REALITY CHECK

‘Behind every horse, every pig or human being, there is the “idea horse,”  “idea pig,” and “idea human  being.”

Plato came to the conclusion that there must be a reality behind the “material world.” He called this reality the world of ideas; it contained the eternal and immutable “patterns” behind various phenomena we come across in nature. This remarkable view is known as Plato’s theory of ideas.’

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

On a perfectly lovely Sunday morning, my partner and I wandered into our favourite local cafe on Portobello Rd and sat down for coffee and our usual Sunday morning appraisal of the week we had just left behind us and the week that lay ahead. Stoking herself up for this conversation she went to the counter to order breakfast. I found us a table and gazed around the cafe in my usual way, taking random photo’s with my camera of a ‘Typical Sunday Morning in Local Cafe.’ Sad, I know, but it’s  kind of an obsession of mine, they tell me, to take photographs of absolutely everything, all the time.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was actually taking photographs of something I really needed to see. Something that was so foreign to me that I failed to recognise it. Something that, in reality, bore barely any resemblance to something I have lived with an idea of for over a decade.

In the book ‘Sophie’s world’, on the subject of Plato’s theory of ideas  Jostein Gaarder talks of the bakery and the way it can have gingerbread men, gingerbread horses, and gingerbread pigs because every bakery has more than one mold. That one mold is enough for each type of gingerbread cookie. Yes. But what happens when when you try to push a mere gingerbread human into the mold of a magnificent gingerbread horse?

Kind of what happened in this case, as it goes. It breaks and crumbles.

Awaiting my partner, my eye turned to a woman sitting opposite me, a little way across the room. She was eating breakfast, hungrily, her eyes were down and she was totally absorbed in the plate before her. An older woman, stylish, alone, crumpled and very slight in build, there was something about this woman that reminded me of someone I had once known, intimately, over a decade ago. Dismissing the idea that this might be her on the basis that the woman I had known hardly ever ‘ate’ anything, was tall, statuesque and broad shouldered and certainly wasn’t of this woman’s countenance in any way, I turned to my approaching coffee almost ready to forget what had caught my eye.

Almost.

Curious about that ‘something’ that reminded me of someone I had once known, I turned back, picked up my prescription dark glasses in order to see this woman more clearly – and saw her. No, I mean, I saw her. Maybe,for the first time ever.

Had she not told me this. Had other’s not warned me when I first met her that what I was seeing was a creature of my own creation. In my own defence I must add, not just my own creation – many had seen her the way I saw her. She was fairly legendary amongst certain circles. However, had this woman herself not laughed at me when I told her what I saw when I looked at her.

Now, if a ‘gingerbread woman’ projects herself in a particular way, behaves in a particular way and gets known-of in a particular way, then one might, just might, be forgiven for trying to squash her into the mold of a magnificent ‘gingerbread horse’, Not so?

But I’m making excuses for myself here, and it wont do.

As I gazed at this woman sitting across the room from me in that crowded cafe, as I absorbed her demeanour and processed all I was seeing, I  began to recognise certain gestures, expressions, a style and remnants of a ‘signature’ I had once known. Reality. Before me was the reality of someone about whom I had held ideas and who I had tried to contain in a mold into which she had never quite fitted.

When I wandered over to her with ‘Of all the cafes in all the towns why did you have to walk into mine  . . .’ she laughed. In her laughter I caught fleeting glimpses of the woman I had known. As I stood there laughing myself, I found myself talking to a person – not an idea. Not a concept. An actual woman. Someone I wasn’t sure I had ever seen clearly before . . .

Jostein Gaarder goes on to tell us that Plato found mathamatics very absorbing ‘because mathamatical states never change.’  He goes on to describe how one person might pick up a pine cone in a forest and say it is ‘completely round’ whereas someone else might argue that it is slightly flattened on one side. On the other hand, you can say with absolute certainty that the sum of the angles in a circle is 360 degrees. ( Of course, an ideal circle which might not exist in the real world but which you can certainly visualise. )

In short, Jostein says, we can only have inexact conceptions of things we perceive with our senses.

