tag : bright yellow-green apples: January 2005

"I see little point in persisting in a discussion with one so obstinate as you" Martin White

Saturday, January 29, 2005

we need a better memory

figure 7.2. what will become of us

The ruckus surrounding Michael Howard’s statement on immigration was perhaps inevitable. He couldn't have chosen a worse time to talk in crude conflagrations that mixed up asylums seekers, migrant workers, and ’economic seekers’ into one spectrum of threat to our way of life. Yes, this is essentially what he - and those he is seeking to woo and placate - were saying. That foreigners are in danger of degenerating whatever it is that makes us British (whatever that means!) And yet what did we mark recently but holocaust memorial day?

I am not seeking to be so crude as to say that current right-wing received wisdom on this spectrum of difficult and complex subjects is simple xenophobia, or essentially comparable with the historical tragedy that people experienced under the Nazi regime. I am saying that there is a heck of a lot of shallowness in this day of remembrance in some quarters. It’s too easy to reflect only in terms of what has already occurred, unchallenged in our own times. Yes we should be concerned about the current renaissance in anti-Semitism across the ‘west’ and ’middle east’, but if we let our mindfulness only rest in such terms of reference we cannot hope to ensure against prejudice and genocide. Too often ’never again’ can only see the lessons we should take from history in terms of the brick thrown through a Jewish shop, the stigmatic labelling of Jewish people. I’m very concerned at just how much public debate is descending down these lines in our own time.

While everyone talks about the horror of then, there can be a sharp danger of complacency. Across the world, from Dafur to Chechnya, there is a danger of rampant violence against people continuing without action - just as happened with Rwanda. And in our own country the discourse about ‘immigrants’ becomes increasingly venomous. More self-awareness please. We need a better memory.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

spouting one - mixed up

figure 5.1. between the covers

There seem to be a fair few discussions about knowing in religion. Ruth Ann and a native New Yorker are both considering what it’s possible to affirm in religion with integrity, while Sarah’s been thinking aloud about the nature of meaning and construct.

I must say first of all that the use of ‘God knowledge’ as a concept, somehow popular in some circles, in religion is one that generates little sympathy in me. So it's a relief to find sensitive discussions. Yes, the rational and logical, philosophy and science, must be acknowledged in religious community. But the way that term’s used in some quarters tends to devalue what it means to encounter God, by looking at it in terms of fixed accumulation of information that we give to each other like pre-written books to read and learn. I'd like to think it more healthy to look at faith dynamically evolving as it interacts with the variability of life,a story of many parts that's being fashioned by all concerned.

To me, the divine is both mystery and tactile reality. Or maybe, to put it another way, I’d say that my encounters with the divine have tended not to be sensible or coherent – even as I encounter God in people, and in the world around me. From what I’ve found so far in my experiences, the divine seems to be: evasive ~ frustratingly elusive ~ totally various ~ as deeply familiar as myself ~ utterly surprising. There's a sense of lack, which is not so much awful as quite affirming.

"Nothing to see
Nothing to hear
Nothing to be
Nothing to fear
Nothing to prove
Nothing to say
Nothing to loose
Nothing to gain
Nothing to feel
Nothing to hate
Nothing is real
It's all too late
What do you do when nothing's wrong?
Ain't got a clue
Ain't got no song"
Graham Coxon

To some, void and emptyness might be anathama. But if approached posatively, in terms of openess to what sitting in the currents of flux can bring us, it need not be antithetical to orthodox religion. I’ve banged on about this personal soapbox so many times recently so please excuse any repetition; life is more complicated than we’d like to admit. I cannot claim to understand, I have no systematic theology, and would not even claim to have any real thread to hold this jumble of perceptions and memories together. Still I’m compelled by the myth of God to continue digging, and to explore the resources in the stories, poetics, senses, and images we have together, to search for what they might contribute to "life in all it’s fullness". In response to life's many shifting situations, it’s made up as I go along - in the best sense of that phrase.

spouting two - a following

Martin and Ken have been doing good spotlight music reviews, so I thought it’d be right and proper to jump on the bandwagon. Amongst the many new bands I’ve been dabbling in recently, courtesy of my little town library’s eccentric music collection, British Sea Power are particularly exciting. After hearing them mentioned one night on radio 1 last year, and attendant critical hype, I finally had a listen. And was not disappointed by the anticipation generated by an album pretentiously titled The Decline of British Sea Power.

It’s by turns warmly curt bursts of conceptual punk (Favours in the beetroot fields) and longer sensitive melodic tracks (Something wicked). They seem to have an energetic wit that stops the lyrical flow getting bogged down under the weight of ambition, yet they tell of life in terms that are anything but inane (unlike a lot of shouty punk indie bands). It certainly touched me, as well as getting me fired up.

Friday, January 21, 2005

composed gift

figure 5.8. worship the...?

It would be so easy to carp about Bush’s use of the term freedom whilst uncharged detainees languish and despots are favoured as ‘frennafreedom’. It would be so easy to gloat as Kilroy sucks a divided UKIP into the black hole of his ego.

