The woman who has guided my life, and plucked at my shoulder whenever I neglected her was born this day 200 years ago exactly. I vowed I would finish a memoir that is not just a literary tribute to her but a sleuthing of her intermittent interruptions through my 78 years of following in her treads. I did so yesterday in time to light the candles today.
George Eliot packed four signed volumes of her last novel (Daniel Deronda)to my great great great Aunt (Eliza Mary Sanderson nee Barrett) who she had never met, and never would. The aunt, who was childless, and who lived in South Africa left them to my grandmother. Nobody knew what had prompted the gift, but the books were bequeathed to me. I first saw them when I was sixteen. Then they were stolen by my own aunt and given to a University Library in a place they would never be asked for.
The influence of George Eliot initially was that of overwhelming admiration, and the seduction to leave Africa for England, for its literature, its poetry, its traditions, its certainty of varied seasons. She summoned me to a different world, and ultimately to the ambition to write. But that was only half the story.
The other half was locked in the mystery of those books. The call to write the memoir was to discover the end of the story that began with them. That gift linked me directly to the author. I discovered not only her (adopted) family’s direct connections to my own but an unknown poetic work that I had never known of but echoed in my narrative poem Involution. It now seems that George Eliot was a restless muse, and found a scribe to finish what she had only just sketched before her premature death at sixty one. It seems my life was merely to mix the colours and sharpen the quills!
Perhaps that is all I was meant to do, to write her Religion for Humanity?
My life has been sliced into decades that echoed each one of hers, without knowing it. It mirrored her search for answers to belief, exploring every doctrine only to find each in turn insufficient. Each exploration of hers gave rise to a stupendous work, from Methodism in Adam Bede, Catholicism in Romola, to Judaism in Daniel Deronda, but the greatest novel of all, Middlemarch, exposed the dry vacuity of intellectual answers in the character of Casaubon seeking ‘The Key to all the Mythologies’. In his arid search for authority he betrays everything and everyone else, most importantly his marriage to his yearning idealistic wife, seduced by his so-called erudition. Erudition of that kind is the atrophy of the soul. This was the work Virginia Woolf called the ‘first novel for adults’. By that I take her to mean that meaning is not arrived at by catalogue or cogitation, or ‘givens’ from any source, but by independent ‘openness’ to all. And the courage to step away from any collective. (George Eliot was never a joiner of groups, not even those who expected it like the suffragettes.) I echo her in that.
George Eliot’s life was a life in search of love, and loving gave access to meaning, not just for oneself but through the lovers of music, inspiration, ideas, and the great adventure of life. Life was the ‘great book’ of wisdom.
Tomorrow I will add an imaginary conversation with the great author whose search was my own but whose recognition and rewards were the very opposite. For now I will rejoice in having known her. She is incomparable.
Yeah? Nah. Never.
Look again. The PHI. Fee Phi Fo Fum
Now, still so sceptical?
Nearly fifty years ago I wrote the Theory of Involution. I jumped across a void and suggested that the entirety of Evolutionary memory was stored in ‘junk DNA’. Science had been simply the recovery of that record by the mavericks, aka the Geniuses, given access to the stacks. All those diligent contemplatives in dust coats sifting through the aisles. Aha got it! Move over. Try this instead.
No I never put it quite like that. I ennobled these minions of the library with their Eurekas as the bright sparks cannoning into God; God being the field of memory shared out in every cell, the Internet of information. I made that suggestion after studying the chronology of recovery, which went back in time, while evolution goes forward. And I further suggested that the Internet was simply the model of what we had had access to; always.
It tanked: My wonderful hypothesis. A few notables like Arthur Koestler, and Konrad Lorenz gave it a cautious thumbs up ( maybe they recognised my recognition since they were both of the got-the-badge brotherhood of genius) but on the whole I was derided, spat out, dragged before a Cambridge Committee and made a coconut-shy guy.
