existentialism, language and meaning, memoir, nationalism, philosophy

The philosophy of cupboards: a memoir.

People and countries are much like cupboards. They contain much but most of it is forgotten. These dark spaces create the illusion of abundance, unpacked they reveal the superficiality of our existence. We keep things we don’t need and forget too soon what we have. On the other hand, opening a long forgotten drawer is like finding gifts you forgot to enjoy. Cupboards and drawers have been an important part of my life.

Not everything needs light to grow. When I was a child I found an old slice of chocolate cake in the furthest recess of my cupboard. I had hastily hidden it there when I was interrupted by my brother. Clearly I had forgotten to eat it. Months later it had grown fur. I recall considering whether it might be salvaged but I threw it out, I was not that brave. The mould had prospered in the dark. Much like the political ideology of apartheid. Much like me.

But, it is those who live in darkness who are most afraid of the light. So it was in the Dark Ages in South Africa. Of course, as a child, I did not see that, how could I? We lived in Plato’s cave, watching a fire we were told was called truth, recoiling from the shadows crawling the walls. But even when people call the darkness by another name it remains darkness. Eventually children will find language, no matter how well it is hidden. They will discover all the hidden things. Eventually a hand will reach into the furthest corner of the cupboard.

In the shadows of the cooling towers and through the incessant thunder of the turbines I discovered that if you stray from the road into a corn field in winter it gets cold quickly and one is easily disoriented. If the corn is high and the leaves are dead and brown and if there is wind moving through them, the noise becomes deafening and frightening. It feels like the end of the world.

We lived in a village. That sounds too pastoral, too Dickensian. We lived in a house amongst similarly designed red facebrick houses where other workers lived. There were large cantilevered, plastered flower boxes jutting out of the wall beneath the main bedroom window of each house. They were big enough, if unplanted, for two boys to hide in. Constructed during the 1960’s and 70’s, the houses accomodated the families of miners who worked in the power station. Worker accommodation close to the means of production. My father and mother worked there and later on, so did I. South easterly winds blew ash over the village, I’m calling it a village. When it rained the running drops left grey ash streaks on cars and windows. Everyone complained about the ash.  Some days everything was covered in a fine layer of ash. The patina of sacrifice at the altar of the gods of consumerism. Heavy rain left the world looking clean. Light rain left streaks the way mascara stains the face after crying. It was beautifully bleak. The way Van Gogh’s potato peelers are beautiful or Whistler’s trains steaming in cold mist are simulatneously solid steel and ethereal. Sunsets set the sky on fire against the black coal dumps and over the gashed countryside scarred to extract carbon. I read later on that industrial skies are red from the iron content in the air. Iron oxide reflects red light. We had an iron sky.

On one side of the village we were bound by a railway line that cut the veldt to the west and stitched a sutured track to Richards Bay. (I had no idea where that was but it sounded warm, far and blue). To the north and south was farmland, as far as the eye could see, fields of corn (mielie fields we called them). Three hours south east was Barberton, where my father and I were born. Where I was formed. What do you call the process of becoming? (The town is still there but now it is like a thing in the far corner of a large cupboard). We left after my grandparents died because, though my parents wanted to keep the home, they never had the money to hold onto it. (Money strengthens one’s grip on the world. Without it, life is an interminable letting go). I never wanted to leave. I remember the last night in the house, in torchlight and with a pen knife, I carved my initials onto a section of the floorboard under the bed. I collected stones, seed pods and leaves from every corner of the garden. They remained in my bedroom cupboard until I had to leave that home too. Cupboards are made to accommodate our attachment to the world. A world I seemed determined to archive piece by piece. I still bring back stones from places I visit. I have only succeeded in relocating minute pieces of the earth. That childhood trauma of losing a place instilled a fear of loving a place. We always leave or lose the places we love. People too. A few stones in my pocket lessen the loss. It is delusion of course. For we move on and lose our connection to the land, the symbolic pebbles end up in a cupboard somewhere, forgotten and ultimately discarded.

