Monday, September 19, 2011


Rather busy at the moment - I am doing a counselling course at Lambeth College. I passed the first module earlier in the year, but things are hotting up now, with lessons twice a week and homework in between. I thought I knew a thing or two about this before I started, what with commissioning psychotherapy services as part of my job, and having read a fair bit of Freud, Lacan and others. But going back to basics - what does it mean to be with somebody as they describe their issues? how does one set boundaries so that the other person knows what they can and cannot expect of you? how can one help a person to feel safe and thereby help them to speak their mind? - has shown that what I thought I knew is all well and good from a theoretical standpoint, but is insubstantial if you cannot use it in a particular room with a particular person with a particular set of issues.

I am enjoying it very much, not least because my fellow students are warm, interesting, challenging people, very different from me and from each other. If you have a passing interest in this sort of thing, you may not have seen the film Gloria, made in 1965, in which a patient called Gloria undergoes therapy with three major psychotherapists from three very different background: Carl Roger, Fritz Perls and Albert Ellis. If you haven't seen it, you should. The first part is here - you can find the rest on Youtube.

A couple of other things. First, my wife and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary this weekend, which we celebrated by going on the flight simulator at the Science Museum. She bought me a book from the wonderful, East Anglia based Full Circle publishers: a book of short stories by Rose Tremain. This is the front cover which, as with all FC books, is gorgeous:

Second - and vaguely linked to the other reason I am busy, which is that my public sector employers keep finding me things to do (the cheek of it) - here is a wonderful post on "Camden council brutalism". If I worked for Microsoft, I suppose you'd call it brand loyalty or commodity fetishism; but as I work for the people of Camden, I am happy to call it pride. It's rather precious, I know, but there is something very gratifying about working in such a wonderful borough, whatever one's misgivings about its various decisions, both past and present. Only recently, I went to Gospel Oak, an area of Camden which has a certain "reputation", to talk to a local GP about dementia care. It was a sunny day (unlike the day EuV had to endure), but I don't think it was just the weather that made Lismore Circus feel so welcoming - more the sense of a shared purpose, of public services and community bodies working together for the good of the estate and the neighbourhood. There is a fuller post waiting to be written about Gospel Oak, and maybe in the new year, when I'm finished writing coursework about empathy and congruence, I will write it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


In our early courting days, my wife went to a book-signing event with Alasdair Gray and got him to sign my copy of Lanark. Since we moved in together, the Lanarks seem to have multiplied, since we now have three. She also gave him a copy of my own novel, which he said he would read (the thought that there is an outside chance that he may indeed have read it, or at least a few lines of it, on the train back to Scotland is rather lovely). He probably thought me rather gauche for trying to implicate my girlfriend in such a desperate act of fandom, and he told her, "He should ask you to marry him for doing this." Which I did!

This video, which shows him designing a mural for an underground station, is wonderful. He describes himself as an old-fashioned post-impressionist, very interested in directness and "hard edges" when he paints and writes. In this, and in his very practical acceptance that he needs both to write and paint to make a living, he reminds me of another favourite artist / graphic designer of mind, David Gentleman. I like his own description of how he makes his characters speak: "In my writing, most of the characters, in their speech, say exactly what they mean, to an extent that he thought was a bit unusual, since most people talk in order to hide what they mean."

Friday, September 09, 2011


Larval Subjects on "writing and the anxiety of meaning":

Kierkegaard and Sartre were right: unless you take a “leap of faith” or simply choose despite the absolute contingency of your decision, you will never manage to write or produce work, whether you’re a philosopher, a social scientist, a scientist, an artist, a poet, and novelist, etc. Until you can accept the contingency of your decision and follow, as Badiou might say, the logic of its unjustifiable deductive fidelity, until you overcome your belief that there is an Other that “knows” and not just others that are navigating their way through the contingency of existence, you will never write. All you can do is throw your dice, maintain deductive fidelity to your decision, value your encounters, and hope for the best. You will never please everyone because, as Luhmann observes, every decision is contingent and could have been otherwise. Some will hate it, others will be mystified, others will love it, some will be indifferent. You will never know why they respond in these various ways, nor will you ever be able to make a move that pleases and appeals to everyone. The most paralyzing thing is always the belief that we know what others desire and our belief that there is someone out there that knows. All you can do is make your cut, make your distinction, and choose. We are always looking for masters, leaders, sovereigns, and priests that we believe “know” so as to extinguish the anxiety of the contingency of our choices. What we don’t recognize is that our very act of choosing these phallic priests and kings is our choice and that, as Sartre recognized in “Existentialism is a Humanism”, a way of transferring our decision to someone else even though that choice of someone whose voice can “speak truth for us” is still a voice that we chose. The tragedy is that our very desire for a father is also the source of the extinction of our ability to speak and act. We believe they’ve already done so in our stead. You must kill your mother and father to act and write.

Sunday, September 04, 2011


I am currently immersed in this:

Nothing to say about it at the moment - or rather, far too much to say, which means I need to read it again and try to crystallise what are currently rather confused thoughts.

Aristotle seems to be the main point of reference, since he tried to move away from Plato's theory of forms in order to pin down what was essential about a given object (as opposed to that object's temporary, non-essential characteristics), and tried to identify what form that essence took.

Here is a very interesting discussion between Bryan Magee and Martha Nussbaum on Aristotle, in which it becomes clear that the questions Aristotle asked about identity and change have never been satisfactorily answered. Graham Harman's book about Bruno Latour tries to reframe these questions, and does so extremely excitingly, but the big paradox about frozen events vs unfreezable trajectories still remains.


If you ever need to be reminded what an exciting thing everyday life is, take a trip to suburbia. It never fails to stop you in your tracks and make you go, "huh"? Especially if you take a trip to a suburb near to, but not quite, where you live. Yesterday I took an afternoon stroll around Streatham and Tooting. Walking by the railway line on Conyers Road, I saw this:

Credit to this chap, who I think took this photo.

Here is another picture, taken in 1895:

It was built in 1888, and houses monitoring equipment for Thames Water. It is grade 2 listed, and quite right too. Who in South London knew that there was a mini Brighton Pavilion on their doorstep, and that it was built for the prosaic function of pumping water?