23 Apr 2019

Evolution Needs Death More Than It Loves Life: Reflections on Extinction Rebellion

Poster by Extinction Rebellion Art Group

What does it mean to rebel against extinction?

Ironically, it means one is opposed to the driving force of evolution; which is to say, one is anti-life understood in the immoral terms of difference and becoming.

For whether we like it or not, mass extinctions periodically destroy up to 95% of life forms in giant orgies of death and scientists think that 99.9% of all species that have ever lived have now - like the Monty Python parrot - passed on, ceased to be, joined the choir invisible. It's simply pointless protesting the fact that evolution needs death more than it loves life.          

We used to think the sun revolved around the earth. Then we discovered it wasn't so. Now there are young people who sincerely believe the earth revolves around them. The overly-privileged and self-righteous children of generation snowflake who talk about saving the planet are, ultimately, only concerned about protecting their own future.

But alas, everything isn't all about them - anymore than it's all about the polar bears or coral reef - and their will to conserve and self-preserve has become a form of mania expressed as moral and political alarmism.

Whisper it quietly, but every species is ultimately endangered and will one day topple into the abyss of non-existence. And if, as certainly seems to be the case, humanity is giving profligate Nature a helping hand by rapidly speeding up the extinction rate and destroying the environment, it might be remembered that we too are part of the biosphere and our actions just as natural as those of any other species.

In other words, there's no need to feel guilty or sinful; the so-called sixth extinction event lacks moral significance, even if we're the causal agents. Besides, as biologist R. Alexander Pyron has pointed out:

"Unless we somehow destroy every living cell on Earth, the sixth extinction will be followed by a recovery, and later a seventh extinction, and so on. [...] Within a few million years of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, the post-apocalyptic void had been filled by an explosion of diversity - modern mammals, birds and amphibians of all shapes and sizes. This is how evolution proceeds: through extinction."

Professor Pyron also reminds us that whatever effort we make to stabilise and maintain present conditions, sea-levels and temperatures will continue to rise and fall and the climate as we know it today will eventually be "overrun by the inexorable forces of space and geology".

Finally, it should be noted that even the most rebellious of extinction rebels doesn't object to the planned eradication of deadly diseases such as HIV, Ebola, and malaria, even though these are "key components of microbial biodiversity, as unique as pandas, elephants and orangutans". As indicated earlier, the campaign to save the Earth is really a campaign to save the Earth for us: Extinction Rebellion is just another exercise in anthropocentric conceit and hypocrisy.   

Thus, whilst it's true that climate change may have certain dramatic effects - such as coastal flooding and widespread famines - and whilst it makes sense to take action to mitigate these things, I refuse to be lectured by adolescent eco-warriors, bandwagon jumping celebrities, or grey-bearded old hippies with an apocalyptic worldview.

In fact, push comes to shove, I remain more sympathetic to the arguments put forward by members of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, founded by Les U. Knight in 1991. For like Rupert Birkin, I regard people as an obstruction and a hindrance to the future unfolding of evolution and believe that only our self-extinction will allow life to continue perfect and marvellous in all its inhuman splendour.

See: R. Alexander Pyron, 'We don’t need to save endangered species. Extinction is part of evolution.' The Washington Post (22 Nov 2017): click here.

And click here for my post on Voluntary Human Extinction (published 12 October 2013). 

22 Apr 2019

Three Cases of Brain Theft

I. The Case of Mr. Spock

As fans of Star Trek will know, 'Spock's Brain' was the opening episode of the third and final season of the original TV series.

Written by Gene L. Coon and directed by Marc Daniels, the episode was first broadcast on 20 September, 1968, and tells the amusing story of how an alien beauty beams aboard the Enterprise in order to surgically remove and steal Spock's brain. Capt. Kirk and his crew have just 24 hours to locate said organ and pop it back into Spock's empty skull before his brainless body dies.

Personally, I quite like the episode for its B-movie charm, although it's widely regarded as the worst of the entire series; even Leonard Nimoy admitted to feeling embarrassed during the shooting of the episode. Claims, however, that it strains credibility seem ridiculous to me. For even at its most plausible, Star Trek is hardly gritty social realism and I'm pretty sure that the Enterprise doesn't even have a kitchen sink.