The roads leading to the village were dark at night and always broken from the incessant traffic of heavy coal trucks. The coal dust powdered over their brake lights making them invisible and we lost a friend who drove into the back of a truck. She was placed in a cupboard in the ground. “Please God watch the coal trucks” became mother’s mantra when I was travelling home at night. Another time our school bus drove into the back of one and our neighbour’s daughter nearly died. We hated the coal trucks.

On Saturday nights everyone went to the “Rec Hall” (community recreational hall) to watch movies. Westerns were our favourites. Charles Bronson was my hero. My brother and I and our friends always got front row seats. Mrs Harley patrolled the aisles with a torch to ensure no hanky-panky took place. If there had been it probably happened up in the lighting box where the older boys worked the projector. We all aspired to do that job. By the time I was old enough the films had stopped and people were leaving because the power station was shutting down, being “moth balled” they said. Essentially they would shut the doors, switch off the power, lock up and leave. One big cupboard.

Before the village shut down it was our wide open world and we loved it. Despite the overarching fear of God and communists (I grew up feeling personally responsible for the Anglo-Boer war and the moral decay that apparently surrounded us) there was music. Once the Buddy Holly Story was going to show. Then I did something or said something wrong and my parents said I could not go. I remember the quiet rage I felt. I retreated with tears to my bedroom and stepped into the cupboard. I closed the doors behind me. I sat down on the cool floor and found a box of pencils and began breaking them in two. The smaller bits were harder to break. I remember how that fuelled the rage. I stayed there for a long time. I found comfort in the isolated darkness. I still do. Cupboards store stuff, but also memories and pain. Later, older, tired and somewhat broken I faced the cupboard of my youth and found that in the interim years demons had taken up residence there, replaced the pencils with sharp memories, and were waiting.

Cupboards are really just reconfigured trees used for storage. The earliest examples belonged to wealthy people, working class people had no need for them. The cupboard enters popular culture on a wide scale in the 17th century. By the late 18th century, with the industrial revolution and the rising middle class that it spawned, economically elevated humans sought to do what they had hitherto been unable to do, luxuriate in their dwellings. They traded labour for money for things. At first they were needful things like items of clothing and cutlery. Once needs were met, desire set in, took up residence and like a perpetually hungry child demanded attention. Cupboards soon become symbols of excess, status symbols. Their compartments held a darker purpose. Secrecy was domesticated. Now cupboard space is as important as real estate. We have a walk in cupboard. With the lights off it feels strangely comforting.

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anxiety, depression, mental health

Facing the bull

It is close. I swear it never really leaves. I know it. I call it, him. I sense when he is close. He has physical presence though he is not entirely physical. (When I face him my body reacts as if he were a physical threat. Notice I did not say as if he were real. He is real in the way photons of light and radio waves are real. Not seen does not mean unreal). I seem able to smell him. He smells like the ocean breathed in through a blocked nose. Like funeral flowers. The olfactory glands are swaddled in heavy velvet. I hear his patient breathing and the sound of his muscle tissue flexing. I hear the ripples of tension there, like waves under the skin. It’s like tinnitus of the soul. One would think that bulls like him would be rare in suburbia, but they are everywhere. I have encountered him in beautiful cities, on beaches, in gardens, even on aeroplanes. It’s why some people feel closed in when they are in empty rooms. Bulls take up a lot of space.

He has always been there, for as long as I can remember, that bull. I did not always know him as that. I named him to face him. Back then he was more of an abstract moment stretched between strange familiarity and an intimate void. It became easier when i named him. When he had become familiar. Then, instead of fear there was just numb anticipation. He, of course, always ran at me. It’s a terrifying thing to face the bull. The arena is in your mind, under your skin. There is nowhere to run. So, you stop running. You have to be really tired to stop running.

He is not always brutal. Sometimes he is just there. Menacing in the dappled sunlight of a morning in the park. Lifting the hair of a friend with his leaning breath. Reflected in the kind eyes of love. As if to say, don’t get too comfortable. You know that in a moment it’s just you and I. You are stronger now, but I am stronger still.

