Monday, October 27, 2008
I'm not a card carrying member of any organised religion so I have no particular axe to grind or message to deliver but this little, rather robust, polemical book caught my eye on the recent books shelf at the town library and I read it quite quickly. I haven't read Dawkins The God Delusion but I'm familiar with his ideas from a DVD presented by him outlining his key beliefs.
I'm clearly in agreement with the McGrath's argument against Dawkins for the following reasons:
1. Science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. Whether you view something as pure chaotic chance or as something more than pure chance depends on your world view: which one do you want it to be or which one do you believe it to be?
2. Religion is not by definition evil, wicked, or misguided (although many atrocities are committed in its name and by its adherents). Just as science is not wicked, evil, or misguided. The program of abolishing religion has led to many atrocities.
3. The notion that 'God' is a meme that spreads like a virus cannot be proved and is a belief in itself. Where is this 'meme'? How do we measure it? What concept cannot be considered to be a meme? Is my 'God' meme the same as your 'God' meme?
4. Religions develop and change over time and are open to radical re-interpretations: they are not frozen, cold belief systems. In other words, religions adapt and change. This is actually the point of the New Testament and Buddha's total re-thinking and critique of the Brahmin in The Dhammapada.
5. Tolerance is a virtue and requires respect. Dawkins does not display any tolerance or respect for belief systems that do not accord with his own view. This isn't an argument against Dawkins per se but it raises the question of the ethics of imposing a fundamental belief system on others. Should all scientists swear a loyalty oath against holding any religious belief? (This reminds me of the oppression of Catholics in Shakespeare's day).
6. Just because a scientist believes in God does not mean that he or she has compromised their science. Many scientists (Hawkins, for example) believe in some form of God: does this mean that they are 'deluded'?
7. A personal note: I don't have a coherent belief system but I do reflect on what is 'good' and how we ground notions of the 'good'. It sounds a bit silly as I type this but there's part of my thinking which hasn't got past Plato. How do I ground my notion of the good? Is good purely just 'culturally determined'? If it is just culturally determined then I can imagine a society where it would be totally 'good' to keep slaves? But I'm unsatisified with this 'culturally determined' argument. Isn't this the whole point of Middlemarch? If I could help somebody and chose not to keep slaves then wouldn't my action be morally better than agreeing to keep slaves? I actually do feel that the good has a certain transcendent, mysterious quality. And I'm not looking for the key to all mysteries--it's just a hunch.So I guess I'm deluded. I'm not sure I know the answer to these riddles (OK: I don't) but I don't think that Dawkins really tackles the problem of the 'Good.' Llloyd Geering once taught me that 'God' and 'Good' are very tightly linked. All I can say I say is that unlike Dawkins I have more doubt.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
There's a good web site called Boys into Books by the UK School Librarians Association if you're looking for books for teenage boys.
Doug Poole also has a new book of poems called Pouliuli out over at Blurb Press:
Pouliuli (darkness) explores a landscape of memory, family and cultural identity.
Included are works to friends, family and influnces.
In this chapbook Doug reveals his inner life as an Afakasi (halfcaste). Caught between the loss of language and finding of cultural identity.
It is a journey between the light and dark.
Image source: Blurb Press.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I finished Middlemarch the other night. I was slow to finish the novel because part of me did not want to leave these characters and their world. Despite the sometimes melodramatic plot elements (gambling debts, contestable wills) there's a brilliant intelligence at work in the writing, a clarity and perception of how our options are constrained by the limitations of our own character and our circumstances. There's so much to discuss here (politics, class, the constraints placed on women) that I cannot venture into for lack of time and energy, suffice it to say that I think Eliot has a wonderfully positive message in the novel: small acts of kindness and a belief in the good have monumental effects in the world. They may not be great works but it is these acts that change people lives for the better. I'm so glad that I got around to reading this long novel.
And this just in from Neil Furby
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I've always admired the art work for Radiohead's albums OK Computer, Kid A and All Hail to the Thief, so this book that collects the work of Stanley Donwood and Dr Tchock has come as a welcomed treat. There's a local flavour to the work as the nightmare landscapes of OK Computer reminds me of Heathrow and Kid A's soft rolling hills have more than a touch of Oxfordshire about them. There's a gleeful, childish naiveté about the work: adults' words are broken, unleashed, shown as hungry half-fed dogs trying to bite their masters' legs. Landscapes become the billboards of newscasters, advertisers, all trying to sell us their sound bites. Behind the news, old, forgotten, half-remembered myths are at play and everyone who speaks is trying to sell you something. You have been warned. There's also the Slowly Downward Site that exhibits the paintings.
Facebook woes: Over the weekend I went onto Facebook to catch up with family and freinds scattered around the world. I don't know exactly what happened but Facebook spammed out a message that my profile had been updated to every single email address in my Google address book. I did not want this to happen. As someone who has worked in 'usability' I felt that I'd been conned: I should have been given a 'confirmation' screen before such an action occurred. (I might add that I was wide awake and sober whilst on Facebook!) I'm very much put off Facebook after this incident. Not everyone wanted to read a spam message from me about an updated profile and I don't blame them.
Image: Verso books
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Buddha is powerfully drawn and is far from reverential. It's primarily a massive comic epic and Tezuka has added his own characters to the saga (especially the slave Chapra, whose young mother is always drawn bare breasted). There's an enormous back story and Buddha is only born at the end of the first volume. One theme Tezuka pursues is Buddhism's critique of caste and any claims by priests to be able to speak for God or the Gods. But it's the drawings that interest me--they are so striking. I'll be reading more.
