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Tag Archives: James Joyce

GAY SEX, PLEASURE AND A PAUL PROBLEM

      PART ONE: MARKS OF ABSENT PLEASURE

AN ARGUMENT WORTH HAVING

There’s an old rabbinic saying “to love God is to argue with him”. It’s a saying influenced by the fact the Israel name means [the one who] strives with God. And sometimes truth, insight and justice are the product of a degree of testing, negotiation, even argument, with God or scriptures.

Gay conversion therapy is and remains controversial and on occasions I have observed it’s rare and special persons who are changed, or claim to be so, https://wp.me/p6Zhz7-m Over the years I’ve noticed it quite often seems to be, as one might expect, women who make the claims, because women generally are more sexually adaptable than men in the first place.

Recently I listened to a youtube with an ex-gay testimony from a female former LGBT activist. It was noticeable that it concluded that she felt more at ease not having to argue with the God and scriptures familiar to her from her family and upbringing. Arguably that is the main key to her story. Better accept, no matter the difficulty, than question and resist. Anyway, this extended article is about the kind of questioning that yields results in some significant truths and possible revelation in the face of a lot of current confusion.

RADICAL BEYOND THE BLINDSPOT

This is a quite radical and original article about the expression and meaning of gay sex and it contains ideas and perspectives readers won‘t have encountered via either gay or queer theologies (I’m actually rather opposed to the materialism and neo-Marxist bias of queer which disposes of spiritual issues  and I don’t represent any standard Progressive Christian position either. Ever since I obtained my world first doctorate in gay spiritualities I have retained an independent and as far as possible objective line).

The crux of this inquiry is related to the gay tantra trend plus account of an experience not sought or expected but whose implications could be significant for  ongoing thought about same sex issues  and spirituality. Just when it could seem much had been settled and achieved, there may be more to think about.

Readers could, in fact, stop here and drop in on the subject in Part Two first and return to this Part later. That easy-out can’t be recommended if anyone wants to bring the widest perspectives and greatest understanding to Part Two because as the article’s title indicates, I am also dealing with a “Paul problem” I endeavour to resolve. In any case, lest anyone would try to avoid the impact of what is argued here, I’m virtually obliged to precede any interrogation  of the  theme with thoughts in two directions:

  1. a) a peculiar blind spot in western religious culture around the beautiful with implications for spirituality and notions of pleasure.
  2. b) justifying the theological “revisionism” that, as in this inquiry, questions long unquestioned tradition, assumes tradition should be dynamic, not static, and that it’s doesn’t make for automatic heresy to think that way.

PLEASURE

Pleasure within Christianity (and many religions) can sometimes get very negatively regarded, a prime distraction as in, “they will be lovers of pleasure rather than God” (2 Tim 3:4). Arguably the original Christian take on pleasure was, or became, not unlike Buddhist notions of “attachment” though described as “idolatry”. (Just how close to the Buddhist idea Christianity would become is suggested by St Teresa of Avila confiscating a nun’s bibles because the unfortunate woman had remarked she was very “attached” to her bible!).

To the extent pleasure belongs with the temporal and “this body of death”, philosophically any spiritual system will be against pleasure as an end in itself ; but practically and as an everyday issue, one is faced with deciding the status of pleasure, natural, spontaneous, artistic, therapeutic etc more generally. Just as in the past music, women’s voices, dancing, acting etc have been opposed, so too sexual pleasure and just physical touch can get questioned with diverse results that compel us to question the evaluations behind this.

To speak of a cultural blind spot in art may not even seem an obvious, relevant starting point, but is so because depiction and perception of beauty, along with authentic depiction of Christ, itself belongs with the pleasure question. In the OT, beholding the beauty of the Lord is itself, as with all beauty, a kind of pleasure, even the greatest, the main desire (Ps 27:4). Granted that OT notions of the visual and the image were different to ours, if we’re honest there is a peculiar weakness at the heart of western religious art including that even in plain sight one hardly gets to see the desired beauty represented by especially the faith’s Redeemer.

The technical achievements and expressive verve of naturalistic western art (it’s naturalism sets it apart) aren’t in question; but the religious achievements can be strangely limited. And not on account of merely absurd and worldly depictions of rich donors adoring a Christ child or the many sentimental Madonna images (so many more of them than Christ images as Leonardo da Vinci, of whose Salvator Mundi presently, noted).

The fact is that despite the occasional El Greco or Rembrandt assisted moments of recognition some people claim to have, convincing, meaningful depiction of Christ is felt to be the exception. It’s almost a case of more naturalism, less reality! In my opinion as someone who has travelled extensively and lived years in Asia, even some popular Buddhist and Hindu images may more nearly convey what is thought and believed about the relevant figures of gods and gurus. Some kind of power is missing. Why?

  St Mary’s Cathedral, Tokyo.

One possible answer is that the iconoclasts of the Eastern churches were right all along. It can be argued there was never meant to be a Christian art as we know it. And if you think that a ban on images in places of worship would have delivered sheer nullity, consider the impressive achievement of St Mary’s Cathedral, Tokyo. Though most of us would however not go so far as to support the iconoclasts, there is undoubtedly some problem around Christ images and there has been from the first.

Whereas it’s part of sacred history for the OT that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Bezalel (Ex 31) to help him make beauty and decorate the Tabernacle, Christianity owns no comparable story. There is only the legend that St Luke was a portrait painter who painted the Madonna and so became the patron of artists who nonetheless were a long time coming into their own.

IMPLIED OR ALTERNATIVE BEAUTY

Beauty had a long way to go and any pleasure in it further. The art of the Roman catacombs is undistinguished. The icons of the Eastern churches, the first real Christian art, are not in a conventional sense art or portraiture but rather code and symbol and, at least originally, served a didactic function. Faces and bodies are usually distorted (thin lips, long noses, huge eyes), even sometimes uglified features perhaps to ward off merely idolatrous purpose. Icons of Christ, hardly striking are at most memorably staring. The vivid colours or gold alone make any icons the “windows to heaven” some call them.

Despite original hesitations about what the artist was doing, biblically, it is the idol or sculpture that is more clearly under ban than any image; and once Christ was understood to have come in the flesh and been seen, any case against portraying him seemed diminished, even incongruous (in today’s terms a bit like declaring a photographic image unholy). Even if the Jesus the disciples knew had not been walking about as a shining Apollo, as Messiah he could not have been unattractive (like the ugly figure imagined by some Gnostics); even regular priests could not have blemishes so a messianic figure could hardly be physically inferior, and it is actually possible as a descendant of David Jesus could have stood out for fair hair since the sons of David have been known into modern times for some fairness gene.

What I am saying is that if Jesus was to be portrayed at all, from the first and quite legitimately he could have been strikingly portrayed in terms of distinct beauty or else beauty marred through sacrifice and suffering. Except that the Eastern churches as opposed to the western never concentrated upon the crucifixion, it would have been acceptable to present a sub-beautiful image because it belongs to prophecy of the Messiah that his figure would be marred due to suffering, a person thus not obviously fitting the popular, typical expectations of a conquering hero messianic role (Is 53: 2,3). As it is, iconic art finishes up with neither a beauty overt, nor a beauty occluded; and absolutely (despite the inspiration some artists took from the improbable veil of Veronica), there would be no distinctive or memorable face.

FROM ICON TO ABSTRACTION

Outside the East with its icons, for centuries the Christian West under especially the influence of St Augustine located beauty abstractly, in the proportion and number that transcends the bodily. It was a bias at the heart of the otherworldly direction of especially medieval stained glass art and of course the mathematics based music (provided the potential sensuality of musical instruments or women’s voices did not accompany it, which for a long time after Augustine they didn’t!). Such physical beauty as was acknowledged was directed upon woman, especially the Virgin, at the expense of any Hellenistic notions of the male sublime.

For many believers, not knowing the face of Jesus seemed to render the person unknowable, or a symbol of unknowability, something a type of Eastern Church mysticism seemed increasingly to endorse with its controversial “negative” theology and its (almost Hindu) affirmations of “not this, not that” and beyond anything imagined when it came to description of divinity.

However, most people do still want a solution to the gap in sight and information. (After years, my most regularly visited article https://wp.me/p2v96G-lH has unexpectedly been one about Jesus’ appearance – it includes reasons why the popular Warner Sallman image can be taken as closer to the truth than some critics would allow). “Blessed are those who have not seen but yet have believed” (Joh 20:26) says Jesus to Thomas, and for many it can be a tour de force to emphasize relationship and knowledge in devotion without an image for people to be guided by!

Even so, I suggest that behind unsatisfied curiosity in this area there might be more than simple doctrine but instead an entire approach to the body and to beauty. Arguably we are lacking the image because we are lacking the requisite psychology and values and can’t manage certain root truths involved.

A FEAR OF BEAUTY?

Fast forward from the world of the first icons to today’s world, and at the Christian fringes there are people claiming end-of-days visions. For some this includes forecasts about a soon to appear false prophet Antichrist. I have noted something significantly odd about this. Especially the men, were insistent that their envisioned false Messiah was seriously handsome. But they were in knots describing or even admitting this. They pedantically assured listeners they were straight, were married, that they didn’t usually notice men and some such scarcely hidden homophobic variation on a theme.

Though I am neither captivated nor convinced by the gay Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi portrayal of Jesus, it is to be commended for the mystery it attempts to convey via a sort of androgyny. In some fashion or other this would have to apply to Jesus who is described as both Logos (Word and masculine) and Sophia (Wisdom and feminine) together. The first modern (nineteenth century) description of the gay individual was anima muliebris in corpore inclusa, a female soul in a male body. This if true would incidentally tie in with issues of gay tantra, because arguably the elusive big O some gays pursue in vain through many experiences, but that tantra may hope to deliver, is more akin to female orgasm.

No need here to discuss whether the anima muliebris description of gays was valid or if Jesus should be thought of as in any fashion gay. What’s relevant is that as long as religious conservatives reduce homosexuality to no more than a “lifestyle” or “choice” pursued around inner city bars as opposed to an orientation and identity, the implicit homophobia of the denial is a factor in the inhibition of discussion around, let alone portrayal of, any mystery or allure attaching to Jesus’ appearance.

I am persuaded that Christianity, traditionally deemed the religion of art and culture, in fact, and assisted by a degree of homophobia, has a major problem around representation and beauty generally, and with it pleasure too. If that sounds extreme, consider that whereas in the OT there are plenty of references to beauty as regards women, clothes, jewels, the cosmos, Jerusalem etc, along with some references to beauty in males (David has beautiful eyes and Absalom is beautiful top to toe), any concept of beauty is extremely circumscribed in the NT. Indeed it is almost non-existent and reliant on the OT as when it is allowed that Moses was beautiful before God, or, citing Isaiah, the feet are beautiful of those who bring good tidings.

A difference between Jewish legalism and Christian psychology could have something to do with this. Under Jewish law whatever is not expressly forbidden is permitted, whereas for Jesus the essence of the Law is something to be generalized and interiorized in terms of intentionality. Thus a voiced Jewish appreciation of male beauty would not necessarily imply you were a gay harbouring suspect desires; under Christianity of the narrower Ray Comfort variety, your appreciation might just imply unacceptable interests. The prejudice might then be justified on the basis of the often misunderstood words of Matt 5:28 about looking upon a woman (married woman understood since the subject is adultery!) to lust after her, (with looking in the sense is to look to do something), the strong intention being judged morally equivalent to the deed. This is not, it should be obvious, condemnation of all or any desire for women and women’s beauty. That would be unnatural!

BEAUTY TURNED INWARDS”?

But unless it’s the glories of Revelation’s New Jerusalem, beauty hardly exists for the NT and women don’t need to be adorning themselves either! (1 Tim 2:9). The New Jerusalem is perfect like the glorified bride who enters her and  who is “without spot or wrinkle…or any kind of blemish (Eph 5:27). Splendour of perfection is what is beautiful, not things in kind or in perspective as an artist would see them. In short, beauty is abstracted, viewed through the lens of rather priestly, ritualistic notions of the beautiful – a fact relevant to things said later regarding “purity”.

By implication the only or truest art is an  absolute and literalizing one, less an interpretation of anything than incorporation into the self of the divine image of Christ who is himself the image/icon of God ( 2 Cor 3:18).

Given the lack of overt and spontaneous emphasis upon sensuous beauty (apart from Jesus on the lilies of the field), there is a concomitant lack of emphasis upon pleasure generally. It needs to be positively assumed as in Ps 16 that at God’s right hand are “pleasures for evermore”, especially as nobody reading the NT could imagine that the beauties of the Song of Songs (attributed to an ancestor of Jesus) had ever been written!

Encouraged to turn mystically inwards by favouring an incorporation of Christ, overall, there is an absence of delight in either nature or the embodied; at the same time the world sometimes appears to border, as it did for Gnostics (usually opposed by Christians), on being a snare with little to offer beyond surface, illusory glamour: “the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride of riches (1 Joh 2:16). And to note here, a point to which I will return, is that evil is seen rather in terms of actively, materially possessing as opposed to appreciating what life presents to us, (a difference I noted in an earlier article regarding attitudes that distinguish typical straight and gay approaches to sex). But by itself beyond that, just what is happening here in this radically puritanical swerve from biblical precedents?

Obviously there is more than one thing, but major is certain attitudes of St Paul as a leading church founder and indirectly through him as someone born in Tarsus, home to a then trendy philosophical Stoicism, various pagan values of his time favouring the rough, simple and plain with sex for reproduction only. Plus one detects within the apostle something that, whether or not it would be called homophobic today, excludes as virtually idolatrous any appreciation of beauty in especially men, even if it was in Christ himself. Like the disciples and despite claiming to have seen Jesus directly and in visions, Paul doesn’t describe him.

REVISIONISM AND “GOD’S WORD”

We can return to these matters, but before presenting a radical re-statement in relation to gay sex, it’s is necessary to justify to vocal and dismissive religious conservatives the practice of religious revisionism. Their position is that if something is absent from either “the Word of God” or long tradition or both, it can only be heresy. This ignores for a start that Bible believers ought really to refer to “Scripture” rather than “The Word of God” since the latter is supposed to refer principally to Jesus as Logos, the Word, the person who himself declared the scriptures are searched in vain if he isn’t found there (Joh 5:39).

My position, one that is widely assumed among believers and ought to be the normative Christian position, is that the bible is inspired but not infallible (not a paper pope as some would say!). It should even be obvious it cannot possibly be word for word infallible all of it dictated from heaven otherwise God would have to be experiencing the purely personal complaints and infirmities of the psalmists or be leaving books or persons here or there as per the diary style asides of Paul’s epistles. And if one insists that every word is infallible, it can only lead to wilfully selective reading with a touch of dishonesty and special pleading – for example American evangelicals can hardly with honesty ignore that Pauline views of authority are inconsistent with the American revolution itself.

In winnowing the chaff great discrimination must nonetheless be used because while the case against a few archaic texts (like Ps 137’s incitement to smashing Babylonian infants against the rocks are plainly unacceptable), revisionism cannot be merely dismissive of confronting texts either. Statements like Ecclesiastes’ that there is no new thing under the sun (Ecc 1:9) is confronting, but should warn against slash and burn treatments. Obviously cars and computers have arrived since the author’s times, but the statement, literally untrue, has truth at a certain level. If like astrologers we accept history is subject to cycles, things can and do repeat across history and there is indeed a time for war and a time for peace. Rabbinical interpretation of the Bible assumes four possible levels, (literal, allegorical, moral/homiletical and mystical) to a sacred text.

REVISION FROM THE FIRST

Despite these precautions, revision as a modification of given tradition, (but not against its general spirit), has been possible from the biblical outset as when the daughters of Zelophehad (Num 27) successfully contest the inheritance rights of women under the Law. Within Christianity the clear case for re-shaping tradition, something Christians were doing almost from the first as at the council of Jerusalem, is found in the story of the apostle Peter’s dealings with gentiles in Joppa in Acts 10.

Peter is told in dream to accept unclean animals as clean, but more than once he denies the voice of God in the matter, declaring it is against the Law. Peter in short is guilty of a kind of bibliolatry duplicated to this day by the likes of American Southern Baptists for whom “the Word of God” is the written text, the Bible, which is the final word on everything.

This position is an implicit denial of the call to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 3:22), perhaps especially in light of a new era or unprecedented circumstances. Whether or not the disciples knew it, their time was, as Jesus had indicated, a new aion (the age or era of grace or in astrological terms the age of Pisces). We ourselves are presently on the cusp of another aion, precisely a time liable to impose new questions and values demanding resolution.

It is a clear mark of St Paul’s prophecying “in part” and only “seeing through a glass darkly” that (regarding specifically any extended aion such as Jesus himself referred to), he incorrectly believed in a very imminent return of Christ and even promoted certain rules and values (like the desirability of not marrying) on that assumption.

There is no question that we need to revision Paul in awareness of occasional limitations in his thought, which is not to say he is not a major definer of the faith at many levels. To question his legacy while endorsing the greater pattern is not a cop-out to enable dubious theories; it is just to be properly realistic about texts and their authors in context.

“GREAT MEN MAKE GREAT MISTAKES”

Paul has been problematic from the start. The apostle Peter admitted many believers found parts of his writings difficult to understand (2 Pet 3:16) and that situation has not greatly changed. I am a bit of an anti-Paul, Paulinist who believes the apostle said too much that’s valuable for him to be dismissed even while he can exasperate and be questioned on points.

