for sunshine after storm

“I would say that he has a rather limited and uncreative way of looking at the situation. You want to know if I understand that this is a mental hospital? Yes, I understand that. But, then how can I say that you are Don Octavio and I am a guest at your villa? Correct?” – Don Juan DeMarco

A few months ago I experienced something unusual. I was tense. I couldn’t think clearly. I couldn’t grasp my thoughts. A fog had descended over my brain. I couldn’t visualise or access the parts of my brain where all the interesting stuff was. 

I love reading and literature. I could read something but I couldn’t access the memory drive or whatever the technical term is for that, where I hold all the allusions and reference points to my previous experiences and all of the other shit I’ve read in my life to form a picture or an opinion or expand on, or even understand what the writer was trying to say (intentionally or otherwise). It was an incredibly frustrating experience.

I was stressed out from long hours. I was physically and mentally jaded. My brain and body had effectively hit the ‘safe mode’ á la Windows 98. All my body and mind was interested in was the basic functions of survival and protecting myself to stay alive. An ancient, hard wired evolutionary response.

Your body is designed for two primary functions: reproduce and survive. When you’re faced with stressful situations, the only parts of your brain you can access are the ones which perform the basic functions of keeping you alive. If you’re about to be lunch for a sabre tooth tiger, your mind couldn’t give a shit about the nuances of James Joyce’s Ulysses, only the threat at hand and keeping you alive. 

It actually took me a while, to regain my sense of self. I don’t like feeling jaded or having my mind clouded over. I enjoy the sensory aspects of living. How pretentious as fuck does that sound? I started trying to increase blood-flow to my brain and break the shackles of the stultifying fog.

I started looking for outlets and later it was by chance I became interested in playing guitar again. I don’t profess to be even a proficient guitar player. I’m working on it. However I became fascinated by the possibilities of the instrument and the creative process. I eventually started to think outside of the box again and started looking beyond the conventional idea of the instrument. If you’re playing an electric guitar, essentially, the guitar is actually the platform and your instrument is the amp. I started messing around with various effects pedals, which are actually addictive. I started looking beyond the guitar in the conventional sense of playing chords and became interested and intrigued in the various multi-faceted possibilities. Utilising the various quirks of the equipment to create interesting sounds, rather than spending hours tediously practising ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ to make it sound like it does on Led Zep 4, I thought it was more interesting just messing and playing around. Creating my own sound. I didn’t care. The stress was gone. This is freedom.

I had internalised the greatest lesson from James Joyce’s work, the creative process is essentially for your own amusement. Art brings stillness and fulfilment. It doesn’t mean shit if people like, appreciate or even understand what you’re doing, it isn’t a means to an end. You do not create for visceral reponse. It is an outpouring of spiritual repose.

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Crabwalk @ NGCA 

Checked out this great exhibition at the NGCA in Sunderland, today. Particularly liked this:  

  

It’s called The Cortical Night by Alex Dordoy. The canvas shows a cerebral cortex manifested as a forest against an opaque backdrop. Forests traditionally serve as a great mythological metaphor for transformation and change. This is also reflected in the spherical orbs representing the moon. Of course the moon is the ultimate methaphor for transformation. Those distant enchanting spheres that exist in the space between wakefulness and sleep, before disappearing to be reborn again. It’s a truly stunning interpretation of the dreamscape intertwined with the waking consciousness.

 
Also, I really liked the work of Jennifer Douglas which is designed to represent the current condition of Kazmir Malevich’s suprematist masterpiece ‘The Black Square.’ I’m a great fan of Malevich and I continue to lament missing the 2014 Tate Modern exhibition. Nonetheless, her work here serves as either individual (fractured) canvasses, or as a complete constructivist composition for which the picture below doesn’t do justice. 

  

Well worth a look.

