Stravaig #4 Intellectual Nomadism
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Stravaig #4 Intellectual Nomadism Contents Stravaigin image Martina Kolb Initial note on Intellectual Nomadism essay Kenneth White Gannet, Coyote, Hare poems & images Gordon Meade & Doug Robertson Promontory 1874: â&#x20AC;&#x153;Being Beauteousâ&#x20AC;? essay & images Karen Strang Notes from Beijing poem Theophilus Kwek Addis and Harar essay & images Mike Roman Other Realities, Pilgrim poems Alyson Hallett White Music essay Bill Stephens Naboland artwork Reinhard Behrens by the water butt, at the gates of paradise lost poems Andrew McCallum Defying Gravity: Reflections on the Nomadic and the Lapidary essay & images Martina Kolb The Sea and the Land poems & images Morelle Smith The Outgoer Hugh Miller and Geopoetics essay & images Norman Bissell Water poem Morgan Downie The Grand Tour of Blue Mussel poem Hideko Sueoka
Initial Note on Intellectual Nomadism Kenneth White Before going, very succinctly, into the ways and means, the I first came across the figure of the intellectual nomad when I paths and methods, of intellectual nomadism, let’s stop a was a student in Glasgow, officially engaged in classics, modern while at the root notion “intellectual”. languages and philosophy, but also reading like a maniac in all The word is hardly common in British usage. If used at all, it will kinds of subjects, notably history. Not the humdrum history be pejoratively: the connotations will be that of “highbrow” of events, but history written by scholars trying to get at an or, more derogatively still, “egghead”. At best, the notion will overall grasp. simply be rejected, referred to as “continental”, perhaps even a specialty of France. A while ago, I heard an Oxford don, in the course of an interview in which he was asked what he thought of Martin Heidegger, reply, with not only composure but complacency:“Oh, I’m not really very well acquainted with continental philosophy.” If the Little Englander anti-European UKIPS have their way, this condition will worsen, and England will be embedded not only in its congenital pettyfoggery, but in total befoggedness. Scotland had a chance of breaking out of this British condition a short time back, but unfortunately didn’t take it. That of course won’t prevent the real work from going on.
Among the historical studies I read at that time was Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, “a sketch of a morphology of world history”. It’s in the 8th section, “Cities and Peoples”, of this study that the nomad turns up. He’s the final stage of an evolution that began with “original man” as a “wandering animal” that, after the advent of agriculture, became sedentarized, socially communitarianized, mentally domesticated. All of this culminating in the big financial industrial city. In this context, feeling not only ill at ease but totally alienated, some body-minds turn nomad again. But there’s no way out for them. So they spend their time furtively lurking about the city streets and backstreets. I could identify with that, at least partially, it was more or less how I lived then in Glasgow. But not only did I not agree with all that Spengler said, especially his conclusions, I was already then (largely because I had the Ayrshire shores and moors behind me) beginning to see the “nomad” in a different way – a way leading out.
Let’s start from rock bottom, with a basic, working definition: an intellectual is one who makes a more than usually acute, sustained and durable use of his or her intelligence. What intelligence means is the ability to read into things and make connections (Latin, inter legere). There are, of course, intellectually inclined people even in Britain. Traditionally, they wind up eccentric, take to the bottle, spend their time knocking their heads against brick walls, commit a sad suicide. With some forcing, a case can be made concerning some who managed to survive. An attempt to do so was made nine or so years ago by the professor of “Intellectual History and English Literature” (it’s almost a contradiction in terms) at Cambridge. He mentions, but without much conviction (his general tone, modo anglico, is not only humorous but flippant), T. S. Eliot, R. G. Collingwood, George Orwell, A. J. P. Taylor and A. J. Ayer. But Eliot was an American who’d fled the U. S. (out to be more English than the English) and, as for the rest, we don’t get much further than the usual diet of mushy sociology and staid positivism.
In addition to stravaiging about the city (my favourite vantage point, apart from the Central Station and various libraries, was the Necropolis), I began to take long weekend walks down to the coast at Fairlie (fifty or so miles, to and fro, via the Whiteinch ferry and Kilbirnie, in all weathers). I also plunged into a long straggling manuscript. Entitled The Education of Kelvin Watt, this dinosaurian compilation contained everything: autobiographical fragments, street scenes, conversations, reading notes – everything but the kitchen sink (in fact, the kitchen sink came into it too, I did my own cookin’, red beans and porridge, loathed the guff of the students’ refectory).
The name “Kelvin Watt” was an obvious enough echo of As an old Latin poet said: “Let’s try and sing of larger things” Kenneth White, but it also meant somebody who had a weight of history, especially industrial history, behind him. (paulo maiora canamus). 4
And that “Watt” led to “what”. What now?. I had no interest whatever in the ordinary literary scene. As for anything like an intellectual scene, it was non-existent. And in my eyes, socio-political activity without sufficient background could never be anything else but superficial, when it wasn’t just a Punch and Judy show. The only thing I felt the slightest affinity with in contemporary terms was Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, published in 1956, but I found Wilson’s attempt at a “new existentialism” all too vapid, and his later development only confirmed that. I was left with my what, my where, and my how.
poems as in Handbook for the Diamond Country.
Thereafter, feeling it was time to draw up a kind of map, I defended, in Paris, at the Sorbonne, a massive French State thesis (Deleuze, one of the finest French philosophers of the time, was on the jury). Theme: Le Nomadisme intellectuel. This consisted of three parts. One, a long introduction, in which I went into all the make-up of nomadic intelligence: “Decompositon of the Absolute”, “Anarchism”, “Nihilism and Supernihilism”, “From Dialectics to Drifting”, “Roads and Methods”.Two, a series of intellectual biographies, as more or less approximate examples, ending up with one on my own itinerary to date, from Scotland out.Three, the opening of the space that intellectual nomadism, practised thoroughly, leads to: that of geopoetics.
arises an unidentified star
For the moment, maybe it’s appropriate that I conclude this note with a poem, written for a special Scottish occasion, a virtuoso exercise in extravagant rhetoric, but which also contains between its lines a coherent programme: The Ballad of Rose Street
(Commissioned to celebrate the renovation of Milne’s pub in Edinburgh, haven and haunt of the “Scottish Renaissance” poets. At the opening ceremony, the poem was sealed into Over the years, I piled up a great mass of documentation the wall of the establishment, for the puzzled perusal of 25thand cogitation on what I thought of more and more as the century archaeologists, ethnologists and semiologists). “intellectual nomad” (the term as such I don’t think is there in Spengler), and saw him in terms of an intellectual genealogy of my own making. The intellectual nomad is a nomadic The wind was blowing edinburghly hard intellectual. Which is to say he is not the metaphysical, idealistic intellectual of Plato. Nor is he the politically “engagé” like an invitation to visit Genghis Khan intellectuel of Jean-Paul Sartre, who too often intervenes too the divine afflatus of the Word fast, and just muddles things up. After analysing the highway of history and culture (see the handbook Geopoetics: Place, was tickling the artesian throat of every man Culture, World), he leaves it, moving out on his own tracks, trying to open up new space. Calvin and Kelvin I started putting that into practice. This gave rise to books such as Incandescent Limbo, Travels in the Drifting Dawn, maybe made us what we are Letters from Gourgounel. but look where on the dubious horizon
Let us hasten to the bar, cried the bard where we have parleyed many times before— the ancient Spirit of Scotland (bless her, Lord) was already graciously opening the door Beware of broody bardom, said the stravaiger and strategian
the question now is Alba lost and found The thesis was received not only maxima cum laude, but considered as opening up a new field of studies, and of as for the crime-rid Kremlin, it’s yesterday’s revolution existence. the road will only recommence from the ground After the thesis, I published the book, L’Esprit nomade (“The Nomad Mind”), which contained all the substance of my theme, without the vast apparatus of notes I’d provided in the At that, the whole confounded context reeled around thesis (some of them precursors to other books). That book all the frozen sirens of the Forth began to sing written in French exists now also in, for example, German, Portuguese Serbian, Macedonian, but not yet in English. then from out the mirk enveloping the Mound Which is the case also of my “introduction to geopoetics”, Le emerged in total nakedness, ah, the Beautiful Thing. Plateau de l’Albatros (“The Albatros Plateau”). It’s the purpose of the Collected Works project now underway at the University of Aberdeen to make these essay- Kenneth White books at last available in my native language. As well as all of with salutations from across the water. what I call waybooks, which are more than “travel writing” in that it’s an intellectual nomad who’s doing the travelling, the sojourning, the writing. Nor forgetting, far from it, the poetry, a certain type of poetry, based on open world poetics, from long itinerary-poems such as “Walking the Coast” to shorter 5
Les Animots: A Human Bestiary Gordon Meade & Douglas Robertson Selected from a collaboration between Gordon Meade (poems) and Douglas Robertson (images), to be published by Cultured Llama Publishing in Autumn 2015.
Promontory 1874: “Being Beauteous” Karen Strang What follows is a section from a longer study which examines Arthur Rimbaud’s missing months and the Scottish question. Whilst researching Illuminations towards creating a series of art works and accompanying Scots translations, I chanced upon a number of curious observations which may link Rimbaud closer to Scotland than I had initially considered, or than is present in the Starkie, Underwood or Robb biographies.
his promontory; Rimbaud was careering to the edge of his. In Stevenson’s case, the milieu would encourage his development as a writer; in Rimbaud’s case, disengagement followed swiftly. In exploring that moment, we return to the possibility – so eagerly discarded by the biographers – that Rimbaud did indeed visit Scotland, and that traces may be found in Illuminations. In another chapter of this work-in-progress, we examine “Villes II”, saying more about the Acropolis of our Northern Athens – Edinburgh. In this chapter, we take a suggestive rail journey from the heart of the capital to its edge, our travelling companions “Being Beauteous” and the contemporaneous works of Stevenson and Henry Longfellow.
