Thursday, 28 May 2009

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

827 - Found Objects, Mythos and Logos

A good summary, by Gus diZerega in Beyond The Burning Times, of the difference between Mythos and Logos - two modes of thinking explored by, among others, Karen Armstrong in her works on the history of religious thought.

Before modernity's rise, 'myth was primary' because it provided a way to understand the spiritual meaning embedded within life itself. Myth concerned itself with the meaning in life, not the meaning of life. Logos in this usage refers to reason, understanding the rationally verifiable relations between things.

Myth is not primitive science because it focuses on inner meaning rather than exterior event. Science explores externals: what can be seen, measured, repeated and predicted. Myth is a culturally and psychologically framed way of illuminating patterns and depths of inner meaning. The hagiographies of Saints would be a pretty noncontroversial example of Catholic Christian myths, but the early church even considered basic elements of Christian theology to be myths. For example, St Gregory of Nyssa (335-395)... according to Armstrong [in The Battle for God]... 'had explained the three hypostases of Father, Son and Spirit were not objective facts but simply "terms that we use" to express the way in which the "unnameable and unspeakable" divine nature (ousia) adapts itself to the limits of our human minds'.

Sorry about the dip into Greek at the end there!

It seems to me, after yesterday's post, that treating life as a sequence of found objects opens the way to both mythic and logical thought. I suspect that I favour the former more than the latter, at least on this blog. For example, I included the third 'found object', a song thrush that startled me by its closeness, as much to say 'This begins a meditation on our mutual awareness of one another' as 'Here's a rare thing: how exactly did it happen?'

So with Whitley Bay. A logical exploration of the town and its regeneration might include documentary evidence (photos, journalism, oral histories), analysis of Whitley's economy and sociology, and theories of town planning. Decisions would be deconstructed, courses of action justified.

A mythical exploration of the town takes us down a different route. The documentary evidence might be there, as a series of found objects, but analysis turns to celebration, deconstruction to lament. Oral history becomes testament, in the sense that it starts with the value of the town assumed, and spins art out of our encounter with it.

It's not so simple, however, to equate art with Mythos and science with Logos any more. People are making art out of the stuff of science, and science is reaching ever inward, so that a science book exudes the joy of a poem. If technologies represent the marriage of art and science, and Whitley Bay, regenerated, the application of both vision and realism, then the kernel out of which these things grow is the encounter with the object, the town, as found, in the first place.

Perhaps in this encounter, like a seed, all promise of future growth is held.

828 - Today's Found Objects

So I'm out for five hours this morning, and my haul includes:

1. A tiny glade of grass next to the Metro between Jesmond and West Jesmond: surrounded by trees and undergrowth, and covered with beer cans, but definitely a glade.

2. A moment spent with two former colleagues over coffee in Starbucks. They were about to present a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund: Seven Stories want to create something of an oral history of Children's Literature, contextualising the books within the life stories of their readers. Francis Spufford tried something similar in his fine memoir The Child That Books Built. But this sounds like it's on a different scale. Warm and brilliant. I hope the HLF buy it.

3. A female thrush, no more than two feet away, at waist height, still for a second or two. I said 'Hello matey' and she flew back into cover.

4. The brick underarch of a Metro Bridge, from above. Roadworks had uncovered it beneath a foot of tarmac and rubble. It rose, counter to the camber, unseen perhaps for fifty years or more. Something spiritual about the way it shaped the space beneath into a hump. Brickwork can feel soft, flank-like.

5. A yellow rose bursting out of a laurel bush.

6. A realisation: how each found object I speak of stands in place of the warmth I feel for the people I am passing. I wonder why I don't speak of them instead?

7. As I plan to copy a Google-book into Word, typing - a Herculean task my guilt at the dubious legitimacy of which is only mitigated by my knowledge that the Publishers are sat on a stash of thirty hardbacks, at extortionate price, and are unlikely to reprint in paperback until they've sold the rest - a memory of my primary school teacher, Mr Preston, who used to spend his afternoons copying William stories one by one, by hand, on to Banda sheets, for comprehension tests. Mr Preston merits a blog post (at least one), so I won't say any more about him here.

8. A modicum of mellowness.

9. Time a series of found moments.

10. Whitley Bay.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

829 - Cullercoats RNLI (2/2)

830 - Cullercoats RNLI (1/2)

View down to the Lifeboat Station in Cullercoats Bay, end of the day, folks making their way off the beach and a couple of jet skis, out at sea, heading home.

831 - Games

On Wednesday I joined E and half a dozen others at the Culture Quarter offices opposite the Playhouse for an evening of Mind Games.

