Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The need to see

Embarrassing Situation 1 - Fly undone

Rachel: And your fly's still open...
[Ross looks down.]

Rachel: Ha, I made you look....
– Friends (The One with All the Poker)

How do you say things? Do you get right to the point or are you a shillyshallier, pussyfooting around the issue? Or is there another way?

I’m thinking here, in broad terms at least, about the difference between prose and poetry. As I said, in broad terms. Prose states things, poetry not so much or when it does it’s usually saying one thing and meaning another. In cinematic terms we’re talking about the difference between Alien and Alien Resurrection. In the original film more is suggested than anything else but in Alien Resurrection metaphorically-speaking (and literally) the lights are all up full. (I’m thinking about the scene in the lab with the three aliens behind glass.) We all know what the monster looks like so let’s get to see him up close and personal. But which is the better film? Okay, Alien, hands down, but if we’d never had the first three films to compare Alien Resurrection to it might have received better reviews than it did.

What I’m saying here that there is nothing more powerful that what we imagine. As soon as we get to see something we can step back from it and go, as in Aliens: “Oh, that’s just a couple of guys in rubber suits.” (I’m thinking this time of the scene where Ripley sees them crawling through the space above the ceiling.) Aliens was clever film though in that it suggested an army of creatures but I don’t think we ever get to see more than two or three onscreen at any given time.

Am I saying that it’s never appropriate to show things in surgical detail? What is this need to see all about? Here’s a photograph from Naked New York by Greg Friedler. The whole book is made up of diptychs like this, one clothed, one unclothed:

Admin Asst

The first photo is intriguing. I wonder how many men have seen her floating around the office and thought to themselves, I wonder what she looks like naked. And now we all know. Yay! Next page, please! What more is there to see? Oh, we’ve not seen her bum. Maybe she’s got a cute bum. She looks like she might have a cute bum; pert. But do we really need to see her bum? Haven’t we seen enough? When is enough enough? Would we have been happier if the photo had been in colour? Or bigger? There’s not exactly a lot of detail here, is there? The thing is, one seen we can’t unsee:


I've exposed myself too much
and embarrassed you.
I'm sorry:
I thought we were that close.

Can you pretend
it never happened?

And you only imagined
my weaknesses?

28 August 1989

I picked this photo because of the expression on her face. It’s almost identical in each picture. There are a few more online if you’re curious. Just type ‘greg friedler’ into Google.

Truth is often described as being naked. Personally I’m not a big fan. Of truth. I quite liked nakedness, just not my own especially. What I really don’t like about the truth is the fact that I find nothing is ever true enough for most people:


What do you do when you've seen?

Look again. See more. It pays to be sure.
Of course, third time's the charm,
three points make a straight line
and we all know where they lead.

It's always the same though,
always in familiar places.
always doing the same old things.
There's a certain comfort to be had in that.

It's different though, every single time,
each time, the same but different,
a revelation or a kick in the teeth.
That's what's kept us coming back for more.

Curiosity crippled the cat
and all cats are peeping toms.

25 December 2002

This is the last in the Sweet William sequence and I think after nine years we can call it a day. I’ve said all I can about William but when you read the whole sequence (which I will publish one day – promise) what’s pretty clear is how little I actually say. I leave much to the imagination of the readers.

Here’s an early experiment:


Old Walt used to watch the cleaning woman –

Through the spy hole.

Breasts hung as she scrubbed.

In the monochrome passage.

One day...
            ...and the neighbours
            talked about it for weeks...

29 May 1979

So what happened? Did he kill her? Rape her? Flash her? Shout obscenities through the letterbox? Propose? I don’t know. I never knew. And even if I did I can’t remember and if I could I wouldn’t say. That’s not what the poem is about. It’s about you. What do you think happened?

There are two styles of writing: explicit vs. implicit:



Are you busy tonight?

If you’re not busy tonight, would you go out with me?

Is that seat taken?

Can I sit beside you?

I wouldn’t if I were you.

You will die.

Does my bum look big in this?

If you say it is you will suffer.

which means there are two ways of acquiring knowledge:

Implicit (or Tacit) Knowledge

Explicit Knowledge

subconscious, internalised
spontaneous, automatic
typically procedural

controlled (processing)

Of course we use both all the time. In the poem above I implied that something happened, Walt did something and probably to or with the cleaning woman. You may infer that something bad happened based on your knowledge of voyeurs who’ve got tired merely looking and escalate to doing. In my poem ‘The Rapist’ which was written about the same time as ‘Old Walt’ this is all I say about the actual assault:

Then in the wood:
Stains and not simply on clothes.

I suggest what happened, where it happened and how it affected the victim (and possibly the perpetrator) but I really don’t say anything very much. I don’t need to.

I used to want to know everything, every gory detail. Does this ring any bells with any of you?

Where did he touch you and how did it feel
And why did you let it begin?
What did he whisper and when did you cry
And where do you think it will end?
How long did you do it and why did you stop?
Did you get to try anything new?
How good was he honestly and where did you go
And who made the very first move?

Jim-Steinman-Bad-For-GoodIt’s from the spoken introduction to Jim Steinman’s song ‘Left in the Dark’ in case you wondered. These are all facts. The two that’re missing are probably: Who was he? and Was he better than me? although I’m sure you could think of lots more. But this is all explicit knowledge – names, dates, places – and it’s ultimately dissatisfying because what he wants to know is how it felt. And not just the physical act, the emotions, before, during the act and after. He wants to know how she felt and how the guy felt.

We want the truth – we say we want the truth – but no matter what we get it’s never true enough:


We start off looking for truths
but end up just looking
not seeing even what we thought
we wanted to

or hoped we might
because, at the end of the day,
nothing could ever come
close to our expectations.

Especially the truth.