Long story short, Dr. McCoy - with the assistance of Spock himself - successfully returns the brain to its rightful location and all's well that ends well. 

II. The Case of Adolf Hitler

Unlike Mr. Spock, Adolf Hitler is not a fictional character. However, it's important to stress that the 1968 film They Saved Hitler's Brain, directed by David Bradley, is not a documentary detailing real events.*

Adapted (and extended) for TV from a 1963 feature film entitled Madmen of Mandoras, it tells the tale of how Nazi officials removed Hitler's still-living head at the end of the Second World War and transported it to a (fictional) South American hideaway, in the hope that they might one day be able to bring the Führer back to full consciousness and thence resurrect the Third Reich.      

From 1945, the movie leaps forward into the 1960s and the surviving Nazis, having decided the time is right, kidnap a leading scientist in the field of neurosurgery in order to help fulfil their evil scheme. Unfortunately, however, Western intelligence agencies are aware of what's going on and determined to foil the plan. I'll not reveal the ending, just in case any readers are interested in watching the film for themselves: click here

Amusingly, They Saved Hitler's Brain is referenced in several episodes of The Simpsons (and at least one episode of Futurama), suggesting Matt Groening either has something of a fan's penchant for the film, or an obsession with Hitler's brain.

And note also - according to the Dead Kennedys - if you want to make a Tricky Dickie Screwdriver, you'll need to mix "one part Jack Daniels, two parts purple Kool-Aid, and a jigger of formaldehyde from the jar with Hitler's brain in it".** 

III. The Case of Albert Einstein

Finally, we come to the case of Albert Einstein; a case involving a real man, a real brain, and a real theft committed just hours after his death in April 1955.

Even whilst he was still alive, people were fascinated with Einstein's brain. Such an organ, belonging to one of the greatest of all scientific geniuses, just had to have special properties, or be significantly larger in size than the standard model. No surprise, therefore, that before his body had even chance to cool, his cranium was being removed and brain dissected - though what is surprising is that this was done without his prior consent or the permission of his family.***

Einstein's autopsy was conducted by the pathologist Thomas Stoltz Harvey. Having removed and weighed the brain, Harvey then popped it in a jar of formalin and smuggled it to a lab at the University of Pennsylvania, where he photographed it from numerous angles, before then cutting it into around 240 slices, encasing these segments in a plastic-like material called collodion.

Harvey kept some of these for himself; others, he distributed amongst fellow pathologists, all of whom were eager to have a piece of Einstein's brain. One lucky fellow, Einstein's ophthalmologist, received the great man's eyes that Harvey had also taken time to remove and carefully preserve.   

In 1978, what remained of Einstein's brain in Harvey's possession was rediscovered by a journalist interested in the story (preserved in alcohol in two large jars and hidden in a box). Eventually, in 2010, Harvey's heirs transferred all of his holdings - including the remains of Einstein's brain and fourteen never-seen-before photographs of the organ prior to dissection - to the National Museum of Health and Medicine, in Silver Spring, Maryland.    


* Hitler committed suicide along with his wife, Eva, on April 30, 1945, and their bodies were burned according to his instructions. The Red Army, who captured Berlin just a few days later, discovered the charred remains and shipped them back to Russia, where a piece of jaw bone and a fragment of skull were secretly kept in the Soviet State Archives.

** I'm referring to (and quoting from) the Dead Kennedys track 'We've Got a Bigger Problem Now', from the EP In God We Trust, Inc. (Alternative Tentacles, 1981): click here to play. 

*** Einstein's eldest son endorsed the removal of his father's brain, but only after the event and only on the condition that it should be used for serious research to be published in respected scientific journals.

For a related post to this one on brains in jars, click here.

20 Apr 2019

Reflections on Brains in Jars

Dr. Hfuhruhurr meets Miss Uumellmahaye in
The Man with Two Brains (dir. Carl Reiner, 1983)


Readers with knowledge of analytic philosophy will know of the brain in a vat idea that is deployed as an updated version of Descartes's concept of the evil demon in thought experiments concerning mind and meaning, or the relationship between consciousness and reality.