I began by revisiting Robert Louis Stevenson’s accounts and essays to establish contemporaneous descriptions of similar locations both writers would have recognised in the Britain of 1874. Stevenson writes from a recognisable Scottish mindset and only occasionally uses the vernacular or grammar which distinguishes Scots from English. It is this voice I adopted for The title is in the original English yet has been variously my translations. translated and analysed due to its ambiguous syntax and But I came to appreciate that Stevenson and Rimbaud lived uncommon phrase.(1) It is also directly from Longfellow, and briefly in the same cultural environment, absorbed similar is a rare concrete reference which ought to reveal more. The influences, flannered along the same streets. If a psycho- frontispiece to the 1874 Household Edition of Longfellow’s geographic map were to be drawn of that area between Collected Works is an intriguing sketch of river bridges in a Fitzrovia, Kings Cross and the British Museum in 1874, both cityscape (patently not recognisable as Edinburgh) and the men would be seen walking the same route – but in opposite words “Edinburgh. W. P. Nimmo” underneath. It is possible directions. Rimbaud read from this edition. The two young writers were of a similar age, both had And with them the Being Beauteous, separately visited London and Paris, where they had skirted who unto my youth was given similar artistic circles making acquaintance with those who could help each embark on literary careers. Rimbaud with (Henry Longfellow, “Footsteps of Angels”) his disaffected precociousness, Stevenson with Presbyterian Longfellow was undoubtedly influential on a younger caution about education and profession, both stood on generation of poets. He wrote a series of verse including the promontory. Twelve months forward, Stevenson would “Footsteps of Angels” before the age of 19. That Rimbaud be casting a calculating gaze over the vista afforded by (at around the same age) travelled to Scotland that year is
Anyone journeying between Waverley and Haymarket today, especially on a dark gloomy winter day, will understand with timeless clarity the description embedded in Being Beauteous which sits alongside many of its other meanings and mysteries.
testified by his old friends(2) but dismissed by subsequent (Rimbaud, “Fête d’Hiver”) biographers. If he travelled late in 1874, weather reports I take “les huttes d’opera-comique” to mean entertainment provide a particularly wintry picture for the end of the year booths. In Glasgow dialect this is accurately translated as in Scotland. “penny geggies” but Edinburgh has no such term, though Devant une neige un Être de Beauté de haute taille. “huckster booths” is close. Rimbaud’s tone has the trademark sarcasm. His “rondes” could refer to circular dance music This was no longer the first golden age of steam travel and/or ‘sable rondes’ shortbread rounds – a popular Scottish despite the introduction of the Pullman carriage by the end sweetmeat.(4) of this year for long distance trains. By now rail transport was available to the masses, the lustre of First Class was surpassed Des sifflements de mort et des cercles de musique sourde by the Third, pop-up lodgings overlooking tracks, bookstands font monter, s’élargir et trembler comme un spectre ce corps selling cheap pot-boilers and competitive ticket pricing were adoré now the norm. Journeys became annoyingly convoluted and The wheezings of death are just as likely to describe the uncomfortable as corners were continuously cut. Railway distinctive sound of the Scottish bagpipes, as remarked by the suicides were a talking point of the 1870s, as were health and tourists Verne and Taine; the expirant rattles of locomotion as safety issues.(3) much as the petite mort of a clandestine encounter. Stevenson had visited London in October but was forced “Musique étrange et sauvage, dont l’effet s’accorde avec to return to Edinburgh to complete his Law degree in l’aspects d’eaux clapotantes, toutes veinées de reflets November notwithstanding a sojourn in December where éclatants ou sombres.” he stayed at the Great Northern railway hotel at Kings Cross. (Hyppolite-Adolphe Taine(5): “Notes sur l’Angleterre,” Stevenson described his return journey to Edinburgh: Hachette, 1874, p382) “I had a long journey and a cold one; but never was sick nor sorry the whole way. It was a long one because when Returning to Longfellow and flicking past the illuminated title we got to Berwick, we had to go round through the hills page of his 1874 copy of Collected Poems to the Golden by Kelso, as there was a block on the main line (…) My Legend,(6) we note the lines “Underneath this mouldering fellow traveller woke up and wanted to know what was tomb” which echoes Rimbaud’s lines “Qu’on me loue enfin wrong ‘Oh, it’s nothing’, I said, ‘–nothing at all – it’s an evil ce tombeau”(7) and in the next line a description shared dream.’ However we had the thing explained to us at the with “Being Beautous”: “With statue of stone and Scutcheon end of ends, and trailed on in the dark among the snowy of brass”. The 1874 edition carries a full-page engraving hills, stopping every now and again and whistling in an over these lines. This suggests the basalt tunnel beneath the appealing kind of way, as much as to say – ‘God knows garrison of the castle which may in “Being Beauteous” refer to aspects of subterranean steam rail travel. where we are’.” “Métropolitain” considered the railway too, but there is something monumental and ancient in this rendering that Rimbaud by contrast covered his tracks and we cannot be speaks less of urban engineering and more of the wild scape. certain of his movements at all during these months other des blessures écarlates et noires éclatent dans les chaires than that he was somewhere in Britain. superbes Stevenson describes an Edinburgh scene in December 1874 The wounds of Scarlet and Black may allude to the fact that which is similar to one described by Rimbaud: Edinburgh built its railway in the heart of its City – a citadel “I stayed on Duddingston today till after nightfall. The built on volcanic rock that had to be muscularly prised to little booths that hucksters set up round the edge, were create this arterial canal which pulses through its ancient marked, each one by its little lamp. There were some body. fires too; and the light, and the shadows of the people Les couleurs propres de la vie se foncent, dansent, et who stood round them to warm themselves, made a se dégagent autour de la Vision, sur le chantier. Et les strange pattern all round on the snow-covered ice. A frissons s’élèvent et grondent, et la saveur forcenée de few people with torches began to travel up and down ces effets se chargeant avec les sifflements mortels et the ice, a lit circle travelling along with them over the les rauques musiques que le monde, loin derrière nous, snow. A gigantic moon rose, meanwhile over the trees lance sur notre mère de beauté and the kirk on the promontory, among perturbed and vacillating clouds.” Rimbaud’s work opens into a moving vista which immediately assaults the senses with its insertion of noisy reverberation: (Letter to Frances Sitwell, 23rd December 1874) we are hurrying from a constructed somewhere, hurling into La cascade sonne derrière les huttes d’opéra-comique. some mysterious unknown. Des girandoles prolongent, dans les vergers et les allées voisins du Méandre, – les verts et les rouges du couchant. Only six pieces of Stevenson’s prose poetry survive; they Nymphes d’Horace coiffées au Premier Empire, – were written within a year of Rimbaud’s stay in Britain. In the Edinburgh that Stevenson described in “A Summer Night” Rondes Sibériennes, Chinoises de Boucher. the similarities are remarkable: (Letter to Francis Sitwell, 13th December 1874)
(Mons Meg c1874, from the author’s own collection)
“The great castle looms up, still and purple, into the New and Old Towns – a Jekyll and Hyde of a metropolis. In white night sky. The low gardens gloom and shudder, Taine’s description : and spread about their dewy lawns, and rear up their ... on trouve une vielle cité pleine de contrastes, épandue congregated chestnut leaves into the placid air.” sur trois vallées et sur plusieurs hautes collines, où les rues Other sections of the passage allude to the city that “pulse of escarpées, les hautes maisons, les empreintes multipliées drums and the brazen call of bugles, … the brass band filled du passé font partout des perspectives inattendues. Un the air with a rough and ready melody”. château féodal se dresse sur un des sommets elle recule, elle se dresse. Oh! nos os sont revêtus d’un (Taine, “Notes sur l’Angleterre,” Hachette, 1874, p384) nouveau corps amoureux And Verne describes it thus: The Haymarket tunnel(8) which connects Waverley with the “Edinburgh Castle rises 380 feet above sea level. With west end station is central to this short journey. After-images his mistaken notion of heights, Jacques found this hard to appear as eyes accommodate to travelling through the black accept, but he could not argue with their pleasant guide tunnel, the O sound of the O shaped orifice as the carriage who led them round the inner courtyards, outlining the penetrates through. The momentary denial of vision which history of the ancient fort which was known as The allows the passenger to imagine riding the iron horse - literally. Castle of the Maidens, Castrum Puellarum... The Battery Ô la face cendrée, l’écusson de crin, les bras de cristal! is popular with the inhabitants of the old city and it offers a magnificent view over the sea and the surrounding hills. There is some debate whether the second paragraph is fully In the royal Battery, Mr. B- pointed out a gigantic 15th connected to the first; I have taken the position that it can be. century cannon consisting of iron bars held together by The device of breaking the narrative by a physical detachment thick hooks.” is conducive with sensory deprivation experienced on entering the dark tunnel. This of course can also be read as (Jules Verne “Backwards to Britain,” Chambers, 1992, p111) the absence at point of orgasm. Drowning in sensory morass: Le canon sur lequel je dois m’abattre à travers la mêlée Escutcheons abound, from the decorative plaques of pubs, des arbres et de l’air léger! stone carved mottoes on public buildings and the coats of arms on royal residences - that race by as flashbacks, glimpsed As the train gathers speed to the outlying districts it passes and recalled, and are often remarked by visitors to Edinburgh. at the lower level through the formal Princes Street Gardens which transform swiftly into a wilderness of trees and brambles The few minutes travelling westward from the City centre that appear to tumble down the escarpment. If one looks up to the outlying boundary reveals the magnificence of the at the precise moment when the Castle overshadows, one promontory ridge where the Castle commands over the 10
may confront the steely gaze of the cannon which at one self-destruction expressed in Shakespearean soliloquy is o’clock will discharge to shake the metropolis into resetting only ever a stone’s throw away for those who shiver in dank, watches and rushing to meetings. dreich habitation, whether Auld Reekie or Oslo. O that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
Against the snow, a being of beauty of the highest. The wheezings of death and circles of insensible music whurls up, skirls and trembles like an adored ghostly body; the wounds of scarlet and black shatter into the magnificent flesh. – The true colours of life darken, dance and break away around the Vision out of the depot. – And the shudders raise themselves and rumble, and the furious smack of these effects burden themselves with the deadly whistles and the raucous music which the world, far behind us, hurls at our mother of beauty, – she recoils, she rears up. O! Our bones are clothed with a new amorous body.
