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Death is Not the End

30 Dec

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this statement, which reminds me briefly (of course) of a novel I read a while ago, Eternity is Temporary, which started well, but fizzled out by exploding the sexual tension too quickly. Is that an allegory for something? Is that what eternity is really like? Very exciting for the first half hour or so and then immensely tedious? Or should we go along with Bob Dylan, who no doubt wrote the song Death is Not the End in one of the religious phases that have speckled his career, thereby launching a host of cover versions. Another sly allegory.

The version here is performed by Nick Cave, with guests Kylie Minogue, Shane MacGowan and a chap with a very fetching accent. I recall driving around Europe with this on the car CD player a decade or more ago, the young Blanco daughters singing along merrily in the back seat. How pungently ironic. The mind begins to boggle at the prospect of an eternity spent with the motley crewage of miscreants and addicts assembled in this video  But then again, the performance has a unique charm, and serves as Blanco’s contribution to the end of year festivities.





Christopher Hitchens and the uncertainty principle

19 Dec
English: Christopher Hitchens at a party at th...

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Deaths of Vaclav Havel and Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens I don’t know much about as he rose to prominence in the 1980s, a decade that largely passed me by unawares. Havel I was aware of in the late 70s and read a couple of his plays, and then later, at the time of the Velvet Revolution, but not much since. Both seem to have had a character of rumbustious contrariness that I normally admire, even though I am certain Hitchens and I would have numerous areas of intense disagreement.

But how is it that the loonies come out of the woodwork whenever someone’s death hits the news? Following a link to the youtube clip of Hitchens on Death, in the long list of viewers’ comments I find one by ‘ravenelvenlady’:

Rest in Peace Mr. Hitchens. You probably know for yourself now that we continue on, disembodied, and that this is all death really is.


Raven Elven Lady (to break down her moniker a bit) is clearly something of an expert on the beyond (perhaps she got an Arts and Humanities Research grant to take a fact-finding tour of the hereafter, or is dead herself and therefore writing from the other side: if not I am fascinated that she writes about the state of being dead with such carefree authority).

What is it that incites certain individuals to quack on about the afterlife as if they were in possession of secret information which no one in the history of human endeavour has ever been able to prove – in spite of the millions of efforts that have been made, from cranks with crow’s intestines to Ouija boards to Christ raising Lazarus from the tomb? You would have thought if there were an afterlife of any kind at all that there might be some way of getting a message back that laid all doubt to rest, but this has never happened, not once in thousands of years of recorded history.

So just why are the loonies out there, cheering on (or blasting to damnation) Hitchens’ eternal soul? Probably because Hitch himself can’t answer them back now.

What he does say in his interview is: “My strongest allegiance is to a group of people whose main interest is in the uncertainty principle.”

I think I know what he means, but he isn’t talking about Heisenberg, strictly speaking, rather a more generous application of uncertainty, on behalf of those of us who don’t know what exactly is going on in the universe, and can live with that, rather than having to impose infantile explanatory models onto life – one’s own and everyone else’s.

Anyhow, I think I’ll read his book. It isn’t a novel so I’m not cheating.




The Holy Coyote

29 Nov

What are the chances of bashing your head on the protuberant arm of the TV bracket twice in your hotel room in the space of ten minutes? The second time my head bled so profusely by the time I got to the bathroom I looked like an extra from a zombie/slash/horror movie. Never mind. I’ve moved the table where I type away from the wall now. As far as it can possibly go.

Today I was taken to lunch in El Santo Coyote restaurant, and in the shady garden (where, as usual, according to the sign, invasion is prohibited – please see my post from Montevideo on this recurrent theme) complete with waterfall, your man comes to the table with mortar and pestle made from volcanic rock and, after asking if you like your salsa hot or what, he begins to pummel it into shape before your eyes. With chilli, garlic, some variety of parsley, and then tomato. And hell, yes, it works.

The blurb on the menu of The Holy Coyote tells of the thirteen Sioux tribes and all that shamanistic stuff. I love it. All my Carlos Castaneda comes flooding back: I will meet my ally soon, or dance with coyotes into the dark chasms of forgetting. But probably not tonight. After the bump on my head I’m half way there anyway, forgot just about everything today, including my ticket for the Herta Müller dramatization/reading at the theatre. I’ve forgotten what else I forgot but will probably find out tomorrow if I manage to sleep.

As for the food from the north of Mexico – so not, strictly speaking, indigenous to Guadalajara – I take off my hat, the hat that would, if it existed, cover my poor skull. But since my literary activities don’t begin in earnest until tomorrow, and the sun is shining, it was good to look around and see what is what.

But without invading anything or anyone, if possible.

And before they serve you any lunch you must first answer the riddle posed by the two sacred dollies of the coyote shrine







25 Oct

I am listening to a Chopin nocturne here in my attic, as the rain falls on the city. It is evening and it is autumn. Tomorrow I am going into hospital where someone will poke around in my liver with a sharp instrument. This combination of factors could make for quite a melancholy mood, but instead I am reasonably jolly because I have just confirmed a longstanding suspicion: according to my Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, the word ‘cretin’ is derived from the French Alpine dialect crétin meaning a ‘kind of dwarfed and deformed idiot  . . . from Latin christianus CHRISTIAN.’ It goes on to inform me that ‘In many Romance languages the equivalents of Christian have the general meaning of human being, but as a euphemism carry the sense of poor fellow. A parallel sense of development is found in French benêt simpleton, from Old French benoit blessed . . .’

Well, well.

I was also interested to discover there is a French video game called Les Lapins Crétins (the cretinous rabbits), surely one of the more outstanding Gallic contributions to world culture.

The Argentinian poet Jorge Fondebrider, playing with the familiar writerly notion that worldly success is almost entirely a matter of luck, has a poem on the subject, which I reproduce below, as a spin-off from my reflections on cretinism, followed by another of Jorge’s pensées on literary matters.




While translating a biography of Gershwin

and reading again of his successes,

the many testimonies of his contemporaries,

I realise that I too know illustrious people

and a few who are genuinely talented,

who bear the load of the world’s debts and bitterness.

But later I go back to work.

What I really want to say is that talent is not enough,

is never sufficient

that you have to be born in the right place, at the right time,

you have to be lucky and be noticed.

And whoever claims otherwise is a cretin.





Like Plato, chuck them out,

send them packing with a kick in the arse.

Worse still are novelists who don’t read poetry.




Translations from the Spanish by Richard Gwyn, first published in Poetry Wales, Vol 47 No 1, Summer 2011.





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