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Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The cruel advice for young people from a Mental Health Chief Executive

 The cruel advice for young people from a Mental Health Chief Executive


Given the current mental health service crisis for young people – that was apparently in the making for decades – what with hundreds of young people on DHB waiting lists, one must wonder about the pathetic ‘advice’ given by a highly-paid ‘Chief Executive’ who is supposed to be an expert on mental health. Thus, it is no surprise that mental health services are top-down organisations with endless ‘executive’ managerial layers at the top and vastly underfunded, under-staffed services at the coalface.


Let’s have a look at the advice given (in bullet points):


·      Don't give up hope


Obviously a mental health crisis is premised on having no hope.


·      There are far more people who get through their tough times than don't


This is cruel: if the statistics show that a certain disease has a 90% survival chance and you are in the 10% mortality statistic, do you attribute your situation to statistically bad luck?


·      Keep looking for other options


Like what? Get psychoanalysis and therapy at $500.- an hour?


·      There's more capacity than before, such as the 1737 counselling helpline


All the phone/txt helplines listed do have some value but are pointless at the point of crisis, for the only advice is to ring 111 and go to ED. For the ‘capacity’ at crisis centres like ED, you will find a mental health ‘team’ consisting of a single, stressed-out mental health nurse with over-worked registrars on-call (sorry, you will have to wait for the doctor to arrive in a couple of hours or so), with no beds available in ICU, no watches for violent/self-harming patients brought in by exasperated police, no cultural support for Maori, Pasifika and other ethnic minorities, no ‘capacity’ for chronic cases that are brought in again every second day because nobody ‘out there’ knows what to do with them, complaints by medical staff about mental health patients clogging up the corridors, and so the list of ‘no capacity’ goes on. 


·      Even if you're waiting for specialist support, reach out to your GP for support


So this is the infamous merry-go-round that takes you nowhere. The GP has a 15 minute consultation time. Last chance is ED (see above).


I have previously commented on the He Ara Oranga, Report of the Government Inquiry into

Mental Health and Addiction, published in November 2018 by the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, in a letter to the Nursing Journal Kai Tiaki, predicting that the report will result in yet another ‘commission’, as recommended by the authors, some of whom will be no doubt appointed to such a commission, drawing a good honorarium in addition to their other well-paid, high-ranking positions. If you check on the personnel, you will see that my prediction has come true.


So while the NZ Government has ploughed billions of dollars onto mental health, most of the money is disappearing into what is couched as ‘research’ but ends up as meaningless reports to assuage the guilt of the top echelons of mental health services in the face of a never-ending crisis. The teen sharing her story in the RNZ article quite rightly says that ‘nobody is listening’ while the experts are busy writing about what the supposed problems are, like ‘societal injustice’ problems of poverty and crime, which is fair enough even when seen from the ivory tower (being part of the problem – not the solution).





Sunday, October 31, 2021

HABERMAS in the digital age

 HABERMAS in the digital age


Having a number of volumes by Jürgen Habermas in my library (incl. Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, which is particular interest to me as a linguist, given that some academics in my field have a sometimes inordinate focus on ‘communication’ as the main driver of language) I was interested to see an article in Der Spiegel about Habermas:


Mit 92 Jahren hat Jürgen Habermas seine Theorie der politischen Öffentlichkeit mit Blick auf die sozialen Medien überprüft. Womöglich sieht er sie zu pessimistisch – aber wir müssen sehr bewusst mit ihnen umgehen.




The author of the article, Samira El Ouassil, goes on to suggest that there are ‘responsible’ journalists that can set the standards for social media content, so not all is lost – as she would, representing the high standards that Der Spiegel sets itself. If only social media like Facebook and Twitter would live up these standards then we would not have to contend with Habermas’ negative evaluation of the social media. In other words, redemption is possible when social media adopt the Spiegel model of responsible publishing content. Given that Habermas’ original thesis was that private property goes hand in hand with manipulating public opinion, one can only marvel at El Ouassil’s naivety. While business models of the likes of Facebook and Twitter have long overtaken the likes of Der Spiegel that are built on traditional models of journalism, there is of course a residual power base that Der Spiegel hangs onto: the pseudo-liberal FDP politics favoured by the Augsteins (the family ownership of the Spiegel corporation, however employees (sic) are also shareholders), and now with renewed vigour, based on the real possibility that the FDP will have its leader installed as the finance minister in the new German government (a coalition of SPD, FDP and Greens). Quite apart from this conundrum, the article serves in many ways as a lesson for Habermas’ contention that social media is a symptom of neo-feudalism.


Let us start with the on-line version of Der Spiegel which in its visual form is dominated by wall-to-wall advertising and as such is no different from the business models of, say, Facebook or Twitter, that derive their vast profits mainly from advertising. Even so, Der Spiegel tries hard to monetize individual articles which puts paid to the much vaunted free content that social media is said to rely on. Obviously click-bait is for free and then they’ve got you. In this instance one would have liked to access the actual article by Habermas which is linked to the academic journal Leviathan which in turn is accessed the link below:




Alas, the Habermas article can only be accessed if you pay for the privilege (there is however a free PDF download of an article that refers to the Habermas article – and which I will refer to in turn).  In the meantime the plot thickens when the Spiegel journalist refers to another article she says is worth reading, namely one in the FAZ (another conservative news outlet, well known in Germany). So here we go:




The author, Oliver Weber, introduces his piece as follows:


Der Text, von dem hier die Rede sein soll, ist in mehrfacher Hinsicht schwer zugänglich. Man findet ihn zwar in einer gut versteckten Onlinebibliothek des Nomos-Verlages, doch gehört man nicht zu den Angehörigen jener wenigen Universitäten, die eine Lizenz der Zeitschrift Leviathan besitzen, zahlt man auch für die digitale Variante beinahe hundert Euro. Wem das zu viel ist, der bleibt auf die Möglichkeiten physischer Fernleihe angewiesen. Die Beiträge der aktuellen Sonderausgabe selbst durchliefen ein anonymes Begutachtungsverfahren. Und auch dieser Zeitungstext, der den Text für diejenigen zusammenfasst, die ihn nicht gelesen haben, dürfte mindestens unter sechs Augen getreten sein, bevor er dem Publikum vorgelegt wurde. Was wäre aber, entfiele diese lange Kette aus Schleusen und Prüfungsschritten?