But instead, I’m going to draw out one of the themes of creativity from the last entry about inter-inspirations by art forms. While re-reading a chapter about gift in the very excellent Complex Christ, required reading if you think the Church has any living future, I came across this passage regarding art:

"...true works of art function as transforming, life-giving gifts, yet exist simultaneously in...two economies of market exchange and gift. Art can be bought and sold for a profit, but in its essence, it is a gift. Indeed..."a work of art can survive without the market but where there is no gift there is no art." true art presents itself to us as a gift that can aid transformation, an antidote to the restless death of the commodity civilisation; but it is a delicate gift, whose power can be destroyed very easily if it is turned into pure commodity. (One might reflect on the mass production of Matisse’s work as posters for sale in every poster shop on every high street and find truth in…that the force of the pieces has been lost, their soul destroyed.)"

Artists can have a pivotal role in promoting a gift society, in ensuring that we can give to each other unreservedly and without any sense of relational commerse. They share transforming creations with us. Creations that exist way beyond object commodity and packagable product. Creations that fashion new worlds in the charged space between what the artist gives (intention ect.) and what others receive (interpretation ect). Bearing this in mind, when we see art taken on and moved into unseen new configurations of meaning, should we view is as insulting that “...the musician that created and handed over to you his work by feebly announcing that it somehow had a role to play in your own creation”? I’m not convinced that this comes out of a view of art which is either tenable or sustainable, especially if we‘re to live beyond the reach of sterile individualism and voracious markets.

Both in terms of the aim and the outcome of the creative venture, a more healthy understanding would be that “...we all promote our forms of art with the intention that people will be moved by it in some way or other.” Artists are not charity workers or submissive servants, but shamans and priests for our society. Seekers of new visions, when sometimes we forget to see.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

look over there


figure 1.9 par example

I’ve had a lot of respect for Chris Ofili ever since I heard of him a few years back, on winning the Turner Prize – the judges seem to have a knack for selecting great shortlists. As well as painting intricately beautiful patterns, irreverent religious scenes (a last supper with monkeys), and using earthy materials (like elephant poo), he’s now turned his hand to promoting artistic co-support by touring the country looking for genre defying good ‘black music’.

Anyway, there’s a quote from the article concerned that caught my eye: "I've always found music inspired me in the studio to try to do new things. If someone comes out with a new album it's like: gosh, they've been working hard - so should I." This strikes me as quite pertinent, as it chimes with my own experience. I’ve tended to produce my best, and most original, images when creating to a really exciting soundtrack. Music that plays with conventions, or tries to stretch the listener might not be aural wallpaper, but it certainly gets my artistic side going. For example, I often find Martin's music gets me in a right mood to come up with summit new.

So what’s the moral of the story today? Any of you creative tykes out there – go find other creators who use different media to yourself (from dance to music to paint to drama to poetry) and see what they bring out in you. It can be revelatory.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

misled by assumption

Here’s a game for you called spot the difference - are there any between the clothing of these two figures? And yet why are Christian Voice, and others, still saying that Jerry Springer the opera is blasphemous because it presents Jesus as dysfunctionally infantile? Here’s another one:

Another charge is that the presentation of Jesus as a bit gay is blaspheme, on biblical grounds (exegetical assumption that being so is unscriptural). Well if we’re going on biblical grounds, there are passages which present being gentile as unacceptable - yet the white european Jesus is the very image we’re used to in most of the west, rather than something a little closer to a genuine personal image of the region. Criteria shift as to what's convenient.

This popular Christology in the public cultural arena is more complex then they would ever care to admit. Why are they not calling for the censorship of nearly all western images of Jesus? This hypocrisy - where one image of Jesus is deemed acceptable and another not - just goes to show it’s best to watch something before commenting fourth. In fact it’s probably best to wait until you have a reasonable basis to complain at all.

Now I've got that out my system, I can get onto onto nicer things. Normally covers of songs are quite tiresome, especially the recent spawning of pop acts doing 70s acts (most often the Bee Gees). But every so often, there’s an inspired reinterpretation that jumps out - a notable example being Elbow‘s cover of “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child, which was reformed into a witty jig complete with accordions and xylophones. And the Futureheads have now come out with an incredibly fine cover of “Hounds of Love” by Kate Bush. Where the former was an atmospheric baroque masterpiece, this is a terse and warm rendition with inspiring energy.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Je-rry eleison

figure 5.8. few microphone erectile issues

Well after all that fuss, I must say I came away from watching "Jerry Springer the opera" with some bemusement. To put it simply, it wasn't all that offensive. Maybe it was that all the hype, the Media Watch warnings of thousands of swearwords, the evangelical bishops charging wanton blaspheme, and so on just couldn't be lived up to in reality. Maybe it's just my liberal slant of outlook, though I get the impression I'm far from alone in the Christian communities here (Dave Bish gave some right sensible criteria to bring to a viewing in this earlier comment). Either way my first reaction - aside from that it was actually a very enjoyable couple of hours of witty energetic comedy - was that I couldn't see what all the hysterical fuss was about.

