Friday, 29 July 2016

Street Art Exmouth Style (Part 18)


With the intention of promoting Exmouth as a gateway to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site, a trail of life-size model dinosaurs is being set up throughout the town. The initial plan is for the dinosaurs to be in place for a year but at a recent town council meeting, Councillor Brian Bailey gushed: "I'd like to propose we keep the trail as a permanent fixture. It would be totally worthwhile for a year but it would be better for 10 or 15 years! To be known as the 'dinosaur town' would be a good attraction for Exmouth."

All well and good but it would appear Councillor Bailey doesn't get out a lot or else he'd know Exmouth ain't no dinosaur town - this is psilocybin country. Magic mushrooms, man. They're everywhere. The fields, the parks, the verges are coated with them. Exmouth is awash with natural, free, hallucinogenic drugs. They're so abundant it's almost rude not to eat them. In fact, it's nigh on impossible not to have them as part of a mainstay diet.
So, in regard to these life-size model dinosaurs popping up everywhere - perhaps now it might be understood why they're really starting to freak everyone out...

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Journals Of Kierkegaard 1834-1854


Do you sometimes have trouble sleeping? Do you dream in colour? Have you ever had the feeling that the life you're living is not the one you're meant to be living? That your destiny might lay elsewhere? That fate might have other plans for you? When you're reading Kierkegaard do you ever have a problem with him?

Cited as being the father of Existentialism, Kierkegaard rang the bell for melancholia but I suspect he was no less happy than most other men. 'I can say of my sorrow,' he wrote 'What the Englishman says of his house: my sorrow is my castle.' Which is quite a witty line if you think about it and one that he was no doubt amused and pleased by.
I think it's a truism that what Kierkegaard did was to get to the core of it as in what is man's individual purpose in the world? What is the point of his existence? The distinction he made was of that between the individual man and mankind - and it was an important distinction. Whilst political systems at that time were a dialectical relationship between the individual and the community in the representative individual, Kierkegaard didn't care for being merely represented so he sought his own system.

He recognised that culture was his enemy and so too that religion as represented by the Church was not his friend but for all that he was irrevocably tangled up in Christianity. To be fair, when reading Kierkegaard we need to consider the age in which he was living for not only was it before the Internet was invented (I know, it's hard to imagine there could have been a world before the Internet, but try) but it was before the exploration of space was even considered, before the World Wars, before the rise of Fascism and Communism, and so on and so forth. Christianity and God was all there really was as ways of understanding the world. Like the good Christians Kierkegaard wanted us to be, we have to forgive him for his lack of religious, philosophical, scientific or political instruments. But still...

To Kierkegaard, Christianity was God's thought but had little to do with such things as Christmas and Christmas puddings and the perception of it as preached by Ministers to the masses. Rather, it was all to do with becoming a moral character, a witness to the truth, to be willing to suffer for the truth and to be ready to give up worldly wisdom. It was all to do with loving one another.
He wasn't seeking to reform the doctrine of the established Church but to reform us all because the lives of his fellow men - in his eyes - were wretched. Salvation was only to be found in the spiritual and those in most need of it were the poor.

If God, as John Lennon once surmised, is merely a concept by which we measure our pain then using that as a methodology, Kierkegaard was in agony.

On reading The Journals Of Kierkegaard as edited and translated by Alexander Dru, it left me wondering: Does anyone give a flying fuck about Kierkegaard nowadays?
Thought not.
Me neither.

One last thing: Christianity as represented by the established Church these days is like a gift-wrapped box sitting in the corner, trying to look like a present for mankind. It's like the bottle that Alice drinks from in Alice's Adventures In Wonderland but rather than saying 'Drink me', the label on the box says 'Open me'. So you open it up and what's inside? Tony fucking Blair, soaked in the blood of a million dead but still wearing his convictions rather than his heart on his sleeve, grinning maniacally and repeating ad nauseam "I'd do it again, I'd do it again..." And then there's another box in another corner but labelled 'Islam', and there's something just as horrific moving around inside of that one that's trying its utmost to get out...
                                                                                                                                                                              John Serpico                                                                                                                              

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Street Art Exmouth Style (Part 17)


With the intention of promoting Exmouth as a gateway to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site, a trail of life-size model dinosaurs is being set up throughout the town.

All very good and educational you might think but when you're walking home at night drugged-up to your eyeballs and you come face-to-face with one of the mothers, it can be a little freaky...