So I rewrote it as poetry. The advantage of poetry is that those disposed to understand it will; those who wouldn’t are not quite sure what you have said. Or whether it is quite wise to reject it, until they are sure. A bit like hiding a secret doctrine behind a combination code; poetry is just like DNA in that regard, a spiral of information that only the deft can unwind.
Which brings me to this week’s news. And a satisfying validation. Unesco’s Memory of the World Archive have synthesized DNA that encodes (and will store forever) two songs from the Montreux Jazz Festival a mere 140 MB of data. This storage is smaller than a grain of sand, and if they want to encode the rest (6 Petabytes) it will be smaller than a grain of rice. According to the people who measure, the entire internet would fit in a storage container of DNA the size of a shoebox.
Well! The size of anything is irrelevant (although the perfection of DNA’s coiled structure wound on protein spools makes even its size and protection of information a superlative secretary. A perfection of PHI and Fibonacci). I cast my net of conjecture upon the shining net of DNA throughout the cosmos and even unto DNA’s precursors in RNA and unattached nucleotides not then organised.
The Russians worked out DNA storage in the sixties ( roughly at the same time I was suggesting my hypothesis) because Pyotr Gariaev had divined that DNA was not a ‘structure’ as much as it was a language; a language in which context gives meaning, and there are homonyms that look the same but mean different things depending on their surroundings, and what comes before, and what comes after. Infinitely flexible, infinitely rich and multidimensional, universally readable, universally modifiable. Gariaev spoke to seeds destroyed by Chernobyl with laser light re-instructed by healthy DNA and they sprouted. Miraculous? DNA responds to sound waves, its language read throughout the biosphere. Mantras work on DNA. The biosphere speaks, hears, changes, remembers.
So in suggesting that DNA was the language, not merely the 3% encoding protein structure, but a language of memory and memory of experiences, the basis of ‘re-cognition’. Cognition aka science. The cosmic record.
Still they have managed the two songs; they have managed to synthesize what nature has perfected for millions of years. They are getting there. I was fairly ahead of the time, by half a century.
There is some comfort in that. It would be great if someone else noticed, but it’s unlikely. So forgive me.
I hate the word ‘content’. It means nothing. But this ‘content’ seemed worth storing in my own shoe box of cuttings- resprouting.
Taken from Asymptote Journal.Quite wonderful poems in their use of searing language to speak of the unspeakable…. ( translated from the Arabic by Yasmine Haj)
Do Not Believe Me Were I to Talk to You of War
War preoccupies me. But I’m ashamed to write about it. I flagellate my metaphors then implore them. Pain makes me depict a bullet, after which I recede into depicting an emotional slap. I disembowel the words and the harakiri victims awake, all of them, and disembowel me.
Do not believe me were I to talk to you of war, because when I spoke of blood, I was drinking coffee, when I spoke of graves, I was picking yellow daisies in Marj Ibn Amer, when I described the murderers, I was listening to my friends’ giggles, and when I wrote about a burnt theatre in Aleppo, I was standing before you in an air-conditioned one.
Do not believe me were I to talk to you of war. Because each time I bombarded the city streets in a poem, the concrete would recline, the lamps would sway towards it, and the prophets would pass by in peace.
Whenever I imagined my father’s skin flayed in it, I could still touch him afterwards, safe and sound, with an embrace. And whenever I heard my mother’s wailing, she would lull me to sleep with an old song, and I would sleep like a baby.
But dreams are open cheques
Signed by a Hourani woman whose….Read More
Spotting Genius- It’s Characteristics, its Temper and Significance.
Having spent much of my life marvelling at the explosive gifts of genius, and spotting a new example last week, in an unexpected discovery of Ruth Finnegan I thought to try and put a finger on the pulse that distinguishes it. Let me start with a draft poem. (I am no longer spending time with polishing- but hack out a brief economy since I have been accused of pointless perfectionism!).
