1819–1856) (1840), hanging @ The Louvre Museum, Paris.

But, as Keats was an Englishman and stargazers there do like to go on about the ‘North star,’ let’s suppose that it was this one (the brightest star in the constellation of Ursa Minor/Little teddy Bear; .a.k.a., ‘Pole Star’ / ‘Polaris’) — which historically it was assumed that the heavens rotated around — that the narrator is eulogising as “Bright Star.” Never mind though the exact one. Regardless of the star in question, it is said that stars, in poetic prose, personify a quiet and universal fixedness, the limitations of which are implied even as the star itself is praised. Shakespeare used such imagery in his play Julius Caesar when Caesar likens himself to the ‘Pole Star’ (yes, that’s the ‘North Star’). Shakespeare also celebrates love by way of the star as a symbol in Sonnet, № CXVI, see this excerpt:


… Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, 

That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.


William Shakespeare (№ CXVI)

Although stars may have ‘lone splendour’ (the likening of one to an ‘Eremite’ emphasises the sense of removal from the tangible world of humanity and, dare I say, aloofness), its cons are spelled out too: solitary & sans sensitive (in tandem with its steadfastness & splendidness). “Bright Star,” like other romantic poems, amplifies natural phenomena but Keats masterfully compares and contrasts.

You see, some natural phenomena is seemingly unchangeable — the seven stages of a star’s life-cycle, the rise and fall of black holes, plate tectonics too are not of a human scale nor almost, is a glacier’s creep — and is thus in stark contrast to the restlessness of humankind’s romantic passion. However, certain forms of love (Mania: obsessive love, from the Greek term ‘μανία,’ meaning “mental disorder,” from which the term “manic” is derived) can seemingly be construed by the afflicted individual as immutable. As one critic wrote of Keats’ usage of the star imagery in this poem, “The human heart can never be tranquil like the star, for human emotions know the conflict of joy and pain.” [3]

The Sea
Such an evocative body: the oceans, the seven seas, the ebb and flow on the tidal Thames with images of Londinium and tales of the Congo/Kongo; The Bay of Biscay and the Spanish Armada; clipper ships on voyages to Arabia and the Orient for spice; discovery ships seeking out new passages amongst ice-sheets and icebergs; HMS Bounty botany & mutiny, Tahiti, the Cherokee-class HMS Beagle w/ Galapagos finches on the mind.

The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,

Sewn in sailcloth, a plank at rear, one in front, a half-mast the backdrop for the call: “All hands bury the dead.” Was this the case for Usāmah bin Muḥammad bin ʿAwaḍ bin Lādin? It’s known there’s controversy about the veracity of this occurring out in the Indian Ocean on May 3rd, 2011… kept cryogenically, the more likely fate. After star-gazing and alongside the watching of an open fire, the setting and rising sun most surly be humankind’s infatuation with gazing at the sea and listening, if not for siren calls, then to the calls of (colloquially called) seagulls.

The Pasture
Its grazing not gracing so what springs to mind if not new born lambs encountering an unseasonably late snowfall — after all, it’s not deep and entrenched, it is new, soft and just a mask-like coating or veneer . . .

Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—

. . . — shepherds and their hooked crooks: we can rise with Marlowe (Red sky at night / Shepard’s delight) we can fall with Raleigh (Red sky in the morning / Shepard’s warning). Take either or both; mountains and moors are a world away from nascent industrialised urban squalor. Pure Love is a world away from perfunctory love. Stars are enduring, seasons (in Europe) are short-lived.

— § —


NOTES

[1]   Keats knew, it is assumed, that he was dying from tuberculosis — think Edgar Allan Poe and his poem: “Annabel Lee” {T.B. got George Orwell too, an artery burst in his left lung, killing him @ 46 yet he got hitched, in a hospital bed, the year before to one: Sonia Brownell; in attendance. amongst others, were Lucian Freud, Evelyn Waugh.} — and “Bright Star” is in no small part about this awareness. This delivers unto us con-text. When one first dwells on the sonnet’s closing sestet, we may question the utility of living forever if the one we love isn’t immortal too (i.e., Fanny Brawne, the real-world actual person who is almost certainly this poem’s mortal muse, isn’t being characterised as an undying goddess) yet, for Keats, a man in his early twenties well aware that he’d not likely see his 27th birthday —


Excuse me while I kiss the sky,
you got to get it while you can.
Love cannot save us from fate,
go back to her, I’ll go to black.

— living a normal lifespan (to be spent beside his ‘fair love’) would be tantamount to living forever.

I’d like to make note of the following words, words typed by Rumaan Alam in his review of a 2019 book on Lucian Freud entitled: The Lives of Lucian Freud: The Restless Years, 1922-1968


When I visit museums, I rarely listen to the guided tours and often try to look at the work before I read any explanatory wall text. I want to make up my own mind, or at least let my eye have first crack at things.

“Girl with a White Dog”
by Lucian Freud (1922–2011) (1950–1) — Oil paint on canvas, 76.2 cm by 101.6 cm @ The TATE, London. As Laura Freeman wrote in The Sunday Times, “No coiffure, no powdered shoulders, no airbrushed thighs. With Lucian Freud, paint becomes flesh. Skin puckers under armpits. Veins spread bluely across breasts in unheated studios. Skin is waxy-sallow in London winter light. He leaves out nothing. Not even a mole.”
“The painter must give a completely free rein to any feeling or sensations he may have and reject nothing to which he is naturally drawn.” -- Lucian Freud (1922–2011)
Lucian Freud
“The painter must give a completely free rein to any feeling or sensations he may have and reject nothing to which he is naturally drawn.”
— Lucian Freud (1922–2011)
“An artist should appear in his work no more than God in nature. The man is nothing; the work is everything.” -- Lucian Freud (1922–2011)
Lucian Freud: a self-portrait on aging.
Lucian Freud (1922–2011) once said, “An artist should appear in their work no more than god in nature. The human is nothing; the work is everything.”
just dust
“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.”
― Evelyn Waugh

— § —

[2]   Venus can often be seen within a few hours after sunset or before sunrise as the brightest object in the sky (other than the moon) from both the East End of London and Rome’s Vatican City (née Papal States).

— § —

[3]   It is best not to be too literal. A star’s heart is the diametric opposite of ‘tranquil’ for it is an atomic bath of nuclear fission and fusion converting atoms of hydrogen into helium and generating tremendous amount of fire|🔥|نار [feisty, fervid & all-consuming]. Yet, my moon, you to me can be a sensuous soporific “Sea of Tranquility” (“Mare Tranquillitātis” / 8.5°N 31.4°E).

“The Grave of Love”

— a poem considered
— poetry critiqued

A literary analysis of Thomas Love Peacock’s poem: “The Grave of Love” and, an introduction to Peacock’s essay “The Four Ages of Poetry” (1820), P. B. Shelley’s response to it, “A Defence of Poetry” (1821) and the precursor to both, Philip Sidney’s “Apology for Poetry” (1595).

“The Grave of Love”


I DUG, beneath the cypress shade,
What well might seem an elfin’s grave;
And every pledge in earth I laid,
That erst thy false affection gave.

I press’d them down the sod beneath;
I placed one mossy stone above;
And twined the rose’s fading wreath
Around the sepulchre of love.

Frail as thy love, the flowers were dead
Ere yet the evening sun was set:
But years shall see the cypress spread,
Immutable as my regret.


— Thomas Love Peacock (c. 1807)

Literary Analysis

1. The poet

Thomas Love Peacock (1785–1866) was an English poet, novelist and official of the East India Company. Peacock left school at thirteen but, by way of assiduous reading, made himself an accomplished classical scholar and a master of both French and Italian literature. He was not an author by vocation, but his executive position at East India House, allowed him the time to pursue an avocation as writer of essays etc. (it is worth noting that the East India Company is indelibly linked to the U.K.’s former colonial domineering of India). Peacock was too, a good friend of the noted Romantic poet P. B. Shelley and it is clear that both were influenced by the work of the other. Peacock tended to satirise the intellectual tendencies of his time in his works of fiction in which, “conversation predominates over character or plot.” It is widely said that his best poetic verse is found within his novels. Peacock’s finest literary achievements are his inimitable satiric novels — Headlong Hall (1816), Melincourt (1817) (based on the “idea of an orang-outang mimicking humanity!) and Crotchet Castle (1831) — in which his procedure is to collect a group of argumentative eccentrics in a country house and set them to talking. His protagonists represent extreme or bigoted or visionary points of view on all sides of the important topics of the time. In one of his best-known works, Nightmare Abbey (1818), he constructs (satirises) characters drawn from the eminent poets of the time, including Shelley as “Scythrop Glowry,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge as “Mr Ferdinando Flosky” and, Lord Byron in the guise of “Mr Cypress” — the latter, a misanthropic poet destined for exile.

Some English Romantics:
01. — S. T. Coleridge
02. — John Keats
03. — P. B. Shelley
04. — Lord Byron

The novel Gryll Grange (1860) was once described as being the last and “mellowest fruit from Peacock’s tree.” It considered a key concern of the (mid-Victorian) era: the championing of civilization, harmony, and completeness against both technology and religious asceticism (‘prudishness’). The main plot of the book concerns Mr Falconer who is an idealist, ascetic, and classicist. Falconer lives in a tower attended by seven virgins, but is persuaded to join a convivial house party at Gryll Grange, where he woos and wins its presiding genius, Morgana Gryll.

— Why ‘seven’? Please do tell me.

Peacock’s, “The Four Ages of Poetry” (1820) is a satirical perspective on the history of poetry and its societal role (see below). He adapts the Greek and Roman view of literary evolution as a slow demise from the early golden age into his own trajectory, that has two rises and falls — the first age being the age of iron; the second, of gold; the third, of silver; and the fourth, of brass (cf. [1] Shelley’s, “A Defense of Poetry” (1821) and [2] Philip Sidney’s “An Apology for Poetry” (1595) — both discussed below).

2. The poem

What is, when all’s said and done, this thing called love? Well my woman ((Oh! My man))… analysis by analysis, a step or a few forward, one or two back, we will learn what it encapsulates, what it can be defined as and, how it unfolds and immutably entraps those that fall for Venus’s nectar — like a black hole, there’s various entry points but no known exit/s. To be clear, “The Grave of Love” was in fact an untitled poem. It was found amongst Peacock’s belongings after his death. According to Edith Nicholls (Peacock’s grand-daughter) it was probably written in or around 1807. Unlike what I’d first guessed — the burial of an infant child — Edith speculated that the poem was to a young woman, one Fanny Falkner, whom he had loved. Edith wrote that, “They were engaged when she was eighteen, and he was twenty-two. For a few months they were entirely happy in mutual affection and sympathy. … The engagement was broken off in an unjustifiable manner by the underhand interference of a third person, and the young lady, supposing herself deserted, married another man.” I have titled it as I have because the venerable Arthur Quiller-Couch included it in The Oxford Book of English Verse (1919) as “The Grave of Love.”

“The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1900”
— An anthology of English poetry, edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch, that had a very substantial influence on popular taste and perception of poetry for at least a generation. It was published by Oxford University Press in 1900. Interestingly, it was carried widely around the British Empire and was seen as a near essential ‘knapsack book.’ Quiller-Couch dedicated it to Trinity College, Oxford calling it, “a house of learning; ancient, liberal, humane, and [his] most kindly nurse.” In the preface, penned in 1900, he wrote, inter alia, “To be sure, [one] must come to such a task as [the compiling of this anthology] haunted by their youth and the favourites they loved in days when they had much enthusiasm but little reading.”


A deeper import
Lurks in the legend told my infant years
Than lies upon that truth we live to learn.


— Arthur Quiller-Couch (1900)

2.1 Synopsis

“The Grave of Love” is not a poem that’s often subject to analysis; the most precursory of searches will attest to this. Yet, it speaks of love (lost) and thus it speaks to me. It follows then that I read this and reread it many a time. I happened across it initially in, I think, a Norton anthology. In sum, the poem seems to be about a person — the narrator — laying someone to rest, but doing so metaphorically speaking and actually too. So, not burring the actual person or merely a thought of a person but the making of a shrine of sorts to symbolically lay that person to rest. The elfin bit made me think of an infant but this just did not and does not fit with the false affection and the immutable regret.

2.2 Vocabulary

Yep, yep we all have dictionaries but, I do think that having the following word meaning reminders readily @ hand will aid both understanding and appreciation.

Cypress tree
— (Or branches of it) Symbolic of mourning.

Elfin
— A person or their face) small and delicate, typically with a mischievous charm.

Ere
— [archaic] preposition: before (in time).

Erst
— A long time ago; formerly.

Immutable
— Unchanging over time or unable to be changed.

Regret
— We should note, I’m reliably informed, that the word “regret” had a much stronger meaning in 1807 than it does today.

Sepulture
— A small room or monument, cut in rock or built of stone, in which a dead person is laid or buried.

Thy
— [Archaic] A form of the word “your.”

2.3 Literary & Poetic Devices

The poem consists of three stanzas of four lines apiece. There’s rhyme aplenty:

shade / laid
above / love
set / regret

Allusion
— The making of an indirect reference of a person, place, &c. For instance in this poem “elfin” implies the object of the poem was not just small in frame but cheeky somehow too.

2.4 Analysis

Was DUG all caps for emphasis, or should it not have been? Have I merely reinforced a typo of a kind or was this the poet’s want? Anyway, there’s bitterness,

erst thy false affection gave

there’s remorse,

rose’s fading wreath /
the flowers were dead

and there’s regret:

Immutable as my regret.

Misunderstandings and seemingly run-of-the-mill errors of judgment can have monumental consequences, don’t I know it. Oh don’t I bloody fucking know it. You feel for the narrator, there digging the grave, he (let us assume it is a ‘he’) does this metaphorically so to speak (and yes, the poem itself is a metaphor too) but it is palpable: the earth, the sod and the mossy stone, all hark of the Emerald isle — the island of Great Britain — so too is the quintessential twined wreath of roses — red / English country garden etc. etc. — but then, amongst all of this, is the Cypress tree . . .