So, ironically enough, he too bemoans the fact that the Habermas article is not accessible to the ordinary reader, as the subscription for the site is nearly a hundred Euro. Even the abridged version for journalists like himself has been reviewed by at least six anonymous peer reviewers, or so he says, adding the question what it would be like if such obstacles were not put in place for a public forum (like the FAZ presumably). The ultimate joke is of course that I cannot read his article without first subscribing to the FAZ (typically you can a two-week ‘free’ subscription but you must provide your credit card details for a $50 monthly subscription fee if you don’t cancel your ‘free’ two-week period after (or before?) time runs out), i.e. the FAZ monetizes its content via the click-bait method also employed by Der Spiegel (giving you a short taste of the article while it dims into the announcement that for the rest you have to pay). 


Since I have not read the Habermas article myself, I rely on the ‘free’ Levianthan article by Staab and Thiel (2021), entitled Privatisierung ohne Privatismus, which sounds a bit obscure but actually does a good job in summarizing Habermas’ original and revised theses. In essence the 1962 Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeitmade the point that the bourgeois free market ideology had usurped the feudalistic model of manipulating public opinion, making it obviously more diverse but still in the service of private wealth. In his 2021 Überlegungen und Hypothesen zu einem erneuten Strukturwandel der politischen Öffentlichkeit, Habermas revised his thesis in that we are reverting to the feudal model. The likes of Facebook and Twitter are the new aristocrats that control public opinion by diktat. Politics as a public spectacle – as seen in Trumpism in the US – is choregraphed by clever algorithms that maximise social media click-bait for a global audience that is then reduced to consume the latest wares advertised by corporate raiders. Here Habermas’ central thesis of ‘kommunikatives Handeln’ comes into play: we ‘communicate’ to ‘act’. Those who control the channels of communication can influence the subsequent actions taken, be it as political expression in elections or more predominantly as decisions for what brands to buy and consume. Of course, it’s not at all as simple as this. As societies as a whole are made up of ‘actors’ that range from the haves to the haves-not, and taking into account that communication in itself is a bi-directional process, there is what Habermas and others have called Subjektivierung (subjectification). The argument being that every individual in this game of forming a society sees it his/her/their way, often removed from an objective point of view, i.e. having become ‘subjective’, and as such having become a creature that has a complex psychological make-up, unpredictable in some ways, malleable in others, contextualised – in other words, has become a post-industrialist/post-structuralist/post-modernist being in constant need of individual and societal de- and re-construction. People like Chomsky (also aged 92) have rubbished this obsession with terminological over-think (cf. Chomsky’s debate with Foucault), claiming instead a straightforward analysis that harks back to a simple, socialist point of view. Nevertheless, Habermas as a successor of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory (cf. Marcuse, Adorno) is also a socialist but with untold complications that seem to sustain an academic class of experts whose ‘communication’ few people can follow. Apparently a joke is that Habermas’ books have been translated into all languages of the world, except into German. When reading academics like Habermas, one is often struck by a simple idea – as enumerated above before delving into ‘subjectification’ – like social media being a symptom of neo-feudalism. However when reading on, hoping for a straightforward solution to the problem, we are confronted with a sudden complexity that defies any understanding of the problem in the first place. When reading Staab and Thiel, the initial summary of Habermas’ ideas is simple and powerful, followed only by an attempt to outdo Habermas by introducing an ever more complicated array of sub-textual pre-conditions and axioms, to do with Medialität (how information is mediated) and Akkumulation (accumulation of capital) quite apart from the Subjektivierung mentioned above, all of which are central to Critical Theory. So, while I am sympathetic to Chomsky in his critique of post-structural psycho-babble, I also try to understand the reasons behind this great project of uncertainty that seems to reflect reality more than any fundamentalist socialist program. Staab and Thiel quite rightly identify Habermas’ contention that the digital age and social media have succeeded in the technological isolation of the individual (citing the ‘daily me’ by Sunstein), giving rise to an unprecedented subjectivity that makes collective action almost impossible. Habermas in his Die Neue Unübersichtlichkeit(1985) makes the point that modernism (Neuzeit) is defined by the constant reach for the ‘new’, thereby exhausting utopian concepts (such as socialism) as mere clichés. One only has to look at the ‘news’ in digital format – be it Der Spiegel or the Guardian – and be confronted with a totally fractured view of the world. Take a typical Guardian daily on-line offering of some one hundred news article snippets, click-bait you can ‘click’ on for more and more. This is a huge structural change from the former newspaper format where every article was presented in its full content, so Habermas is quite right in saying that the erstwhile promise of the digital age (e.g. the internet) to promote democratic and social justice values was subverted by powerful digital platforms (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) to achieve the opposite. To accuse Habermas as too pessimistic – as does the Spiegel columnist – is to chime in with all the ‘deniers’ (holocaust, climate, pandemic, nuclear war, etc.) that are promoted as click-bait to rise as ‘influencers’, ending up as mainstream ‘news’ of the world. One can analyse this situation in fundamentalist Marxist terms with a sole focus on Akkumulation (accumulation of capital) and nod wisely but is none the wiser as to what will happen next. This Unübersichtlichkeit (lack of a comprehensive view) prevents us from charting a future that makes sense, relying instead on a neo-feudal make-belief characteristic of our digital age. Dire warnings (direct and indirect) sounded by sages like Chomsky and Habermas left unheeded will only hasten the demise of all of us, as predicted by another wise old man, Bertrand Russell:


After ages during which the earth produced harmless trilobites and butterflies, evolution progressed to the point at which it generated Neros, Genghis Khans and Hitlers. This, however, I believe is a passing nightmare; in time the earth will again become incapable of supporting life, and peace will return.


Both Chomsky and Habermas have real life experience of the age of the Hitlers, what with the latter painfully aware that Medialität as a German speciality seems to be abused again in our global digital age. Chomsky might critique my focus on German since English is equally capable – as are all languages of the world – of catching this virus (Russell calls it ‘evolution’), if it hasn’t already done so. It’s just that Habermas, like myself, come from a region of the world that had the fascist virus in recent history, so we should know a thing or two. It comes as no surprise that digital German media giants like Der Spiegel are in denial - again.