Hunting The Shakespeare Snark- Genius on the Loose.
‘I stood on the shoulders of giants’ Newton said, in rare modesty.
He never meant elevation. A wider view.
The perspective from a vantage point
A Rugby scrum’s exuberance. To lift aloft a worthy Captain of endeavour
No, the devilling, sifting, panning has been done
Leaving gold gleaming, shining in the seams, the streams, the flowing thought of water.
The debris of collective labour was the reclamation heap
haphazard, strewn and half submerged
after others had discarded, and moved on.
Unbonded by design until he sat relaxed
to feel a gravitas, that binding law of all.
in dunes of trickling sand, apples fallen,
carved into caves by feeding wasps…
Feathers in Pisa
dancing curvatures of gentle challenge
for which poor Galileo once gave answer ‘eppur si muove Signore…’∗
Though he could not, after that.
Insight it was, not diligence.
Once flooded, diligence tramps along to make a way.
Solid stones of logic, a rope across a gorge;
Twists an equation, plaits a verse, sweeps a landscape, paints a play.
Dedication is maddened vision, urgent for corroboration and one gift of ‘Yes’.
You could be right. ‘How foolish not to think of that’.∗
The inner vision, coaxes out,
Extends a hand towards the growling bear of solitude.
Feeds an altered hunger, new, aroused
Blinded by shafted splintered light, genius ventures out.
Tentative on the turned new earth of change.
It may take his weight, mire his delusion, evaporate like morning mist burned off.
He has been bit: He must go on.
Once aroused, the hunger will persist for it can no longer feed on arid plains.
It may starve, endure a century of ridicule, grovel for a blade of green
Until the tungsten light secures one bowl to hold its liquid truth.
Genius is Creation’s nib, whittled and split to hold the ink
Of IN-sight. An inflammation that will spread, turn feverish,
dampen sheets, ignite a blaze, until submissive and all spent,
Sight brings servitude. Genius is the lowly ass
(As loaded as that one to Bethlehem)
Whose message is unwelcome
Puncturing the palm on the small and open hand of time.
∗All the same it moves ( the Earth round the sun)
∗ Thomas Huxley on reading The Origin of Species.
I might as well be hung for a lamb for I shall expand. The misuse of genius to describe the Big Personality, David Bowie, John Lennon, Steve Jobs and their ilk of theatrical exhibitionism, or inventive acumen (however wow or timely it may be) is the devaluing of an important concept- genius is not simply originality ( though that is one hallmark), not cleverness, not reading the easy drift of tide, but a porous availability to the rushing gale of urgent messages for Man. That is how I see genius-the minion who bridges the present and the future while the counter-crowd draws on the past, and trails its popular authority as the acid test of worth.
Traversing Mongolia without a yurt. The Journey of Genius.
Why Mongolia? Scarcely inhabited, barren of much comfort, no pre-ordained or clinker roads to determine a crossing, and decidedly cold and windswept at first glance.
That is the landscape faced by genius; genius impelled to tread out a vision.
Genius has become almost a dirty word, over-used, dubiously ascribed to success (which almost defines its misuse) and applied to easy competence, self-belief or aggrandisement by those who cannot tell the difference. Its over-use in such instances has melted its meaning to vapour.
So let’s start again. When I use the word I look for its tell-tale spoor, as I would if following a Yeti, Dinosaur or three toed sloth. It emerges unexpectedly from some cave of solitude; its first steps are tentative because this gait is entirely new, yet it gains confidence simply by treading into the unknown, never tempted to return. For it is armed, no, not armed, but infected by a disease, the disease of certainty. Of what is it certain?
Of valid vision.