Typically, a brain in a vat scenario is used to support an argument for philosophical skepticism and solipsism. In brief, this argument goes as follows: since a brain in a vat transmits and receives exactly the same impulses as a brain in a skull - and since these impulses are its only way of interacting with the world - it's impossible for that brain ever to know for sure its own location and this has serious implications for the truth or falsity of a subject's beliefs.

In other words, because it's impossible to completely rule out that one is not simply a disembodied brain in a vat, there cannot be firm grounds for believing the things that one believes to be true (or real) with any certainty. As might be imagined, there are objections raised from within philosophy and biology that suggest this thought experiment is fundamentally absurd, but, unfortunately, I don't have time to go into these here.


Readers without knowledge of analytic philosophy - but who know their sci-fi literature and films - will be more familiar with a scenario in which a mad scientist or advanced alien being removes a person's brain and suspends it in a jar containing some kind of life-sustaining fluid that is connected up with electrodes to a machine that simulates reality for the disembodied brain, thus allowing it to continue to have thoughts and feelings without these being related to objects or events in the actual world.

Think, for example, of Anne Uumellmahaye in The Man with Two Brains (1983), starring Steve Martin as pioneering neurosurgeon Dr. Hfuhruhurr, famous for his method of cranial screw-top surgery. Whilst at a conference in Vienna, Hfuhruhurr encounters Dr. Necessiter (played by David Warner), who has invented a radical new technique enabling him to (briefly) preserve living brains in jars (the plan being to eventually transplant them into new bodies, beginning with that of a gorilla). 

Of course, this is just a movie. But, apparently, it is medically possible to keep an isolated brain alive in vitro before one places it into a new body, or, as in the case of Mr. Spock, returns it to its rightful owner. This requires a method of perfusion, or the use of an oxygenated solution of various salts (i.e. a blood substitute).

Any reader thinking of playing Dr. Necessiter, however, should note that they would probably have greater success attaching a whole head to the body of another organism, rather than simply attempting to pop a brain into an empty skull. It might also be noted that so far most of the experimental research in this field has been carried out using guinea pigs and not human test subjects; certainly no such procedures using people have been reported in a peer reviewed scientific journal that I'm aware of.

Click here to watch the scene in The Man with Two Brains in which Steve Martin as Dr. Hfuhruhurr meets Anne Uumellmahaye (voiced by Sissy Spacek, although she was uncredited in the movie). 

For a follow up post to this one on the theft of famous brains, click here.  

19 Apr 2019

Easter with the Anti-Christ: (2019 Version)

Eric Idle and Graham Chapman in The Life of Brian (1979)


Although Voltaire advised that we crush the Church and its vile superstitions - and whilst Nietzsche became increasingly hostile towards der Gekreuzigte, pitching his own Dionysian philosophy in direct opposition to Christianity conceived as "the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity [...] the one immortal blemish of mankind" - I'm increasingly coming round to the view that the best thing to do is simply laugh at Jesus hanging on his Cross, just as the Monty Python cast laughed in The Life of Brian and as Larry David often laughs in Curb Your Enthusiasm ...


One of the most controversial scenes in The Life of Brian (1979) is the ending in which Brian Cohen - who has been mistaken for the Messiah throughout his life - is crucified. Christian critics and protesters said it was mocking the Passion of Christ, which, of course, it is, no matter what the makers or defenders of the film may like to pretend.

But then that's precisely why it's so amusing and subversive of all the unnecessary suffering and pain that Christianity fetishises and foists upon us. I agree with director Terry Jones, when he argues that any creed that transforms a form of torture and execution into an iconic symbol before which to kneel, is a perversely corrupt form of religion.   

In just eight words, the Pythons perform a magnificent revaluation: Always look on the bright side of life. Such stoicism and, more importantly, gay insouciance, is profoundly anti-Christian and lyricist Eric Idle is to be congratulated. If only Jesus had of cared less about sin and dared to give his followers a grin ...


In a season five episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry's father-in-law has purchased a nail on the internet and is wearing it proudly around his neck. The nail, he says, was used in The Passion of the Christ (2004) - Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic piece of Christian torture porn.