His is an erratic and fluctuating thereness.

It is the same with the word heat. Hot describes a range of experiences of temperature. One acclimatises. It is so with terror and fear and sadness. We speak the words from our experiences of them but have no sure way of transmitting the truth of our experience.

This unutterable vacuum is the space that artists try to give voice to. They are like mime artists on pavements with begging hats. They are like those upside down yellow triangles you find in the countryside warning people of bulls. You could walk or drive the length of a country and never see a bull and conclude that the signs are from a different time and have never been taken down because of a lack of funds or some administrative sentimentality. One might, more accurately, conclude that the sign acted as a form of legal indemnity that prevents farmers and/or municipalities from being held responsible for any person becoming injured, or at worst killed by rogue bulls. It is quite likely that cows might also be hostile, I am no bovine expert. Facing a bull is in all likelihood as disconcerting as facing a cow. Both have horns. The word bull though has the connotation of danger. One associates milk with a cow. However, this, like all words is dependent on cultural context and, of course, experience.

To use a word one should understand it. Anticipate how others understand it. Sometimes a word is used to describe something that is not fully understood. So it is with the word bull. Not as it is used to refer to the animal, but as it is used to describe a series of experiences. This is the first difficulty. When I say facing the bull I expect the reader to bring to their mind as many of the associations that they have with the word bull. Will I ever be understood? This is the risk of of speaking. Writing is another bull.

Maybe we are allocated a bull in the same way that some believe we are allocated guardian angels. The bull to prevent complacency; the angel to give us courage to face it again and again. Maybe I’ve faced the bull too many times to care about the consequences. Maybe I’ve discovered courage from the angel. Maybe I’ve just learned to respectfully ignore the bull. At full charge I turn my back on him and face the sea, breathe it in through clenched teeth.

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education, existentialism, philosophy, politics, suburbia

The philosophy of lawn

I water the lawn (initially I wrote grass but realised it is socially ambiguous) twice a week on the days allocated to me by the city council. Restrictions on use were implemented to save water. ‘Watering days’ are determined by property numbers. I have a number 4 type house, even numbered houses may water for 15 minutes on Tuesdays and Saturdays. I’ve set my reticulation system to water for 20 minutes. Only one station works. (It’s a long story). Sometimes on odd evenings I water manually using a hose-pipe. We are subversive here in suburbia.

If elected officialdom had been using some of my tax dollars to respond seriously to climate change I would be more supportive of their minor representatives. They spend millions, probably billions (it’s only money) on fear. Buying submarines, detaining refugees, translating xenophobia into policy, incarcerating young people they could be educating and funding wealthy private schools to prepare the next wave of party leadership. A few years back one beige politician took a lump of coal into parliament and waved it around to endorse his future commitment to the mineral. He is now prime minister, still beige, still imprisoning instead of supporting. So, I’m not against saving water. I’m against laws that contribute to the illusion of a progressive society. Democracy is in crisis, the social contract between government and it’s people has lost all moral integrity. I won’t be told what to do by unthinking bureaucrats. This is the frontline in the struggle against the looming Bureaucratic Dictatorship. It’s a war zone. If we cannot stand here, where will we ever make a stand? The forces of banality are massed against us. I will support life on the few square meters of earth that was forcefully taken by a corrupt government some 200 years ago and then sold to me by a banking system (recently investigated by a Royal Commission and found to be lacking) that seeks to keep me in debt as long as I’m alive. No, this is not idle insubordination, it’s satyagraha.