Etymology: Cypress tree
— The word cypress is derived from the Old French ‘cipres,’ which was imported from Latin ‘cypressus,’ which is the latinisation of the Greek κυπάρισσος (kyparissos). And then we have the knowledge of the Romantic era’s love of all things Greek by way of good Italian architecture, art and writing. In Greek mythology, Cyparissus (kyparissos) was a boy beloved by a deity (probably Apollo). In one well known version of this myth, the favorite companion of Cyparissus was a tamed dear, which he then accidentally killed with his hunting javelin as it lay dozing serenely in a wood. The boy’s grief was such that it transformed him into a cypress tree. Hence that tree became the classic symbol of/for mourning ((we know about Fig leave and Olive branches don’t we ;P)).
 
The myth is thus aetiological: it explain, or it tells us the reason for why this tree is of this particular significance culturally speaking.

Apollo, Hyacinthus and Cyparissus making music
“Apollo, Hyacinthus and Cyparissus making music”
— by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov (1834)
Apollo, Hyacinthus and Cyparissus making music
“Cyparissus”
— by Jacopo Vignali (c. 1625)

. . . the sigh press tree. Well, this lifts the tragedy of laying a loved one (or a terminated love affair) to rest to a higher plane. Timeless poetry can put one’s emotional ephemerality into some degree of perspective and for poetry’s roots, where do we go if not to The Iliad and The Odyssey; the foundational texts of Western literature. Where do we seek solace if not to poems and poetry, to long-read (or long form) articles and tomes that deal with the nature of the human condition. I mean, the sun had set and the flowers were dead.

Frail as thy love

Who’s love exactly?. . . Was it — this love 💔 — frail because it was false (‘fake’)? Frail because it was fickle (‘fleeting’)? Or frail because the giver of this love became feverish and then passed away?

Knowing the context (the notes of Edith Nicholls etc.) is — I feel more and more — an impediment not an aid to usefully analysing poetry.

— § —

The Four Ages of Poetry &c.

“The Four Ages of Poetry,” an essay of 1820 by Thomas Love Peacock, was both a significant study of poetry in its own right, and the stimulus for the 1821 essay: “A Defence of Poetry” by P. B. Shelley. Both are, in a way, nuances of the arguments made by Philip Sidney’s 1595 An Apology for Poetry (in which Sidney responds to some points made by a puritanical contemporary of his).

In essence, “Four Ages” (see the full essay, with commentary, here) is a utilitarian attack on the Romantic poets of Peacock era; characters indeed that he was closely and amicably associated with. Note well that Peacock was first and foremost a satirist and thus tongue n cheek was the order of the day — in other essays Peacock would write in defence of such poets! In a nutshell, Peacock offered a mocking account of how poets originally developed a claim to be historians and/or moral and ethical guides. He argued that: practice is mainly rooted in expression, so it should not be held as fact. In a counterpoint essay — “A Defense of Poetry” — Shelley places the poet on a pedestal see the full essay, with commentary, here). Arguably Shelly’s case for the poet is built upon the essay Philip Sidney wrote — “An Apology for Poetry” — back in 1595 that defended poets and poetry from prudish puritans see the full essay, with commentary, here). The shoulders of giants. . . ; decline and fall. . . & moment’s monuments. . .

First published in the journal Literary Miscellany in 1820, Four Ages was Peacock’s satirical perspective on the history and societal role of poetry. He describes the golden age as the age of Homer, the silver age as “the poetry of civilized life,” with two kinds of poetry, “imitative and original.” Peacock holds Virgil as an example of a strong imitator, and casts the original poetry of the silver age as the emergence of comic and satirical forms, and notes of the age the “labored polish of versification” as a new obstacle to poetry’s previously unencumbered music of sound and sense. The [Romantic], brass era is marked, according to Peacock, by poems of “verbose and minutely-detailed description of thoughts, passions, actions, persons, and things.” Peacock concludes that industrialised civilization has outgrown the need for poetry, and that as societies become more complex the intellectual role that poets had held is more effectively taken on by philosophers and statesmen. In the brass age, Peacock argues, the poet is “a semi-barbarian in a civilized community.”

Objection your Honour!

Shelley retorted to Peacock by saying that, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Shelley’s essay — “The Defence of Poetry” — contains many allusions to Peacock’s Four Ages, e.g., “If I know the knight by the device of his shield, I have only to inscribe Cassandra, Antigone, or Alcestis on mine to blunt the point of his spear;” taking one instance of a favourite character from each of the the three great Greek tragedians. Shelley begins with reason and imagination, defining reason as logical thought and imagination as perception, adding, “reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things.” From reason and imagination, humankind may recognise beauty, and it is through beauty that civilization comes.

Language, Shelley contends, shows humanity’s impulse toward order and harmony, which leads to an appreciation of unity and beauty. Those in “excess” of language are the poets, whose task it is to impart the pleasures of their experience and observations into poems. Shelley argues, that civilization advances and thrives with the help of poetry. This assumption then, through Shelley’s own understanding, marks the poet as a prophet, not a man dispensing forecasts but a person who “participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one.” He goes on to place poetry in the column of divine and organic process: “A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth … the creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator.” The task of poets then is to interpret and present the poem; Shelley’s metaphor here explicates: “Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.”

Today, Defence of Poetry is considered by far the most important of Shelley’s prose writings. In it, Shelley claims that poets have the capacity to be philosophers; that they are the creators and protectors of moral and civil laws; and that if it were not for poets, scientists could not have developed either their theories or their inventions.” Shelley opens his essay by discussing the two faculties of the human mind: reason and imagination. He highlights the difference between them and says:“Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known; imagination is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences,and imagination the similitudes of things. The reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance.”

From the Romantic era, let’s rewind to the Elizabethan era. Philip Sidney in his 1595 “Apology for Poetry” reacts against the attacks made on poetry by the puritan and anti-theatrical writer, Stephen Gosson. To, Sidney, poetry is an art of imitation for specific purpose, it is imitated to teach and delight. According to Sidney, poetry is simply a superior means of communication and its value depends on what is communicated. The claims Gossen made (and were then countered by Sidney) are as follow:

  1. Poetry is the waste of time;
  2. Poetry is mother of lies;
  3. It is nurse of abuse;
  4. Plato was right to have banished poets from his ideal world.

For Sidney, (1) poetry is the source of knowledge and a civilizing force, for Sidney. Gossen attacks on poetry saying that it corrupts the people and it is the waste of time, but Sidney says that no learning is so good as that which teaches and moves to virtue and that nothing can both teach and amuse so much as poetry does. He contends that ancient Greek society respected poets quite considerably. The poets are always to be looked up. So, poetry is not a waste of one’s time. Sidney claims (2) that poet does not lie because he never affirms that his fiction is true and can never lie. The poetic truths are ideal and universal. Therefore, poetry cannot be false per se (or as others have put it, “the mother of all lies”). Sidney rejects too the notion that poetry is “the source of abuses.” To him (3), it is people who abuse poetry, not vice-versa. Abuses are more nursed by philosophy and history than by poetry, by describing battles, bloodshed, violence etc. On the contrary, poetry, the argument goes, helps to maintain morality and peace by avoiding such violence and bloodshed. Moreover it brings light to knowledge. Sidney (4) contends that Plato in his Republic wanted to banish the abuse of poetry not the poets. He himself was not free from poeticality, which we can find in his dialogues. Plato never says that all poets should be banished. He called for banishing only those poets who are inferior and unable to instruct the children.

As Sidney sees it, art is the imitation of nature but it is not slavish imitation as Plato views. Rather it is creative imitation. Nature is dull, incomplete and ugly. It is artists who turn dull nature in to golden color. He employs his creative faculty, imagination and style of presentation to decorate the raw materials of nature. For Sidney, art is a speaking picture having spatiotemporal dimension (belonging to both space and time or to space–time). For Aristotle human action is more important but for Sidney nature is important. Nature vs. Nurture. . . Oh how I want it to be the latter (we can hope society, family and parenting can improve) but all indications are that it’s nature, our dee en ay & our genes, that overrides and supersedes and is writ large 😦


REFERENCES

📙  An Apology for Poetry (1595)
📙  Melincourt (1817)
📙  The Four Ages of Poetry (1820)
📙  A Defence of Poetry (1821)
📙  Crouchet Castle (1831)
📙  Headlong Hall and Nightmare Abbey (1850)
📙  Gryll Grange (1861)
📙  The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1900 (1919)

Brett-Smith, H. (Ed.) (1923). Peacock’s Four Ages of Poetry, Shelley’s Defence of Poetry, Browning’s Essay on Shelley (2nd ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Eliot, C. W. (Ed.) (1909). Percy Bysshe Shelley – A Defence of Poetry. English essays, from Sir Philip Sidney to Macaulay. The Harvard classics, Volume 27. New York: P. F. Collier & Son.

Eliot, C. W. (Ed.) (1909). Sir Philip Sidney – The Defense of Poesy. English essays, from Sir Philip Sidney to Macaulay. The Harvard classics, Volume 27. New York: P. F. Collier & Son.

Peacock, T. L. (1817). Melincourt. London: T. Hookham.

Peacock, T. L. (1831). Crotchet Castle. London: T. Hookham.

Peacock, T. L. (1850). ‘Headlong Hall’ and ‘Nightmare Abbey’. New York: George P. Putnam.

Peacock, T. L. (1861). Gryll Grange. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd.

Quiller-Couch, A. T. (1919). The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1900. Oxford: Clarendon.

“Annabel Lee”

I love with a kind of love 💓
that’s far more than love /

This post carries a literary analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem: “Annabel Lee” (c. 1849). It is a powerful testament to love and particularly poignant in that it was the last poem Poe penned prior to passing.

“Annabel Lee”


It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Laughed loud at her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went laughing at her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the laughter in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.


— Edgar Allan Poe (c. 1849)

Literary Analysis

1. The poet

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) as you (may) know was an American writer and poet. He’s widely regarded as a key figure in the American Romanticism movement and was one of the pioneers of the all-American short story (i.e., a novella — see e.g., Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” for an English equivalent).

Some English Romantics:
01. — S. T. Coleridge
02. — John Keats
03. — P. B. Shelley
04. — Lord Byron

Poe wrote “Annabel Lee” on the eve of his demise. It wasn’t published until he was dead and buried (I don’t think cremation was a done thing back then unless of course you were on the banks of the Ganges at e.g., a ghat at Benares). Poe died at 40 and was either dying of rabies or dying or rum when discovered in a state of delirium on a New York street. In a nod to Nietzsche or a coincidence a continent apart Poe once upon a time mused: “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

In-depth profile:
Edgar Allan Poe

2. The poem

I am increasingly thinking I’m presenting all this topsy-turvy (tipsy as I am from the dashing dealt by crashing white horses, that are themselves corralled by Atlantic swell). I should present an analysis of the poem before the poet. I mean I’m a full on liberal-minded person, I’d advocate legalising it all and (I here mean to say) I am against capital punishment in all circumstances (thus I do believe human life, once born, is sacrosanct) yet (and this is the point I’m trying to ground compassionately) I feel it’s the poem we should cherish/castigate; love/loath; be moved by or be indifferent to and not the poet. Poets, like plumbers and plum pie producers, live and die. Poems, unlike plumbing or pies of plum do not necessarily have short shelf lives (some span centuries [e.g., Marlowe, Raleigh, Shakespeare and my starry-eyed Edmund Spenser — o how my eyes are blighted for not seeing you], some last millennia [e.g., Catullus, Homer, Horace, Ovid, and my electric Sappho]). It is then, a submission to you here that the poem should be of greater concern than the poet. Am I wrong? … Never mind (for now).

2.1 Synopsis

The story of “Annabel Lee” is about L O V E — there’s no ambiguity about that. But, was this a swan song? A eulogy to his imagined maker? (A declaration of loyalty to the good lord o high on up above.) Or, was it about the death of a loved one; a loved one who, due to reactionary elders, was separated from their lover? (Oh how my mind runs wild, oh how everything inevitably comes down to you and me!) You see, unfortunately, it has all been written on stone. There is precious little scope to read into it what we desire, need and want to because, received wisdom tells us “Annabel Lee” is a story of fresh/young/honeymoon-period love, that’s been cut short. The consensus view too is that the narrator is indeed Poe himself. (Circumstance/context informs us that Poe lost his wife, Virginia Eliza Clemm, in the year prior to producing this poem. Her death profoundly altered his state of mind — I’ve often wondered what’s worse losing a loved one to breakup or to death, yes the latter’s final {could anything be worse?} but, the former’s a perennial jailer’s chain around one’s soul that gives delusional hope of a reconciliation and a reuniting. This chain and the mirages it creates live on and live on and live on. Chained as thus, one comes to utterly obsess and be defined by this vain hope. It shapes one, it defines and it ‘distorts’ one.)

Virginia Eliza Clemm. -- Virginia married Poe when she was 13 and he 27, they were first cousins.
Virginia Eliza Clemm
— Virginia married Poe when she was 13 and he 27, they were first cousins. Poe painted this portrait in the hours after her parting.