We played Bananagrams (a kind of speed-Scrabble, with a heavy banana motif), Othello, and a complicated game based on the German postal service, with tiny wooden houses, a map of Central Europe, and several decks of cards.

In addition, this game contained a written endorsement by the heiress of the family who rolled the postal service into being, portraits of whose patriarchs graced the board, intimidating modern players from a century and a half beyond the grave. This was a little disturbing, and you were left half expecting to get an invitation to join the Bilderberg Group if you scored high enough.

Whatever conspiracy of events led to Whitley Bay becoming the first North East team to play at the new Wembley, play and win, whilst three of the four teams wrestling it out to avoid relegation from the Premier Division tomorrow are the big hitters from the North East, I don't know.

Similarly I struggle to fathom the depths of local politics, and doubt there are any big conspiracies behind the power-play talk of regenerating Whitley Bay, despite the games asserting the opposite regularly played on the letter pages of the News Guardian.

I feel strangely comforted by my ignorance. Bilderberg can wait.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

832 - Minsta!

The Gangster I dreamt of last night looked a little like Dr Evil, a little like Bob Hoskins. Throw in a touch of Harry Hill and the nightmare cheeks of a Mabel Lucie Attwell illustration and you have someone who looks alarmingly like me.

Which is salient to the dream.

What happened was that E and I, and assorted parents, and people I know and don't know, were held hostage by this Gangster in Newcastle upon Tyne's Central Arcade. Surrounded by police, someone passed around envelopes from used Christmas cards, on which we had been asked to write our names. I wrote nothing on mine.

But the Gangster's henchmen pulled me out of the crowd. I'd come to his attention: taller than him, and less raddled, I seemed to him to be his double. He wanted me to be groomed and then presented to the police. I saw the opportunity to engineer an escape for everyone, but was thrown by the certain thought that he was going to wire me up with explosives and a microphone, and were I not to tell the police exactly what he wanted me to say, we'd be blown sky high. He was (really he was) that evil!

So now I'm in the Gangster's house, being groomed by henchmen, in the company of sleazy women. I slip into a loo, and pee. Miss the bowl. Neurotically wipe the rim with tissue. Step back and out, and as I'm straightening up, think: 'No! I'm not nameless: I'm a Minister!' Suddenly I achieve an inner heroism. I confront the Gangster, who wilts under my new-found confidence. I hug my wife and parents as they are freed.

Inexplicably, no-one has thought to evacuate the primary school next door, and as a coda to the dream, I become aware that the now-fearful Gangster is waving his gun around. Manfully I reach for the gun, and, our hands in contact, we fire the bullets off into the trees. There's a sense, shared by us both, that each is letting the gun fire, and we've become friends.

I woke at this point. Actually the dream, which sounds camp in the telling of it above, was edgy and grotty and violent, and the reconciliation at the end touched with real emotion. I wondered whether it would stand as a symbolic encounter between two of my personalities (following the thesis of Rita Carter's book, Multiplicity, which holds that it makes as much sense for normal people to speak of possessing several personalities, as of them possessing a single personality with several aspects.)

I worked on the dream as I walked into town this morning. This is what I decided:

1. The 'Me' from whose perspective the dream was perceived has been the 'Me' driving my sense of vocation. I've not yet wanted to name this 'Me', or identify fully with it, so at the start of the dream the envelope I am to write my name on remains blank.

2. The Gangster, which placed us all in the hostage mess, is Gangster-Me - older than I imagine vocational-Me, raddled by the pursuit of selfish and sleazy desires, and very keen to bring vocational-Me under his control. As-yet-unnamed vocational-Me has been feeling captured by Gangster-Me in real as well as in dream life.

3. The dream narrates the dynamic between the two personalities. It is only when faced with the death of all vocational-Me holds dear that he hauls himself up and takes ownership of his name and true role. Revealing his identity to be Minister-Me he is able to confront Gangster-Me and take control of the situation. Gangster-Me is revealed to be hollow, and backs down.

4. But the control achieved by Minister-Me is not the end of the story. Because Minister-Me is more than a little uptight and hygeine-conscious (a significant marker of fundamentalism is, neuroscientists have observed, the emotion of disgust). And objectively, Gangster-Me, though forced into a villainous supporting role, only wants to express himself - for which he needs the support of heroic and selfless Minister-Me, not his unremitting approbrium.

5. Hence the final scene, as each personality, taking their proper place in relation to the other, discovers the opportunity to fulfil themselves.

6. (Is there some bad punning in this? Dr Evil's companion is, of course, Mini- rather than Minister- Me.)