And this came in from Linzy. I wont be able to make it due to another commitment:
The open mike poetry evening at Aunt Daisy's Boathouse Cafe in Titahi Bay has fixed the last Wednesday of the month as a regular slot. These evenings have been going well with a good variety of quality poets including many natural entertainers. Both poets and audiences have been enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.
The next evening is on Wednesday 29 October and a special event this month is the launch of Ron Riddell's new book Planet Haiku. Ron has published many volumes of poetry previously, his most recent being a selected works in translation published in Spain. Ron has a particular talent for the sharp observation and imagery of nature so important in the haiku form. He will be known to many for the achievement, together with his wife Saray, of organising three Wellington International Poetry Festivals.
A musical set is usually part of the evening and this month the guest is singer-songwriter Matt Langley.
Aunt Daisy's Boathouse Cafe, at 28 Bay Drive, will be open from 6pm with the entertainment starting about 7pm.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Theory for today:
Illogic of Sense: The Gregory L. Ulmer Remix. Edited by Darren Tofts and Lisa Gye. Design by Joel Swanson (hippocrit.com). Contributors include Niall Lucy, Jon McKenzie, Linda Marie Walker, Craig Saper, Rowan Wilken, Marcel O'Gorman, Teri Hoskin, and Michael Jarrett, with an introduction by editors Tofts and Gye.
This has been added to my reading list. Ulmer is one of the few theorists (he would probably say 'inventors') who take poetry or 'art practice' ('imagination'?) seriously. Two of the very early poems in Moonshot: 'Battle of San Romano' and 'Tower of Babel' were written in response to one of his inventio exercises. Thanks Greg.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Some poems for today from the always enjoyable Jacket: seven poems by Tom Clark and one for our own Gregory O'Brien.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Poems for today: Broadsheet 1, edited by Mark Pirie includes work by Tony Beyer, Meg Campbell, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Robin Fry and Basim Furat.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
E-day: a brilliant idea
I drove down to the Westpac Stadium this morning with Rohan to drop off two unwanted monitors to the e-day recyclers. I've never seen such an efficient operation: it was awesome. We drove in, they unpacked the environmentally-unfriendly monitors, and we drove off. Well done e-day volunteers!
Three poems today from Best NZ Poems 2007 by Angela Andrews, Sarah Jane Barnett and Vivienne Plumb.
I went into Unity Books today and it was great to see a copy of Moonshot amongst all the other newly-published NZ Poetry books.
Friday, October 03, 2008
I've just finished my second reading of My Iron Spine by Helen Rickerby. It's a wonderful, unique, powerful second book of poems. Helen is concerned with identity, biography, history and culture—in particular the way that women's choices are constrained by the options presented to them at a particular historical moment. There's a definite acknowledgment to the legacy of feminist thought which has presented a critique of the patriarchy and set gender roles. None of this is handled in a heavy handed way: Rickerby's use of personae means that the personae's experience is presented first and must come first.
All of these themes are handled in a delicate manner. The book has three sections or movements: (1) Flashes of déja vu, (2) Corsets and comforts and (3) Laughing with Orphelia. The first section outlines the poet's growing sensibility. Autobiographical stories from her childhood outline her intellectual and political development. One of the delights of this book is Rickerby's reflection on some of the big issues (such as God and what happens when we lose or question our sense of God) and the very specific and precise descriptions of objects ('Venus in plastic'). There's a great clarity in her writing and a sharpness and intensity that was hinted at in her first volume Abstract internal Furniture (although I like this book and so do the students to whom I've lent this book!). The latter sections employ personaes so that we hear the voices of Marie Curie, Elisabeth Wittelsback (Empress of Austria) and Mary Shelley. In the final section, the poet imagines encountering women from the past. There's a good deal of celebration in the book which ends on an affirmative note—we have to be strong and we must acknowledge that there is still work that has to be done and must be completed. I say 'we' here but the book clearly addresses women and the dangers of forgetting the corsets and constraints of the past. The voices of women from the past mean that we cannot make a simple 'post-feminist' about face and turn our backs on the issues of repression and constraint.
The corset here has a particular appeal: it's both a sign of past repression but also has a post-feminist attraction as a sexy costume allowing for a playful theatre of binding and release. (I'm thinking here of Madonna's iconic corset photos). The corset can constrain but it can also provide support. My Iron Spine directly addresses the past and legacies: the corset, no matter whose desire is at play, cannot be totally stripped of history.This is a must read book.
Images: HeadworX. Horst P Horst.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Thursday 23 October, 7.30pm
Upper Chamber, Toi Poneke Wellington Arts Centre, 61 Able Smith St
Open mic and Guest Poet: David Geary, Canadian-based NZ poet and playwright who is currently Writer in Residence at the IIML, Victoria University.
Entry: $2 members, $5 non-members. Refreshments available.
Geary Photo: NZ Book Council
Cove image: Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive.
This afternoon Laurice Gilbert popped by for a cup of tea and kindly brought over New New Zealand Poets in Performance (edited by Jack Ross and Jan Kemp) which I'll be reviewing for the Poetry Society. I'm glad this was available to review as I was planning to buy it. It's a very attractive book with a marvelous cover by Sara Hughes. And it looks very, very good.