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon ’gainst self-slaughter. (Shakespeare “Hamlet,” Act 1 Scene 2) That winter season in London Henry Irving was playing in a new adaptation of Hamlet at the theatre, on which Stevenson commented.(9) Its popularity as a theme was also evident in Poole’s comic parody “Hamlet Travestie” also running.(10)
Hamlet has a universal appeal and, to a sophisticated French youth it might also be attractive by its exotic location – the northern provinces of Europe. Elsinore is as gloomy as any O, the cinder face, the scratchy escutcheon, the crystal Scottish keep and perhaps to a foreign eye they are all arms! The cannon on which I must self-slaughter across the creations of the Norwegian Nebuchadnezzar:(9) Nordic confusion of trees and light air!
James Lawler, “Theatre of the Self ” (Harvard, 1992). C. A. Hackett, “Being Beauteous’: Rimbaud et Longfellow” in “Revue d’histoire litteraire de la France”, January-March 1965, pp. 109-112.
“Vie d’Arthur Rimbaud” by Jean Bourguignon and Charles Houin: “il quitta Londres pour sejourner en Ecosse” p103 ; “atteste par le seul Delahaye” p220
“Railway suicides” in “All the year round” journal, 8 August 1874. Letter to Independent Dec 2012 re. Railway suicides K. Strang.
Stevenson describes the winter festival: “For weeks before the great morning, confectioners display stacks of Scotch bun – a dense, black substance, inimical to life – and full moons of shortbread adorned with mottoes of peel or sugar plum, in honour of the season and family affections.”
Taine, like Rimbaud and Verlaine, was from the Ardennes. The connection between Taine and RLS is examined in another section – Stevenson’s French teacher Van Laun was a close friend and translator of Taine.
“This work, the great text book of the legendary lore of the Middle Ages, was translated into French in the fourteenth century by Jean de Vigney; and in the fifteenth into English by William Caxton. It has lately been made more accessible by a new French translation: La Legende Doree, traduite de Latine, par M. G. B. Paris 1850.” (Longfellow, “Poetical Works” Henry Froude)
Rimbaud, “Enfance V” in Illuminations.
“They lean over the great bridge which joins the New Town with the Old – that windiest spot, or high alter, in this Northern temple of the winds – and watch the trains smoking out from under them and vanishing into the tunnel on a voyage to brighter skies”. (R. L. Stevenson, “Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes,” 1878).
Stevenson, Letter, 5 December 1874.
Review in “The Graphic”, 28 November 1874. 11
Notes from Beijing Marco Polo, late 2014 Theophilus Kwek i. I have not told the half of what I saw: Their metal horses do not sleep, but fly. Lights pierce the sky. Even their dragons fall in line, and leave by the hour for Shanghai. Roads are wide as fields. Their fields do not end, but reach like baize to where their mountains squat to smoke in neat rows, like painted blocks. When I ask, they say these are towns, of a sort. I prefer it here. The city prospers, and all they need is brought by men on wheels who ride with bags swinging from the handles. I have been served the best Italian meals warm, as if made this morning in Venice, with a familiar crease. Clove and anise.
ii. Again I try to tell them about rain. The way our canals fill each November with runoff, the last barges with their grain, garnered gold. They think it impractical, how we wait on our storms and seafarers, each more temperamental than the last, or on our caravans, hoops and halters given each summer to the desertâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fast. Sand arrives from the west, a living thing to cloud the city on alternate days when the palace vanishes, forbidding. Yet I have not seen so lovely a place in winter, when we who have come far, wake to sun and laughter on the frozen lake. iii. These years. One believes one has seen it all, journeyed to each distant wonder. Even Paradise, like Tartary, has its shores. But the seasons are changing. In their turn will be things as yet unheard. I am told that there are many in the capital who would stir for change, but presently go about their lives. Others are unsettled. Often I am asked about these letters over chess, which even their children play: if I have written one thing or another, given offence. Soon, I fear it may be unwise to stay. Do keep me in prayer. Send my love to the children. God bless. Fare â&#x20AC;&#x201C;
Addis and Harar Mike Roman
What am I doing here? Arthur Rimbaud (letter to his mother from Harar, 1881) As the pied crow flies, Jizan (south-western Saudi Arabia) to Harar (eastern Ethiopia) is a mere bounce across the Red Sea, 850 km southwards. It is however, from Arabia to Africa, a bounce fraught with bureaucracy and piracy. When the intrepid 19th-century traveller Richard Burton spent ten days at Harar in 1855 (or when the equally fearless poet cum coffee trader/gun-runner Arthur Rimbaud spent his last ten years in Harar), such bounces were taken in one’s stride. For an ex-pat Scot, however, bound by the strictures of border conflicts and Saudi law, it is a bounce that is perhaps best avoided. I arrive at Bole airport in the Ethiopian capital a little after midnight. The streets are deserted. In Ethiopian time (this place, one soon learns, is its very own cosmos) it is a little after 6am. I catch a lift in one of the city’s blue and white taxis (dilapidated Ladas, affectionately known as blue donkeys) all the way across Addis up to the dishevelled hill they call Piazza. Six hours later, at zero hour (ET), armed with a burning patience, I head into the splendid city that is the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, the ‘new flower’ (from the official language of Ethiopia, Amharic) that sprung up as the new capital in 1886. It’s a strange feeling coming from nothing to something, from the austere monochrome of a state like Saudi Arabia into the splendid freshness of a place like Ethiopia. One immediately questions their proximity, their sibling geology, flora and fauna, and wonders how on earth two places so close together could ever be, culturally, so far apart. It’s a comparison that fades very swiftly as the aesthetic and colour of Ethiopia takes over and one begins to delight in this new vibrant world. Addis Ababa is a collection of villages as much as it is a collection of hills. Its slightly unkempt nature, its proliferation of trees, shrubs and birds, its teeming taxis (Addis doesn’t have a traffic problem, it has a taxi problem), and its general low-level dandruff architecture, create a chaotic mosaic that is both endearing and organic. There is a subtle spontaneity to the Ethiopian capital that is found in the constantly adapting informal settlements, the extraordinary choreography of pedestrians and drivers, and the wealth of animal and bird life that co-habit the city. Most cities, in comparison, have long since lost this spontaneity and synanthropy to the asinine pantomime of a compartmental modernity. Where many modern metropolises might grind along in all their steely efficiency, there is a dance to Addis that waltzes through its slowly evolving veneer. At the Ethnological Museum, housed in the wonderful gardens of the former Emperor’s Palace (now the city University), one comes to understand how varied this ‘country’ of Ethiopia actually is. Indeed, to call it a single country is perhaps to misunderstand the very nature of Ethiopia and its varied clans that, for the most part, peaceably share a vast and diverse land. The ethnic groups, the languages (Cushitic, Omotic, Semitic, Nilotic), the costumes and traditions, are so numerous and complex as to almost defy categorisation. Furthermore, each ethnic 13
group appears to be the cultural embodiment of its own particular terrain, from the curvature of mountains and the colours of the sky, right down to the bold patterns of the dorsal shields of insects. In the University gardens, the purple-blue panicles of the Jacaranda tree are conspicuous by their slightly outlandish colour. The city is full of them. Elsewhere, the proliferation of eucalyptus (imported from Australia in 1905), African redwoods, fruit (mango, guava, papaya, avocado, orange, lemon, apple) are evident. The latter trees’ fruits, when blended together, constitute one of Ethiopia’s finest beverage concoctions, the ‘vertical rainbow flower juice’. Opposite the University is a great stone statue of Karl Marx’s phizog, reflecting Communism and Ethiopia’s short but tragic past. The communist regime, led by the Derg (and Major Mengistu Haile Mariam), lasted from 1974–1991 and was a brutal and bloody period in Ethiopian history. In the mid-1980s, famine and death were at their peak and awareness of the Ethiopian situation finally dawned upon the outside world. With the eventual collapse of Soviet Communism in the late 1980s, and the end of financial support, Mengistu’s regime fell apart at the seams and saw him scurrying south towards Zambia (where he still resides to this day). A coalition of rebel forces took over, and Ethiopia found itself on the democratic track for what appeared to be the first time in its history as a nation. In spite of this dark past, many monuments erected by the Derg are still standing in Addis Ababa. Great big red stars at the tops of even greater obelisks remind us of a time that once was. In the University grounds themselves, a flashpoint not just for the transition to Communism, there remains the concrete spiral staircase that was erected by Fascist Italy during the second Italo-Abyssinian War in the mid-1930s. Between the two regimes, Fascism and Communism, Ethiopia experienced an atrocious amount of suffering. Yet, it was decided by the new democratic government that this was not to be swept under the carpet, and so the monuments, as well as new museums like The Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum and the mobile Ethiopian Holocaust Museum stand to remind us lest we should ever forget. Not far from the University is the slightly tired-looking National Museum and Africa’s most famous resident, Dinknesh (or Lucy as most have come to know her). Taken from the local tongue Amharic, the name Dinknesh means “wonderful”. This, the earliest known human fossil, is dated at some 160,000 years old, and provides in some way the missing link between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens. Back on the hill, at Tomoca’s coffee house, there is a quote by Honoré de Balzac (the self-confessed coffee addict) above the counter: Le café caresse la gorge et met alors tout en movement: les idées precipitent tels les bataillons d’une grande armée, sur le champ de bataille. Balzac himself had a penchant for East African coffee, favouring those of an exquisite winy pungency, notably the beans of Harar, where his fellow countryman Arthur Rimbaud had begun trading in the late 1880s. On the wall of Tomoca’s there is a poster detailing the various Ethiopian Highland brands: Sidamo - Limu - Kaffa (from where we get the name coffee) - Gimbi - Yerga Cheffe - Harar. In praise of Balzac and Rimbaud and the local coffee cultivators, I go for some Harar long bean. Café macchiato. Aye Carumba! The next day, Christmas Day, I’m off to Dire Dawa (Ethiopia’s second city, about 500 km east of Addis), not by the dusty, bumpy 12-hour bus ride, but by a 40-minute hop across the Great Rift Valley. Crossing the Great Rift Valley at 9000 feet in a twin engine Cessna is an experience not to be taken lightly. It reveals the gouged and ruptured earth as
