WISE 100 : what women (and men) may bring to Social Enterprise

strong woman.jpg

Very pleased yesterday (but sorry I’m behind the times, it was announced on the 12th and I missed both the announcement and the party!) to find I have been listed in the WISE 100, a list of 100 women working in Social Enterprise.

All lists are silly, I might say in another mood, but this was one I was glad to have made, not so much for myself as for my work at The Reader, not a women-only organisation though many  of our readers are women. And many of The Reader’s staff members and volunteers are women.  And all of  our leadership group at The Reader are (currently) women.

This interests me, as in my twenties I spent some time living in a women-only commune and strongly identified as a feminist. Being that feminist helped me become a woman in my own right and I’d recommend some feminism for all beginner-women – you want to be able to knock your own nails in, lift  heavy things, play in your own band, fight your corner, learn to knit, read books by women, stand on your own two feet, know your own experience and live without a lover for as long as necessary.

These days I wouldn’t describe myself as a feminist, though I still get bothered about the problems of a male world view as the norm and the  resulting problems women (and some men) face.  And though I wouldn’t use the word (or any sort of  classification ending in ‘ist’) for myself, yet I have built or accidentally stumbled into or attracted a woman-only senior leadership team. If I was a man this would be called ‘unconscious bias’ (you pick people like yourself whether you mean to or not). It is more practical than that, I hope.

As someone who has struggled to get toddlers and pushchairs and bags of shopping on and off the bus, if I were a designer I’d design buses and pushchairs and shopping bags to work differently. If I were the Prime Minister, parents of new babies would be issued with 3 camo-boiler suits and  encouraged to wear them until after their children start school. What time and energy that would save, what smears, what slarts would go  unnoticed.  How quickly you could get dressed each day. Maybe the babies and children  could also  have the same kind of  overalls! Dirt-hiding, food-concealing, coveralls – just pull ’em on and start the day. Massive savings to the economy/new industry developed in the design and manufacture of the suits.  Get them made from some self-composting green fabric and we have an eco-solution to the problem of some laughing child chucking  mushy weetabix at you at 7.10 a.m. Etc.

Ok,  but I do know the practical problems posed by pushchairs and shopping and buses and getting up in the morning . As someone who has had children and a job, I’m naturally trying to design work differently.  There are five of us in  The Reader’s Director Group: we all take advantage of flexible working, and the majority of us are not full-time.  (I haven’t worked in the camo-boilersuits yet but give me time). At The Reader, since our staffers started having children, we’ve had a bias towards making a sympathetic environment for working parents.  As Benedict cries in Much Ado , ‘The world must be peopled!’  We’ve also tried to make a flexible  working environment for those of us who live with physical and mental health conditions. These are basic matters, which any  organisation dependent on people must face, and which help us retain brilliant staffers, if we  can get it right.  Utilise what we’ve got. Make the most of our talents. Create workarounds.

CC cooking lunch
Chris, our ex-MD, one of The Reader men, cooking Friday lunch  in the basement of our first-ever office. Shared Eating has always been important at The Reader. Think this was Chilli  con Carne.

But does this  go further? I mean, into the actual work of The Reader?

Is Shared Reading, and the reading and Social Enterprise community we are building at Calderstones, influenced by woman-experience?  Thinking of some of the men I have worked with over the years, I know it is not just a woman thing.  Ah, this is all  too complicated for an hour’s thinking.

These are horribly crude generalisations, but I’ll go on with them for a moment.

I’m thinking about feeling and access to  the emotions, and whether – generally, roughly, crudely speaking – women are  closer to their own feelings, and to expressing them, than men. That’s not necessarily a given, it is just the way we’ve worked it over the last  few million years. Some of us got muscles and hunted meat for weeks on end, others stayed on the trail, picked the daily  berries and roots, looked after the children and held the tribe together.

Of course this is not fixed – it is learned and cultural,  but learned and cultural  is a powerful inhibitor. Yet, what is learned and cultural may be changed, is changeable. I think Shared Reading helps to change it, both for men who don’t speak much of their emotions, and for women who struggle with them, too.

There are three elements here :

  • feelings themselves as they exist in our hearts, guts, brains – wherever they are
  • consciousness of feelings or the willingness to allow consciousness
  • the ability to get feelings into words.

Of course this process is dependent on getting emotion into the reading room.  That’s not an easy ask –  much easier to stay with talking about the ‘characters’, the ‘poet’, the ‘Victorians’ ‘Shakespeare’s time’ and other distancing measures.  But  this is a mistake. Dangerous as it may seem, we have to make feeling happen.

This morning I have been back-searching the blog to see if I’ve written about Matthew Arnold’s poem  ‘The Buried Life’, which came to mind because Helen commented yesterday  on my absence here for the past two weeks saying ‘we’re all human, wander off our line and back on to it’.

It was the idea of everyone having a line they were on (or off) that reminded me of ‘The Buried Life’.

While I was searching I came upon an old post, from 2012, back in the days when we still called Shared Reading ‘Get Into Reading’.  It’s about what can go wrong (or is it right?) in a Shared Reading session and I think it is worth a  look because it talks about one of the key  things about Shared Reading: the need to get emotion into the room. (‘Trust and the Risk of Reading’,  find it here).

Feel as if I have wandered into dangerous and spouty territory today.

Here’s The Buried Life, by Matthew Arnold, which I’ll start reading tomorrow.

