Oct 2016 UPDATE: I’d definitely include Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World! This isn’t a spoiler but a character has his shadow taken from him and it lives an independent life. Unicorns and ‘reading dreams’ also feature in this magic realism narrative.
I’ve been trying to make a list of a kind of fiction which does not conform to ‘naturalistic narrative.’ What I’m thinking of isn’t merely what nowadays we call ‘magic realism’. To qualify for inclusion on the list the narrative has to either be dislocated in some way as in Vonnegut’s Galapagos or have ‘impossible’ events such as a talking cat as in Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. Science fiction, Horror and Fantasy do not qualify for inclusion in the list. My personal Top Twenty only include books I’ve actually read. I’d like to include Joyce’s Ulysses but I’m afraid I’ve never read it. Lord of the Flies, although a kind of allegory, wouldn’t count as it is a straightforward narrative taking place in ‘real time.’ Folklore and, for example, Greek Mythology doesn’t count either!
The reason I thought this would be worth doing is that while I enjoy novels such as Double Vision by Pat Barker, which I’ve recently read, I’ve noticed how many non-naturalistic novels are on my shelves. I’m not saying one is better than the other, although a diet of continuous naturalistic fare would become monotonous and my palette would soon crave something spicy.
So, here is my Top Twenty in no particular order. I’ve included a few short stories to get to my 20 quickly; no doubt I’d remember other novels another time. Please let me know which you would include!
1. Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut
2. The Life & Opinions of the Tom Cat Muir, ETA Hoffmann
3. The Rat, Gunter Grass
4. Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami
5. Auto de Fe, Elias Canetti
6. The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse
7. Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
8. History of the Word in 10/half Chapters, Julian Barnes
9. Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathon Swift
10. Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse
11. Animal Farm, George Orwell
12. The Double, Fiodor Dostoevsky
13. The Little Prince, Saint Exupery
14. Pictor’s Metamorphosis, Hermann Hesse
15. Tales of Hoffmann, ETA Hoffmann
16. The Picture of Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde
17. The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin, PD Ouspensky
18. The Green Child, Herbert Read
19. Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, James Hogg
20. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
For anyone who doesn’t know the work of Byron Katie, she has developed a seemingly simple method for dealing with stress called Inquiry. This consists of asking yourself 4 questions whenever you feel you have a problem of a stressful nature.
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know it’s true?
- How do you react when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without that thought?
The video shows this method in action:
Two of my father’s brothers were killed in action during 1915. One, John B. Nicholson was a journalist and he wrote the following poem two months before he was shot by a sniper. He was 21.
On Hearing a Lark Singing at Dawn in the Trenches.
O, Wonder Bird, what song is this you sing?
What message to us weary, war-worn men?
Is it to memories of peace you cling?
Of sunlit strath and flower-bejewelled glen?
Would you remind us of quiet country lanes?
Of ivied homesteads nestling ‘mong the hills?
Of rose-cheeked maids meandering with their swains?
Of pebbly rivulets and whispering rills?
Or do your notes protest against the fate
That forced you, neutral, from your love-lined nest,
To share the humans’ agony of hate
That found no echo in your joyous breast?
I think at times you mock great Man’s strange mind,
Which, civilised, creates an earthly Hell,
Calling it war; red murder of a kind
Undreamt by Attila before he fell.
There was a tremble in your song just now
That spoke of mate, of child-birds lost to you.
O Wonder Bird, we watchers marvel how
Your wings still flutter in that sky of blue.
Haste, herald lark, for soon your silver tune
Will die among the discord of the guns;
The heavens will shriek in agony by noon.
Hide, Wonder bird.
John B Nicholson
France, May 1915
The “Flower of Life” can be found in many different cultures. The most usual representation is a circle divided up into intricate shapes. Alan Moncrieff is an artist/craftsman who works in Gateshead producing stunning mosaic-mirrors, many based on the flower of life. Alan uses recycled materials. Some of his intricate mosaics change colour to the sound of music. This is where it is easier to see patterns within patterns. Without getting too mystical about it, this phenomenon is found repeated in nature. Nature after all, is the supreme example of ‘creativity.’
I’ll let Alan’s work speak for itself. Here is one of his videos:
His website is at: http://www.cotfieldmirrors.co.uk
I went to a poetry workshop yesterday – the theme was nature. One of the exercises was to include a man-made structure, an animal and time. I wrote this poem and this is one of my paintings I did a few years ago.
At the viaduct
The viaduct floating
in early morning mist.
A single figure with a dog
emerges from the drowned
stones. A staccato of barks
echoes under arches.
A thrush sings his three
time song, sudden wing of
burnt sienna – red kite towing
Some of you will have heard that Blencathra, a mountain in the English Lake District is up for sale! I’d never thought of mountains being in private ownership but of course the fells and mountains in the Lake District are used for sheep grazing, so possibly more mountains are ‘owned’ than we may think. The Lakes are managed as a National Park for the benefit of all. It still seems to me that more land should be free for all to enjoy. The Ramblers is a group which tries to ensure that footpaths and rights of way are kept open. No doubt all this goes back a long way historically. How much land does the Church (Church of England?) still own?