something very much alive and in movement. The flight takes a mere 40 minutes, but those views (those territorial cognitions), like some moveable feast, will last a lifetime. The old train station in Dire Dawa, built by the French in 1907, stands alone in the main square surrounded by a group of kids waiting for the big screen football match to start. A couple of pint-sized goat herders snake their goats across the dusty square. It’s Arsenal vs Manchester United (again). It’s very difficult to go anywhere in Ethiopia without seeing the emblems of either team stuck to the windshield of a passing tuk-tuk, taxi or bus, or to the T-shirts of some of the young men. Sitting in the Makonnen Hotel with St George (the local beatified brew), I listen to the dusk descend, the children gather, and the ensuing kick-off. Dire Dawa was orchestrated in the early 1900s by the French in order to provide a mainline service between Djibouti on the Red Sea and the Abyssinian capital Addis Ababa. Originally destined for Harar, the project was realigned to Dire Dawa due to Harar’s insurmountable elevation. Situated on the Dechatu River, Ethiopia’s second largest city is still very much a trade town with several established markets. With its cool car-less side streets canopied by large eucalyptus trees there is a subtle sense of slowness to Dire Dawa that belies the hustle and bustle of its markets, and its main streets flooded with the cacophony of spluttering tut-tuts. Fela, the barman, as he delivers another beer, asks me: “Where you from?” “Scotland,” I answer. His brain computes: “Scotlanda, Scotlanda…” His eyes light up like the barrels of a fruit machine. “Sir Alex Ferguson!!” Football, I muse: the silent religion. Back at the National Hotel a giant cockroach has stumbled onto its back in my shower basin and appears to be dead. A few crack-commando mosquitoes wait silently on the heatstained walls. The sound of the city has all but fallen away. The notice on the door reads: Extreme musical noises or unwanted human noises or disturbances are forbidden. Then: Washing clothes in the room is totally uncalled for. Like a play coming to an end, the day ends at 4 o’clock (Ethiopian time). The stage is empty. The birds are asleep. The moon is full. I spend the night reading E. T. Hall’s Beyond Culture to the sound of cicadas. Here’s what he has to say on the subject of time: Monochronic time is arbitrary and imposed: that is, learned. Because it is so thoroughly learned and so thoroughly integrated into our culture, it is treated as though it were the only natural and ‘logical’ way of organizing life. Yet it is not inherent in man’s own rhythms and creative drives, nor is it existential in nature. Furthermore, organizations, particularly business and government bureaucracies, subordinate men to the organization, and they accomplish this by the way they handle time-space systems. 15
It seems kind of strange, but Ethiopian time makes much more sense. It is an epiphany of sorts, realising, simply through these time distinctions, how subordinated one has become to the busy-ness of society. There is, furthermore, the matter of ‘sleep-time’ which has also been regularized in order to conform to the workaday world. To be sure, even Ethiopian time subordinates, but there is a refreshing quality to understanding how other cultures may perceive the day (and night) and how it is organized. Outside, the new week is beginning in earnest. A squad of some fifty black kites are circling above the garbage pit. The sky is a deep deep blue. On one of the large eucalyptus trees a host of vultures perch. On the dried up Dechatu River bed, as well as a few humans, three African sacred ibises are poking at the caked riverbed, digging out their breakfast. As scavengers go, I have never seen such elegance. The morning is spent wandering around the markets, talking to people and generally just smiling. ON A DRIED UP RIVER BED IN DIRE DAWA Up there in Egypt they called it Thoth God of wisdom, Herald of the flood, Master of Time. In Arabia it was revered as a saint, the killer of serpents, and even had its own shrine. In the Valley of Bewilderment it waded the walls as if they were water. And down there on the isle of Reunion it was known as the island’s ‘solitaire’ Nine times light one part darkness, “generally silent”, Threskiornis aethiopicus – African sacred ibis. From Dire Dawa to Harar is an hour long (or 40 minutes, depending on the dexterity of the driver) trip across the apex of the Ahmar mountains. As we leave the city limits and prepare to scale the hills, the Ethiopian Roads Authority (a woman sitting beneath an acacia tree with a chit book and a flask) has first to record our departure. That done, we set off in our 10-seater mini-bus for the other side of the mountain. Everywhere, on the backs of mules and donkeys, at the sides of roads and stalls, on the tops of cars and buses, can be seen the ubiquitous yellow jerry-cans filled with water. The UN has made some progress in setting up wells here and so the ‘yellow-jerry’ is an indispensable item. The hilltop towns of Kulubi and Awaday fly by kaleidoscopically as we plough through down to Harar. The walled town of Harar is around 1200 years old and, due to its 99 mosques (one for each name of Allah), is considered to be Islam’s 4th holiest city. It is a chaotic mosaic of markets and travellers, and an important nexus for Oromo and Somali traders. The origins of the city are hard to come by in written form, though it is said that seven clans from the surrounding region came together sometime during the 8th century to agree upon a town in an effort to centralize 16
and cultivate existing trade routes. By the 12th century, Harar had become the economic hub of East Africa and with the arrival in 1552 of Emir Nur the city walls were built to protect against increasing Ottoman and Oromo raiding parties. Lying on the southern slopes of the Ahmar mountain range at a height of some 1800 metres, Harar is well sheltered from high winds and strong heat. Thus, as a Persian poet once wrote of a heaven-favoured city: “Its heat is not hot, nor its cold, cold.” When the traveller Richard Burton came here in 1855 he was pleasantly surprised by the equitable and charming climate. In his First Footsteps in East Africa, he recounts in minute detail not just the climate and topography but the complex and bloody history of this ancient bastide. As I search for my accommodation, no easy task in this whitewashed labyrinth, a local youth, his mouth green with chlorophyll from the (psychotropic) plant chat he has been chewing, guides me through the tight, pungent alleyways carefully avoiding the central gutters. The Rowda Harari Cultural Guest House is a fine homestead in the Harari tradition, located at the northern end of the medina. My host, the small, bat-faced Madame Rowda, welcomes me in as I am delivered with a holler of “Salaam walekuum” by the green-mouthed youngster. Amongst the already resident guests is an Englishman called Phil who is motorbiking around the world. Thus far, he has been on the road for two and a half years and crossed the Americas and southern and central Africa. He asks me, when he discovers that I have come from Saudi Arabia, how it is that he cannot get permission to ride his bike there. It’s the only country thus far out of the 28 he has travelled through that has refused his request. “Considering its unenviable road accident record, it’s perhaps best avoided anyhow,” I say. “They’re not used to motorbikes and may see you as some sort of target practice.” He’s not happy about it, but he realizes concessions are in order, that the world is not as open as one perhaps thinks. “You really get to know the worldly countries when you ride around the world,” he says. “Come, come, I show you room,” Madame Rowda says in a manner befitting of Dracula. She is draped in a saffron robe and judging by her dark complexion and penchant for beads, could easily be mistaken for Indian. In the traditional homestead (gey gar, “house of the city”, the word gey ultimately deriving from the Greek gaia), every nook and cranny has its moment. The walls are colourfully ornamented with all variety of pots, pans and plates. There are embroidered cushions all over the raised sitting room surfaces, each meticulously patterned and positioned. Each level of the three sitting tiers corresponds to the importance of the sitter. As a guest, I am entitled to sit at the high tier along with the householder. A large spear is slotted into its hold by the doorway in case, so I’m told, any unwanted visitors drop by. A large TV is secreted in a niche on the other side of the entrance. The bedrooms veer off, one to each side, and one upstairs. Outside, around the small but splendidly whitewashed courtyard, are the kitchen and another two bedrooms. A young and very beautiful Ethiopian girl, the help of the house, is hard at work hand-washing clothes. I head out into the labyrinth. It’s not long before I come to the Rimbaud House. The Rimbaud House was built by Indian merchants who came here in the early 1900s. It is a wonderful two-storey townhouse whose façade and interior is made almost entirely from mahogany. The views from both the first and second floors stretch over the medina and across the valley towards the Ogaden steppes of Somalia. Rimbaud spent ten years here trading coffee and whatever 17
else he could get his hands on, in some cases guns which he dealt to King Menelik II. According to records, the young Frenchman was only the third European to set foot in the city, and the first of these to conduct any real business there. Working for Alfred and Pierre Bardey, businessmen from Lyon, Rimbaud first worked in Aden (arriving in 1880 at the age of 26) – then under British control – exporting half of the entire Yemeni coffee crops to France. Rimbaud was acting foreman in Bardey’s coffee sorting house where beans were cleaned, graded and packed, before being sent off up the Red Sea through the Suez Canal and across the Mediterranean to Marseille. With the recent opening of the Suez Canal, business was booming and Bardey was raking it in. He wasted no time in opening a branch in Harar, a city noted for its coffee production,(1) and Rimbaud, in his new capacity as branch manager, soon found himself on the other side of the Red Sea in a whole different continent. He was glad to leave the “terrible rock” of Aden where each day he sweated litres of water, and arrive in a climate where the air was “cool and not unhealthy”, and where he could possibly indulge his new-found spirit of commerce. Rimbaud also showed an interest in the new art of photography and had his mother send him equipment from France with which he could work. He made a great many pictures of the local people that he came to meet, seeming to favour portraitures over landscapes and details. The only portraits of Rimbaud himself in Harar are three self-portraits taken with a timer in which he looks vacant and practically unrecognizable from his earlier more rambunctious self. “His was a tormented soul,” says the museum curator Solomon. “Harar was his drug, and ultimately his death knell.” Many have been drawn to the tragic turnaround of Rimbaud’s life, from the mystic sublime to the dull drudgery of commerce. One suspects that he was more than just a trifle embarrassed at his earlier exploits and the trouble he had put his poor mother and sister through. The new Rimbaud was now set upon making up for his boisterous and exuberant youth for which his mother had paid generously. Commerce was now the name of the game; and Rimbaud’s art was now the art of making money. After ten years living and working in Harar, Rimbaud contracted a tumour in the leg which led him to seek treatment in a Marseille hospital. Following its amputation, he spent three months convalescing at the family home in Charleville. He longed to return to Abyssinia but never did. His condition worsened and he died miserably in Marseille at the age of 37. Amongst his last words to his sister Isabelle was this: One shipment: a single tusk One shipment: two tusks One shipment: three tusks One shipment: four tusks One shipment: two tusks LUNCH AT THE HIRUT RESTAURANT IN HARAR The menu reads: Finally minced beef Permission Chicken Drought beer I have a beer, and ask (politely) for the chicken.