Reading Paul today one must anyway accept that there is hardly a major philosopher of any doctrine whose thought isn’t unsatisfactory at some point. Confucius inspired much that was best in Chinese life but in places his reverence for elders made for serious injustice. A father of western thought itself, Plato’s The Republic puts a blessing upon virtual tyranny. Descartes helped shape French culture but on animals is a disgrace. Kant’s Categorical Imperative is a silly idea one wouldn’t need to apply in situations of war and torture. Luther was a reformer who truly reformed, yet his influential anti-Semitism is a painful embarrassment. The fact is “great men make great mistakes” and bequeath us their prejudices with their wisdom.

In fairness to Paul, even at his most dubious from a modern perspective, his statements emerge more meaningful in light of such as Sarah Ruden’s Paul Among the People (2011) [ 1] which contextualizes him amid abuses of his time the average reader will not have heard of or imagined but that make chilling reading. As regards homosexuality this author, a classicist, significantly adds to understanding by virtually settling the well-worn meanings and interpretations debate, insisting the main issue had to be the well-attested pederasty and its chronic injustices. I had some doubts about this but cannot overlook a doubtless relevant verse from the first century apocryphal 2 Enoch where the prophet is told hell is prepared for those who dishonour God, practicing sins against nature which is child corruption after the sodomitic fashion (2 Enoch 10:3).

But beyond the most enlightening knowledge of social context, we still need to read Paul dialectically because he is unafraid of contradiction as when he can notoriously refer to our bodies as “vile” (more accurately, “lowly” and as compared to the resurrection body), yet it seems he would have us love our bodies (Eph 5:28). And the apostle may not always be so biblically correct as appears, describing woman as only the glory of the man (1 Cor 11:7) whereas Genesis 1:27, more equally, has it that both male and female are made in the image of God.

What I am now seeing as more vital to discussion on sex and pleasure is that Paul looks to be considerably influenced by his rabbinical heritage (of which more presently) as opposed to direct revelations. It would anyway be sensible to recognize this when for example the apostle declares (uniquely within the bible) that women’s heads should be covered “for the angels”. Though pagans believed in the power of the tresses, this bespeaks the folkloric rabbinical notion that angels could be attracted to long tresses in women, hence women might be guilty of tempting them. However bizarre the idea, one notes it for possible wider implications. In Genesis the fallen angels have intercourse with mortal women. This would only be possible if angels possessed something like sex in the first place and thus heaven, is not sexless or anti “pleasure” as often imagined.

SEX THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY

Millennia on from their composition, we should give the writings of Paul a wide berth. A few things nonetheless remain non-negotiable today for oddity or potential injustice and one must conclude that if Paul had a blind spot it was, (as long widely if tacitly assumed), focussed on sex. I shall try to pin this down via his distinctive character and especially rabbinical background which could even blind him to his immediate surrounding.

Though he probably knew much more than the average Jew, there were always limitations to the apostle’s understanding of pagan society. Faced with a case of shameless incest at Corinth, he declares this is sin such as is not found among pagans (1 Cor 5:1). In fact, in the previous century a well known satirical poet, Catullus, whose funeral according to St Jerome writing centuries later, had brought out the crowds in Rome, poured scorn on high society family incest several times.

One of the apostle’s worst errors (assuming he wrote the relevant epistle since arguments do surround the authorship of Timothy 1 and 2,) is that when a woman grows “wanton against Christ” (KJV version) she seeks to marry (1 Tim 5:11). This looks like ignorance or chronic insensitivity in the face of existing conditions. In these it was common for pagans to marry off young daughters, for economic reasons, to elderly men who would leave behind young widows who wanted their chance at life and love. Paul instead evidently wanted to secure virtual armies of praying nuns!

There perhaps wouldn’t be much for the average believing woman to do but pray. She should be silent in church (like Jewish women at synagogue) and not preach (though she might prophesy); her head must be covered like the rest of herself modestly and she must keep bearing children as it will help her make her salvation 1 Tim, 2:15). This itself is a point bibliolatry has to avoid because – another of the Pauline contradictions – it potentially undermines his doctrine of grace in Galatians which teaches that in Christ there is neither male nor female and that faith alone makes for salvation. (The contradiction is so great it does make one wonder about the authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy or at least their dating).

Also insensitive, this time to men, though hardly untypical for the culture and time, is the notion “better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor 7:9). Love doesn’t come into the picture, the technical state of chastity is all that counts as to a rabbi it certainly would; and if the partner really is the merest protection against lust, it is hard to see how the husband can then somehow love his wife “like his own body” as Paul advises in Ephesians. Indeed the husband sounds like he might have problems enough of his own because it is another of Paul’s impossible off the cuff declarations, (though for me one of the indications the apostle was not as per some recent trendy theories, psychologically a repressed and closeted gay male), “nor do I box as one beating the air” but rather he goes for the direct blow and “I punish (or pummel) my body and enslave it”. (1 Cor 9: 25/6).

BOXING AND VIOLENCE FOR THE GOOD?

I can’t imagine how evangelicals and Catholics don’t see the irony of their protests against the objectionable sport of boxing, the cause of many deaths and lifelong disabilities, given how one of their favourite saints evidently had some of his society’s admiration for, or at least interest in, this vicious entertainment.

The former persecutor of Christians, the man of violence, evidently never quite left all aggressive urges behind; and while we have no evidence to the effect the apostle did literally beat himself, obviously seeds are sown here towards St Benedict, founder of western monasticism, who rolled in thorns to subdue the flesh. Moreover, and in harmony with my prior article, if one opts out of the potential sex war of straights (in which women are from Venus, men from Mars), the Mars impulse can take over and redirect towards ascetical war, a dislike or even violence directed upon oneself or others…..

THE SARX/FLESH PROBLEM

A leading question for present inquiry concerns the possibilities via tantric means for disciplined self-acceptance as opposed to rejection, especially as regards gays, though the solution may have some relevance to straights.

And here for present purposes and the gay issue with the boxing metaphor we approach the crux of the matter in Paul’s notion of “the flesh” (sarx) itself related to “soul” psyche.. I say more in Part Two, but here I’ll stress the word today is better rendered “lower nature” because “flesh” for Paul can be involved not just in base sexual passions, it also governs dissensions, anger, jealousy, greed, heresies, sorcery, theft, violence (but not boxing?!) and much else.

Though sarx is more inclusive than soma (physical body), I imagine traditional emphasis upon “the flesh” as chiefly or only the body, owes something not only to the fact the body is pointed to by the very word even when plainly the subject is more psychological, but effects of a statement like : “Therefore do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies (soma) to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (Rom 6:12,13).

Before saying more, it’s relevant to draw attention to how Paul in Romans (that profoundly theological work that is nonetheless a horror epistle for the gay issue that its rhetoric introduces), appears to conceive of the sin and temptation to which the body/soul is medium. In Rom 7, identifying sin very much with transgressions against the old covenant now transcended, he suggests he would not have known sin save for the Law. (But others would surely do so, pagan moralists did exist?). Apparently accusing himself of sin in relation to especially covetousness, the Law at once creates sin and with it what we’d call conscience. We actively want what is forbidden because it is forbidden. We thus even do the very things we hate.

In making his argument that the Law is a teacher, one who brings us to Christ through whom is forgiveness and life as against Law’s condemnation and death, Paul says sin dwells within him, indeed “nothing good dwells within me, that is in my flesh ” (Rom 7:18). He says that in this condition he can will, but not do, the good he wishes.

While I can understand much that Paul says in Romans, at this point he loses me and doubtless others. This is not just because in an evil world evil can surely manifest just everywhere, not necessarily through the body above all else, but he seems to describe a type of will to gratuitous transgression I don’t have and have never had (which admittedly doesn’t mean it’s untrue for some people). I would however associate it rather with persons like schoolies and bikies, people who want to smuggle i-phones into classes or drugs into rock concerts simply because these acts are forbidden by authorities whose rulings they more oppose than question.

Because the Law as his ideal looms so large in the apostle’s thought, he has described one, but only one type of sin and the way to it. One way is enough because from a certain rabbinical position likely to influence here, the body vehicle is intrinsically evil, always to some degree thought of as ritually impure because subject to death.

Be that as it may, even seriously evil people don’t necessarily do evil from love of transgression in itself; they may just be racists and monster bullies like Hitler. And then in Paul’s understanding of evil, what is this evil within the body, a sort of diable au corps energy, that for Paul makes one want to do what one hates? What are these bodily “members” that can be instruments of wickedness, but that we should present to God”?

Obviously this late in time one can’t be certain here. The sin Paul explicitly accuses himself of is not sexual but the covetousness that biblically has a lot to do with that ownership of and attachment to wealth against which Jesus often warns. So perhaps that’s it, and we have no right to say more. But from what I have heard and read over the years, I must wonder if we are not dealing with unstated features of a more general rabbinic culture and its ritual perspectives.

FLEEING SENSATION AND PLEASURE

MIKVAH FOR RITUAL PURITY

Years ago a rabbi told me that the reason anyone (as per Lev 15:16) was briefly impurified by bodily emissions, (whether involuntary or voluntary for men isn’t stated), is because the emission not having served procreation represents death. It sounds to me like a version of original sin doctrine in which death is pre-eminent. The death association would anyway or additionally be present due to pre-scientific ideas of many cultures as regards homunculi. Lost sperm was widely considered to be lost or even murdered beings, not one of millions of sperm regularly lost in just the urine.

Such understanding was behind various ceremonies, apparently not unique to Jews but found among many agricultural societies, of mourning for the lost seed. I forget which notable rabbi it was who was ultra-concerned to have regular sex with his wife simply so that not one drop of semen would be lost. What that rabbi’s attitudes to wet dreams would have been, who can tell, but perhaps frequent marital intercourse obviated that worry.

Outside of Paul we again maybe see a connection of this type of anxiety around bodily fluids in the odd statement from the book of Jude (Jud 1:23) “and have mercy on still others with fear hating even the tunics defiled by their bodies” (NRSV). Radical Gnostics (Jude’s presumed target) certainly did weird, perverse things like ritually consuming menstrual blood, and one may assume that like Nero who lolled on his palanquin displaying sex-stained garments, they did similar; but plainly, ritual defilement through sexual emissions is a point of concern here.

Within this kind of cultural context it would be logical to hate and despise non-productive gays, often popularly dismissed to this day as “wankers” (masturbators) especially when, even among pagans like the moralist Plutarch, especially the passive gay was deemed the most morally disreputable of persons. (This was a reflection of how in the ancient world Paul inhabited, the entire treatment of same sex issues was determined by ancient notions of hierarchy in which it was a disgrace for any man to compromise the hierarchal order and be associated with the inferior role of women in any way, while a strong desire for pleasure was regarded as a form of disapproved, female pleasure-loving lechery. (Roman decadents went to orgies dressed as women to advertise their libertinism).

A case has been made, but I don’t consider it a strong one, that when the apostle declares malakoi (“effeminates” in the old KJV) won’t enter the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor 6:9) he means masturbators. It’s more likely, if the reference is sexual at all and not just to weak loose, immoral people generally as the expression would easily permit, he could be indicating the passive as opposed to the active arsenokotoi mentioned in the same vice list passage.

Ancient Israel like the ancient world had no clear, general word or image like “homosexual” to define persons, but beyond the OT Leviticus ban (Lev 18:22) upon same sex (which almost certainly originally referred to male sacred prostitution such as King Josiah excluded from the temple grounds), one might imagine the gay person would be regarded as a spiller of seed like (the not gay) Onan of Gen 38:9 who didn’t want sex according to the then duties of brothers in law. If so, this would be automatic grounds for a special revulsion. Such would be especially the case if, like some rabbis, great efforts and devotion regularly went into preserving seed and thus avoiding any kind of stimulation deliberate or accidental outside of intercourse.

DEFINING PURITY

What I am getting at here, (and my essential message will not be compromised if the speculation is wrong), is that Paul’s image and treatment of “the flesh” is considerably influenced by unstated, even unconscious (since Paul consciously transcends the old law) rabbinic attitudes and practices that avoided spilled seed and aimed for extreme bodily purity in ritual terms. Obviously such concern would be capable of turning life into the kind of melodrama of avoidance and ultra-purity anxieties later envisaged by St Augustine whose asceticism nonetheless owes more than Paul’s to non-Christian sources like the Manichees he had belonged to.

But since in any case even the holiest, licit sex will partake somewhat of the earthy and messy, one has to suspect that Paul’s notion of “filthy” and “impure” as applied to sex was overly influenced by rabbinical ritual as in 2 Cor 7:1 “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit”… as opposed to distinctly obscene, abusive, or degraded etc uses he could have spoken in terms of. I think this is something scholarship needs to look at more closely. It might help to avoid what should be grey areas getting treated as black and white ones like adultery –  as indeed has traditionally happened when the confessional worried children by exaggeratedly equating touching oneself with “sins against the sixth commandment” (which at the same time could also cover for the gravest of sins like the pederasty too leniently treated).

Arguably if there is an ingrained feeling of ritual purity but no accompanying aesthetic notion of the objectively beautiful, especially as regards male or female, it would be easier to dismiss all pleasure (epithumia, hedone), as it’s rooted in the eros energy and involving sight, as merely base. This is how pleasure is liable to be seen by Paul. And undeniably a lot of “pleasure” of his times was base and immoral, (the prostitutes supplied at the end of any banquet, the sexual services required of slaves and without their consent etc); but obviously pleasure is still not automatically and by definition base.

There is anyway always the phenomenon of art and its demands, and in India tantra, (though sometimes a cover for the dark arts), arose not least as an artistic reaction against a world without colour and sufficient acknowledgment of the senses that the native asceticism had imposed upon society. The Pauline outlook always risked engaging a similar situation and would always require a similar correction, certainly some recall of Solomon’s Song in praise of the embodied and ideal. Extreme Puritanism might call that “idolatry”, but the common sense line within Christianity has always known  something of the kind  can’t be entirely avoided, the reason the marriage ceremony includes “with my body, I thee worship”.

Three centuries on and for Paul’s admirer Augustine, the spontaneous, unpredictable movements of the penis in their seeming refusal of “reason” (which is why some traditional symbolisms give the phallus to the fitful moon rather than Mars), becomes a symbol of uprisen revolt against God. His youthful desires are “filthy concupiscence” whatever precisely “filthy” means, but as analysis has shown, these youthful desires are more likely to relate to his crushes on men than his little recorded dealings with women. Despite having a mistress and a child by her, he later rather cruelly repudiates than marries her. (The matter is unlikely to have been a purely religious one. He could have married her except that it would not be fitting to his class and then custom to do so).

Call me and dismiss me, as some feminist theologians might well, another of the gay “phallic theologians”, but I would say Augustine shows no proper (even biblically proper) sense of phallos beyond phallus such as even Paul has when speaking of circumcision of the heart etc.. It would surely not be impossible for the philosophical mind to envisage erection as potentially symbolic of a striving towards the infinite and the Creator, especially as the Creator is said to have a special interest in the phallus. God requires at least Jewish males to be circumcised as a mark of sacrifice and dedication, though at the same time (but the point is disputed) giving greater health safety and heightened sex pleasure with it, a case if so of God taking away in order to give.

It has been speculated Augustine was bisexual shorturl.at/wLMX9 and as far as I am concerned it’s certain because the birth data of this person, (who more than any other helped damn astrology among Christians), reveals the classic afflicted Neptune (specifically in his case Venus to Neptune) square which is virtually guaranteed to accompany bisexuality (Madonna, Lady Gaga, Bowie, Angelina Jolie etc, you name it).

But Augustine seriously does not understand himself or eros in this area. Sex is without use or purpose unless procreational. He fails to recognize how much it was an intense same sex attraction, or more precisely the death of this adored companion, which helps trigger his conversion and sends him to God. It’s the same denial principle at work, and one that readers conveniently ignore in the book of Daniel, where Daniel is allowed his way and makes career progress because of a same sex attraction God is evidently quite content to employ for his advancement. (See “Apocalypse as a gay issuehttps://wp.me/p6Zhz7-4p). Augustine’s tendency to regard the genitals as almost the enemy, is itself a subtle heresy away from their appreciation even as a symbol of devotion in the strange teaching of Jeremiah’s loincloth (See Jeremiah’s Loincloth: A Poem of Faith and Phallos https://wp.me/p2v96G-Hm).

In the wake of this record of misreadings and misunderstandings I shall make a bald statement that developments in Part Two will help clarify and support. It is not possible or desirable to suppress the same sex eros. Society, religion and not just gays pay for it. It limits, even blindfolds vision and is even a reason western Christian art so often runs into difficulties.

Society now stands on the verge of the Aquarian age, but for a long time now Aquarius and its ruler Uranus have been associated with both homosexuality, and/or sex thrills and masturbation. Gays have even been dismissed as “wankers”, dealers in inferior, contra naturam sex, (“self-abuse” according to the Victorians, “sins of impurity” for the Catholic confessional which following Tridentine reforms rendered masturbation virtual source, secret and origin of most other sins), incapable of sexual maturity, or “mastery” of the passions, fixated on self-love. A few cultures and myths like Egypt’s with its god Khepera have given a species of creative as opposed to sterile associations to the act, but this is the exception.