21 June 1997

I’ve always acknowledged the role of the reader in a work of fiction and the thing about voyeurism (all writers are voyeurs and, let’s face it, so are all readers) is that no matter how much you concentrate on looking at whatever it is that you’re fixated on at that moment, you cannot not look into yourself and see yourself for who you really are:


Before we start, gentle reader
tell me what you're looking for;
it helps if I know beforehand.

(Because poems are whores;
they become what you want,
but there's always a price).

Or we could just talk if you like.
What do you want to hear?
Surely not the truth?

Oh, I see: you like mirrors.
Well that's quite all right.
I have just the thing here.

All it takes is a little imagination.

19 August 1996

We all know the story about Adam and Eve. Whether you accept it as fact or fiction it doesn’t really matter. It makes its point beautifully:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying: 'Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.' – Genesis 2:16,17

The key expression here for me is ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat.’ It’s not as if he was depriving them of food or anything so Eve didn’t eat of the fruit because she was ravenous and although the Bible never actually states explicitly what the fruit was (it’s a misnomer to think the first pair ate the first apple) doubtless there were dozens of other trees with the same fruit close by. But Eve’s curiosity got the better of her. Curiosity is not a sin but it led to her sinning.

There are lots of things I’m curious about. Even without acting on that curiosity much is revealed about me but once I’ve acted on it there’s no going back. And if I’m disappointed well I’m always going to be disappointed. I like Christina Ricci. It’s okay, my wife knows. I like lots of other actresses but let’s just stick with her. I 99-christina-riccithink she’s sexy. I don’t quite know when she got sexy. One day she was Wednesday Addams and kissing Casper the Friendly Ghost and the next she’s falling out of her clothes in Buffalo ‘66 and The Opposite of Sex. And I would be lying if I’d never wondered what she looked like without her clothes on. I have. There I’ve said it. And then one day I watched After.Life and well, now I know. If you’re curious just type ‘christina ricci After.Life’ into Google. Try and not. Go on. And even if you don’t I still make you wonder.

I wrote a poem about this once. As you all know I keep my poems in a big red folder. One day, a good few years ago, a friend was over with her daughter and her daughter was flicking though my poems when she came across a poem entitled ‘Do Not Read This Poem’ at which point she said, out loud, “All right,” and turned the page without reading it. Of course every adult who’s ever come across the poem has read it. It’s like anything that says ‘Don’t press this button’ or ‘Don’t eat this’ – we want to. It suddenly becomes desirable. Knowledge is, let’s put no fine point on it, alluring. We want to see Truth naked so badly. We’re scared we might be missing something. I assure you Christina Ricci has exactly the kind of body that you would expect from a slender thirty-year-old. It’s quite like the one of the thirty-one-year-old Friedler photographed in New York – no extra nipples, no appendectomy scar, no blemishes. So, if you’ve seen one naked about-thirty-year-old woman have you seen them all?

There are times when you want to be explicit. Giving evidence in a court of law is a good time. I don’t think writing poetry is one of those places. I don’t honestly think that prose is either but because you can routinely get away with writing 90,000 words in a row about a particular subject it’s tempting to say more than you need to and IMHO most novelists do.

The salient characteristic of the tacit knowledge approach is the basic belief that knowledge is essentially personal in nature and is therefore difficult to extract from the heads of individuals. – Ron Sanchez, “Tacit Knowledge” versus “Explicit Knowledge” – approaches to Knowledge Management Practice, p.3

This is why savvy businesses move people (“knowledge carriers”) around rather than retrain staff because not all knowledge is transferrable. That doesn’t mean that tacit knowledge isn’t transferrable:

The process of transforming tacit knowledge into explicit or specifiable knowledge is known as codification, articulation, or specification. The tacit aspects of knowledge are those that cannot be codified, but can only be transmitted via training or gained through personal experience. – Wikipedia (italics mine)

I repeat: some things have to be experienced, which is why I wrote this last poem:


You mustn't read this.
Turn the page, please.

You don't want to see
            the home truth here.

Because when you peer
            in this darkness

            you'll discover a
            side to yourself

            you didn't want to.
Just like right now.

I do hope you think
            it was worth it.

13 July 1997

This is my version of Genesis 2:16,17. I think we as writers should be more aware of the limitations of our craft. We encode and readers decode but this isn’t maths and there’s always something lost in the translation. We may get to see the words naked on the page but we never get to see them with anyone’s eyes other than our own. I cannot put into words how I feel about Christina Ricci. I think I know how I feel but I’ve never tried to articulate it. Why would I want to? They’re my feelings. When I say, “I think Christina Ricci,” is sexy I am sure there will be people out there nodding and thinking, I know exactly what he means (there will be others going, Eh?), but how do they know what I mean by ‘sexy’? That knowledge will go to the grave with me. Unless my wife gets it out of me first.

Is the purpose of writing to pass on knowledge? It can be a purpose. Maths textbooks pass on knowledge. Atlases pass on knowledge. And telephone directories. But the remit of fictional writing (both poetry and prose) should be to make people think and feel not to teach; education is a by-product. Someone told me that 2+2=4 (most likely Miss Kettle) and someone probably told that someone but once upon a time someone worked out that all for themselves and in theory all of us are capable of working out that 2+2=4 on our own. Would I care more about knowing that 2+2=4 if I’d worked it out for myself without any assistance? Yes, probably. Just as I feel a certain possessiveness towards poems that I’ve read in the past that I’ve made my own.

Good teachers don’t just tell. They will explain what numbers are, what the concept of addition is and then they will allow you to (literally and metaphorically) add two and two together for yourself. And sometimes their pupils will get five. And that’s not as wrong as it seems.


Elisabeth said...