Language and Death in Montreal 

After arriving in Montreal I decided to go to Irish language classes. I’m referring to the native language of Ireland which is ‘gaeilge.’ Not how to speak English slang in an Irish accent, “Tell yer man to stop givin’ out. Great craic like so it is. Get a caravan for me ma in periwinkle blue. Watch the dags.” Irish is a protected European language and one I’m actually fairly proficient in, as I spent a lot of time with my West Cork family growing up and also spent time in the gaeltacht areas where Irish is in everyday usage. My foray into Irish language classes was more to do with finding likeminded people. Whilst not a dying language gaelige is somewhat endangered, limited mostly to the declining gaeltacht areas mainly on the west coast of the island.

As it happens, I would have been better served taking lessons in Québécois. As it happens Québécois French is similar to French, in the same way Irish gaeilge is similar to Scottish gaelic. They’re effectively of the same genus, but it’s like comparing a German Shepherd to a Husky. They may look similar but the differences can be profound. In essence, languages like animals can be broken up into categories and sub-categories. A man and women may not appear similar, but they’re extremely similar when compared to a monkey. A man and a monkey are nigh on identical when compared to a dog, but a man and a dog are more closely aligned when compared to a shark.

French is a romance language and shares characteristics with other central European Romance languages which have evolved from Latin such as: Italian, Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese.

English is Germanic, as is Dutch and by result of colonialism Afrikaan, Swedish, Norwegian, Dane.

Irish shares characteristics with Celtic languages such as French gallic, Welsh, Scottish and the natively deceased Manx language. You can however find some commonalities with English if you know where to look (just showing off).

I find whereas French is quite formal, Québécois is much more idiomatic and certainly takes quite a bit getting used to as a result. Infact the idioms make it more difficult than speaking say, Spanish and then going to Catalonia. As at least the format of the languages in how they’re spoken are basically the same.

I find language a pretty fascinating topic. It’s interesting how much of an impact language has on how you think. This is why languages like Irish and others further afield were suppressed by English colonialists. It wasn’t simply a case of convenience, but an act of cultural defenestration enacted against natives. Including changing names/surnames. My own family name in Irish is Laighin, from Laigin. The Laigin were a population group of early Ireland. The name is actually an ethnonym denoting a distinct ethnic group. The Laigin also give name to the province of Leinster, which in Irish is actually Cúige Laighean (pronounced cooga layan) Literally, ‘Fifth of the Laigin.’ The Laigin are by virtue are also highly prevalent in the early cycles of Irish mythology, some of the oldest recorded on the planet.

The rebirth of my interest in the Irish language in the last few years was to do with reading stories and poems in their original form which as is often the case, do not carry over well when translated into another language. Again, Irish poetry and literature are amongst some of the earliest recorded. Thus, it is not simply a language that is endangered, it is a massive amount of cultural and literary history too. This is why I strongly believe in participation in the language and have such an interest in its perseveration.

There was debate during the Irish revival at the turn of the last century about its continued usage which I believe is quite pertinent, however not for the reasons set out. The great Irish writer James Joyce briefly studied Irish under Padraig Pearse the leader of the Easter Rising. However, Joyce who would go on ironically to be perhaps the greatest proponent of the English language of all time, found the Gaelic League’s revival of the language to be essentially ‘backward.’ I think he was essentially correct. There is and certainly in the case of the Gaelic League was very much a prevalent conservative instinct. Although I do believe it was well intentioned, I believe the same conservative instinct is prevalent in the well-intentioned people who are trying to preserve and save the language to this day. For a language to survive it must be allowed to evolve and grow. We’ve seen this with the English language which is almost distinctly unrecognisable from the time of Shakespeare. I recently watched Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender, anyone unfamiliar with the play may have felt like they were by virtue thrown into watching a foreign film. Evolution is healthy for language.

Joyce as he demonstrated with his later works was anything but backward looking with regards to language. Ulysses and particularly Finnegans Wake are imbued with linguistic inventiveness, playfulness and creativity. Joyce in Finnegans Wake in essence opted to invent his own language which was based around puns, English, Irish, Greek, Latin and drunken rambling. Far from being frustrating and unreadable, these are the works of someone having a laugh. My experience in Montreal furthers my conviction, that rather than being an frustrating exercise in unraveling idiomatic French or wishing for more formal syntax, it is beautiful to see a language thriving. Irish language enthusiasts and revivalists would do well to learn from theses examples. It is best not to be conservative when it comes to the rules of a language. A language lives and dies by its efficiency and ease of usage. Then the languages possibilities which aren’t finite may again wake [terrible, don’t care].

