Reflecting on police brutality

This brief post intends to signal that posting to |A Twisted Pair| has recommenced.

It seems not much has changed since then. My last post, on Christmas Eve 2015, carried “an uncommonly handsome view of the Central Police Station – a strong contender, I reckon, for the title of Wellington’s ugliest building.”

Less than a fortnight ago, I posted an image on my Facebook page under the title, REFLECTING ON POLICE BRUTALITY, as follows:

police brutality (19 Mar 16)

police brutality (19 Mar 16)

To my eye, the Wellington Central Police Station is one of the ugliest buildings in the city. Upon reflection (in the surfaces of the building on the opposite side of Victoria Street), it does seem more interesting. This image dates from 19 March 2016.

“Brutalist architecture is a movement in architecture that flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, descending from the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century. The term originates from the French word for “raw” in the term used by Le Corbusier to describe his choice of material béton brut (raw concrete). British architectural critic Reyner Banham adapted the term into “brutalism” (originally “New Brutalism”) to identify the emerging style.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brutalist_architecture

Café culture

Athfield Havana Bond (19 October 2015)

Athfield Havana Bond (19 October 2015)

Architect Ian Athfield died on 16 January this year. In the New Zealand Listener (dated the day before), Diana Wichtel presented an engaging interview, first published in the Listener in 2012, in which Ath “talked about starting his landmark ‘act of defiance’ in 1965, and finally wanting to finish the place.” Interview: Architect Ian Athfield

My image shows an advertisement for Havana Coffee. The green Telecom Building peeping in at the top corner of the image, was, according to one NCEA student, “built in a boom period when New Zealanders had big ideas and wanted their cities to look like international ones …”

Kaizen – a change for the better

kaizen

kaizen

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The Japanese term “kaizen” translates loosely as improvement or change for the better, according to the web-site of Leclair Ryan, an American firm of legal advisors. In Porirua, however, Kaizen is the café at Pataka Art + Museum.

After visiting my father at Kemp Home, Titahi Bay (21 May 2015), I met my sister for lunch at the Kaizen. The beautiful Japanese garden adjoining the café added to our experience as we ate the best spanakopita we’ve tasted in a long time … and the coffee was great!

Incidentally, kai refers to food in the Māori language, and a pataka is a place to store treasures.

Pataka houses a fine collection of sculptures, including one of Michel Tuffery’s tin-can bulls (image below).

Outside the entrance, and elsewhere in the vicinity, heaps of white sandbags – needed after mass rainfall on 14 May resulted in extensive flooding in the area. (My camera could not resist.)

 

Japonaiserie

Japonaiserie (19 March 2015)

Japonaiserie (19 March 2015)

Whilst the arrangement of the items in this photograph (taken today in Cuba Street, Wellington) has little or nothing to do with Japanese art, my ‘seeing’ was certainly influenced by it.

The Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh used the term Japonaiserie to express the influence of Japanese art.

In a letter to Theo, his younger brother, Vincent wrote: “One of [Jules] De Goncourt’s sayings was ‘Japonaiserie for ever’. Well, these docks [at Arnhem] are one huge Japonaiserie, fantastic, singular, strange … I mean, the figures there are always in motion, one sees them in the most peculiar settings, everything fantastic, and interesting contrasts keep appearing of their own accord.”

“The West moistens everything with meaning like an authoritarian religion which imposes baptism on entire peoples.” (Roland Barthes, in Empire of Signs)

A meditation

Quite without effort,
words coalesce: the bright brooch
of significance.

A wisp, a whisper
of wistfulness, of wanting …
gritted teeth, desire.

Breathing empties me;
a single candle flickers,
sparks a forest-fire.

All futures blossom
on one ancient tree; sways still
the eternal dance.

(08 February 2015)

 

Surrender to the sky

Selected Poems of James K Baxter; Paul Millar (cover)

Selected Poems of James K Baxter, edited by Paul Millar (cover)

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Baxter ambushed me again
today. (Yes, okay, I’ll explain.)

I’m in the New Zealand Reference Collection, Wellington City Library, and making my way to one of my habitual reading spots. Having already picked up the latest issue of Sculpture, and a Vidar Sundstøl novel, I have plenty to occupy my afternoon … but some library staff member has set up this book of Baxter’s poems on the end of a shelf.

Opening the slim volume at random, I smile my way through some familiar verses, but eventually turn back to the first in Millar’s selection – the iconic High Country Weather, which Baxter had penned in 1945 at 19 years of age:

Alone we are born
…… And die alone;
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
…… Over snow mountain shine.

Along the upland road
…… Ride easy, stranger:
Surrender to the sky
…… Your heart of anger.

The opening lines seem like a contrary echo of “Thee, God, I come from, to thee go” (Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844–89). And the supercharged description, “red-gold cirrus”, takes me straight to the final cadence of The Windhover, in which the poet gazes not up at wind-winnowed clouds but into the glowing coals of a camp-fire:

… shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

From the first, I suspected I might be reading too much into Baxter’s lines – would the adolescent poet have (as I had) read Hopkins? At school, he had certainly read Auden, Spender, MacNeice, and Day-Lewis – and also, later, Rimbaud, Dylan Thomas, and Hart Crane (Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand). We know he had been turning out poems since the age of seven, “and completed six hundred between the ages of sixteen and twenty” (Paul Stanley Ward).

Whereas Hopkins revelled in the arcane, characteristically seeking out “All things counter, original, spare, strange” (from G M Hopkins, Pied Beauty), Baxter delighted in a beguiling simplicity, an almost facile fluidity. We do well to remember, though, that “Baxter was a compelling mix of high and low culture, sacred and profane” (Paul Stanley Ward).