This is a terrific post, Jim, right up my alley. And even as I write this I think about whether this is implicit or explicit. It's my opinion and therefore one hopefully shared with others. But others will have other opinions, I know. Still I think it's safe to say this is a terrific post because i enjoyed it. And already I've said too much. It's easy to do.

Have you noticed the way some people apologise when they leave long comments on your posts? As if there is a requirement that they keep it succinct. As far as I'm concerned the long comments are wonderful as long as they are meaningful and that's open to interpretation, my own and others, again as you would well know.

Yesterday I wrote: 'On days like today I wish I could write poetry. I wish there were some way I could crystallise my thoughts into a few words that might convey my meaning and by pass all the wasted words that scroll through my mind. Words that have a sludge like feel. Words that feel redundant, and tedious.

A few weeks ago Vassilis took some of my words from a comment I had made on one of his posts and turned it into a poem. Maybe comments lend themselves to poetry. Maybe there is the requirement to be brief to write to the point that enables me to find some of those words, those thoughts that transcend the clutter but not now, not when I have expectations. The human heart in conflict with itself, the essence of writing. We try to make sense of things that otherwise evade us.'

All this seems connected to your post and to my most recent post. We are curious about life and what is it that tickles our curiosity? An image, a turn of phrase, a sense of the writer.

I don't know, but I know that when I came across your poem with the instruction not to read on just now, I ignored the instruction completely and read it. As you say, if someone says 'No, you can't.' I immediately want at least to find out why I can't and if the reason is not apparent, as in it's dangerous to scale the rocks on a cliff, then I want to try.

Thanks, Jim.

who said...

First of all, Jimmy the Saint, I think the term simplicit and sexplicit fit a more accurate pigeon hole or orchid whole for the contextual details of this post. I don't care what any reputable or authoritative
publisher of accepted diction (or the whole world for that matter) has to say about it.

If nothing else, simply for the simplicity and sex explicit schematics of this post. Furthermore, I would suggest you are doing your art a great injustice due to a lack of using expletives, WTF Jim?

This is a great parable, illustrating with words exactly how Cinemax, HBO, and even Playboy have forever poisoned the industry of good old fashioned porn.


toeing the line or straddling it does nothing accept to piss off both sides of the fence.

so I can honestly admire and respect that Jim, my only suggestion would be to piss on the people on both sides, but I also got beat up a lot as a kid because stuff like that.

but I always thought of it more as going that extra mile (across hot coals in their stolen shoes)

excellent post!

who said...

and from your point of view, it seems clear to me that you are well aware of the messages that every work of good literature communicates.

and that communicate is often done without any conscious knowledge (I might even go as far as to say against the conscious will of) and there is not anything that anyone can do about it.

Years ago I was under the impression that it was only discernable when the words were written with a completely uniform text (mechanical precision of a typeset) and I honestly thought the only way to not give away every secret any mind knows of (much of it being true an unconscious) was to handwritten words.

It wasn't until I tried to prove this to myself reading handwritten text (which I was on the brink of believing that nothing coherent bled through) and not until I examined words that were handwritten with the old world pens that had to be constantly dipped into ink which made writing more like literally painting words to paper, and it was the words that I believe were written frantically that gave it away. For this was when the "boldness" of the characters were most visibly "pulsating" from very dark thick letters into light thin letters before the author had to dip back into the ink. And only then did it seem as if a switch was flicked in my brain that felt like some incredible discovery.

of course I don't know that it was because the author was rushed that made the letters looks like they were flashing, but that was my opinion after seeing carefully written documents that were much more uniform darkness, thickness, lightning thining.

but either way it only gave me the impression that handwritten works were even more revealing.

but at the end of each day I was always left with the feeling that I was going to punch God in the face and every angel employed by anyone because no matter how sure I was of each discovery the only thing more sure was that there would be without a doubt that there would soon be an aspect that felt like I was ripping apart the my very own children innocent heart (or any other person that one could genuinely care more about them then myself) and it was always a matter of using qualities that are noble like compassion, caring, empathy and other virtues that were always what was used against me, to be tortured with.

I have a seriously demented sense of humor, but a genuine and caring heart, and to this day I genuinely despise the most righteous or highest ranking angel at least 51% of the time and not despise only 49%.

and that is the best case scenario.

who said...

and in the end I cannot tell one way or the other if it really is what some say it is (nothing more than our minds desperately grasping at a more logical explanation for E.S.P)

and I haven't been able to even lean one way or the other because every message that bleeds through all words is in what appears to be Esperanto fused with Arabic, neither of which I can read at all, let alone a hybrid fusion. And I can say without a doubt All I have been doing was desperately reaching for anything to explain phenomena that is not supposed to be possible as actually occurring.

and the biggest reason of my hostility towards even good angels is because the more one ignores it (or tries to)

the more frequent those maddening coincidences occur. On many occasions it escalated to the point where anytime I left a stepped of of a cave of solitude I would hold my middle finger up (index finger) and present it to be seen in all directions and usually stating the spoken translation of the middle finger extended in a loud and clear voice.

which as one could imagine, was not received very well by anyone.

who said...

and let's not forget the physical pain, the nights where (near as I could medically deduce) were some sort of Gall attacks that last all night that force one into the position arching your spine backwards as if you were being stretched in attempt to put your feet behind your head but keeping all joints straight then bowing your bones against the curly q's of a violins swirling edge.

but that position offered no relief to the pain, it was more like a reaction to the stabbing pain of your intestines literally trying all at once to jump out of your body. All night long coming on slowly but surely, peaked for about four hours where the only thing you can do is be bent in the arch, which the whole time I would yell things along the lines of F You, and I swear to God I am going kill you for this and all kinds of other extremely ugly things.

And I promise you this is not any passive way directed at you Jim, I am just saying that whatever the inconsolable wisdom is, it does not arrive unpunnished.