HA!

Well . . . I have to confess, my senses certainly had a lot to do with what I’d perceived ten years ago. Everyone said it, I came to suspect it and finally, ten years later, I came to see it. Returning to our table,  I gazed at the photo I had inadvertently taken of this woman in the cafe that Sunday. Finally, I could see.

So, it’s your turn now. How do you think other people perceive the ‘reality’ of you? If you want to drive yourself really crazy, ask yourself how you perceive the reality of yourself . . .

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BREXIT: my opinion

What sad times we live in now.  I don’t know which stars crossed where, but it seems to me the world has gone mad.  Brexit.  In my lifetime, short of a third world war ( now increasingly possible it seems ) nothing will be this huge.  Brexit is shattering, devastating and now there shall be consequences of which we will be learning more and more with each passing day.

For what it’s worth I felt proud and blessed to live in a country called the UK – inclusive then of Ireland and Scotland who it seems will both be detaching themselves from our apron strings at their earliest opportunity.  I gladly swore loyalty and devotion to the Queen of  what I considered to be a great and noble country and I didn’t do that lightly.

On my mothers side I have a lineage which goes back to great, great English grandparents who hailed from and around Poole in Dorset for generations.  I grew up with English literature, art, architecture, values and a religious background of Quakers in our family. There’s not much Vera Lynn I don’t know, nor Noel Coward, nor Flanders and Swann to name but a few.  I grew up knowing all the words to The White Cliffs of Dover and I could tell you all about nailing little metal bottle tops to the floor – ( thank you, Flanders and Swann).

I was also very happy to embrace the rich history, beauty, culture and the whole Ethos of Europe.  Not just Greece, but Italy, France, Germany and Austria where in fact I worked in various Trade Fairs around Europe for years.  I am eternally grateful for those wonderful jobs that took me to those beautiful places and for the opportunity that gave me to meet people from other European countries who so greatly enriched my life.  It saddens me beyond words to know that it will no longer be possible for English people to go and work in these beautiful countries.  I am sad for the young people and the little children I know and love who have just had future opportunities and possibilities radically diminished by an older generation of people who are seemingly loathe to leave their armchairs to travel as far as the local shops, let alone around Europe.

I’m simply devastated that we have severed ties to those beautiful countries completely forgetting what some of those countries did for England after the Second World War, Greece included, in terms of loans and agreements following the terrible crash that hit this country.

I’m stunned that Cornwall voted OUT when it was Cornwall for whom the EU did the most and I am appalled by a rampant desire to isolate this country against its allies. Forgetting that only 27 years passed between two world wars and the decades that have passed since the last one, thanks to the EU, there seems to be neither awareness nor concern about the fact ( Lest we Forget ) that divided we fell as +60 000 people perished when European fought  European.

Is no one asking why Russia encouraged us to Brexit and are we truly to applaud ourselves for doing as Donald Trump said we should do.

We live now in a deeply divided country.  A country in which old friends who previously might have agreed to disagree realise that fundamentally their core values are so profoundly opposed they can no longer communicate at all.  This has brought us to the brink of something, and we shall soon find out to our detriment what this something is.

My dearest friend Gavin Cutler summed it up very beautifully for me in a text when he wrote to me as follows:

“Hello to you from teeny-tiny li’l England all alone and divorced from beautiful Europe and drifting away with every tide.”

REFLECTIONS ON THE TRIUMPH OF CONCIOUSNESS OVER FUTILITY

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For a variety of reasons, I have recently been called upon to consider the absurdity, and the tragedy, of the story of Sisyphus.  When my mother first painted the above, beautiful work of art, I, as a young child, asked her what it meant.  (Well, I asked her this about everything she painted as it happens, but this painting, in particular, truly captured this child’s imagination.)  My mother replied that it was a painting of Sisyphus – a man condemned by the gods to ceaselessly roll a rock to the top of a mountain, only to watch it fall.  Time and time again he was to repeat this act, for all eternity.  I found this concept deeply distressing, and turned away from it.  Happily, at that time, my mind simply shut down on a concept it was, then, far too young to grasp.