It may be, however, that rather as poet Austin Clarke mentioned in Part Two was able to reverse the damage and turn the supposed sinning into new prophetic seeing (I may cover this in a later article on Irish poetry), the bad press hides certain unexpected, surprising truths with wide ranging implications..

 

—————————–OOO——————————

PART TWO: ENGAGING WITH PLEASURE

A TIME FOR…

Sometimes one thing or idea leads inexorably and unexpectedly to another. “There’s a time for….” a whole list of disparate things according to the author of Ecclesiastes.

It happens that in two prior recent articles, one on gay Douglas Murray’s treatment of the gay theme in The Madness of Crowds and the other on the influence of the art of Tom of Finland, I had mentioned new gay trends like tantra and so-called “mindful masturbation” and soloving (i.e. solo loving).

Time flies and movements mushroom ever faster, but the remote modern origins of the new eros seems to be in the eighties, California and the work of especially Joseph Kramer on “erotic massage” at the Body Electric School. Kramer had trained in massage at the Esalen Institute in California and later included some Chinese Taoist principles in his techniques and yogic breath practice.

For some gays and in what might even look like a rejection of the gay marriage drive, these tantric activities are a substitute or even preferred practice to any domestication of union being more able to produce harmony among those involved because being rid of the rivalries and inequalities of many marriages.  For a few it is almost a sex monk vocation  (and thus even a “taking refuge in Lord Phallus”  an extraordinary idea I fancy Buddhist have yet to hear of!) . The actual techniques reckon to intensify and prolong pleasure or extend them multi-orgasmically. The exercises, usually begun under a facilitator or DVD guides may be pursued alone or with a friend or friends, (partners sometimes wonderfully called “bate mates” if they are actively involved!). The various aims with their ecstasies are felt to be healing, especially in terms of a love and self-acceptance often missing from gay lives.

Anyone who dismisses such practices and their claims from the outset as so inherently decadent and perverse as to be beyond discussion, needs to concede to fact and explain why foetuses have been observed to self-pleasure themselves, why some mammals do likewise and why in women the clitoris appears to have no function unless for pleasure. God can’t be against pleasure as such, though God and we might contest the application.

In fact, pleasure of this sort has if anything been over-contested. In Andrew Auge’s A Chastened Communion about modern Irish religious poetry he states: “Thus for Austin Clarke….the trauma occasioned by the inquisitorial focus on masturbation in the confessional epitomized the Irish Catholic Church’s large scale effort to police and monopolize all discourse on sexuality” [2] The young Clarke himself was driven to serious nervous breakdown and time in an asylum over the matter.

In my mentioned articles I had also defined (what I have seen and known for years to be true), there are three main types of homosexuality that have manifested over the centuries and still do – they are perennial. These three can be represented in what Jung realized is the psychologically useful symbolism of astrology, in this case through the three outer, transpersonal planets as opposed to the inner, personal planets like Venus and Mars that define heterosexuality.

The relevant symbol-carrying planets are Uranus, Neptune and Pluto and they carry generational and trans-personal, mystical significance. Lacking strong connection with these factors natally a person will not be gay, while those who are straight but who do have the connection are more likely to have friends or family members who are gay drawing them into the subject in some fashion, even if sometimes in hostile and homophobic ways.

So I had written on this, but in the way that one thing leads to another, sometimes intensely over a short period of time, I had a relevant experience I did not expect or seek.

A TIME FOR EROS?

In an evening of mid November, thinking it was high time to be a bit clearer on the evolving gay tantra phenomenon, I started taking down notes on some expressions of the trend (it has its different teachers, schools, emphases from California to Germany). I did this in a very desultory, off-handed manner and as I did this I might breath in and out in loose imitation of rhythm and ways recommended, stretched myself here, squeezed myself there. I thought little of it except as some kind of aide-memoire to what I was writing, trying to imagine rather than perform the regime, but physically impressing on me some idea of the shape of these quasi-yogas or however one defines them. I wasn’t expecting and didn’t receive any special effects from this and feeling tired went to bed.

Since it would normally takes weeks or months to arrive at full proficiency in this area and while the phenomenon of especially FBO (Full Body Orgasm) is best induced by an expert masseur and can trigger reactions up to and including visions, what later ensued could be owing to a variety of factors. Perhaps I had touched some nerve; perhaps it was diet. Conceivably it bore belated connection to effects of an operation for prostatitis (an operation which runs a minor risk of destroying the sexual life for good or leaving you a bit erratic).

Whatever the cause, which perhaps doesn’t matter against the potential insight obtained, when I awoke next morning I was subject either to what gay tantra would call FBO or else something very like it. Not being under any guru I can’t exactly classify or normally certify it, but whatever it was it was sufficiently significant to leave strong impressions in the way that perhaps only a raising of the kundalini would do…. except that it wasn’t that. I’ve read and heard enough about risen kundalini states to be sure it wasn’t; such can even be alarming whereas what I felt was more reassuring and closer to a totalizing mystical state, in its way keeping me strongly calm and certainly not exhausted, depleted or disappointed after the manner of bad sex. I have never taken LSD or drugs to compare, but my sensations were surely rather trippy, a reasonable assumption since any sexual arousal releases a whole chemical brew with oxytocins, endorphins, testosterone and it may cause the pineal gland to release DMT molecules which have affinity for LSD experiences. I suspect however some would call my condition the mystical “choiceless awareness” one some believe relevant to Walt Whitman’s perceptions.

I had, as it were, become Eros. I was as though shaken into a fully sexual state, stronger than which I couldn’t imagine or desire. I am unsurprised by claims FBO states can lessen or outright cure sex addiction. It would, I think, be strange if subsequently one wished only to keep scoring and pursue some purely orgiastic or aggressive form of gratification along the lines of those images from queer artist Tom of Finland, subject of the prior article. It would be chasing a lesser degree of sex in almost caricatured imitation of straight sex and its conquest theme.

This was about sex-in-itself – the Hindu idea of rasa, the pure essence, comes to mind – and it didn’t even need a partner since any partner, or nature or the cosmos could be considered somehow implicit in its fullness much as I had stated in one of the articles on a purely intellectual basis, that gay sex seems to partake of the group consciousness associated with Uranus/Aquarius.(There could be some affinity here for certain understandings behind a trend in Japan and California towards people celebrating marriage to themselves).  

The heretical Swedenborg alleged that the angels exist in a state of potency. One wonders if his ideas weren’t influenced by Jewish commentary that would allow something of the sort – it’s widely held the wings that cover “the feet” of the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision was a not unknown circumlocution for the genitals. Even if that’s mistaken, it would seem all-apparent from Gen 11 the angelic orders are not deemed sexless. But no matter what angels may or may not feel or do, some kind of angelic state of pure eros might be a way of describing what I had fallen into but it is hard to describe.

However, as one point of comparison it may not be irrelevant that it was a certifiably gay composer, Tchaikovsky (his correspondence betrayed the matter and he committed suicide over being gay), composed the impressive Hymn of the Cherubim. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggUtlUHIqQQ This hymn is remarkable for its sense of precisely totality, infinite extension, an irradiation in a mystical piece that, perhaps almost more than any other in classical music, combines characteristics of East and West.

The actual words of the hymn are given in note [3], but I’ll say that if they had emphasized Isaiah’s “Holy Holy Holy” chant the music might have been one degree more strongly, positively ecstatic and less melancholic in line with what I have been trying to describe. (As the actual words derive from the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom who in the fourth century almost singlehandedly invented a radical homophobia and anti-Semitism cited by the Nazis, I like to think of the composer’s work as a kind of spiritual protest, a slap in the face to the “saint” who   should long ago have been de-canonized).

A  CERTIFICATION?

Self-absorbed though I was, enough of will or intellect was active to wonder what I was subject to, and I knew that if this wasn’t some complete illusion it would have to be shown by the celestial time astrologically if I could drag myself up and away to record and examine this. The pattern didn’t disappoint, in fact the Event Chart strongly and significantly confirmed the experience. Notable points were these:

Rising in the first house of the body was of all things asteroid, Eros – It would be a suitable time for anyone to feel fully Eros.

The moon, timer of events and anciently associated with the phallus more commonly associated with Mars, was conjunct the 8th house of sex. It was however near to an opposition to Saturn reflective of that fact the experience was both cut short by me and belonged in its way to tantra, namely a controlled or structured kind of Eros.

The average person familiar with any basics of symbolism might expect a strong Mars (sex) to be evident and in its way it was because magnifying, fortunate Jupiter was rising in the first house of the body in opportunity sextile aspect to Mars. Also for those astrologers who would require some emphasis of gay Uranus in the pattern, Uranus was in the fifth house of pleasure, love and any affairs and in its apparent retrograde meaning favourable to any interiorizing of themes in this area. Uranus was also positively trine the Midheaven of destiny and in an event chart like this signifies “here and now”.

But what was really and most “here and now” was a basically fortunate grand trine of the moon (as mentioned, on the cusp of the sex house), to Neptune in one direction and Mercury in the other. As both Neptune and Mercury are in apparent retrograde, this again means something could be internalized and opened to analysis, as indeed it was.

Neptune at the centre of the grand trine is in the fourth house of the origins of anything. Neptune should be highlighted because as per my prior articles, it marks is one of the three types of gay modality, the most mystical, artistic and musical as opposed to the more awake and brilliant Uranian one and the more rawly powerful and phallic Plutonian one. Neptune is also anything to do with mysticism and drugs and, though as indicated, drugs had nothing to do with the matter, there was a trippy and mystical quality to the whole thing. Significantly against the notion I was subject to demonic effects, Neptune was conjunct asteroid Theotes (God/Godhead), the Part of Fortune was in the ninth of religion and philosophy and Eros was degree exact favourably trine Isa (Jesus) [ 4]

The question some would pose next is: would the experience be less authentic or ethical if it had been directly, deliberately invoked by massage and still more so-called Mindful masturbation. I don’t think so unless your position is that all masturbation is always by definition wrong. This, as already suggested, runs against what we have to infer from the evidence of nature. Obviously, though, intentionality would count in this, and there is plenty of bad, unmindful, misdirected masturbation little better than Satanist Aleister Crowley’s black magical spells that employed it. I can return to questions of intentionality later.

TICKING ALL THE BOXES?

Assuming the uses and legitimacy of some form of mindful masturbation – I would prefer the term “meaningful” as “mindful” bespeaks the Buddhism that no more officially represents this direction than Christianity – I am now ready to speculate how this could, and perhaps even ought, to be the central, most essential expression/rite/sacrament of specifically gay sex along tantric lines. Theoretically it resolves all or most problems around gay sex on all scores religious, health-wise or whatever. Notable reasons for this would be:

1) it does not imitate or rival heterosexual intercourse or roles, (a main concern in traditional disapproval, Christian and other, of same sex activity) unless perhaps where some practitioners would include, but only as secondary, the more ambiguous and in effect half way house of oral sex .

2) it does not bodily and unnecessarily fully join two souls as, esoterically at least, any spiritual system would assume happens in any intercourse. (The implicit assumption it does is crucial to much biblical sexual ethics in definition of illicit unions and promiscuous relations). The lack of complete intimacy would seem relevant to especially the bisexual situation. Despite all the welcome signs and inclusion statements, many gays psychologically, and Christian gays more religiously, have long had problems with the B in LGBT. Short of a celibacy on one side of the bi equation, a bate mate arrangement seems like the only form of B that doesn’t run into the problem of distinct infidelity to any wedded and bedded partner.

3) orgasm does not necessarily entail ejaculation – it even ideally aims to avoid it, increasing awareness and pleasure by circumventing it through possibly even multiple orgasms. This helps avoid any non-kosher notions of ritual impurity through lost seed, while health-wise it avoids unnecessary loss of energy, bad sex feelings of depletion etc, (Augustine’s famous post coitum etc…). However, notable repeated retention of semen is deemed unhealthy if one is not in good health and exercising. (Health-wise there is a double bind here: insufficient release of semen can contribute to prostrate cancer – too much retention can likewise risk cancer!)

4) Meaningful masturbation is not necessarily or intrinsically image- dependent; if anything it should begin in concentration not on desired or admired others but upon the self; so this alters the intentionality issue, especially where some critics would controversially insist that intense imaging of others itself sets up soul ties esoterically.

5) it potentially integrates and transmutes elements of what has traditionally been most disapproved in “the gay lifestyle”, such as open relations (free love), addictive tendencies (drugs, drink) and orgiastic behaviour patterns. These trends, if and when manifest (they are common but not gay universal), neatly correspond to negative expressions of respectively: a) communally inclined Uranus, b) dreamy Neptune c) power proving Pluto. As regards especially a), the Uranian, this bears comment.

As mentioned earlier, as regards ethics and relating gay sex is “aesthetic”, more about appreciation than the dramas of possession launched by the Mars and Venus “battle” of the sexes among straights. Uranus especially is about sharing, friendship and the group rather than exclusivity. As such this is not any encouragement to monogamy though many gays do aspire to that state and religious gays will feel they anyway should. (For Matthew Vines in his bestselling God and the Gay Christian, gay relations are permissible because they can and should be monogamous). [5]

Even with the highest ideals, realistically however, the path to satisfactory, lasting union, if that more material as opposed to mystical tantric ideal is the object, may entail or require a half-way house. It has been observed many gays seem to need, rather along the old Greek style, the older mentor or substitute father figure to help them accept and manage their difference and perhaps overcome rejection feelings from a father.

To have one or more responsible, special “bate mates” that one has shared mind and feelings with rather than been fully joined to, would cover that issue which for others might be covered by the fact many seem to feel so-called “mindful” masturbation somehow implies the other and something like what gets called the phallic brotherhood.

As to types b) and c), any tendencies of the dreamy, addictive Neptunian type can be more positively and harmlessly transferred to prolonged erotico-mystical states, while the Plutonic, orgiastic type can interiorize the potency, can be the potency as opposed to keep proving its possession against and upon others. (One might however need to inquire what the mystical state amid the pleasure is, if it even is one, and I turn to that presently).

6) Tantric practice can help resolve many needed problems around self- acceptance – it’s remarkable how much men, but especially gay males, don’t accept themselves and are troubled, depressed or aggressive in sex accordingly. Although a new appreciation of touch through especially massage and by witnessing others can be a part of the tantric regime, acceptance includes, even for straights, of the genitals no longer seen as automatic enemy or aimless interloper in in the course of life. The story and sign of Jeremiah’s loincloth in course of which it’s said the men of Israel are supposed to be close to God as the genitals to the loincloth, discreetly hints at the need for such acceptance as opposed to the punishing ascetical Augustinian picture of the genitals as little more than a fallen world’s enemy to human reason and divine will.

The American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, herself born under the traditional sign of the genitals, Scorpio, is widely considered to have produced exquisite stylized floral images suggestive of the female genitals. She herself denied that was the intention and she maybe spoke true since as a Scorpio her work could have been unconsciously, archetypally determined.

If O’Keeffe had been a male in touch with the unconscious we might speak of portraying the broader, more symbolically vital phallos as opposed to penis. Anyway, it tells us something about contemporary culture and contemporary male culture, that there is no art of the phallos. (Obviously in Asia there are the lingams but unadorned rather than stylized, and any implications for worship as opposed to meditative integration, are problematic even for non-Christian cultures).

A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE? USES AND ABUSES

The gay tantric way is recent, relatively untried and unexamined. Traditional Hindu tantra never envisaged any such practice – though Tibetan and Japanese Buddhist sects may have a little – but some modern advocates now envisage almost limitless possibilities akin to at any rate highest levels of Asian mysticism. Practitioners can be  extravagantly imagined as creators of self and worlds, of vision, peace, and healing, members of a global phallic brotherhood whose awareness can rise ever higher in bliss towards all-embracing oneness.

At the other extreme, and since there’s no system cannot be misused, mindfulness can be replaced with a kind of unmindful, materialistic worship of technique where the aim is reduced to hooking up with new bate mates by the week and clocking up one’s number of dry orgasms in competition with self and others. Here the aim has become pleasure alone that was not the original sole purpose, though I realize that an emphasis upon pleasure may, as in the case of the tantra of Arnim Heining, a former Benedictine priest, may get stressed less from sensationalism than the aim of wide and de-mythologized application when ancient and modern myth can become distracting and unhelpful.

Personally I feel it might be quite enough if some basic practices fostered health and renewal with greater self-acceptance and some management of pleasure both more relaxed and controlled. These cannot be minor benefits.

The crucial question remains whether, as some imagine, gay tantra can supply any kind of mystical experiences (my peculiar experience inclines me to suppose it could give something of the sort), and, if the end point is a heightened awareness supported with pleasure/bliss, what is the status of that? Is this, can this be or reflect any real experience of ultimacy? Is there any kind of God experience involved?

Traditionally tantrism was rejected in the East because it was insufficiently ascetical or pure. If we look at this from a Christian and western standpoint, the bible presents us with an apparent contradiction needing resolution. On the one hand the lovers of the Song of Solomon are erotically in the fires of Yah(weh) and the implication would be that the erotic is within the divine, (the reason that illicit sex can be at once against one’s true self and against God who is the source of Eros); but then a Paul statement like “lovers of pleasure rather than God” is nearer the more standard Asian/ascetical line which discourages notions of pleasure as revelation of anything.

All is not quite lost where some consistency is desired. Some of the problem involves terminology and esoteric principles often overlooked.