Literary critics are pretty much unanimous in stating that Virginia’s drawn out demise and eventual death had a substantial effect on Edgar Allan Poe, who “became despondent and turned to alcohol to cope. Her struggles with illness and death are believed to have affected his poetry and prose, where dying young women appear as a motif, for instance in “Ligeia” and “The Raven” too. I ask you, I ask you here and now, is all true love doomed to fail? does pure love, unconditional love ever run smoothly? Think of the story of Venus and Mars — a tale of lustful love, that’s then forbidden (in a humiliating way). Once upon a time Venus (a.k.a., ‘Aphrodite’ and/or, in Greece, ‘Venus de Milo’) is wedded to Vulcan, Roman God of Fire, but she finds him too boring (prosaic & formulaic). She then has a passionate affair with Mars (Ares in Greece). But Vulcan suspects what is going on and he crafts a fine metallic mesh (sometimes described as being invisible) and entraps Venus and Mars on a sofa in order to expose them to ridicule. They — stuck on this sofa — are then humiliated in front of the other gods on mount Olympus.

Forbidden_Love
A magical kiss then, a love forbidden
Venus_and_Mars_National_Gallery
Venus and Mars
by Sandro Botticelli (circa 1484)
Piero_di_Cosimo_-_Venus,_Mars,_and_Cupid
Venus, Mars & Cupid
by Piero di Cosimo (c. 1490)

Guilty as charged
I know full well my insertion of forbidden kisses and treacherous trysts is off-topic (i.e., subject matter not in sync with the “Annabel Lee’s” theme). But in my defence I claim insanity as manifested in limerence; OLD disorder, if you do so prefer it called.
“I rest my case”
Quod Erat Demonstrandum, QED

In sum, many moons ago the poem’s narrator lived happily with Annabel Lee with whom he was madly in love with. Yet it is alleged that god’s angels got jealous of this pure love and orchestrated her downfall (“sending cold winds”). The narrator is utterly devastated but, his love for her continues (intensifies even?). He states that their two souls are one and will always be so (even when separated temporarily by death). He carries her everywhere, day and night (he sleeps beside the seaside at her tomb). The poem makes clear: that true love resides in souls and therefore is immortal (so to speak). Love and death are the duel themes of “Annabel Lee” (the infiniteness of love; the unfairness of death at a young age). For Poe (et al.) love is the greatest force present in the universe and nothing can destroy it; not the winged seraphs nor even, death. Although his beloved leaves the mortal world, he feels her presence 24/7.

2.2 Literary & Poetic Devices

This poem has six stanzas of variable length and structure. The poem’s rhyme scheme is said to be ABABCB throughout (something that i myself am still trying to learn to read).

Conrad Geller describes “Annabel Lee” as a festival of auditory effects, with a delightful mixture of anapests and iambs, internal rhymes, repetitions [and] assonances.” Indeed. Literary devices are techniques that writers use to convey their ideas and feelings (poetic devices serve the same aim but are specific to poetry and thus distinct from prose). Literary devices are employed to articulate one’s point and purpose by way of wordplay.

Alliteration
— The repetition of consonant sounds in the same line e.g., /w/, /th/ and /l/ sounds in the line: “But we loved with a love that was more than love.”

Allusion
— The making of an indirect reference of a person, place, &c. For instance in this poem “seraphs in heaven” imply that biblical angels can act quite demonically.

Assonance
— The repetition of vowel sounds in the same line e.g., /a/ and /i/ in: “It was many and many a year ago,” and: “This maiden she lived with no other thought.”

Enjambment
— The continuation of a sentence without the pause beyond the end of a line or couplet. These have been used to great effect in “Annabel Lee” An example of this form: “And this maiden she lived with no other thought; Than to love and be loved by me.”

Imagery
— Used to enable readers to use their various senses e.g., we are moved to imagine cold marble forms and port to promenades in the dead of night accompanied only by memories and the sound of the lapping ocean waves.

Internal Rhyme
— The internal rhyme is rhyme within a given line of a poem. Here for example in: “For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams” we have “beams” and “dreams.”

Personification
— Give human characteristics to inanimate objects e.g., the wind becomes human somehow and on it is carried death’s angels: “The wind came out of the cloud by night, / Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.”

Symbolism
— Language (or words) used to signify ideas and qualities distinct from literal meanings. “The sea” is the symbol of evil and darkness, “moon” and “the stars” Annabel Lee’s undying beauty.

Refrain
— The usage of repetition for emphasis and reinforcement etc. Examples here are (1) In a kingdom by the sea and (2) Of the beautiful Annabel Lee. This helps with the rhyme and rhythm (that Geller et al. are so enamored with).

2.3 Analysis

Let us start with the title, the name of the object of the narrator’s ceaseless obsession:

Annabel is a feminine given name of English origin, a combination of the Latin name Anna, which comes from the Hebrew word for grace, and the French word belle, meaning beauty.
— Thus Annabel means: ‘Beauty of Grace.’

Lee is a name that can be a first name or a surname. It means a meadow (in a lee would be where one would erect “Silken Tents” &c.). Gardens are sown in clearings; Eden was a garden.
— Thus Lee (here) implies: an ‘idyllic place.’

The poem begins in a way that is deliberately close to the typical beginning of a fairy tale; an echo of “once upon a time,” and the second line brings to mind the figure of a lone maiden locked up in a faraway kingdom (think Rapunzel and Charles ‘Bluebeard’ Perrault).

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,

Stanza 1
[4] ...Annabel Lee
[6] ...loved by me.
Stanza 2
[3] ...love--
[4] ...Lee;
[6] ...me

We feel the chill of a cold hard marble mausoleum.

Chilling and killing
nighttime tides and offshore breezes
shut up in a sepulchre

… the devil and the deep blue sea

While she’s resting, he is not:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams

At night we can close our eyes and fantasise, but in the day, we must do our duties despite being most wholly dead on the inside. He’s angry with Mr Maker, ain’t he? Poe, I mean, I mean, the poem’s speaker is riled by the way this Annabel of his was cruelly snatched away; by how the divine beings are behaving (the: the winged seraphs of heaven).

We are left to wonder what/who these ‘highborn kinsman’ are, a ref. (reference) to reactionary societal norms (for me) a def. (deference) to the almighty (for he)? (hu)man(kind) . . .

as all men know

. . . know that Tuberculosis (TB; “consumption”) is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that typically reveals itself by way of a chronic cough fever and night sweats, and weight loss. We know and it seems Poe did too that tea bee was spread from one person to the next through the air:

A wind blew out of a cloud
the wind came out of the cloud by night

But even if we know with science and reason the reason for why — technically and medically speaking — somebody or someone was taken away from us doesn’t mean we shan’t be consumed with the question of why; shan’t become torn with the injustice and unfairness of it all. Depth sounding — love knows no bounds, the limits are fathomless:


Oh how the sounding sea,
Resonates within me.

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken
“Resounding”
by a Viking called Utgivningsår (circa. 1555).

The complexity of Mavis

literary analysis: a character from Morrison’s 1994 work of fiction, “Paradise.”

The novel ‘Paradise’ (or ‘paradise’ as Morrison later wished the title to be; to capitalise or not, a capital idea!) is not known for being an easy to read novel. In fact, as with many of Morrison’s books, it has a reputation for being the opposite—it should be noted that Morrison began writing to “forestall melancholy,” not to write easy to digest stories for cash. [1]  Be that as it may, it has nonetheless been said that the “complexity” of this novel distracts from “the profound and, deeply polemical message it conveys” regarding, “gender and American history” (Widdowson 2001 313). It has similarly been described as, “structurally complex … barely heeding the laws of time and place [and Morrison’s] most overtly feminist novel” (Smith 1998) and to be, “the most difficult and complicated of Morrison’s books” (Byerman 2010). [2]  In this short essay, the character Mavis Albright will be considered.

To address the question of why this charter is complex we need to consider some facts at the outset (facts relating to this work of fiction). One she was instrumental in the deaths of her two young children. Two her mother betrayed her location to her enraged husband (she had stolen his cherished verdant green Cadillac) and has previously had sex with him. And, three, she was at the one of the women residing at the Convent when the men of Ruby descended upon it to violently attack it. In acting independently our Mavis felt a rare happiness only once experienced before on a funfair ride—“When ‘the Rocket zoomed on the downward swing, the rush made her giddy with pleasure; when it slowed just before turning her upside down through the high arc of its circle, the thrill was intense” (33). She got this from the thrill and safety of absconding in Frank’s Cadillac, “the stable excitement of facing danger while safely strapped in strong metal” (ibid.). Later, in the “Mavis” chapter, we read what Connie said to Mavis in the kitchen of the convent, “scary things not always outside. Most scary things is inside” (39). This chapter also tells us something strange about the convent, “how still it was, as though no one lived there” (45). Is this magic realism? What exactly is real and fictional in this complicated work of fiction?

One reason for why Mavis is a complex character is to do with trust, guilt and confusion. She lost two of her kids (twin with rhyming names: Merle and Pearl) because of a mistake/error she made (so we think) this must be a huge mental burden to anyone. She did not trust the sympathies of the local journalist or the neighbours around her. She has paranoia too (maybe it is more like justified worries) because she wants to escape her abusive husband (understandable) and her surviving children who she feels want to kill her (less understandable, but her eldest daughter does seem to dislike her). Then there’s the mother-daughter trust issues. After escaping from Frank her husband), she ends up with her mum. But soon after her arrival she hears her mum telling him that his wife is with her and that he can come and get her. She heads West again with cash and tablets borrowed from her mother. As with many a great American novel she plans and dreams of California—in a colourful twist, she spray-paints the Cadillac repainted magenta. [3]  . . .


See too:
01. — An in-depth profile of Toni Morrison
02. — Analysis: Morrison and ‘ancestral roles’
03. — “Song of Solomon” by Morrison (1977)
04. — “Unspeakable, unspoken” by Morrison (1988)
05. — “Morrison, On Love,” just saying… by J.
06. — “Mask Wars,” just saying… by J.H.K.


. . .  Another reason for the character Mavis’s complexity could be because Morrison is linking her to an African spirit god. The character Mavis has been linked not to a biblical character as is often the case with Morrison’s fictional protagonists but with a West African deity (Bur 2006 165–166). It is argued that Morrison links Mavis to Osun. In African mythology, this is linked to a god of joy and children who is also feisty—“is easily offended”—remember that Mavis fights Gigi in a street brawl (who herself is probably sleeping with Seneca [4] ). In ‘Paradise’ (168) it does say that Mavis was a “joyful hitter” who enjoyed the fight, “pounding [and] pounding, even biting Gigi was exhilarating” (171). Linked to this is the question of how real the fiction is meant to be, is it a ghost story, is it all an allegory of the unfairness of Adam and Eve?

To the men of Ruby, the women’s self-sufficiency is deeply threatening and see it as, “a coven not a convent” (276). According to Morrison, ‘paradise’ coalesced around the idea of, “where paradise is, who belongs in it … all paradises are described as male enclaves, while the interloper is a woman, defenseless and threatening” (Smith). Mavis is plagued by a terrible situation, abused by her husband (and eldest daughter?) she apparently leaves her infant twins in a Cadillac on a hot day with the windows up, and the babies die” (23). The description if these events are, “wrought in the full glare of Ms. Morrison’s uncompromising gaze” (Smith 1998). Such vivid and ‘haunting’ moments have appeared in many of Morrison’s previous works—mothers killing their kids (‘Beloved’); fathers raping their daughters (‘The Bluest Eye’).

To sum up, Mavis is a complex character in a complicate and difficult to follow book. She certainly is not the only complicated character in this book, but her journey West is like a symbol of the American dream especially because of the icon car the Cadillac. The book shows to us (most) men’s hatred (and lustful desire) for women. This book is more about Adam and Eve than black and white. As critics point out, who was the white girl we read about in the opening lines? Morrison provokes the reader, challenging them to identify a character in terms of race without identify the race of most of the convent’s inhabitants (Byerman). Is our Mavis white? Is it Gigi or her lover Seneca? Maybe it does not matter too much as this book is more about gender than race.

— § —


Notes

[1]   This has been to the benefit of us all, in her acceptance talk for the Nobel prize in literature, she said the written word has the ability to, “limn the actual, imagined and possible lives of its speakers” and to keep fear at bay but it can also have the opposite impact, “oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence” (Smith 1998).

[2]   In trying to understand literary analysis better I learnt a lot from the following point made by Keith Byerman: “Shakespeare never had an original idea for a story. He stole everything.” Writers steal. Writers lie. That is their business. Morrison takes whatever she needs from wherever she gets it. You could pull apart Paradise and find all those different frames of reference. There is some John Milton here. There is some Dante, William Faulkner, and Melville. Pick your source. Do not assume that because you identified the source, you have therefore solved the puzzle. … No! Morrison used a particular kind of source in a particular kind of way. She is always doing it for her own purposes.

[3]   Magenta is a colour that is often defined as purplish-red. It is hard not to link this defiant repaint as encouraging the reader to think of Alice Walker’s 1982 novel, ‘The Color Purple.’ They key protagonist in ‘The Colour Purple’—Celie—has a difficult past which is borne from racial discrimination and violence against women. This work is as one with many of Morrison’s magic-realism fictional works because it also follows a journey that is constantly dealing with the vexed subject matter of identity.

[4]   Seneca, an interesting non-biblical name. Seneca was venerated as a moral Stoic thinker and for periods of time was one of Emperor Nero’s closest advisers (Kolbert 2015). Seneca He is said to have said, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” This makes the reader think of the ending of life in African and the starting of slavery, the ending of slavery (explicit) and the beginnings of hidden slavery, the end of Haven and the Move west to Ruby. We then come to think of Bob Marley’s ‘Buffalo Solder’ the lyrics of it are as here:

Buffalo Soldier
Dreadlock Rasta
There was a Buffalo Soldier
in the heart of America
Stolen from Africa
brought to America
Fighting on arrival
fighting for survival
 
I mean it, when I analyze the stench
To me it makes a lot of sense
How the Dreadlock Rasta
was the Buffalo Soldier
And he was taken from Africa
brought to America
Fighting on arrival
fighting for survival

— § —


Works Cited

Burr, Benjamin. “Mythopoetic Syncretism in Paradise,” in Shirley A. Stave (Ed.). Toni Morrison and the Bible: Contested Intertextualities (pp. 159–174). 2006.

