Sunday, 7 February 2016

"Firm ground is not available ground"— everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man or woman who built their house on sand.

The sand dunes at Wells-next-the-Sea 
Readings: Matthew 7:24–27  “Hearers and Doers”

Jesus said: Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!

Lucretius “On the Nature of Things” trans by David R. Slavitt, p. 51 (De natura rerum 2.72–79) 

Pay close attention and understand my words. We have already agreed that matter is not one packed and coherent lump, since we see how, over the course of time, things will tend to diminish, enfeebled by age and ebbing away before our eyes. And yet the sum of matter remains nonetheless the same—for as bodies pass away from one thing they diminish by leaving, they then increase another to which they go: the first fades away and the second grows and blossoms. And yet bodies do not linger there but pass on to something else, in an endless renewal so that the sum of things remains constant. Creatures depend on each other, and some species increase while others wane and diminish. In a fairly short span of time we can see how generations of living creatures are born and die, but the race goes on as the runners pass the torch of life, one to the next, different and yet the same.

From A. E. Housman’s  “A Shropshire Lad” XXXII (1896) in which he consciously draws upon Lucretius' words:

From far, from eve and morning
And yon twelve-winded sky,
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither: here am I.

Now—for a breath I tarry
Nor yet disperse apart—
Take my hand quick and tell me,
What have you in your heart.

Speak now, and I will answer;
How shall I help you, say;
Ere to the wind’s twelve quarters
I take my endless way. 

—o0o—

ADDRESS

Susanna walking along the beach near Wells on a very windy day
The Parable of the “Wise and the Foolish Builders” or the “House on the Rock” (Matthew 7:24–27, Luke 6:46–49), is one that seems designed to persuade hearers of the importance of building one’s whole life upon the teachings and example of Jesus — something that the Church early on came to believe was the only true solid foundation. (In passing it is worth noting that, for this reason, it is a parable thought by most New Testament scholars to originate with the early Church rather than Jesus himself.)

But, be that as it may, the picture that lies at the heart of this parable is a powerful, common-sense one and it remains generally true that if one wants successfully to build a building, one knows one really should build it upon solid rock and not upon shifting sand. This is a quotidian truth I imagine none of us would have any wish to challenge. Given the power of this picture it seems natural and simple for most people to go on to say that the same thing must, therefore, also be true about our natural world and to the way we build our beliefs about the world. For the world and our ideas about the world genuinely to be secure our beliefs must be grounded on something truly solid. That something was nearly always believed to be God, “with whom”, as the writer of the Epistle of James put it, it was thought “there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17) and countless numbers of people came to say along with the psalmist that “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2). (Think, too, of Luther's great hymn "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott")

But is it the case that what might be a true picture when it comes to building buildings is in fact also a true picture in other domains? Many, perhaps most people will answer “yes” to this. We shouldn’t be surprised at this state of affairs because, as advertisers know only too well, pictures are very powerful things and, as Wittgenstein reminds us in his “Philosophical Investigations” (§115) it is so easy for a picture to hold us “captive” outside of which we cannot get because “it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.”

(I should add here the important note that we are always going to be captive to some picture/s or another. I'm not suggesting that we either can or could be free from pictures about the world. However, what we can do is is to become aware that pictures are always holding us captive and, when those pictures are no longer useful, to be able to seek out others that fit more closely the current state of our experience and knowledge.)

It is clear that the picture of solid rock being a preferable and necessary foundation to our world and our beliefs about the world rather than shifting sand is most certainly one repeated in our culture inexorably and, especially in religious circles, we are often still firmly held captive by it.

But Wittgenstein has helped some of us intuit a different, and one hopes more healthy and creative, picture.

The sand dunes on Wells beach
Let’s start with our beliefs about the world and with a frank acknowledgement that it is difficult “to realize the groundlessness of our believing” ("On Certainty" §166). But over the last one-hundred years it’s become easier for us to see that although our reasons for our various beliefs do come to an end they don’t come to an end in sure and solid rock-like foundations. The “bedrock” we end up upon is “only a rationally groundless ‘animal’ commitment (OC, §359), a kind of ‘primitive’ trust (OC, §475)” (cf. Duncan Pritchard, “Wittgensteinian Pyrrhonism”)

According to this view (which I hold), all human thinking and acting is, in the end, grounded in the form of life to which we are committed. But, having said that, please hear this next sentence well: This is not to say we can believe anything we like but it is to say we can only believe what we can. There are always in play good and/or less-good reasons to believe this or that and we should pay very, very close attention to them. But, in the end, there is a point beyond which we cannot go, beyond which we cannot give another final, absolute reason for our beliefs. At this point those of us with more liberal mindsets have to say some thing like "well, OK but it seems to me that this or that is the case but let's continue talking about things." If you have a less than liberal mindset this becomes transformed into the much more problematic "well, OK but let me tell you that this or that IS the case" at which point any further talking often stops.