If those who had pre-emptively (for most people, as with the Brass Eye special of paedophilia, didn't wait for informed comment before spouting forth) complained with such fourcefulness had held fire for long enough to first watch it, they would have found some engaging tales of modern life. Without wishing to do a spoiler - look away now if you don't want to know too much - it's split into two halves. The first consists of a dramatic summery of the 'best' Jerry; triple crossing lovers, infantile complexes, aspiring pole dancers, and junkies, with a baying crowd. The format of highly charged music that opera affords actually does the drama no end of good, adding extra impact as the protagonists volly at each other. Instead of being annoying daytime tv, we here see the everyday stuff of ordinary life revealed as the epic it is; with all the betrayals, realisations, comings out, reapproachments, loves, devastations, anxieties, high ecstacies, banalities, and fears as the greats like Wagner might hope to accomplish. That it gets these grander themes in with very comtemporary stuff (the vain lust for fame, the hollow heart of media relationships, somehow glittery in surface; "cover me in chocolate and throw me to the lesbiens"), and all shot through with sharp irony, is quite an acheivement. All this is completed by revolving around the central locus of Jerry Springer himself having his own internal struggle (oh but what a conscience figure it turns out to be!) on the very worst day of his life...he's shot as a bunch of Klu Klux Klan members show off thier tap dancing skills.

The second sees a sudden shift in scope, as the devil co-opts Jerry into resolving his own eternal rift with Jesus (the threats of being unsucessful, rather than accountability by ratings, here include "being fucked up the ass with barbed wire"). Of course we see the same dysfunction in the 'holy panthian', with the sycophantic Jesus and the bitter Satan pettily ignoring each other, Jesus getting into a slanging match with Adam and Eve as fists fly, and God arriving to seek solice for lonliness. Suddenly Jerry is catapalted into the viewer's sympathy as he fights desperately for his own future and against the endless moronics of his guests (here finally write large into the transcendent - yes I think the greatest twist of all is that these parts are played by the very same cast as starred in the first half, thus solidifying the whole humanisation of these holy supposedly untouchables). At the very end, in the near fatal vortex, he finally comes into his own and achieves a measure of realisation for himself, and all around him, with an exposition worthy of the Buddha or St Paul.

The finale comes as we're treated to the whole cast dancing while dressed as Jerrys, while the main guy rises in thier midst dressed in white to choruses of "what the fuck, fuck, fuck...". Talk about religious overtones, yes in this whole web of hilareous irony we see the eternal themes of religion thrown into the slew of our modern condition. The neysayers and moralist concerns really did miss the point. It holds a mirror up to our western anglo world, and more - it actually sneaks in some subversive themes of the very intergrated proximity of the human and the divine. While we all struggle with the very best and worst shocks of our television reality world, the divine is in there with us - the incarnation says no less than this.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

spiritual nomads

figure 10.4. found you

I've just found it's epiphany today, when the story of figures (variously described as kings, magi, and wise men) travelling to visit Jesus is celebrated. It's significance, it is said, comes from the early recognition of Jesus' significant status. This is given greater resonance by these very first acknowledges being gentile people. Here is a universal spin on his eventual mission, the writers indicating that they see his work extending beyond the Jewish peoples, which is again taken up at the end of Matthew's gospel account with the great commission.

I've always been a bit ambivalent about this story, it seems so glossy and blockbuster clean. The story of the shepherds has often had greater resonance, not because it's more credible (visions aside, it has a little less of a contrived air), but because it seems more organic, more wildly spontaneous - less forced around a structural mould. Though it could be that what made me most uncomfortable about the visitors from the east is that they are awkward figures in every sense. They break the taboos of religion by crossing it's boundaries. They're no respecters of inherent traditions or integrity, but would probably now be charged with syncracy by every decent orthodox Jew or Christian. If we respect difference, we're supposed to be at least concerned by this sort of behaviour. And yet here they are nonetheless, pointing towards Emmanuel, saying "here he is" to anyone who would care to notice.

This seems to be a lesson, to watch out for those spiritual nomads who show us the divine face and acknowledge him where he is. When we might otherwise miss his coming amongst us, thank God for their insight.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

the corner beckons

A bright hazy day, soon into the new year,
I was walking with ambivalence along new street
through umber-grey gritstone houses
& compact dry front gardens.
I turned a corner to look down over the valley,
when a small figure came to me
out of the unknowing’s taut span,
holding a falling bunch of lychitis,
draped in a delicate shroud of layers
that seemed to shimmer with infinite visions.
Every time it moved I saw something new,
the whole span of possibility was brought,
& I was amazed at what might be...

Welcome to the new year everyone, how ever you saw it in. My thanks to Martin, Phill, and Steph for making my celebratory changeover up in York the best that I can remember. It was a fantastic start that’s got me on an optimistic slant as we look forward to what the future may bring. No resolutions with me, just an aspiration to put this into action with imagination.

Oh yes, and on a slightly OK! kind of angle, my mum saw David Blunket in a pub near here today while taking our dog for a walk. It seems that our Peak District is a haven for the recently ex-minister.