Staab, Philip & Thorsten Thiel (2021). Privatisierung ohne Privatismus. Soziale Medien im digitalen Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit. Sonderband Leviathan 37:275–297



Wednesday, September 1, 2021




‘Holy’ books of practically all religions known to mankind, like the Bible or the Koran, serve as singular texts for children to become fundamentalist believers who will not read and study any other books, thus becoming intolerant of any other point of view. Putting aside this unpalatable scenario, however much destructive it is, there are many other less fundamentalist positions taken that are based on just a few texts to the exclusion of all others. Extreme versions of Capitalism as much as Communism rely on the absurdly venerated texts of a few authors, be it Marx or Smith. This filters down to so-called schools of thought whereby ‘seminal’ works by a few authors (disciples of each other) dictate the field of inquiry. While Mao-tse-tung advocated for a multitude of schools of thought to blossom, there is of course one instance where a single text becomes the new dogma. This is in the so-called natural sciences where so-called laws of nature are discovered and described by the likes of Newton and Einstein, and whereby it is utterly futile to request a second opinion. Granted that there are laws-of-nature that can be rendered by precise mathematical formulae, there cannot be a proof to the contrary, and whoever the ‘scientist’ is that came up with it in a single paper published in a peer-reviewed journal of physics, will forever be cited as the great one. Obviously religious texts lay claim to the same procedure, i.e. that the world was created in seven days is an indisputable fact if not a law-of-nature – never mind the logical fallacy involved. Since the natural sciences usually deal with empirical evidence there is less of a danger that any law-of-nature turns out to be a fake – the real danger being in its applications, e.g. nuclear physics giving rise to nuclear bombs and chemistry giving rise to plastic pollution. 


A somewhat less consequential but more fascinating scenario is that of a literary education foisted upon unsuspecting minors, and I don’t mean that of formal education which is well known to distort young minds (I know from experience that the German and English education systems are highly selective in their literary canons, turning the vast majority of students off reading, having to endlessly pick over elitist texts by Shakespeare and Goethe). What I mean is the case of the literate parental influence on what their children read. We all know of the often preached (by the educated middle classes) benefits of parents reading bed-side stories to their children until they awaken a love of reading in their children, and lo and behold, they learn to read and write even before they go to school. These days, they are the ‘woke’ kids who will become litterateurs of various distinctions. The somewhat tragic – and therefor educational – case I want to highlight here, is that of the Australian writer Charmian Clift (at least as interpreted by her biographer Nadia Wheatley). Clift’s parents who lived a lower-working-class life, were nevertheless educated and avid readers (the mother also composed poetry for her own entertainment) and so their children acquired the same habit – Charmian especially so. Charmian’s dominant father, or so the story goes, foist upon Charmian his favourite book when she was only some eight years old, namely Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and then by association Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel. To my mind these are very odd choices even for an adult, let alone for a little girl. According to Nadia Wheatly, Charmain didn’t really understand the books in question but discovered that her father’s great oratorial skills were all based on these two sources, thus making him appear rather less original and a bit of a fake. By the sound of it, Charmian’s father loved the physicality of the lower working classes he sought to emulate (to the distress of his wife who wanted to climb the social ladder) while holding on to an intellectual attitude that made little sense. To delight in Rabelaisian bawdiness in small-town Australian in the 1920s may have gone unnoticed in working class slang but would have raised eyebrows in polite up-town society – confused by his economic status of a relatively well-off engineer working in the local quarry, slugging it out with the precariat in his immediate neighbourhood. His absolute belief in Sterne’s Tristram Shandy in association with his economic Social Credit theories was not exactly a working-class ideology either. No wonder it confused his daughter but at some stage in later life would emerge as a strategy to understand life as a single proposition. In her case, as attributed by her biographer with textual evidence, it was the dichotomy of Icarus versus Daedalus. To categorise people in these terms, assembling psychological profiles to fit the picture, becomes an obsession that does little service to the lives of real people. Actually, in Charmian’s published works I have read, she transcends this dichotomy not unlike a Nietzsche does in his Beyond Good and Evil. It is her biographer’s obsession to show that Charmian’s trajectory to suicide mirrored that of Icarus. I think here the fundamental mistake is to mix and match unrelated categories, i.e. Icarus is a fiction while Charmian is not. Real people do not resemble abstractions like Picasso’s women (pictorial abstractions are valid nevertheless). In psychology the concept of Yin and Yang as depicting a dichotomy (a bit of this and a bit of that) to emerge as a wholesome profile is in my opinion much more realistic: we all have a bit of Icarus and Daedalus in us, to varying degrees of course but never in pure black and white. To explain away Charmian’s suicide as a reckless and inevitable act in the vein of Icarus, is to miss the random nature of such events. Sure, her parents – and her father in particular – failed their daughter by instilling a singular point of view of life, via a literary education that mandated just a couple of texts. However admirable it is of parents instilling a love of reading in their children, the danger is that they put them on the road to an undesirable destination. The aim should be to open the door to the real world and let them see the many junctions before them. The books should not indicate which direction to take – merely an accompaniment along the journey. I have read hundreds of books, many of which I have forgotten, for they were of interest only at the time of reading. I cannot credit any book with the direction my life has taken, nor should it. To Charmian’s writerly credit, she must have realised the pointless exercise in reading Sterne and Rabelais in the context of her life at the time in Australia. Luckily, she did not follow the route of academic literature – where she would have encountered at least Rabelais again as part of the prescribed canon – and instead developed her own eclectic literary canon that served her so well when writing about her time on the Greek islands of Kalymnos and Hydra. A psychological cliché might be that her choice of husband resembled that of her father – which in a small part may well be true – and thus succumbed to being a literary handmaiden to her writer-husband who also engaged in a single-minded genre of at times a rather vicious autobiographical fiction. In reading Nadia Wheatley’s biography of Charmian Clift, I am struck by the fascinating details of what happened in her life (and before and after) but I am occasionally annoyed by Wheatley’s speculation as to why something happened, especially when in terms of a one-dimensional explanation referenced yet to another one-dimensional literary text. She should have followed Charmian’s often acknowledged literary fine art of blurring the lines of fact and fiction, giving the reader some leeway to read between the lines or just be happy with the lines that take you beyond the realm of the words alone. To disentangle the mysteries of a life like Charmian’s is not a forensic detective task but, if attempted at all, a task at establishing a new mythology of classical proportions. In large part Nadia Wheatley succeeds in this attempt if only to quote from Charmian’s published and unpublished texts. As a parent one should definitely recommend Clift’s Mermaid Singing and Peel me a Lotus to one’s eight-year-old already literate daughter but keep the biography for much later. To make her read Sterne and Rabelais is a minor crime. What is a major crime, as noted above, is to force millions of children to read nothing but a holy book.


The next question is whether we are supposed to know all this seemingly private information about the early literary education of a writer? Well, in the case of Charmian Clift, she told us more or less herself, albeit disguised as fictional characters, given fictional names. This sort of autobiographical fiction writing does lay bare the private lives of parents, siblings, relatives, friends, enemies, neighbours and what have you, possibly without due consideration for them being dragged into the public limelight against their will or without consent – especially if the hitherto unknown writer and her work become famous and subsequently of deep interest of biographers. This is somewhat different from celebrity culture whereby the celebrities actually feed on making their private lives public, or by dint of being public personae are forever subject to scrutiny in their public and private lives. 