Byerman, Keith. “Language Matters II, Reading and Teaching Toni Morrison: Paradise.” University of Kansas. http://www2.ku.edu/~langmtrs/lmII/discussions/paradise.html. Accessed July 19 2020.

Morrison, Toni. “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature.” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, University of Michigan. (1988)

—————— Paradise. New York: Knopf. (1994)

—————— “Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation,” in T. Morrison, What Moves at the Margin (pp. 56–65). Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. (2008).

Kolbert, Elizabeth. “Such a Stoic: How Seneca became Ancient Rome’s philosopher-fixer.” The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/02/stoic-2. Accessed July 19 2020.

Smith, Dinitia. “Toni Morrison’s Mix of Tragedy, Domesticity And Folklore.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/08/books/toni-morrison-s-mix-of-tragedy-domesticity-and-folklore.html. Accessed July 19 2020


Toni Morrison: Paradise
Once tasted, you can never be forgotten.

Ancestral roles

Literary analysis: identifying the ancestor role in Morrison’s 1994 work of fiction, “Paradise.”

The role of ancestor is a constant motive of much of Morrison’s magic-realist writing and it is something that she sees as being distinctively linked to Afro-American literature (Morrison 1988) and something that is important to the Afro-American community in the real world too. She makes it clear it is not so much the role of man but that of ancestor that can hold (and guide) the individual and the family unit, “if we don’t keep in touch with the ancestor that we are, in fact, lost.” (Morrison 2008 63). To understand the definition of the significance of the ancestor role in Morrison’s works of fiction, “one must become familiar with the function of ancestor in West African cosmology” (Beaulieu 2003 4). [1]  However, while in some of her novels, the ancestor character is pretty clear, it is not obvious in ‘Paradise’ (1994). In ‘Love’ we can attribute it to L, in ‘Song of Solomon’ we can attribute it to Pilate. Critics contend that the ancestor character is most explicitly spelt out and dealt with in the following works: ‘Tar Baby,’ ‘Beloved’ and ‘Jazz’ (ibid.). This short essay concerns itself with the possibility of Zechariah [2]  being the ancestor character in ‘Paradise,’ it also suggests that because gender not race is the key theme of this work, the ancestor element is possibly less important and thus, less prevalent.

Morrison asserts that the ancestor is one of the distinctive elements of Afro-American writing (2008 61) and terms them “timeless people” (62). The timeless status implies the ancestors’ abstractness and their ability to transcend both time and space, diachronically as well as synchronically. In Morrison’s understanding, the particular ancestors coalesce into an abstract mass whose influence on the present is marked, regardless of the times or eras the individual ancestors originate in. Such characters in Morrison’s magic-realist style function as advisor and guide. by always (or is it almost always?) including ancestor figures into her work she enables these “culture bearers” to serve as, “a bridging point between the past and present cultures, mixing the two and influencing the communities through their understanding” (Kota 2016 2).

‘Paradise’ is primarily concerned with two communities: the residents of the small town of Ruby and an old stately home called the Convent in the nearby countryside (Widdowson 2001 314). ‘Paradise’ begins with a group of men from Ruby prepare to kill five women who live in a nearby convent (Krumholz 2002). From the men’s perspectives, the women, like Eve, embody a loss of innocence and an ejection from the Garden of Eden, the earthly Paradise, a loss the men fear and wish to prevent. But as hunted does anointed with “holy oil,” the women are also Christ-like sacrificial victims and the men their executioners (Krumholz). After the massacre of the five women of the Convent by the men of Ruby, their bodies disappear, and the residents of Ruby are then obligated to make sense of the attack and the subsequent strange disappearances—“all the characters in the novel are haunted by past events” (Anderson 2008 146).

The Convent can be viewed as a kind informal women’s refuge. a kind of informal refuge for damaged women. This complicated work of magic-realist fiction is broken down into chapters named after the work’s key protagonists—e.g., “Mavis,” “Grace,” “Seneca.” All key characters are women and include, Gigi, a seductive young woman whose boyfriend is in jail; Seneca, a hitchhiker who has survived abandonment and sexual exploitation; Pallas, a wealthy lawyer’s daughter whose lover left her for her mother” (Kakutani 1998). For the characters of Morrison’s novel to “learn to live,” one literary critic argues they must, “negotiate borders not only between life and death and past and present but between all binaries” (Anderson 148). In ‘Paradise’ Morrison, “privileges liminality, as the Convent women, erased and negatively “ghosted” by the larger society, find empowerment through their communal spiritual experiences in the Convent” (ibid). [3]  . . .


See too:
01. — An in-depth profile of Toni Morrison
02. — Analysis: ‘paradise’s’ Mavis
03. — “Song of Solomon” by Morrison (1977)
04. — “Unspeakable, unspoken” by Morrison (1988)
05. — “Morrison, On Love,” just saying… by J.
06. — “Mask Wars,” just saying… by J.H.K.


. . .  Before considering the ancestor role in this work, we must focus more on gender. Why? Well because the focus on gender, reduced the need for and focus on the ancestor role. Whereas earlier Morrison novels like ‘Beloved’ and ‘Song of Solomon’ married the historical and the mythic, the mundane and the fantastic into a seamless piece of music, ‘Paradise’ is said to be, “devoid of both urgency and narrative sleight of hand. It is neither grounded in closely observed vignettes of real life, nor lofted by the dreamlike images the author has used so dexterously in previous works of fiction” (Kakutani 1998). However, it might be because this book is less about the Afro(-American) ancestor and more about gender inequality. Regarding the theme or the subtext, it has been argued that Morrison is saying that, “the price of Ruby’s insistence on maintaining a morally superior master narrative may well be the sacrifice of that very narrative. Rather than a perfect paradise, Ruby ends up as a conservative, patriarchal, thoroughly racialized, and violent community” (Dalsgård 2001). [4]

There is another view on the subtext, it is that Paradise is a. “provocative allegory of nationhood… it begins in July of 1976-the bicentennial of the United States… it is no coincidence that these men are black, and that the first woman they kill is white. When one reads the novel allegorically, as a reconfiguration of the founding of the United States, Morrison’s vision of totalising patriarchal historiography takes on double weight. Storace 1998; Davidson 2001 371). The novel ends (frustratingly and one must say intentionally) before we the readership can know the consequences of the massacre. But we do know what Misner thinks of it all, he inwardly chastises the town for thinking, “they have outfoxed the whiteman when in fact they imitate him… [this is a great thinking point placed here by Morrison:] How exquisitely human was the wish for permanent happiness, and how thin human imagination became trying to achieve it” (306). It is argued that Ruby, for Misner was an unnecessary failure (Davidson 370).

We first come across the character: Zechariah Morgan on page 96 of ‘Paradise’ (or as subsequently Morrison wished it had been titled “paradise” or alternatively “War”):

“My Father,” he said. “Zechariah here.” Then, after a few seconds of total silence, he began to hum the sweetest, saddest sounds Rector ever heard. Rector joined Big Papa on his knees and stayed that way all night.

What is in a hum? Nothing and everything. We can think of Pilate in ‘Song of Solomon’ to get some guidance here—it is this bellybuttonless ladies’ hum that opened and closed that book. Turning back to our Zechariah Morgan, he is the one who tells us about leading a group of people away from Louisiana toward Oklahoma. Being “too black” to be accepted into various communities along the way, this “disallowing gives them the impetus to migrate westward to establish their own town, Haven (Oki 2013 41)—recall that the character Mavis is headed West too to escape the chains of her husband to the promised lands of California. These basically forced migrations often noted in Morrison’s fiction have been linked by literary critics to the bible’s myth of “Exodus.”

It is Zechariah who talks about a mysterious “walking man” and says this is a moment of epiphany, a kind of revelation (Oki). Zechariah says of this incident, “you can’t start it and you can’t stop it” because, “this is god’s time… [god ain’t gunna] do your work for you, so step lively.” (Morrison 1994, 97–98). At the core of the history and its retelling are the figure of Zechariah Morgan as the link with the ancestor and the oven as a symbol of the ancestral ideas and stories (The Ancestor as Figure in the novels of Toni Morrison 128). It can be argued that the oven that Zechariah constructs in Haven and is then transported to Ruby is symbolic of the community and the fire that they gather around to pass on oral stories. As is mentioned, “Zechariah, the ancestral guardian of the 8-rock community, guides the original wayfarers in their search for the promised land” (ibid.).

To sum up, we can say that Morrison, in most, if not all of her books, seeks to champion the idea that being aware of one’s roots (one’s history in both cultural and ethnic senses) will have more importance to one’s success in life (be this inner contentment or being a good citizen) than would say ignoring the past and/or relying for the most part on self-help books et cetera. As has been said, the relationship between character and ancestor, in Morrison’s prose, “antagonistic or amicable, directly correlates with that character’s success in navigating life” (Beaulieu 5) Milkman’s shifting relationship with his (ancestor character) Aunt Pilate provides a great case study. Regarding ‘Paradise’ I think that Zechariah fits the bill, so to speak, of the ancestor character. It is not as clear cut as in other novels, but ‘Paradise’ maybe had a more contemporary subtext message which may have been less about rootedness and more about feminism.

— § —


NOTES

[1]   In West African mythology the ancestors live on in a spiritual continuum between worlds and generations. It is articulated as follows: “While anyone has the power to tap into the energies of the ancestors [it is typically the elders of the community that do this in order to] ensure that subsequent generations understand the importance of the ancestors … Morrison modifies this use of the ancestor and transforms it into a literary device that explores the manifold ways in which characters relate to their ancestors and, by extension, their communities” (Beaulieu 2003 4–7).

[2]   Zechariah is a historic character linked to the bible’s Old Testament and is thought to have helped pen the ‘Book of Zechariah’. What might be interesting and explain why Morrison chose this name for the (or one of the) ancestor figure(s) in ‘Paradise’ was because of Zechariah’s circumstances. He was said to have been in Babylon (modern-day Iraq) during the reign of Darius the Great in the era when the Jews had been exiled from Jerusalem (think: Africans forcibly transferred from Africa to the heart of America as a consequence of the slave ships) and were being encouraged to build (temporary) homes in lands they’d not originated from (think: Haven then Ruby).

[3]   As is argued, the convent is depicted as a liminal space in which, “the monolithic categories of religion, race, class, and gender converge and make cultural hybridity possible,” this is in stark contrast to Ruby and its men who, “perceive hybridity as a disruptive evil which threatens their sense of selfhood and nationhood” (Fraile-Marcos 2003 4). To be clear here, in an anthropological (and maybe to cognitive and psychological sense) liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that takes place in the middle stage of a rite of passage. French philosopher Jacques Derrida said that if learning to live is to be achieved, “it can happen only between life and death. Neither in life nor in death alone” (Anderson 146). In a liminal state of mind, the concerned individual—or protagonist in a work of fiction—will no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete; a stage between text and subtext, between conscious and unconscious:

Liminal Thinking (Gray 2016)
“Liminal Thinking,” an illustration by Gray (2016).

[4]   To expand on this point more fully: “By making Ruby’s success dependent on an ancestral heroic commemoration of the success of the community’s founding fathers in establishing a covenanted community in an inhospitable western landscape, by dramatising the angry accusations made by the community’s contemporary patriarchs against the younger generations when the discrepancy between its morally superior master narrative and its actual cultural practices becomes too vast to ignore, and by ultimately having Ruby scapegoat a group of unconventional women for its internal problems, Morrison invites us critically to acknowledge the presence of one of the most canonical European American narratives—that of American exceptionalism, in African American discourse”(Dalsgård 2001 244).

— § —

Works Cited

Anderson, Melanie R. “‘What Would Be on the Other Side?”: Spectrality and Spirit Work in Toni Morrison’s ‘Paradise.’” African American Review, vol. 42, no. 2, 2008, pp. 307–321. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40301213. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Beaulieu, Elizabeth Ann (Ed.). The Toni Morrison Encyclopedia. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, (2003).

Dalsgård, Katrine. “The One All-Black Town Worth the Pain: (African) American Exceptionalism, Historical Narration, and the Critique of Nationhood in Toni Morrison’s Paradise.” African American Review, vol. 35, no. 2, 2001, pp. 233–248. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2903255. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Davidson, Rob. “Racial Stock and 8-Rocks: Communal Historiography in Toni Morrison’s ‘Paradise.’” Twentieth Century Literature, vol. 47, no. 3, 2001, pp. 355–373. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3176022. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Fraile-Marcos, Ana Maria. “Hybridizing the “City upon a Hill” in Toni Morrison’s “Paradise”.” Melus, vol. 28, no. 4, 2003, pp. 3–33. https://doi.org/10.2307/3595298

Gray, David. “The roots of Liminal Thinking.” Medium. https://medium.com/@davegray/the-roots-of-liminal-thinking-3be4bea6fd63. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Kakutani, Michiko. “Worthy Women, Unredeemable Men.” New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/06/books/books-of-the-times-worthy-women-unredeemable-men.html. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Kota, Mounica. “The Hybridizing Nature of Ancestor Presence in Morrison’s Sula,” Oglethorpe Journal of Undergraduate Research, vol. 6 , no 2. https://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/ojur/vol6/iss2/8. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Krumholz, Linda J. “Reading and Insight in Toni Morrison’s Paradise.” African American Review, vol. 36, no. 1, 2002, pp. 21–34. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2903362. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Morrison, Toni. “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature.” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, University of Michigan. (1988)

—————— Paradise. New York: Knopf. (1994)

—————— “Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation,” in T. Morrison, What Moves at the Margin (pp. 56–65). Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. (2008)

Oki, Shoko. ““War” in Toni Morrison’s Paradise: History and Its Discontinuity or Reconstruction.” Osaka Literary Review 51 (2013): pp. 37–49.