7. There remains the envelope with no name on it: is this perhaps the Me that precipitated the dream in the first place? Storymaker-Me? Wake-Up-In-The-Morning-And-Analyse-The-Dream-Me? Everybody-Me?

8. It's nice to think that I have a Gangster-Me inside, as well as a Minister-Me, and that my fulfilment comes from accepting the presence of both. E isn't happy with the idea that, in public, I claim the Minister role for myself, and I can't say I blame her. But I've been looking for a character to develop as an exercise in storying, and I wonder whether, merging my Gangster and Minister personalities together, I could present myself as some combination of the two. That way I'd tread neither on the toes of the Church, nor of the local Mafia. In this capacity, I could call myself a Minsta!

Monday, 18 May 2009

833 - Why 'Spirituality'?

Colonel Fazackerly (esteemed fellow) asked me in response to my last post what I meant by spirituality. He explained his own position:
I do not believe that there is anything supernatural. One of the consequences is that I avoid using the word spiritual. The word may have some merit as an historical poetic word.

I think that's very fair. It's surprising (bloody annoying?) how much the word is used without definition. The book I'm reading at the moment - Beyond the Burning Times: a Pagan and Christian in Dialogue - gives a couple of fair definitions. The Christian, Philip Johnson, points out its historic journey, from specific Roman Catholic theological term three centuries ago, through application to and use by other Christian denominations, where it referred broad brush to the interior shaping of individuals and communities in response to the particular emphases and understandings of their theology, and finally into general usage. The Pagan, Gus diZerega, summarizes the latest definition well: 'Spirituality is how we relate to the ultimate context of our being' (p.23).

According to diZerega's definition, Christians, Pagans and non-supernaturalists would each have a valid claim to the word, though as the Colonel points out, for the non-supernaturalist this might well involve viewing 'spirit' as a piece of poetry, a metaphor or useful myth, for the particular picture of the cosmos, and our place in it, that we develop over a lifetime. There's a recent book, for instance, by the French philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville, called The Book of Atheist Spirituality. It's on my to-read pile. Developing a spirituality, in this sense, would be a natural exercise in niche construction , as it pertains to ultimate meaning (or its absence).

There is, however, a problem with using the term strictly poetically if some of those listening believe 'spirit' to be actual, if intangible, stuff. That's why, I think, the Colonel wants to stress its historical nature, and, I'm guessing, would urge us to find new metaphors for issues pertaining to our interior life without recourse to terms drawn from out-dated worldviews.

None of which, as yet, commits me to a particular definition. So here goes:

Previously I have expressed my decision to leave behind all talk of the supernatural. This is because, although in my personal experience weird events have happened, it does not seem impossible to me for them to be simply some combination of random chance in a relativistic universe. Random chance, of course, includes random activity which biases subsequent events towards an increasingly complex state - as, for instance, in the case of evolution, or, perhaps, the micro-seconds post- Big Bang. If, however, within the nature of the universe, one could posit the existence of an absolute value around which that universe could transform itself, turning natural laws on their heads, or simply unfettering their grip for however brief or localized a time/place, would this be best thought of as supernatural or natural? Such a case, I think, can be made for the concept of love.

My personal take on the Christian story is that whether it happened or not, the core truth that it points to is that the ultimate transformative value is love, not religion. This rings true to me experientially, regardless of whether spirit exists or not. Indeed, if one then begins to build an imaginative picture of what love in its purest form is like, one becomes increasingly hard-pressed to find a need for a substance called spirit as well. Perhaps that is what the Bible means when it says that God is love.

For me, spirituality is all about the imaginative acts we engage in by which we come to realise the nature of love as a way of talking about the universe, and the nature of the universe as a way of talking about love. That sounds pretty Pagan. A more scientific answer would be to say that after several hundred thousand years (if not many million more) of conceptual development, it doesn't surprise me that some of our ideas have huge impact, or are immensely complicated, whilst others press us to get back to basics and simplify, deconstruct, rework. Such complexity allows for diversity as well as unity, poly- as well as monotheism. And it chimes with emergent scientific theory, too.

Ultimately, however, I (like you) live by experience, not my interpretation of it. So if, when I pop my clogs, I find that what I think I am has ensheathed something called spirit all along, I'll just, I reckon, have to take it in my stride! I'm juggling the Christian, the Pagan and the scientific worldviews. To conclude, therefore, when I use the word 'spirituality', I mean it technically, generally and poetically all at once, because my ultimate commitment, as a natural being, is to love, and to love is to be at ease with the juggling.

This is not a particularly clear or well-structured post, but I want my lunch!