And I am being serious when I say it hurts so bad (strictly physically and nothing to do with emotion) that had I been able to talk my friends into assisting me I would have tried to remove my gall bladder. And then I couldn't be around them anymore because they told me the next time it happens they were going to knock me out, bound me and I was going to the emergency room whether I wanted to or not.

all being directly related to seeing or witnessing things which I did everything human possible to avoid. That kind of truth tended to irritate the hell out of me.

Art Durkee said...

As you know, I'm much less interested in this kind of poetry than you are, poetry that is all ideas and contains nothing but thought. It's all "telling rather than showing." I don't dislike poetry like this, but it doesn't do anything for me either. One read is all, and I don't feel like re-reading it.

So I doubt any easy distinction between prose and poetry, or implicit and explicit. It's not that it doesn't contain some truth, as it were, it's that it's somewhat easy and facile. The richer truths are usually a lot more intertwined and fractal.

I don't regard poetry as more implicit than prose. I do regard it as condensed: compact, heightened, packing a lot more meaning into fewer words. Prose can take its time, and lay things out linearly and in a straightforward manner, and make a narrative of the left brain. Poetry is an art of compression, of layers, of multiplicity. If anything, that makes it more explicit in some ways.

who said...

I was told to not read the book, and I did not even touch it.

and not do to fear of the facts which are the true. The truth I don't fear. Fear stems from things you don't know. And it did take numerous, more times than I can remember, times of not knowing that left an impression strong enough for me to know what I believe.

and to me trust, that can be without any doubt what so ever can be trusted, is the most valuable, most precious, most sacred and indescribable experience that trumps anything and everything that could ever be valued or desired.

and once that lesson is learned, you don't have to trust anybody or anything ever again.

and once you find another person who believes in that same belief as you do, there is a permanent and literal togetherness, a oneness that can never be separated by any force or desire, unless part of that permanence chooses to leave. But that has never happened because all parts know without any contaminating doubt what so ever that the bond does not have to be broken in order to wander as far as eternity will take you.

all parts are fully aware that is IS the very bond that IS and IS the ONLY way to achieve absolute freedom and absolute truth. Except that it is so much more than the words truth or freedom could ever contain or be known.

it is something that is all but impossible to teach here in this world, which as far as I know is the only place it can be learned.

and if you are here, it is what has to be learned. Because it is something that was not completely understood by any of us.

and there is no disputing that fact.

because it was the very breaking of that bond, by choice, that got us here.

and it is exactly why all of us will understand it eventually. Because only those who do not will cease to exist. And I don't believe that has happened yet as you can know without a doubt you would feel it.

and I one thing I do fear is that sooner rather than later, that may be of the verge of happening. And if it does no part will be without regret that we let it happen.

and that is why order of operation is so important at this late stage of possibly loosing someone. We are all vulnerable to it happening. So before you try to safe a part of you that doesn't understand, you need to strengthen yourself with another part of you that does.

and I do not think many people alive realize how damaging discrimination will be to us all. It is forcing people might otherwise understand, to believe that they have to lie in order to live as who they are.

Jim Murdoch said...

I can understand why people might apologise for writing long comments, Lis, because they’re asking you to read and expect a response to those comments. I don’t think there are hard and fast rules as to how comments should be handled but what I see happening in most cases is that A posts a blog, B passes comment on the blog and then A responds to B’s comment but doesn’t expect the conversation to progress to another level. On the odd occasion that B decides there is more to say he or she is free to comment again but I wouldn’t say that A is as obliged to respond. I mean, who is supposed to have the last word? It’s like two lovers on the phone: “You put the phone down first.” “No, you put the phone down first.” “Okay, on the count of three: one … two … three … Are you still there?” “I couldn’t put the phone down.” “Me neither.” I tend to write longer comments than most people. On occasion my comments are longer than the original post. I don’t try and comment on every post I read with the possible exception of your good self but then you only post once a week and always raise issues that, for me at least, I find hard to respond to in a couple of sentences. This, of course, means that I can easily spend an hour reading and responding to one of your posts which is a part of the reason I suspect I’m feeling overburdened at the moment because I rarely dash off a comment to anyone and half a dozen comments from me can use up a couple of hours or more easily because I like to give meaningful and helpful responses even though I often get no response or a one-liner but that’s fine as long as people don’t think that I’m the kind of person who just likes hearing the sound of his own voice; that would upset me.

Poetry and brevity do tend to go hand in fist but the fewer words you use the greater chance that what you’ve written will be misinterpreted. One of the reasons Murnane writes as he does is to maintain a level of precision that only lawyers aspire to. Not a single one of the sentences in any of the poems I have written aspires to that level of clarity. My poetry masquerades as a precision instrument but the level of precision I am aiming at is that the words will be a comfortable fit for the right reader. On occasion the poem is custom-made, the poems for Jen that were published recently are a good example; that doesn’t mean that others can’t try them on for size and get something out of them but only one person will get them the way they were intended to be got.

Murnane quit poetry for a reason. It’s not for everyone. There are times when I have even wondered if what I write is poetry and wouldn’t life be so much easier if I simply referred to everything I commit to paper as simply ‘writing’ just as Murnane eschews the terms ‘novel’ and ‘short story’ because, at the end of the day, all that matters to me is the writing and as soon as you label anything you set is aside a list of criteria that it may or may not meet to everyone’s satisfaction. I’m a writer. I write words on paper and on computer screens and I’m content with that.

This is where I agree with you, Art, and, as always, I’m playing devil’s advocate here, tossing ideas up in the air to see where they land. As much as I enjoy these little explorations of writing they don’t really alter how I approach my writing and that I to do what comes naturally. The written word may not exist in nature but the need to communicate does. Even my cockatiel can communicate to me when he wants a scritch or a drink out of the glass of water I happen to be carrying. I know the poetry in this particular article is not the kind you get the most out of. I, on the other hand, love this stuff and can happily read these poems even though I wrote them over and over again. I wish I could find another poet out there who writes like me. I would really like to read some poetry like mine where I don’t know the punch line.

