from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?


– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.


Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.


Roselle Angwin

Monday, 25 April 2011

mythos, logos & cave paintings

In a moment of transition one can displace or mislay a part of oneself. Maybe homesickness is to do with this: 'I left my heart in...' In a very real sense, one can feel partial, incomplete, if that transition is rushed or not done with an element of care.

Yesterday it shouldn't have been a big deal – I was only travelling 30 miles across Dartmoor from one lovely place to another. What the deal was was to do with having refound a different rhythm, living on my own for a week without a work agenda except to redraft and type up poems (and write new ones), and doing only what I wanted to do – a rare experience for me in the last 30 years. My days for that week were spent sleeping when I wanted, getting up when I wanted, showering or not, as I wished; being with animals, dreaming, writing, reading and hanging out, on rocks, often midstream, in bluebell woods, simply being.

So I was pleased, transitionally speaking as well as friendlily speaking, when The Man agreed to come and meet and walk with me somewhere on the moor, first. We took a path I'd always intended to follow, upwards to Laughter Hole Farm (isn't that a great name?) from Dunnabridge Pound through Bellever Forest, intending to drop down to the West Dart and seek out some swimming holes.

First small shock: I've forgotten, in my week of strolling, how fast and purposefully The Man naturally strides out. I'm short, and I tend to the 'hello clouds hello sky' mode, and the only way I can keep up is by – well, scurrying. My dignity being what it is, I refuse to do that, so we proceed in a kind of crabwise fashion, with the distance between us elongating, with TM waiting for me every so often.

Second small shock: before even arriving at the lane bridge on the West Dart we are alerted, over the river music and through the trees, to the fact that approximately 200 assorted humans in various states of undress have taken over the river bank with plastic chairs and barbecues. However, via the stepping stones, we outstrip them easily (they all cluster round the newly-erected public loos), and soon find ourselves in idyllic riverlight on our own.

Third small shock: The Man has not forgotten a statement I made glibly by email mid-conversation earlier in the week (that shouldn't be a shock as I know that he can retain information, a skill which I sometimes sadly lack). (I should perhaps say that we are spared the bickering over who's done most washing up lately [he wins hands down, and never complains]; we save our ire for pedantry over the use of a single word. It would be hard for anyone else to imagine, I think, the lengths to which we can go to define and redefine a word or a phrase.)

So he opens, conversationally, with a fairly innocuous-sounding query/statement. Coming back at me, my words sound quite intelligent. Unfortunately, they also sound not only opaque, but completely impossible to substantiate in any way that will hold water, especially after a week of dreaming and reading/writing poetry. 'OK, so tell me what you mean when you say that a question such as the existence or otherwise of God cannot be empirically proven like a mathematical equation?' Uh-oh. I stumble around vaguely mentioning the fact that you can demonstrate that two oranges added to two more oranges can reasonably be demonstrated to most people as adding up to four oranges, whereas no such consensus can be applied to proving or otherwise the existence or non-existence of God (I should say that we'd been talking about – him – the fact that the rational mind should equally well be applicable to metaphysics, whereas I was contending that one needed to move beyond the rational to have and relate to experiences that are, by definition, transrational. So I'd said that one can't apply the laws of the concrete universe, maths, or reason, to metaphysical questions.) He doesn't buy it. We spend a very long time - an embarrassingly long time - debating all this.

What is actually going on, I think, is that he and I espouse two different modes of intelligence as our 'default'. He proceeds in an academic way by a process of logic, deduction, reasoning and conclusion. I suppose this is the 'scientific method'; let's say 'left brain' for shorthand. I proceed through associative thinking, 'right brain', where what present themselves to me are images/feelings and connections between apparently disparate objects/ideas/situations – I think this is a mode common to creative expression. Karen Armstrong might label the two modes 'logos' and 'mythos'. The difference causes a lot of confusion, not to say Trouble. Of course, we need both; and it's hard to adopt, or even relate to, sometimes, an approach that's different from your own. I have much more to say about this (another time), but that leads me on to...

We're just back in from seeing the screening of 'The Caves of Forgotten Dreams', a documentary by Werner Herzog about the painted prehistoric caves of Chauvet, in France, which contain I believe the oldest rock paintings in the world - 35,000-year-old potent and stunningly beautiful depictions of rhinos, lions, leopards, horses, boar, auroch. The stories in these paintings are palpable, and the scientists given permission to go in and examine and film them have, they say, a sense of the people who painted them as alive and present still. This was exactly my experience in a profoundly moving visit I made to the caves of Pech-Merle in the Lot. 'There is', said a French commentator in the film (and I paraphrase), 'visible in these the sense of fluidity and permeability with which our ancestors related to the world and its stories.' I suppose this is where I struggle with the scientific method; or rather where it seems to me to have limitations: it squeezes out, or perhaps rather ignores, our deep need for mystery and meaning, and wriggle-room for fluidity and permeability, not to mention creative interpretation. (And boy how useful is the slack of 'creative interpretation' sometimes!) More anon.

I leave you, for the minute, with an extract from the title poem of my 2012 collection All the Missing Names of Love, about Pech-Merle:


And something glimpsed in those oxide
hands, the bear’s face and horses
half a mile under the limestone, 25,000
years ago drawn with love and deep

knowing as if pets, as if yesterday,
their carbon and manganese fixed, though
the artist has long since meshed atoms
with everything there is...

Roselle Angwin

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