sunday 31 : snowflake

his favourite word used to be ‘snowflake’ which at least is a nice word even when used in a denigratory way — how can you hate a snowflake? but now it is ‘traitor’. in the space of three sentences he used the word as many times. he talks like a fascist.

effigies of a woman and a muslim, theresa may and sadiq khan, are being dragged through the streets of london with ropes around their necks by brexiteers.

the people who voted ‘leave’ feel betrayed but they were betrayed by the people who urged them to vote ‘leave’.

The main argument of Plato’s Republic is that democracy is a fine and ‘a many-coloured’ political form, but it leads ineluctably to tyranny. The key value in democracy for Socrates is freedom, and he says that freedom flips over into private licentiousness and that licentiousness gives rise to the licentiousness of the tyrant. So, democracy will lead to tyranny.

Simon Critchley

the world is crumbling, chaotic, incomprehensible and most people are completely bewildered, no one can understand what is happening even though some pretend they do. meanwhile democracy enables the election of nihilists, cynics and narcissists and the plundering of the world’s so called resources continues unabated.

ah well at least it’s summer time.
snowflakes unite!

saturday 30 : toeristen

Natuurlijk hoort hier to staan “We weten niet meer wie we zijn” maar zo stond het in VN.

wednesday 27 :

gij weet toch dat gij niet bestaat

what a curious fellow was willem wilmink
his angsts his loves his friends his life

last night late wasted half an hour
transcribing the dead man reading
een probleem a poem about death
— rewind get a line down
— rewind get another… and so on

only to discover another much shorter
and equally effective poem he wrote
in ‘t kupersdieks the dialect as spoke
by the people of twente
, op nen dag :

op nen dag dreenk iej gin grolsch meer…
loop iej nich meer deur de stad
al oew’ wille* en al oew hartzeer
he’j dan had.

oh my god
i am ready to die now.

— from Heftan tattat! (24 gedichtn in t stadsplat) (“heftan tattat” betekent: “(hij) heeft het aan het (zijn) hart gehad”)

*wille = ‘plezier’ — but i am tempted to ask : does ‘oew wille’ refer to ‘your wants or desires’? who knows an expert in twents dialect, anyone?

monday 25 :

borrowed days

When a cow in Ireland complained about the harshness of the March weather, March took exception and borrowed a few wet and stormy days from April to teach the cow a lesson.

sunday 24 :

het niets = 'the nothing'

The definite article is more readily applied to some things, and to ‘nothing’, in Dutch than it is in English. In Dutch I can speak of ‘the death’ without anyone wondering ‘the death of whom?’

And If I say ‘het niets’ no one thinks it strange, at least in as far as the application of the definite article to the word is concerned. But its equivalent in English, ‘the nothing’, sounds odd to English speaking/listening ears of a monolingual persuasion or inclination. Thus ‘the void’ is often used by those translators determined to use the definite article of, say, Buddhist texts , or ‘emptiness’, by those who are not.

This is a pity, because ‘the nothing’ is a powerful idea, and as such it has quite a different flavour to ‘the void’ not only because of the latter’s connection (in the form of a verb) with what one might do with one’s bowels, usually involuntarily, and its other meaning of ‘invalid’ or ‘false’ is a significant hindrance to understanding what is meant by het niets — if indeed it is possible to understand it. ‘Void’ also has in common with ‘emptiness’ the idea that it is a state which is subsequent to another, more desirable, state — that of fullness, and when something is void it was likely valid previously.

There is another problem with the word ‘nothing’ which is that … well it is rather negative isn’t it? It clearly positions, what I shall call for the moment, ‘het niets’, in a negative relation to ‘something’, it is the absence of things, there is no thing and this is problematic in the sense that (Oh god do I have the time and the brain space to go into this now? And if not now then when? Isn’t it obvious that there is a problem with the binary : some/thing vs no/thing?)

In her essay En nu ben ik dood (And now I am dead), Patricia de Martelaere (1957-2009), the (I am tempted to use the word ‘mysterious’ but I will say) enigmatic Flemish* philosopher, writer, poet who spent most of her life thinking and writing about death and who died of a brain tumour aged 52, writes :

Het is veeleer zo dat er, letterlijk, niets is dat blijft – het is het niets zelf dat blijft, en tot dit grote niets behoren wij zelf ook. Onze grote fout – die zorgt voor onze grote ontreddering – is dus dat we onszelf beschouwen als ‘iets’ te midden van het onherbergzame en bedreigende niets. In werkelijkheid is het net andersom: het niets is onze thuishaven en onze ziel terwijl het juist het ‘iets’ is dat ons daarvan weglokt en ons in zijn sluiers gevangen houdt.