But this groundlessness is not confined to our beliefs about the world for we now see that it seems to extend into the world of matter and energy out of which creatures with beliefs, like us, have emerged.

My copy of Lucretius' passage from Book 2
As you heard in our readings, in the first-century CE Lucretius (following the thinking of Epicurus) put this intuition into sublime, poetic form. Since the poem’s rediscovery in 1417 by Poggio Bracciolini this Epicurean view has quietly been making its way back into the philosophical and religious naturalist thinking of Europe and America. It found a particularly English expression in the thinking and work of the poet A. E. Housman (1859–1936). I studied his poetry at school and immediately fell under its spell. The thirty-second poem in his 1896 collection “A Shropshire Lad” you heard earlier struck a profound chord with me as I walked, cycled or sailed the windy Essex coastline where I grew up or along the North Norfolk Coast where my grandparents so often took us during the summer.

Both their poems pre-date, of course, the ground-breaking work of people like Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Paul Dirac et. al. but the natural world these great scientific minds helped reveal is one that rhymes strongly with the poetic (and ethical) vision of Lucretius and Housman. As the contemporary physicist Carlo Rovelli notes in his “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics”, to which I introduced you to a couple of weeks ago,

“Quantum mechanics and experiments with particles have taught us the world is a continuous, restless swarming of things; a continuous coming to light and disappearance of ephemeral entities. A set of vibrations, as in the switched-on hippy world of the 1960s. A world of happenings, not things” (Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Penguin, 2015, p. 31).

Geese flying over the marshes at Wells
Given all this it forcibly strikes me that we need a new strong image to help us intuit how we can, today, picture how we are "grounded" in a groundless world. We certainly need to find a way to break free from captivity to the image of being founded on rock rather than sand.

I’ve been thinking about this for years but have never had the good fortune to find a strong enough picture and parable that could do all the required work and was appropriately captivating enough. Then, last November, it gracefully and wonderfully emerged into view and I offer it to you now.  

As we so often do in the month of November Susanna (my wife) and I spent a winter week in Wells-next-the-Sea on the North Norfolk coast. Every day we wrapped up warmly and took a walk down to the sea and then along the beach and amongst the dunes and pine trees. The week was very windy and, whether under sunny or cloudy skies, the whole landscape was always visibly shifting; the sea, sand, wind and sky formed “a continuous, restless swarming of things” and there was “a continuous coming to light and disappearance of ephemeral entities”. On this coast in windy weather nothing seems to be a more ephemeral entity than the sand dune which constantly displays a Lucretian dance in which their bodies “pass away” as grains of sand leave one dune only to “increase another to which they go: the first fades away and the second grows and blossoms.” It is to me an utterly exhilarating and life-affirming experience to be tracing my own finite line of life through such a dance of ephemeral and passing fellow particles, and this teeming endless activity lay at the centre of much of both my philosophic and photographic reflections during that week.

One of the books I had taken with me was Gordon C. F. Bearn’s “Waking to Wonder: Wittgenstein’s Existential Investigations” and I brought you some of his insights to you during Advent and on Christmas Day.

Looking across to the East Hills, Wells
You may remember that Bearn thinks, and I agree with him wholly in this, that “the answer to our existential anxiety does not lie beneath the surfaces of our lives, but in our acceptance — Nietzsche’s “Yes” — of the groundless details of those surfaces themselves: the wonder of the ordinary” (Source: SUNY Press press-release).

Well, at the beginning of Bearn’s book, by way of an epigraph, is a poem by A. R. Ammons called “A Coast of Trees”. It’s a wonderful, striking piece and I was so taken with it I decided that “upon my return to the neighbourhood of libraries” I’d hunt down some more his work. I am so glad I did because I quickly came across his poem “Dunes” which can stand as my new, strong parable to replace the one about building on rock I’d inherited from Jesus. With it I’ll begin to draw to a close.

Taking root in windy sand
  is not an easy
way
to go about
    finding a place to stay.

A ditch bank or wood’s-edge
    has firmer ground.

In a loose world though
    something can be started—
a root touch water,
    a tip break sand—

Mounds from that can rise
    on held mounds,
a gesture of building, keeping,
    a trapping
into shape.