Storace, Patricia. “The Scripture of Utopia: Review of ‘Paradise,’ by Toni Morrison.” New York Review of Books. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1998/06/11/the-scripture-of-utopia/. Accessed 19 July 2020.

The Ancestor as Figure in the novels of Toni Morrison. sg.inflibnet.ac.in/08_chapter4.pdf. Accessed 19 July 2020.

Widdowson, Peter. “The American Dream Refashioned: History, Politics and Gender in Toni Morrison’s ‘Paradise.’” Journal of American Studies, vol. 35, no. 2, 2001, pp. 313–335. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/27556969. Accessed 19 July 2020.

On Sexton

“At night, alone, I marry the bed.”


I dig . . .
I find . . .
the rest is but the hull of a husky shell,
i.e., “rind.”

Mine. ^   Etched with an undertone of gritstone, it is mine to the very grind. And now, on to the main course: the tone-deaf chef’s pièce de résistance . . . Born and raised in a patriarchal household, Anne Sexton was, we read, troubled and troubling in more ways than one. If you already know the context then, so be it. But, if you don’t, I’d suggest you read the poems before your get to know the poet. I present below three of Sexton’s poems and then, each of the trio are discussed.

|  9th November, 1928, Massachusetts.
|  4th October, 1974, Massachusetts.



Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard . . .
. . . god owns heaven but He craves the earth.

Sexton’s. ^   Albeit a little snipped here and there; emphasis is my very own. In flowery verse a literary critic did once write, “American poetry is in a boundless debt before Anne Sexton’s dark, gruesome [and] bold spree of inspirational verses.” What I can hereby say — dear elusive & oh so very evasive reader — is let us ava gander @ some together.


REFERENCE

Sexton, A. (1981). Anne Sexton: The Complete Poems. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin.


1. The Kiss


My mouth blooms like a cut.
I’ve been wronged all year, tedious
nights, nothing but rough elbows in them
and delicate boxes of Kleenex calling crybaby
crybaby, you fool!
 
Before today my body was useless.
Now it’s tearing at its square corners.
It’s tearing old Mary’s garments off, knot by knot
and see — Now it’s shot full of these electric bolts.
Zing! A resurrection!
 
Once it was a boat, quite wooden
and with no business, no salt water under it
and in need of some paint. It was no more
than a group of boards. But you hoisted her, rigged her.
She’s been elected.
 
My nerves are turned on. I hear them like
musical instruments. Where there was silence
the drums, the strings are incurably playing. You did this.
Pure genius at work. Darling, the composer has stepped
into fire.


— Anne Sexton (1981 [n.d.])

“You’re dreamin’ darlin'” — s/he said that, s/he actually did. … Dance into the fire / To fatal sounds of broken dreams / Dance into the fire / That fateful kiss is what we had / Dance into the fire  // … I wander lonely streets / Behind where the old Thames does flow / I’ve gotta tell you a tale / Of how we loved and how I failed  // … The Kiss, you want to know of the kiss of kisses? well it is here — carried as it were in a resplendently resolute case made of Lebanese cedar (cedrus libani) and embossed with acanthus leaf marquetry in English oak (quercus robur): “Deeper than deep”. Luscious lips, Voluptuous hips, Gorgeous _ _ _  [🎬 Take two: You are the best, better than all _ _ _ ]:

2. The Breast


This is the key to it.
This is the key to everything.
Preciously.
 
I am worse than the gamekeeper’s children
picking for dust and bread.
Here I am drumming up perfume.
 
Let me go down on your carpet,
your straw mattress — whatever’s at hand
because the child in me is dying, dying.
 
It is not that I am cattle to be eaten.
It is not that I am some sort of street.
But your hands found me like an architect.
 
Jugful of milk! It was yours years ago
when I lived in the valley of my bones,
bones dumb in the swamp. Little playthings.
 
A xylophone maybe with skin
stretched over it awkwardly.
Only later did it become something real.
 
Later I measured my size against movie stars.
I didn’t measure up. Something between
my shoulders was there. But never enough.
 
Sure, there was a meadow,
but no young men singing the truth.
Nothing to tell truth by.
 
Ignorant of men I lay next to my sisters
and rising out of the ashes I cried
my sex will be transfixed!
 
Now I am your mother, your daughter, your brand new thing — a snail, a nest.
I am alive when your fingers are.
 
I wear silk — the cover to uncover —
because silk is what I want you to think of.
But I dislike the cloth. It is too stern.
 
So tell me anything but track me like a climber
for here is the eye, here is the jewel,
here is the excitement the nipple learns.
 
I am unbalanced — but I am not mad with snow.
I am mad the way young girls are mad,
with an offering, an offering…
 
I burn the way money burns.


— Anne Sexton (1981 [n.d.])

Before Poem 3 (below) recall that in Poem 1 (above) the bedside box of tissues were described as ‘delicate,’ well, a good equivalent of that word would be ‘fragile.’ That’s what I sense up there in “The Kiss,” down here, in “The Ballad,” I somehow see a way of escape, a liberation from reliance on all others, yes the evidently close relationship’s ended and that feels like a fate worse than death but, she (the poem’s narrator) now controls her sex one hundred per cent. … When all else fails / Who knows your ‘sensitive/sensual areas’ better than you yourself do:

3. The Ballad of the Lonely M


The end of the affair is always death.
She’s my workshop. Slippery eye,
out of the tribe of myself my breath
finds you gone. I horrify
those who stand by. I am fed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
 
Finger to finger, now she’s mine.
She’s not too far. She’s my encounter.
I beat her like a bell. I recline
in the bower where you used to mount her.
You borrowed me on the flowered spread.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
 
Take for instance this night, my love,
that every single couple puts together
with a joint overturning, beneath, above,
the abundant two on sponge and feather,
kneeling and pushing, head to head.
At night alone, I marry the bed.
 
I break out of my body this way,
an annoying miracle. Could I
put the dream market on display?
I am spread out. I crucify.
My little plum is what you said.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
 
Then my black-eyed rival came.
The lady of water, rising on the beach,
a piano at her fingertips, shame
on her lips and a flute’s speech.
And I was the knock-kneed broom instead.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
 
She took you the way a woman takes
a bargain dress off the rack
and I broke the way a stone breaks.
I give back your books and fishing tack.
Today’s paper says that you are wed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
 
The boys and girls are one tonight.
They unbutton blouses. They unzip flies.
They take off shoes. They turn off the light.
The glimmering creatures are full of lies.
They are eating each other. They are overfed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.


— Anne Sexton (1981 [n.d.])

A word or two on Poem 1

Right, so well, here’s what I’m thinking. Regarding “The Kiss,” it is evidently written in free verse (no consistent metre or rhyme patterns and thus seeks to be or is reminiscent of natural speech or the verbalising of thought unedited; the penning of it ~ يعني ~ as it is, not as societal conventions would render it be) yet, its imagery and biblical allusions — I am the resurrection and I am the life / I couldn’t ever bring myself to hate you as I’d like — make this both deeper and more umm, err, might we say: philosophical in craftsmanship [sic.] than just typed out random thought. There is in fact some rather explicit and purposeful structure: each of the four stanzas have five lines of which, the final one is very short.

...crybaby, you fool!
...Zing! A resurrection!
...She’s been elected.
...into fire.

I somehow see this as acting as a summary of the whole piece. Blooming lips, pert pouting buds, lipstick of a gaudy fresh blood red. Her mouth, smile and lust is enlivened once more. (Roses are red, oh I’m so blue.) The first is a cut, where the blood wells up, the second is the bloom of a rose. Elbow grease, the hard thankless task of tediously keeping the house. The Kleenex tissue brand is here for crying but everyone knows the man-sized box is innuendo for another kind of cleaning-cum-rejuvenating activity (see Poem 3). In the second stanza of “The Kiss” we feel the ecstasy and the release from chastity, the stripping off, the electric charge of a positive and a negative. Knots of cloth — can we read anything but Mary and her illicit pregnancy being dressed up as immaculate and divine? A body left on blocks in the dry dock, with a skin made for ocean waves, not an incessant bone dry breeze. I know! I know! come to stanza three and we are all about boats, the rigging, the wood, the hull daubed in, now flaking, Teamac. In a frenzy, you strip in a flash, you get that jolt. In the final stanza, we are given a description of the pleasure of the climax, the passion of the kiss — let us pretend we are here only discussing a (facial) lip kiss. Interestingly, tellingly, she brings in her lover even making them out to be the Master musician: a genius at eliciting arousal and fire. But, by saying they’ve stepped into the fire has foreboding but maybe, I only read this because I know of the context of Ms Sexton. (If you play with me, you play with fire. etc.)

A word or two on Poem 2

With regard to “The Breast,” Sexton is undeniably right. Men obsess and almost every straight girl that has a girl-on-girl fantasy focuses on the, I’ll be clinical for now, mammary glands. There’s a reason, a damn good and obvious one: mother’s milk, suckling and nurturing, the source for so many humans of safety and sustenance for their first six to nine months. Carpet (Delta of Venus?) straw mattress (a frolic in the haystack?). Stanza 2: gamekeeper’s children; Stanza 3: child in me. Others have said this poem speaks of the potent power one has by possessing a pair. In stanza 4 we get to hands (hers or another person’s) cupping, circling, caressing, cradling, concentric rings toward the areola and then the pinnacle: hillocks with attractively pigmented caps and volatile peaks. The power this part of one’s anatomy can and does have is made clear at outset, they are:

the key to everything.

We know what rhymes with silk and today, some say “got milk” when referring to MILFs. It’s wonderful how the narrator in the poem beckons and entices…

tell me anything but track me like a climber
...here is the eye, ...the jewel ...the excitement

… they (the narrator) don’t really care for your honeyed words — in this instance — they just want you to expertly handle and fondle these key attributes of theirs in an expert way, in a way to bring about erotic arousal. It ends rather interesting and cryptically:

I burn the way money burns.

What’s Sexton on about here, we are made to wonder. Don’t money make the world spin round? Ain’t it what we yearn for, a/the key to happiness? Lust’s insatiable (is it not, invisible reader?) I guess so too is retail therapy, like food, like sex we use it (burn it) for our pleasure, to sate our desires and needs. Money, doesn’t spend itself nor does fine food force its way into our glutinous gobs, we spend it and we transfer the cake from the plate to our lips (that too can be kissed and then on to our hips) and for the breasts, the knee-weakening givers of life, they can be left unloved in a breaker’s yard, wrapped away in cloth, cotton or silk-like Lycra or they can be taken out and given fresh air, handled with care and made to sing; to be made:

...alive when your fingers are...
[... handling them like a Master maestro.]

A word or two on Poem 3

Regarding “The Ballad of the Lonely M,” ask yourself (I do myself) why I am too embarrassed to write the word ‘masturbator’ and elected for the abbreviation ‘M’ in titling it here — oh why’s it so taboo, y OH y (we used ‘((m))’ didn’t we!). In marked distinction from Poems 1 & 2 (see up, my dearest one) this poem — seven stanzas (7 is synonymous with heaven) of six lines (6 is synonymous with sex) — follows a rhyme scheme: ABABCC, DEDECC, and so on and so forth.

death - breath
fed/spread/head - bed

Do I over-read?

came -- shame

Is this me over-reading? is this a reference to catholic guilt and/or the protestant work ethic (both as pompously prudish as they are puritanical), don’t all the monotheistic tones castigate and demonise the act of masturbation? For come along now! It’s the devil that makes work for idle hands. We should note that syllable counts in the lines of Poem 3 are not consistent or if there is a pattern, I don’t see it. But ladies and men we can see all sorts can’t we, I mean in numerology we trust, don’t we:

__ ___ __
  C  03  
  O  15  
  R  18  
  O  15  
  N  14  
  A  01  
  -  --  
  6  66  
__ ___ __

Fiction is clearly no stranger. I’d say this was so since even before “the lion man” — a hybrid figurine carved from mammoth tusk (that is carbon dated to be over 40,000 years old and is currently the oldest known evidence of religion and is on show at the Museum of Ulm in Germany). [1]  Oh think of Psyche getting her affection from Pan. The milkman, the handyman. The language of the poem is reasonably straightforward; the beauty of not being a full-on slave to rhyming scheme (the lines have different variations of stressed and unstressed words). Its focus is clear — I think — self-pleasure in the aftermath of a split up (‘the end of the affair is always death — the dog’s reflection in the mirror knows well of my own terminal torment, which dogs and hounds me). Yep the poem does not use the word ‘sex’ but it doesn’t really need to, does it? Not with lines like these:

I beat her like a bell. I recline
in the bower where you used to mount her.

Bower
—  A pleasant shady place under trees or climbing plants in a garden or wood.

The bower links to the:

flowered [bed]spread

And all of this makes me think of Adam and St/Eve in the garden of Eden. And then we come to the line that moves me the most:

At night, alone, I marry the bed.

What moves me? The word ‘alone’ comforted here by commas and being snugly mid-sentence. For good measure, this line is repeated verbatim, seven times. This though is far from lazy repetition. In my opinion this really drives home the shear power that the default to self-pleasure can have. It can become a daily necessity akin to food. Indeed, the metaphor for sexual satisfaction in “The Ballad of the Lonely M” is ‘being fed,’ which is extended from the beginning to the end of the poem. It is like food, it is required daily and it’s devoured ritually:

I am fed
a joint overturning [on a spit over fire]
plum
...eating each other. They are overfed.

The last stanza is very powerful, because the young & the glamourous (‘glimmering creatures’) are seemingly everywhere, undressing and copulating like rabbits. Whereas, the narrator alone, is marrying her bed, one hand dealing with the delta and the other attending to the subject of Poem 2. It has become a nightly ritual. It is her medicine, her compulsion:

I am spread out. I crucify.