The sprinklers on the pavement have broken so the grass there is dying. There is always something breaking or broken. I focus on the lawn in front of the house. It’s starting to turn deep green and thicken. The plants are doing well because I feed them regularly with trace elements and, when I am brave, with a vile smelling concoction derived in part from fish (clearly very dead). When my oldest goldfish died last week, I buried her and felt I was honoring her and doing the apple tree a favour at the same time. The soil here is poor. It’s not soil, it’s sea sand. Last summer I planted a Jacaranda tree. I water it and my Frangipanis every other day. Usually odd days. To get one’s lawn green requires dedication. Photosynthesis alone is not enough. Where I don’t want grass, it grows weedlike. In the flowerbeds it is invasive. It strangles flowers. It feels personal, an act of defiance. To remove the serpentine growth I must gouge the soil and feel for the sinuous threads then pull and hope to hear the roots tearing. It brings out the beast in me. The white root snakes the air like wire as I yank it from its grip on the soil. The act of gardening is a therapy, maybe an act of vengeance against all the systems forever stacked against us.

I acknowledge it as an outward sign for an internal process, a clearing. I do not wish to say cleansing. Cleansing suggests trendy Instagram focused egoism whilst trying to cultivate inner peace with one eye on your audience and sipping green tea in the shade of a jasmine creeper. No. This is war. Habitual watering is a symbolic gesture. There is the idea that this action, this repeated action, this ritual is a foreshadowing of a similar, internal process. Perhaps this way of thinking is more the result of my Catholic upbringing than experience. What the things are that will be cleared I do not know. Perhaps they will present themselves to me and then I will understand. In the meantime I take comfort from Beckett. These interminable and, of themselves meaningless, habits become the rythm of our lives. To spend thirty years of one’s life nurturing lawn, watching it die, reviving it, cutting it, letting it grow then die and reviving it over and over again is absurd. All of this on sea sand. I have become Sisyphus and swapped my boulder for a hose-pipe. I can only sustain this habit (it has become habit) if I find a good reason to continue. That is where I am. The reason is not apparent, not overtly logical. I will need to dig deep. In the meantime plants begin to die. This is annoying. Is there none of the resilience in them that weeds have? Can they do nothing for themselves? For hundreds of kilometers along the coast wild flowers grow unaided in abundance. A week without pampering in my garden and they begin to die. Well, everything dies eventually.

Entropy is the way of the world. The slow and steady dismantling of the particles that make up matter is relentless. The particles will in time be beaten back into their original, chaotic and randomly dispersed form. So it is with us. We are pulled apart piece by piece, bit by bit. Our deaths are just the gradual elimination of our parts until, too tired to fight back, we surrender the last thing we have, our breath. Even that is not ours but borrowed. We simple cease our habit of borrowing. And in the face of this we still seek meaning? We look for beauty, create it and share it. We’re either foolhardy or incredibly brave. Because of the people I know and have loved and lost I must conclude that this is an admirable quality. It is the defining feature of humanity. Giving in to the inevitable demise is an option. I get that option. There’s a blunt bravery there too. Perhaps carrying on is something that we do, not for ourselves but for those who could not, and we don’t know everyones story and are in no position to judge. Also, it is for those who must still face that choice. Either way, it is an offering of hope. It is an act of defiance. It is open rebellion and I am determined to go down fighting. I will resume my ritual of watering. I will be the root that must be pulled out of the earth with force. I will embrace absurdity. I shall wait by the tree with Vladimir and Estragon.

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Science Fiction

On Earth, Volume I (Background)

This information is endorsed by the CGC (Council for Galactic Cooperation).

Introduction

If you are reading this it means you have made the brave decision to visit earth. We hope this page offers valuable information as you plan your visit. Currently all details contained herein are verified as correct. Please advise us as to how we might update this volume upon your return, if you do.

Co-ordination
Earth is located in the Virgo Supercluster of galaxies. Within this supercluster is the Local Group. Earth is in the second largest galaxy of the Local Group – in a galaxy called the Milky Way. The Milky Way is a large spiral galaxy and located in one of its spiral arms, Orion Arm, is earth. It is part of a Solar System with only eight planets. It is the third planet from their Sun. It is one of less explored galaxies due to its relative obscurity and an ideal venue for anthropological sociologists, offering a unique window onto early life form development. Caution should be exercised as most inhabitants, according to recent accounts, appear to be xenophobic, aggressive and generally hostile. Homo sapiens are currently experimenting with unstable nuclear particles for military and resource purposes. Most of these development programs are devoid of SE (sentient empathy).