My free (read : inadequate) translation (the usual caveats and apologies apply) :

It is rather nothing that survives — it is ‘the nothing’ that remains, and it is this big nothing to which we ourselves also belong. Our great mistake — which results in our great despair — is that we regard ourselves as ‘something’ in the middle of a threatening and hostile nothing. In reality it is exactly the other way around : it is the nothing which is our safe harbour and our soul, whilst it is the ‘something’ that tempts us away and keeps us imprisoned in its veils.

— quoted by Xandra de Lange in De Groene (also archived here)

Elsewhere she writes :

‘Wie “ik” zegt, of sterker nog, “ik ben mijzelf”, bevestigt hiermee ook onvermijdelijk dat hij niet zichzelf is maar iemand die als het ware van buiten naar zichzelf kijkt. (…) Wie “ik” zegt, zegt dus eigenlijk voluit: “Ik spreek over mij”, of zelfs: “Ik ben niet ik”.’

to be continued

Patricia de Martelaere (1957—2009) Een verlangen naar ontroostbaarheid - Over leven, kunst en dood (1993)

de Martelaere’s work in the DBL

Let us also remind ourselves and each other of Karen Barad’s awe inspiring contribution to 100 Notes, 100 Thoughts at Documenta 13, What Is the Measure of Nothingness: Infinity, Virtuality, Justice.

*i like belgians, at least the flemish ones whom i can understand, more or less most of the time. i wonder if i could teach myself to speak with a flemish accent? reminder to self : write about this at some point.

saturday 23:

Kierkegaard was NOT a nihilist.

A review of a ‘book review’ of Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Sören Kierkegaard by Clare Carlisle by @j_amesmarriott in The Times.

It is often said that any publicity is good publicity but you’d be ready to jump into the abyss if you’d written a serious biography of Kierkegaard and you copped a review like this in The Times. (article also archived here)

A sample :

“Anyone familiar with Kierkegaard would agree that he was precisely the sort of person who could have benefited from the structure of a job. No time for melancholy introspection and bothering your friends when you’ve got quarterly reports to file!”

I mean wtf?!

Replete with pop culture references and quips about his ‘preposterous quiff’, a more comprehensively flawed misapprehension (and, one suspects, wilful misrepresentation in the service of what passes for journalism in The Times these days) of Kierkegaard’s ideas in 1000 words is difficult to imagine.

Such a pity.

Zero stars.

Meanwhile Deborah James’s new book is called ‘F*** You Cancer: How to Face the Big C, Live Your Life and Still Be Yourself’ and her blazer is £1,510 by Balmain. Thank you Rupert Murdoch.

thursday 21 :

wednesday 20 :

for fieke

we are wind flowers
hanging lightly
on our stems.

we spread across the floor
of dead leaves
in woods and copses.

and we turn our backs
when the march winds blow.

(apologies to derwent may)

monday 18 : self/no self

To say reality or the self is empty is not to say that it does not exist. It simply means that it lacks a discrete essence, something that makes it what it is independent of what makes other things what they are. This is most evident when it comes to the self. To be an individual is to be in relation to others. There is no self independent of other selves.

From : Julian Baggini - 10 Schools of Philosophy that should be better known (in the West) - Granta 146

saturday 16 : RIP gillian freeman

the obituaries in the times are sometimes intriguing detailed mini-biographies. the story of the awesome life and death of someone you’ve never heard of, often accompanied by an interesting photograph.

today it was a writer called gillian freeman.

amongst the highlights :

In 1967 Gillian Freeman wrote a comprehensive study, The Undergrowth of Literature, revealing a broad knowledge of bondage, domination and rubber fetishism. Her book was widely commended for its nonjudgmental insights into the psychosexual needs of a section of society and for its compassion, candour and humour.