Returning to Charmian’s biographer, the effort to disclose the details of private lives is doubled up. Did Charmian’s father really do and say all that is detailed under his fictional name? Was he violent? Did he treat his wife badly? While the key protagonists have all passed away, the biographer can still  interview those left behind, and dig up secrets and gossip, to confirm or to deny what was published as fiction or memoirs. Obviously, there is a deep-seated human interest in the question of how parents influence their children’s lives as adults, or to which degree parents and significant others are responsible for a person’s life story. If the child becomes successful in the public eye, the parents will no doubt delight in her success and be flattered if, for example, the successful writer credits them with a positive influence. If a success story has a tragic end, as with Charmian Clift, who is to blame, if anyone? If the child becomes an infamous serial killer in adulthood, who is to blame, if anyone? The notorious Nazi grandee Heinrich Himmler had a father too – was he to blame, at least in parts, for his son’s crimes? Here we have a literary treatment as well, namely the German writer Alfred Andersch who wrote The Father of a Murderer (Der Vater eines Mörders) based on the autobiographical experience of having attended the Munich high school where Himmler’s father was the headmaster. Portrayed in somewhat ambiguous terms it was nevertheless clear that an element of pedagogical sadism was part of his makeup. So, father like son? 


Fast-forward to today’s instant coffee culture and consider in above light what is happening to a new and up-coming writer that has hit the world stage, namely Sally Rooney (read my review of her novel Normal People on my blog). In a recent Guardian article, she is said to disclaim her ‘unexpected’ fame as an unwelcome intrusion into her private life, and more so when it comes to literary paparazzi digging for dirt in her family background. Since Sally has claimed on occasion to be a ‘Marxist’, the perplexed mainstream media must immediately look for the culprit, like, are her parents to blame? Like, they weren’t really poor, were they? Looks like, like, they were sort of lower middle-class. Like, how dare she write books with a working class theme? So, what does Sally Rooney say in her defence?


She says, “I don’t think many people could reasonably conclude that my upbringing was so privileged as to disqualify me from writing books. But there is still a part of me that feels like these facts about my family life are nobody’s business in the first place. My parents presumably did not conduct their lives in the expectation that their jobs and incomes would be dissected by strangers on the internet one day. It seems bizarre, and actually wrong. I understand and accept that I have become to some degree an object of scrutiny because of my work. But I find it very hard to accept that other people in my life should have to endure that. They’ve done nothing to deserve it. So yes, I think the discourse around representation in cultural fields is valuable, and even broadly necessary. And at the same time, I find it intrusive and difficult, and I don’t know how to reconcile those positions.” 


Sally is media-savvy enough not to piss off the mainstream media by hedging her position with a humble “and I don’t know how to reconcile those positions”, giving the Guardian journalist the chance to remedy herself with


This is all true, and fair, but if Rooney’s structural analysis of fame has a shortcoming, it’s a failure to recognise that, with no bad faith intended, most people simply want to know more about those they admire.




How sweet! I want to get to know your parents because I admire you! Your parents must be worth admiring too, having brought up such an admirable daughter! But really, wouldn’t it be very interesting if we find a skeleton in the closet? Is your father a fellow traveller? Was he ever a member of the Irish Communist Party? Did he make you read Das Kapital when you were eight years old? OK, Sally, just stay away from your father, he might be a bad influence on you. Sally, you’re not really a Marxist, are you? You’re a sweet young, beautiful writer and your sex scenes on TV are just so romantic! We admire you and we love your books. Keep it up!


Given the instant culture commodification of today, we are not surprised that biographies are commissioned and written long before the famous writer’s demise, so I put my hand up too (after all I was commissioned in 2006 to write a sort of biography of the very much alive Noam Chomsky for the British publisher Reaktion Books) and I promise to do a fantastic job for Sally before she even hits her forties, and I promise not to interview her parents because I’m a Marxist too. 


While it is always good to learn from the mistakes of others, or better still from the entrepreneurial point of view, learn from the secrets of success from others, there is the nagging suspicion that the lives of others are only worth investigating when it makes good copy to sell. In the extreme – as it played out on the daily news – a single death of an extraordinary person is always a sensation while, as Stalin is said to have remarked – a thousand deaths are a mere statistic. What if Charmian Clift had not committed suicide – if indeed it was intentional – and lived to a ripe old age? Why the morbid fascination with possible causes? Why spin a tale that leads up to the inevitable end? Why sow a seed that has a fatal flaw? Why trace the seed to the seed before? Life is not a chain reaction, although sometimes it looks like it. Conflating nature and nurture by literary means is a somewhat dangerous enterprise, especially for the younger minds, and not true to real life, even if scintillating to the human imagination. As such, the art of literary biography as much as the original literature as an art form should always remain in the realm of social (and possibly magic) realism, without descending anywhere near the holy book of totalitarian, religious knowledge that can so negatively determine a child’s adult life - and if not allowed to read books by the likes of Charmian Clift, Nadia Wheatley and Sally Rooney, to name but a few from the millions out there.









Saturday, August 7, 2021

A musical and literary review of Polly Samson’s A Theatre for Dreamers (2020) and Charmian Clift’s Mermaid Singing (1956) and Peel me a Lotus (1959)

 A musical and literary review of Polly Samson’s A Theatre for Dreamers (2020) and Charmian Clift’s Mermaid Singing (1956) and Peel me a Lotus (1959)


German anglophiles love a type of wicked and sardonic British humour, typified by the likes of the Goons, Spike Milligan, Faulty Towers and Dinner for One. The latter sketch is apparently always watched by millions of Germans around X-mas time. There is something very amusing about having a dinner party with guests that have passed away, and the Lady of the House - and her butler – pretending that they have turned up nevertheless, what with the butler having to drink all the toasts, thus getting wasted, ending in the nudge, nudge innuendo at the end, where he helps the old Lady up the stairs to the bedroom, her answering his question “same as usual?” with “yes, as usual as every year”. Polly Samson says that her literary treatise A Theatre for Dreamers has a similar background idea, namely what would it be like to have a dinner party with one’s favourite luminaries that have since passed away? To embed (note the pun) oneself in a historical period with various historical characters of one’s choice, is of course a well-tried genre, for example Mark Twain’s A Yankee at King Arthur’s Court (1889) as a well-known satire of feudalism and monarchy. Polly Samson’s treatment of an almost contemporary period from the 1960s up to completing her book in 2019 or so, is however a quite different kettle of fish. Here, the king of the castle is none other than Leonard Cohen during his time on Hydra. The slave-queen (see below for clarification of this appellation) is, however, not his muse Marianne Ihlen but Charmian Clift. 