The following galactic coordinates are based on their system of longitude and latitude (see vol II).

The galactic plane is inclined to 69.2◦ on the celestial equator. The galactic longitude l is the heliocentric angle measured in counterclockwise direction from the direction of the center of the Milky Way in Sagittarius α = 17h 42 4 min, δ = – 28 ◦ 55, ‘the pole north of the supergalactic plane is at the equatorial coordinates α = 18.9 h and δ = + 15.7◦ and the zero point at α = 2 82 h and δ = +59.5

Life forms

There are aquatic and terrestrial life forms. Within both varieties there are egg laying (external fertilisation combined, incubation and hatching) and mammalian species (internal fertilisation and live birth). Mammals appear to be dominant in terms of their proliferation across the planet. They are, however, highly vulnerable to disease. Bacterial and viral organisms are also highly developed and have on several occasions been dominant.

Earth is governed by polarity. This principle governs its physics too. The planet’s history and geography is significantly influenced by human evolution which is dependant on climate. Communities tend to establish identity based on habits which nurture their survival. These habits are the foundation of their governing systems of thought and form the framework for their organisational structures. While they perceive these systems and structures to be uniquely varied, they are profoundly similar. To the extent that communities emphasise differing methods of daily existence (culture) as primary points of identity and belonging. Exclusion is valued. These random and arbitrary differences are elevated as sacred. The geographical location of communities is likewise based on this principle of exclusion. Travellers here are reminded of the importance of researching the exclusion practices (culture) of the communities which they intend to explore. Again, extreme caution is advised in all encounters with local life forms. No communication with them has been officially sanctioned.

This is a very rudimentary introduction and more detailed evidence of recent studies are readily available in Volume II and III of this series.

Compiled by Horacio, Lt., 2nd Fleet, Charon II, 3017 CITD (Common Interstellar Time & Date)

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language and meaning, linguistics

All the world is words.

All goldfish have eyes (except those that don’t) and, all people are people and, all men are people and all women too. We live in a very peopled place. People use words to become people. Prose, in particular presents purpose to people.

Presently we number about eight billion souls and each one uses words. They all use the big ones like good and bad and understand them on their own terms. There are over 8 billion types of good and bad in the world. All words in the English alphabet are derived from 26 symbols we call letters. All letters are good (except the type that contain bad news but these are no longer sent because we have email and WhatsApp and Facebook and LinkedIn and Snapchat and and and).

Truth is a popular word. All people believe they know what it is. Some truths are also contained in words. Words like good, bad, true, false, honour, virtue … they are all words. But, truth is just a word too. And words, contain the ideas we give to them, agree upon. There are over 8 billion versions of all of these in about 6500 languages which each contain variations of symbols. Some truths, the important ones, like love, are felt and difficult to translate into words. That is why we love stories and art. That is why writers still write. They write to translate the felt experience of life into words. Words are an unreliable medium because we all feel them differently. We have all had different experiences and how we feel is the translator of the words forming inside each of us. We speak our way into the world.

When people (of the all variety) say “all” I am immediately sceptical. Can you see why? Apart from all people being people, there are few times that we can use the word “all” with any certainty. We want the whole world aligned to our use of words. We call something good or true or bad or wrong and expect over 8 billion minds to geneflect at the altar of our perspective.

So how do we even begin to talk?

We talk too much, too quickly with too great a sense of authority, too much conviction that we are right.

When I hear the world “all” I recoil. I see your mouth move and shift air that has been pressurised by your vocal chords and choreographed into sounds by your tongue. I think:

wouldn’t it be nice if we used words with some concern for how they are heard. If we could use them to navigate through hostility to find love. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were kinder. But, you said all like your experience of the world is the template for all people. That’s unkind.

That’s all.

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international relations, nationalism, satire

The aesthetics of being bombed

A White House advisor told President Trump that nobody wanted to hear an American president threaten to launch nuclear missiles. Trump replied: “Then why do we make them?” (2016)

The aesthetics of being bombed: a timely review of a favourite human pastime.