A SPIRITUAL ANTHROPOLOGY

It should be clear enough from the Hebrew bible (OT) that the human person is seen as a trinity of body, soul and spirit. Partly in concession to Greek philosophy and also to cover for the disappearance in medieval Christianity of the original charismatic gifts on the Spirit, the Eighth Ecumenical council of Constantinople in 869, devastatingly for all subsequent religion, ruled the person is a duality of body and soul. The spirit is only an unseparated part of soul and is its more rational aspect as opposed to a distinct organ of ultimate revelation.

This shift in emphasis would cause a reading back into earlier texts and scriptures meanings and emphases not always there. The spiritual life has been reduced to a contrast and conflict of body and soul only, with soul the cooler, more organized part of the human self. The passions are the lower energies that soul’s “reason” will work to overcome.

This is scholastic philosophy but not biblical.There is an equivalence between Hebrew nephesh or animal soul and Paul’s sarx (flesh or lower nature) related to soul (psyche). Both these are crucial to life. They have many names cross culturally like the etheric body or body electric, jivatman etc but they belong with the vital energies, including sexual, that hold the person together and leave the body (Gk soma, Heb basar) upon death. Souls if they don’t die may be “lost”. Sarx/Nephesh is however the possibility of our sympathetic connection with nature (and animals) and the cosmos, and thus any expressions of natural mysticism as of the Romantics.

Spirit, which is Hebrew ruach and Greek pneuma, is as essential to life in its way as Sarx/nephesh. Ruach is a para-rational organizer and interpreter of soul energies, the vehicle for any hearing of the divine voice and knowing the divine will. (In some of my books I have suggested that Jesus could even be considered the Soul of God over against the Spirit of God). The Spirit may become clouded over and obscured, but is essentially pure. (One notable mystic, Juliana of Norwich, once went so far as to maintain the spirit is always pure, and “the elect” are those who never sinned in the spirit – everyone having done so through the soul).

In the NT from especially St Paul, spirit and soul are in conflict (Gal 5:17), the fallen energies of soul not being subject as they ought to the directions of spirit. We need not deny this situation – the conflict between truth and lies, wisdom and folly, peace and war, pleasure and addiction are everywhere evident – but we still need to take it as one of Paul’s rhetorical generalizations.

There is no way we could and should dismiss soul and its perceptions and pleasures as always all bad and bad beyond all cure. Your doctor will cure your soul/body and it is what God is said to restore (famously Ps 23 has it: “he restores my soul (nephesh)” – portrayed as done within a scene of nature which soul is deeply related to. The soul of the woman who loves Solomon in the Song of Solomon is nephesh (Song 3:2).

At the same time, the apostle interestingly places sorcery and idolatry (Gal 5:20), which is to say almost all known systems of magic and religion, under  sarx. At any rate an often supposed sex and magic nexus seems likely, a point driven home to me when I saw a film of Tibetan monks able to sustain freezing temperatures, and in what was perhaps a camera slip, it briefly revealed a monk with an erection.

Gay Tantra as therapy and for some as a good possible containment of the erotic energies of body/soul, would seem justified enough (short of objections from the most narrowly conservative and literalistic views that all non-productive and non-marital sex is unacceptable). The more vital question would seem to be: is there any mystical potential or divine contact amid all this? A few devotees who prolong pleasure for hours even sense themselves to be a new kind of erotic monk or mystic. Could anyone be such?

This is an important question whose correct answer could have implications for almost any kind of mysticism which locates its wisdom wholly within the meditating mind or the trained body.

I would maintain that if and when God is experienced at all by would-be pleasure mystics, it is only indirectly. It  is nothing more, save in degree, than anyone experiences things divine, namely like Solomon’s lovers  within the fires of Yah (Song 8: 6,7). It is because intercourse is a “divine” activity  of sorts, that it can also be immoral or demonic, the occasion of intervention from false spirits (Augustine would  fear succubi where women were concerned!). Some new age extremists would even  encourage this, maintaining there are peaceful aliens who want our sperm although, worldwide, experiences of alleged alien kidnaps record terrifying sexual interference.

  AN OVERSTATED MYSTICISM

Arguably the kind of mystical experience sex mystics claim, namely of “Oneness”, is inevitable for any mysticism which does not engage the spirit/ruach level and its energies. The soul overpowered by its point of concentration, cancels out distinctions and categories, turning mind back on itself in a great circle and its message is inevitably blissed out “cosmic” oneness and unity; especially so if I am correct that sarx corresponds to Neptunian inclusiveness and capacity for bliss which looks forwards to or implies, like some Buddhist systems, formation of a bliss body.

The new universalist kind of Catholicism, though unlikely ever to accept anything like gay tantra as such, ironically will nonetheless be open to its oneness idea (even Pope Francis whom conservatives consider an anti-Pope for heresies would do so), because although like most mysticisms Christianity’s are not sexual, the mentioned Constantinople decision has so reduced the role of spirit, human or divine, that everything and everyone that soul is thought or felt to touch is potentially “One”. All are on the same page with a differently named same God if only we could realize it. And arguably even the most Christian and ascetical mysticisms might as well be sexual. Some Greek Orthodox monks whispering, murmuring their Jesus prayers can seem half intoxicated or near to prolonged sex stimulation’s “gooning” phase where language is dissolving into a sort of shishing variant of speaking in tongues.

BEAT ONENESS AND EROTIC WRITERS

In short, as in any system there are pitfalls to be avoided and honest questions to be asked, and sexual mystics might need to be careful with the “magic” potential of auto-stimulation and masturbation-triggered ideas and images projected onto the ethers whether as this affects themselves or others. If there can be good masturbation there can certainly be bad – the poisonous writings of the Marquis de Sade were produced with such.

Beat poets of the sixties, Alan Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac were frequent (non-tantric) masturbators, the Neptunian Kerouac ultimately deciding it was better than regular sex. The gay Ginsberg was an admirer of the rather obviously gay and also masturbatory Walt Whitman. On one occasion that he was reading and (unmindfully and absentmindedly) masturbating, Ginsburg was inspired, but alarmed when he allegedly heard the voice of the poet, William Blake, a figure who influenced his work lifelong and a basis of his oneness mysticism.   [6]

For a while Ginsberg was emphatic this wasn’t a hallucination. Later he decided it must be a form of his own voice, this seeming consistent with reason and everything being mystically “one”. But on that basis he then strove to call up the voice by uttering “Dance, Dance, Dance, Spirit, Spirit, Spirit” but the effect was, he said, “like Faust” and “he got all scared and quit”.

The fact that the disembodied voice of lifelong influence had seemed separate and couldn’t be duplicated, suggests it could actually have been a familiar spirit such as would manifest through sarx rather than ruach and contact with which is forbidden in Judaism (Ginsberg was born Jewish). The voice of God, often like thunder, would be unmistakable and communicated through the ruach –significantly Ginsberg regarded his Blake voice and Oneness mysticism, a swerve from God, which in effect it was. The poet’s subsequently adopted Buddhism is a-theistic. At the same time, Buddhism does not naturally lead where Ginsberg let it take him, which was not only into narcotics, but also into various causes among these, (though he was not himself a paederast), support for legalized child/adult sex relations.

Though straight, James Joyce, especially in Finnegan’s Wake, was a masturbatory writer and that may not even be too healthy for readers if they’re at all psychically sensitive which I probably am – as someone once remarked to me “you’re terribly psychic, you just haven’t realized it yet”. What I am not is a person who remembers dreams. Only with real effort did I once get to the stage I could just about catch how a dream ended with some question or worry like leaving a case at a station. Last year I undertook to read Finnegan’s Wake with the assistance of a commentary, last thing at night The Wake is Joyce’s novel of night and dreams. Some of it was poetic, some of it funny, some of it truly opaque beyond commentary, but some it particularly filthy too and the book anyway embraces normally taboo themes like the incest which is apparently the hinge of the whole “story”.

One morning after a substantial read I awoke with devil/ Baphomet images in my eyes. I tried to ignore it and pushed it off. Once could be just an accident, but when it happened again the next day after more Joyce I decided that Jung who knew Joyce and Beckett and called them the Antichrist writers, was probably on the right track. Not wanting Joyce’s black mojo around me I decided this anyway too obscure writer wasn’t worth struggling with, even if you’re Irish.

SEEING FURTHER

The images didn’t reappear, but the incident serves me as a reminder about what is absorbed and let out to the world (St Paul at Eph 5:4 would have it that “entirely out of place is obscene talk”. Sex always needs to have a degree of good intention about it and possibly any sexual practices, if they are not to leak out and impress upon the ethers as some imagine and I consider theoretically possible, they could use something like the self blessing with which some of the south European people have surrounded intercourse. Unblessed free-wheeling sexual activity may be more harmful than realized.

Despite the need for caution in any area that sex and the spiritual are explicitly or just implicitly in close neighbourhood (as they can be much of the time), I don’t feel the perennial, potential conflicts of sarx with pneuma, are grounds to write off the possibilities of the new field of what is basically gay therapy and integration with a few implications for even the heteronormative world.

Although, despite what some conservatives think, we cannot know with complete certainly just what and who St Paul was referring to where same sex issues were concerned (recreational bisexuality, pederasty, male prostitution?), what is certain is that belated popular understanding of the gay theme has been little short of a catastrophe. It has been so both for individual gay lives damaged or even suicided out of existence by it, and for the church itself. The latter has lost ground and engaged unnecessary hatred for itself on the subject, not just today but historically as when a major reason Japan never turned Christian is because individuals like St Francis Xavier fanatically declared the courtiers of Japan lower than pigs and dogs. As Matthew Vines pertinently reminds us in God and the Gay Christian, Christ states “every good tree bears good fruit but a bad tree bears  bad fruit…..every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down (Matt 7:18-19) [ 7 ]. What we so often see is bad fruit produced by treatment of this subject and one feels it’s time the tree of this doctrine came down.

Centuries before the eunuch word assumed its wider meanings and sometimes indicating the nearest thing to gay, Isaiah had declared the eunuch to be somehow special, even reserved for “better” than those (heterosexuals understood) whose heritage is through children (Is 56:5). Theirs is the greater monument. Whatever precisely that signifies, it’s like suggesting this individual is bearer of special knowledge or destiny. If so, it may be time to apply something of that knowledge which I would judge is more feminine and adaptive than masculine and aggressive in treatment of self and soul.

Everything suggested here may not be correct, but the subject matter is timely. The situation over gay issues of ongoing confusion, doubt, hurt, resentment, with congregations split over gay issues must be changed, indeed redeemed. It is not simply a matter of ethics, it goes rather further as I endeavoured to indicate in Part One. The very art of the west has a problem. It has never supplied a convincing portrait of Christ. The Redeemer is inadequately seen or not seen at all, which is like a parable in itself. Arguably the lack will not be corrected and the face not revealed until the entire issue of pleasure is better resolved. It is not a question simply of received doctrine sometimes fanatically defended, but a core paradox involving vision itself.

 

NOTES

  1. Sarah Ruden Paul among the People, Image Books, New York, 2011
  2. Andrew Auge, A Chastened Communion: Modern Irish Poetry and Catholicism Syracuse University Press, New York, 2013 p.13
  3. The words of the hymn are:

We who mystically represent the Cherubim
And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the life-giving Trinity
Let us set aside the cares of life
That we may receive the king of all
Who comes invisibly, escorted by the divine hosts

4. In the still working data I claim to have for Jesus’ birth, Neptune (widely accepted by astrologers to be a Jesus associated planet, is conjunct Venus and asteroid Eros all three in Scorpio sign of sex, suggestive for the   idea the fires of Yah(weh) associate primarily with Jesus – which would be logical if we think of Jesus as the incarnational, embodying person and aspect of the Trinity.

5 Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian, Convergent Books, New York, 2014, Chapter 8.

6  Visions, Symbols and Intertextuality. An overview of William Blake’s Influence on Allen Ginsberg.  Alexandre Ferrere, Empty Mirror, June 7, 2019

7 Vines, op.cit. p 13

A SAINT’S MISTAKE: A POEM OF ST  PAUL    https://wp.me/p2v96G-yS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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AFTER TARA’S HARP: THE FORTUNES OF THOMAS MOORE AND IRISH IDENTITY TODAY

AFTER TARA’S HARP:  THE FORTUNES OF THOMAS MOORE  AND IRISH IDENTITY TODAY.

Before there was W. B. Yeats as Ireland’s national poet and unofficial laureate, there was Thomas Moore (1779 -1852). The man, his influence and legacy, nonetheless remains something of a mystery and  beyond  the kind the mystery loving Yeats could have dreamed up. His story, well evoked in Linda Kelly’s Ireland’s Minstrel, still raises questions relevant to Ireland today.

Moore, the Dublin grocer’s son who hobnobbed with royalty and aristocrats, the poet who managed seriously to charm almost everyone he ever met (Disraeli declared no one’s conversation was more delightful) and being forgiven even by those he occasionally criticized or insulted from Jefferson to the Prince of Wales, was a phenomenon, but one now almost forgotten… Unless perhaps by Irish Americans. For them, Moore’s snapshots and mementos of Erin like The Meeting of the Waters and the tear and a smile yearning for the country have remained part of a specifically emigrant’s culture more than  the legacy of the nationalist Yeats. The latter would be more influential in Europe.

The two never quite saw eye to eye, but as Catholic emancipationist  Daniel “O’ Connell acknowledged, Moore fostered “patriotism” – a love of roots one could say, which is a bit different from full-bodied nationalism. Regardless, in the nineteenth century one and half million copies of sheet music for The Minstrel Boy alone was sold in America, and that speaks no uncertain success.

Moore hadn’t begun with patriotic poems and airs. These developed over years during some of which he had been involved with theatre (which is how he met his actress wife),  coming to the fore around 1808. They had been assisted on the musical side by Irish composer John Stevenson who variously composed airs or arranged melodies Moore suggested could accompany his verses. To their advantage the verses began to see the light of day at a time when Irish music was being seriously discovered by Edward Bunting.

Prior to this and in the wake of his studies at Trinity Dublin in the late seveteen hundreds, Moore’s poetry had taken a more purely social direction which reached full expression in London where he went to study law. The Odes of Anacreon (translations and paraphrases of Anacreon) were published to great acclaim there in 1800 though this proved a bit of an embarrassment later in life as the more patriotic Irish Melodies conceded: “He was born for much more, and in happier hours/His soul might have burned with a holier flame/ But alas for his country…”

ROCOCO MOORE

In some respects Moore was always hugely Irish, but not in a way commonly acknowledged either inside or outside of Ireland, namely in terms of a rather “rococo”, Marriage of Figaro type sensibility, the strain one may find so absent from the dourer Ulster to the point that zone can feel like a foreign country to further south. The Ireland that is neither sporting, horsey and hard drinking nor exactly pagan either is the more School of Scandal one that we glimpse in Boucher’s picture of Louise O’Murphy and hear in Moore’s own 1801 published The Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Little (Moore was a little man). This collection and In the wake of The Odes would confirm Moore lifelong in the sobriquet “Anacreon Moore”, the corruptor of good morals.

While that charge was almost certainly unjustified being based on a few exuberant exaggerations, it is undeniable Moore was broadminded. He forgave easily and overlooked things as in the case of Lord Byron whose loyal friend and ultimately biographer he was. (Beyond poetry, the later Moore became something of a pioneer in the art of biography – Byron, Sheridan, Lord Edward Fitzgerald). Given certain facts, Moore may have gone too far in overlooking the real edge of chaos and cruelty amid the bonhomie that Byron represented.

Until late in life when Moore laboured over a critical history of Ireland, arguably the same latitude was directed upon the many English connections and supporters Moore charmed in aristocratic society. He hoped to influence prominent people on Ireland’s behalf, but at least some of those he entertained  would have been guilty, as Anglo-Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth realized, of funding extravagant parties by disappearing Irish forests. There is an irony in the fact that Moore’s chief society friend and patron was Lord Moira, who, though undeniably an opponent of the Britain/Ireland Act of Union, was no great friend to the Irish heritage. It was on his estate that back in 1781 Lady Moira had disrespectfully treated the precious find of the anciently buried Bog Queen who looms large in Seamus Heaney’s “North”.

DEFENDING IDENTITY

Certain statements of Irish Republican founder Patrick Pearse about the virtues of hating and standing apart can grate today. They can sound anything from unchristian to fascist, but one maybe has to grasp the broader meaning of a poet’s rhetoric, namely that any meaningful defence of home and identity will require a few standoffs and refusals.

Even if she did fear being a financial burden upon friends, how could Sarah Cullen, the intended of United Irishman Robert Emmet, have married a British officer after Emmet’s execution? …It’s a bit like asking today how Jewish actor Miriam Margolyes could vote for anti-Semite Jeremy Corbyn and be a pro-Palestinian activist. The Irish like the Jews seem saddled with problem people with, in the case of the Irish, a genial to the point of ingratiating, universal friendliness possibly linked to some inferiority complex that feels it must endlessly give  and comply. Something of the kind is behind the way the nation’s current political elite while defining Ireland past and present as almost wholly an Ireland of the welcomes, is selling the country down the river to please ruthless European policies (like organizing for massive immigration while Ireland suffers chronic homelessness problems).

One of the worst things colonialists do (according to Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth) is to render the colonized almost grateful to be imposed upon by convincing them they possessed no prior culture. Moore’s Ireland of sweet places, memories and symbols, though better than nothing at all at a time when the Act of Union had virtually erased identity, was without notable complaint, or authority of historic culture, it’s little more than nostalgic tears.