This was news to me, so allow me some background information. Having been an avid fan of Leonard Cohen’s lyrical music for a long time (and having read his Favourite Game) it did not escape my attention when the Guardian reviewed Polly Samson’s new book. Up to that point I was familiar with Polly Samson due to also being a big fan of Heathcote Williams -with whom she a had a child – and of course her liaison and marriage to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd - their music also being in my favourites’ collection. So obviously, I had to buy her book and having read about her illustrious family background and her personal trajectory, I thought, one could only expect one or the other, either a shallow celebrity concoction, or more appropriately, a classical tragicomedy, a là Plautus


I will make it a mixture: let it be a tragicomedy. I don't think it would be appropriate to make it consistently a comedy, when there are kings and gods in it. What do you think? Since a slave also has a part in the play, I'll make it a tragicomedy …


So, how come I had never heard of the slave-queen (I am parroting Plautus) Charmian Clift? Polly Samson, who with her very successful husband had of course rented/bought (albeit belatedly) a house on Hydra, in a seemingly one-up-man-ship with rock royalty, had come across a novel called Peel me a Lotus on a bookshelf of someone in the know on Hydra, read it, and was blown away. So, I too had to do a bit of research, like reading the book in question (in addition to her Mermaid Singing) and, like Polly Samson, follow up with Nadia Wheatley’s ‘big and brilliant’ biography of Clift (The Life and Myth of Charmian Clift, 2001). In the first instance, having stopped reading A Theatre for Dreamers, I read Mermaid Singing, Charmian Clift’s autobiographical account of their time on Kalymnos. This was so well written, and so at odds with all the tragic family attributions found elsewhere, I was doubly intrigued. How would her follow-up treatment of life on Hydra deal with the endless innuendo, debauchery and drunken escapades as later detailed in Polly Samson’s and Nadia Wheatley’s books? Surprisingly perhaps, Peel me a Lotus ends before Leonard Cohen arrives in 1960, and as such does not dwell at all on these turbulent times from 1960 to 1964 when Charmian and family returned to Australia. While legions of ‘decadents’ (as George Johnston, Charmian’s long suffering writer-husband, called them) had even arrived on the island before then, and were described by Charmian in fantastically sardonic fashion, there are only a few hints in Peel me a Lotus regarding her deteriorating relationship with her husband, instead focussing on the literary struggles that George endures with the daily help and support of his wife, while all the while keeping a very sharp eye on what is happening around them. Peel me a Lotus as such has the makings of a classical tragicomedy. 


So, why does Polly Samson begin the story in 1960, without any literary treatment from Charmian Clift? Obviously the main ingredient would be missing if we were only to ‘embed’ ourselves in the period of Peel me a Lotus, namely the belated king of Hydra, one of the greatest rock/pop stars of our time, called Leonard Cohen. We don’t necessarily need Charmian Clift’s observations from this time onwards, for after all, there is now a whole industry devoted to Leonard Cohen, delving into every cook and cranny of his life – especially on the now mystical beginnings on Hydra. There were/are any number of hangers-on who either wrote up their memories in various journalistic efforts (including Leonard Cohen’s own) or could make themselves available – if still alive - for interviews for Polly Samson. 


So, I can see the temptation to ‘embed’ oneself in this heady cocktail of life on Hydra from about 1960 to about 1964 (and with an odd visit some 10 years later), especially if one has a certain savoir-faire in these matters.  Polly’s own life up to this point in 2017 or so, was of course deeply immersed in the British literary rock scene, similar to the ups and downs of a Marianne Faithful (and her hilarious sounding connection with Heathcote Williams), and with the endless dramas associated with drug and alcohol fuelled sex, disguised as ‘free love’ (some of which may have been quite genuine, as for example Polly Samson seems to credit Leonard Cohen with, during his early love affair with Marianne Ihlen). Thus coming across Peel me a Lotus on Hydra in 2017 or so was more than a coincidence, it was a calling Polly Samson could not refuse, especially as she now had all the time and resources to write a block buster. She has the inside knowledge of a rock’n’roll muse with the added incentive - as articulated by Charmian Clift – to now rise above it. 


The only problem now is to imagine what Charmian Clift would/could have written from 1960 onwards. Can Polly get inside Charmian’s head and let her speak? Does she have Charmian’s literary talent for tragicomedy? Like, when Charmian - on Hydra – let’s rip on the expatriates, like the infamous Jacques whom she describes as a ‘little curly dog in season, whose imperative it is to sniff after any and every lady dog (p. 342)’, we can appreciate her scorn with a wry smile. When Charmian decries the poverty they (sick husband and three children – one a baby born on Hydra) live in, waiting in desperation for royalty cheques, she mocks the wannabe artistes as freeloaders absolving themselves ‘from all responsibility, all control, all moral laws, all sense of duty (ibid.)’. In contrast Charmian publicly defends her husband as a great writer, and yes, she regrets that she has not enough time for her own literary work – working as a housewife and literary adviser to her husband George. Poor guy, he is a physical wreck, taken to drink, he ‘looks baffled, uneasy and afraid.’ It is Charmian’s moral duty to support him whatever happens, however much his bitterness turns back onto her. As in Mermaid Singing she writes so well about the Greek people on Hydra, their customs, their way of life, their foibles, their love of children, their love of the sea, their squabbles. their struggles to survive on this rocky island where ‘sweet water’ is in perennial shortage. The winters are cold and the summers are very hot. Charmian is not given to politics – as opposed to her gloomy husband, a celebrated war journalist in his native Australia who is convinced that the cold (nuclear) war will annihilate all of them – but still produces an unforgettable glimpse with her description of the EOKA problems, noting how her children denounce the English just like the locals do. Then there is the glorious satire of the American movie production on Hydra, with their ‘major stars, shining with a cool, remote light in the frenetic whirl of their satellites … (p.396)’, while the locals sre screaming “Dollaria”. Having worked on an American film production myself, I appreciate her mild sarcasm, observing that any and all production problems are solved with a fistful of USD. When the movie people have gone, normality returns and Peel me a Lotus ends with Creon, the Greek man of the world, living on Hydra, like some latter-day Onassis, gathering up the remaining, shattered expatriate souls, inviting them to Katsikas’ Bar for yet another jug of retsina. Does Polly Samson realise that the strength of Peel me a Lotus lies in giving voice to the local people rather than go on and on about the expatriate community? Having lived on various ‘foreign’ islands myself (as an anthropological linguist and UN consultant), I am painfully aware that expatriate enclaves become islands within islands, what with incestuous relationships and dramas played out, much to the amusement (and sometimes contempt) of the local populations. Expatriates make for some good, salacious story telling but rarely for what should pass as literature.