The vision is undefined, except by the inadequacy of what pre-existed it. Space was made for it before it grasped a truth. That truth demands a language, but that language will be new, shaped to be understood by very few, those few will already know of the existent inadequacy, but have started to hunger for an alternative. They are ready. The soil of acceptance is high up a cold mountain, a small patch of possibility, and genius must plant there. To begin with that truth takes root roughly, grows raggedly since it has not grown before. It has no morphic field to resonate in the collective;yet. It will be battered by winds of opposition, uprooted by ridicule; but cuttings will be taken surreptitiously, to flourish in the hot houses of acclaim. Those cuttings will never thrive beyond a short span for they have been severed from the vision that gave them life.
Each new vision must forge its own language: For the lucky it might be a mathematical equation, for others it will be a dogged search through the debris of thought, or the clues left by ancient civilisations sifted with a sable brush; for the truly transported by vision it will be poetry, which is permitted greater freedom to remain half defined and stay closer to its fluid origins. It is always bigger than language; all language fits it ill.
Genius has been bitten, fatally bitten by an all encompassing, blood and brain suffusion, and its constructions match that holistic landscape. They tend to be complete in themselves, a fast link in a chain or compendia that like a tsunami take all with it. Homer and his Iliad/Odyssey, Milton with Paradise Lost and Found, Gibran’s The Prophet defining all elements of relationship, Dante and his tripartite Divine Comedy, Goethe with his ever renewed Faust, nothing excluded, nothing irrelevant. Genius may be difficult to define but not to recognise. (Unless you have a vested interest in denying it space) for it speaks below the brain, in the unity that is shared and instinctively recognised because it is already known.
That unity, from Faraday’s lines of force, Maxwell’s fields, Einstein’s space-time, is the testament of genius, for it has drunk deep on certainty and its rivulets spread uncontained, and a whole life may be given to directing and expanding that flow. Nobody understood relativity, but relativity took root and changed the whole of physics, but has taken time to invade biology through neuroscience, or sign a new contract with chaos theory.
The paramount signature of genius is its facsimile to its closest kin; madness- and obsession, but unlike madness the breastplate of certainty protects the genius. He/she has been gifted, and is shacked between the shafts of service to the vision, to the unique need for the new language, and to the obligation to impart and to safeguard it.
Promoting, or promulgating a vision may be the closest to its service a genius might get, but its specifics once imparted can be left to themselves, which brings me to the infection. What decides who will be bitten? Who will shine with that indefinable light?
I have given much of my life into seeking an answer to that question, the artesian wells of inspired ideas or creations must lie where the crust of collective thought is thin, for although genius is mostly a maverick solitary, the eruptions are often synchronous, as Farkas Bolyai wrote to his son Janos urging him not to delay publishing his work “When the time is ripe for certain things they appear at different places in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring”.
This seems to extend the ‘chosen’ to a pregnant collective urge, seeking out the vulnerable through which to impart new understanding.It begs many questions about the prevailing idea that brains emit rather than receive consciousness! It is more likely that brains are chosen by consciousness through which to express itself.
One thing is apparent: The belief that these great geniuses have somehow assembled new understanding by a thoughtful selection and rearrangement of cogent reclamation has to give way to perceiving that the understanding came first. Insight knew and structured the search for evidence or inspired the language by which to convey what was not yet clothed. Or in any state to be transmitted. The sheer scale of the creations of genius could never be undertaken by anything less than certainty.Academics and intellects will work on good ideas that will find funding, genius will take a job in a patent office in Berne, and reflect on the clock at the end of the road.
The book I reviewed in the last post, Ruth Finnegan’s Blank Inked Pearl I believe was one such ( which is why, although not flawless judged against other works, it will prove a classic- the imaginative construction of language to quote emotion where feeling is unquestioned- the raw substance and subject of language) and the next one I hope to review, though very different in language is equally mind-blowing. It uses the chisel of intellectual analysis to de-cypher a fallacy and proves every idea about Shakespeare false; but since our collective incarceration of the Bard is so (literally) entrenched it will have a harder time breaking through. The intellect was merely a tool but will be mistaken as THE argument. Another post dealt with Jose Diex Faizat’s extraordinary insight ( and examinations) of the harmonic intervals followed by evolutionary changes at the diminishing nodes of time’s tripartite (Trinitarian?) sub-divisions. More than forty years of a man’s life are not spent on an hypothesis. He examined the whole of creation , the structure of time as the harmonic intervals of celestial music. Another Symphonic Dance to the Music of Time. Or the reincarnation of Johannes Kepler?