The only throb she [Tara’s harp] gives
Is when some heart indignant breaks
To show that she exists

MOORE AND YEATS

   

Easy popularity and economic success apart, patriotic Moore and his later more deliberately nationalist successor, Yeats, nonetheless had a fair deal in common. Though Moore’s father had been a Gaelic speaking native from Kerry, both Dublin born poets were English speakers who knew no Irish, and both spent a lot of time travelling or living outside of Ireland in England, America, and continental Europe.

Yeats was born Protestant. Moore might as well have been so. Despite a purely political lifelong commitment to Catholic Emancipation and some belated reconciliation with Catholic theology in The Travels of an Irish Gentleman in search of a religion (1833), Moore was a virtual Protestant. Refusing to go to confession which he dismissed as an embarrassment, he married a Protestant and his children were raised Protestant. Moreover, like Yeats and as though admitting the impossibility of fully wooing any native muse, Moore finished up unexpectedly marrying not just a Protestant but an Englishwoman. (In both cases however their wives seem to have been commendably long suffering of their demanding spouses!). Both writers were born under the distinctly flexible sign of Gemini and in fact Moore’s natal pattern, of which presently, helps explain a few facts about him and we need all and any help we can get to manage that.

Even as a main pillar of the Romantic movement Moore is almost forgotten today but at one time, and despite his more eighteenth than nineteenth century style, he shared a place with Walter Scot and Byron (who praised him highly and admitted Moore’s influence on him). And Irish Melodies was an inspiration to such composers as Berlioz, Weber, Mendelssohn, Schumann, even Beethoven. Moore’s poetry constituted seriously bestselling material, causing Longmans of London to wager, sight unseen, the huge amount for the period of 3 thousand guineas upon the now almost unreadable Lalla Rookh orientalist epic. It was translated into most European languages, went through seven English editions in its first year and sold well for at least 30 years.

Nowadays most of us would probably agree with the British critic, William Hazlitt, that Moore “converts the wild harp of Erin into a musical snuff box” and even regretfully concede to Wordsworth that Moore wrote more “agreeable verse” than poetry as such; but no matter how we assess Moore under the effects of time and changed tastes, the questions still demanding answers are:

  1.  how was such success achieved,
  2.  how was it eclipsed and
  3.  why was the influence, especially from any nationalist standpoint, so slight in the long term?

These questions deserve answers interesting in their own right, but they overlap with other almost more vital questions we can ask today like: what is the function of poetry, how does it work in different languages and is it relevant today, especially to Irish identity now that modern Irish poetry is largely remote from, (and often colourless for it) politics and identity issues.

Granted one would not expect most poets to be virtual bards, national/nationalist mouthpieces as such. At the same time, should they avoid this side of things to the extent especially Seamus Heaney so controversially did; and can and should poets presently remain silent in the face of very real new crises for Irish identity and culture that elements of the government are imposing?

The first question touches on the irrational quality of all life and may be best answered by what some would deem itself irrational, namely a quick look at Moore’s winner-takes-all birth pattern. It certainly helps that Moore can show us fortunate Jupiter conjunct his career and reputation Midheaven, itself fortunately trine Mercury, Moore’s ruling planet as a Gemini, and the natural planet of writing and writers. This alone would give Moore a head start among his peers while his role as specifically a poet for or about Ireland is well described by Neptune (itself conjunct Thomas in his house of career at 28 Virgo fortunately trine asteroid Ireland at 27 Capricorn). Neptune is almost more associated with music and composers than poets, so unsurprisingly the most famous verses were arranged for music. Moore’s own Poesia asteroid falls in his  second house of goods and money, testimony to how he could so exceptionally make money from verse!

THE RISE OF MOORE

There was one area of life in which Moore was unfortunate and that was his children: his three daughters and two sons all died) and this is reflected by the close conjunction of Venus with wounded healer Chiron in the fifth of offspring; but though Moore undoubtedly did suffer in this area, such was not an uncommon misfortune for people of his time.

I had at first doubted the chart’s birth time because of the way it gives a strange cluster of Mars, along with moon and Saturn conjunct in the hidden twelfth house; but the 7 pm time it is telling us something. Overall the pattern must be registering because, incredibly, asteroid Anacreon is degree exact conjunct the Aquarian third house of writing. This bespeaks the originality and controversy around the writings of “Anacreon Moore” as he was often called. He rose to fame adapting the amoral Anacreon and the exercise gave him a style for his verse generally. Byron imitated both it and the witty amoralism which in Moore’s case probably often reflected exuberant playful exaggeration – though maybe not.

Sex sign Scorpio rises. And what are the Scorpio planets in Moore’s hidden twelfth doing? Politicians (for example Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump) often have Saturn or planets here as this  connects   them to the collective unconscious leaders need to pick up on, and Moore hopefully channelled some Irish feelings; but secret affairs, such as earlier in life some supposed of “Thomas Little” might be indicated. Usually, however, moon to Saturn is just depressing or cold with women, but it can reflect a smother mother and this Moore had. His mother was dominating and early made her son swear he must not be involved in uprisings against authority such as in his youth were happening.

Between the influence of his mother and the time at which Moore was emerging into the world (a time of enforced, false peace and anti- independence sentiment with an erasure of any Irish identity following the Act of Union in 1801), Moore can – largely – be exonerated of later charges he was not protesting and/or nationalistic enough on Ireland’s behalf.

Moore himself always regarded Irish freedom as being his real inspiration from the first. Even if true, there were limits to what he could actually know to protest and defend. The reality was that whenever he was in Ireland Moore lived in something of a bubble where the more desperate conditions of the people were not evident to him. Only later in his life did he witness some of severer realities and then he did begin protesting – but in prose as in Memoires of Captain Rock (1824) rather than verse.

Despite the fact that the future United Ireland Republican rebel Robert Emmet sometimes sat at piano with Moore when he played at airs he would later develop, Irish Melodies was originally only moderately political in inspiration, and only gradually came into being over years. The origins lay in response to Ulsterman Edward Bunting’s pioneering work (1796) on Ireland’s musical legacy to which Moore’s university friend Edward Hudson had introduced him..

THE DECLINE OF MOORE

How and why did Moore become quite so ignored and forgotten? As a poet Moore belongs to the Romantic movement, and despite a few enduring names like Wordsworth (whom Moore appreciated) and Shelley (who unlike Wordsworth appreciated Moore), the Romantic movement’s music has weathered better than its literature, especially poetic. Before Victorian realism, Dickens and Balzac took over, society had been enthusiastic readers of poetry which in epical bestselling works like Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan were precursors or substitutes for the novel. Because of its original orientalism supported by masses of informative notes, Moore could get away with Lalla Rookh during his lifetime and given an already established reputation, but he was at heart a lyricist who lacked skill with storytelling and the epic form. Once the novel was king Lalla would be left on the shelves; which leads to the question of the nationalist influence.

Compared with Lalla, the Irish Melodies were less easily set aside, especially by nostalgic emigrants, but within Ireland and in relation to post famine era problems and a rising nationalism they could only seem trivial against the more culture-heavy, psychologized and politicized work of Yeats. This poet took myth seriously and was supported by the likes of Lady Gregory who spoke Irish and had translated the Irish myths and histories.

Yeats though broadly speaking a Romantic, even a last of the Romantics, was most essentially a Symbolist and his work interacted not with the ubiquitously popular novel but the stage play. Ironically, the greatest influence that poetry might be said to have had for Ireland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was through the influential, incendiary poetic prose of material like the play Cathleen ni Houlihan attributed to Yeats, though it seems it may have owed almost more to Lady Gregory.

THE FORTUNES OF POETRY, MOORE’S, NATIONAL AND OTHER

  Avoca: The Meeting of the Waters

But I think this whole question of Moore’s slow but sure eclipse must be placed within the larger question of what is poetry and how it functions-  which increasingly today is little enough even in Ireland.

At the time that Moore was starting out, though still hugely popular, poetry was becoming untethered from its original high status and was functioning ever less as any kind of special statement of anything. For some, and certainly for Byron, it was almost an alternative, almost doggerel means of commenting on or even messaging almost anything like confirming to Moore a visit to Leigh Hunt in prison. Message poetry could be tossed off while dressing for dinner …..“Tomorrow be with me, as soon as you can, sir/ All ready and dressed for proceeding to spunge on/ According to compact the wit in the dungeon….”

There are a variety of forms and functions poetry may assume in any age or clime, but its chief role was always somehow visionary or transcendent of the immediate, a reason the roles of poet and druid were linked in ancient Ireland and often regarded as prophetic.

The rhymed couplet has always been effective in English for social satire and Alexander Pope had done a masterful job with it in The Rape of the Lock. It was however so perfect something wilder and more irregular as under the Romantic movement was called for. Moore straddled eras and fashions. His Irish Melodies offered new and original themes but kept close to old forms. While individual poems like Breathe not his name on the death of Emmet and The Minstrel Boy are good poetry in their own right, a lot of Moore’s poetry exists to be sung. Unsung they risk sounding trivial…. or they could not help doing so once, by way of comparison, someone serious like Yeats appears on the scene at a time of turmoil. Serious national themes don’t fit well with doggerel or the jog trot of balladry.

IRISH IN ENGLISH AND HOW TO WRITE IRISH POETRY

But something more is involved here and its problem is still with us. The runaway success Moore and Byron enjoyed across continental Europe was much helped by the simplicity of translating them and their often bald statements.

This contrasts with quite a lot of unexpected mistiness in English language poetry which can be hard to convey. Even with a Norton’s Shakespeare to explain all words and references, even in English much of Shakespeare can seem remote, his language a musical “super tongue” as Camille Paglia has it. Anglo-Irish writing, Oscar Wilde’s especially, has by contrast a sharp clarity. Yeats as in some early works like the ponderous drama The Shadowy Waters which had Dublin audiences laughing, might be said to have substituted mistiness of theme or atmosphere for that of language and it didn’t work.

English is not rhyme rich after the manner of the European languages. One can’t be a Dante for producing  rhyming  variety with it, and failing that  the effects can lapse into the predictable. The readers waits for the next clicking together of “me” to “see”, “you” to “too” and its inevitability can prevent absorbing the greater message for playing mental crossword puzzles. Milton was against rhyme and did not employ it in his most serious work. Auden, a superb poetic craftsman with a large and specialized vocabulary, can make rhyme serve his purposes (often ironic, playful or satirical), but it seems true to say we are liable to be more impressed and pay more attention when Auden elects not to rhyme as in ”Oh love, the interest itself in throughtless heaven…” Such stronger effects from a leading English poet prove Milton’s point. In English, at least If you have something important to say at any national or philosophical level, rhyme such as Moore regularly engaged is best limited or just dropped. Some of the powerful effect of Yeats’ rhetoric in The Tower collection is due to recourse to high style with moderate use of rhyme and the shock of a lot of direct bald statement.

This combination can reasonably be called Irish/Celtic but how much can and does even this literary stylistics quite reflect the people’s soul? I don’t hold it against Yeats or Moore (or other Celtic Twilight poets like AE) any more than myself that they didn’t have Gaelige to carry them further. But I think the lack must be taken into account and sometimes as a real limitation; and even without recommending classes for us, there are still as mentioned presently, a few things we might learn about the language that open upon the basis of Irish aesthetics and worldview.

SPENSER AND CULTURAL DESTRUCTION

I think it can fairly be said that among all poets and would-be moralists, Edmund Spenser, he of The Fairie Queen, holds a special place as being among the most hypocritical and even evil. An advocate for the Plantation of Ireland despite all the horrors he had seen stemming from it, he promoted the suppression of Irish language with the aim of imposing peace by ridding the people of their culture.

James Joyce whose Finnegan’s Wake is almost a revenge upon English, says of an Englishman (through Stephen Dedalus in Portrait of the Artist ) “his language so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech”. Unfortunately, loss of language is indeed a cultural destruction such as Spenser hoped for and that Joyce experienced along with a certain loss of soul. The latter is something only the structure and rhythms of language can reflect because language gives voice to native temperament or that un PC word “race”. But the latter is at least a part of the equation.

Moore implicitly believed in race when referring to the proximity of depression and levity in Irish character. It’s a distinctive and unusual trait and one that would be hard to duplicate through social training alone. Even Joyce assumes race (as in Portrait of the Artist): “I go to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

THE UNCREATED CONSCIENCE AND ITS IDIOMS

Which leads to the last question which is: long past the days of Moore and even Joyce, can any “uncreated conscience” now be formed, and formed apart from the native language and even poetry, which even in Gaelige since independence has produced some competent, interesting but hardly “bardic” and deeply soulful poetry?

It could actually be that by this time that music rather than literature would be more expressive of any “uncreated conscience”. Moore seduced many with his airs if not his messages; opera loving James Joyce would prefer to have been a singer, J.M Synge would prefer to have been a concert violinist. But if we keep to any idea of literature as the chief medium of expression though hampered through loss of Irish, the solution especially for those of us who don’t speak the language is at the very least to get acquainted with a few features of the language for their likely implications.

One thing immediately to note about Irish is its treatment of just the personal pronoun. Instead of I am, Je suis, Ich bin etc of European languages we have the inverted order Ta me (am me) and instead of I have, you have, he has etc, there is agam, agat, aige (at or to me, to him etc). It’s a feature which arguably belongs with the looser sense, (illustrated by certain tribal arrangements) of possession at the same time as we immediately rightly suspect that at another level (like the European languages and unlike English) the language is going to be distinctly inflected and conjugated and quite precise about relationships.

In some respects Irish is a very logical and precise language, even its alien and forbidding spelling system once got a handle on proves more consistent than the frequent anarchies of English spelling. Given the overall structural sense, a bit like Latin, unsurprisingly something like the directness of Latin and Ovid will be a feature of the poetry.

Given the pattern of elisions in Irish one could suspect that elision and transition of any kind (like Moore’s close neighboured depression and levity) would be a feature of the language. And in fact, modern Gaelic’s classic Cre na Cille was deemed virtually untranslatable into English on account of its many changes of register. In other words (no pun intended) in losing Irish there really are things the Irish cannot hope quite to illuminate and convey of their natural temperament.

IRELAND, EUROPE AND BLAKE

It has always been an enigma to me what is, but also isn’t, European about an Ireland which plainly isn’t very English despite using English language. Again it could be music might help clarify difference. European music is very directional, having for example little by way of the Irish reels against whose knot work and often spontaneous variations, most continental music is like a trellis around which melody can be twined while the trellis remains fully in view. What if anything am I sensing for any creative impulse and aesthetics?

Both Yeats and AE were strongly attracted to the work of William Blake, AE more to the art and Yeats to the poetry (which like so many people he got unnecessarily lost in trying to grasp its often opaque symbolism and idiosyncratic terminology).. The fact remains however that the non Celtic Blake accidentally supplies keys to the Irish aesthetic.

For Blake there was an absolute distinction between Grecian/Classic and Gothic which he regarded as distinctly Christian. “Grecian is Mathematical Form, Gothic is living form, Mathematic Form is eternal in the reasoning memory. Living Form is Eternal Existence”…. And with that we perhaps have the essential point for Irish music and much else.

Europe runs on the laws of Mathematics, Ireland on the laws of a fluid, organic Nature. For the Irish and perhaps many Celts, one does not come to the subject but like the figures looking out of the Book of Kells, one is already present within Nature like the figures in Blake’s forests or whirlwinds. The task is less to approach a subject than to exit from or stop the flow of what is already sounding, to capture and examine it.   This is the reason, I would imagine that early Irish poets were involved in quasi Hinduistic patterns of learning and meditations in the dark.

I would say that the perennial Irish aesthetic which beside running waters and remembered sites Moore vaguely pointed to but didn’t quite grasp, is involved, like the poetry of Ovid and the music of late Richard Strauss, with the mystery of change and metamorphosis. And I doubt that better poetry than mine could quite capture, and  almost certainly not in English, an example of  what I register as one of the more distinctive phenomena of Ireland.

AE would doubtless call it it “the earth breath”, but he could never himself really evoke it in verse nor capture it in his haunting paintings. Possibly C.S.Lewis was trying to evoke it, but for children, when The Magician’s  Nephew described the wood between the worlds as bright, peaceful and where everything seems to be growing, “a rich place, rich as plum cake”.  In some early mornings of Ireland I recognize a strange peace almost physically rising toward me, transforming and shedding light. I have never experienced the same elsewhere but now and again, even at the other side of the world, for a few seconds its imprint occasionally seems to repeat and give itself to me like a special grace. Its transitions, and strange illumination are perhaps not for poetry, though they might just be for music.

Unless perhaps for Ulsterman Hamilton-Harty’s pleasant but only vaguely Celtic  Irish Symphony (the movements have been named after sites in Ulster  only!) , the fact that Ireland has no really expressive Irish symphony may belong with the nation’s less than European character when it comes to inspiration. However, future production of a tone poem, and perhaps incorporating something closer to Indian classical music able to convey subtle changes of nature and the spirit, might signal the contemporary culture had finally arrived at a more than literary, slowly evolved fullness.