The Buried Life
Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,
Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!
I feel a nameless sadness o’er me roll.
Yes, yes, we know that we can jest,
We know, we know that we can smile!
But there’s a something in this breast,
To which thy light words bring no rest,
And thy gay smiles no anodyne.
Give me thy hand, and hush awhile,
And turn those limpid eyes on mine,
And let me read there, love! thy inmost soul.
Alas! is even love too weak
To unlock the heart, and let it speak?
Are even lovers powerless to reveal
To one another what indeed they feel?
I knew the mass of men conceal’d
Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal’d
They would by other men be met
With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;
I knew they lived and moved
Trick’d in disguises, alien to the rest
Of men, and alien to themselves—and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!
But we, my love!—doth a like spell benumb
Our hearts, our voices?—must we too be dumb?
Ah! well for us, if even we,
Even for a moment, can get free
Our heart, and have our lips unchain’d;
For that which seals them hath been deep-ordain’d!
Fate, which foresaw
How frivolous a baby man would be—
By what distractions he would be possess’d,
How he would pour himself in every strife,
And well-nigh change his own identity—
That it might keep from his capricious play
His genuine self, and force him to obey
Even in his own despite his being’s law,
Bade through the deep recesses of our breast
The unregarded river of our life
Pursue with indiscernible flow its way;
And that we should not see
The buried stream, and seem to be
Eddying at large in blind uncertainty,
Though driving on with it eternally.
But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us—to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
But hardly have we, for one little hour,
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves—
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress’d.
And long we try in vain to speak and act
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is well—but ‘t is not true!
And then we will no more be rack’d
With inward striving, and demand
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour
Their stupefying power;
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne
As from an infinitely distant land,
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day.
Only—but this is rare—
When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen’d ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress’d—
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.
And there arrives a lull in the hot race
Wherein he doth for ever chase
That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose,
And the sea where it goes.

 

Paradise Lost 8: Recognising The Fact

beech in park.JPG
The fact of a Beech tree in Calderstones Park . Deny it if you can!

My daily reading and writing habit has faltered because of pressure of work, travelling, personal stuff, having other kinds of writing to do and finally, loss of heart.  But yesterday I nearly got  back on the horse and today, here I am at the mounting block, ready to set off again. I was sorry, yesterday, not to get to Paradise Lost, which I’ve been reading on Sunday mornings, so I am going to continue with that now. Search  previous posts under that name. You’ll also find a page on the top line of the home page which I’m using to list things I need to think about or keep tabs on as the reading goes on.

A quick explanation for anyone who wouldn’t naturally find themselves reading such a poem:   I’m interested in acts of translation from one way of thinking to another, particularly from Christian  thinking in poetry – Dante, Milton, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and many others – to  my own a-religious thoughts. Many years ago, when I wrote my Ph.D, on what I called ‘Visionary Realism’, I realised that I was interested in what happens to religious experience when people no longer believe in religion. Are there, for example, still experiences of ‘grace’? Do we ever  experience ‘miracles’? Are there trials and tribulations of the soul? Is there ‘soul’? …and so on.  I came into this area of thinking through Doris Lessing’s novel-series Canopus in Argos, and particularly the first novel in that series,  Shikasta. There’s a partial account of this in previous blog post, ‘Lifesavers’.

If you are joining me new today, start at the beginning – read aloud. You’ll find a good online edition here.

Last time, I’d been reading Satan’s first speech to Beelzebub (and himself) which ended with his avowed intention never to seek forgiveness for raising  impious war in heaven: I pick up again at the same place, at Book 1 line  111: seeking forgiveness seems an  appalling act of subservience to Satan (as it usually does, at least at the start of the process, to me):

… that were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath [ 115 ]
This downfall; since by Fate the strength of Gods
And this Empyreal substance cannot fail,
Since through experience of this great event
In Arms not worse, in foresight much advanc’t,
We may with more successful hope resolve [ 120 ]
To wage by force or guile eternal Warr
Irreconcileable, to our grand Foe,
Who now triumphs, and in th’ excess of joy
Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav’n.

So spake th’ Apostate Angel, though in pain, [ 125 ]
Vaunting aloud, but rackt with deep despare:

‘Ignominy and shame beneath this downfall’, Satan says  -and I wonder, why both ? Ignominy is shame, isn’t it? I look it up. Ignominy is related to loss of name, whereas shame seems more about being exposed, and has an interesting link to physical exposure which makes me think of Adam and Eve (as we’ll see in several years when we get  there) covering themselves with leaves post-fall, when they see themselves as naked and feel shame.

I notice that Satan  wants to distance himself from his first sense of  lowness and loss. Now  he has had a chance to regroup and gather his psychological force, asking for forgiveness is  seen as a comparator  – it’s worse than the fall itself, ‘beneath this downfall.’  And suddenly Satan is regaining power, and able to think about his situation  as  not lost and possible redeemable.

since by Fate the strength of Gods
And this Empyreal substance cannot fail,
Since through experience of this great event
In Arms not worse, in foresight much advanc’t,
We may with more successful hope resolve [ 120 ]
To wage by force or guile eternal Warr
Irreconcileable,

He remembers that the empyreal (the very highest) angels are like Gods, but it is interesting to note that even here he exaggerates: they are not Gods but  only godlike. That slippage seems to come naturally to Satan. He is gathering strength, and  looks back at the recent defeat now as useful experience:

Since through experience of this great event
In Arms not worse, in foresight much advanc’t,

Such experience, he says,  can be put to good account as he commits himself to ensure the battle  continues:

We may with more successful hope resolve [ 120 ]
To wage by force or guile eternal Warr
Irreconcileable,

What I’m interested in here is  the reality of this as a human mechanism. Why do we so easily recognise Satan and the pattern of his mind? It’s all-too-human to keep going with some self-destructive pattern of thinking, telling yourself you are being  strong by sticking to it.  The denial of reality and the assertion of self in the face of it is a sort of  everyday breakage and fall. I’m thinking of some lines from a William Stafford poem I’ve been re-reading lately in A Ritual to Read To Each Other:

I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

This is about lying, I think or perhaps my emphasis should fall more on recognising the truth. I’ve been reading about Stoicism and was moved last night to read that Stoics believe in a kind of universal unity, that the universe as a whole system may be God, a pattern, way and state of givenness. I think I believe that. The recognition of truth, of what is, is a key part of  a happy life, even if what is is painful. I think that is helpful to me as someone living without a conception of God and yet with a strong sense that there is always truth (or truths).  So I’m interested here to see that Satan, the baddest baddie, is characterised by an  inability to ‘recognise the fact’ of what has occurred.