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Ode on a Grecian Urn, by John Keats

There is a beautiful truth in being bombed that evades those who are unbombed. There is a clarity of mind that jettisons a lifetime of clutter. In that moment and in the debris afterwards truth is unambiguous. It is like sitting on the edge of the singularity, your one-way ticket to ‘event horizon’, a home-run slide to Nirvana, a slow dance with Shiva. Putting aside for a moment the usual human suffering, bomb sites are fascinating places with much to offer the aesthetically trained eye. One simply needs to learn how to look. Thankfully, there is no shortage of places to practice the art of observing the effects of bombing. A large number of states have progressive governments who routinely practice bombing. A huge number of bombs are built (maybe constructed is a better word), purchased and dropped every year (‘dropped’ is idiomatic since they can be launched, placed, left, lopped, stashed or thrown). Indeed, bombing is an important part of every modern state’s budget. The ripple effects are far reaching. Bombs require aeroplanes, submarines, specialist vehicles or missiles to carry them and these are expensive items requiring specific skills to manufacture them. It’s all very specific, it really is rocket science. Like all consumables, bombs also have expiry dates so governments generally make use of them so as to avoid unnecessary waste. The contribution that bombs and their auxiliary technology make to a state’s GDP is significant. Bombs employ people, bombs need people to deploy them, in short – bombs are people too. Bombs are beautiful cultural items. These sleek and ergonomic babies  present design elements that are sculptural, maybe even artistic, one might even describe them as … aesthetically pleasing. Bombs have emotional appeal too. Generally, most people live miserable and monotonous lives punctuated by mundane life events such as birth, marriage and death. For a time television provided a pleasant respite from this urban tedium but people are easily bored and, even in the twenty first century, war is spectacular entertainment. Everyone knows this. People feign disgust and horror but can’t stop watching. Historically, public executions have always drawn a crowd, people like observing death. Suffering has an aesthetic appeal. People are grateful for the distraction of bombs. Watching other people suffer diminishes one’s own suffering, it’s not rocket science – well actually it is … .

Furthermore, there is the objective beauty of scientific truth. According to the first law of thermodynamics (the Law of Conservation of Energy) energy cannot be created or destroyed within an isolated system. Bombs, operating within specific isolated systems only displace energy. They do not destroy. Destroy is such a dated term, so 20th century. What are human beings but pockets of energy constantly reassembling themselves. We’re not so different from bombs after all. They have gotten a bad press, probably because of the increase of fake news. Bombs are just ‘super effective re-locaters’ (or S.E.R.’s as we call them). They are able to relocate entire buildings, towns or cities with the greatest ease and the minimal expenditure of human labour. Bombs bring people together like nothing else. The sense of community that emerges in the wake of a bombing is heart-warming. Nothing warms the heart like an explosion. Above all, bombs develop gratitude. Nothing makes you more grateful for your own miserable existence than seeing someone else’s blown to smithereens. Our universe was born of violent explosions, explosions are a part of who we are, of where we come from. Only wimps go out with a whimper, heroes go out with a bang. Bombs make people better people, bombs are people too!

 

  • Countries that have been bombed by the USA sinceWorld War II

China 1945-46

Korea 1950-53

China 1950-53

Guatemala 1954

Indonesia 1958

Cuba 1959-60

Guatemala 1960

Belgian Congo 1964

Guatemala 1964

Dominican Republic 1965-66

Peru 1965

Laos 1964-73

Vietnam 1961-73

Cambodia 1969-70

Guatemala 1967-69

Lebanon 1982-84

Grenada 1983-84

Libya 1986

El Salvador 1981-92

Nicaragua 1981-90

Iran 1987-88

Libya 1989

Panama 1989-90

Iraq 1991

Kuwait 1991

Somalia 1992-94

Bosnia 1995

Iran 1998

Sudan 1998

Afghanistan 1998

Yugoslavia – Serbia 1999

Afghanistan 2001

Libya 2011

Syria 2014

Source: Global Research Organisation, global research.org 

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