In the 1970s Anthony Blond, who enjoyed hoaxes, commissioned her to write a novel purporting to be a diary written by the wife of a photographer working in Goebbels’s propaganda ministry. It was originally published under the title The Diary of Elisabeth von Stahlenberg and the MP Alan Clark said it was “indisputably genuine . . . a contemporary document of the highest importance to social historians”. The American publishers offered to double Freeman’s advance if “Elisabeth” would tour the US. But her cover was blown in the Evening Standard. Many years later, the diary was nevertheless quoted 19 times in an anthology of genuine wartime diaries.

but of course, it being an obituary, it always ends with a stark paragraph in bold type :

Gillian Freeman, novelist and screenwriter, was born on December 5, 1929. She died from complications arising from dementia on February 23, 2019, aged 89.

friday 15 : the untimely death of a dutch poet

tomorrow in utrecht the presentation of ‘klaar’ by f.starik with marieke lucas rijneveld and a host of others. i wrote this for/about him (and myself) in english unfortunately — my dutch being goed genoeg to read him but not to write in …

thursday 14 :

i am a coltsfoot
on a bare riverbank

i am a persian speedwell
on the muddy edge of a cornfield

i am a dandelion with teeth
like a lion lurking somewhere
waiting for clocks.

(apologies to derwent may)

one of my old radioshows from wagga.
ha ha … this reggae special went out live to air late one night in 2001 or 2002

the rado signal reached just to the highway on a clear night so if you’d been driving from sydney to melbourne (or melbourne to sydney) and searching the airwaves for some weird local shit to listen to whilst you were driving like i used to you might have picked this up for a while…

wednesday 13 : being barry

He said he also found comfort in belief in an afterlife. “I was thinking he’s going to be there, in heaven, before me,” he said. “It gave me a lot of comfort knowing Barry was there.”

I am in favour of consolation, of people being comforted by something or someone when they’re sad, a teddy bear or another human or by believing Barry is in heaven.

Science doesn’t do consolation. The fact that another 300 million (or was it 300 billion? not that it matters) new stars have just been discovered — that is to say, they were there already but ‘they’ didn’t know that the stars are ‘there’, and now ‘they’ do and so apparently this means that ‘we’ do too — is of little use if you’re sad.

But a belief like ‘Barry is in heaven’ can also also a problem. It prevents you from thinking about the difference about what is real and what is not. And as my imaginary friend Sören Kierkegaard may have said, it prevents you from experiencing the angst and doubt and despair that could propel you to make the Leap. There are innumerable other ways to do that as well, like looking for new stars and well where do I start…?

I used to make myself work late by saying, if I finish this I’ll get a pizza for dinner, but then when I’d finished I wouldn’t have it. But I never thought, oh but the last time I worked late I didn’t get to have pizza.

By all means imagine your brother to be in heaven — in a sense, he is. He is free from worry and pain and the ongoing struggle between being and not being. The countless particles and waves which temporarily constituted Barry have dispersed back into the ten to the power of five hundred universes and the eleven dimensions and they are still doing/not doing whatever it is they do/don’t do, more or less — and in this sense there is an afterlife. But do the countless particles and lightwaves continue to resonate and interact together to be Barry as we knew him and loved him. Well clearly, they don’t. And that’s OK. Can you find a way through your grief where that is OK? It doesn’t diminish in any way the significance of Barry, it’s just that language doesn’t offer a way of thinking about Barry in a timeless way, in a non-binary way. Something or someone either is or isn’t, maybe they were but now they’re not. And this is very sad because you want them to be now, you want to have them to be there for you.

The fact that Barry was, that his being is safely locked away in time, that no one can deny his existence, it is difficult to find a satisfactory way to acknowledge that. Yes but he is not here now, you say, and we keep coming back to that and it is important to fully experience the grief of that, the impossibility of that, because that is the human condition.

You have lost something, a being, that was of great importance to you, that gave your life meaning perhaps. But it is not in a temporary connection with other transitional beings or things that a meaning which is not subject to time can be found. It is in your connection with the infinite, with the impossible if you will, that you must find meaning.