Comparing the Greek ending of Peel me a Lotus with that of Polly Samson’s A Theatre for Dreamers Sadly, you can see this woeful preoccupation with the expatriates, whereby she interprets a now famous photograph of Leonard Cohen and Charmian Clift (with others, see below), ostensibly taken before they depart Hydra (Charmian and family off to England), making up a dialogue, Charmian saying “You know, I was never in love with you, Leonard” with him replying “No, me neither” (is this attested?). The constant, salacious insinuation throughout the novel had been that Leonard and Charmian had an affair, or something close to it. That she sits close to him (Leonard wearing a tie, for heaven’s sake!) looking up to the sky signifies nothing – but to Polly it is evidence that can be used in a literary court of law. Sad story, and nothing like the great Greek ending in Peel me a Lotus.






Also note that this photograph was taken quite some time after Peel me a Lotus ended. As emphasised before, there is now nothing authentic from Charmian’s writing that Polly can work with. There is no Leonard Cohen, no Marianne Jensen (nee Ihlen), no Axel Jensen (Marianne’s wayward husband) as the main protagonists. She has to rely on secondary sources only, and spin a story without the literary support from Charmian the writer. Hence her contrivance begins with an attempt to have her young alter ego, Erica, connected via a fictional friendship between her mother and Charmian while living in London. Erica, the 18 year old, is escaping from London and her strange father – her mysterious mother has just died and left her some money, and a car for her brother. Since their mother had kept in contact with Charmian – a mother figure to replace her own - they know she is to be found on a Greek island called Hydra. Erica, with her boyfriend Jimmy, and her brother drive all the way to Greece. It’s not clear to me what the purpose is of this lengthy introductory chapter, what with endless emotional speculation about what Charmian might know about her mother’s affairs. Maybe this is an unexplained throwback to her own family history that is rife with strange relationships (Polly’s biological English communist father living in East-Germany while Polly’s Chinese mother moved to England, eventually marrying Mr Samson of Continental Jewish background), not to speak of her own turbulent life during and after the relationship with Heathcote Williams. Indeed her own history sounds far more fascinating than that of her alter ego, Erica, which up to that point reads more like a Mills and Boons story. When they finally get to Hydra, Polly Samson can lift the atmospheric land- and seascape description from Peel me a Lotus and supplement it with her own experiences of Hydra much later in life (as the wife of David Gilmour). She does rise to the occasion, and since she has the authentic experience of actually writing the book while staying in the ‘Australian’ house, she has the added advantage to look into every nook and cranny of the house, and imagine what is must have been like almost 40 years ago. Obviously the house has been modernised but the basic layout remained the same. This is the terrace where George did all his writing. This is the kitchen where Charmian did all her cooking and living. And the waterfront is still more or less the same. And the hills and the rocks and the swimming hole are still the same. Leonard Cohen’s house is still the same, now some sort of museum for rent, managed by the Cohen Estate. It’s just that the people of the 60s are not there anymore. Still, one knows who was there at the time. Digging around for information will yield the most improbable sources, one of a New Zealand (where I now live) origin, namely one Redmond Frankton “Bim” Wallis and his wife, with the former having left notebooks and fragments of a novel on Hydra that were deposited at the National Library of New Zealand. ‘Bim’ turns into one of the characters larger than life in Polly’s book. I haven’t read his accounts, so I don’t know how much Polly has lifted from his pages. Her idea to be as authentic as possible does extend to her statement that the dialogues involving Leonard Cohen are based on his published utterances (however, see his supposed reply to Charmian at the end) but unfortunately, I think, this does not extend to Charmian Clift. As such Polly has to make up the dialogue between Erica and Charmian, as well as all the other monologues and dialogues involving all the other bit players in this Theatre for Dreamers. I don’t believe Charmian’s voice comes through though: Polly, despite her obvious admiration for Charmian as a woman, does not represent Charmian, the writer’s voice. It may be true that Charmian and George and their children were the toast of the town, the undisputed leaders of the expatriate pack (mainly due to their local knowledge acquired over some 10 years on Greek islands) and that the shenanigans amongst the ‘decadents’ involved Charmian - as remembered by the somewhat unreliable ‘decadents’ who would embellish the meagre truth in order to shine like satellites (remember Charmian’s movie world quote above). After all, the only superstar was Leonard Cohen who actually had very little to say about Charmian and George other than that they were very helpful, more drunk than all the others, more often sick than all the others, and more quickly recovered than all the others. While Cohen, on his arrival to Hydra, as an erstwhile poet and writer would have been of some interest to George and Charmian, they had very little in common music-wise, what with George and Charmian listening to Brahms and the like, and Cohen becoming a pop-singer (albeit a very good one, in my opinion). Sure, around the camp fire when everyone was drunk or high on drugs, Leonard with his guitar could enchant almost everyone. Having seen him play live in two concerts, first in his early days in the 70s in Munich and then in his twilight in Auckland, I can attest to my fascination with him. No such emotion, however, is attested for Charmian (or George) after they moved back to Australia – no such mention is made in Nadia Wheatley’s biography at least. Surely, they must have heard about Leonard’s rise to stardom but is sounds like that by that time in the 1970s even their teenage children had more interest in head-banger music rather than the mellow tunes of a Leonard Cohen. I must say too, that now in my old age I am beginning to prefer the likes of Brahms to Cohen. The fact that Cohen stayed with Charmian and Co. for a while until he found his own accommodation, is not very significant either, as Charmian’s household was a crash pad for almost any new arrival in need of shelter from the storm. I think this was an endearing feature of a type of Australian hospitality I have experienced myself in Australia in places like Darwin and Sydney, where fair dinkum Aussies opened their homes to any traveller needing a place to sleep. Anyway, with Erica’s arrival on Hydra, the novel does become more interesting reading, even if only at the level of who is doing it with whom. The party scene at the waterfront bars and in private homes, not to mention the beach parties and midnight hill (Mount Eros no less) climbing, all titillate with scantily clad young women and an assortment of male wannabe artists, quoting Keats and Sartre (Erica is given de Beauvoir’s Second Sex to read by Charmian), all with a secondary focus on Marianne and Axel Jensen whose tortured relationship and the latter’s open philandering is given top billing. All the while we hear the fictional Charmian running down rotters like Axel, who treat women as their ‘slave-queen’ muses, who in must provide the patriarchs with food for their stomachs and sex for their phalluses. This is constantly contrasted with Charmian’s domestic situation where she too provides the food but cannot provide any sexual services for her husband (due to his supposed impotence caused by TB). George is portrayed as an insanely jealous character who suspects and berates his wife in public rages and tirades. Is Charmian doing it with Jacques (remember her disdainful description of him in Peel me a Lotus)? Is she doing it with Leonard or any other strapping male that frequents the island? Is George’s sordid imagination running overtime or is it his literary forte to feature a nymphomaniac in every one of his many novels? Most of all – and now Polly Samson writes from hindsight – will George really implicate his fictional wife in his up and coming Closer to the Sun to have it off with a fictional Jacques? Does Charmian mind? And what does Charmian know about Erica’s dead mother’s supposed infidelities? There is a lot of beating about in the bushes, keeping the suspense going. Polly Samson’s strange idea is that Charmian confesses to her (Erica) that she could no longer stand these pathetic insinuations and innuendoes, and proceeded to write the passage for George herself, whereby she has sex with Jacques – saying it actually was nothing like it (if it was something at all). And yes, Erica’s mother did it as well. Polly seems to have a strange fascination with the dilemmas posed by couples (man and woman, married or not) going off with others, for reasons as mysterious and unexpected as possible, so as to make a good detective story out of it. When men like Axel Jensen (and later Leonard Cohen) leave their loved ones for the next one in line, they are portrayed as men to be avoided by women, since they cause nothing but emotional pain and suffering. On the other hand the emancipation of women, in Polly’s mind, seems to entail a women’s equality with men, insofar that women have the equal right to be as stupid as men, i.e. why shouldn’t women have affairs too? If Charmian has an extramarital affair, it’s her god-damn right to have one. When Erica’s beautiful boyfriend Jimmy finally betrays her with a local woman – totally out of the blue as far as she is concerned – it serves as a reminder that you never quite know what is going on in the alleyways after dark. Sex as some sort of competitive sport has always been a key ingredient for the so-called bohemian lifestyles that proliferate in the 1960s – or indeed has always been a lucrative literary side-line since year dot. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll are legend, and Polly Samson would know more about it than others – it just strikes me that involving Charmian and George in this merry go-around as enthusiastic participants/onlookers is taking things too far. Erica, after Jimmy’s departure sleeps with whoever lies next to her and when at a party the lecherous talk turns to the arts of the blowjob, the lowest point in the novel ‘comes’ when one of Charmian’s admirers’ says to her “I came for you” and smears sticky stuff on her. Sure, the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album had equally crude insinuations but at least they did not explain the explicit details on the sleeve. There is even a mention later on where Marianne comments on Leonard’s famous song So long Marianne, saying that the original title was Come on Marianne which would have a different meaning. Really? At the drunken party mentioned above, it was speculated by all and sundry that Marianne must be well practiced kneeling before him. Such prurient interest sells copies but I am not sure it lives up to Polly Samson’s ideal of great literature. I am all for sex as long as it remains in a private sphere – to flaunt explicit sex in public may serve temporary relief but leaves a taste behind that interferes with romantic notions of love and happiness. Even Leonard Cohen’s lyrical contributions to this topic are a bit more subtle. In literature, I prefer the oblique mentions of ‘afternoon delights’ in Ovid’s Amores. Most notably though, there is no talk of sex in Charmian Clift’s two works cited, apart from the oblique references to randy Jacques. So, where does Polly Samson get her ideas from?


