The Golden Notebook

Anna-Ella-Doris meets a man. He is clearly a bastard.  AED has unsatisfactory sex with him, falls in love, realises he’s a bastard, becomes more depressed (these events can happen in any order, but no step can be omitted). AED discovers that the Soviet Union is a tyranny and the British Communist Party is fucked up. AED has improbably frank and insightful conversations with clever fucked up people. Repeat for hundreds of pages.





The death of romanticism

smoke over a field at dawn. Would have once filled me with intensely pleasurable emotion, that this is the sort of experience one should be having, rich, sharp, textured, every sense activated, primal, suggestive – plus regret that one hasn’t always had such experiences daily, plus frustration that this is not a daily experience now. Unhappiness that one’s life is not as one would want it, i.e. not optimal, not as full of peak experiences as it could be.

Now, it’s just smoke over a field at dawn. Senses highly stimulated, in part by unfamiliarities, in part by extremes of lighting, temperature, awareness of contingency of the moment. I can get the same thing from a mid-afternoon lamppost if I want.


From hotel window, Houmt Souk, Tunisia, September 1987

I’ve already posted this picture and said I took it on my first ever morning outside Europe. And that now it makes me think about what’s wrong with the idea of “exotic”. This morning I remember that I had in my hotel room a slim volume of E. E. Cummings (thanks, Stephen). I liked the drawing of him on the cover and perhaps thought it would be quite good to look like that. I loved the poems.

I don’t remember seeing myself as some romantic Traveller, and I don’t think I even tried to write poetry on that holiday, only long postcards. But was there somewhere in the back of my mind a model of some Patrick Leigh Fermor-style young man that I was trying to emulate? Not that I’ve ever read him, but these memes infect you via unseen vectors. Maybe that’s how Jung’s collective unconscious works.

I also remember that on that holiday I also saw through the exotic: in a souk in Tunis, I remember thinking that this was as close as I could get, probably, to how I’d imagine a scene from the Arabian Nights, but it wasn’t magical, it was shabby, and I didn’t want to linger.

Continue reading Disillusion

Sunt lacrimae rerum

Liverpool One still trumps any parody I could make of it. This time, it was the ice rink on that high, artificial grassy hill. Behind security barriers, under a light, cold rain, happy shoppers skated round an Audi on a plinth. At least I found £1.22 in wet change in the grass.

My visit to the Liverpool Biennial began with the bafflement I’ve come to expect from encounters with a certain strand of contemporary art. It ended with a less predictable and explicable unhappiness. Continue reading Sunt lacrimae rerum

Copying myself

The conversation turned to how creativity is affected by different modes of consciousness. BPS Fellow and panellist Chris Frith (UCL and University of Aarhus) said that it’s in their nonconscious processes that more creative people differ from the less creative. We’re prone to copy our past actions and to copy the behaviours of others, he said, but creative people are less constrained by primes and expectations.

There’s evidence that this freer form of nonconscious thought often manifests in people with schizophrenia and with autism – for example, they’re less susceptible to visual illusions such as the ‘hollow mask effect’, which are driven by visual expectations. There are claims that drugs can help induce this unconstrained mode of thought, and recent studies have also linked creative benefits to grogginess and mild intoxication for the same reason. In the same vein, Allan Snyder (University of Sydney) claims to have improved people’s creativity by using TMS to ‘knock-out’ their frontal lobes. Frith stressed that conscious processes are also required to communicate original ideas to others – what he called ‘effective creativity’. ‘The truly creative person is changing the consciousness of us all,’ he said. (The Psychologist, June 2012)


Most people are other people. Their thoughts are some one else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. (De Profundis, 1897)

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