The Chat Market The north-east quadrant of Feras Megala square in Harar, between Rimbaud’s warehouse and the colourful Medhane Alem Church, contains the finest ‘chat’ in all East Africa. There are maybe a half dozen women, bedecked in sarongs, sitting with baskets full of bundles of chat, the pinkish twig not dissimilar in appearance to that of rhubarb. Chat is a mildly psychotropic plant which when chewed over long periods of time gives a stimulating effect not dissimilar to that of caffeine. Chat is first mentioned in The Wars of Amda Syon I who reigned from 13141344 when the Muslim Sultan od Ifat, Sabrad-Din, bragging of what he would do when he conquered the Christian kingdom said: ‘I will make Mar’ade his capital my capital also. And I will plant there plants of chat because the Muslims love that plant and (it is) a gift which they sent to the king.’ Chat is still considered holy (it was revered by the Ulema of Arabia as Akl alSalikin, or ‘the food of the pious’) and people offer prayer before they begin to chew it. Its use probably precedes that of coffee. Its stimulatory effects however, unlike coffee, have induced certain Muslims to class it alongside other banned substances the use of which is expressly forbidden in the Koran. Naturally, over the water in Saudi Arabia, it is illegal, whilst just across the border in Yemen it constitutes a significant cash crop. Certain Muslims believe, however, contrary to the available scientific evidence, that chat does not impair the health or impede the observance of religious duties, and it is therefore lawful to use it. Hararis go one further and believe that chat can effect 501 different cures based upon the numerical value of the letters of its Arabic name, Ga-a-t. Thus, the plant is considered an essential constituent of daily life and plays a significant role in medicine. Note (1) Richard Burton had written in 1855 upon visiting Harar that its coffee was ‘too well-known in the markets of Europe to require description’.
Other Realities Alyson Hallett
Mist falls white about the fields. Drawn from a skein of ice it hangs, is held there â&#x20AC;&#x201C; perfectly mid-air. Grizel tells me the Romans gave up on Ireland. She says Freud gave up on it too, an impossible place to analyse or rule. She used to be a shepherd on an Irish mountain. Part of me has never come down, she says, still up there, in the air. Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a long, black fish tattooed on her leg. It swims from ankle to knee, perfectly at home with its verticality.
Pilgrim Alyson Hallett What made me decide to stitch my grandmother’s graves together was a question I couldn’t answer. I set off from Hilda’s early on Saturday morning and headed for Ella’s. This involved walking through Bridgwater, across the M5 motorway, through fields of wheat and pylons. I came into Chedzoy, passed Cadbury House, went to the church and the grave. Then carried on like some Forrest Gump of the country road, out onto the Levels, over Parchey Bridge, along the stupidly straight King’s Sedgmoor Drain. I met my dad and his sister in Bawdrip graveyard. We ate a picnic lunch, the sun shone, robins complained – and then on again. Along the old railway track, my father remembering his once a year trips to the sea. It was good to talk and walk. The sky was wide and blue – we were in Somerset and making room for something new.
and the impossibility of achieving an acoustic absolute zero. Silence is an integral part of his music and a biography published in 1992, the year he died, is aptly called The Roaring Silence: John Cage, A Life.
Bill Stephens “The Music of the World” is explored by Kenneth White in Le plateau de l’albatros: “We need to listen to the thousand voices of nature” and “bring together a sense of time with natural noise, ‘the voice of the earth’, and sensual movement”. He expanded his thesis in “The Music of the Landscape”, one of the chapters in The Wanderer and His Charts published in 2004, in English this time. He prefers a “rain raga” punctuated by the cries of gulls to fabricated music, especially disliking the “empyrean” sounds of a symphonic orchestra, and quotes Thoreau from his Journal that we need to listen to the “earth-song”. Unsurprisingly perhaps, he favours music from the east and the sound of the shakuhachi but also the “sensitive improvisation” of jazz when the instruments are allowed to talk.
When I came across this, the title reminded me of an occasion high up in the Swiss Alps when the snow was metres deep and all was silent with not a breath of wind but I could hear what I described at the time as a “roaring”. It certainly wasn’t man made as the nearest habitation or road was several kilometres away and any flowing water would have been a couple of thousand metres below. Perhaps, it was the tectonic life force of the mountains I was hearing. A living musician that I think Kenneth White would like but hasn’t mentioned in anything I’ve heard or read is Meredith Monk. She creates music that is more accessible than that of Cage and was described by one commentator as “simultaneously ancient and modern” that “speaks directly to those collective parts of our subconscious that are the deepest and oldest...a folk music for the whole world”. She’s also been described as a “magician of the voice” but the setting and choreography of her performance are equally enthralling. I missed her Songs of Ascension at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2010 but made sure that we got to On Behalf of Nature at the 2013 EIF, and what a privilege it was to be there.
Of Western classical music its that of Satie which passes the geopoetic test with Messiaen and Debussy also getting a mention, maybe no coincidence that they’re all French. Although later composers such as Schoenberg, Webern and Stockhausen tried to invent a new electronic music that they considered to be more “natural” and “pure”, White prefers the approach of John Cage who worked from outside “the Inspired by a Gary Snyder essay, Writers and the War Against technical sphere of music”. Nature, she describes the piece as a “meditation on our Rather than seeing music as a means of communication, Cage intimate connection with nature, its inner structures, the fragility came to the realisation that its purpose is “to sober and quiet of its ecology and our interdependency”. It was performed by the mind, thus rendering it open to divine influences”. Latterly, Monk and her small vocal ensemble accompanied by three Cage was heavily influenced by the writings of Thoreau and musicians playing a variety of instruments on the stage of both were, like White, masters at noticing small things and the intimate Royal Lyceum Theatre. The singing was wordless making connections to a higher reality. That artists “notice using a tonal palette of infinite variety and the choreography things” was also mentioned by Grayson Perry during his Reith and movement was mesmerising to a score that rippled and Lectures when he described himself as a pilgrim in search of surged in waves around the theatre. The programme told meaning. us that “she creates works that thrive at the intersection of In the first piece of Song Books from 1970, Cage sets the music and movement, image and object, light and sound, in following excerpt from Thoreau’s Journal: “Saw a large an effort to discover and weave together new modes of hawk circling over a pine wood below me, and screaming, perception”, and On Behalf of Nature certainly fulfilled what apparently that he might discover his prey by their flight... it “said on the tin”. What a symbol of thoughts, now soaring, now descending, taking larger and larger circles, or smaller and smaller! It flies not directly whither its is bound, but advances by circles, like a courtier of the skies...How it comes round, as with a wider sweep of thought!...Circling and ever circling, you cannot divine which way it will incline, till perchance it dives down straight as an arrow to its mark ...will-o’-the-wind...the poetry of motion.”
Less than 24 hours later we were at Traquair House near Peebles for the Beyond Borders International Festival of Literature and Thought and, coincidentally, heard Tim Philips, a “neuroscience explorer” and the Co-Director of Beyond Conflict, talk about the beneficial effects of exactly the type of music we’d heard the previous evening in Edinburgh. Robert Wild, editor of Sacred Natural Sites, also spoke and joined a biographic exploration of the majestic trees in the extensive Cage combined the first syllable of music and the second gardens surrounding the house with Ian Edwards from The of Thoreau for Mureau, first performed in 1971. It’s a text Royal Botanic Gardens. based on all the known remarks by Thoreau about music, We ended up in a grove of yews where we were asked to sounds and silence arranged using I-Ching chance operations. listen to what the trees had to say. There was a strong wind Another work, Empty words from 1973–74, re-arranged that whistled and washed through the canopy above. On passages from Thoreau’s Journal, again by chance. Score (40 the needle strewn ground a patch of sunlight framed by the drawings by Thoreau) and 23 parts: 12 Haiku is another branches above no bigger than a dinner plate shimmered Thoreau-inspired piece, this time orchestral. to the rhythms of the wind: nature’s choreography: earth Perhaps his most well known, or should it be infamous, piece sounds: geopoetic music. is 4’33” but this is less about silence than the act of listening
Naboland Reinhard Behrens “Night Train” (1981) The art of Fife-based, Scottish artist Reinhard Behrens inhabits a mythical world of snow and ice, of eastern mystery, and of found objects and ideas which transcend time and place. This world is called Naboland. Behrens writes, “My continent of the mind [is] generated through the juxtaposition of different visual elements: drawn found objects [are] linked with landscapes of real and imagined travel, Nineteenth Century sources of expeditions [are] incorporated into drawings, paintings and etchings to gradually give me proof of a parallel world in which the normal limits of time and space [are] dissolved.” More images and information can be found at http://www. naboland.co.uk
by the waterbutt Andrew McCallum For the person you will be, whom perhaps I might not understand. Jorge Luis Borges, Inscripción
this is the piobaireachd’s last movement its ùrlar dripping into the old waterbutt in the manner of the blind poet for each drop I offer seven dreams the hush of leaves before the onslaught of eskdale winds the scent of pollen’s golden flight after a bee has danced on the little white rose the fishing boats in symbister harbour dawn silvering the catch in their nets the first sheaf of corn from tweedie’s harvest after the last summer storm the threshold of sunset across which thoughts flit to the morning side of the world the last drop of ink on paper upon which the poet completes the release of his beloved fingertips lightly touching my hand in greeting as if you were still here palpable real
brownsbank cottage, september 2014
at the gates of paradise lost Andrew McCallum
today I went to see ianâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s garden in its summer frock and saw paint-rags hanging out to dry ian himself captured and destroyed the moorland our sky-time divided by drystane into hours and minutes (ianâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s garden is the love we give-to-get of bygone times and are satisfied) inscribed stone doors faithfully wait to open us to his purple autumns the message of him flashed in yellow medlars in the seething stormy winds and in the seething wind today among pythian laurels I felt the darts of unseen gods and nymphs tributes to a people cursed and weeping at the gates of paradise lost
little sparta, august 2014
Defying Gravity: Reflections on the Nomadic and the Lapidary Martina Kolb When the mind swings by a grass-blade â&#x20AC;Ś (Ezra Pound) Der Stein ist mehr Stein als frĂźher. [The stone is more stone than it used to be.] (Friedrich Nietzsche)
The Dyke, or Dry Stone Talking Wall Falkland Estate, Fife, Scotland June 2013 Image Martina Kolb
I have relished walking and writing for as long as I can think, and would go so far as to say that walking and writing are really one thing, one complex and encompassing activity or process that also includes reading and seeing, dreaming and thinking. This hardly comes as a surprise, as the peripatetic mode (from the Greek peripatein: to walk about) is a timehonoured practice in philosophical and poetic history, ranging from Socrates’s and Aristotle’s Attic peregrinations (from the Latin peregrinari: to journey abroad) on their outdoors academy and lyceum) to Sappho’s, Ovid’s, and Dante’s exiles into a range of vernaculars, the wandering troubadours of medieval Provence, Matsuo Bashō’s journey to the Japanese north, all the way to innumerable nineteenth- and twentiethcentury wanderers, émigrés, and exiles. It was in favour of extravagant (from the Latin extravagari: to wander outside or beyond) Alpine and Mediterranean stravaigin (Scots for roaming) that Nietzsche gave up his Swiss residency, Prussian citizenship, and university tenure. If he were to twist in his grave at the thought of walking and writing as one fused activity, he would do so in excitement rather than opposition. Nietzsche was no believer in static thought, and went on extensive daily walks for as long as he physically and mentally could. He was the greatest of modern intellectual rovers, and it is his nomadism that spurred Kenneth White (founder, theoretician, and practitioner of geopoetics who coined the term) and Predrag Matvejević (Croatian author of Mediterranean geopoetic work) to consider Nietzsche as their crucial predecessor in modern itinerant writing and nomadic thought (from the Latin iter and ire: journey and to go, and from the Greek nomas: roaming for pastures for grazing). What fascinates me is the intimate relation of word and world, mind and body, body and place, and body and word — primarily in Nietzsche(ans) — which explains my interest in physical, even muscular writing (Nietzsche famously referred to the body as the greatest reason), as well as in etymology, materiality, the verbal-visual interface, and free association. It was in the summer of 2013 that these fields of enquiry and prisms of perception (language, poetry, art, nature, psychology, philosophy) memorably converged for me: shortly after the publication of my geopoetically infused book, Nietzsche, Freud, Benn, and the Azure Spell of Liguria, and not on the Mediterranean shore, but inland on the Scottish Falkland Estate, where I attended a workshop on creativity.