Now Beelezebub speaks:

And him thus answer’d soon his bold Compeer.

O Prince, O Chief of many Throned Powers,
That led th’ imbattelld Seraphim to Warr
Under thy conduct, and in dreadful deeds [ 130 ]
Fearless, endanger’d Heav’ns perpetual King;
And put to proof his high Supremacy,
Whether upheld by strength, or Chance, or Fate,
Too well I see and rue the dire event,
That with sad overthrow and foul defeat [ 135 ]
Hath lost us Heav’n, and all this mighty Host
In horrible destruction laid thus low,
As far as Gods and Heav’nly Essences
Can perish: for the mind and spirit remains
Invincible, and vigour soon returns, [ 140 ]
Though all our Glory extinct, and happy state
Here swallow’d up in endless misery.
But what if he our Conquerour, (whom I now
Of force believe Almighty, since no less
Then such could hav orepow’rd such force as ours) [ 145 ]
Have left us this our spirit and strength intire
Strongly to suffer and support our pains
That we may so suffice his vengeful ire,
Or do him mightier service as his thralls
By right of Warr, what e’re his business be [ 150 ]
Here in the heart of Hell to work in Fire,
Or do his Errands in the gloomy Deep;
What can it then avail though yet we feel
Strength undiminisht, or eternal being
To undergo eternal punishment? [ 155 ]

There’s an all-too-predictable slipperiness here in the line about why God won the war in heaven (‘Whether upheld by strength, or Chance, or Fate’). Using the William Stafford words, ‘know’ and recognise’, I’d say, like Satan, Beelzebub knows what happened. What happened was ‘strength’. But as soon as he has  said that word he must deny it, undercut it by deliberate non-recognition,  adding ‘chance or fate’ as possible elements.  Yet Beelzebub hasn’t yet come to a state of complete denial. He can still see ‘the fact’ of defeat:

Too well I see and rue the dire event,
That with sad overthrow and foul defeat [ 135 ]
Hath lost us Heav’n, and all this mighty Host
In horrible destruction laid thus low,

Beelzebub is less strong than Satan, and seems in two minds,

As far as Gods and Heav’nly Essences
Can perish: for the mind and spirit remains
Invincible, and vigour soon returns, [ 140 ]
Though all our Glory extinct, and happy state
Here swallow’d up in endless misery.

The phrase,  ‘the mind and spirit remains/Invincible, and vigour soon returns’, seems like phrase Satan himself might use but it is quickly followed by a more truthful thought : ‘Though all our Glory extinct, and happy state/ Here swallow’d up in endless misery.’

Beelzebub now allows various possibilities to run through his mind:

But what if he our Conquerour, (whom I now
Of force believe Almighty, since no less
Then such could hav orepow’rd such force as ours) [ 145 ]
Have left us this our spirit and strength intire
Strongly to suffer and support our pains
That we may so suffice his vengeful ire,
Or do him mightier service as his thralls
By right of Warr, what e’re his business be [ 150 ]
Here in the heart of Hell to work in Fire,
Or do his Errands in the gloomy Deep;
What can it then avail though yet we feel
Strength undiminisht, or eternal being
To undergo eternal punishment? [ 155 ]

Say God was the  all-powerful – what would it matter, Beelzebub asks himself, if vigour did return to us? Mightn’t that mean that we are here now simply to do His bidding?

What can it then avail though yet we feel
Strength undiminisht, or eternal being
To undergo eternal punishment? [ 155 ]

This is reality. And we know that Satan is going to have to speak against it and persuade Beelzebub to think differently. As he does:

Whereto with speedy words th’ Arch-fiend reply’d.

Fall’nCherube, to be weak is miserable
Doing or Suffering: but of this be sure,
To do ought good never will be our task,
But ever to do ill our sole delight, [ 160 ]
As being the contrary to his high will
Whom we resist. If then his Providence
Out of our evil seek to bring forth good,
Our labour must be to pervert that end,
And out of good still to find means of evil; [ 165 ]
Which oft times may succeed, so as perhaps
Shall grieve him, if I fail not, and disturb
His inmost counsels from thir destind aim.

But that’s my hour up for today. So glad to be back.

Paradise Lost 7: Keeping Your Armour On

vilnius balloons
Balloons taking off in Vilnius

I’m continuing my weekly Sunday reading of Paradise Lost. Search  previous posts under that name. You’ll also find a page on the top line which I’m using to list things I need to think about or keep tabs on as the reading goes on.

A quick explanation for anyone who wouldn’t naturally find themselves reading such a poem:   I’m interested in acts of translation from one way of thinking to another, particularly from Christian  thinking in poetry – Dante, Milton, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and many others – to  my own a-religious thoughts. Many years ago, when I wrote my Ph.D, on what I called ‘Visionary Realism’, I realised that I was interested in what happens to religious experience when people no longer believe in religion. Are there, for example, still experiences of ‘grace’? Do we ever  experience ‘miracles’? Are there trials and tribulations of the soul? Is there ‘soul’? …and so on.  I came into this area of thinking through Doris Lessing’s novel-series Canopus in Argos, and particularly the first novel in that series,  Shikasta. There’s a partial account of this in previous blog post, ‘Lifesavers’.

If you are joining me new today, start at the beginning – read aloud. You’ll find a good online edition here.