Parisian Tragedy

The attack in France is so sad. Although such awful instances have happened before in other major cities across the years, Madrid, London, New York, Dublin and so on, there is something particularly awful about this Parisian tragedy. I imagine only an attack on Rome would be quite so equally poignant and symbolic, and would be likely to resonate quite so deeply with European citizens. 

I mention this, as Paris, like Rome is a place you associate with great beauty, culture, art. A place that upon mere mention has a soul stirring profundity and will reconcile in the mind many great romantic connotations, and above all, all that is quite so beautiful about Europe itself. A place that contains much of France’s great cultural heritage, and the heritage of many around the world in far diverse places. Although I cannot say if the attackers had an appreciation for such symbolism in their planning, or they perhaps just considered Paris simply a soft-target, it has resonated with me deeply.

My thoughts and prayers are with the French people and all others who may be affected directly and indirectly.

Bodyworlds @ The Centre for Life

My first visit to this place was a few years back during my brief stint at Sunderland University. My lost weekend. On my last encounter I got to play with vials of nandrolone and learned how to drug test people or evade detection depending on your ethical leanings. It was forthright, educational and cool.

I visited again at the weekend to see the Bodyworlds exhibition. Unlike my last visit which pertained to anatomical learnings, functions of the body, human performance and errr doping, this one did not. I admit, my visit was mainly out of morbid curiosity following a documentary I watched about Gunther Von Hagens in 2010. I am not even going to bother masking this under the pretence of wishing to learn more about the motor functions of the human anatomy, which many will, and which is their right.

I got their lunchtime. The exhibition begins pretty mundanely. A few skeletons. Fairly standard anatomy class stuff. Thus, Gunther begins to ease you towards a skeleton holding a relay baton, which stands upright behind the plasticised ligaments and tendons of what once presumably made up part of its outer shell. I was not entirely sure what I was meant to be making of this anatomically, and in all honesty – after some considerable thought – I’m still not sure. Nice plasticisation (?) of the patella. And the pose really brings out the array of tendons surrounding the scapula I suppose. Thumbs up.

The exhibition ultimately climaxes in several displays seemingly curated to pay homage to amongst others, Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man,’ and Rembrandt’s ‘Autopsy of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp’ but they subsequently have the affect of making you feel like you are caught up in a particularly grotesque episode of Hannibal.

Nonetheless, the part of the exhibition which summed the whole things up for me, was the several millimetre thin cross sections of the human anatomy which have ended up resembling something like prosciutto ham. And that’s kind of what it all is. The cadavers have been processed to the point where you don’t feel like you are looking at human beings. At all. In the same way looking at a slice of bacon or ham, doesn’t cause you to think of a pig. Because essentially, it isn’t. Any kind of character, distinguishing feature, or anything identifiable as particularly sentient has been stripped, and bio-chemically altered beyond any recognition.

Ultimately, any insights into anatomy are inevitably outweighed by what is seemingly part art-exhibition, part unintentional satire on human gastronomic habits played out on processed corpses. It’s all very strange and leaves you wondering what you’ve witnessed for days afterwards. To be honest, I’m still not sure.

Double N.

I had walked along the Liffey. Upto Grafton Street. Before the Guinness would be flowing. Unknowing of the judgment that would fall later that spring evening. I recall vividly the tricolours flying. The crowds of people. I turned off unknowingly into Davey Byrnes pub.

Be still as you are beautiful,
Be silent as the rose;
Through miles of starlit countryside
Unspoken worship flows

The Shelbourne Hotel. Dublin. Five stars. St. Stephens Green. A building of historical significance. Never far from the most pivotal and defining moments in Irish society. Across the busy foyer. A Friday in May. There she was. I limped across. 5’9. Heels. A leather jacket. Black pencil skirt. Flowing blonde hair. Beaming smile. Her eyes were the same colour as the glistening spring sky of blue. Like an epiphany to all my foolish blood. On that gleaming marble floor, fleeting.