Friday, 15 May 2009

834 - Quotes Linking Multiplicity To Spirituality and Cultural Change

Like it says on the tin, this from Rita Carter:

Unless there is some catastrophic social upheaval on a global scale it is unlikely that the pace of technological change and social expansion will slow down. If we are to swim in a disjointed and ever-changing world we need more than ever to pull on our ability to see things from multiple viewpoints and to adopt different behaviours in different situations. As we hurtle from one encounter to another, the 'self' that we project has to be altered, if ever so slightly, for each one. A trend towards multiplicity, like the shift toward greater dissociation generally suggested by Steven Gold, can be seen, then, as an adaptive response to a changing environment. The wider the experiences we are offered the greater number and varieties of personalities a person is likely to develop.
(Multiplicity, Little, Brown, 2008, p.79)
This from Gus diZerega (Wiccan spokesperson engaged in inter-religious dialogue):

We can accomplish [spiritual growth]... in two ways, only one of which I will explore explicitly. First, we can ever more deeply explore the spiritual reality focused on by our own spiritual path. I hope what I write... will help Pagans and Christians (and anyone else reading these words) appreciate the spiritual depths possible within Pagan practice. The second [way], which I will not discuss much, but which this book in its entirety exemplifies, is appreciating the many faces of Spirit, for that which is more than any of us can possibly encompass shines out to us in a multitude of ways. At one time the first sufficed for almost everyone. But in today's pluralistic world this second has become increasingly important as well.
(Beyond The Burning Times: a Pagan and Christian in Dialogue, Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega, Lion, 2008, p.25)
Notice both how diZerega describes the interior journey of spirituality in terms of faces, and how, in contrast to the explicitness of the journey undertaken by someone exploring a single (in Carter's terms, perhaps, major) spiritual and religious tradition, the journey undertaken to embrace multiple spiritual and religious traditions is best illustrated implicitly, in the form of a book containing the words of two individuals.

It occurs to me that 'A Whitley Bay Thousand', a name I chose consciously to refer to a thousand people effecting change in the local community, and only afterwards applied more specifically to the thousand posts which will make up this blog, is itself an illustration of multiplicity. Perhaps when the blog is finished, it will be possible to group the posts according to the personalities I have expressed within them?

The blog is also an exercise in communal spirituality: I am hoping that somehow it will play its part in effecting the changes Whitley Bay, perhaps, needs. As such, and I know it sounds high faluting, I hope it will demonstrate, implicitly, the value of a spirituality that recognises multiplicity, and will encourage folk from the Evangelical Christian tradition to which I still consider myself to be attached, albeit tangentially, to take similar risks to me in opening this dominant, and dominating tradition, up to other, at first glance perhaps contradictory, influences.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

835 - Aphorism

How true is this? -
At its inception, a new art is indistinguishable from the technology that enables it.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

837 - Tynemouth Station, May Evening

Speckled in reflections of early evening sunlight, the front of Tynemouth Metro Station on Saturday.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

838 - Multiplicity

is the title of last year's book by Rita Carter exploring the phenomenon of multiple personalities. Not multiple personality disorder, but the idea that, if one's personality at any given time is a neural map of memories related to a particular situation, and if the situations one is exposed to are sufficiently distinct from one another, one might develop several distinct personalities, to a greater or lesser extent aware of one another, as a normal, indeed adaptive, response.

Rita Carter's argument is that this is normative in today's globalised society. We are parent, student, worker, bully, pleaser, lover, clown, and so on, and the personality we show, say at a party or at work, is simply one of several responses we could call upon. Today's society is transfixed both by role-playing and by celebrity personalities. So identity is defined by obsessive tick-boxing, but also by the philosophy that given the opportunity we'd all shine uniquely in the spotlight. And these influences, together with the freedoms given to us by new technologies, city anonymity, and exposure to multitudes of people, drive us, now more than ever, individually to create and refine new personalities - somewhat in the manner, I guess, that living things specificate as genetic populations.

Wow. That's controversial. Of the book, then, by way of validation: ‘A tour de force -- a compendium of anecdote, research and speculation that is quite breathtaking’ NEW SCIENTIST.

I am interested in this thesis for many reasons. Here are a few:

1. As someone with an interest in theology, I notice that religious myths fluctuate between monotheisms and polytheisms. A God will be fixated upon, raised to the status of Sky God, then left to drift away, to be replaced by a pantheon, out of whom a new Sky God will in time be chosen. It intrigues me that as Christianity loses favour in the West, it is replaced by neo-pagan pantheons. This is happening at just the point in history that our concept of a unique self, to the fulfilment of which we are enjoined to work, may be replaced by the concept of multiple selves.