Brave new ideas are sensitive To antigen attack by the body politic.
Genius walking amongst us, walks unrecognised and lonely, but there are distinguishing stigmata as well as light emanating, and much labour (and little but labour) to reshape vision under whole new empires of conquest. Genius is about reaching for the All. Close to Divine.
Apost from Ashen reminded me today was Poetry Day and since she wrote a portrait of a friend I thought I’d follow suit. This is in memoriam to the home a painter and mother of five filled, that now lies empty, unchanged. When I wrote it she was alive and I wrote it for her.
Sailing Folly Cottage
Boat, below the saddle of hill, rides the sway-back hummock grass
Moored against the end of the lane; tilts a chin to the drifting cloud,
Blows smoke kisses to the wind and rain; hails all elements as friends
None entering or passing by need wipe off feet or hands.
The door in permanent spasm can neither close nor stay ajar.
Bless-me sun has a needle stuck on a gap-tooth grin of spring
Shadows that have shed their shoes pull at bramble and wild colt,
Bulging tool-shed tethered with chain on the off-chance it might bolt.
Two gumboots, silent gaffers, relax on the broken step
Ignored by planters, iron pots, overflowing matted grass…
Closing their sun-blinded eyes; chew at smothered bulb…
The old boat rocks at anchor strain, its song a creaking hull.
Kneaded by fingers of babbling babes; kicked by bruising boys,
Stage for smashing arguments; quiet nights of mutual bliss…
Wringing out cold compress to bleeding black-eyed divorce;
Serene it coasts vicissitude; gives two masts to local reproach.
Beyond the marina of teak-oil stone; exiled by the well-heeled wharf,
The flotilla of circling circumspect homes; each with a view of the green,
Sailing across the well clipped grass where shaggy goats were tethered..
The Common much less common since corduroy Colonels moved in.
Beyond the watch at double door the Labrador flicks a frown
To passing ladders, green eyed cat; the Thatcher with next season’s quote,
Pop-in friend with lists and flowers…
The trial of the fancy-dress demand of the children’s annual fete…
A narrow jetty stretches into the hill to the quarantined boat, patently ill;
Moored out of sight; buckled by hedge, swift sluicing course…
Peeling skin in scrofulous flakes onto cracked and rising flags,
Rusting pails and harness for the broken-winded horse.
An isolated case of trust in a simple right to decline
In company with the Captain who is eighty (if a day)
She’s the tiller on her children’s lives, the tea-caddy of their coin;
She wears a waxed all-weather cape below a sharp white crown
She doesn’t stop to give a damn, nor does Sparky her clown.
This is really Coming Clean. Full Circlewas once the title of my book Involution, about the omnipresence of memory guiding events. Here you have it. Full Circle in a day.
In the cross hairs of today the past came tumbling in. Not only my own, but the wider circumstances of echoes, of history and the continuing influences of the present past. Nothing is ever incidental, or accidental, everything contributes. They all take a particular shape by being connected to me, and what that shows is dominantly the ‘yes’: But ‘no’ is always present because their correlations are not simple. So there is more to them and if clear for one, that means for everyone.
I will lay out ingredients. Starting with today.
First thing: I opened a blog post from Sivan Butler-Rotholz’s site called As it Ought to Be. The poem she published was called
HOPE, TRUTH, FEAR, AND MY SPIRITUAL QUEST. YES! By Stephanie Wellen Levine.