I am so sorry.
I wish you strength and courage in the difficult time to come.

sunday 10 :

it was incredibly intense. i was tearful and simultaneously filled with this almost overwhelming sense of joy.

i recognise this.

thursday 7 : separate not seperate

are you one of those people who doesn’t know how to spell ‘separate’? i used to be one of those people.

and what is worse, i was one of those people who thought they knew the difference between seperate and separate (i thought one was the verb and the other was the adverb) but ‘seperate’ is not any kind of word! it’s simply a misspelling.

grammarly says ‘seperate’ is a word that has no meaning but this is of course total bullshit. whether you say ‘separate’ or ‘seperate’, no one can hear the difference and everyone knows what you mean when you write ‘seperate’, you just don’t know what the correct spelling is! what a bunch of fascists.

anyhoo this might come in useful when remembering the trick to remember how to spell ‘separate’ : there is A RAT in sepARATe — because what use is a trick if you can’t remember it? you could say you need two seperate … oops separate … tricks : the trick itself and a trick to remember the trick. perhaps only A RAT would say ‘seperate’ has no meaning.

i’ll go now.
you’re welcome.

i am a lesser celandine
and you are a primrose
and you… you can be a bluebell
but look out! here comes
the fucking winter heliotrope.

(apologies to derwent may)

tuesday 5 : a boy and his dog

With Leksie, 1960.

Until a week ago I didn’t know this picture existed. If I stare at it for long enough I get the feeling that if I call her she will turn around and walk towards me.



the last time i saw him was in 1995 and then only briefly, at my grandmothers funeral. i’d emailed him when i first got back as part of a general lets-see-which-members-of-my-family-are-worth-spending-any-time-with. he replied that it would be great to see me again after all these years and that he would be in touch t.z.t. — an acronym beloved of dutch bureaucrats which means something like ‘in due course’.

two and a half years later he was the only one left on my list. i had to be in the town where he lives for another reason and i let him know. i thought perhaps we could meet for coffee but if you are not interested, i said. or you don’t have time, that’s ok exclamation mark. he invited me around for dinner.

it was an exceptionally windy winters night but enfin it had stopped raining. his apartment looked like something from an ikea catalogue (including buddha) c.1995. did ikea exist then? never mind. i know it did because ikea, like instant noodles, is from the same year as me — can you imagine a world without ikea, without instant noodles and without me? i can’t, for obvious reasons, but if you are young enough and you eat your veggies you may well find yourself in such a world — although there will always be instant noodles and ikea. and my book omg. thank god i managed to write a book.

the radio was playing loud classical music. a belgian voice spoke in between tracks. i considered whether, when you’ve been in the apartment of someone you haven’t seen since 1995 for all of ten minutes, you can ask them to turn the radio down. my ears said : yes yes yes for fuck sake — but the superego said no. and half an hour later it was still saying no.

dinner was lukewarm noodles, although not instant, and two kinds of mixed vegetables cut into very small pieces with most of the life cooked out of them; perhaps because when he asked me via email whether i had any dietary preferences i explained that i am ‘in between dentures’.

i said : do you like cooking? — not really. i wanted to say, i wouldn’t have guessed! but i didn’t.

we ate and he told me at length about his research without much apparent enthusiasm. i nodded and smiled and tried to ask an interesting question or two but then he asked me an interesting question : whether i felt like i’ve inherited any of our grandmother’s personality traits. we talked about our grandmother whom we both loved for some time and that made me happy. i realised i spent way more time with her than he was able to because he lived a long way from her. i said, she was like a second mother to me — but don’t tell my mother!

my answer was yes, her courage. she was not afraid of anything or anyone, or she knew how to act and speak like she wasn’t. she deserves to have a movie made about her life, my grandmother, but there is only one person who could do that and i don’t have time. in another one of the ten to the power of five hundred universes and the eleven dimensions i would make time.

en… vind je het wat, het leven?
—je bedoelt…?
heb je er wat aan? vind je het leuk?
—ja. (met een doffe stem) en jij?
wel ik weet niet of ‘leuk’ het juiste woord is, het is meer een kwestie van interessant, of intriguing … hoe zeg je dat in het nederlands? intrigerend? eindeloos intrigerend. elke dag gebeurt er iets dat mij intrigeert … is dat ook een woord?
vandaag ook? — ja! zeker. (als hij het zou weten, als ik het zou zeggen… eigenlijk zou ik het moeten zeggen…)

the highlight of the meal was dessert but then i did bring it. he ate it all but didn’t say anything. perhaps he doesn’t like chocolate (some people don’t or so they tell me) but he was too polite to say so?

when i said, at ten to nine, i should go — was that relief i saw flashing across his face briefly?