Realistically however, that time may never now come about. After eight centuries of colonial status Ireland was declared a full republic as late at 1949. The still in many respects recovering and nascent society is under its most dire threat in centuries and not just from renewed  haemorrhaging  renewed emigration but purblind, destructive policies determined to  be rid of so called “populism” and even dishonestly outlaw and portray it as so much fascism when citizens protest against an Ireland given an impossible but increasingly imposed Big  Giver, Welcomes doormat role in the world.

Ireland has suffered through a good many genocides and near death experiences, but current events may well deliver the final blow and quickly. Irish Americans won’t need to be buying sheet music of patriotic songs in sympathy. They might need to be doing something more radical (black humour suggests buying up a remote island where a remnant can settle to preserve and develop the tradition – this should be in the Pacific where France only owns idyllic Tahiti because of an Irish ship’s captain’s interventions). Things happen quickly in the modern world and the current situation is a truly now-or-never serious one for Ireland in which its elites are now its latest enemy. If the problems are not confronted, there won’t be Moore’s fanciful memories for nostalgic popular consumption, but more like  Beckettian lights out and silence.

POEM: IRISH CHANGES   https://wp.me/p2v96G-1kp

 

 

 

 

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IRISH CHANGES (A poem in a time of endangered free speech)

   

[On 16th July, a distinguished, award  winning investigative journalist, Gemma O ‘Doherty, who had been highlighting disturbing levels of crime, corruption and cover-ups in modern Ireland, had two youtube channels permanently removed by Google – its European headquarters are in Dublin’s docklands – including  for alleged  “hate speech”. Prose  comment on the issue follows the poem  along with Notes]

IRISH CHANGES

By a city’s black pool where lodged
The unbanished raven of Morrigan, who,
Doom’s queen, cast dark shadows on Erin,
Will and fancy would choose for avoidance ]1].
And Dublin, against what centuries
Dealt it as fate, would achieve that. It became,
Despite all, a theatre of life, half rococo,
Ironic, where, like mistress and flunkey
Arriving to further a turn in the plot,
Each dweller would add their own story
Would bespeak some new sign, at best
Gifting by chance an epiphany’s light.        [2]

Greece, Rome, Middle Ages, Baroque
Aren’t strongly evoked by symbol or relic,
(The feeling for these is near wholly absent),
And no force of invasion would quite
Leave its mark…Unless you’d insist that
Through love of pure abstract opposed
To the real, the inhabitants joined with
Colonial power to let Georgian angles
Direct lines of sight. Such might seem a reply
To the circles of Kells and a natural motion
Still central, essential, embracing the all. [3]

Between the lure of sea and bay and
Sight of cloud-swept hills beyond,
So little fixed by monument and time,
The city set more store elsewhere: in thought
And myth, the last self-made, divided up,
Renewed by who within themselves became
The tales and most points in between to find.
No calm and darkened sanctuaries
With altars and their candle flame
Preserving mysteries of eternal kind,
Could quite engage to stop or slow
A circulation of ideas with images,
Some from afar, Formation’s sphere,
Some local only, near as terrace door. [4]

James Joyce, I never liked you much
But take for truth you understood the
Genii loci of your home, its formed and
Re-formed mysteries, their darting motions
Of exchange. But little more you grasped
Because, to speak in tongues – which was your aim –
You were not aerial enough to raise
Even your Talmudic mind above
The barren Qlippoth zones of earth,      5]
The tar black pool. You wanted matter
Meshed with spirit, strove for union of
Midden heap with air; you hoped for
End to boundaries, borders, tribes.
It can’t be done, a reason why
At night in dream it’s always done
Replayed forever with the same result,
And plain to see no washerwoman cleans
The linen’s stains in waters of your riverrun.

But woken in the realms of day (where
Bloom selves would be better left
To liminality of gays), the nightmares     [6]
Leak their poison out. It falls on free society
Where dislocated characters of dream assume
Real life; and they undo what lies between
Howth’s Giant Head and Castleknock
And lands beyond the monster feet with fields
You thought were lasting, but are not.    [7]
You should have known, you maybe did,
Your Dedalus maze leads but one way. It goes
By secret path direct to Babel’s tower.
Delusion-ridden, proud and doomed.    [8]

It’s true this time the imperial plan         [9]
Rules fields go last, not first. Already towns,
And suburbs wither, seedy in decline.
And though a Liffey bridge now bears your name
Near towers of sleek modernity
(Prime centres of the censors too),
Essential unities are lost. It’s said
The rural parts (that bear tradition, but
At cost too great) will follow suit
Its populations must depart, make way;
In time replacements will arrive,
Already in the towns they do, sometimes
By stealth, if need be, night – it’s justified,
It’s unopposed. If voiced, a people’s pain,
A nation’s right, will stand condemned as
Merest race, or border-conscious sin,
At best an ignorance that should become
More generous, more pleased to “share” [10]

Long centuries which denied the name
And land too many gave lives to reclaim,
Are in brief years ignored, dismissed
And near erased supporting aims of
New imperialists, the bureaucrats and
Mediarats that oversee a holocaust
Of inclusion. Acceptance too for even those
Without intention to belong or learn, the
Unappeased, the mad enraged, all judged
As equal with the rest, new sudden inheritors
At law, of land and place that some
Would even spit at while – near
Dispossessed and drowned in debt –
The new despised scarce dare complain.
But then, why bother to resist
When all from priest to media,
As though a basilisk rose and stared,
Can offer only silence or more lies
When vandals strike a sacred place?     [11]

Fit for a Finnegan’s list but little else
There’s hardly more than names remain. There’s
No Sinn Fein, (ourselves alone), nor is there
Fianna Fail for warriors, (they’re nowhere found),
Nor Fianna Gael, tribe of the Gaels, (they’ll soon
Be a minority), all names like these
Are meaningless in light of day;
When crime gains hold across the land
And many who rule, or so pretend,
Do so through only lies and from amid
Enlarging swamps of rank corruption.

It once was said that Albion gnawed
At Erin’s flesh, a planter where he’d
Neither owned nor sown. Now prisoned again,
At first unwittingly, to new plantation lords
Europa’s progency sucks Erin’s blood,
This time it’s likely to a lingering death.
She is too limited, too almost delicate
And new remade to bear the rude
Attentions of a ravening beast.
But lulled by bribes and blandishments
She still consents, sleep-walking to extinction,

Indecent from the first, Europa’s line,
Which birthed the monster widely feared
Awaits to snatch the maiden for its
Nimrod’s plan of babbling building Babel’s
Tower of artificial unity again.
So, here at last from nightmare steps, Yes, HCE
That’s Mr “Here Comes Everybody” himself
With Mrs ALP, this time a shambling, ambling,
Trousers only Deutsche Frau, a Washerwoman
Smacking stains, flip flap, flap flop, who wants
To talk, to be familiar, put up welcome signs
To one and all at your expense for your own good. [12]

Ireland you could resist, you maybe will, but,
Like a Noah’s generation, one who                         [13]
Eats and drinks and lives the usual way
Right to the end, heedless of darkening skies
And thunder’s roll, you may accept to hear
The lies, put off the day, prefer deceptions
Of a dreaming sleep to revelations of
A risen wake…. Whatever’s chosen and
Is done, there’s no eternal round to trust,
It’s but a fable for the blind; the truth is
What is gone is gone and neat avoidance
Has its term. Your utter end, so Patrick                 [14]
Thought, is drowning flood. But whether that’s
For near or far, meanwhile from Dublin
To remotest field you’d need to wake
To ban the raven and reclaim a name.

 

NOTES

[1] Dublin is literally Dubh Linn, Black Water or Pool. Morrigan is goddess of doom, death and chaos. One of my Ireland-related articles theorizes this goddess is an important archetype for Ireland, never quite confronted or exorcized. Her depiction in a central Dublin sculpture is meaningful, albeit she is not expressly Dublin-related in myth. See “Ireland’s   Old/ New Spirituality problems” https://wp.me/p2v96G-126  especially sub- sections, “Who owns the Sovereignty of Ireland?”  and “Soul and Face”.
[2] James Joyce had a theory and aesthetic of “epiphany”, explored especially in his Dubliners stories.
[3] Kells i.e. the Book of Kells illuminated manuscript which contains not only circles but swirling patterns which embrace human and natural
[4] Even where Ireland has been dominated by Catholicism there has always been an alternative thought mode, close to native temperament and imagination. It is mystically independent of Catholicism and similar to the likes of Jewish mystical Kabbalah. The latter  imagines reality in spheres like the Sphere of Formation joined to a whole tree of life scheme by lightning flash.
[5] Qlippoth is the lowest of spheres or the evil reverse of all the spheres in mystic Kabbalah, a sort of earth hell.
[6] In his Ulysses and Us, critic and doyen of Irish studies, Declan Kiberd, supplies an account of Bloom’s character as an experience of liminality almost gay. However, an authentically gay character along these lines (and arguably the value and meaning of homosexuality is involved with a socially needed liminality) might  produce something more poetic and affecting as in the case of Jamie O’Neil’s accomplished novel in Joycean mode, At Swim Two Boys.
[7] Finnegan’s Wake envisages Dublin as a giant spread out between Howth to Castleknock, suburbs of the city.
[8] Babel and its associated tower is associated with Nimrod (Gen 10:10) whose name means “rebel”. Babel was built to prevent the spread and formation of people and nations (Gen 11.4)  which God then insures by imposing the variety of languages. A distinction of nations is assumed to the last page of the bible. Anything other than nations is an imperialism, something  which belongs only to God. The “broken” half finished design of the  Parliament of Europe building (see image above) is variously seen as modelled on the tower of Babel, either suggesting an incomplete work of unity awaiting fulfilment in our days, or as (unconsciously at least)  symbolizing  the traditionally recorded judgement upon such efforts. But the point is that any New World Order risks becoming like conquering Nimrod a species of human imperialism. See next note.
[9] This stanza is much involved with journalist Gemma O’Doherty’s expose of  various aspects of social and political life in Ireland. According to Michel Gorbachev, March 23rd in London, “the EU is the new European Soviet”. What critics of the EU like O’Doherty maintain is suggestive for  this idea, is not least the censorship and ideological labelling which renders all dissenters, “far right” enemies of state, “racists”, or something negative. Such  labelling aimed at suppression of free speech and regardless of plain facts  is characteristic of the communist systems in the  initial stages. O’ Doherty regards Ireland as a chief zone of experiment in this direction being small enough to impose upon and exploit.
[10] The extremely pro-Europe, Soros friendly Irish President, Michael. D. Higgins, has made clear in a recent Leipzig speech that Ireland iexists simply to “share”. But who shares what with just whom and why? Why should Ireland, long exploited and colonized suddenly be a still more invaded home for the world”?
[11]  Echoes of events in especially the cathedral city of Tuam, (often called the most Catholic town in Ireland), and its surrounds. Churches have suffered attacks on their images and in the Cathedral square the elevated statue of the bishop who helped found the cathedral, has had its head sawn off. If reported at all, such events are improbably dismissed at the work of drunken louts ignoring for example that the bishop’s statue would require a  planned midnight operation with tools and ladder while a pattern of decapitation bespeaks a specific ideology and a warning to religion in Ireland. But fear prevents the truth being spoken.
[12]  HCE or Humphry, Chimpden Earwicker, alias Here Comes Everybody,  and ALP or Anna Livia Plurabelle are main all-embracing, all -inclusive symbolic if not always quite archetypal characters in Finnegan’s Wake to the point of dissolution of identities. But in fairness to Joyce’s dissolution of things to the point of chaos  and his basic rejection of any conventional patriotism,  the linguistics of his vision are still to be seen as a revenge upon a form of imperialism Joyce did question, namely, the  imposition of the ultimately alien English language. As  regards ALP, and because archetypes are real, Mutti Mummy Merkel is well and truly a Great Mother Washerwoman with natally five planets in water, four in mother sign Cancer, the sign most associated with chaos.
[13]  Noah’s generation. “As it was in the days of Noah….”Matt 24: 37/8
[14]  Re St Patrick’s supposed forecast of Ireland’s end, see “Is the Patrick Prophecy for Ireland Encoded?”  https://wp.me/p2v96G-MR

GEMMA O’DOHERTY, CENSORSHIP  and a “HATE SPEECH” CHARGE

You don’t have to endorse everything Gemma O’Doherty says to be appalled at the action taken (16.7.2019) at Google Ireland to close down the two youtube channels of this veteran, award-winning investigative journalist. Over the years O’Doherty has researched numerous issues and exposed too many crimes and abuses to merit quite this kind of treatment. Ironically the charge against her includes “hate speech” against gays, i.e. homophobia.

I happen to be gay and published on gay issues and I don’t buy it. I am not so thin skinned, easily offended and needing protection as to dismiss all O’Doherty says about crime, corruption and cronyism in today’s virtually Mafia Eire merely because she finds LGBTQ rather “silly” and potentially dangerous if pushed on young children in schools. These are anyway ideas that many people have. Gemma could be said to have a blind spot and/or information gap as regards gays, but it’s hardly a major subject with her in the first place, and should not justify a case against otherwise important work. Providing it’s decently enough expressed, best leave contentious matters, anything from gays to immigration open for debate rather than automatically censor them out on some PC basis. The decline of free speech of all fronts is currently a great problem of our times as O’Doherty  has often had occasion to declare.

What like many people O’Doherty fails to understand when she generalizes on sexuality issues, is that there is considerable difference between gay and queer theories and identities as I recently stressed in an article. (“Rainbow questions in a gay month” https://wp.me/p6Zhz7-66 ). Moreover, if there is a connection between LGBTQ and globalism as O’Doherty now suspects (which may sound mere conspiracy theory alarmist to those totally unacquainted with these matters), it has something to do with highly politicized, basically hard left Queer theory. This, while it talks individual rights and may get called liberal progressive, can entertain more radical agendas many would baulk at if they were clearly acknowledged. As it is, there is increasingly ’s a hard left tendency to use all and any sexuality issues,(along with exaggerated talk of “racism” and “patriotism”), as a pretext to accuse society and individuals of prejudice. They then employ the laws rather than the wider democratic system to alter society’s direction, early moving to close down consensus politics  and free speech as in Communist societies,  and tyrannizing over what are matters of conviction for people.

An  example would be the recent UK sacking of a doctor for refusal to accept as a woman and address as “madam”, a six foot tall man retaining  a full beard,  (the refusal was deemed infringement of equality laws). This, belongs with the kind of social revolution entertained by Queer’s Cultural Marxist agendas. It does not belong with gay theory nor the opinion of the average gay person.

As someone who carries no card for left or right but votes according to whatever strikes me as the best in policies and persons at the time, perhaps I should look to be suing people if they opportunistically judged my poem guilty of one or other PC failure.  Would I be supported? It’s most unlikely and I would be wasting my time to protest. Today’s political talk is very one-sided, considerably media supported in what is altogether an increasingly serious situation about  which people  need to be more aware. Whatever…if Google (its European headquarters are in Dublin and O’Doherty and supporters have been demonstrating outside it these last few days) dislikes “prejudice”, then I dislike the censorship of free speech….. And if anyone cares to be aware of the kind of censorship from the Irish establishment I have myself suffered and for issues quite removed from O’Doherty’s concerns, see the final  section (“To lay my burden down”) of my article “Staging Sweeney Frenzy: Irish parable or problem” https://wp.me/p2v96G-1b2

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2019 in culture, current affairs, Poetry

 

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WHY IRELAND NEEDS YEATS 2015…AND MORE

YEATS2015         YEATSCard

WHY IRELAND NEEDS YEATS 2015….AND MORE

Ireland has designated 2015 the year of Yeats – it’s the 150th anniversary of his birth. Celebration is appropriate, not least because this is a poet who sounds surprisingly modern and relevant – lines from such as The Second Coming are often cited today as people observe IS and worldwide turmoil. And unlike the also Nobel prize winning Seamus Heaney, Yeats was always willing to be engaged in politics and with almost any subject.

Yeats’ legacy is however at once something notable and negligible. It can seem like the latter in terms of real influence upon modern Irish poetry which I will argue, despite its contemporary profusion and the cult of Heaney, has –  by and large –  lost steam and been in decline since Yeats’ death in 1939. It has been so despite Ireland’s earlier and celebrated history of bards and schools of poetry. The situation is radical because now even the very notion of poetry is in eclipse in Ireland. This is evident when one reads for example that Michael Davitt (1950-2005) was “…one of modern Ireland’s finest poets in either of the nation’s languages, (according to critic Philip O’Leary in The Irish Literary Supplement, 22.3.04)). As translated by another of Ireland’s “leading” poets, Paul Muldoon, the kind of adolescent, “avant-garde” level at which Davitt worked as in To Pound from God, was in the order of:

“ I suppose you’ll want me to wipe your bum
Or open a tin of Pedigree Chum….

At least, and unlike Trinity College’s now retired Professor of Modern Literature Brendan Kennelly, Davitt didn’t write a collection of verse called Poetry My Arse and opine that the subject of poetry as he understands it is “basically a celebration of human inadequacy and failure” ( cited An Anthology of Irish Poetry, ed.Wes Davies, p.307).

Those seeking by contrast a confident secular sublime, can always try verse from poetry festival organizer, poetry prize winner and university lecturer in creative literature and poetry, Conor O’Callaghan. The first verse of his two verse poem Comma  runs

Infinite
blip that
a flyover
sped beneath
scores into
a down-

(and the second verse begins with the word ‘pour’).