Dave King said...

I think this is brilliant. I THINK it is, but I also think I might have misread it. I thought you were going to deal with the difference between prose and poetry, and now I'm not sure whether you did or not, so I don't know whether I'm disappointed or not or whether it matters or not. Whatever you did you did it implicitly, so that's alright. All I'm sure of is that I wish I'd written it. No, hang on, I'm also sure I shall come back for another read.

Jim Murdoch said...

Actually, Dave, the post was supposed to be about voyeurism in writers and readers. A writer can fling the curtain open and reveal everything or leave a reader to interpret the shadows moving back and forth in front of the light. Brilliance is blinding. I’m wary of it. I wrote a long time ago:

        It's not the dark
        that fills you with fear,
        but the light,
        for the light makes you blind,
        and therein lies the real fear.

I used the difference in levels of illumination in the article to make this point. For years the word ‘Light’—often capitalised—appeared in my poems as a synonym for truth (which also was usually capitalised). I liked the idea of shining the light of truth into someone’s eyes and effectively blinding them. Light and truth can be beneficial and also destructive; subdued lighting and half-truths set a different mood entirely.

Jim Murdoch said...

Well, who, where do I start with this mammoth comment? There is too much here to respond to everything and so I’ll just talk about what jumps out at me.

Expletives: I rarely use these in real life—I was not brought up around people who swore and never developed the habit in later life. Occasionally I’ll put swear words in the mouths of my characters but even they don’t cuss much, only when it’s appropriate; in the whole of Milligan and Murphy I think there is one ‘bloody’, a ‘shite’, a ‘cunny’ and one ‘fuck’ although there are a few ‘fecks’. My wife did suggest I remove the ‘fuck’ but I argued that it was contextually appropriate and it was to stay.

Pissing people off: I’m really not interested in doing this even where I think I have just cause. It’s never helpful in winning arguments to bait whoever it is you’re going to be facing. I, honestly, have few opinions strong enough to wave a red flag in anyone’s face and those things I do feel strongly about I tend to keep to myself.

Communication through writing: Even bad writing communicates. As soon as you string two words together people will try and interpret them. Handwriting is capable of colouring the words: an angry hand where the pen nib digs into the paper says a lot before you’ve read the first word.

Angels: Having no interest in anything remotely spiritual I don’t think about angels as anything other than metaphors. I was brought up as a Christian and so know what the Bible says about angels and their functions and so am happy to reference them in the same way as I would reference a book of fiction or a television programme. I’m just as likely to talk about daleks as I am to talk about angels.

Gall bladders: I have one but in the past fifty-two years it’s never given me any grief. I can’t say the same for my kidneys, eyes and lungs but if it wasn’t those then it would have been something else. There are very few of us who are 100% healthy. Everyone has something they have to endure. Sometimes doctors can fix the problem, often not. If you do have gall bladder problems then whether your friends get involved or not you need to seek medical assistance and soon.

Trust and belief: I struggle with beliefs. Beliefs are the poor man’s faith. They don’t need to be true, they just need to be plausible. There are very few things I believe in so strongly that I would march through the street waving banners. Trust can be earned but I have a tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt until they let me down or take advantage of me. This is evident online. We want to believe the best and most of the time people are what they appear to be but once we feel that that’s no longer the case regaining that trust is a completely different ballgame.

As much as I appreciate your comments, who, do try and be a little briefer in the future. I simply don’t have the time to spend on lengthy exchanges. My own rule of thumb is to try and say everything in a single comment. You can do a lot with the 4096 characters Blogger allows for a single entry. That way I stick to the point, say what’s most important and I don’t overburden the blogger who feels duty bound to respond to me.

Tim Love said...

There's something called "Relevance theory" that ties in with this. In "Relevance", D.Sperber and D.Wilson, say "poetic effect [is] the peculiar effect of an utterance which achieves most of its relevance through a wide array of weak implicatures."

They point out many situations where the meaning of a statement depends on the context (and might be a non-sequitur for AI). E.g.

Peter: Is Jack a good sailor?
Mary: ALL the English are good sailors."

Scattercat said...

I'm reminded of a discussion on Metafilter in which someone elaborated on ask culture versus guess culture.

Do you think the cultural surroundings have any impact on whether a writer is more or less likely to attempt to be explicit or implicit?

who said...

Thanks for the good advice Jim, it's clear to me that your time is important to you and I appreciate the calm way you repeated that about yourself with a hack of a lot of patience. As this wasn't the first time I visited your blog in ways that are not the manor that you most appreciate.

Luckily for me you are one who seems to understand the both implicit and explicit knowledge. More than that, there are probably many subjects which you have extensive knowledge of the subject, from both sides of the fence (the fence that divides implicit and explicit) And maybe that is why you have been so patient with my behavior. That you understand the chaos, or the madness that results from the frustration of envisioning a bridge that connects the two sides along with a well thought out and tested process of constructing said bridge yet the world is not quite ready for it.

and until it is, attempting to construct the bridge in real life, is nothing like real life and only exists as nightmarish.

Makes me think that from experience, you know or are smart enough not to build, until the world is ready and actually desires it.

That is a wisdom I don't have, so I can honestly appreciate that understanding which I now have. Even if it was nowhere near what you were trying say.

Thank You Jim

because I do not want to disrespect you here or anywhere, even when it seems like that may be my intent, I think you know it has more to do with a severely confused point of view of what, when, from where and from who the information is coming from. But I do think I have a better idea of the thoughts that intend to willingly share. And I can definitely appreciate the not liking the being overwhelmed.

thanks Jim

Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, very relevant, Tim. But I’m afraid when I read your wee example this is what came to mind:

Peter: Is Jack a good sailor?
Mary: ALL the English are good sailors."
Peter: What are you on about, woman? I was talking about our accountant, Jack Cohen.