Last week, I’d finished my reading time by reading but not thinking or writing about this opening speech by Satan:

If thou beest he; But O how fall’n! how chang’d
From him, who in the happy Realms of Light [ 85 ]
Cloth’d with transcendent brightness didst out-shine
Myriads though bright: If he Whom mutual league,
United thoughts and counsels, equal hope
And hazard in the Glorious Enterprize,
Joynd with me once, now misery hath joynd [ 90 ]
In equal ruin: into what Pit thou seest
From what highth fall’n, so much the stronger prov’d
He with his Thunder: and till then who knew
The force of those dire Arms? yet not for those,
Nor what the Potent Victor in his rage [ 95 ]
Can else inflict, do I repent or change,
Though chang’d in outward lustre; that fixt mind
And high disdain, from sence of injur’d merit,
That with the mightiest rais’d me to contend,
And to the fierce contention brought along [ 100 ]
Innumerable force of Spirits arm’d
That durst dislike his reign, and me preferring,
His utmost power with adverse power oppos’d
In dubious Battel on the Plains of Heav’n,
And shook his throne. What though the field be lost? [ 105 ]
All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?
That Glory never shall his wrath or might [ 110 ]
Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deifie his power,
Who from the terrour of this Arm so late
Doubted his Empire, that were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath [ 115 ]
This downfall; since by Fate the strength of Gods
And this Empyreal substance cannot fail,
Since through experience of this great event
In Arms not worse, in foresight much advanc’t,
We may with more successful hope resolve [ 120 ]
To wage by force or guile eternal Warr
Irreconcileable, to our grand Foe,
Who now triumphs, and in th’ excess of joy
Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav’n.

I wish I had the tech to do a Philip Collins (The Times) ‘the speech unspun’ on this! As I don’t, I’m going to first identify for myself the basic movements:

If thou beest he; But O how fall’n! how chang’d
From him, who in the happy Realms of Light [ 85 ]
Cloth’d with transcendent brightness didst out-shine
Myriads though bright:

Here Satan sets off in an uncharacteristically wobbly mode – his first word is ‘if’. He can barely recognise his erstwhile companion and there is real pain in the centre of this opening line, ‘But O how fall’n!’, and before we know it his thoughts are back in heaven, as if that is where they naturally tend. Is the word ‘happy’ a giveaway here, before Satan’s normally secure defenses are up? He’s not saying, or thinking,  ‘changed from how you were in that hell we used to inhabit where God kept us in subservience’ – which is the line he will take once he has got his psychological armour on. Vulnerable, newly broken, and without cover, he is  able to remember the realms of light as ‘happy’. He remembers too Beelzebub’s brightness, which made him (then) one of the brightest. Now? ‘If thou beest he…’ Is it you, my old companion?

If he Whom mutual league,
United thoughts and counsels, equal hope
And hazard in the Glorious Enterprize,
Joynd with me once, now misery hath joynd [ 90 ]
In equal ruin:

Now Satan begins to remember what is was that made them companions, ‘mutual league,/United thoughts and counsels, equal hope/And hazard  in the Glorious Enterprise,’. This is speechifying language and the beginning of Satan’s psychic armour, especially when he gets to ‘Glorious Enterprise’. It’s as if  Satan has already begun to remember  their time together as heroic, despite still not quite being able to recognise his comrade for ruin.

That feeling is relatively short-lived as the visible ruin and internal misery  must be acknowledged ‘now misery hath joyn’d/In equal ruin.’ Yet the thought ends with a colon, not a full-stop. And that colon is a place where Satan can gather himself for the speech that is  coming, which collects a self-aggrandising momentum from the way Satan puts the story into words. The honest naiveté of ‘Happy’ is quite gone already :

If he Whom mutual league,
United thoughts and counsels, equal hope
And hazard in the Glorious Enterprize,
Joynd with me once, now misery hath joynd [ 90 ]
In equal ruin: into what Pit thou seest
From what highth fall’n, so much the stronger prov’d
He with his Thunder: and till then who knew
The force of those dire Arms?

Psychological armour goes to protect the will even when it knows it is wrong? Does he know, really believe, he was wrong? No, he can’t quite get to that. Only that first instrinctive, unprotected utterance to Beelzebub contains a sense of acknowledgement – ‘if thou beest he’. Perhap the armous is already on, undislodged from before – during the war in Heaven – pride came before the fall and pride remains. only that worry of loss in the ‘if’ is a little chink. Or is it that I just want to see that?

Things change, I think at the word ‘He’ in line 94, when Satan begins to see a bigger picture than simply their position as fallen beings. There’s also Him.  He.  After having acknowledged  ‘so much the stronger prov’d/He’ having uttered that pronoun the reality of ‘He’ and the fall begins to strike again. it is suddenly no longer possible to recall it simply as a Glorious Enterprise.

But having thought of Him, and even acknowledged ‘so much the stronger’, Satan must now undermine that thought in order to retain his own sense of identity (summed up perhaps in the phraseology of Glorious Enterprise). It’s ‘He with his thunder’. Not  ‘He with his superior powers’ ‘He with his brighter light’, ‘He with the all the inevitability of  our creator’…No, just ‘thunder’. Empty noise.

Ah, so ok, he proved stronger with that thunder, and ’till then who knew/The force of those dire Arms?’

Only the ‘dire arms’ could have forced an acknowledgement, however grudging, of God’s power. I didn’t know! Satan cries, like a child who hasn’t realised the parent really will take command of a situation. I thought I would get away with it! I thought I could boss you!

…yet not for those,
Nor what the Potent Victor in his rage [ 95 ]
Can else inflict, do I repent or change,
Though chang’d in outward lustre; that fixt mind
And high disdain, from sence of injur’d merit,
That with the mightiest rais’d me to contend,
And to the fierce contention brought along [ 100 ]
Innumerable force of Spirits arm’d
That durst dislike his reign, and me preferring,
His utmost power with adverse power oppos’d
In dubious Battel on the Plains of Heav’n,
And shook his throne.