is not out of the ordinary that my vis-à-vis with this wall quickly turned into a scene of verbal initiation (as a student of Germanic languages, Lowland Scots had admittedly played no role in my philological formation either).That these words had not come into being by setting pen to paper made my first confrontation with them all the more unique. One gets a clear sense of the physical labour that went into this unique stone-script (Freud’s belief in the poets’ words as deeds—“die Worte der Dichter sind ja Taten” — comes to full fruition here). I was happily confused, for it seemed to me that the nature of inscription on the individually engraved boulders rendered their verbal quality more (and at the same time less) conspicuous. What I found were the many Scots words for walking. Out of all of them it was stravaigin that struck me most. At first it did not sound like anything I knew, or so I thought. But then I intuited extravagant. For their sheer weight these stones will be left unturned. These words are literally written in stone and as such will not stravaig any time soon. But would such lapidary gravity (from the Latin lapis: stone) not indicate the precise opposite of what all these words convey, the dynamic of physical and mental roving? Are inscriptions not usually nominal and numerical, commemoratively and ceremoniously marked (script in aurum) by dates and proper names of people and places — of the past? The Scots verbs on the Falkland dyke are the following: standin, thinkin, danderin, stridin, feelin; stravaigin, bletherin, jalousin, speirin, sharin; lowpin, skitin, breengin, stumblin, shauchlin; plowterin, ponderin, dreamin, yirdin; unyirdin, freein, birlin, bein. In other words: standing, thinking, strolling, striding, feeling;, roaming, chatting, working out/solving, questioning, sharing; walking with a long, springing step, slip-sliding, running precipitously without thinking/rushing, stumbling, shuffling; walking messily thru’ wet ground, pondering, dreaming, earthing; unearthing, freeing, going round and round, being. All these verbs are chiseled in capital letters, and will not be easily undone. They would come across as rather majestic and nominal, were the wall not at the same time reminiscent of ruins, insofar as its stones present the beholder with a fine combination of nature and culture in interactive motion. Mosses, lichens, and grass-blades at times frame (emphasize, foreground) and at others cover (hide, veil) the engravings. This intriguing spectrum of walking verbs is not chiseled in straight lines either, as we would likely find on headstones and monuments. Rather, the lines are aesthetically curved in a playful, serpentine manner that invites meandering and dancing, gaiety and levity (and would have put Nietzsche as well as Schiller and other eighteenth-century aesthetes of his ilk at great ease). Some verbs are more emphatically curvy than others. Stravaigin is one of the windier ones and attracted my attention. It spoke to me and touched me (as I touched it and speak about it). Indeed, as the Estate’s brochure states, “the Talking Wall […] might give you something to blether about after your stravaiging.” So here I am (thinkin, feelin, bletherin, sharin, ponderin, dreamin, bein …).
On a precious solitary walk within the walk (our group engaged in group walking), by walking the walk as it were, my love of stones was not unrequited: for birth stones, milestones and tombstones, horticultural stepping and historical stumbling stones (as for instance the Stolpersteine reminding the walker of the victims of genocide), the Serpent Stone in Nietzsche’s Weimar (inscribed, in Latin, to the spirit of the place: genius huius loci), the trilingual Rosetta Stone and the continuously mysterious Stonehenge, precious and semi-precious stones — all stones are precious. On a variation of what the Estate brochure’s route tips call Walk 2: The Gilderland Walk, I encountered a highly special series of I recalled on this location that geopoetics was concerned Scots vocabulary — a litany of quasi-synonyms for the very with geology (more than geography), and had not much peripatetic activity in which I was at that moment engaging. interest in travel. Rather, it is deeply committed to intellectual Since I am primarily a student of Romance languages, it nomads sounding the material and mental depths of the 27
earth’s and the mind’s territories. This wall not only has ears (as the proverb of the wall as witness goes), I thought to myself, it also speaks — exclusively in Scots, in Scots infinitives, in Scots infinitives in the semantic field of wandering — of walking in all senses broad and narrow, all the way to chatting, freeing and being — being written, but without mentioning the gravity of writing. My mind flew back to the Latin verb perigrinari. It is, grammatically speaking, a deponent verb, combining active and passive features in its semantic and structural make-up. It is passive in form, active in meaning, and as such shares something with the chiseled verbs on the dyke: passive in form (set in stone) but active in meaning (verbal infinitives of movement). This curious twist on agency seemed appropriate to me in front of this Falkland dyke. There came a moment when I sensed that I was not only walking but also being walked, carried by the landscape in whose aura I was hovering somewhere between sky and ground. As I was reading the rich fabric of the land while under the impression (wishful thinking, at the least) of being perceived and read by this land, of becoming a part of it as it was becoming a part of me. That peregrine may also signify a type of peregrine falcon seems well-suited to my geopoetic deliberations. When I first heard the word Falkland in the announcement of the workshop, I knew that rashly associating the Falkland Islands would be massively wrong (if there were such a thing as associative error). The Falkland Islands, in any case, signaled war and crisis to me (memories of 1980s broadcasts resurfaced at once), whereas facing the dyke I was at peace, and yet fully aware that it was a critical moment — not in the sense of crisis but of discernment and distinction (in line with the Greek krinein). Then the land of falcons crossed my mind (Falke being falcon in my native tongue), and only later, when reading ReSounding Falkland by David Chapman and Louise K. Wilson, I found out that “[t]he earliest sources that refer to Falkland in the twelfth century suggest that its name may mean ‘a hidden place or enclosure’” (as Ninian Stuart states in his foreword to the booklet). As a result of me being some sort of peregrine in transit between London and Pennsylvania (rather than a native of Scots or Scotland), the idea of an enclosed (and challenging) refuge did sound appealing. When I read “twelfth century” and saw William Miller’s engraving of Falkland Palace against the cone-shaped Lochore Mountain on the first page, Pound’s Pisan Cantos came to mind (focus as he did on twelfth-century Provence’s song), particularly his intensely striking lines in captivity, which liken the cone-shaped mountain he saw from his cell outside of Pisa to the Chinese Mount Taishan, still believing that “out of all this beauty something must come.” As is the mission of the Falkland Estate, Pound, too, cultivated the tie of culture and agriculture. Further, the original name of Scotland is Alba (white), but then alba (dawn) is also a prominent lyrical genre of Provence: the dawn song, intimately connected to its land and customs, and one of Pound’s (and Nietzsche’s) greatest literary interests.
