Benjamin Parzybok . “The Hole in the Reef”, Reckoning #1

From Reckoning “an annual journal of creative writing on environmental justice”, comes this tight little story about a father and son, the ocean, and waste by Benjamin Parzybok.

A couple of slightly awkward sentences aside (“Sometimes it felt like gliding through a child’s crayon drawing in which turquoise had been over-wielded’) the story conveys the tensions of the father-son relationship and, by extension, different approaches to the world extremely well. Reckoning have an interview with Parzybok on the story here – worth reading the story first. The story alternates above-water dialogue with below-water prose:

The plunge over felt like entering a planet’s atmosphere. The bubbles floated past like little stars, sparks and ash, aswarm with insects. And the sound—ten million molecules all sung together with a concussive white noise.
When the bubbles cleared he made his way down, his snorkel gripped tightly between his teeth, his breath tight in his lungs. The reef swam about him, brilliant and colored—displaying more colors than the cone-cells in his own eyes could detect. He was a stranger here; an alien creature, not biologically well-equipped. Unlike his father.
He scanned about. On dry land, they lived in two dimensions. But in the reef, danger came from any angle, above or below.
It was his father’s growing incompetence that had ensnared the anchor. Drunk and sudden and impulsive. He had studied his father for signs of dementia; a hobbling thing for a man so ruthlessly independent. As he finned further down he glanced back to see the otherworldly silhouette of their small boat’s hull above, where inside, like the meat of a nut, his father hummed some dirty ditty to himself.
At fifteen feet down he held his nose and blew, to clear the pressure in his ears. At twenty five feet they ached again, but he was still not close enough.
At thirty feet he could see the anchor in the foggy blue light of the bottom, nestled into an indentation between patches of coral, but the pain seared in his head and he was out of breath.

In the interview Parzybok says that to believe the world has a designer (or creator I guess) is to disclaim responsibility for it – I think I know where he is coming from but surely notions of stewardship and responsibility being given chime as much with the idea of creation as with the idea that responsibility is something self-defined and self-ordained?

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From “The Making of Mr Bolsover”, Cornelius Medvei

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Perhaps then, Mr Cruikshank suggested, he would like to tell everyone which political figures he did admire.

Without hesitation Mr Bolsover named Lord Salisbury, Queen Victoria’s last prime minister.

Amid the general murmur of surprise and disbelief, he went on to explain. It was not the details of Salisbury’s policies that Mr Bolsover admired, but his guiding principles. Salisbury had a deep aversion to officials and lawmakers. He took a quietist approach to government, and was contemptuous of those who believed that a government’s effectiveness is directly proportional the number of laws it passes.

There was also his appearance. Salisbury’s luxuriant, flowing beard and the great balding dome of his head lent him an air of immense gravitas, as did his pensive expression: his portraits generally showed him lost in thought, as thought pondering important matters of state. This was in direct contrast to his great contemporary and rival Gladstone who posed for photographs looking, so Mr Bolsover said, warming to his theme, ‘like an indignant owl’, and whose bristling side-whiskers appeared merely eccentric to modern eyes. Both men, however presented a salutary contrast the moon-faced chldren who held political office today. And Salisbury had been a supreme pragmatist: not for him the lethal devotion to an ideology at the expense of everything else. ‘The axioms of the last age are the fallacies of the present,’ he once wrote ‘There is nothing abiding in political science but the necessity for truth, purity and justice.’

Appreciating nature in the 6th Century: From “The Consolation of Philosophy”, Boethius

It is sometimes argued that an argument often made that appreciation of nature is a phenomenon of industrial societies. It is implied that nature is something that intellectuals and city folk appreciate – not people living in times where survival is more of a struggle.

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One contra example is the nature poetry of the Irish monks which Flann O’Brien wrote about for his MA Thesis. Another seems to be this passage from Boethius (obviously an elite source, but nevertheless a contra example to the idea that appreciation of nature is a phenomenon of industrial society alone:

Perhaps, again, you find pleasure in the beauty of the countryside. Creation is indeed very beautiful, and the countryside a beautiful part of creation. In the same way we are sometimes delighted by the appearance of the sea when it’s very calm and look up with wonder at the sky, the stars, the moon and the sun.

(trans. Victor Watts

The passage in the context of The Consolation of Philosophy implies that these are common sentiments of the time. It goes on to somewhat throw cold water on consolation from the natural world:

However, not one of these has anything to do with you, and you daren’t take credit for the splendour of any of them. The fact that flowers blossom in spring confers no distinction on you, and the swelling fullness of the autumn harvest is no work of yours. You are, in fact, enraptured with empty joys, embracing blessings that are alien to you as if they were your own. I ask you, why? For Fortune can never make yours what Nature has made alien to you. Of course the fruits of the land are appointed as food for living beings; but if you wish only to satisfy your needs – and that is all Nature requires – there is no need to seek an excess from Fortune. Nature is content with few and little: if you try to press superfluous additions upon what is sufficient for Nature, your bounty will become sickening if not harmful.