There’s no real acknowledge of what God is, only of the expression of power, thus God is a ‘Potent Victor’ (which seems in the same register as ‘Glorious Enterprise’) but remains ‘in his rage’. That rage doesn’t bother me, Satan boasts. He has no intention of  repenting nor changing;

that fixt mind
And high disdain, from sence of injur’d merit,

I think it is important to remember Satan’s account of his motives here. Is he speaking the truth? I don’t know. But I want to note what he does say.  He has a fixt mind.  He seems pleased with that, proud of it. He feels disdain and it comes from a sense of injured merit.  Disdain – not deeming worthy. Do the opposite of deeming worthy. Funny that it is such an opposiotnal word. You have to have an opponent.  I’m  going to note these on my PL page as thnigs to remember later. (See top line).

Satan ends by claiming to have ‘shook his throne’, as if nearly winning (if he did nearly win, we don’t know, we have only his word for it) was almost the same as winning.  But it is that claim which seems to give him the courage to look up and continue his rebellion – we are no longer in the land of ‘if’ and ‘how fallen’:

What though the field be lost? [ 105 ]
All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?
That Glory never shall his wrath or might [ 110 ]
Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deifie his power,
Who from the terrour of this Arm so late
Doubted his Empire, that were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath [ 115 ]
This downfall;

There are many instances of  these moves in real life, which I don’t have time to go into here. Everyone will have experienced that  moment of feeling beaten by something you know to be right and yet being unwilling or unnable to acknowledge that  rightness because it costs you (me) your pride.  I may abhor Satan but I don’t half recognise him.  Luckily for me and my  confessional mode that’s all I have time for today. Pick up again here next week.

Silas Marner Day 33: Psychotherapy before Freud

nat lib
A modern library that still believes in huge columns  – this only the top half 

 

This post didn’t make it to publication on Friday for some uploading reason.

 

Turning back to reading Silas Marner this morning.

Search Silas Marner for previous posts. And look here for the whole text.

Story so far: Silas had one life in the town, where as a member of  a little sect up Lantern Yard he had a place in  the human world. Then he was betrayed and cast out, and  became a solitary,  ending in the village of Raveloe as an odd-bod kids made fun of and everyone slightly feared, partly because he suffers cataleptic fits. He had no human relationships, and only loved his gold coins, which seemed to him to have loving faces.  One night these were stolen, and the toddler child of a drug user  came into his cottage and Silas thought the  child had someone  come to replace the gold. He loves her and is allowed by the village authorities to keep her. He brings her up and makes friends with Dolly Winthrop, a village matron who takes him under her wing.  Sixteen years go happily by. That’s where we are when I pick here in chapter 16.  This is a good chance to practise our deep slow reading in prose, which can sometimes be harder than poetry -why?

When reading poetry we all know we are doing something strange and often times difficult. Prose is more normal, so it is easy to simply read fast, as if all that mattered is ‘what happens next’.  That  desire to know what happens next is  quite understandable, but I don’t think we should let it dominate our reading. As the tempo and insistence of  real life,  prose has rhythms and within those rhythms, stopping places, resting and watch places, places for thought or abstraction. It seems important to find those places and give them time.  That’s why it’s not a good idea to have in mind a certain number of pages, or chapters, to get through in a Shared Reading prose  session.  It’s important to follow the  rhythms of the text and to slow down or stop when the text asks you – places where it is not narrative pull that grips us, but reflective absorption.

I think the  paragraph that follows is one such place.

Silas has developed, we learn,

a humble sort of acquiescence in what was held to be good, had become a strong habit of that new self which had been developed in him since he had found Eppie on his hearth: it had been the only clew his bewildered mind could hold by in cherishing this young life that had been sent to him out of the darkness into which his gold had departed. By seeking what was needful for Eppie, by sharing the effect that everything produced on her, he had himself come to appropriate the forms of custom and belief which were the mould of Raveloe life; and as, with reawakening sensibilities, memory also reawakened, he had begun to ponder over the elements of his old faith, and blend them with his new impressions, till he recovered a consciousness of unity between his past and present. The sense of presiding goodness and the human trust which come with all pure peace and joy, had given him a dim impression that there had been some error, some mistake, which had thrown that dark shadow over the days of his best years; and as it grew more and more easy to him to open his mind to Dolly Winthrop, he gradually communicated to her all he could describe of his early life. The communication was necessarily a slow and difficult process, for Silas’s meagre power of explanation was not aided by any readiness of interpretation in Dolly, whose narrow outward experience gave her no key to strange customs, and made every novelty a source of wonder that arrested them at every step of the narrative. It was only by fragments, and at intervals which left Dolly time to revolve what she had heard till it acquired some familiarity for her, that Silas at last arrived at the climax of the sad story–the drawing of lots, and its false testimony concerning him; and this had to be repeated in several interviews, under new questions on her part as to the nature of this plan for detecting the guilty and clearing the innocent.

Important in the reading aloud to go slowly, perhaps even to take it something like a sentence at a time, otherwise – like reading the Denise Levertov poem I’ve been reading here for four or five days, you’re going to miss most of it. Actually- there seems to be a real connection here now between Silas and the Levertov Map, which is to do with knitting  together splits in a life.

I’m going to pick up one specific sentence here:

By seeking what was needful for Eppie, by sharing the effect that everything produced on her, he had himself come to appropriate the forms of custom and belief which were the mould of Raveloe life; and as, with reawakening sensibilities, memory also reawakened, he had begun to ponder over the elements of his old faith, and blend them with his new impressions, till he recovered a consciousness of unity between his past and present.

This ‘consciousness of unity between his past and his present’ seems to me a sign of true healing. During Silas’ time of what I’m going to call self-absence – that time between arriving in Raveloe and the coming of Eppie  – and how long was that? I need to look back to remember, but it seems years and years.  (It tells us  in chapter one that the story begins fifteen years after Silas has come to Raveloe. That is a goodly portion of any adult’s life.) During that long period of hardly being alive but  for the joy in the gold, Silas didnt seem connected to either present, future or past, he was in state of something like living suspended animation. Now, joy in, and the demands of, the child have pulled him back to life and to future and past.  This joining up, this knitting together of the scar of his life indicates his growing ability to contemplate  what has happened to him. He no longer needs to live in not-life, the trauma recedes and the human stands back and looks at the pieces. (I’m thinking of the end of the Levertov poem, all the Ivans and Marias trying to make sense of their fragments and their new lives in New York.)

