Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Not against flesh and blood

At our Reading Group last night I introduced the poem "Childhood" by Frances Cornford

 I used to think that grown-up people chose
To have stiff backs and wrinkles round their nose,
And veins like small fat snakes on either hand,
On purpose to be grand.
Till through the banister I watched one day
My great-aunt Etty's friend who was going away,
And how her onyx beads had come unstrung.
I saw her grope to find them as they rolled;
And then I knew that she was helplessly old,
As I was helplessly young.

I find it an oddly flawed poem in many ways, but I do like the way she captures the helplessness of human existence, young and old.

Much in our psychoanalytic tradition persuades us that our helplessness from birth is experienced mainly in relation to others, not least our bigger, stronger, more powerful parents. Celia Green argues that our helpless rage from birth is fuelled rather by our inability to know or understand the world we are in, or to change it to make our human existence more tolerable.

The belief that our struggle is not with other people but with the universe itself is I think potentially quite liberating. 

Sickness or Sin?

I was shocked and surprised that in a recent radio documentary about violent Islamist extremists the language was primarily that of reform and rehabilitation, as if the problem was one of ignorance, misunderstanding, sickness even.

At a time when we are learning more honestly and accurately to describe suicide bombers as homicide bombers, here on the BBC their atrocities were ennobled by epithets of martyrdom, rather than murder and massacre.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

I was reading reviews of this novel, our reading group's Book of the Month, when I came across this excoriating judgement by Theodor Adorno:

Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they're only animals.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How long will it last?

 . . . this feeling that in Celia Green I have found a prophet (I feel sure she wouldn't like prophetess - too PC) for our time?

She is in many respects not my type. We don't, at least never have done till now, sing from the same hymn sheet. In fact I have been precisely the kind of theological modernist she most rails against. Yet when I say I have found her it's in the same way - she occupies the same pedestal in my intellectual world - as I found those thinkers she is most opposed to - the ones who have brought religion down to earth - socialized, politicized, humanized it, transposed its God-talk into ordinary language, taught us that there is no outside to life and the universe, that what we see is all there is.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sworn friends

A human relationship is what happens when you know you can rely on the other person 
to be as dishonest as you are. 
(Celia Green)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Say that again

How many more times must we be reminded by popular journalists of that which 'we know' is true, namely that financial markets hate uncertainty, when the plain truth is that markets love and thrive upon uncertainty. In fact the freer the market the more uncertain, by definition, it has to be.

Saturday, May 08, 2010


I was brought up not to take sanity for granted. My mother was not by most definitions sane. I noticed from an early age that sanity was a label attached to people who lived quiet lives with low expectations; who knew their limitations and lived contentedly within them.

That was not my mother.

When Celia Green in her great book The Human Evasion turns her attention to human psychology she finds it rather strange that human beings live in a state of mind called 'sanity' on a small planet in space. The space we live in seems to be infinite, but we are not sure what that means or how to think about it and what concepts we might use in order to do so.

As well as space we live in time. But again we cannot comprehend it. It's quite inconceivable that it had a beginning, and equally inconceivable that it did not.

Yet none of these thoughts are disturbing to 'sanity' -

         which is remarkable - and, says CG, deserves more recognition.

So let's give it the recognition it deserves.