I had never heard of Stephanie Levine The poem searches for the spiritual meaning to be found in everyday encounters and asks (more than once) ‘Isn’t there more?’
I was so taken with it I re-posted it on here ( see below). I then turned to other work, notably some preparation for ‘selling myself’ to possible agents by writing a literary CV in bullet points. One of those bullet points was this:
Surviving an unrepentant cross-dressing Nazi landlady in Bavaria. Her name was Frau F***, she played Schubert on a windup gramophone, and sailed off in a Mercedes Cabriolet to preserve medieval Regensburg from modernity and take tea with Herbert Von Karajan.
Frau Fick (yes German meaning as discreetly indicated) was the widow of a Roderich Fick who worked on Hitler’s Berghof with Albert Speer. While staying in her eleventh century mill I encountered unadulterated Nazism within a short drive of Dachau concentration camp. So I refreshed my facts by reading about Speer who largely escaped the death sentence by acknowledging that he should have known about the holocaust but chose not to. So for him it was ‘no’ but actually really ‘yes’.
While reading this entry in Wikipedia a pop up happened alerting me to a new post from Watkins Bookshop where a lecturer called Philip Pegler was talking about his new biography of a man called Martin Israel. He had been married by Martin Israel ( once he had turned priest) and adopted him as a spiritual mentor and guide. The book was about how to deal with evil and exorcism, and during this lecture he mentioned that the esteemed Martin Israel was not immune to possession and once had had to deliver an Easter sermon while confronted throughout with it.
It happens I knew Martin Israel very well, and I was, I suspect, the ‘evil’ that sat throughout his Good Friday Service. I too had adopted him as a spiritual mentor from a distance ( I was awaiting a divorce in Mexico). He wrote frequently to exhort me to maintain my spiritual path and secure my ‘radiant spirit’ It was giving me rather a hard time. When I reached England and called on him to ask for his help in recovering from a profound series of mystical experiences he summoned the police and committed me to a mental hospital. I escaped and, believing he had mistaken my appeal, ( which was for a referral to a whitewashed room in a monastery where I could recover- since he gave retreats at all of them and held the keys so to speak) I returned to his flat in Kensington. Before I was even admitted over the threshold he re-called the police and I was recommitted on a police order without a single word being exchanged. In one of the most notorious mental hospitals in Epsom I was shackled to a bed with wrist bands in a locked ward. The day room was filled with the terminally deranged in strait jackets and catatonics. If I escaped I would be returned compulsorily. I was threatened with a frontal lobotomy and nobody knew I was there!
So much for the spiritual ‘loving’ Martin Israel. He had abused not only my trust but his position as a lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons. He was not a clinician but was prepared to end my sentient life! On the authority of his letterhead. At the time it was incomprehensible, but very frightening.
Shortly after he became truly ill, and incapacitated, requiring round the clock nursing but nothing medically wrong was discovered. He recovered slowly and took orders in the Anglican Church. When I had first met Martin Israel at a conference on Nature Man and God at Culham College, Oxford he was verbally violent about any religious orthodoxy. ‘These people have not begun to wake up’ he said of the assembled clergymen, one of which, the Chairman Richard Milford, had been Chancellor of Lincoln and Master of the Temple, who became a close friend of mine after the Conference. It was he and his wife who rescued me before the lobotomy after Martin Israel has written to them to say they should have nothing to do with me ever again. They ignored that and instead collected me from the hospital and asked me to drive them home!
Which brings me back to the Good Friday Service in Sherborne Abbey: I went to show Martin Israel my ‘recovered’ rational sanity and as I filed past him at the door I held out a hand ’Hello Martin’ I said. He looked straight through me without a sign of recognition. ‘I knew but I chose not to know’ Yes and No. He took the next hand proffered.
That next hand belonged to a woman who had taught me Theology in South Africa. I had not seen her for twenty five years, nor expected her to be there, but she had recognised me and hastened up behind.
‘Do you know him?’