The sense of presiding goodness and the human trust which come with all pure peace and joy, had given him a dim impression that there had been some error, some mistake, which had thrown that dark shadow over the days of his best years; and as it grew more and more easy to him to open his mind to Dolly Winthrop, he gradually communicated to her all he could describe of his early life. The communication was necessarily a slow and difficult process, for Silas’s meagre power of explanation was not aided by any readiness of interpretation in Dolly, whose narrow outward experience gave her no key to strange customs, and made every novelty a source of wonder that arrested them at every step of the narrative.

This is like a comic Shakespearian form of psychotherapy,  where both parties lack the complex language needed to describe and understand complex human  being. Silas struggling to put anything into words and when he does Dolly overcome by wonder at the smallest details of  life in another country. I can smile at this picture  of the two of them, but I also need to  notice what is probably the most important word in the paragraph. Dolly’s

narrow outward experience gave her no key to strange customs, and made every novelty a source of wonder that arrested them at every step of the narrative

It is the word ‘outward’ that matters here. Dolly is not experienced in the  world, she’s never been anywhere and she is not educated. But the inference the text asks us to make is that she has something else, something  the opposite of outward. For Dolly, though we can find her funny, is wise. She has inward experience. That’s going to be helpful, because that’s what anyone needs from their counsellor.

Let’s read another chunk:

 It was only by fragments, and at intervals which left Dolly time to revolve what she had heard till it acquired some familiarity for her, that Silas at last arrived at the climax of the sad story–the drawing of lots, and its false testimony concerning him; and this had to be repeated in several interviews, under new questions on her part as to the nature of this plan for detecting the guilty and clearing the innocent.

“And yourn’s the same Bible, you’re sure o’ that, Master Marner– the Bible as you brought wi’ you from that country–it’s the same as what they’ve got at church, and what Eppie’s a-learning to read in?”

“Yes,” said Silas, “every bit the same; and there’s drawing o’ lots in the Bible, mind you,” he added in a lower tone.

“Oh, dear, dear,” said Dolly in a grieved voice, as if she were hearing an unfavourable report of a sick man’s case. She was silent for some minutes; at last she said–

“There’s wise folks, happen, as know how it all is; the parson knows, I’ll be bound; but it takes big words to tell them things, and such as poor folks can’t make much out on. I can never rightly know the meaning o’ what I hear at church, only a bit here and there, but I know it’s good words–I do. But what lies upo’ your mind–it’s this, Master Marner: as, if Them above had done the right thing by you, They’d never ha’ let you be turned out for a wicked thief when you was innicent.”

“Ah!” said Silas, who had now come to understand Dolly’s phraseology, “that was what fell on me like as if it had been red-hot iron; because, you see, there was nobody as cared for me or clave to me above nor below. And him as I’d gone out and in wi’ for ten year and more, since when we was lads and went halves–mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted, had lifted up his heel again’ me, and worked to ruin me.”

“Eh, but he was a bad un–I can’t think as there’s another such,” said Dolly. “But I’m o’ercome, Master Marner; I’m like as if I’d waked and didn’t know whether it was night or morning. I feel somehow as sure as I do when I’ve laid something up though I can’t justly put my hand on it, as there was a rights in what happened to you, if one could but make it out; and you’d no call to lose heart as you did. But we’ll talk on it again; for sometimes things come into my head when I’m leeching or poulticing, or such, as I could never think on when I was sitting still.”

Dolly was too useful a woman not to have many opportunities of illumination of the kind she alluded to, and she was not long before she recurred to the subject.

“Master Marner,” she said, one day that she came to bring home Eppie’s washing, “I’ve been sore puzzled for a good bit wi’ that trouble o’ yourn and the drawing o’ lots; and it got twisted back’ards and for’ards, as I didn’t know which end to lay hold on. But it come to me all clear like, that night when I was sitting up wi’ poor Bessy Fawkes, as is dead and left her children behind, God help ’em–it come to me as clear as daylight; but whether I’ve got hold on it now, or can anyways bring it to my tongue’s end, that I don’t know. For I’ve often a deal inside me as’ll never come out; and for what you talk o’ your folks in your old country niver saying prayers by heart nor saying ’em out of a book, they must be wonderful cliver; for if I didn’t know “Our Father”, and little bits o’ good words as I can carry out o’ church wi’ me, I might down o’ my knees every night, but nothing could I say.”

The bit in the centre of this that I’d want to concentrate on picks the idea of Dolly as a counsellor or psychotherapist. She says,

But what lies upo’ your mind–it’s this, Master Marner: as, if Them above had done the right thing by you, They’d never ha’ let you be turned out for a wicked thief when you was innicent.”

It’s the phrase ‘what lies upon your mind’ that I find moving here. Dolly, this practical, wise woman is trying to get at the root of the problem, despite all the superficial complications of it having taken place in what seems to her foreign country, among people whose habits she can barely imagine. She rightly diagnoses that Silas human experience had made him lose his faith in God,  in ‘them above’.

But that’s all I have time for today. I’ve a meeting  in Vilnus and it’s getting late.

Continuing to read Levertov’s Essex in Vilnius

Vlinius uni
University of Vilnius

I’m here  in Vilnius to be part of this conference – yesterday  I attended talks on  the C18 information overload and how people coped with mass printing (skim read!),  the use of Twitter as a way of  getting people to talk about and share reading experiences in Italy, and the examination of  the reading of Shakespeare Sonnets in terms of  both perceived individual meaning and recorded eye-tracking ( yes, the two things overlap). Also about developing a psychological model for what happens when we ‘are lost in a book’. How can such a state be understood? It felt good to stand back from the day-to-day work and see people thinking about what we do!