Of course, quite aprat from responding to this passage int he context of the book and of the philosophy fo the time, one could ask whether “nature is content with few and little” is in fact a reasonable reason to give for deriving consolation from it.

boethius
Via Philosophers.co.uk

The Derrynaflan Monastery and Easter Pilgrimage

The Derrynaflan Monastery and Easter Pilgrimage

Recently I visited Derrynaflan with my son (5) and found it a wonderful site. The approach was challenging – we came from the Southern Route following a trip along roads with less and less room to turn and more and more grass in the middle. Then we had to climb various gates and pass through the eerie, desert-like (albeit very wet) bog landscape to Derrynaflan itself. We had a mighty time scrambling around and copying the designs on the Goban Saor’s purported grave. My son had absorbed that there was some kind of treasure story linked to the place, albeit the subtleties of the legal arguments passed him by. He did wonder if we found a euro coin would we have to give it to the government. Curious to know what came of the Derrynaflan trail proposed here?

Also curious to find out more about the Penal Law-era Franciscan friary which is mentioned briefly in various online resources.

These are the graveslabs in situ – the last picture gives a sense of surrounding terrain (didn’t take many photos):

Pilgrimage In Medieval Ireland

Derrynaflan is best known for its medieval metal work, including a two-handled chalice known as the Derrynaflan chalice, on display in the  National Museum of Ireland.

derrynaflan-hoard The Derrynaflan hoard (the chalice and associated ecclesiastical objects)

The  chalice along with a paten, a liturgical strainer and basin were part of a hoard of treasure found by metal detectorist on land close to the  monastery of Derrynaflan Co Tipperary.  The complications, surrounding their discovery, helped to instigate Ireland’s current metal detecting laws which make it illegal for anyone to engage in metal detecting without a licence.

As a child I remember going on a school trip to the National Museum at Kildare St. After all these years I still remember  this visit clearly, along with  our teacher pointing out this treasure (Derrynaflan Chalice) found in my home county. I also purchased a small booklet in the museum shop on the chalice which…

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Review of “Wild Abandon”, Joe Dunthorne, TLS, August 19th 2011

bookreview

This is a brief review of an entertaining second novel by Joe Dunthorne. It didn’t quite have the success of Submarine, which was a pity, since in many ways the focus expanded quite effectively. Some tendency towards journalistese (see the Happy Mondays quote I mention below) it was a very effective comic novel that did a certain justice to its characters. With thanks to Maren Meinhardt for sending me the full published text.

Countercultures
SÉAMUS SWEENEY
Joe Dunthorne’s first novel, Submarine (2008), depicted a Swansea teenager’s comically sex-obsessed, self-dramatizing existence and his tragic attempts to keep his parents together. In his new novel, Dunthorne broadens his canvas to a commune in South Wales, but the focus remains on growing up, family life and marital breakdown. These, the novel suggests, are equally painful in unconventional families and in nuclear ones. Blean-y-llyn is a secular, non mystical exercise in communal living, conceived in the early 1990s by Don Riley and his companions. The Welsh name is not significant since all the communards are English, and it is known to the locals as the Rave House after a legendary fifteenth birthday party for Don’s daughter, Kate, which turned into an all-night affair.

The opening scene, in which seventeen year-old Kate and her eleven-year-old brother Albert have a shower together – it is the only way to get Albert to wash – suggests the eccentricity of the Riley ménage, in which Freya, the children’s mother, is increasingly alienated from Don. While Kate leaves every day to attend a sixth form college, Albert, who feels “puberty’s greasy palm on his shoulder”, is still schooled in the commune, with only six-year-old Isaac for company. Sensible Kate is one of those exasperated daughters of ostentatiously countercultural parents, but Albert has absorbed the apocalyptic beliefs of Isaac’s mother Marina, a serial commune-dweller and a believer in the upcoming cosmic dislocations of 2012.

Don Riley is a monster of righteousness and ill-judged humour. In one excruciating scene he tells his unwilling eleven-year-old son how he lost his virginity: “he leaned down to Albert’s ear and whispered conspiratorially in a tone that he hoped would show his son that, one day, the two of them could be friends. ‘She had a climber’s body but alpine tits’”. Also disturbing is Don’s use of the Personal Instrument, a self-built device for the focusing of consciousness, as an initiation for the commune’s children into adulthood – he inflicts this modified motorcycle helmet on Albert as a desperate and futile attempt at control. At times the larger-than-life Don threatens to dominate the book to the detriment of its wider themes.

Dunthorne creates sympathetic adolescent characters. Kate’s alienation from the commune reaches a crisis point, and she leaves to stay with her boyfriend Geraint and his nice, average suburban family – local television news producer dad, devoted and supportive mum. Having grown up on a diet of films depicting bourgeois life as a repository of hidden dysfunction, Kate expects dark secrets amid the mown lawns and plasma screens, and some of Dunthorne’s most acute humour exposes the limits of Kate’s apparently clear-eyed world-view. There are some false steps – a long expository section dips into Sunday supplement generalizations (“Black Monday revealed the vulnerability of the stocks markets; the Happy Mondays revealed the quality of drugs coming from the continent”) and the final rave seems set up for a sentimental resolution. Fortunately, a powerful last scene is able to reconcile Kate’s new maturity, the altered dynamics of the Riley family, and even Albert’s millennial anxieties, and Wild Abandon comes to a satisfying close.