How can someone own a mountain? Mountains are
vaster than any real estate. Can a river or a mountain
stream be contained in a ledger? Can you take
out a mortgage on a cloud, collect a thunderstorm
in a cup? Deception is all around. The land is divided
up, each acre priced: liberty sacrificed and heaven obliterated.
Phoebus the philosophical cat
My human cohabiter is acting strangely. He has changed my name from Catkins to Phoebus and says I can have my own blog. You may have already read a scandalous story involving me, a dog and a house mouse. I have to inform you that these two creatures are no longer counted as friends.
In this case it’s not my place to reason why my human associate has asked me to blog, although you will find, if you continue to read my blog, that ‘reason’ is indeed my main operative mode. You may have heard that one of our traits is ‘curiosity’, and that is partly why I have agreed to embark on this blogging business. I am curious about the world and wish to embark on an intellectual adventure with you.
My blog, I have decided, will be addressed to those amongst you who have asked the question, “There must be more to life than this.” The ‘this’ in this case refers to having a family, a job of some sort (or not) and the pursuit of various goals and ambitions – not to mention the consumption of various kinds of chocolate and cake, appearing on television talent shows, or being immersed in a virtual reality where the object is to annihilate your enemies. Before I dive into the not so deep end, I need to clarify something else. You may have heard the slanderous jibe that we sleep 20hrs out of 24. This is nonsense! Even those of you who agree to share your dwelling places with us, and have allegedly observed us in a so called sleeping mode are barking up the wrong tree so to speak. The appearance in this case, as in so many, is not the reality. We are not asleep during a large part of this observed ‘sleep’ – we are in fact meditating!
I’m afraid now I’ll have to bite the bullet and bring up the slippery subject of ‘philosophy’ as I was, you may already have guessed, trained in this discipline in ancient Greece. (How else do you think I’ve gained immortality?) I wish to illustrate a general point crucial to your so called ‘human condition.’ The subject in question is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I had the good fortune to be among Socrates’ students and can assure you that old Plato got most of his discussions down more or less correctly.
So, here goes; it goes something like this. (I’m recollecting the story in good old Platonic fashion, not reading from notes!) Imagine a group of humans living in a deep cave. They are restricted in such a way that they cannot turn their heads to look behind them. (I can’t hold a pencil very well in my paw but I’ve tried my best to illustrate the scene.)
The star-burst shapes represent an ever-burning fire. In front of the fire is a platform on which actors process and perform. Their shadows are thrown onto a large screen in front of the poor humans. These poor humans have never been out of the cave and take these ever changing shadows for reality. They know nothing of the actors behind them as they can’t turn their heads. Now this is an allegory so can be applied to your lives now. Please take a coffee break and contemplate what the allegory means to you.
Refreshed? Good. Well, this is what I think. You believe everything your senses tell you. For example you used to believe the sun circled the Earth because that’s what you saw; that’s how it appeared. You believe your thoughts without questioning them. A great many of you are under the delusion that you are your thoughts! The shadows in the allegory represent all the ideas and opinions you hold onto so tenaciously. Most of the opinions you hold have not been scrutinised to gauge their veracity. Another example: if you are asked to flick your wrist did you know that the action is preceded by almost a second of measurable brain activity? It’s almost as if your brain decides what to do before you do. In a nutshell, you think you have more free will than is the case.
I put it to you that many of you are still cave dwellers. All is not lost though. I hope to show you a way out of the cave in my subsequent blogs. It will be a long journey however, so I hope you will be patient with me. Those of you who insist that you have escaped the confines of the dark cave may also enjoy coming on our intellectual journey. I can’t promise to find happiness for you but I’ll do my best to lead you along some interesting paths. (Remember I’m over 2000yrs old so have a little of what you call ‘life-experience’ and am an expert on climbing walls and following interesting-looking paths.) That’s all for today. Hope to catch you again soon.
I came across this marvelous poem in Poem For the Day edited by Nicholas Albery. I particularly like the lines, ‘The idea that the soul. . .that is all fantasy!’ The followers of Kabir live quiet unobtrusive lives; they are sometimes compared to Quakers for their opposition to war and contemplative outlook. I understand the line, ‘What is found now is found then.’ to mean that we can be in tune with our deeper selves in this life and if we make that our touchstone death can be faced with equanimity. It’s similar to the Buddhist idea that we can never ‘lose’ our Buddha Nature.
To be a Slave of Intensity
Friend, hope for the guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think…and think…while you are alive.
What you call ‘salvation’ belongs to the time before death.
If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?
The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
Just because the body is rotten –
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire.
So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
Believe in the Great Sound!
Kabir says this: When the guest is being searched for, it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that does all the work.
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.
Translated by Robert Bly