Firm ground is not available ground.

Using everyday language and an everyday image, Ammons, to my mind, brilliantly and concisely offers us a strong picture of how it is perfectly possibly to build a form life in a world where we are increasingly coming to understand that there is no ultimate firm ground and, more importantly, there need be no such ultimate firm ground to found a creative and meaningful form of life.

It is always possible to be in such a world and build a life. True enough, this is not the old firm picture of the world and, for some, this clearly remains disturbing but, to quote my childhood hero Houseman once more, “The house of delusions is cheap to build, but droughty to live in, and ready at any instant to fall; and it is surely truer prudence to move our furniture into the open air” ("A.E. Housman" by Richard Perceval Graves, Routledge, 1979, p. 82). The delusion that must be dispelled in our own age is the belief that firm ground is available ground — it is not; such ground is unavailable and the sooner we find a way to accept this the happier we will be in a world now shaped willy-nilly by the natural sciences. And this is why, along with Housman, I find that, these days, I prefer “the spacious abode of science to the ramshackle dwelling of metaphysics and mysticism.” In a book on Greek philosophy that he owned he wrote the following note: “Plato’s doctrine of Forms or Universals is useless as a way of explaining things—it is up to Science to show what is the reality of the world” (ibid. p. 48).

Dunes at Wells
Of course,  science cannot show everything about reality — we will always need the poetic thinking of people like Jesus, a Lucretius, a Housman, a Wittgenstein, a Rovelli and an Ammons to help us understand what and how things matter — but, when it comes to our understanding of the way things arewe'd surely be foolish to risk going back into our former, and now unstable, house of delusions.

So to conclude I would like to risk saying out loud and proud:

Firm ground is not available round and everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man or woman who built their house on sand.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Launch of DiEM25 — Democracy in Europe Movement — an encouragement to join

On Tuesday, February 9th in Berlin the Democracy in Europe Movement — DiEM25 — is being launched. You can see a live stream of the event at the following link:

http://www.volksbuehne-berlin.de/livestream

The DiEM25 manifesto is available at their website in both short and long versions and there is also a place to join up and, if you wish, put your name forward to volunteer to help get the movement rolling. For what it's worth I put my own name down.

Back in July, after watching in horror the Greek government's capitulation to the demands of the Eurogroup and the "Institutions" (The Troika) I was, I will admit, utterly depressed and in response wrote a short piece about this from my perspective as a European jazz musician. You can read that here:

The day the music (of Europe) died . . . a jazz musician’s reflections on the EU “deal” with the Greeks and the end of a great democratic and cultural vision

However, DiEM25 offers me — and perhaps you — hope that my despair was misplaced and that the great democratic and cultural vision of a citizen-led Europe is not yet dead.

I invite you to join.


Monday, 1 February 2016

A "hauntological" look at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden with the Blackie Photo App to hand

Last week I spent a fair amount of time listening to the back catalogue of a very British project called "Belbury Poly" by Jim Jupp. Jupp started and runs the wonderful Ghost Box label and on his roster of artists is the wonderful "The Advisory Circle" whose work I stumbled across a couple of years ago.

In The Wire (No. 276, November 2006) in an article called "Society of the spectral" the music journalist Simon Reynolds coined the genre term hauntology to describe Ghost Box’s particular style which is a strange, imaginary parallel "British" world which mixes up TV soundtracks, 60s and 70s horror movies, vintage electronic music, folk song, English psychedelia, supernatural stories and folklore.

Jupp's work hugely appeals to me and this appeal is clearly related to my own recent thinking about "Ghostly" or "Weak" Communism and my own (still developing) photographic style/preferences—indeed some of you may have seen the link on this blog to a photo-essay I've just contributed to the online magazine Culture Matters called "Ghostly Communism - Provocative Documents for Thought". (NB The process of writing this piece makes me appreciate that I seem to be moving towards a position described as "communalism" or "social ecology.")

Anyway, in the essay for Culture Matters the four photographs I used were taken in urban settings but, as regular readers of this blog will know, many of my photos are taken in the countryside or in parks and gardens. However, I've noticed that there is also often a "ghostly" quality to many of these shots — something very evident today as I walked around the Cambridge University Botanic Garden with my iPhone and the wonderful newly released Blackie iPhone photography app. As always, just click on a photo to enlarge it.

If the hauntological theme appeals you might enjoy spinning over to the Tumblr page of "The Hauntological Society."