Another thought-provoking point, Scattercat, and to answer your question I would have to say, yes, I do. This reminds me of something the Scottish author William McIlvanney said about the use of metaphor, that the lower down the social strata you went the more metaphorical the language became.

And, who, I’m glad you can see where I’m coming from. Never for a minute though did I imagine that your intent was to disrespect me.

Gwil W said...

I'd guess that the forbidden fruit was not an apple but that it was a fig. A fig leaf as used to hide the genitals. A fig as a forbidden erotic fruit shape.

Jim Murdoch said...

That might be the case Gwilliam, if sex was the forbidden fruit but as God has already told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth I somehow doubt that.

Gwil W said...

Maybe it wasn't that sex itself was the forbidden but that the act of using it for other reasons than love, and engaging in unnatural practices was the forbidden fruit. They took to wearing clothes to cover their nakedness. So what did they want to hide? Disease? Infections?

Jim Murdoch said...

I try and not get involved in scriptural discussions, Gwilliam, especially as in a case like this, the answer is not clearly expounded in the Bible. If someone had asked Jesus, "Lord, why did Adam and Eve cover their nakedness?" and Jesus had said, "Well, the reason is such and such," I'd just refer you to the appropriate scripture and be done with it. There isn't one and so any explanation is open to debate. I've done a bit of research to see if I could jog my memory on the subject and the best answer I found online was this one from Chabat,org:

Prior to their sin, Adam and Eve knew good from bad, right from wrong, but they had not internalized an evil inclination. So they could choose to do right and wrong, and were held responsible for their choices, but the urge to do evil did not come from within. This urge was represented by the serpent—the external tempter. Since the evil did not reside within them, they were "naturally" good, and their nakedness was innocent and in no way sinful. They saw no difference between a hand, whose purpose was to give charity and to do good deeds, a mouth with which one praises G‑d and says kind words to others, and the parts of the body which are used to "be fruitful and multiply." With every organ they could fulfill the will of G‑d or vice versa, so no organ was shameful, nor did anything need to be covered.

When they ate of the Tree of Knowledge, the evil inclination became a part of them. No longer did they need an external tempter to incite them to sin—now, that tempter resided within their psyches. And specifically, sexual passion – a passion which is much stronger than the desire to give charity or praise G‑d, a passion which is much more encompassing and has the potential to be seriously misused – became a part of them as well.

Hence the abovementioned verse. "The eyes of both of them were opened" – they became aware of physical lust "and they realized that they were naked" – and only now it was inappropriate for them to be unclothed.

In addition I might add that any sex act would provide evidence that they had sinned because any progeny would be sin-infected.

Gwil W said...

Hi Jim,

Eve was of-Adam so she must have been his daughter.

As a matter of interest there's an interesting police investigation going on right now in Germany where it has been discovered that a man had sex for several years with his daughter and that she produced three sons, all of them damaged goods. A modern day Adam and Eve no less.

Did God tell the original Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply knowing that they would produce the madness in the human condition? If not, who did? The serpent? But then who created the serpent?

Kass said...

My return to blog reading is not disappointing. I love this post.

I've been thinking about you lately because the phrase, "...we hold these truths to be self-evident..." keeps going through my head, along with your imagined response.

Can any truth be self-evident? Is truth aware of itself?

In this phrase, the writers of the Declaration of Independence are claiming that "all men are created equal" and "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." They say this truth is "self-evident," meaning that human rights require no defense because their virtue is unquestionable, but I think even this assumption can be questioned.

All cats (and people) are peeping toms, but we're pussies too, pussyfooting around for our own amusement to avoid confrontations because not many of us can really handle the truth of any visage or statement. We skew our perceptions in proportion to our ability to internalize truth.

Once again, a thought-provoking and entertaining post.

Love the poems.

Anonymous said...

Nice take on the whole showing vs. telling adage, and I'm impressed by how well you wove your poetry into this post!

Jim Murdoch said...

This is why I don’t like to start talking about the Bible, Gwilliam, because I end up arguing about or defending stuff that I no longer care about. Eve was not Adam’s daughter; she was half of him and I don’t think we have a term for what she was in relation to Adam. Does this mean that Adam was an hermaphrodite when he was first created? It’s conjecture—all of this is conjecture—but it does seem a reasonable proposition.

Incest was not a sin until it was prohibited by God as part of the Law Covenant. Why then and not before? Because Man was closer to perfection and there was no harm in close relative having relations. Where did Cain get his wife? She was probably his wife or a niece. The Bible doesn’t say how many children Adam and Eve had. All Genesis 5:4 says is that they had "other sons and daughters". That God would wish his children to produce madness is inconceivable if you accept the fact that “[t]he LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” (Psa. 145:17)

So, if God is so good, where did Satan come from? Satan was an angel, a perfect creation, like Adam and Eve. What’s the difference between a perfect and an imperfect person? Inclination. A perfect person’s natural inclination is to do what’s right in God’s eyes whereas an imperfect person’s natural inclination is to do what seems right in their own eyes. An imperfect person is quite capable of going against his natural inclination to be selfish and do what it right and in exactly the same way a perfect person—without any outside agency trying to influence him—is capable of literally tempting himself.

Jim Murdoch said...