I have come to this place now, from where I am willing, and able, to consider this story anew, as follows:

According to Wikipedia, Albert Camus, the French, Nobel Prize winning author and philosopher, gave rise to the philosophy known as Absurdism.  It is to Camus I now turn in search of words that may calm my greatly troubled thoughts on matters of futile labours, and the absurdity of repeating patterns of behaviour throughout one’s life, as though striving towards an end that simply cannot be reached.

Camus tells us that if Homer were to be believed, Sisyphus was the “wisest of mortals.”  According to another tradition, he was far from this, “disposed to practice the profession of a highwayman.”  Camus sees no contradiction in this.  Thus, for a variety of reasons, none of which I am going to elaborate on here, Camus was condemned to a fate in the underworld that my mother described, grabbed by the god Mercury, and led forcibly to his rock that awaited him there.

Camus describes Sisyphus as the “Absurd Hero”, for it was his hatred of death, and his passion for life, equally, that led him to the penalty in which he is fated to exert himself toward accomplishing nothing for all eternity.  I consider this now, and ask the reader:  do you not know of people who do such a thing?  People who, through earthly passions, needs, drives and desires of many different kinds, exert themselves in futile persuits throughout their lives, accomplishing nothing.  I do.

On reading the story again, I am granted a vision of something I certainly had not considered before.  Camus discusses the matter of Sisyphus returning down the summit of the mountain to retrieve his rock from the plain below.

“I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end.  That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of conciousness.  At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate.  He is stronger than his rock.”  Albert Camus.

Camus continues to suggest that if this story is tragic, it is because Sisyphus is conscious.  “Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him?”

And here, at last, I find some comfort in the words Camus continues with now:

“When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory, when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy arises in a man’s heart:  this is the rock’s victory, this is the rock itself.  The boundless grief is too heavy to bear.  These are our nights of Gethsemane.  But crushing truths perish from being acknowledged.”

Well now, I like that.  A lot!  And it gets better…honestly, it does! But, I shall opt out here, and leave the reader to investigate further into the story Camus tells so well, should you feel so inclined.  You may not, of course.  It is a very personal matter for me, that I am drawn to consider futility, absurdity, and yes, heroic struggles to no end.  There are many words within all that Albert Camus writes here, from which I draw comfort, and fresh ways of seeing.  Not least of all, for example, these:

“At that subtle moment when a man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death.  Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go.  The rock is still rolling. 

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain!  One always finds one’s burden again.  But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks.  He too concludes that all is well. This universe, henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile.  Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world.  The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.  One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”  Albert Camus.

One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Well, this is what I wanted to share today of Albert Camus on the subject of Sisyphus.  Later today, I shall post my own version of this story in STORIES OF WILLOW contd….under the title: “OF CAMELS, AND SISYPHUS IN THE FOUNTAIN.”

Please read, enjoy, and comment on all.

 

 

 

Among many things, in his writing of the Myth of  Sisyphus, Albert Camus proposes the following:   “..crushing truths perish from being acknowledged.”

HAPPY HALLOWEEN

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SCREAM:  Edvard Munch 1893

“I WAS WALKING DOWN THE ROAD WITH TWO FRIENDS WHEN THE SUN SET; SUDDENLY, THE SKY TURNED AS RED AS BLOOD.  I STOPPED AND LEANED AGAINST THE FENCE, FEELING UNSPEAKABLY TIRED.  TONGUES OF FIRE AND BLOOD STRETCHED OVER THE BLUISH BLACK FJORD.  MY FRIENDS WENT ON WALKING, WHILE I LAGGED BEHIND, SHIVERING WITH FEAR.  THEN I HEARD THE ENORMOUS INFINITE SCREAM OF NATURE.”

Edvard Munch.