And, lastly, at the very end  of this post I've included a Youtube video of a track from Belbury Poly's newest release "The Belbury Tales".

Enjoy!



















Sunday, 31 January 2016

When resting is resistance—recycling our natural treasures

Proverbs 4:23 over Heidegger's door in Freiberg
Readings: Matthew 6: 19-21 “Concerning Treasures”

Jesus said: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Exodus 20:8–11 “The fourth commandment”

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Proverbs 4:23

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
    for from it flow the springs of life.

Pro-Aesthetic Language: natural treasures vs. natural resources by Anja Claus writing for “The Centre for Humans and Nature”: 
         
The human aesthetic—the perception and sensory contemplation of a subject—is so strongly influenced by the terms and phrases we adopt into our lexicon that we ought to pay close attention to them. We see, hear, and smell our environment using the senses we have evolved with over hundreds of thousands of years, and then we process and contemplate this sensory influx.
     [. . .]
     This brings me to another powerful pair of terms that allow us to observe [this]: the phrase “natural resources” versus the phrase “natural treasures.” Both set the stage for how we understand and relate to each other and the larger community of life. Both refer to the animate and inanimate subjects that we humans consume in some way. Whether it is the air we breathe, the food we eat, the sights we take in, or the metals we mine, we manipulate these subjects, changing them sometimes slightly, and sometimes in an extreme way. And here is the rub: it is how we represent, and thus come to know, the things we manipulate, that influences the nature of our acts. Do we take from nature with respect and with love in our hearts? Or do we do it with a self-interested utility, that is over-intellectualized by economics, resulting in the bastardization of our evolutionarily functional greed? I believe that if we come to understand these subjects as treasures, our processes are more apt to be respectful and loving, leading us on a decision-making path toward understanding the other subject on its terms, rather than only on our terms, or exclusively in human terms. If we employ the word “treasure” we are activating a social construct that conjures up sacredness and care. Our children are our treasures, and we care for and love them as such. Why not then also see the Land as a treasure, with care and love?

—o0o—

ADDRESS

As the minister of this congregation, on Monday evening, I attended with Susanna an event launching a new project called “Circular Cambridge.” The organisers point out that at the moment our culture’s model of consumption is linear, i.e., we buy stuff, use it and then simply throw it away. To quote the project’s website, it seems that a single person in the EU consumes 15 metric tonnes of natural resources each year, 5 tonnes of which are simply thrown away. Statistics like this reinforce the pressing need for us to begin reinstate and develop further a culture which, as a matter of course, reuses, repairs and recycles — hence the launch of Circular Cambridge. I was there in my ministerial capacity because it strikes me that any contemporary religion worth its salt has to be one that takes the matter of ecology and the environment with the utmost seriousness.

Anyway, in one of the break-out/brainstorming sessions that are de rigour for such events, two things occurred to me that I shared with my group and which I wish to share with you today.

The first was connected with the language of “resources” because, along with Anja Claus, I, too, strongly feel that this terminology is deeply problematic and I would prefer we move towards using the language of “treasure.”

The second thing I shared with my group was the absence from our explicit conversation of one specific, and very important, natural treasure.

It will come as no surprise that nearly all of the conversation and ideas thrown up during these sessions were primarily focussed on how we might better use and reuse natural treasures such as food (whether animal or vegetable), coal, oil, gold, silver, platinum and also what are called rare earth minerals that, today, are indispensable for our hi-tech industries. As far as it went, all this was fine but, I wondered, where was mention of our own natural treasure, that is to say our human heart with its attendant spirit and energy? Did this not also have a vital place in any meaningful circular economy?

In her article for Anja Claus notes well something many of us are beginning to understand that,

“If we understand a tree, a river, an otter, or an ecosystem as merely a resource, then we make personal, managerial, and policy decisions grounded in a worldview that comprehends humans as the pinnacle of evolution.” 