‘I did once’ I said.
‘Well he didn’t recognise you!’ she said, sceptical. Martin Israel was too important to know her ex pupil.
‘Yes he did; he chose not to acknowledge it’ I said.
Yes and No.
Fifteen years after this service this my mother died in Swaziland and I went to bury her. The presiding woman priest at her funeral service had been in Swaziland for only three years. Although she had ruined the occasion ( another story) I invited her to lunch to thank her. On the bank of a sullen river, in a valley of oppressive heat with cicadas almost drowning the narrative, this priest told me she had formerly been a nurse and nursed Martin Israel during this collapsed state during which he had no control of bodily functions, but it was clear he was phobic about women physically. She was convinced his illness was due to repressed homosexuality to which he could not reconcile himself. Her view was that the priesthood was a shelter from himself. Whether true or not it helped me. Yes and No
My mother dies: I go from England to Swaziland to meet the only person who could corroborate my own near death/destruction and offer an explanation that made sense.
After listening to the eulogy in Philip Pegler’s lecture today about a man now being lionised and while wondering whether to write about this I received an email from a long standing virtual friend. Brian George has been the most generous supporter of my writing and we have communicated constantly for perhaps three years. He simply wrote to say that he did not realise I knew the poet Stephanie Wellen Levine but that she was a frequent visitor to his salon in Boston. He assumed I must! I had merely read her poem this morning. Yes and No.
Many years ago I wrote an imaginative story ‘The Obituary’ about a memorial service for Martin Israel when I knew he had died. My way of laying him to rest ( and getting small restitution). Since I had had no knowledge of him since that dreadful time I set it in a part of London that I know well. During this lecture today in which Philip Pegler was pegging out Martin Israel’s last years he named the church at which Martin Israel presided ‘Holy Trinity, Prince Consort Road’. The reason I know the area well is because my daughter was at The Royal College of Music, almost opposite. That was where the service happened in the story. So again today I discovered I wrote truth, without any knowledge of Martin Israel’s terminal career as a priest. Holy Trinity is right where I planted him. I knew but I did not know. Yes and No.
Evil denied, knowledge denied, mistaken identities all gathered up to weave with unerring synchronicity the links in the chain. It began with a poem and called up friends, the past and the clearest signposts of well thumbed evil in Bavaria. You could not put it in a novel and be taken seriously!
Mindblowing. Even though I knew all of that. When it strikes so coherently it affirms the Yes Yes Yes. As it Ought to Be. As it is.
P.S. The Milford’s ( my rescuers) daughter married the son of the Founder of Watkins Bookshop, and I gave a talk there three years ago. Nothing is for Nothing.
Addendum ( I hope you will read this because it changes everything.)
Many readers known to me, and perhaps a few that might find their way here will find this searing and personal post inappropriate. The conventions of blogs is to keep it light, general and, if personal, undemanding of emotional investment. I took some courage to defy all those because the circumstances of split second synchronicity arrested me and catapulted me back to a time when thought and outer event were constant companions. Hence the accusation of insanity. The co-ordinates to which I was (at that time) privy made living in time impossible. The ‘Power of Now’ when it is all there is ( for all its theoretical hype and mindfulness applications) is like being buffeted in a stormy sea. There is no anchorage if past and present are all equally available and indistinguishable. So MY first reason for sharing it was because it came as a reminder of the richest inspiration for my life and my work. If you recall I have called Involution ‘The Book that Wrote the Life’.
BUT to implicate the role of Martin Israel and more immediately to make his biographer Philip Pegler aware of an aspect that I suspected he might not know- might prefer not to know-was almost an act of cruelty. Why did I decide to contact him? I thought long and hard before I did but in the end gave him the choice to know- if he wanted to, precisely because my own illusions about Martin Israel’s infallibility had so endangered me (and punished others). My experience of Martin was not Philip’s, and I had to trust that he would sustain his own even when accepting mine differed. It was a huge risk that he might perceive me embittered or pointlessly destructive. What I hoped was to balance what had, from his lecture, seemed an unquestioning admiring and devoted eulogy.