When Polly fast-forwards towards the end of her novel, she does so to inform us of what is already well-known: that Marianne and Axel’s son lived out his adult life in an asylum because his father had given him LSD when he was still a teenager. We learn of Charmian’s suicide in 1972 and of Georges death a year later. Their children Shane and Martin in their adult years in Australia meet equally tragic ends, Shane by suicide and Martin due to alcoholism. Finally we are told of the baby that Charmian had given away for adoption when she was only 19 in Australia. Said child, only later in life, found out that her biological mother was Charmian Clift (and she wrote a book about it). Polly’s final contrivance is that George always tortured Charmian with having given away her baby (long before she met George) and that Charmian somehow saw Erica as her lost child. Is this a tragedy of Greek classical proportions or a story of everyday dysfunction that is played out in millions of homes around the world? Conflating fact and fiction over a few short pages does neither any service. 


Somewhere amongst all the publicity pieces for her novel, Samson is reported saying that her novel is conceived as a Bildungsroman (spelled with a small ‘b‘ betraying a certain ignorance of German), often defined in English as ‘coming of age novel’ what with Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister (1759) cited as a prototype. Note however that the German word ‘Bildung’ means ‘education’ hence the idea of the Bildungsroman is more towards ‘coming-of-age as an education for the reader’. That Polly Samson’s own life story might amount to a Bildungsroman is quite a possibility, given what I have read about her. Her fictional treatment as Erica in A Theatre for Dreamers does, however, not live up to such a lofty aspiration, in my opinion. She could have aspired more in the direction of her erstwhile partner in crime, Heathcote Williams, who as a brilliant lyricist (better than Cohen) and activist has done more for English literature than any other of his age. Imagine A Theatre for Dreamers as a ballad à la Heathcote Williams (set to music by David Gilmour à la Pink Floyd’s Brick in a Wall)! Even so, with all the shortcomings, Polly Samson must be congratulated for having resurrected a great writer, namely Charmian Clift. That many commentators/reviewers/writers now focus on her (and her family’s) tragic life during the latter few years on and after Hydra, is a pity. It is in her earlier Mermaid Singing and to a lesser degree in Peel me a Lotus, that her literary genius is plain to see. Thanks, Polly, for alerting me to her work. 


Note: the page numbers refer to the 2021 edition by HarperCollinsPublishers of Charmian Clift’s two books (in one volume) of Mermaid Singing and Peel Me a Lotus.

Saturday, May 29, 2021




I have always liked the metaphor attributed to Polynesian philosophies in that we have the PAST in front of our eyes while we back into the unknown FUTURE. It makes sense in terms of our personal life spans, to think that our PAST is getting longer and longer while our FUTURE is getting shorter and shorter. So, what about the PRESENT? All languages of the world struggle with these concepts, trying to make some sense of this phenomenon of time. If, for the moment (no pun intended) we accept the linguistic notion that thought and language is generated mainly via binary choices, we would generate real TIME (termed ‘realis’) via the choice between PAST and PRESENT using the notation of 


(1)   Realis {past, present}


So how do we capture the elusive FUTURE?