But the paradox of the neoliberal stealth revolution (about which I spoke a few weeks ago showing why it should be of great concern to us as a church community) is that even as it’s chief promulgators proceed as if humans (or at least they themselves) were the pinnacle of evolution it simultaneously attempts to make most everybody else believe they are merely “a resource” to be used up in a linear fashion by some institution, company or corporation. (Cf. also Heidegger’s thinking in “The Question Concerning Technology” (1954) about “bestand” — standing reserve — and “Gestell” — enframing — which turns the world into a stockpile of raw, material resources)

Most of us probably first noticed this process beginning to get the upper hand during the 1980s when many companies and corporations decided to rename their personnel departments “Human Resources.” It disturbed me profoundly at the time and its continuation today still distresses and angers me almost more than I can say because human beings are not merely resources to be used up willy-nilly but are natural treasures just as are coal, oil, gold, trees, rivers, otters, or an ecosystem. Human beings are, in addition, also always-already heads and hearts with existential loves and passions for each other and the world and we understand and, indeed, have sung today, the truth of the words by the Welsh poet and original “Supertramp”, William Henry Davies (1871–1940):

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

But, alas, there is less and less time for people to rest and to “stand and stare” and in my work as both a minister of religion and as a political activist I see more and more people I know, respect and love being bought, used-up, and then thrown away by the linear economy when they suddenly find themselves burnt out by the stress of continually being used as merely just another “human resource.”

But what I have just said is, alas, not only true in the commercial workplace but is also a situation  often mirrored within many activist circles that are protesting against this state of affairs  — whether religious or secular — and to which many of us here belong, such as environmental and ecology groups like Circular Cambridge, Transition Cambridge or Greenpeace, church social action groups such as the Cambridge Foodbank, Christian Aid, Oxfam or various other groups connected with homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers, political groups of various stripes, and still other organisations like Amnesty International, CPRE, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 38 Degrees, UK Uncut, and many others besides.

In relation to this just a couple of weeks ago openDemocracy.net published a powerful piece by Janey Stephenson called “When resting is resistance”. She states the following:

“Activism knows no weekends or boundaries. We give our whole selves to our struggles. Rest days are spent at protests and fundraisers; evenings are for meetings. Injustice won’t wait, and so we spend our lives racing it. We give insurmountable energy and unpaid labour, and often don’t see the results we want. Amid all of this, our very own hearts can drift away from us, anxiety-filled and future-focused. 
     We’re constantly talking about self-care, but rarely practising it. We know we should take more breaks, and they’re only ever just past the next direct action, protest or meeting. But we don’t always get there. Gradually and then suddenly, we can find we just cannot keep going. Both mentally and physically, we stop.” 

So, in my study behind the church hall, along with the burned-out employee, I also often find myself talking with the burned out activist who is also experiencing what it is like to be merely one more a “human resource” that has been used-up and spat out the other end of just one more kind of linear economy. Janey Stephenson concludes her piece by pointing out that part of the problem is because:

“Activists fixate on the future: impatient for the world we want to see. We know time is a finite commodity, so we pressure ourselves to make the most of it. But we commodify ourselves in the process.
     Within this context, the worst thing about burn out is that you don’t know how long it will last. Once you burn out, you can’t make any promises for when you’ll be back in action. But health does not run to a timer, forcing only causes frustration and we do ourselves more harm by living to deadlines.
     It is only by holding, not forcing, that we can find our feet again and secure solid ground when everything else is shaking. In a world where productivity rules, this in itself is true resistance.”

Amen, say I, and this is why I think that coming to church on a Sunday and observing some kind of sabbath where we find time both to rest, recuperate and also recycle and remake our thinking (engaging in a process of verwindung), is a vital form of resistance that we need to engage in as activists. The modern week, with its two days of rest, one of which is perceived to be of specific religious/spiritual significance (the sabbath day) when our myths tell us even God is said to have rested, is itself a circular economy of days. As God is reported as commanding: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).

We should be deeply disturbed that the neoliberal stealth revolution wants to destroy this cyclical, restorative cultural institution in favour of a never ending linear, and ultimately destructive,  model of 24 hour long working days that uses people up as resources and not as treasures.

If we don’t regularly commit to such a cycle and campaign for its continuance then we are not, cannot, properly recycle our hearts and its attendant spirit and energy then we are effectively consigning our human treasure to the landfill site that is human “burn-out” from out of which it is very, very hard to rescue and recycle anything of permanent and lasting worth.

It was this, essentially religious, insight that I tried to bring to the attention of my group and I argued that Circular Cambridge shouldn’t just be about recycling one’s food waste, laptops, washing machines, smartphones or whatever else, but it also needed to be about learning healthy and sustainable ways to recycle our own human treasure for the good of not only our own hearts but our whole planet.