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Solaris - Stanislaw Lem


Whether it be intentional or a fluke in the translating of the original text from Polish to English, it's interesting that Solaris starts with cosmonaut Kelvin being blasted off to rendezvous with the space station orbiting the planet Solaris by being bid farewell with the words 'Have a good trip'. As author Stanislaw Lem wrote Solaris in 1961, the LSD connotation with the word 'trip' wouldn't have been made (though by 1970 on being first translated, it would). The connotation is very fitting, however, because Lem's book can easily be read as a depiction of an acid trip taken whilst reclining on a psychiatrist's couch.

Solaris is the name of a planet discovered in the outer reaches of the universe that is an absolute conundrum to mankind. Despite over a hundred years of extensive studies being made of it, what Solaris exactly is remains an utter mystery. It's mankind's first encounter with a seemingly hyper-intelligent alien life-form but actual contact with it appears impossible.
Lem spends a large chunk of his story describing the planet and the various interpretations of it made since its discovery, each new theory negating another but in itself throwing up yet more unanswerable questions. Essentially, Solaris is a living ocean seemingly in possession of an intelligence far beyond the comprehension of man. From its depths it constructs colossal structures with a logic that cannot be defined by mere mathematics then destroys those same structures for no apparent reason. It's rather like a representation of Chaos theory on an immense scale but then condensed into a single mass, composed of what could be construed as gooey, liquid fractals. Philosophically, Solaris represents the problem of the relation between matter and mind, and between mind and consciousness.

On reaching the space station, Kelvin finds that of the three cosmonaut scientists inhabiting it, one has committed suicide and two are on the verge of mental breakdowns. There are also three 'visitors' on the station who have all attached themselves individually to the scientists. The two scientists left alive keep themselves pretty much locked away in their rooms so Kelvin doesn't actually get to see who they are with (though one might be some kind of dwarf?) but as for the scientist who has killed himself, his 'visitor' - a giant, half naked Negress - is seen walking silently along the station's corridors and also laid out asleep next to his dead body in the cold storage unit.
Before too long Kelvin also has a 'visitor' - his wife. The problem being that his wife is dead, having killed herself after a row with Kelvin back on Earth, an incident that he's always blamed himself for.

Solaris has manifested the most deepest, painful secrets from the memories of the scientists and made them flesh though for what reason cannot be fathomed. Is it a game being played? A form of weaponry? A gift? An attempt at communication? The fact that there are no answers serves to underscore the impossibility of communicating in any way with the planet. All that Kelvin and his fellow cosmonauts are left with are aspects of their subconscious selves in the form of the living, breathing manifestations.
The 'visitors' can neither be destroyed nor ejected from the station out into space, or rather, they can but only to return again the next day. Kelvin's 'wife' feels that something is not quite right but doesn't actually realise she's not for real. Which is a rather mute point because she and the other 'manifestations' to all intent and purpose are very real indeed. They're possessed with emotions the same as anyone and though flesh wounds heal almost instantly, they bleed and they feel pain. They also cannot be separated from their hosts and if need be will tear through steel doors to be with them. For the cosmonauts, there is no escape from them. In the case of the other cosmonauts and their own personal visitors this is a problem of nightmarish proportions suggesting their visitors are their personal demons. In the case of Kelvin's visitor it is also a problem but of a very different sort because Kelvin loves/loved his wife and his wife loves/loved him.

Solaris, then, is a mirror and what it is reflecting is the cosmonauts own inner selves. The exploration of space and the discovery of other life has simply led man back to himself. The desire to understand and communicate with Solaris is ultimately a desire (whether consciously acknowledged or not) to understand and communicate with the self. But if as Lem tells us, actual communication and understanding isn't possible (and in this day and age of the Internet - as in 2016 - where communication and the sharing of information has never been easier, it's an extremely pertinent point) then what next? Where might an answer lay?
For the cosmonauts in Lem's book, for one of them suicide is an answer - though it offers no actual release from his personal demon as (in the form of the giant Negress) it simply lays down alongside his body. For another, the answer is in drunkenness and oblivion - though again, offering no actual release. For another, the fervent throwing of oneself into work is the key - though still no release. As for Kelvin, the answer is in reconciliation with both Solaris and - at the same time - himself, but equally it's in the reconciliation with love.

Needless to say, Stanislaw Lem's Solaris is brilliant.