And in the queue for lunch I talked with a librarian from Guelph (Canada), whose work centres on artificial intelligence, about AI and empathy. This man had once been a letterpress printer. All that in one lifetime! And he had a lovely real little bound, openable, real paper-paged book as a badge. The picture does not do it justice.

bookbadge
The book badge of Michael Ridley

Vlinius is a beautiful city. I’ve never seen so much baroque architecture in one place. I’m staying in a hotel that was once a monastery, and yesterday I heard the most ethereal singing from across the courtyard and couldn’t tell if it was real or ghostly.

After a day of  research presentations it was a treat to be part of the conference dinner in the amazing National Library.

nat lib

nat lib2

 

But I need to get on  with my Daily Reading Practice. I’ve been reading this poem by Denise Levertov, and plan to finish it today.

I begin my practice by reading it through. Now after – how many? four five six? –  days spent with this poem, I am beginning to feel I know it’s rhythms and meanings.

A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England

Something forgotten for twenty years: though my fathers
and mothers came from Cordova and Vitepsk and Caernarvon,
and though I am a citizen of the United States and less a
stranger here than anywhere else, perhaps,
I am Essex-born:
Cranbrook Wash called me into its dark tunnel,
the little streams of Valentines heard my resolves,
Roding held my head above water when I thought it was
drowning me; in Hainault only a haze of thin trees
stood between the red doubledecker buses and the boar-hunt,
the spirit of merciful Phillipa glimmered there.
Pergo Park knew me, and Clavering, and Havering-atte-Bower,
Stanford Rivers lost me in osier beds, Stapleford Abbots
sent me safe home on the dark road after Simeon-quiet evensong,
Wanstead drew me over and over into its basic poetry,
in its serpentine lake I saw bass-viols among the golden dead leaves,
through its trees the ghost of a great house. In
Ilford High Road I saw the multitudes passing pale under the
light of flaring sundown, seven kings
in somber starry robes gathered at Seven Kings
the place of law
where my birth and marriage are recorded
and the death of my father. Woodford Wells
where an old house was called The Naked Beauty (a white
statue forlorn in its garden)
saw the meeting and parting of two sisters,
(forgotten? and further away
the hill before Thaxted? where peace befell us? not once
but many times?).
All the Ivans dreaming of their villages
all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities,
picking up fragments of New World slowly,
not knowing how to put them together nor how to join
image with image, now I know how it was with you, an old map
made long before I was born shows ancient
rights of way where I walked when I was ten burning with desire
for the world’s great splendors, a child who traced voyages
indelibly all over the atlas, who now in a far country
remembers the first river, the first
field, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building,
that new smell, and remembers
the walls of the garden, the first light.

I’d come to what may be the last movement of the poem, which seems curiously live here in Vilnius, a city decimated, physically, culturally and spiritually by the KGB during the Soviet period, and in which 55,000 Jews were killed during the Nazi occupation in the second world war.  This last section  looks at the movement of people from  old Europe to the New World, from places like Vilnius to New York, and somehow casts strong light on early geo-rooted experience.

Yesterday my  husband Phil Davis’  presentation looked at using digital text manipulation to show  different parts of a Shakespeare sonnet taking on colour, expanding, contracting moving, linking with other words.  I think  of that today as I read. The line from near the beginning of the poem,  ‘ I am Essex-born’ looms large in today’s reading, particularly once I reread the end of the poem.

All the Ivans dreaming of their villages
all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities,
picking up fragments of New World slowly,
not knowing how to put them together nor how to join
image with image, now I know how it was with you, an old map
made long before I was born shows ancient
rights of way where I walked when I was ten burning with desire
for the world’s great splendors, a child who traced voyages
indelibly all over the atlas, who now in a far country
remembers the first river, the first
field, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building,
that new smell, and remembers
the walls of the garden, the first light.

I notice this last movement is a whole sentence.  Yesterday one of the things Phil spoke about was the relation of line ending to sentence – prose keeps going, but poetry breaks the line and that break is a piece of poetic equipment.

All the Ivans dreaming of their villages
all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities,

Here I am in Domus Maria in the walled city of Vilnius.  This place and  thousands like it will have sent thousands, millions, to the new world. All the Ivans, all the Marias. Those people, like Levertov herself, were then severed from their geophysical roots but also took them with them. How strangely moving I have found it to see potato pancakes, potato dumplings here for sale in Lithuanian restaurants. I think of  the knishes I’ve eaten in New York and Austin, Texas. They came from somewhere like this.

All the Ivans dreaming of their villages
all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities,
picking up fragments of New World slowly,
not knowing how to put them together nor how to join
image with image,

How once we separated from that early map of where we come from, all new bits seem odd, always ‘fragments’, both of language and of culture, of experience we don’t quite now to assimilate. Denise Levertov, living her experience of childhood in Essex did not have to know ‘how to put them together nor how to join/image with image’: things simply, naturally, experientatially were. You don’t need a map of a country you know inside out, have lived in, have  made significant with your own experience. You only need a map of unknown or forgotten places. Levertov had forgotten  the intimate details of her being in Essex.

Suddenly – or is it slowly! it has taken the whole poem, after all – Levertov realises the psychological  breakage of the immigrant:

… now I know how it was with you, an old map
made long before I was born shows ancient
rights of way where I walked when I was ten burning with desire
for the world’s great splendors, a child who traced voyages
indelibly all over the atlas, who now in a far country
remembers the first river, the first
field, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building,
that new smell, and remembers
the walls of the garden, the first light.