To sum up

I do find the description of the narrator’s mons veneris and her delectable delta in the poem “The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator” to be acutely accurate:

She’s my workshop. Slippery eye,
She’s not too far. She’s my encounter.
My little plum.

As Yesenia Hernandez writes, Sexton’s, “fearless account of emotions, desires, and actions usually only for private consumption makes her a brave poet participating in a form of liberty all her own.” Indeed, she is known for her very frank writing on depression, the female body and sex and thus explores what’s considered in some quarters taboo subject matter. As she does in Poem 3 (kisses nowadays, the subject of Poem 1, being quite okay). In Poem 3, Sexton is both vague and explicit in her descriptions of the emotions that result from the end of a love affair depicted through the guise of a female wedded to the act of daily masturbation. This candidness — Confessional poetics — may not be so much an attempt to bring these matters into the light and normalise them (for they are obv. part of the human condition) but as a form of personal self-help and therapy which just so happened to be appealing enough to etch her out a bit of a living too. I do not think artists such as her write with public service in mind, still less monetary gain. As someone else commented, Sexton writes for, “discovery and emotional release.” turning, as I’m driven to, to a troubling thing that I’ve read is that incest between mother (Anne) and daughter (Linda) is alleged/said to have been had.

— § —


NOTES
[1]   Lion man, an intriguing reading of what’s currently thought to be the world’s earliest known idol:

“The Lion Man is a masterpiece that was found in a cave in what is now southern Germany in 1939. Sculpted with great originality, virtuosity and technical skill from mammoth ivory, this 40,000-year-old image is 31 centimetres tall. It has the head of a cave lion with a partly human body. He stands upright, perhaps on tiptoes, legs apart and arms to the sides of a slender, cat-like body with strong shoulders like the hips and thighs of a lion. His gaze, like his stance, is powerful and directed at the viewer. The details of his face show he is attentive, he is watching and he is listening. He is powerful, mysterious and from a world beyond ordinary nature. He is the oldest known representation of a being that does not exist in physical form but symbolises ideas about the supernatural.” — The British Museum.

Talking of idols and ((m)):

See: Dark Light: Pure White vs. Jet Black

Pompayo Pets Poodles

— pomp > prevaricate > prostrate

Mask Wars ~~ Whoever commands the sea, commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself. Walter Raleigh
“Whoever commands the sea, commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.”
Walter Raleigh (1554–1618)

Mask Wars -- All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.
“All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”
George Orwell (1903–1950)

Mask Wars -- The Truth is out there...
(a) Honeytrap = a stratagem in which an attractive person entices another person into revealing information or doing something unwise. 1.) beauty is a subjective thing and 2.) the hand hold, it was all about the hand hold, my faded dancing queen, my rebellious player of sympathy for the devil. (b) Sugar daddy = a rich older man who lavishes gifts on a young woman in return for her company or sexual favours. 1.) company can be acquiescence and 2.) time is a relative thing, I mean, did you read my ode — with its strophe, antistrophe and epode — to my infatuation with my incarnation of Ms. Robinson in my (under)graduate days?

Mask Wars -- They who are cruel to animals become hard also in their dealings with fellow humans. We can judge the heart of a person by their treatment of animals.
“They who are cruel to animals become hard also in their dealings with fellow humans. We can judge the heart of a person by their treatment of animals.” (Quote de·gen·dered.)
Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)

Mask Wars -- The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at those they have around them.
“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at those they have around them.” (Quote de·gen·dered.)
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527)

Mask Wars -- The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.
“The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.”
William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

“In the state of nature profit is the measure of right.”
Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679)

In a clumsy sort of way they did what they probably should’ve done anyway (so did say several of the British newspaper opinion pieces). In the fanfare surrounding the volte-face the following was said: “today China is increasingly authoritarian at home, and more aggressive in its hostility to freedom everywhere else … if the free world doesn’t change Communist China, Communist China will change the free world.” We were reminded of the fact that in the 1970s (former US President) Nixon said he feared he had “created a ‘Frankenstein’ by opening the world up to the CCP.” It was starkly stated yesterday that this was “Prophetic.” I am reminded of something I learnt in an IR class: “Thucydides’s Trap.” *  We were recommended to watch a talk in which political scientist Graham Allison sets out his thesis. Namely, the increasing antagonism between a rising China and the incumbent superpower, the USA, may portend to worse that the current posturing and pan-Pacific posturing. Tick-tock [Macedonia vs. Persia] … tick-tock [The Fall of Rome] … tick-tock [Europe vs. Ottomans] … TikTok [Colonial power struggles inc. Germany vs. England & then Japan vs. America too]. The punch–excuse the pun–line is that in 12 of 16 past geopolitical cases in which a rising power has confronted a ruling power, the result has been war.

According to Allison in 2012

The defining question about global order in the decades ahead will be: can China and the US escape Thucydides’s trap? The historian’s metaphor reminds us of the dangers two parties face when a rising power rivals a ruling power — as Athens did in 5th c. BCE and Germany did at the end of the 19th c. Most such challenges have ended in war.
 
“Thucydides’s Trap Has Been Sprung in the Pacific.”
Financial Times, August 21, 2012.

According to Gideon Rachman in 2018

As tensions between the US and China rose in 2018, so did discussion of Thucydides’s trap (a term coined by Harvard professor Graham Allison to capture the idea that the rivalry between an established power and a rising one often ends in war). This cycle of reaction and counter-reaction might seem to justify the gloomy determinism of Prof Allison’s thesis. But it remains open to question whether patterns of state behaviour that emerged in ancient Greece will still prevail in the nuclear age.
 
“Year in a Word: Thucydides’s trap.”
Financial Times, December 19, 2018.

I’ll let you know something. Once it was said — muttered and murmured mutedly in order to check for rhyme as it was being etched — on the eve of a known near-certain to be humiliating death — I think here of (a) Icarus (Ancient Greek: Ἴκαρος // sun of Labyrinthine) and (b) the punch-(excuse the pun)-line of the song that begins: “Well they tell me of a pie up in the sky / Waiting for me when I die / But between the day you’re born and when you die / They never seem to hear even your cry” — with an exclaimed uplift of a twist at end (?), the following sombre lines:


Even such is time, that takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days.
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust!


Walter Raleigh

You see, it was the speaker of those now hallowed lines that said too — in a tome he wrote whist entombed within the rock-like stone walls of The Tower (the Kentish rag-stone of the time now largely reupholstered in Portland stone–i lapse in to remorse, not reverie, as I think of Brighton Rock, Lyme Regis , the Portsmouth Maritime Museum, the third floor exhibition of The Museum of London, Docklands, the National Maritime Museum’s rooms on the Elizabethan era of voyage, discovery and conquer &, Cardiff Docks oh, dear fictitious reader, it’s all moored to the Quay of why and I ask you to pay heed to the following question too: can you tell heaven from hell?) — that, “it is not truth, but opinion that can travel the world without a passport.” Is this, I wonder, a case in point:

Mask Wars -- Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority. -- Francis Bacon
“Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.”
Francis Bacon (1561–1626)

D’ya get me? careless whispers; grapes so divine.

The state of man

The fall of man

The demise of man

— § —


NOTES

*  The ancient Greek historian Thucydides had observed that the Peloponnesian war (431-404 BCE) was a result of the growth of Athenian power and the fear that this caused in Sparta.

In 1914, few could imagine slaughter on a scale that demanded a new category: world war. When war ended four years later, Europe lay in ruins: the kaiser gone, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, the Russian tsar overthrown by the Bolsheviks, France bled for a generation, and England shorn of its youth and treasure. A millennium in which Europe had been the political center of the world came to a crashing halt.
 
The defining question about global order for this generation is whether China and the United States can escape Thucydides’s Trap. The Greek historian’s metaphor reminds us of the attendant dangers when a rising power rivals a ruling power—as Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or as Germany did Britain a century ago. … Read on.
 
“The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?”
— Graham Allison, The Atlantic, September 24, 2015.

Relevant reads, oh my fictitious one!:

Bidoonism, A. (2020, March). Mask wars. Retrieved, https://bidoonism.com/2020/03/19/mask-wars/.

Bidoonism, A. (2020, July). Short-termism. Retrieved, https://bidoonism.com/2020/07/22/short-termism/.

Short-termism

the zeitgeist of now

See too: “Mask Wars” by J.H.K.

Abstract

The essay considers the prospect of large-scale, ethically motivated (individualistic) short-term sacrifice taking place for the assumed longer-term (collective) common good. Put differently, it considers the likelihood of the deferral of immediate gratification occurring; the not eating of one’s cake today so that one (or indeed, one’s offspring) can have it tomorrow. Put specifically, this essay will ask why it seems possible for world governments and international institutions to act quickly and decisively when met with a crisis like Coronavirus (Covid-19) yet seemingly be incapable of acting in such a way when it comes to tackling the longstanding issues of desertification, overfishing and rainforest destruction (i.e., the catchall: ‘environmental crisis’).[1]  In sum, I will argue that the reason is simple: today’s humankind have been conditioned to act and think in the short-term, to take pleasures today and bury their heads in the sand when it comes to dealing with the consequences. This is exemplified in activities such as binging on Netflix (resulting in overtiredness and the propensity to eat junk food the following day); spending on credit cards (whereby the hard graft of actually earning is deferred to a future date); overconsumption (that is causing unsustainable natural resource depletion) and, indulging in meat eating (which directly leads to yet more natural resource depletion and, greater likelihood of more zoonotic diseases, resultant from the homogenisation of animals and factory farming).[2]  I will argue that because Covid-19 is an immediate problem, government and citizenry seem able to forfeit a lot in an attempt to tackle it ‘now’; however, because the global environmental crisis is seen as a longer-term, abstract and theoretical problem, the political will to make big sacrifices—policies that enforce radical lifestyle changes—is lacking and are, it seems. easy to defer to a non-binding ‘future’ point in time.

Introduction

It has been argued that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an impressive level of large-scale inter-governmental coordinated action. However, the extent to which the action is coordinated or unilateral is not yet an established fact.[3]  Nonetheless, there clearly has been a great deal of collaboration (be it helping to repatriate citizens, the sharing of research for an inoculation etc.). So, if such collaboration on global issues has now been proven possible, would it not be possible to believe that something similar could happen with respect to the environmental crisis? To answer this question, we would first need to consider if the Covid-19 pandemic is in any way analogous with the environmental crisis? Incidentally, a strong case for directly linking this pandemic to the environmental crisis can be made (consider, e.g., factory farming, overpopulation, and rapid unregulated urbanisation). There are indeed many interconnected questions. What possible lessons might be got from the globe’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic for addressing the environmental crisis? What role may international organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) play in bringing about such transformative measures? As Weizsäcker and Wijkman (2017) point out, while leading governments now, “claim to recognise the need to change our way of life, “if we are to survive as a species,” it is far from clear if they actually appreciate, “just how radical that change needs to be.” Lastly, what can concerned individuals do in relation to self-sacrifice for the greater good—not eating the honey to ensure generations to come can have some on their tongues? Does the adage, “think globally, act locally,” still suffice?[4]

This essay will consider the role of ethical sacrifice in effective action on the current pandemic and how that might be extended to effective action on the environment. It will proceed as follows. Firstly, it will consider the issue at hand, the quarantine we in the Arabian Gulf and those in many other parts of the globe are placed under because of Covid-19 (“The issue at stake”). It then considers possible ways of addressing the environmental crisis in light of responses to the current pandemic from the theoretical standpoints of utilitarianism and deontology (“Hypothetical speaking”). The essay then moves on to look at how we tend to opt for immediate gratification even if we half think we would get greater gratification by delaying it, this is made into a honey today allegory throughout this text (“Short-termism”). The next section considers the mechanisms by which such acts of short-term self-sacrifice may actually take place in an ethically sound and non-coercive way (“Implications of large-scale coordinated action”). In the essay’s final part (“Concluding remarks”) research is referred to that implies there are ways to overcome humankind’s propensity to opt for a teaspoon of honey today as opposed to a very likely—but not guaranteed—tablespoon tomorrow.

The issue at stake

As I write all university students in the Arabian Gulf are in self-quarantine (as are many other categories of people; international travel has essentially stopped and most forms of social gatherings have been halted). This period of self-quarantine is in most countries mandatory, varying degrees of punishment are given for those not obeying these orders. The question this essay considers is more focused on the justification for the quarantine than the right of authorities to impose it upon us. Specifically, how can policymakers and think-tanks concerned with the environmental crisis learn from the measures and restrictions rapidly imposed by governments the world over and the general acceptance of citizens to accept these.

Environmentalists have a hard task (not least because overconsumption and going to shopping malls to buy things whether we need them or not seem to now be the pastime of all those in the world who can afford to or have credit cards). As O’Donoghue and Rabin (2000, p. 233) put it, “people have self-control problems.” Environmentalists have to somehow tackle the extent to which the idea of Social Darwinism has become the norm in schools, welfare systems and society at large. As Von Weizsäcker & Wijkman (2017, pp. 6–7) explain the way that Social Darwinism has become blindly accept as the way of things, “right and proper” and even “an iron law of nature” in which “only the most competitive should survive” poses a huge challenge. The notion of survival of the fittest, in my view, does not apply to all species and especially not social ones like us. However, it is easy to see why those wanting to maximise their profits and retain all of their wealth for themselves would propagate Social Darwinism as an immutable truism. Secondly, and in a not unconnected way, environmentalists need to tackle the de facto way in which businesses now operate today, a culture in which the free market doctrine of Milton Friedman is seen as gospel in public management systems worldwide (see, e.g., Klein, 2007).