the Azure Spell of Liguria was published about two weeks before I reached the Falkland Estate. It concentrates on the charm and origin of words (in which the three titular writers firmly believed), and on Liguria as a borderland between Italy and France, between the poetically charged regions of Dante’s Tuscany and the troubadours’ Provence, between sea and sky, between the Alps and the Mediterranean. White’s work on/in the theory-practice of geopoetics is philologically as precise as it is associatively rich. His thought plays a crucial role in my reflections in The Azure Spell. That he is continuously committed to the discourse of migration (while avoiding theoretical jargon at all cost), including his own selfimposed exile as a Scotsman living in France, has assisted me in developing my own understanding of the prenational Ligurian land- and seascape, where Nietzsche wrote the better part of his mature texts: Dawn, The Gay Science, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra — on Romance territory, in German (calling himself “a good European”). “I have been attempting to raise fundamental questions —,” writes White, “about culture, about literature, concerning a specific territory, Scotland (with potential extrapolations to other areas) […].” I have taken White’s suggestive parenthetic potential seriously, with the result of extrapolating from his “nordicity”, “atlanticity” and “littorality” (and Matvejević’s related “mediterraneity”) toward an understanding of what I termed “ligurianity”. The Latin suffix –tas (English –ty, as in liberty, atlanticity, or liguranity) is added to an adjective (or noun) to form an abstract feminine noun indicating a state of being. What occurs when this word is a toponym such as Atlantic or Liguria(n), is felicitously representative of what geopoetic notions such as atlanticity or ligurianity have set out to be in the first place (neither an exclusive nor the last place). In these toponymically derived states of being the abstraction that is inherent in the Latin-based suffix is preceded by a concrete root: the name of a territory. Grammatically speaking, this place is at least as firmly rooted in its name (grammatike techne as the art of letters and related to the Greek graphein: to write), as its name is geographically rooted in its place. In comparable fashion, Christopher Woodward in “Listening to Piranesi” fuses and transplants his reflections on the ruins of the Croatian Split with/to those at Falkland. Such a coexistence of etymological rootedness, geological grounding, and free association is literally complex. If there were rock / And also water / And water / A spring / A pool among the rock / If there were the sound of water only […] Sound of water over a rock […] Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop […] (T.S. Eliot)
My geopoetically oriented book Nietzsche, Freud, Benn, and 28
The Falkland Estate is hardly a Waste Land, and I thought of Eliot’s wistful conditionals. There is sound of water all over, at times a playful, light “drip drop drop”, at others a marine sound of gushing water (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe pointed to the marine aspects of the Alpine Benacus (Lake Garda), and I am tempted to mount a similar comparison for the water-infused Falkland Estate.
Dry stone constructions are not limited to one era or culture. They are well-established across places and times: in Connemara as well as in Mycenae, in Liguria’s terraced lands as well as the Peruvian Machu Picchu, in the Swedish Alby as well as in Stonehenge, where one vehemently feels the weight that gravity gives to physical objects (in Falkland as well).
The Estate’s dyke would have made for the perfect postscript to my book. Falkland’s belated arrival in my repertoire of experienced places makes its presence all the more intriguing. It is the precarious truth of the creative tension between stravaig and its anagram, gravitas (gravity) that Falkland drove home to me. Stravaig and gravitas encounter one another on the boulders of the Falkland dyke. Stone and word are equally part of the inscription. Constructed from stones without the use of mortar, dry stone walls perfectly combine stasis with the idea of movement (even though dry stone walls are stable as a result of a load-bearing façade of interlocking stones). The dyke holds up as a whole, while the individual boulders still keep their unique presence.The same holds true for the engraved verbs: they are connected, but not by mortar, conjunctions, or syntactic set pieces of any sort. And even though the overall scene seems to be set, the verbs appear in unconjugated form (with no pronouns, set directions, or definite perspectives attached to them) — “the stonechat adds a note like two stones / struck lightly together”, writes Thomas A. Clark in in defence of quiet.
Although my book does not end on the Estate, it does conclude with an intriguing, lapidary, geopoetic discovery. The word azure (as in Côte d’Azur) originates in the Persian lazhward (the Arabic lazaward) and refers to the Afghan Badakhstan (Old English stan: stone comes to mind), which in ancient times was the main source of the rare lapis lazuli, esteemed for its intense azure colour.The word was adopted into French at the time of the troubadours, when the initial consonant l was erroneously taken as the noun’s article, hence the result of l’azure, which in modernity quickly established itself as a toponym teased by the imagination.
Falkland Estate, Fife, Scotland June 2013 Image Martina Kolb
In “Lapis Lazuli”, W. B. Yeats defies, in Nietzschean manner, tragic gravity by way of Provençal movement and gaiety. Harry Clifton had gifted Yeats with a Chinese carving, which he ekphrastically inscribed in his poem, thus transforming an ordinary collectible into a post-tragic scene of geopoetic splendour. Yeats’s poem is carved, as it were, right into the lazurite rock that triggered the poem’s title, and now tears open its surface. Yeats translates the geological material of a stone that reached him from far away, into a poetic landscape nearby. His geopoetic act of verbal carving joyfully keeps its precious secrets in ways reminiscent of the troubadours’ most encoded song: trobar clus. In the prologue to the Mesopotamian epic Gilgamesh, probably the oldest written story on earth, the azure stone had entered the scene as well, when the King of Uruk’s story is initially presented as hermetically encased in copper and Blackmill Bay, Isle of Luing, Scotland engraved in lapis lazuli: “find the cornerstone and under it the Summer 2013 Image Martina Kolb copper box that is marked with this name. Unlock it. Open the lid. Take out the tablet of lapis lazuli. Read how Gilgamesh suffered all and accomplished all.” Although the Gilgamesh fragments were actually engraved on various tablets rather than one, and not in lapis lazuli but (in cuneiform) in clay, it is in the word azure that stone and word are geopoetically fused into a precious visual-verbal entity. My variation on the theme called Walk 2 provided me with the insight that the meaning of stravaig and the gravity of the boulders are the basic components of the dyke’s inscription, and offer to the deliberate wanderer a creative tension that not only captures the place in question (White’s Scottish territory), but also lends itself to potential “extrapolation”. In The Radical Field,Tony McManus effectively plays on the literal and metaphorical dimensions of the word field, while tracing White’s itinerary from “The Initial [Scottish] Ground” to “The Emergent [exilic, nomadic] Field” to the “Open World.” The Falkland stones seem to be neither deaf nor blind. The stonework of the dyke spoke to me and perhaps held my energy; it may have captured as well as I have what this visà-vis was all about: I was a vagabond (from the Latin vagari: to wander). I was (t)here and at the same time not (only) (t)here. I was not from (t)here, and I was not to remain, although I was not quite finished with Scotland that summer, moving on as I did to the unforgettable Isle of Luing — the wanderer and her shadow … similarly anxious about the
risk of “Unerinnerlichkeit” (unrememberability) as van Gogh had been (in a neologism on the subject by Benn), who was working in Liguria-Provence at roughly the same time as Nietzsche (and with him counts among White’s favoured forefathers).
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul? […] The body […] is sacred. (Walt Whitman) Learn from the green world what will be thy place […] Pull down thy vanity […] The green casque has outdone your elegance. (Ezra Pound)
Predrag Matvejević presenting his reader with the recipe for “stone soup” (a dish “as ancient as Mediterranean poverty”), confirms the essential role stones (of the sea) may play for survival. 1
The Falklands take their name from the Falkland Sound, which separates the archipelago’s two main isles, off the coast of Patagonia. It was the captain of the English Expedition who in the seventeenth century named the strait in honor of the fifth Viscount of Falkland, sponsor of the journey.The Viscount’s title originated in the Scottish Town of Falkland, which intends folk land. Land of the folk rather than migrating falcons? 2
In “Der Wanderer und sein Schatten” “(“The Wanderer and His Shadow”), Nietzsche aphoristically writes of one who recognizes himself in nature (in this case the Swiss Alps). Aphorism and horizon are etymologically related (both originate in the Greek horizein: to limit and horos: boundary), which presents geopoetics in nuce, at the intersection of word and world. 3
The Sea & the Land Morelle Smith
1 Coastlines Scotland, West Coast i The boat is like a scooped out wooden shell a crab once lived in. It follows an oblique path to the shore. A thin rope ties it to the wooden jetty. The sun shines, out of reach of clouds.
ii The beach is pebbles, grey and rounded, warm to the touch. The sun has the whole estuary to itself, fingers water, turns stones inside out, revealing their true colours.
Scotland, East Coast iii At first the dunes protect you. Wriggling through a tiny passageway between the banks of sand, you turn a corner – that’s when the dunes lean over, push you out – and there’s the sea, spilling over the horizon
Cyprus, South Coast iv The purple clouds have pursed their lips resolute for rain. Clouds are my daily, swirling dress. Thunder my nightcap, lightning my spice. Balance is my name. 2) Inland Scotland i Spiky grass this morning coiffed with frost a bird sings, its rhythms circular as Eastern music and a distant rook call rustles the horizon like a turning page
ii In blue sky a faint film of cloud like a reflection, viewed through glass â&#x20AC;&#x201C; or the hem of a dervish robe kneeling in the dust of time before the Source of Light
iii Before the service, the hill was screened by mist – afterwards, the veil had lifted showing this sheltering green slope in a new light
iv I take the road out of the mind of everyday – it leads to moorland, emptiness – this damp air, close as memories – it could be you, walking beside me
The Outgoer Hugh Miller and Geopoetics Norman Bissell Life itself is a school, and Nature always a fresh study. Hugh Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters Learn to make a right use of your eyes: the commonest things are worth looking at, â&#x20AC;&#x201C; even stones and weeds, and the most familiar animals. Hugh Miller, The Old Red Sandstone
As a boy growing up in Cromarty, Hugh Miller developed a keen interest in the world around him. After his father died when Hugh was only five, his uncle Sandy introduced him to the wonders of shore and sea, and inspired in him a passion for the natural world which never left him. At an early age he developed an interest in gemstones found on the Cromarty shore and his later work as a stonemason led him to become a self-taught geologist. His belief in learning from life and from nature, and his method of enquiry, involving close observation of everything he encountered, reveal an approach to being in the world which has much in common with geopoetics. The concept of geopoetics was originated by the Scottish poet-thinker Kenneth White who has lived in France since 1967 but it is a synthesis of earlier ideas and approaches by scientists, thinkers and artists. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Geopoetics is concerned, fundamentally, with a relationship to the earth and with the opening of a world.â&#x20AC;? Kenneth White, Geopoetics: Place, Culture, World. The world that Hugh Miller opened up in his early years exploring the area around Cromarty engaged and inspired him throughout the rest of his life. His first book at the age of 27 when he was working as a stonemason was Poems, Written in the Leisure Hours of a Journeyman and in his subsequent prose there is a strong poetic element. He wrote articles on Cromarty affairs for the Inverness Courier, and gained national attention with his folklore book Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland (1834). He moved to Edinburgh in January 1840 to become editor of The Witness, a post he held until his death at the end of 1856, and built it up from a weekly to a twice-weekly newspaper, which quickly rivalled The Scotsman 34
in readership. It set the controversies of the Church of Scotland and the Free Church in the context of national and world events but its distinction was in the range, vision and passion of Miller’s column-length leaders. Miller’s discoveries of Devonian fossil fish described in The Old Red Sandstone (1841) and Footprints of the Creator (1847) earned him a reputation as one of the leading natural scientists of his time. He also helped to popularise the new science of geology with his remarkable powers of description, and his fossil collection of over 6,000 specimens formed the basis of the National Collection of fossils in the National Museums Scotland. His geological writings, originally appearing as pamphlets and in The Witness, were posthumously published as The Testimony of the Rocks (1857), The Cruise of the Betsey (1858) and Sketchbook of Popular Geology (1859). In September 2014 the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and Friends of Hugh Miller recreated his 1844 Cruise of the Betsey by sailing the Leader ketch from Oban to the Small Isles and back. I was privileged to be part of the shore party on the Isle of Eigg which welcomed them to the island. Led by Professor John Hudson, who has been carrying out geological research on Eigg for some 50 years, and Angus Miller, Chair of the Scottish Geodiversity Forum, over several days we retraced Hugh Miller’s footsteps up An Sgurr, over to Laig Bay, to the Singing Sands and down to Kildonan on the east coast. It’s a fair climb up An Sgurr but the panorama at the top that stretches out in all directions is more than worth it. In The Cruise of the Betsey, Miller describes An Sgurr and the view from the summit in these vivid terms: The Scuir of Eigg, then, is a veritable Giant’s Causeway, like that on the coast of Antrim, taken and magnified rather more than twenty times in height, and some five or six times in breadth, and then placed on the ridge of a hill nearly nine hundred feet high... The sea, spangled in the wake of the sun with quick glancing light, stretched out its blue plain around us; and we could see included in the wide prospect, on the one hand, at once the hill-chains of Morven and Kintail, with the many intervening lochs and bold jutting headlands...; and on the other, the variously-complexioned Hebrides, from the Isle of Skye to Uist and Barra to Tiree and Mull. The contiguous Small Isles, Muck and Rum, lay moored immediately beside us, like vessels of the same convoy that in some secure roadstead drop anchor within hail of each other.