Common sense dictates that nobody knows for sure what will happen tomorrow and yet we seem to plan for it, so much so that in Western-style economic philosophies the FUTURE is a paramount concept that needs all our attention. For example, how could capitalist production succeed without highly detailed projections into the FUTURE (even the communists are hung up on 5-year plans)? Obviously, all biological systems depend on forward planning, following a feedback loop that dictates the PRESENT acquisition of sufficient energy resources to be able to have enough reserves to look for more resources in at least the immediate FUTURE (like tomorrow, as far as food is concerned, or like ‘saving for a rainy day’). And yet, this seemingly unshakable belief in the FUTURE is diminished by our language universals. In English, for example, the so-called FUTURE tense is a misnomer because it is not a ‘tense’ but rather a ‘mood’ category expressed with the modal ‘will’ (or other lexical choices like ‘going to’). Many other languages (e.g. Namakir, the Austronesian language I researched) express this syntactical dichotomy more directly as ‘realis’ versus ‘irrealis’, i.e. real time is in the ‘realis’ category while the FUTURE and other counterfactual expressions use the ‘irrealis’ grammatical markers. As such we can define ‘time’ as


(2)   Time {realis, irrealis}


This captures the probably uniquely human capacity to think and speak in terms of time that never happened, or most likely will not happen. When I say ‘I should have gone shopping yesterday’ I am in the ‘irrealis’ time frame. Equally when I say ‘If I were the President of the US, I would abolish wage slavery tomorrow’, I am twice (if … were; tomorrow) in the ‘irrealis’ time frame, however much I conjure up the possibility that in the FUTURE anything could (or ‘can’?) happen. Indeed, much of our imagination is based on the ‘irrealis’ and yet is the only hope many of us have when we say (in the present tense) ‘a better world is possible’. 


That said, the conundrum about the PAST and PRESENT equally remains a paradox. How long in time is the real-time PRESENT before it turns into the historical PAST? In the first instance one might even speculate that the PAST should also belong to the ‘irrealis’ because time gone by can be measured but never be revisited in reality, but easily enough in in our ‘irrealis’ imagination (cf. the literary genre that embeds the protagonist in time gone by like A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court). In fact, the whole idea about RE-counting history (cf. Gibson’s monumental history of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), while an immensely human obsession, seems to fall into this ambiguous category. The famous metaphor of ‘those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it’ sounds eminently reasonable but as ‘we know from experience’ - consider this very phrase in terms of what time frames are possibly included - we seem to repeat history at an alarming rate, what with endless wars and destruction of our environment. Maybe this is so because we do not generally consider history as ‘real’. On the other hand, the Polynesian metaphor cited at the beginning, is testament to the notion of the PAST being very much in the ‘realis’ time frame, what with ancestors and ancestral lands defining who you are right now. In the Western world we too regale in our glorious histories but often from a perspective of triumph over others or great achievements in terms of scientific and technological developments. In that sense one of the most interesting developments, in my mind, has been the invention of the ‘moving picture’ which can RE-create history as a PRESENT spectacle. Before we could only ‘read’ about history (or hear it in oral civilisations) and ‘see’ pictorial depictions (including staged theatre, as invented by the ancient Greeks along with the ‘historical’ PRESENT), giving us the sense of the ‘irrealis’ rather than the ‘realis’. Now we can watch the PAST and the FUTURE as if in the PRESENT (now streaming on the internet). How much this is confusing our still primitive (temporal) brains (thought and language) is another question - or is it a mechanism to ‘see’ things more clearly? In my mind, an enduring confusion even before the invention of the moving picture, is one that gave rise to the absolute dominance of the ‘irrealis’ that is deeply embedded in what ais called ‘religion’. The attempt to shift the ‘irrealis’ to the realm of the ‘realis’ (God is ‘real’) has seemingly a history as long as ‘recorded history’. I wonder if this ‘invention’ has come about via the history of human domination over nature (e.g. the advent of agriculture) and thus over other humans, so much so that the dominant class and its representative (the King, the Queen) needed a ‘realis’ explanation and justification that could not be found, hence recourse to the ‘irrealis’ and pronouncing the Emperor as a divine being, to be obeyed and to be feared. To balance the executioner’s stick approach with the carrot, there needed to be some humanitarian aspect to religion, namely the promise of a paradise after death for all those citizens who suffered under the injustices of their superiors. As we can now combine religion with conjuring up the PAST and the FUTURE as the PRESENT - we literally ‘watch’ the bombing of Gaza as if the clash of religions and ideologies is some sort of morbid entertainment, just as Henry VIII is currently beheading some of his wives on TV.


Given that the PAST can be - and sadly often is - a traumatic experience, there is now an emphasis on the PRESENT, as if to forget the PAST as an unnecessary encumbrance. To be here and now, to be mindful of the PRESENT rather than ‘dwell in the past’ (consider this metaphor for its implications) seems to be a therapeutic alternative to the established Freudian approaches of yesteryear, where to RE-visit or even RE-live your PAST was seen as the solution to one’s psychological problems and pathologies. Thus to extend the contemporary Gaza war scenario, a ceasefire is celebrated by all concerned media as a victory over the other, having achieved the mandatory 1: 20 death ratio, the immediate PAST is quickly forgotten, so we can move on to the next 15 seconds instant report of another atrocity somewhere else, followed by an advertisement for a new smart phone that can record and broadcast everything you see and do. Time and its comprehension by thought and language seems to spiral down a vortex from which there is no escape, like cosmic bodies drawn into the vortex of a black hole. Of course, the latter is a question of time incomprehensible to ordinary humans, but the former is only punctuated by calms before the storms. As we navigate our daily lives far away from deadly conflicts - mediated only by moving pictures beamed into our living rooms - concerned only about what to buy next, how to invest our surplus income, how to pursue our dream of happiness and eternal love, how to advance our careers, what to wear tomorrow - we blissfully meditate while forest-bathing, all the while feeling a bit guilty that we just watch the cruel PRESENT elsewhere from a safe distance. Yes, we can envisage a FUTURE for a better world, but we have no practical idea how to go about it, especially as the military opposition has it all worked out on how to respond should the ‘snakes’ raise their heads (cf. Myanmar for another example). Even contemplating all the linguistic implications doesn’t seem to help, Chomsky notwithstanding! One might even invoke Einstein and suggest that time too is relative, like movement, i.e. is time passing me by or am I passing through time standing still (note my use of the PRESENT ‘continuous’ tense-aspect, encompassing both PAST and FUTURE)? Hold on, the latest news is that Einstein might be wrong after all! Might be? Is? Will be? Has been? Had been?




Saturday, May 22, 2021




This is a copy of my letter to the world

That never wrote to me

For Emily

That strange gardening poetess

For Emma-Emmaline 

In Hot Chocolate sad song

Same message

Love Mother Nature

And she will not nurture you

The price to pay?

Nobody will publish you 

Even if you try, try, try

No help from my friends

No star appearance on that silver screen

All you get is a garden plot of eden

[small caps intended - do not correct]

An abundance of organic green

But I can’t even get a copy of my picture Hook

On the cover of the Trews of the world

Nor a walk-on part

In A Theatre for Dreamers book

Never mind - it’s only words

While I’m waiting for a miracle

To stop these hard rain drops

Falling on my head