If we take the point of view that this current quarantine is for the greater good, what arguments could we make to convince sceptics of the merit of self-sacrifice in relation to addressing the root causes of global warming? (i.e., what are the key points to make in order to encourage the public to accept and lawmakers enact self-quarantine legislation). We will also need to ask what a proper ethical framework for understanding the role of sacrifice and large-scale coordinated action with respect to such events ought to be. Such understandings will help give insights in how to better deal with the environmental crisis. Any such insight would need to articulate clear roles for international organisations—e.g., WHO, the World Trade Organisation and other UN bodies—governments and citizens to play. Such roles will need to be conveyed in a consensual way in order to be affective. The truth is most people would prefer a future of uncontrolled chaos than a future where everything is clean and green if the price to pay for the latter is to be bossed around and always told what to do.

Hypothetically speaking

Philosophically speaking we could adopt a utilitarian or a deontological perspective in order to justify self-quarantine as the ethically and morally appropriate thing to do. We may then extend the same logic to further acts of individualistic self sacrifice in order to tackle the environmental crisis. To be clear, in the theoretical sense, “utilitarianism” places the focus on the pros and cons of the consequences of any given set of government policies or personal lifestyle choices; it looks beyond self-interest in the here and now and focuses on the common or collective interests of others at a later point in time. The “deontological” differs in that it focuses on the ethical implications (rights and wrongs) of the actions now and not the consequences of those actions at a future point in time.

As we know, democracy is compromise and as we know too, being too dogmatic in one’s views is neither progressive or likely to result in new inventions and forms of creative art. Therefore, it seems to me that in the real world, thinkers and philosophers should not advocate exclusively utilitarian or deontological arguments for dealing with the environmental crisis (and/or the current Covid-19 pandemic). It might help to think of the “carrot or the stick” analogy. As opposed to it being a binary choice, a one or the other, it should be a combination of the two: a bit of carrot and a bit of stick. The question then becomes how much carrot and how much stick?

As Fisher (2019) points out, the discounting of the needs of future generations is analogous to “burying a shard of broken glass in a forest.” The logic is as follows: if a child steps on the glass and cuts themselves today (‘now’) then a discount rate suggests this injury is much worse than a child hurting themselves on that same piece of glass in a millennia or so from now (in the ‘future’) but basically and ‘ethically’, “there is no difference between the two.” Giving in to temptation (e.g., scrolling through an infinite number of Instagram posts as opposed to finishing the research essay) leads to immediate gratification (e.g., happiness from effortlessly looking at satisfying things), but also to delayed negative outcomes (e.g., anxiety and a lower score for a essay submitted after the deadline date). On the other hand, resisting temptation (e.g., drafting and redrafting the research essay) does not make one feel good in the here and now but should result in delayed positive outcomes (e.g., a well received essay with a high grade awarded to it)—see the research of Magen and Gross (2007) on ‘temptation’; a key human tendency.

If we watch TED talks or listen to Big Think or Intelligence Squared debates it seems to be so that the longevity of humankind depends on us reducing our honey consumption rather radically to enable (in theory) our grand and great grandchildren to partake in this heavenly delight too. They key questions seem to be (1) is it, or can it become, part of human nature to be altruistic enough to care about people we will not even be alive to walk and talk with? And if so, (2) what will it take to break free from the short-termist ways so many of today’s humans seem to have adopted?

Short-termism

Modern society is suffering from “temporal exhaustion”, the sociologist Elise Boulding argued in the mid 1970s; “if one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future.” Just imagine, Fisher (2019) ponders, how would Boulding react to today’s “relentless, Twitter-fuelled politics” and the non-stop fashion advice etc. that we are bombarded with on a daily basis as a consequence of the internet of things and our love/hate affair with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. As Fisher (2019) states, it is little wonder that “problems like climate change feel so hard to tackle right now.” He asks, “how often do we contemplate the impact of our decisions as they ripple into the decades and centuries ahead?” (see Appendix B). As Magen and Gross (2007 p. 415) put it, today temptations surround us—“sugar-coated donuts [and] distracting TV shows—critically these things all have one thing in common, the “promise [of] immediate pleasure and delayed suffering.” They go on to articulate how less obvious forms of temptations are also potential sources of harm to us and others—e.g., “driving too fast, speaking angrily, and procrastinating”—and caution that the struggle against temptations is “constant, and success is far from assured.”

In a seminal study that sought to investigate the antecedents and correlates of choice behaviour with respect to the delaying of gratification, Mischel and Gilligan (1964, p. 411) observed that

Yielding to temptation—in a situation in which attainment of achievement rewards is contingent upon deviant (cheating) behaviour—was conceptualised to be a function of (a) the strength of the motivation to attain the prohibited gratification, and (b) the inability to delay immediate gratification.

Some psychologists have used the metaphor of a “horse and rider” to describe this tension between our rationality and urges, “the rider knows it is smart to think longer-term, but the horse has its own ideas” (Fisher, 2019). This begs the question, if we are susceptible to ignoring the wellbeing of our own health the day after tomorrow, it is even harder to imagine how most people will have real empathy for their yet to be born descendants. This focus on self-interest and short-termism is most obviously seen in politics (doing what is necessary to be popular today and not what is best for the given country’s longer-term interest) and economics (consumption over and above necessity).

As Semuels (2016) has argued, once upon a time, what was good for many business tended to be good for the country as a whole, “companies invested in their workers and new technologies, and as a result, they prospered and their employees did too.” Today things are different. They are different because people want to have their honey today, not to delay for a possibly larger and possibly tastier quantity of honey tomorrow. There is now widespread concern that businesses are too focused on short-term profits and are thus not, “investing in their workers, in research, or in technology—short-term costs that would reduce profits temporarily” (Semuels, 2016).

Implications of large-scale coordinated action

Beckstead (2013 p. ii) has put forward the following thesis, from a global perspective, “what matters most (in expectation) is that we do what is best (in expectation) for the general trajectory along which our descendants develop over the coming millions, billions, and trillions of years.” This sounds and seems to be utilitarian in nature for it suggests that future generations are of more import that our current one. We most of us have tasted some honey, those yet to be born certainly have not. What right do we have to deny them this delicious opportunity? The issue soon becomes technical and difficult because who knows what are the best actions for us to take ‘now’ to ensure that we can best ensure there is honey available to be tasted in the ‘future’?

One way of trying to measure this is use Social Discount Rates (SDRs). SDRs might be used to put a present value on costs and benefits that will occur at a later date” (LSE, 2018). In the context of tackling the environmental crisis, SDRs might be used to calculate and forecast how much today’s society should invest in trying to limit the impacts of climate change for tomorrow’s generations. In other words, they calculate how much self-sacrifice will probably be needed in the here and now in order to ensure the generations of the future will still have a natural environment to enjoy and utilise in a sustainable way. SDRs are designed to weigh future people’s benefits against the costs borne by us today (we self-sacrifice by self-quarantining; we could then self-sacrifice by reducing the number of times we travel by air for holidays and pleasure).

This all gets complicated because nobody really knows how much we should sacrifice. Imagine for instance international travel, should we tell rich people to only take one holiday per year, would they accept this? Which government could win elections with such promises? According to Hodgkinson (2014), the main issue in terms of addressing the environmental crisis is that, if the world’s key governments and institutions were to agree to reduce carbon emissions now, “people living in the future will benefit, not those living today … but it is we [who will] bear the costs of reducing such emissions.”

Remembering the extent to which Social Darwinism is seen as a law of nature (it is not) and the extent to which most business leaders and world governments have adopted the economic philosophy of Milton, it is hard to see how anyone (be it a liberal democratic institution or a concerned individual) advocating frugality, reusing as opposed to throwing away and repurchasing is likely to do well. The thing is this, free market economic policies are causing the overexploitation of the natural environment and businesses are all encouraging people to spend big today and forget about tomorrow. The few businesses or governments that might want to self-sacrifice will likely be put out of business or become unelectable as short-termists will price them out of the market. As many have suggested, the dominant view prevailing view at the international level about action on climate change seems to be, “Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?” And it is those views about what future generations are worth that will determine whether or not we are actually able to deal with the world’s most pressing issue, the global environmental crisis (e.g., Hodgkinson, 2014; Martin, 2015)

While I argued that short-termism is the current zeitgeist, politically, economically and in terms of humankind’s consumption and lifestyle choices, and that it is short-termism—“The Century of the Self” as Adam Curtis (2002) calls it —that is the main reason for there being no clear roadmap to address the environmental crisis, I am actually a rational optimist.[5]  I will dwell a bit and now ask you to dig deep, in a thinking sense, to what Andersen wrote in 2012. She argues, and I paraphrase, that humankind must consciously put aside their own pleasures and preferences for the greater good, because it exercises a kind of ‘moral muscle’ in us. She continues, such selfless acts can actually strengthen us by showing us that we are not simply selfish, hedonistic creatures. Acting in such a way, she contends will probably lead to, “stronger bonds of trust and mutual respect” amongst human beings, reminding us that “living on this planet is a group endeavour; that none of us can survive alone.” We must begin to accept (with the ‘carrot’ of improving our ‘moral muscles’) that making ethical choices that may not be comfortable or lucrative are sometimes, simply put, the right thing to do. I would say that too much of a draconian ‘stick’—like the authoritarian tracking of citizens to, monitor their temperature as some states are doing now—will ultimately backfire.[6]

Concluding remarks

As Magen and Gross (2007, p. 415) point out and then ponder, “many of us succumb to temptations, despite knowing that we will later regret doing so … how can such behaviour be avoided?” I can reply with experience, “such behaviour cannot easily be avoided.” However, referring once more to the seminal work of Mischel and Gilligan (1964, p. 417), two important findings are drawn, both of which do offer us hapless sinners some ray of light (a possibility of there being some honey and happiness both in the ‘now’ and for the ‘future’). First, they did observe that responses to temptation are not “simply a function of internal controls” and that conceptualisation concerning behaviour in a temptation situation should take into consideration the reward value of the prohibited gratification. Secondly, they concluded that “individual and situational differences in preferences for such immediate gratification.” O’Donoghue and Rabin (2000, p. 247) talk about ‘naïfs’ and ‘sophisticates’ and they demonstrate that with education and increasing the awareness of the implications of behaviour today and its impact on them tomorrow may result in changes to short term behavioural patterns. They back this up by saying the sophisticates were in some ways more able to delay immediate gratification as they were more aware of its possible future adverse consequences.

Therefore, it seems to me that if leaders and role models can really sell us the idea of delayed pleasure (e.g., the foregoing of (some) honey for the common good of tomorrow’s generations) can bring us happiness in the sense of the feel-good factor of being a nicer person, then we can hope to learn from the Covid-19 pandemic response. We can then realistically dream of averting the impending climate change catastrophe. It is very important that we do not be totally utilitarian or totally deontological in approach. I will say that a mixture of the two is both ethically and morally sound and critically, more likely to bring to us the end we want without making the means too unpalatable and difficult to endure.

— § —

Notes

 
 
[1]   In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic; the extent to which it has impacted on GDP growth and international travel by air is unprecedented and is projected to result in the biggest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s (Gopinath, 2020). The ‘environmental crisis’ includes the following features, all of which human population growth and consumption choices cause: biodiversity loss (a load of fauna and flora are threatened with extinction because of the destruction of their natural habitats and direct exploitation—think of Wuhan’s animal market and overfishing of the seven seas), climate change (global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion), deforestation, desertification (soil erosion and degradation) and the scarcity of clean fresh water.

 
 
[2]   Refer to Sheahan et al. (2008); “Zoonotic SARS-CoV likely evolved to infect humans by a series of transmission events between humans and animals for sale in China” (p. 2274).

 
 
[3]   As I write this essay, China and the USA are playing a blame game. Basically, both governments are attempting to shift attention from their own mistakes by seeking to turn the public attention to the mistakes they allege of each other (see Appendix A). More recently still the U.K.’s government has accused Russian spies of seeking to steal British research insights into Covid-19 and, the very next day (‘…you took it all away’) the U.S.A.’s government accused Chinese spies of seeking to pinch American research insights into Covid-19. (see: Walker (2020) and Gramer (2020), respectively)

 
 
[4]   For instance, see the Intelligence Square debate on this motion “To Stop Climate Collapse, We Must End Capitalism”: intelligencesquared.com/events/to-stop-climate-collapse-we-must-end-capitalism/

 
 
[5]   In this wide-ranging video documentary, we hear a lot about consumerism and commodification and links this to contemporary view on fashion. It makes the argument that superficiality benefits big business. what is interesting is that this was made before social media. So, the points made almost 20 years ago are even stronger today. The last US election was not about politics and policies, it was about media manipulation, showmanship and ad hominem gone wild.

 
 
[6]   China is using big data to control and monitor everything its citizens do, where they go, what they do and who they meet. Many others are following China’s lead in increasingly monitoring every move of their citizens be it Hungary, Thailand, or the Philippines (Gebrekidan, 2020). Closer to home, we see this happening too in Egypt. As Magdy (2020) writes, Egypt’s President has granted himself more powers using Covid-19 as a cover. While some of the new powers can be linked to Covid-19 human rights groups say, others such as the power to now ban public and private meetings, protests and even celebrations, can not.