She remembers that which drove her, ‘burning with desire/for the world’s great splendours’, perhaps a characteristic of all those who emigrate. And the experience of  looking at this ‘old map/made long before I was born’ reminds her not only of her leaving but also of what made her – those active creating verbs of the early section of the poem. And now ‘in a far country’ she seems  to get back to  her beginning, or the beginning of consciousness;

….the first river, the first
field, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building,
that new smell, and remembers
the walls of the garden, the first light.

It’s like the beginning of the world, or the beginning of human culture, like the Garden of Eden or the very beginning of creation, isn’t it , with its  ‘first river/walls of the garden, the first light.’ A gentle, a golden, peace descends at the end of the moment with that final word, ‘light’. Back to before everything.

I reread the entire poem, knowing the place, as T.S Eliot said, for the first time.

Lovely.

“A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England” By Denise Levertov, from POEMS 1960-1967, copyright ©1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965,1966 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. 

Denise Levertov and Essex : Getting Stuck and Not Minding

domus maria
View from my room at Domus Maria, Vilnius, Lithuania, 27 September

Last week I had started  reading Denise Levertov’s poem, ‘A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England’ and am coming back to it this week. Search ‘Denise Levertov’ previous posts.

I’d got as far as the lines ‘the place of law/ where my birth and marriage are recorded/ and the death of my father’. Rereading the whole poem to get the run of it now. don’t forget, when reading aloud, to aim for the punctuation marks rather than line endings, the line endings are smaller than pauses – slight inflections of the rhythm:

A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England

Something forgotten for twenty years: though my fathers
and mothers came from Cordova and Vitepsk and Caernarvon,
and though I am a citizen of the United States and less a
stranger here than anywhere else, perhaps,
I am Essex-born:
Cranbrook Wash called me into its dark tunnel,
the little streams of Valentines heard my resolves,
Roding held my head above water when I thought it was
drowning me; in Hainault only a haze of thin trees
stood between the red doubledecker buses and the boar-hunt,
the spirit of merciful Phillipa glimmered there.
Pergo Park knew me, and Clavering, and Havering-atte-Bower,
Stanford Rivers lost me in osier beds, Stapleford Abbots
sent me safe home on the dark road after Simeon-quiet evensong,
Wanstead drew me over and over into its basic poetry,
in its serpentine lake I saw bass-viols among the golden dead leaves,
through its trees the ghost of a great house. In
Ilford High Road I saw the multitudes passing pale under the
light of flaring sundown, seven kings
in somber starry robes gathered at Seven Kings
the place of law
where my birth and marriage are recorded
and the death of my father. Woodford Wells
where an old house was called The Naked Beauty (a white
statue forlorn in its garden)
saw the meeting and parting of two sisters,
(forgotten? and further away
the hill before Thaxted? where peace befell us? not once
but many times?).
All the Ivans dreaming of their villages
all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities,
picking up fragments of New World slowly,
not knowing how to put them together nor how to join
image with image, now I know how it was with you, an old map
made long before I was born shows ancient
rights of way where I walked when I was ten burning with desire
for the world’s great splendors, a child who traced voyages
indelibly all over the atlas, who now in a far country
remembers the first river, the first
field, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building,
that new smell, and remembers
the walls of the garden, the first light.

Writing last time  I looked some things up in Wikipedia but I don’t think I’ll do that today. I’ll pretend its the olden days when there was no knowing facts or possible facts in an instant, only reading the poem and letting it do its work.

Picking up at

                                               Woodford Wells
where an old house was called The Naked Beauty (a white
statue forlorn in its garden)
saw the meeting and parting of two sisters,
(forgotten? and further away
the hill before Thaxted? where peace befell us? not once
but many times?).

I don’t know what Woodford Wells is or was, but given what we’ve read so far, it doesn’t matter. We only need to know that looking at a map of Essex, Levertov sees these names and they are the names of places she has  known as a child or young woman. The white statue, after whom the house is named, ‘forlorn in its garden’ seems a sign for the  sisters, who meet and part. At first I’m uncertain as to who these sisters may be – like Philippa, perhaps, real historical figures the poet is imagining. But later when I read ‘ where peace befell us’ I think the sisters are Denise and her sibling, a real incident and the parting was not good, perhaps, because peace was required later…’not once but many times’. I ask myself about the brackets here;

(forgotten? and further away
the hill before Thaxted? where peace befell us? not once
but many times?).

what or whom was /is forgotten? possibly forgotten, because the question mark seems to ask is it forgotten? Now we are in a hard to see area where questions keep arising – does this mean memory is failing, can’t locate precise events?

I feel uncertain and my reading is faltering. So I look again, read again, going back to the poem:

                    Woodford Wells
where an old house was called The Naked Beauty (a white
statue forlorn in its garden)
saw the meeting and parting of two sisters,
(forgotten? and further away
the hill before Thaxted? where peace befell us? not once
but many times?).

This time I notice something about the syntactical pattern, the action of the verb being less strong than in previous formulations, where the verbs seemed to make Denise – called , heard , held, drowned, knew etc. But this time the verb is ‘saw’, as if the place merely witnessed.

What was forgotten? The meeting and parting? Woodford Wells?

I look closely at the lines containing the bracketed thought. I think the bracket says – not part of the Woodford Wells thought.  Some sub-category, some place more private?

(forgotten? and further away
the hill before Thaxted? where peace befell us? not once
but many times?).

‘The hill before Thaxted?’ Is she  questioning her sister, the pronoun us seems to point to that – is this a shared thought, shared memory? Did they fall out a lot, did they  make up sometimes for some reason on that hill?

I am stuck, but I don’t mind. I’m trying to enter the mind and memory and experience of Denise Levertov. I’ve got a long way in and  happy to leave this bit a  bit blurry. It feels, because it involves a relationship with someone else, more private than some of the other memories.

I leave it  there for today and  close down to walk down the hill from this convent/hotel to the Conference venue.

“A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England” By Denise Levertov, from POEMS 1960-1967, copyright ©1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965,1966 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.