Nowadays you are almost more likely to find the spirit of Irish verse and vision in some prose works like Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim Two Boys or in the work of Colm Toibin, a writer who always wanted and intended to be a poet rather than the novelist he has become. So…what happened? And what might Yeats teach us if poetry is to be significantly revived today in West Europe’s former home of many muses, or at least aisling sky women?

NATIONALISM AND SOUL AS POETIC INGREDIENTS

Yeats

I will  presently give more examples (they could, alas, be greatly multiplied) to suggest just how seriously something is amiss in the emerald fields of Hibernian poesia, but I can state from the outset what is wrong as regards the general direction of the verse since Yeats.

It is of course possible – just – to  be anti-Yeats and produce some good poetry as the work of such as Northern Ireland’s Seamus Deane ( b.1940) indicates, but the first de-potentiating mistake of Irish poets was, however politely and surreptitiously, to dismiss or swerve from Yeats as any exemplar. It was felt he was too nationalist in inspiration and there could be no value or future in that because, with Ireland independently established, literature should become international (pursue Modernism in effect). Those who still wanted to admit some national and/or mythic elements like Austin Clarke, employed features like half rhymes admitted in Gaelic but which don’t really work in English and left a prosy rather than poetic/bardic impression. Ironically, Yeats, despite his ignorance of Gaelige could present a more Irish tone to verse by astute use of English. His “Anglo-Irish” English also carried a note of authority, The more “Gaelic-English” would encourage less bardism than  a sort of improvising, provisional half self or selves. This though it might be entertaining as in the case of Paul Durcan,(b.1944) risked being a new form of stage Irishry leading  nowhere special, certainly not to the engagement the new Ireland would  always need and Yeats as senator tried to provide.

The international/modernist trend began mildly with a diplomat of the newly independent Ireland, Denis Devlin (1908-1959), but soon it would gather pace and even become a torrent. Rejection of the Yeatsian poetic could hardly go further than in the irony of Celtic Twilight from Brendan Kennelly (b.1936). Instead of any sense of myth or “magic”, the poem evokes a Dublin of prowling decrepit whores and a Grand Canal in whose “rank waters bloated corpses float”. Even studies of Yeats – and even last September’s curiously early London launch of Yeats 2015 somewhat – tend to place the undeclared laureate somewhere apart, in a disappeared society and time past because of his obvious contribution to foundational events of 1916. The psychological and cultural reality however is that by understanding a national history and ethos a poet may better understand and reach into the world at large.

I would hardly be the first person to stress that point – it’s almost a commonplace. Walt Whitman voiced and helped shape American democracy but also espoused universal ideas beyond it while Goethe was the very cosmopolitan founder of a liberal Germanic tradition. But I know for certain the national/international principle is true as regards Yeats from having lived in Asia. I found him to be appreciated there and I might be asked to read from him. Some of Yeats’ verses like Lapis Lazuli are mentally or geographically located in Asia, while it’s well known some of the poet’s best verse dramas draw upon traditions of Japanese Noh. At least one accomplished poet, Desmond O’Grady (1935-2014). author of The Wandering Celt, is an exception to prove the national/international rule within Ireland. He does manage to combine Celtic with wider themes and like Yeats at one point he was strongly influenced by Pound – perhaps too much so when he got side-tracked into mammoth labours of poetic translation. But though appreciated, O’ Grady enjoys neither the status nor the influence of a Heaney or Muldoon, both poets of the North; and the troubled North has attracted a lot of attention in Irish poetry.

Although Yeats’ affinity for Asia owes something to his attachment to the theosophy and theories of magic many could never accept, more generally he was simply following the wisdom of the archetypes with which most serious poetry will always be involved. Genuine introspection will bring one there. Intense affinity with just place may not. Influenced by Joyce, a notable poet, Patrick Kavanagh, believed that one could be universal by devotion to a place, a notion that owed not a little to Joyce’s Dublincentric imagination. He risked becoming, as I think he often was, merely parochial because place will not quite generate the same imaginative verve as society or nation which can be a matter almost of soul. Linked to the archetypes one could say that Yeats was about – in the broadest sense – “soul”, something which, like contemporary Western poetry generally, modern Irish verse singularly isn’t despite the reputation of the Celts for spirituality.

But poetry itself is first and foremost spiritual. If you don’t believe that, then you must at least accept spirituality is what many people either assume poetry is about or appear to want from it – the biggest selling poet in the world today is, like it or not, the medieval Sufi mystic, Rumi. Poetry is Orphic and originated in the ecstatic, prophetic function and the serious poet, i.e. one who offers something beyond the entertainment or instruction which have their place, can never quite escape that root function….and/or the love theme which will often accompany it as we see everywhere from the Bible’s Hosea to Dante in the Vita Nuova.  Even major atheist poets like Lucretius and Shelley have dealt in the universe, large vistas and the sublime.

At its highest and best, poetry heals, inspires and creates – including whole peoples. Critic Harold Bloom may exaggerate but is essentially correct to propose Shakespeare has helped form modern humanity; Bloom maintains the bard did not only reflect humanity, he also made it and we have become his characters. In somewhat similar fashion, the rhapsodies of Isaiah inspired and remade a lost Hebrew society and largely through introducing new images of God and the self that allowed a new synthesis for a new age to emerge. Dante half created the modern Italian language itself amid his visions. The poets of the Romantic era expressed and half made the age they inhabited.

Sometimes, just sometimes, poets can and do change the world (though of course the noncommittal Seamus Heaney predictably denied it). Granted most poets cannot and need not aspire to such a degree of achievement. No nation is anyway likely to produce more than four or five really outstanding poets in a century, and society needs not just seers and culture heroes but minstrels, balladeers, teachers and entertainers. Poets nonetheless need to avoid through resentment, dullness or, sloth merely subverting the almost alchemical Great Work to which at varying levels their tribe contributes across time. What seems to have happened post Yeats is that any national/collective issues and feelings have been transferred onto the issue of what one can broadly call “voice”, writing and thinking with a Gaelic tone and style. At this level at least, especially in such as Pearse Hutchinson and Desmond O’Grady and whether one is writing in Irish (like Sean O’Riordain) or not, something vital emerges, but not as  strongly as where the Yeatsian emphasis on symbolic/archetypal prevails.

THE JOYCE/BECKETT PROBLEM

JJOYCE         BECKETTPHOTO

What could and should have been the ongoing influence of Yeats on modern Irish poetry has, I believe, been blocked and limited within his homeland by the strong competing legacy of Joyce and his admirer cum devotee, Beckett. Both these Modernist writers have cast long shadows. Though both composed a few poems they were essentially authors of prose and both were unspiritual or very negatively spiritual. (Beckett’s prize winning and obscure Whoroscope, written in a hurry to pay Paris rent and rewarded by the heiress Nancy Cunard, if and when it can be understood is arguably one of the most nihilistic, sordid and profane poems in the canon of verse. It surely belongs to “the throne of the faecal inlet” it refers to). The prose of the Joyce/Beckett duo has nevertheless been more weighty in influence upon modern Irish poetry than any poetic antecedents. Some want to claim it for life itself. I admire the wide-ranging erudition on most things Irish of Declan Kiberd, but I can’t accept as per his Ulysses and Us that Ulysses is really any notable guide to the management and celebration of life.

Although Yeats was something of a heretic in relation to most beliefs and traditions, his origins were Protestant. This has been held against him, or at least left him less favoured as a model for novice writers and poets than the by comparison more street-wise, democratic (sometimes), Catholic-raised Joyce who managed to voice those feelings of frustration and discontent many Irish Catholics have felt at least now and again. By contrast, and although Joyce himself could demonstrate an almost non serviam Luciferian pride, Yeats’ Protestant voice would be regarded as imperious and elitist, in short merely Anglo-Irish of the past, something Yeats scarcely even sounded like in real life. (To hear recordings of his voice which is neither very Irish nor English and not particularly emphatic, can come as a surprise and challenges the image some have of him). Patrick Kavanagh reflecting an all too familiar social resentment in a poem called Yeats  exclaims, “Yes Yeats, it was damn easy for you protected/ By the middle classes and the Big  Houses”. This is green-eyed nonsense like the whole poem in effect, highly proficient and well crafted though it is  –  Yeats faced enormous struggles in all directions and rightly called himself poor until well into middle age and winning the Nobel prize.

So the class objection was again a mistake fostering further error because even though with age Yeats undeniably evolved some dubiously elitist, even loosely “fascist” notions (partly in disgust at the sheer ruin the ultra-Catholic Ireland of De Valera was doing to hard won new freedoms), the fact is that poetry of the serious, bardic kind will often sound or seem elitist. Such poetry declaims, declares, reveals from the higher mind or worlds and as such is not about the everyday nor issues describable in its terms. Even England’s witty, socialist Auden decided in his latter years that what poetry needed next was to get back to the high style. Getting back there could nonetheless prove harder in our egalitarian times than leaving it behind. Ireland especially would seem to have to prepare for a very steep climb. It might even need to engage a bit of “censorship”, a self-censorship of a new and not merely puritanical kind to arrive there and at least try to be serious.

It may be mildly entertaining, but does a poem like James Simmons’ Epigrams constitute something – anything – worthy of a place in Wes Davies’ critically acclaimed and all-encompassing Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry? Epigrams 2 and 4 run:

Declining appetite
Made him polite

Now my faculties give in
I see the need for discipline.

Modern Irish poetry could use some discipline. Too many contemporary offerings such as one can read at  PoetHead on the Net which has showcased new Irish women poets, seem just self-indulgent and trite.

Award winning Denise Blake, an advisor to the RTE national broadcaster on poetry (like the mentioned Michael Davitt – no wonder poetry is in some trouble!) begins her poem, Adjusting,

The saucepan is full of left over potatoes
And I keep cooking too much rice and pasta
Three placemats still sit on our dining table

In musing on an absent son in Beyond the Front Door she writes of

“Cold pizza slices in a cardboard box, an empty coke can
lying on the table”

Subject matter for Irish still life art perhaps? Doubtless Mrs Blake is a caring family person and her sentiments genuine enough, but one finds nothing here and elsewhere that couldn’t be said as well or better in prose. But possibly she was remembering precedents like Beckett’s in Whoroscope with its ridiculous and profane reference to Hovis bread.

Dr Emily Cullen, noted harpist, short story writer and much else if one can quite locate her anywhere, seems willing to inhabit the same kind of kitchen zone if more impishly than  Mrs Blake.. In Galway Mould  we learn

For fun I bought you mouldy cheese,
Last night it took revenge on me
Inducing a vivid dream
Of a while chandelier of mould
That slowly lowered
Through our kitchen space.

Although without question Mairtin O’ Direain of Aran (1910-1988) can be hailed, as he has been by some, as a gifted poet of real distinction, apart from him let no one imagine any back-to-Gaelic direction such as Sean O’Riordain  (1916-1977) and Michael Hartnett (1941-1999) took would improve much inside or out of any Irish kitchens and better preserve the true Ireland. O’Riordain was a good and proficient if somewhat overrated poet whose illness and dramatic depressions seem like an unintended metaphor for the sad fate of things Gaelic he must be commended for helping preserve before present times when (for non poetic, non literary reasons) Gailige has become almost trendy in some circles. Hartnett is sometimes good but also sometimes gratuitously weird as in Death of an Irishwoman where she is described as “a card game where a nose was broken…a child’s purse, full of useless things”. If this is the latest incarnation of Yeats’ Cathleen ni Houlihan, that lady is now in serious trouble and indeed a bit useless!

Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill born in the Kerry Gaeltacht in1952 has devoted herself to verse in Irish. Translated, one of her poems begins,  “I wake up and my hands are sticky/With the smell of blood” and it concludes…”I’m stuck forever with this stink of blood/That’s on my hands”. In the course of the poem she has reduced bars of Sunlight Soap to slivers trying to rid herself of the smell at the tap. Nowhere is it explained what this blood represents or why it sticks. Does it symbolize, war, Ulster Troubles, the poet or anyone from history or myth? In his Nobel prize address Heaney compared poetic inspiration to breeze over a scullery bucket. Why not the kitchen sinks and dustbins of Hibernia? Well, at least with the likes of Vona Groarke (b.1964) you may find yourself in the open air, kitchen observations exchanged a sort of gardener’s diary verse – “I let the gooseberries / Rot for not knowing when to pick them”.

But let it be said, Ireland’s contemporary female bards are more delicate than the menfolk, including the revered Heaney who (as only one example of the gratuitously sordid) writes – in Mycenae Outlook – having just referred to a vision of webbed blood and bodies raining down on the speaker “like tattered meat” –

“I would feel my tongue
Like the dropped gang plank of a cattle truck
Trampled and rattled, running piss and muck
All swimmy-trembly…

Not to consider what an über baroque evocation of a state of tension this is, it is really just more from the stock of sensationalist Joycean prose with its “snot green, scrotum tightening sea”, the world as a human theatre where people are holding on to or letting out their urine and never quite forgetting urine like Bloom who enjoys “grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine”.

JOYCE: FROM REALISM TO NIHILISM

chastened

If it belongs anywhere, modernist realism of the Joycean kind belongs principally with prose whose main sphere is the factual report and which is not something designed to the same degree as poetry to convey or reach the transcendent. But post-Yeats Irish poetry has constantly, pedantically and monotonously appropriated the themes and style of Joycean realism and cynicism for verse. We need to ask why.

As said, Joyce spoke for those of the Catholic background that Yeats and his advisor in things Gaelic, Lady Gregory, did not share. Jesuit educated Joyce did not however pronounce on religion in any way prophetically – he was closer to a satirist, even just lampoonist of Irish and Catholic traditions. He had no alternative vision that might help reform, modify or substitute for Catholicism; he did not even reject it like an atheist. Like the true Luciferian he sometimes was, and possibly even aspired to be, Joyce simply subverts and renders toxic, contributing by his example to the also unhelpful example of the (Protestant raised) Beckett’s extreme paralysis of thought and action, his Murphy/Molloy/Belacquaism sitting in a corner cursing and despairing of existence – when not farting, evacuating, or masturbating. Inclusion of the latter theme to the field of poetry, (and rather insultingly to the Irish farmer as in Kavanagh’s half good poem, The Great Hunger,) can be traced back to Joyce, Ulysses and its anti-hero Bloom.

In accepting Joyce as high literature and a suitable object of academic study (he quite intended us to make it our life work!) we risk, and Ireland has risked, accepting him more metaphysically by osmosis. And the sad fact is that despite his obvious and undisputed brilliance, Joyce is at root unhealthy, certainly almost the last thing any new nation, not to say nascent poetic circles, should look to for prime inspiration, and if he wrote about the common man, apart from some early work, he certainly didn’t write what the common man could ever hope to understand.. Even just humanly Joyce does not come up to the mark, straining the kind of tolerance society normally reckons to extend to artists. Ignoring his questionable treatment of both parents at their death, this was a person so ungratefully arrogant he could turn even his main benefactor Harriet Weaver from the door. This was a person so merely contrary that having been keen to make Nora Barnacle his mistress, he prevented publication of his first biography because Nora was not portrayed in it as his wife. If Joyce wasn’t Lucifer he was periodically Judas and to follow him leads inexorably to precisely the Judas theme – it receives its fullest treatment in Brendan Kennelly’s bombastic, overflowing  succes de scandale,  Book of Judas (1991) which supplies the Messiah the traitors he is assumed to need to be himself and identifies Ireland itself with a species of Judas complex. (Jung considered both Joyce and Beckett Antichrist writers)

Such perspectives apart, practically, Joyce’s values were never truly liberal of an exemplary kind for us to follow; they were merely rebellious designed to shock like the basically unnecessary, irrelevant incest theme of Finnegan’s Wake. Even the repulsive reference in Ulysses to “the snot green, scrotum tightening sea” is merely a sideward glance to Dublin’s Forty Foot nude beach often frequented by gays. Anyone from his friends to the Trinity (as in the famous “my Mother’s a Jew, my father’s a bird” etc doggerel ditty) were the pretext of largely aimless, self-congratulatory Joycean humour and cynicism.

The Joyce and Beckett effect has been to divert energies from, rather than to encourage attention to the needed reform and development of modern Irish life including not least its spiritual life to which poetry might have been expected to contribute. One doesn’t need to plough through the earnest examination of the Catholic theme in modern verse that Andrew Auge pursues in  A Chastened Communion (2013), to realize that the poets, like the people at large, have  few religious ideas to offer (though it does have something – such poets as Padraig O’Tuoma and Micheal O’ Siadhail , both poets are respected including among theologians outside Ireland, a reason perhaps that  Wes Davis’s huge Anthology of Modern Irish poetry almost insultingly in the of academic secularism gives them no space or acknowledgement).  Mainstream Irish religion has been and remains too weak in theology and philosophy in the first place. This nonetheless means that once the roof has been blown off traditional pieties and reverence there is little substance left but instead just hollow, trivializing profanity like Patrick Fiacc’s whose poem Our Father begins, “Our Father who art a Belfast night /Pub bouncer”. Or again the purely bizarre like Brendan Kennelly’s God’s Laughter. This pictures God unable to stop laughing or “freezing in fear” when he hears words. As fear is a negative emotion plainly it could not be a meaningful attribute of any true deity. But at least Kennelly’s half dotty admirer, U2 frontsman Bono, (who has used the poem for U2’s pop theology), hasn’t controversially praised it as he did Kennelly’s The Book of Judas as poetry flying “as high as the Holy Spirit flies” for sheer inspiration!).