2. For me, the journey into multiplicity began when, on leaving Church, I was approached one day by a man who struck me on the arm and said (speaking, I felt, of the voices within as much as outside himself) "You are now one of us." I have blogged about this, and my conviction, as it happened, that I had dreamt of the event months before, here. So untangling the meaning of what happened has for me a prophetic aspect to do with my vocation as a post-Church leader. If increasing numbers of us experience an increasingly diverse sense of self/selves, and if this is natural, one would expect those of us pastoring in such communities to have a positive experience of the same phenomenon.

3. Multiplicity, if true, strikes a mortal blow to any hope that we might be able to encapsulate the essential facts about a person's nature on a database, let alone an ID card. This isn't an argument against or for ID cards - just a recognition that the facts they could contain would be limited, and could not dependably state anything categorical about personality or criminal tendencies. Some might find that relief enough to assent to the process of state identification, whilst others might see in it the potential for huge miscarriages of justice, the definition of which we are only beginning to find words for, let alone legal case history.

4. The book Multiplicity explores some of the raw materials out of which the art of storying is fashioned. Storying, as I imagine it, is the conscious creation of narratives of one's own choosing out of the stuff of one's life. At one end of the spectrum such a narrative might be seen to have unfolded over a lifetime, but at the other one might choose to create a narrative over a day, or even over the course of a chance encounter, split second, in a street. Personality, character, is precisely where such storymaking starts: 'Once upon a time there was a boy called Jack.... '. And if multiplicity is true, then the calling up and shaping of a new personality, or refashioning of an old one, might be approached with the same degree of artifice a painter might bring to painting technique, a poet to choices of word and form, and a free-runner to cityscape acrobatics. A storyer would deal in neural networking the way a draughtsman deals in pen and ink, or an actor in script (or its absence).

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

839 - Reclamation of Fenwick Spoil Heap as a Memorial for Hartley

This rears up out of the fields behind Backworth and Earsdon. It's the former coal mining spoil at Fenwick and Eccles. There are distant sounds of quadbikes, and old tyres and deadwood like animal corpses. North Tyneside has promised for years to reclaim the land, but locals have suspected that the clay required to make it good was to come from a controversial landfill proposal, at present abandoned, for a site down the road.

Whitley News Guardian published a letter making this claim last month: we stumbled upon the spoil heaps on our walk on Saturday. And all this has got me wondering.

Earsdon itself is a beautiful village, and home to a sombre memorial to 200 dead men and boys in a pit disaster at Hartley. That disaster might have been the Somme, visiting fifty years early on the work force of a North East mining village. Contemporary accounts compared it to 'a vast Golgotha'.

The 150th Anniversary of the disaster will take place in 2012 - three years time. A terrible, terrible indictment if the only memorial Northumberland, North Tyneside and SITA saw fit to raise was a fresh trench at Seghill. And a far more fitting memorial if the reclamation of the spoil heaps went ahead as promised.

More about Sita here. And an opportunity to contact North Tyneside Council about the reclamation here.

840 - Cometh The Hour...

Closed my book on multiple personalities before reading the synopses of creative persona, and went to Morrisons instead.

On the way back I bumped into a guy I worked with at Seven Stories, digitising old reel-to-reel tapes. He told me he'd just completed an oral history project in Suffolk, for which he'd bought a CD robot, capable of cutting individual disks, and printing them with unique labels.

He is planning to use the machine, in his musician's guise, with musician friends, one of whom is his teenage daughter, a guitarist. He told me about the group - how they span thirty-three years; how he is proud that his daughter, when school allows, can tour with them. He says they are anti-rock (the way, I think, punk or radical folk can be anti-rock: something uncategorisable, new). Sometimes they'll gig as slow as possible, like a slow-bike race, I guess.

We talked about awakening creative energy. Now's time for a fresh burst of it. Like King Arthur, he said: when England needs him, he's there waking up.

Rough times ahead, however you view it, if the seventies are back economically, and the eighties, around the corner ready to plunder and despoil what's left. Good to know King Arthur and his bards and battlers are already shaking free of the soil: grassroots against intolerance and the dead hands of exploitation and bigotry.

Monday, 4 May 2009

841 - Rendezvous Cafe Window

Sitting inside with tea and fabulous outsized muffins. I like the way that the marks on the window, and the old-fashioned putty-edged iron frames, make the scene outside look like photographic plates from an ancient camera. I thought about cropping the photo, and tried it, but the vestige of frame in the top left-hand corner guides the eye: removing it opens the picture out too much.