Over the last few years I have sat back and watched a variety of crime series on television, I have seen people killed in the worst ways in a plethora of episodes packed full of such delights, and closed my eyes as bits and pieces of the human body are scrutinised under extraordinary Microspcopes  by uncommonly beautiful women and interesting looking men.  These programs have never been to my taste but I have lived with people for whom this viewing is compulsive, bordering even on the obsessive for some.  Therefore, such horrors have entered my living room and often invaded my subconscious mind in ways I might honestly have preferred them not to.

Imagine my reaction then on recently hearing a real-life story of Horror to rival all the fictional murders we see portrayed on such programs.  Aside from recognising, not for the first time, that life is indeed stranger (and crueler) than fiction I realised above all how utterly distasteful I find the glorification and glamour that these television shows portray around matters of such intense distress, Horror and the resultant inevitable heartbreaking tragedy of these senseless and brutal murders in reality.  Yes, of course there are fine authors who have written very well of Horror across the ages.  I need not list the famous books, films and probably even blogs which have been brilliantly composed on this subject.  I refer specifically to those incredibly popular television series to which we have been subjected over the past decade at least, in which forensic science appears to have become a platform on which to parade the most perfect faces, beautiful clothes, hair styles and flawless makeup.  Which writer of which one of those shows has been able to fully convey the full extent of the Horror of each tragedy, or come even close to creating a sense of the indescribable pathos of every victim in their final moments of life.  News Flash!!  This happens in the real world all the time.  Are we really “ok” with that.  So ok with it, we are happy to sit down and watch brutal murders portrayed in high definition in our very own living rooms.

There is no greater nor lesser Horror than that of pure, unadulterated Horror itself.  Once seen, never forgotten.  Once experienced, never deleted from our individual life story.  Seeing and experiencing things that are usually only read of or seen in a film or recounted in the catalogue of disasters (World News) that constitute our daily diet, both on television and radio, are the ways in which matters of extraordinary Horror enter our living rooms and, more importantly, our hearts.  But these are not the only ways in which we learn of that which is unspeakable and beyond belief.  We learn of Horror on stepping into the world of someone who opens a door indicating, tentatively, that we may enter their story.

What is Horror.  The dictionary tells us it is an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust and intense dismay.  None of these words truly express the feelings evoked by what I heard last Wednesday night at a dinner party at my house.  A bold image was presented to us, the listeners, as a shocking statement of fact through words now etched in our minds.  Words that told a story of something screen writers and novelists alike are paid a great deal of money to commercialise.  That night we heard of a real-life Horror Story – a real-life tragedy.   Can the distress, terror and sickening devastation experienced first of all by the victim and then by those closest to them truly be portrayed in any way by a decorative cast acting out against a backdrop of CGI sets placed in exotic locations where blood itself is colour co-ordinated carefully with whatever it is spilled on, and where human organs are filmed in close-up, shiny, brightly coloured silicone coated pictures.

What level of disrespect for such pain and suffering does anyone have to have in order to put pen to paper and write of these things in the careless, heartless way we witness on our television screens in programs dedicated to the subject of brutal murders.

“No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can come through the struggle unscathed.”  Sigmund Freud.

I declare myself scathed.  Purely in the hearing of these things, I struggle to wrestle with the half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast.  I battle to find a place from where I might find refuge from the Horror of what I heard, and for sure, no more sordid television programs are going to be viewed in my home – no matter how pretty the women, how handsome the men, how exotic the locations each Horror is filmed in or how stunning the quality of these glossy images may be.  I am appalled by these crass, cavalier representations of murder and brutality.   I have been touched by the reality of such things and I am pretty sure that in the reality of what I heard lipstick was not perfectly applied, suits were creased, the forensic scientists involved weren’t all models, the murderer was ugly and without any doubt whatsoever, no damn music was playing!

With this in mind I wish my readers a very Happy Halloween!  Certainly, dress up in funny clothes, paint streaks of blood down your face, parade the SCREAM mask derivative of Edvard Munch’s powerful painting, frighten people in passing cars, and terrify each other and yourselves.  For fun.

This Halloween, I shall not be attending that party.

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”  Carl Jung.

I’m “dealing”.