— § —

References

Andersen, E. (2012, 26 May). The Noble Art of Self-Sacrifice. Forbes. Retrieved, https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2012/05/26/the-noble-art-of-self-sacrifice/#3588ff7136ac

Beckstead, N. (2013). On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future. Ph.D. Thesis, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Retrieved, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/40469/PDF/1/play/

Curtis, A. (2002). The Century of the Self. Retrieved, https://youtu.be/eJ3RzGoQC4s

See: Bidoonism’s Adam Curtis anthology

Fisher, R. (2019, 10 January). The perils of short-termism: civilisation’s greatest threat. BBC. Retrieved, bbc.com/future/article/20190109-the-perils-of-short-termism-civilisations-greatest-threat

Gebrekidan, S. (2020, 14 April). For Autocrats, and Others, Coronavirus Is a Chance to Grab Even More Power. The New York Times. Retrieved, nytimes.com/2020/03/30/world/europe/coronavirus-governments-power.htm

Gopinath, G. (2020). ‘Global lockdown’ will cause worst recession since Great Depression, says IMF. The Guardian. Retrieved, theguardian.com/business/video/2020/apr/14/great-lockdown-recession-great-depression-coronavirus-imf-video

Gramer, R. (2020, July 22). U.S. Closes Chinese Consulate in Houston Amid Surge in Chinese Espionage Cases. Foreign Policy. Retrieved foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/22/us-trump-china-escalation-tensions-spying-closes-chinese-consulate-in-houston-chinese-espionage-cases/

Hodgkinson, D. (2014). Thomas Piketty, climate change and discounting our future. The Conversation. Retrieved theconversation.com/thomas-piketty-climate-change-and-discounting-our-future-30157

Klein, N. (2007). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. London: Penguin. Retrieved https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=cpmRBAAAQBAJ

LSE. (2018). What are social discount rates? The London School of Economics and Political Science. Retrieved lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/faqs/what-are-social-discount-rates/

Magdy, S. (2020, 9 May). Egypt’s president expands powers, citing virus outbreak. The Washington Post. Retrieved, washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/egypts-president-expands-powers-citing-virus-outbreak/2020/05/09/849af3e0-91f2-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html

Magen, E., & Gross, J. (2007). Harnessing the need for immediate gratification: cognitive reconstrual modulates the reward value of temptations. Emotion, 7(2), 415–428. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.7.2.415

Martin, R. L. (2015). Yes, short-termism really is a problem. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved https://hbr.org/2015/10/yes-short-termism-really-is-a-problem

Mischel, W., & Gilligan, C. (1964). Delay of gratification, motivation for the prohibited gratification, and responses to temptation. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 69(4), 411–417. doi:10.1037/h0048918

O’Donoghue, T., & Rabin, M. (2000), The economics of immediate gratification. Journal of Behavioural Decision Making, 13(2), 233–250.

Prasso, S. (2020, 6 May) Lawsuits against China escalate Covid-19 blame game with US. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-06/lawsuits-against-china-escalate-covid-19-blame-game-with-u-s

Rachman, G. (2020, May 4). The US and China’s dangerous blame game will do no good. The Financial Times. Retrieved, ft.com/content/ffc6ac00-8de0-11ea-9e12-0d4655dbd44f

Semuels, A. (2016, 30 December). How to stop short-term thinking at America’s companies. The Atlantic. Retrieved theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/12/short-term-thinking/511874/

Sheahan, T., Rockx, B., Donaldson, E., Sims, A., Pickles, R., Corti, D., & Baric, R. (2008). Mechanisms of zoonotic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus host range expansion in human airway epithelium. Journal of virology, 82(5), 2274–2285. doi:10.1128/JVI.02041-07

Trofimov, Y. (2020, 8 March). Democracy, Dictatorship, Disease. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved, wsj.com/articles/democracy-dictatorship-disease-the-west-takes-its-turn-with-coronavirus

Von Weizsäcker, E., & Wijkman, A. (2017). Come on!: capitalism, short-termism, population and the destruction of the planet. Berlin: Springer. Retrieved books.google.co.uk/books?id=nWA-DwAAQBAJ

Walker, A. (2020, July 17). U.K. ‘95% sure’ Russian hackers tried to steal coronavirus vaccine research. The Guardian. Retrieved, theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/17/russian-hackers-steal-coronavirus-vaccine-uk-minister-cyber-attack

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Appendix A: The blame game


Appendix A: The blame game
Note  Illustration by James Ferguson (Rachman, 2020).

Despite there being many instances of global cooperation etc., not everything is ethically minded and being done altruistically. According to one viewpoint, historians of the future might record that, “the Covid-19 pandemic marked the start of a new cold war between China and the US” (Rachman, 2020). As Prasso (2020) makes clear, mistakes in relation to the virus were made on both sides—cover-ups and arrests on China’s part, downplaying the virus’s contagiousness and suggesting the injecting oneself with household bleach may be a remedy on America’s part.
 
Point: “Coronavirus, explained”
 
Counterpoint: “Once upon a virus…”

— § —

Appendix B: Me, myself & I


Fisher-2019-a

Fisher-2019-b
Note  Illustrations by Nigel Hawtin (Fisher, 2019)

As Fisher (2019) stresses, today’s population of 7.7 billion is small if balanced against all humans who are to be born. If Homo sapiens endure for thousands of years to come, billions of yet to be born individuals do rely on us to do the right thing regarding the environmental crisis. Intangibly it will benefit ‘our’ peace of mind; the benefit to ‘them’ will be very tangible.

Seemingly deceitful

“The Devil’s Trident” et al.

Simply put an illusion is something that is not real. But we most of us want to believe in things that science and reason tell us, by verifiably replicable experiments and observations, are not real; are “illusionary.” They say we see with our eyes, but let us be clear here, our eyes simply act as conduits to our brains, it is our brains that decipher and decide. For those fortunate enough not to be blind, we do like to be titillated by objects of beauty, panoramic views, the flickering of a fire, the waves rolling in and, optical illusions. The latter are a subject of much interest, writing in 1976, Coren et al. (1976, p. 129) pointed out that in the 120 years since Johann Joseph Oppel published the first systematic work on visual geometric illusions, “nearly a thousand papers have appeared that deal with distortions evoked by simple two-dimensional patterns of lines.” In the past 20 years with the aid of computers (to analyse) and social media (to share) the interest in optical illusions has grown further still (Alter, 2013; Hogenboom, 2015; Schultz, 2013). In this short essay I will discuss a number of such illusions, the way/s in which they trick the brain (alongside the human visual system) and the psychology behind them. But first I will discuss the workings of the eye and how it, like the human brain, is very susceptible to chicanery and trickery—to being deceived.

In the beholder’s eye

We know that the human eye works like a camera. When we look at something, light reflected from that thing enters the eyes through the pupil. Bizarrely it comes in upside down and this light and colour info is focused through the optical bits and bobs within the eye (see Appendix A). As Whitaker et al. (1996, p. 2957) point out in relation to the typical functioning of the human eye:

Judgment of the relative position of objects is an important feature of the human visual system. We seem able to perform this task effortlessly across spatial scales. Thus, whilst we can view two objects and estimate their separation, we are also aware of the relative position of internal features of the objects themselves.

However, the human eye, as with the human mind can easily be tricked. Optical illusions occur because our brains automatically try to interpret and make sense of what we see, usually they get things right, that Apple iPad ‘is’ an Apple iPad but, magicians and sellers of snake oil (and psychologists and visual artists) have long known eyes can be tricked because the human brain is partial to seeing myth as fact and fact as fake. Optical illusions fool our brains into seeing things which are there when they are not actually there or are not seemingly there when, in fact, they actually are.

Perception—what we think, what we think we see—is the interpretation of the things that enter our minds including via our eyes. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is subjective. Therefore, the same object will not be seen as the same thing by any two people. As pointed out by Hogenboom (2015) Aristotle wrote that, “our senses can be trusted but they can be easily fooled.” This was in the context of him looking (not into Nietzsche’s abyss, but) into a waterfall for too long. He observed that, if we watch something moving quickly for too long, and then look at an inanimate object next to it — like the rocks beside a waterfall — they will appear to move in the opposite direction; a phenomena now classified as the “motion aftereffect” or, “the waterfall illusion.” Neuroscientists have argued that this can be explained by the fact that it takes a lot of energy and effort for the eye to compute fast moving and continually ‘forward’ moving objects so that when it suddenly switches to seeing a stationary object if over emphasises the lack of movement and moves the object slowly ‘backward’ (Hogenboom, 2015).

There is a theory attached to all of this and it is called the Centroid Hypothesis. It states that judgments of distance between visual objects are influenced by the brain’s computation of the “centroids of the luminance profiles of the objects” (Whitaker et al., 1996). Concerning the Devil’s Trident (see Appendix B), the Müller-Lyer arrows (see Appendix C), the Penrose triangle (see Appendix D) and similar illusions, the pattern of neural excitation evoked by contextual flank overlaps with that caused by the stimulus terminator, thereby leading (due to the shift of the centroid of summed excitation) to its perceptual displacement. The relative displacement of all stimulus terminators leads to misjudgement of distances between them; that is, the illusion occurs as a side effect due to necessarily low spatial resolution of the neural mechanism of assessment of the relative location of the visual objects.

The Devil’s Trident 🔱

Devil's Trident -- an optical illusion
Figure 1: “The Devil’s Trident,” Masterton and Kennedy (1975, p.107).

The Devil’s Trident (a.k.a., “The Impossible Trident”) was first noted in the academic press by an American psychologist—Donald Schster—who is said to have been inspired by an advert he saw in a magazine (Schuster, 1964). Accounts of the “Devil’s Trident”—see Appendix B—stress that the middle prong, “appears to be in two places at the same time” and that it involves, “incompatible surface depth cues linked as though they were compatible” (Masterton & Kennedy, 1975, p.107).

Knowledge of optical illusions is not a recent thing. Like all good things, we can go back to Ancient Greece to find initial thinking on the subject: Aristotle and the waterfall (as mentioned above). Indeed, as Bach and Poloschek (2006 p. 21) say, Plato also alerted us to the discrepancy between perception and reality in his “Allegory of the Cave.” Philosophers remain intrigued to this day. As Donaldson (2017) argues that impossible figures prove problematic for sense-data accounts of perception that contend that, corresponding to every visual human experience, there are mental objects (sense-data) that we are aware of—and that sense-data have the properties that the objects that our experiences tell us they do. The problem is that sense-data would have to be impossible objects … surely, impossible objects can’t exist!” There are other explanations. For example, illustrations like the Müller-Lyer arrows (see Appendix C) confuses the brain (in some cultures, according to Alter (2013), not all) and it overcompensates, “making the line appear bigger — as it would have to be in real life to produce those kinds of proportions” (Hogenboom, 2015).

Concluding remarks

To sum up, we can assume that we will never be able to suddenly see true reality with crystal clear clarity and 20/20 vision, be it the waterfall’s rock, the shadow play in the cave or the Devil’s Trident. But this is the magic of reality. This is something we should embrace and revere, not fear. Just because we do not know what lies within black holes or what exists beyond the edge of the universe does not mean we need to create myths to fill in the gaps and then dogmatically and religiously follow them (see Dawkins, 2011). Personally, I like that art can trick us it actually says to me we are human. Also, I feel that visual illusions are actually logical and explainable by reason and science: our brains have evolved to need to constantly predict what is about to happen so, illusions demonstrate our brain being logical and telling us what we should ‘typically’ see not what we rarely physically see.

References

Alter, A. (2013). Are These Lines the Same Height? Popular Science. Retrieved, https://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-03/are-these-walls-the-same-size-your-answer-depends-on-where-youre-from/

Bach, M &, Poloschek, C. (2006). Optical Illusions. Visual Neuroscience, 6(2), 20-21.

Coren, S., Girgus, J., Erlichman, H., &, Hakstian, A. (1976). An empirical taxonomy of visual illusions. Perception & psychophysics, 20(2), 129–137. doi.org/10.3758/BF03199444

Dawkins, R. (2011). The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. London: Bantam Press.

Donaldson, J. (2017). “Impossible Trident” in F. Macpherson (ed.), The Illusions Index. Retrieved, https://www.illusionsindex.org/i/impossible-trident.

Hogenboom, M. (2015). How your eyes trick your mind. BBC. Retrieved, http://www.bbc.com/future/bespoke/story/20150130-how-your-eyes-trick-your-mind/index.html

Howey, T. (2016). “How the eye works” Retrieved, https://www.tomhowey.com/How-the-Eye-Works

Masterton, B. &, Kennedy, J. (1975). Building the Devil’s Tuning Fork. Perception, 4(1), 107–109. doi.org/10.1068/p040107

Schuster, D. H. (1964). A new ambiguous figure: A threestick clevis. The American Journal of Psychology, 77(4), 673. doi.org/10.2307/1420787

Schultz, C. (2013). Are Optical Illusions Cultural? Smithsonian. Retrieved, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/are-optical-illusions-cultural-6633978/

Whitaker, D., McGraw, P. V., Pacey, I., & Barrett, B. T. (1996). Centroid analysis predicts visual localization of first-and second-order stimuli. Vision Research, 36(18), 2957–2970. doi.org/10.1016/0042-6989(96)00031-4

Wikipedia (2020a). “Impossible trident.” Retrieved, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impossible_trident

Wikipedia (2020b). “Müller-Lyer illusion.” Retrieved, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCller-Lyer_illusion

Wikipedia (2020c). “Penrose Triangle”. Retrieved, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penrose_triangle

— § —

Appendix A


How the Eye Works
(Howey, 2016)

— § —

Appendix B


Devil's Trident -- an optical illusion
Note: The devil’s trident (or ‘tuning fork’) is a drawing of an impossible to physically construct object. As articulated by Wikipedia (2020a), “it appears to have three cylindrical prongs at one end which then mysteriously transform into two rectangular prongs at the other end” (see also: Masterton & Kennedy, 1975, p.107).

— § —

Appendix C


Note: The Müller-Lyer illusion typically comprises of three arrows and we think the stems of these arrows are different lengths but, as the diagram shows, they are in fact the same length; as far as we know it was first devised by the German sociologist Franz Müller-Lyer in the late 1800s (Wikipedia, 2020b).

— § —

Appendix D


Impossibility in its purest form” is how the so-called Penrose Triangle is described. It is another of these object which can be drawn but cannot exist as a solid object -- just like this paper’s 'Devil’s Trident'
Note  “Impossibility in its purest form” is how the so-called Penrose Triangle is described. It is another of these object which can be drawn but cannot exist as a solid object (Wikipedia, 2020c) — just like this paper’s “Devil’s Trident” (see Appendix B, above).