I took a chance and he rewarded that risk with extraordinary generosity. Let me quote from his response. First of all – thank you for taking the trouble to write as you did. It cannot have been easy after all you have been through, and although you may find this difficult to believe, I am very glad you did so. I much appreciated the searing honesty of your carefully considered communication, even though it made distinctly uncomfortable reading late at night. It is quite true that I have long respected and admired Martin, feeling grateful for the wise counsel and support I have received over the years, but I would never wish to slip into the trap of heedless admiration of anyone. I have had far too much salutary experience of my own for that.
Philip went on.
Reading your extraordinarily gripping narrative, I can now properly understand just why you are so infuriated to hear anything approaching a eulogy, such as my talk must have come over to you. You see, until now I have never had reason to doubt Martin’s integrity as you have, but I must emphasise that I have also never been under the illusion that he was perfect – and indeed he never claimed to be so in his prolific writings, acknowledging his own failings and irascibility on numerous occasions.
Your well written account of events is thoroughly convincing and I would not presume to discountenance its veracity or evade darker aspects of Marin’s personality, including the probability of his repressed sexuality. Are you aware that he was physically abused as a child by his own father and openly acknowledged it with great sorrow towards the end of his life? He claimed to be a natural celibate, which may have been true enough as far as it went, but would also seem to represent an escape from a deeper part of his all too human nature, which he could not bear to face.
What this candour and ‘meeting with Philip’ has done is to offer not merely explanation, but to offer me the chance of compassionate forgiveness, and to dissolve the hard knots of gnawing perplexity. From some deep and buried horror of his past Martin felt the need to eradicate me. It was a rejection of himself, and I move from the prevailing anger that has dogged my life to pity and forgiveness.
For that I am truly thankful, truly liberated, and grateful for a secondary rescue, not from insanity but from bitter anger. I trusted the wrong man at the wrong time, and perhaps in the wrong way, with insufficient understanding of his vulnerability. It does not exonerate what he did but I must take some responsibility for tying my tossing craft to a deeply damaged tether. It broke. That’s all.
HOPE, TRUTH, FEAR, AND MY SPIRITUAL QUEST. YES!
By Stephanie Wellen Levine
Yes, I’m on a quest for truth, but only IF.
IF there’s a story behind the stories I see, I want to know.
A line of meaning running behind them.
A beam of concern.
The man in the grimy wheelchair begging for money by the Harvard Square subway
Pushing himself right up to people with his one leg, as if to ask:
Could YOU hold a job if you had a sawed-off leg
And eyes that watered from the slightest hint of sun?
The woman staring at her cappuccino at Crema Café
Laughing at the creamy heart added by the barista.
She touches the heart with her pinky
So lightly, making sure she doesn’t ruin it
And then takes out a book called On Losing a Child.
I have missed Friday! Sorry. Proofing a book to a deadline somehow collapses the passing days. BUT how can anyone ignore the euphoria occasioned by this enquiry?
‘I absolutely love this sonnet. I thought it might be one of Shakespeare’s but it sounds too new. Please tell me who the author is.’
I posted it to a thread on Linked In that asked for ‘Your poetic definition of love?’
Ergo… If you bequeath me all your dreams unspent
that had their birth beneath the sheeted sky
Once dressed in music, they went penitent
Through gold and gorse, for you walk solitary.
If I can turn a page within your past
and my slow eye peruse your slow delight…
The landscape of your heart has found a mast
to lend perspective to its breadth and height.
I mapped your longing long before you thought
to give account of thirst, or dust or wine
I laid your blooms of hope amidst the grass of doubt
I spread your pasture, I reseeded time.
What can I know but what I recognise?
You are myself and yours are my own eyes.