An Sgurr on Eigg
On another day our shore party walked over the hill to Laig Bay where we found lots of oyster fossils on the track and large concretions on the cliff face and shore. Miller pays accurate and fulsome tribute to the Bay in his account: In less than an hour we were descending on the Bay of Laig, a semi-circular indentation of the coast about a mile in length, and, where it opens to the main sea, nearly two miles in breadth; with the noble island of Rum rising high in front, like some vast breakwater; and a meniscus (crescent) of comparatively level land, walled in behind by a semi-circular rampart of continuous precipice, sweeping round its shores. There are few finer scenes in the Hebrides than that furnished by this island bay and its picturesque accompaniments, - none that break more unexpectedly on the traveller who descends upon it from the east.
Laig Bay and the Isle of Rum At Laig Bay huge concretions protrude from the sandstone cliff face and many have been eroded to such an extent that they litter the beach. They were formed by the migration of calcite within the sands after burial.
John Hudson and Angus Miller studying the sandstone cliffs and concretions.
Concretions on the cliff face at Laig Bay
However, Hugh Miller’s most famous discovery on the other side of Eigg near Kildonan was the fossil remains of a Plesiosaur: Night was coming on, and the tide had risen on the beach; but I hammered lustily, and laid open in the dark red shale a vertebral joint, a rib, and a parallelogrammical fragment of solid bone, none of which could have belonged to any fish. It was an interesting moment for the curtain to drop over the promontory of Ru-Stoir; I had thus found in connection with it well nigh as many reptilian remains as had been found in all Scotland before... He had spent a full day walking round the island, investigating as he went, and still had the energy to make this remarkable discovery. He returned in 1845 to try to find the Plesiosaur bones in situ and was successful: I found a bed coloured with a tinge of red [....] It was in exactly such a rock I had found, in the previous year, the reptile remains; and I now set myself with no little eagerness to examine it. One of the first pieces I tore up contained a wellpreserved Plesiosaurian vertebra; a second contained a vertebra and a rib; and, shortly after, I disinterred a large portion of pelvis. I had at length found, beyond doubt, the reptile remains in situ. In his most recent English language book of essays, Ideas of Order at Cape Wrath, Kenneth White says: The intellectual nomad moves across territories in order both to rid the self of habit, encumbrance, and renew contact with the Earth, and explores cultures, looking for elements that might inspire and configure a new culture... This nomadic movement can be found in the work of a number of writers and thinkers who have laid the groundwork for geopoetics. The American naturalist and writer Henry Thoreau and the Scottish polymath Patrick Geddes were certainly such, along with the Scots born naturalist John Muir, and, in most respects, Hugh Miller. To a greater or lesser extent, they can be considered as intellectual nomads or ‘outgoers’ since they based their work on going out into the natural world of which we are part and responding creatively to it in their many writings. It was no accident that John Muir named a glacier in Alaska after Miller. Although Hugh Miller didn’t travel further than England, he was a prodigious walker, capable of walking 30 miles in a day, and he explored geological sites all over Scotland. He was also a voracious reader who corresponded with other geologists such as Louis Agassiz and Sir Roderick Murchison. Nevertheless, there are important differences between Miller and geopoetics. He was a man of his time and found it difficult to reconcile his geological findings with his deeply held religious beliefs about Creation. Geopoetics, on the other hand, is critical of Western thinking and practice over the last 2500 years, its separation of mind from body and of human beings from the rest of the natural world. It proposes instead that the universe is a potentially integral whole, and that the various domains into which knowledge has been separated can be unified by a poetics i.e. a world outlook which places the Earth at the centre of experience. Miller certainly exemplified the integration of the science/ arts divide but for him God was at the centre of all things. However, Miller’s significant achievements in geology are well established and geology is a fundamental element of geopoetics. Moreover, geopoetics is perhaps more a way of perceiving and responding creatively to the world than a theory about the world and Miller’s outgoing exploration of nature and ability to express his findings so well in his writing seem to me to establish him as an intellectual nomad and an important contributor to the rich source of theory-practice that became geopoetics. Miller was also an environmentalist before the term had been coined, arguing successfully against the proposed carriage drive through the Meadows in Edinburgh in 1855. He expressed serious concerns about the way in which advances in technology and communications were speeding up contemporary life. An article entitled ‘What Next and What Now’, printed on 5 and 19 November 1856, just weeks before his suicide, declared the dominant characteristic of the age to be ‘unusually rapid change’. In the previous fifty years there had been wonderful ‘inventions in art’ and ‘discoveries in science’, and the development of a ‘facility and rapidity of transit’ which allowed the inhabitants of the most distant parts to visit and revisit the remotest places ‘without even pausing to wonder at the fact’. Above all the electric telegraph was girdling the globe with a new zone, so that ‘friendly salutations or hostile messages may soon be transmitted at a moment’s notice ... between the citizens of Edinburgh and those of Pekin, or between those of New York and the men of Patagonia’. Shades of 21st-century social media. ‘All the powers in society’ were ‘working with a force and velocity unprecedented’. The ‘social, commercial, and military movements of the world’ were all affected, and ‘haste, haste, haste’ drove ‘opinions, literature and actions’. ‘Men generally are living fast, too fast ... The fever of the brain and the sweat of the brow bear witness to the pressure’. Miller was far from immune to this pressure. He wrote about 10,000 words a week as well as editing The Witness and this must have placed a tremendous strain on him. Christian McEwen’s recent book World Enough & Time, On Creativity & Slowing Down sets out how much more serious this problem has become today and recommends various strategies for dealing with it such as walking, reading, conversation, drawing, dreaming and writing. It’s a handbook of geopoetics without actually using the word and is an important book for our time.
In June 2015 the Leader will set sail again around some of the Argyll Islands and here on the Isle of Luing we are looking forward to welcoming those who sail in her to the Isle of Luing Community Trust’s new Atlantic Islands Centre in Cullipool. They will follow the ancient sea routes taken by travellers across the ages to Islay, Jura and Eileach an Naoimh, where St Brendan founded a monastic settlement, and will explore the underlying geology of the islands which has shaped land use and people’s lives across time. Fittingly, in recognition of the importance of Hugh Miller, the voyage is entitled Testimony of the Rocks: Journeys through Time. Note: this essay is based on a talk given at the We Are Cromarty Festival, 23–25 September 2014 which was organised by The Friends of Hugh Miller http://www.thefriendsofhughmiller.org.uk.
The Leader off Eigg
water Morgan Downie everything begins
those things we can grasp.
in water, the reasoning
yet we leave behind
element that needs no
only a rime of minerals
reason, that substance
while everything else
lao tâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;zu tells us
will not contend, will always find
and we are
its own level.
all at once and everywhere.
morning mist on the lochan, the cluster of clouds around the mountain. this is water, the liquid book. that which contains the memory of all life but has no need for memory, no need at all. the waves ceaseless at the red cliffs, a morning dew quicksilvers the grass. we look at our skin and call it a border when it is in fact a coast. aqueous creatures we are, with a fascination for the solid, the tangible, 40
The Grand Tour of Blue Mussel Hideko Sueoka
begins at Loch Don – bon voyage, blue shell, to the East through thick haar with faint whistles. Long-hanging on a nut of a vessel’s bottom your feet stay entwined with tides and your siphons seldom knock back Scotch whisky. A shell’s plunge to a slate-grey hull a little rest, swirls of a mad merry-go-round a bump to a foe; a globefish or lobster. Escape from the hunter! Seek freedom! Brisk with gills and fixed with fine byssi. The sea colour turns azure to sapphire and sleek valves look for sweet partners. Love of marine nomads bolder than Man. Love for veiled waves like James Brooke. A year and one day, whether a grandchild mussel will produce a round pearl with soft lustre, well, it’s known to Heaven alone.
Note: Sir James Brooke (1842–1868) was born in Secrore, India. He was a British adventurer who achieved feats in the Malay Archipelago and became the first White Rajah of Sarawak.
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