It was this conjoining of treasure and heart that made me think, quite naturally, of Jesus’ saying we heard in our readings. In his words we see that he conceived our real treasure as being something that can stored in what he calls “heaven”. Of course, most of us here (all of us?) don’t have anything approaching a belief in the literal reality of heaven (or hell), so how might we understand the word “heaven”? Well, whatever else it may be, it is surely, minimally, the collective, trans-historical imagination in which it is possible to preserve and recycle (we hope ever more effectively) our species’ best, upward looking, Utopian visions. Conceived in this fashion might not Jesus’ “heaven” legitimately be considered as some kind of psychological, cultural recycling centre where our individual treasures of energy and hope can be saved and where they won’t simply be destroyed by rust, eaten up by moths or stolen by today’s neoliberal thieves of hope but, instead, are made available, again and again, in ever different ways for ourselves and our community both now and in the future.

So, to conclude these circular thoughts, I think that on a Sunday we do three circular things. Firstly, we find a way to rest and recycle our own lives and energy in preparation for the creative tasks of the coming week. Secondly, in sharing our own best, upward looking, Utopian visions with our comrades in the struggle for a good, common life, we store up life and energy in our community’s collective, trans-historical imagination — in “heaven”. And, thirdly, by doing this, we make it possible for ourselves and the people who follow us to draw upon and recycle these hopeful treasures — these visions of the kingdom of heaven on earth — which, in turn, can help restore to a people continually threatened with burn-out, a good heart. As the writer of Proverbs puts it, here every Sunday we try to encourage people to:

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
    for from it flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23).

Saturday, 30 January 2016

A Photo Essay: "Ghostly Communism—Provocative Documents for Thought" written for "Culture Matters"

Children playing in Cambridge
In recent weeks a new website has gone live called Culture Matters which is concerned to explore the links between art, culture and politics and I was very pleased to be asked to contribute a photo essay to it entitled: 

Ghostly Communism—Provocative Documents for Thought

It is, as you will see, a reworking of my essay called simply Ghostly Communism that appears on this, my own, blog.

I think the whole Culture Matters project is a good one and, to encourage you to take a spin over to their site here is an extract from their "About" page:

Culture matters. The arts can help develop us and liberate us. They please the senses, stimulate the mind, arouse our emotions, and inspire us. Culture includes most if not all of our thinking and activities, including sport, religion, science and technology, eating and drinking etc. Considered politically, all these cultural activities are sites of domination and acceptance, struggle and resistance, envisioning and transformation.

Let’s work out how this happens, and join in the cultural struggle for liberation.

Culture matters. The arts and culture are linked to politics in many ways. A capitalist market economy creates enormous potential and possibilities for creation, criticism and communication. But at the same time, the drive for profit and the associated ideological drive to dominate ways of thinking and feeling, constrain the free creation and consumption of art and culture.

Let’s work out how this happens, and change it.

Culture matters. The arts and culture can resist, oppose and overcome constraint, alienation and oppression. They can promote awareness, arouse indignation, and envision alternatives. Blake’s ‘mental fight’ against the appalling social and political consequences of early capitalism is the same as our cultural struggle now, linked to our economic and political struggle against late capitalism.

Let’s learn how to resist and oppose dominant meanings, and create new ones.

Culture Matters. Let’s be creative, and imaginative, and help build a more democratic, equal, and socialist society, a ‘new Jerusalem’, in the green and pleasant land not only of England and not only of Britain, but of the world.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

In the Cambridge University Botanic Garden with a new black and white photography app called "Blackie"

I needed to clear my head a little this afternoon after a morning working through the implications of something written by Raymond Geuss, a philosopher whose thinking I find both highly challenging and amenable and so I took myself off for lunch in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. The sun was out and during my walk there were plenty of places where I could sit out of the wind and in the restorative warmth of the sun. (If you are interested you can see a couple of very short Youtube films in which Geuss is interviewed HERE and HERE.)

As always I took a few photos as I went and, on this occasion, I used throughout a new black and white iPhone photography app called “Blackie” (@blackieapp). I think it is a delightful and excellent app made by someone who clearly loves black and white photography and whoever it is I congratulate them. The range of options available to the photographer is great but not utterly overwhelming and this allows one to take a wide variety of shots as you will see throughout this post.

I can barely imagine the amount of hard work that goes into developing these things and so I’m one of those people who is grateful simply to work with the given possibilities and limitations of these things. For me it’s part of their charm. However, after using the app solidly for a good couple of hours, I found myself wishing that it were possible to do two other things with the app. The first is to be able simply to reset each of the eight available film types to a reasonable default set of settings after having played about with them for a particular shot. The second is the ability to save some favourite settings for later use. Perhaps these options will come along later, perhaps not, but whether or not they do I’m certainly going to enjoy this little app a great deal and I certainly recommend it to any black and white iPhoneographers out there. As always just click on a photo to enlarge it.