Kass, lovely to see you back commenting again. Okay, since Gwilliam’s got me on a roll let’s look at Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Since “the world’s creation”—particularly since the creation of intelligent human creatures, who could perceive God’s existence—it has been evident that there is a Creator of immense power, a God worthy of devotion. Those who fail to acknowledge God’s glory are thus inexcusable. At least that was the apostle Paul’s view and yet there are millions of people on the Earth these days who simply don’t see it that way. In epistemology a self-evident proposition is one that is known to be true by understanding its meaning without proof and a lot of people would argue that that is precisely what God expects from us. That was not what I was brought up to believe. I was brought up to look for answers to things. Granted not everything I would have liked to have an answer to has one, as I illustrated above talking about the nature of Adam before there was an Eve, but would knowing the answer change the important facts?

Of course what some people seek as proof is often more than is readily available which is why so many people these days no longer believe in God despite the ‘evidence’ all around them (and I would include the Bible as part of that). Self-evidence does not mean self-awareness though.

Carrie and I have watched a succession of courtroom dramas over the past few months and I find that I often get quite riled up watching what passes for justice in American courtrooms. One of the worst offenders was the show Raising the Bar because it seemed like every week there was some (to my mind) miscarriage of justice taking place. I hated how people weren’t interested in truth, even though most of those ‘truths’ were ‘self-evident’ (in the more colloquial use of the term meaning as obvious as the noses on their faces).

Since I was at school I have had it impressed upon me to look for proofs which is why the line in ‘The Gospel According to Sweet William’ says, “three points make a straight line” where the rule-of-thumb tells us that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. My maths teacher, although he didn’t seek to disprove that recommended that it was always a good idea when plotting a graph to make sure that a third point was bisected by that line—just to be sure.

And, Milo, yes, I did manage to cram quite a few in this wee article although there were more I could have included. This whole subject is one I’ve found very hard to leave alone.

Art Durkee said...

At the risk of contributing to the false dualism of polarized impulses, it does relevant to mention that voyeurs need exhibitionists. They sort of need each other to be complete, each feeding the others' need. At some point that can become co-dependent, and to be honest I do see that in some writers' relationships with their readers.

Lots of "confessional" writers are blatant exhibitionists, which is one reason I think that "confessional" poetry has been so popular: it feeds the need for gossip. But even other kinds of writing can be exhibitionistic. It depends in part on motivations both overt and hidden. Are you sharing your deep innermost memoir darkest secrets because it's personally cathartic and necessary for you, or are you doing it because it gives you a thrill to be "seen"? I think that's often a fair question with a lot of autobiography and fiction one sees these days.

One of the most over-praised of mainstream fiction writers these days, and one of the most imitated, is Philip Roth, who has always struck me as narcissistic, self-absorbed, and exhibitionistic, all at the same time. Other writers who also expose their vulnerabilities to the reader, but don't do so to fill their own narcissism, I think are far more worth reading than Roth. D.H. Lawrence sometimes comes across this way, although at his best he does get through to something deeper.

Of course not all writers are openly exhibitionist, and not all readers are voyeurs. Of course these analogies, especially the binary-polarized ones, have their limits. And I don't for a moment believe that all writers of memoir are either exhibitionists or narcissistic—although to be fair, some are. Again, I tend to look at the motivations. A lot of memoir writing can be very therapeutic for the writer, and very healing; sometimes that's true for others in similar situations, so it's worth sharing. But not all things are relevant to all people, so one is left sometimes feeling disconnected from the writer—which is itself a meta-condition, a metaphor for how we connect as people.

who said...

I know it's sounds off topic, but as far as "At the risk of contributing to the false dualism of polarized impulses", people who actually do have what seems to be polar opposite views are the ones who have the greatest potential to devise revolutionary solutions to problems. But revolutionary not in terms of revolt but more along the lines of miraculous answers to problems.

A true opposing view will always be a night and day difference between working with a "devil's advocate" because one is a waste of time and the other (when working with one who is in opposition) work toward a higher cause.

when respect, honesty and responsibility are the character traits of opposing sides and the parties (or countries) are not confused, countries who were once enemies, have the potential to damn near create new worlds with solutions when it is necessary.

when it is necessary, and respect, honesty and responsibility are among the people who are aware, opposites complement.

and sometimes that is the only way to make it work

Gwil W said...

If the God/s had meant us to understand all this they should have given us clearer instructions. There's a tribe somewhere who believe that Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh is their God.

No, the God/s wanted to confuse us. They saw the danger of us becoming as powerful as God/s. They confused us by giving us too many different languages.

The EU for instance, is an example of this, for here we have 27 different countries with 23 different languages. It is utter confusion. The UN, IAEA an so on also spring immediately to mind. Even the churches themselves. Think of the Pope's 'Urbi et Orbi' greeting in 60 different languages for example.

Jesus wrote some stuff down but unfortunately, so far as we know, it was only on the ground with his finger. So even He went along with the scam.

Jim Murdoch said...

Maybe some voyeurs need exhibitionists, Art, but I’m not one of them. If someone knows I’m watching then they start performing and a I’m not interested in a performance, I’m interested in truth. And I suspect that an exhibitionist is much the same. Yes, they like to know they’re being seen but I would suspect there’s more excitement to be had in attracting the attention of an anybody turning them into a voyeur as opposed to simply satisfying the need of someone who’s already that way inclined. Just a thought. I suspect literary voyeurism is quite different to sexual voyeurism. I’m afraid on the odd occasion where I have caught a glimpse of a semi-naked woman the writer in me has taken over as he always does.

Since there is an element of autobiography in all writing one might argue that there is an element of exhibitionism in all writing too. I suppose the question an author would need to answer here is: If you could get your work published anonymously, would that matter to you? I have mixed thoughts about that but only because I’d want to ensure that all my writing was grouped together and not mixed up with someone else’s especially since my novels, my stories and my poems are all very different from each other.

One thing I am not, on any level, is an exhibitionist. I have no desire to drawn any more attention to myself than I absolutely have to.

Jim Murdoch said...

