Layer upon layer

further layers (17 May 2015)

further layers (17 May 2015)

This little piece of wall – on a storefront close to the Victoria/Manners corner – has been the subject of several of my previous photographic endeavours.

All over the city, tags and posters come and go … but this spot continues to hold my interest. The main reason is that, over time, it keeps on transforming.

Recent wet weather has contributed to the intricate three-dimensional effect – which I have emphasized by using a bit of flash.

 

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Quake-risk portico: still going

still going (09 February 2015)

still going (09 February 2015)

Vivid colour is not usually a feature of my photographic image-making, but the high-energy scene presented here tells it like it was in Victoria Street a couple of days ago. And, as the job edges closer to completion, the validity of the old eighty/twenty rule is aptly illustrated.

Click on the link here to read my earlier story, Quake-risk portico: going, going, … posted on 26 January 2015.

Quake-risk portico: going, going, ... (26 January 2015)

Quake-risk portico: going, going, … (26 January 2015)

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)

 

Quake-risk portico: going, going, …

Quake-risk portico: going, going, ... (26 January 2015)

Quake-risk portico: going, going, … (26 January 2015)

Civic Square portico. Photo credit: Chris Skelton, Fairfax NZ

Civic Square portico. Photo credit: Chris Skelton, Fairfax NZ

In early November 2014, work began on “A tricky $1 million project to demolish Wellington’s 500-tonne Civic Square portico …” (see DominionPost story by Hank Schouten). The contract, awarded to Arrow International, was scheduled to be completed by 23 January, according to Wellington City Council building resilience manager Neville Brown. And it’s nearly done – as my photo (above) shows.

“The Portico was built in 1992 as part of the Civic Square redevelopment. The Council decided to remove it after an engineering assessment deemed it earthquake-prone and a quake hazard to the buildings it links” (see Wellington.Scoop story by Lindsay Shelton).

Dating from what Maximus, writing in The Eye of the Fish, described as “Athfield Architects more vigorously civic days”, the black concrete, steel and glass two-level span was designed to enclose Civic Square by linking the Civic Administration Building and Wellington Central Library.

Maximus continues: “The area we now know as Civic Square was once an ordinary street, with a lot of car parking for City Council workers. As part of the creation of a Civic precinct in the late 80s / early 90s, the road was closed, City to Sea bridge built, the old Library converted into the City Gallery, a new magnificent Library building built, and the Council’s civic chambers extended to wrap around the whole. A portico over the gateway entrance to the newly pedestrian used square proudly proclaimed to all who could read the urban signs, that ‘this be land of the people’ and cars were forevermore buried underground.”

Later in his piece, Maximus explains why the thing has had to come down: “… in the case of a decent sized earthquake, this portico would act like a giant battering ram, and pulverize the other buildings into dust, or something like that, involving calculations of structural resonance and adequacy of seismic movement joints. I dunno the exact reasons why – you’ll have to ask an engineer – but it means it has gone from being a useful thing to a very bad thing, and it must be destroyed.”

Surrender to the sky

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

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

.

.

.

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/

 

Christmas tree 2014

Christmas tree (16 December 2014)

Christmas tree (14 December 2014)

On a very busy 16 December 2014, I somehow managed to post this image on my Facebook page, together with the following text: “The Christmas tree went up about five days ago, and I’ve made several attempts at photographing it, but none of my shots are outstanding. I like this one, taken on 14 December 2014.”

Year by year, my ideas about my Christmas tree have evolved, and my collection of ornaments has grown. The majority are blown glass, but there are also items made from wood, paper, and cast plaster. And the tree itself is a cleverly woven cone of bamboo strips wound with a length of synthetic pine – something I’ve been able to re-use, year after year. Readers might recall my taste for eclectic, East-meets-West décor.

This year’s budget for new items is already over-subscribed, but I’ve a hankering for a few touches of gold to warm up the restrained palette I’ve favoured over the past few years.

PS: Here’s a nice Better Homes and Gardens video about decorating Christmas trees.

 

 

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.”

__________

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.