As we all know, Solaris was turned into a film in 1972 by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky and again in 2002 by Steven Soderbergh starring George Clooney as Kelvin. Whilst Soderbergh's film (for a Hollywood re-make) is actually very good it is as nothing compared to Tarkovsky's version which is a poetic masterpiece and in my opinion one of the greatest films ever made.
                                                                                                                                                                              John Serpico

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Guilty Pleasures (Part 12)


He's back and he's bad. Back to get what's his. He's mean, he's keen, he's a loving machine.
Down here in Exmouth we're only in it for the sex and the drugs, and all the rest is propaganda. So suck on this, motherfuckers. Sex Pistols at the 100 Club? The Stones at Altamont? Elvis in Vegas? We shit 'em. Neil Diamond at the Exmouth Pavilion is where it's at and you knows it. Celebrating 50 years of hits. And it's not even the real Neil Diamond! How much more disorientated can you get without the aid of mind-altering drugs?
See you all there, cock-knockers.
All together now: "Sweet Caroline, good times never seemed so good. I've been inclined, to believe they never would..."

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath


...And then a few weeks before being published under a pseudonym in 1963, Sylvia Plath closed all the windows in her kitchen and sealed the gaps around the doors with wet towels, turned on the gas and stuck her head in the oven. A few months earlier, Sylvia had left her husband, poet Ted Hughes, after discovering he was having an affair with Assia Wevill, the wife of a fellow poet. A few years later, Assia Wevill also committed suicide using exactly the same method as Sylvia.
It might seem an obvious or even a stupid thing to say but you don't know how good The Bell Jar is until you read it. It's no great revelation to say, even, that it's brilliant.

As the years go by, perceptions change but the song, however, remains the same. In reading The Bell Jar from the vantage point of 2016 it's relatively easy to argue that Sylvia Plath wasn't 'crazy' in the slightest and in fact her reaction to the world around her was a perfectly understandable one. It could even be argued that even though it was by her own hand that she took her life, Sylvia Plath was in actual fact murdered - not by any one individual but by the world.

A lot of contempt has been poured upon Ted Hughes since Sylvia's death and justifiably so I would say. He knew what Sylvia was like and how she was, so what effect did he think his affair might have upon her? He is guilty in my eyes of being an accomplice to manslaughter. So too is the doctor who first administered electric shock treatment to Sylvia. If he had been doing his job properly he wouldn't have so readily administered ECT and in such a high 'dose'.

From what I know of ECT (and I've been reliably informed) it's still not fully understood what happens to the brain after being zapped by electricity. It's like throwing a rock into a pool. You see the splash and the ripples but you can't see where that rock goes once it's under the surface of the water. You can't see what it might disturb once it hits the bed of the pool.
Many people view ECT as being barbaric whilst others have proclaimed the benefits of it. Sylvia Plath's case would seem to fall into both schools of thought. On reading The Bell Jar it's apparent her initial treatment had an entirely negative effect and led to her first suicide attempt. When administered later in much gentler doses and under 'caring' supervision, the treatment has a more positive effect, lifting 'the bell jar' under which she's been trapped.

Sylvia's thoughts and feelings regarding the execution of the Rosenbergs are absolutely intelligent and sane ones. Famously, it's how The Bell Jar begins: 'It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York'. She then goes on to say: 'It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn't help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive all along your nerves. I thought it must be the worst thing in the world'.
From this, to Sylvia ending up (against her will) being given electroconvulsive therapy is nothing less than tragic. Criminally tragic.

The subject of the Rosenbergs comes up again later on in the book when on the evening of their execution, Sylvia (or rather, her alter ego in the book) says to a fellow student intern 'Isn't it awful about the Rosenbergs?' Her fellow intern agrees: 'Yes! It's awful such people should be alive. I'm so glad they're going to die'.
This isn't, of course, what Sylvia meant when she posed the question but it speaks volumes and leaps out from the page as an indication of where Sylvia is in relation to society and where all the other people around her are.
Just because she's estranged from the prevailing orthodoxy and social mind-set, does it mean that she's wrong? Of course not. In actual fact, depression (which is what Sylvia falls into) is a very sane response to such circumstances. As Freud said, anxiety is the only real emotion. Add to this the generally confusing times that she was growing up in, what with the cold war, patriarchy, conservatism, male oppression, the sexual revolution and so on, Sylvia's reaction is perfectly reasonable.

Much later on in the book, after Sylvia's mother suggests they can act as though her time in the asylum was just a bad dream, Sylvia comes to understand that 'To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream'.
This is the point at which it's clear that Sylvia is on her way to freedom and to becoming her own woman. The point at which she is on the way to recognising the beat of her own heart that throughout the book has been saying to her: 'I am, I am, I am...'
John Serpico