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time.” George Orwell called that ‘doublethink’. Psychologists call it ‘cognitive dissonance’. I suppose the Bible, since I’ve spent more time quote scripture in this comment thread than I feel comfortable with, would talk about “limping on two different opinions”. I just think it’s a good thing to be able to see both sides of an argument. In some cases there is a clear right and wrong but mostly that’s not the case; there are pros and cons and it’s a matter of making an informed decision, who.

And, Gwilliam, I’m going to draw a line here otherwise we’ll be at this for weeks and weeks. I have no interest in promoting the party line. I still remember much of what I was taught growing up—indoctrination is hard to shake—and I have a clear concept in my head as regards religious truth which, I have to say, most religions do not come close to living up to. I didn’t reject the religion I was brought up in because I found a better one but because I was at fault. They required me to live my life according to standards that I was incapable of living up to; doctrine was never the issue, rather the practical application of faith in my life. What do you do when you learn the truth? You change your life in accordance with what you’ve learned and are “set free”. I went through the motions, doing what I was told was right, hoping that by osmosis I might start to feel comfortable with this lifestyle but I never did. I had no issues with whether God created the heavens and the earth in six days and that those days are not literal days because I could reason from the scriptures how long the rest day was and the same with all the Adam and Eve stuff. It’s like learning French. You can study French at university, read French books, eat in French restaurants, go on holiday to France, meet a nice French girl, get married, move to France and raise a bunch of French kids but you will never be French. I do not understand spirituality. I can pray, study the Bible, adhere to the Ten Commandments, associate with fellow believers and all that crap and I did but none of it changed who I am fundamentally and so on principle I left. If, however, I do run into someone who promotes themselves as a believer and I see them missing the mark I’m still perfectly happy to point out the error of their ways. For example, I met a girl online many years ago who maintained she was a Christian but was having an affair. She had her reasons and they were good ones but when she said, “God will understand,” I had to interrupt and go, “Er, no, he won’t. He was very clear about his stance on adultery. So, by all means go ahead and adulterate to your heart’s content but don’t say that God’s okay with it because you need him to be.” If you’re going to do anything do it right, be that a writer or a Christian. This is why I object to those who say that “it’s a poem because I say it is.” Same kind of mentality. Do what you want but don’t all it poetry. Now I’m starting to rant. Time to sign off.

Gwil W said...

Line drawn, Jim. It gets like tennis. Imagine McEnroe ;).

who said...

and when their is no violence, two opposing countries trying to work out a solution together for the good of both countries (like one cause instead of two opposing sides) that is not far from one person whose mind is capable of holding two opposite opinions.

In fact it may be betters that one person because there is less of a chance of said person's input or ideas being immediately dismissed as insane.

but it is important to have sides who genuinely have opposing opinions because when the problems are serious and the stakes high, those directly responsible for engineering a working solution will not be happy to entertain ideas just for the hell of it.

such a process has few attributes which are light about it. So it is already a stressful task and they key is to find solutions that take a volatile situation to one of all people feeling content.

which may be the reason for way back when, leaders taking the world down a path wherein what they thought was reality was more important than the reality of the world's situation.

there are no more rugs to sweep anything under that will not cause many times more damage then it would have to deal with what actually happened.

The hard parts in such situations are less about implementation of the fix, but rather the bringing the people up to speed with truth.

and the truth is that the world cannot sustain another environmental disaster due to the man-made aspects of our life which we do not come full circle and cycle into the beginning of an similar system which it began. In burning fossil fuel there is no way it can be returned as part of a cycle. With the numbers of individuals that must be provided for during these days. Any way of life that is like our reliance on fossil fuel for energy that is not seriously considered temporary (as in finding a permanent energy supply) is setting up our children for failure. A failure that they deserve to be informed about. And the more we ignore it the more I believe we are responsible and will be held responsible for the life we robbed them of but had no problem leaving ours unplundered

Kass said...

Thank you for that treatise on self-evident truth. It was much more thoughtful than the conversation I ran in my mind.

The Romans quote is excellent. If only everyone could CLEARLY see what should be so obvious. It seems man can't come to an agreement on the reason for our being, making arguments difficult, tedious and eternal.

Jim Murdoch said...

The other one that always got me, Kass, was, the Bible’s definition of faith: “the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld” (Hebrews 11:1) but, again, how I was taught to interpret that was to see faith as something that was based on actual realities. To illustrate: I went to collect my sister once and arrived with a minute to spare to find her outside her flat waiting for me. I asked her why she wasn’t waiting within the warmth of her flat: what if I was late?” and her reply was quite simply, “Jimmy, you’re never late.” She had faith in me based on years of experience and the fact is I can only remember ever being late for anything once and that was me setting off with about two hours to spare. As far as my sister was concerned I was as good as there when she walked out of the door of her flat. I earned her faith in me.

In the past everything was much simpler. The existence of an all-powerful creator was just obvious. Nowadays philosophers have given us cause to question absolutely everything. In the past things were true or they weren’t true and people would look at you funny if you argued it any other way. Not so these days. That’s why I took the stance that I did as regards religion: I don’t care. I’m not a believer, a lapsed anything, an agnostic or an atheist. I’ve walked off the playing field and I’m happy sitting on the bleachers. That’s where this poem came from:


        The distance
        between belief
        and disbelief
        is not great;
        they could almost
        be mistaken
        for the same place.

        The journey
        can take a while
        and most will stand
        at the border
        afraid to cross
        over for an

        Me? I sit
        on the fence and
        watch the traffic
        go to and fro
        day in, day out.
        I suppose it's
        the cat in me.

        15 January 2003

Gwil W said...

That's a lovely poem, Jim. There's a friend of mine who is always late. I have faith that he will be late. And he never lets me down. Your sister is lucky. I'm with your cat and Thomas Gray. Things just are as they are.

But knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;
Chill penury repressed their npble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

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