Scriptures and especially the reformist/prophetic Hebrew tradition scarcely register for Ireland despite some natural Celtic affinity for such, a reason perhaps that the Irish and Jews have been so associated, at least politically, in America. Irish Catholicism is, alas, more a matter of devotions, rituals and folk religion, not to say superstition, though in earlier centuries and before Catholicism invaded via England like Protestantism later, the Celts produced the likes of Pelagius and Erigena in theology and philosophy. The convolutions of Joycean thought which could serve an almost “rabbinical” examination of life and literature, are expended by Joyce and his imitators on what is often little more than lavatory wall scribble. The attack upon Irish religion given Joycean example has become a matter of aesthetics rather than thought, and there the matter has become largely stuck. Reform and development are highjacked by aimless, passive complaint which the poetry echoes. Joyce’s interest in Ireland may at one level have been futuristic in revolt against nationalist nostalgias of his time, but paradoxically his labours (eighteen years alone on the still almost unreadable, Finnegans’s Wake whose best effects are contained in the first and last sentences!) catch the culture in a circling, repetitive torpor from which it seems unable to emerge.

If it wasn’t clearer earlier, it is fully apparent in the wake of the Murphy and Ryan reports and ongoing church scandals, that the Catholic church has failed Ireland abysmally.The country has survived less because of Catholicism as long popularly maintained, than despite it. For long the hierarchy opposed most Irish moves and calls to independence, (notoriously one prelate declared that hell wasn’t hot enough nor eternity wasn’t long enough to punish Fenians). Meanwhile, hidden in  orphanages, monasteries and nunneries was behaviour fit for the Inquisition. Some of it (and despite the vein of quasi-Wildean preciousness in a lot of Irish culture) seems as though arisen from some, satanic, nightmare level of Celtic consciousness which the modern poetry almost celebrates in its vision of existence as virtual vomitorium and lavatory, a dream world in which one falls in a shower of waste as in a ridiculous short poem Free Falls by Thomas Kinsella. (You can read it with a commentary many times its length in Britain’s Guardian newspaper’s Poem of the Week for 9.12.13 where you will be assured Kinsella b.1928, “significantly helped shape the course of poetry in Ireland, and beyond”. By conducting it to Sam Beckett’s lavatory?)

Only Catholicism whose semper idem principle has almost automatically opposed change, fails to recognize the at once psychological and spiritual principle, that there is a duty to seek change for the sake of soul, and even for spiritual health and progress to question religion as mere tradition and “to let the dead bury their dead”. Biblically God is portrayed as departing from the Jerusalem temple (Ezek 10:18) when a certain level of evil is exceeded, this in itself a declaration that no institution however venerable is automatically, eternally sacrosanct in the eyes of God. The Judaeo-Christian tradition always declares “come out of her my people” (Rev 18:4 ) the reason being “so that you do not partake in her sins….so that you do not share in her plagues”. Christianity is, or should be, less about tradition than the in-break and formation of the new. In our own times and faced with certain features of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has proposed, (what Christians seem fearful of doing even while Christians are persecuted by Muslims and denied the legal right to use the Allah word in some places), namely that Muslims should reject their faith and become either atheists or Christians or (more recently she concedes) at least definitively reject the traditions of Sharia Law.

In The Invention of Ireland  (1995) Declan Kiberd proposes the Protestant perspective could have been more used and useful to Ireland. I agree. Maybe reform is yet possible for Irish Catholicism, but as the author of Temple Mysteries and Spiritual Efficiency who believes religion must work for people, I feel I could go further than Kiberd and maintain it’s probably high time Ireland abandoned the Catholicism it seems no longer able to trust, love and believe – not abandon for pure secularism which would be defeatist and perhaps even impossible given certain features of the Celtic mind, but some alternative. Obviously one would not recommend surrender to anything like Paisleyite Protestantism and Ireland wouldn’t go there anyway. But anything from Orthodoxy to Charismatics might serve….anything in order to start again and actually to exert a spiritual will, to integrate the levels of Celtic vision. This, where it is strong in persons, is currently sinking back into the vaguest neo-paganism, new ageism or  perhaps Buddhism, going everywhere and nowhere like the repeated ambiguities of Bono lyrics or an agnostic Heaney advising in Doubletake,

….“Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells”.

If even Latin America has been casting off Catholicism usually for Protestant alternatives, why not Ireland if it would help cauterize the wounds and go somewhere definite?

I think there can be no question but that influences on Irish leaders of opinion stemming from Joyce and Beckett and their often slavish successors colour the social outlook and have favoured poetic themes in a way to justify a certain victimology, a culture of complaint and aimless protest much of it just a Beckettian sinking Winnie passivity. And we readers of such authors are even encouraged by the guides and critics of their productions to take a “poor Joyce” and still more a “poor Beckett” line in estimation of their lives and work. Contrary to Yeats’ meaningful dictum “in dreams begin responsibilities”, it as though these artists’ deliberate life choices meant little or nothing. Especially depression in the style of Beckett somehow excuses speaking darkness and a sitting-Murphy despair to the rest of the world at every opportunity –the sort of thing some of us like myself, who has suffered clinical depression, have made actual effort to avoid.

We need moreover to wake up and realize that like the bad tree which can only produce bad fruit, in pursuit of their aims these persons have, however unwittingly, contributed to establish new and unacceptable restrictions. Obviously much censorship in Joyce’ youth was absurd and we have all heard of how the accomplished prose of Dubliners got refused for publication because of inclusion of the word bloody. Yet a century later admirers and inheritors of the Joycean legacy are not themselves without their prejudices and the society which readily tolerates what today would have the likes of Beckett executed if he were a Muslim for repeated profanities, behind the scenes can prove  controversially censoring in the area of religion and much else. Even to include such words as “conduct” and “bestow” can be sufficient to refuse you publication.

I had no special intention to make this article personal, and I don’t really have any need now that the scandals and injustices experienced in relation to persons of the literary establishments and publishing is available for anyone to read as an aspect of my memoir Reflections of an Only Child. (amzn.to/1rRagvl). However if I do include a personal note at this point, it’s because while preparing this article I received from The Irish Review, and not unexpectedly – I only applied to satisfy pressures on me to do so – an incoherent refusal from a writer (ironically and almost hilariously of all people  the author of Deconstructing Ireland) as regards a request for some exposure of my poetry.

ROAOC     NPTCDRAMAS

I was informed in one and half lines they couldn’t publish “it”, whatever poem could have been meant by “it”, since I’d suggested seeing a collection of verse (New Poems and Two Celtic Dramas) from which something might have been selected. As self-recommendation I had pointed out a poetic drama of mine on a Celtic theme had been performed in Australia. I also suggested my Coming To Syracuse mini epic could  be looked at on my blog [it’s now a 6 part Canadian made You Tube video at http://bit.ly/1pi8Hn1 ] as proof of some basic competence in poetry (It would be too long for their publication so I didn’t offer it for such). As no one from specifically Ireland visited the poem between my sending the email and receiving the refusal two days later, plainly those of The Irish Review didn’t bother to check.

Had he/they done so, it would have been clear, apart from shortage of space or a special theme of the month such as could have been told me, there would be at least no moral right to refuse me. Any occasionally expressed claim of mine to be writing and as a Protestant of Irish nationality closest to Yeats in theme and style is not any boast but a statement of fact. I am more inclined to the mythic, metaphysical and visionary theme, and I deserve the attention denied me and not for the first time, but continuously in Ireland for anything poetic or otherwise. And I could well demand it in the face of the sometimes insulting and selfish way those of the diaspora are too easily dismissed as having no inheritance, no stake in anything Irish at all. (I can’t imagine Jews or Italians suffering the same kind of treatment). I suspect what the refused “it” was and which damned me, was that I also mentioned, (and I admit I was testing the waters!), that he could also look on the Net at my (quite popular) Remembering Seamus Heaney. No one today is allowed to blaspheme the Heaney god. He is Irish poetry, even if some of us like Camille Paglia (who refused to anthologize him) would consider him third class Yeats.

“OUT OF SHAPE FROM TOE TO TOP”

Heaneyverse

Well might Yeats’ valedictory Under Ben Bulben almost prophetically declare:

Irish poets learn your trade
Sing whatever is well made
Scorn the sort now growing up
All out of shape from toe to top…

Well made” here is key. Poetry (above the simple entertainment level) is first and foremost the art of excellence. It’s because it is about excellence that Yeats like his virtual mentor, Shelley, often felt that what he had produced was not quite good enough. ”True” poetry is what is as distinctively finished as a piece of sculpture or memorable as the strains of a major  symphony. And despite the self-doubt, it was this absolute quality that at his best Yeats was able to achieve and it’s why he continues to be internationally celebrated. Obviously he wouldn’t have appreciated those many Irish poets who have followed him who are too often writing what is almost an anti-poetry that has not issued from heart and intellect working in harmony. And there is something else here.

It is an admitted embarrassment that the elderly Yeats should have leaned towards fascist views of genetics and eugenics and that his Under Ben Bulben too baldly refers to the new Irish poets in terms of:

Their unremembering hearts and heads
Base born products of base beds

but there is arguably a kernel of truth here to be considered.

POETRY THAT REMEMBERS

Ben Bulben

It was and still is yet another mistake of post-Yeats poetry that it too lightly assumed there is scarcely anything Irish to represent whether through the “remembering” of Yeats’ Great Memory (read Collective Unconscious) or raw temperament. By the latter I mean those things like a sense of rhythm, pattern, even a way of observing people and objects that seems as distinctive as La Tène Celtic art yet spontaneous and minimally acquired through cultural means.

There are two ways in which persons belong or deeply feel they belong to a country. One may do so, as the perhaps more Anglo-Irish than Irish Yeats seemed to, namely by some hard-to-understand and as good as occult principle of earth consciousness of the kind Jung accepted. It is a belief that the land itself can leave some imprint beyond any effects of culture or the length of time spent there. (Like actress Joanna Lumley, unquestionably many Anglos born in India have felt there is some “touch” of Asia left on them that time and cultural education away from it will not erase or explain). Plainly there was something in Yeats that would always want to arise and go to Innisfree or stand beneath Ben Bulben even when dying in France. Just recently I read on the Net the poem of an Irish American plainly in the grip of the same kind draw to the Irish earth itself. Some accomplished late poems of the mostly self-exiled C.Day Lewis could be deriving their strength from the principle.

The other important way one belongs to a people is – likely enough – genetically. It is almost taboo in a multicultural society to speak of race as any determinant of anything, but there may even be a hidden injustice to that position, one which obscures certain realities. How do we explain (as the last week that I have been writing this, one hears of the Lebanese son of an Australian mother and the Libyan son of a French Canadian mother, both feeling themselves different and maladjusted and turning against family, homeland and every sensible advantage to become IS fanatics.

Multiculturalism is a value system relying much on the empirical/pragmatic outlook Yeats held suspect, and it is apparent the kind of society it encourages too often produces divided, discontented even tormented individuals left to feel an impulse to realize – precisely what? It may be, and probably is, the ineradicable drumbeats of something profoundly genetic that feels unaccepted, inalienably different and struggles to reach expression beyond whatever a post-enlightenment culture of reason lays out. I have myself protested in Reflections of an Only Child what seems like the blithe indifference to questions of race and inheritance among Irish leaders of opinion. If some nations have had too much race theory, Ireland has arguably had too little, even almost none though of no people group might something like racial inheritance be more obvious – the character of the Celts is easily recognizable in the descriptions of the ancients over two millennia ago. It is too easily imagined in Ireland (and originally because pragmatic, empirical England had assumed something of the kind) that as long as a person can make a living and be fed, it doesn’t much matter where on the face of the globe they reside. Accordingly, immigration is almost regarded as necessary and convenient even while it may in fact prove quite disorientating and take a real psychological toll on individuals.

Reacquainting myself after many years with Irish poetry and its issues, I found a reading of Stan Smith’s Irish Poetry and the Construction of Modern Identity (2005) and Wes Davies’ compendious An Anthology of Irish Verse (2013) dispiriting. There were fine examples of poetry from numbers of poets, but overall I would judge the collection, especially as it covers the scene over the last two generations, trashy. Too often it presents a punkish anti-poetry in which the only Irish thing about it is the will to act and pose, in this case to act out not being Irish, to uncharacteristically understate oneself, to be cool because it’s hip, sophisticated and neo-international to be so. (As I shall inevitably be accused of exaggeration, I was pleased to read a Paris Review interview (The Art of Fiction. no 82) in which even Edna O’Brien, whose concern is with prose fiction not poetry, charging modern Ireland with just imitating Anglo-American mores).

“STILL THE INDOMITABLE IRISHY”?

Shamrocks

If I hardly recognize any distinctive, perennial Celtic character in the poetry of especially the last thirty years (beyond perhaps, however negatively, a quality of  violent/surrealistic “vision” in elements of Brendan Kennelly), it is because something counter-intuitional is going on. There is a refusal of the “remembering” which Yeats rightly considered essential to poetry, Irish or any other. It will be protested that Heaney, a poseur if ever there was one, does remember – he remembers a dark ancient bog past and a rough farmland present or recent past. But his roughness is either inauthentic or unnecessary or both. If he genuinely aimed to represent a rural coarseness he should not have weighed his verse down like an over burdened Christmas tree with jargon and obscure technical vocabulary that avoids, or substitutes for, real emotion or committed statement (a really great and passionate poet could, like Racine, say everything with only two thousand words). Also if Heaney is indifferent (as in The Early Purges) to the killing and drowning of kittens and pups, then he was just a rough cur who we can and should just dismiss as such. I can only say, as indicated in my memoir, my own forebears in Ireland didn’t take that kind of attitude towards animals despite being raised on a farm and I know plenty of Irish didn’t and don’t either. Indeed I looked up an article on the Net where some protested similar things, in one case someone insisted their people had been farmers not far from the Heaneys and didn’t approve such views. Heaney’s sentiments cannot just be excused on the basis they are only “representative” of Irish life and farmers.

In response to Early Purges words like

….Still, living displaces false sentiments
And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown
I just shrug, “Bloody pups”, it makes sense.

one disgusted correspondent was even moved to extemporize:

Seamus is dead thank God
I hated the words of this man
Cruel and unthinking and more than a little odd
Now he’s gone, give his work an outright ban

My chief overall impression of modern Irish poetry is of so much quasi-journalism presuming to call itself verse. (And again, having arrived at that conclusion, I was again fascinated to note that from her different sphere Edna O’Brien opines in the mentioned interview that the trouble today is so many writers are just journalists). Ireland’s poets sound too often depressed, glum, sullen, resentful, mocking and shocking, even occasionally cruel like Michael Hartnett – his Pigkilling belongs with Heaney for indifference to animals – almost totally devoid of a smile and certainly lacking any good story to tell. Indeed it’s can be so remote from any light touch that isn’t outright clown-silly with Paul Muldoon (”with a stink and a stink and a stinky-stick”) that it’s hard to imagine Oscar Wilde ever came out of Ireland. It’s typical of what’s wrong that a quite well known, almost popular poem by Sean O’Riorain called Saoirse (Freedom) includes such sentiments as:

I’ll bear affection for people
without anything original
in their stockthoughts.

One can of course do that; it belongs today to various relativist and egalitarian tendencies – Yeats’ “levelling wind” – but if you surrender to the humdrum in this way you won’t be going on any Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage to anywhere (certainly not to Yeats’ Byzantium)  and have much to say or be at all. Ultimately most modern Irish poetry, like too much poetry elsewhere, is just a bore, an activity for in-groups, precisely the scene Yeats would encourage us to turn from and even scorn. And necessarily so if one doesn’t want to lose all sense of social, let alone literary direction.

According to one of his reviewers, the essential idea behind Colin Graham’s The Deconstruction of Ireland (2001)  is that what’s called ‘Ireland’ just “stages its own deconstruction and that at every turn the idea unravels and reforms itself, always in anticipation of the next act of definition and criticism which…will be inadequately applied to it”. It follows that both affirmation and deconstruction for Ireland are but a “momentary stop on a seemingly runaway train” and Ireland, itself a concept in flux, “is a future which is always posited and never attained”.

Undeniably Ireland and our world is changing, but change is not everything; and notions of an ungraspable, indefinable “Ireland” bespeak how things are – or will just feel and seem – to the secular consciousness for which there is no “remembering” in the Yeatsian sense, little or no scope for poetry in the broadest sense as contributing to culture, and perhaps most importantly as indicated, no personal or collective willingness to take real control of the spiritual life from which so much else flows.

We inhabit an almost post-poetic age in which the magic, the mystery, the spirit of the poetic art has been lost, but which the policy direction behind the granting of  bursaries, prizes, professorships of poetry, publications are almost busy helping us lose, putting what was once a fairly public medium – even when difficult, Isaiah, Dante and Shakespeare were essentially for everyone – into the hands of cliques. Yeats, even in his greatness may not be the perfect poet – who is? – and most could never reckon to follow him into ritual magic. But if poets and modern Ireland cannot regain some grip upon his magic and the magic of existence, we shall continue in the shallows rather than the heights of literature if we don’t bring it to near  outright extinction. Hopefully Yeats 2015 will provide new inspiration and beginnings.

IRISH AUSTRALIAN  (Irish Australian Heritage Flag)

 

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Posted by on November 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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