Some see existentialism in High Country Weather – it certainly carries little trace of the Catholicism that was later to infuse the poet’s work. To me, it seems more Buddhist than existentialist. In Sexual Personae [p5], Camille Paglia asserts that “Buddhist meditation seeks the unity and harmony of reality,” but later on the same page adds that “Every time we say nature is beautiful, we are saying a prayer, fingering our worry beads.”

James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause”

James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause”

I cannot avoid pointing to another James: James Dean, in Rebel Without a Cause – although, of course, High Country Weather predates the 1955 film by a decade. Baxter described his adolescence as “a testing time”, and his university experience as a “long, unsuccessful love affair with the Higher Learning” (Paul Stanley Ward).

Hopkins and Baxter, each with very different sensibilities, both tap into something of how the human mind makes sense of things. Camille Paglia argues that “Poetry is the connecting link between body and mind” (Paglia, 1990), elsewhere contending that “Poetry is the way into a spiritual vision of society and the universe.”

Perhaps I’d have been closer to the mark had I connected High Country Weather with words from Be Happy in Bed (1958-9, 1979, also included in Millar’s selection):

The self so persecuted by enigmas
prefers a mountain to a nagging mother.


NOTES:

The “today” in my opening couplet refers not to the date of publication, but to the day (a week or more ago) on which I started writing this piece.

Paul Stanley Ward’s story, James K Baxter: On the Razor’s Edge, appears on http://www.nzedge.com/james-keir-baxter/

Article on life and poetry of James K Baxter is found on Poet Seers, a web-site developed by members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre.

Analysis of The Windhover: https://hokku.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/deciphering-hopkins-the-windhover/

Paglia, Camille. 1990. Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Yale University Press; Penguin (paperback, 1990). See: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300043969

Profile of Camille Paglia: http://www.uarts.edu/users/cpaglia

IMAGES:

The cover image for Selected Poems of James K Baxter, edited by Paul Millar shows Baxter outside “Canterbury University” in 1947.  Image credit: Hocken Library.

James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause” appears in a piece titled “100th Anniversary Of The T shirt” on the web-site, http://www.designbyhumans.com/forum/dbh-news/1153137/100th-anniversary-of-the-t-shirt/

 

Reality: too obvious to be true

Banksy and Baudrillard

untitled (Banksy and Baudrillard) (detail)

Nothing is wholly obvious without becoming enigmatic. Reality itself is too obvious to be true. (Jean Baudrillard)

In hand, a bunch of diverse quotations, most of them having at least some bearing on the nature of reality. The Baudrillard piece seems to have appointed itself chief amongst them, but Einstein can be heard muttering in the background.

Not unexpectedly – given the two words, ‘obvious’ and ‘enigmatic’ – Google Images quickly finds a picture/text version of the Baudrillard quote. But more interesting by far, I think, is this Banksy art piece with which it is teamed up on the Particulate Matters blog.

Clearly, both Banksy and “cosmicdebris” (proprietor of Particulate Matters) are saying something about the teachings of the Christian Church – particularly, it seems, in relation to the indoctrination of children. Look elsewhere on the Particulate Matters blog and you will find links to other ‘indoctrination’ stories: for example, Monsanto indoctrinating kids at the zoo.

Actually, I’m inclined to suspect that indoctrination is integral to every aspect of living – and that everyone is routinely doing it and/or having it done to them. And it wouldn’t necessarily qualify as either brainwashing or catechism. Let’s put it more simply: we’re all inclined to push our ideas on others – and we call it marketing, persuasion, instruction, education, or teaching.

Be that all as it may, it is not really the main point of my post.

A few months ago, on |cross-ties| – the blog of “The Other” – there was a bit of back-and-forth about the nature of reality. A piece titled Taking a cycle trip led one reader to discuss Derrida’s ideas, noting that in language there is a gap between words and things. I would take this further, asserting that there is a gap between what we perceive and what is actually the case.

A similar gap yawns between the words of every witness and the occurrences they describe – what we thought we saw, the way it seems to us, what we believe to be true, and everything that is ‘obvious’. (And, by the way, since it’s that obvious, why can’t everyone see it our way?)

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus begins with the proposition that “the world is everything that is the case” and ends by reminding us that “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Wittgenstein isn’t saying there’s stuff we can choose not to talk about; he’s actually pointing out that there are some things nobody can put into words.

Albert Einstein asserts that “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Elsewhere, he declares, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking.” He is not saying that nothing is real; what he means is that everything we experience as real is invented. “The human mind has first to construct forms, independently, before we can find them in things.” (Albert Einstein Essays in Science (1934), p27)

The way science talks about reality and truth is sounding more and more like the words of the ancient religions. For example, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, a notable teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, says: “The ultimate truth of all conventional truths is their being void of inherent existence. Conventional truths, ie empirical phenomena, exist dependently upon causal conditions, parts and imputation; they have absolutely no existence apart from these conditioning factors.”

But “Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true,” wrote Francis Bacon (1560-1626). Called the creator of empiricism, “[Bacon] established and popularised inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian method, or simply the scientific method.” (GoodReads)

Ultimately, then, as Baudrillard says, whatever seems obvious is, in reality, the superficial manifestation of a profound mystery: the deeper you go into it, the less you are able to say about it.

In Poetry: This Death Is Incomplete (part one of an essay on poetry and death), Amy King talks about “spinning yarns to name things and claim power over them” – which, she reminds us, is not a new concept. In explication, King points us to Alice Notley’s The Book of Lies. The opening lines are especially apt: “Do you believe this stuff or is it a story? I believe every fucking word, but it is a story.”

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An ever-changing draft of this piece has been in my editor for months. There’s so much more I want to say, but it is long past time I got something posted.