Clearly, not the kind of film likely to appeal to Larry (or any sane individual), he can't resist trying to provoke Cheryl's idiot father:

"'You're nuts about this Jesus guy, aren't you?'
'Yeah, I have a personal relationship with Christ.'
'I can see worshipping Jesus if he were a girl, like if God had a daughter. Jane. I'll worship a Jane.' 
'But, you know, to worship a guy, it's like a little, you know, it's a little gay, isn't it?'
'It's the Son of God! What's the matter with you?'
'I'm just saying. A girl ... I would worship Jane, if he had a daughter Jane. I could have a relationship with a Jane.'
'He didn't have a daughter!'
'It's a shame it wasn't a girl. That's all I have to say. Good-looking woman, zatfig, you know? Good sense of humour.'   
'No! No! No!'
'If he had a daughter, everybody - everybody - would worship Jane.'"

This scene isn't perhaps as outrageous or as provocative as the Python scene, but it's beautifully blasphemous in its own way. It's worth noting also that, later in the episode, Larry takes the nail and uses it to hang a mezuzah to the door before his own father's arrival.

And on that note ... Happy Easter to all torpedophiles. 


In a letter to the mathematician and philosopher Jean le Rond d'Alembert (28 November 1762), Voltaire famously wrote: Quoi que vous fassiez, écrasez l'infâme, et aimez qui vous aime. Those interested in Voltaire's correspondence can visit Oxford University's Voltaire Foundation: click here.   

Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (Penguin Books, 1990), section 62.

Click here for the end scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian (dir. Terry Jones, 1979). The song, 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life', can be found on the film soundtrack album released by Warner Bros. Records (1979).  

Click here for the scene transcribed above from 'The Christ Nail' (S5/E3), Curb Your Enthusiasm, written by Larry David,  dir. by Robert B. Weide, (2005). 

Finally, for the 2013 version of Easter with the Anti-Christ, click here

16 Apr 2019

Believe in the Ruins: Reflections of a Gargoyle on the Great Fire of Notre-Dame de Paris

croire aux ruines ...


It's a shame that the fire at Notre-Dame only destroyed the roof and spire, leaving the towers and most of the building still standing. It would have been better for the people of France - better for all of us - if the whole thing had been razed to the ground.

I say this not as some kind of cultural barbarian or iconoclast, nor simply to be provocative; but, rather, as someone in agreement with D. H. Lawrence, who writes in one of his Etruscan sketches:

"We have reached the stage where we are weary of huge stone erections, and we begin to realise that it is  better to keep life fluid and changing, than try to hold it fast down in heavy monuments. Burdens on the face of the earth, are man's ponderous erections."

Like Lawrence, I love to see small wooden temples, that are unimposing and evanescent as flowers. Buildings - particularly religious buildings - should aim to be modest and charming rather than grand and impressive, preserving the natural humour of life: "And that is a task surely more worthy, and even much more difficult in the long run, than conquering the world or sacrificing the self or saving the immortal soul."   

Lawrence continues:

"Why has mankind such a craving to be imposed upon! Why this lust after imposing creeds, imposing deeds, imposing buildings, imposing language, imposing works of art? The thing becomes an imposition and a weariness at last. Give us things that are alive and flexible, which won't last too long and become an obstruction and a weariness."

Even Notre-Dame, if we're honest, standing in Paris for centuries on end, had become a colossal dead weight - stuffed full of priceless treasures and cultural artefacts, but dead treasures and dead artefacts, belonging to another time, another people.

And one suspects that those who claim to revere the past and seek to preserve it - along with those billionaires and politicians who are now pledging obscene sums of cash to rebuild the cathedral (whilst continuing to ignore the deprivation in many parts of the city and its suburbs) - do so simply because they are unable ultimately to face up to the challenge of modernity to make it new.   


Lawrence, of course, was ambiguous (at best) on the question of cathedrals - from Lincoln to Milan - long before his trip to see the Etruscan tombs in 1927.

In The Rainbow, for example, his novel of 1915, Lawrence stages an amusing conflict between Anna Brangwen and her husband Will, in which she destroys his passion for Lincoln Cathedral with her own gargoyle philosophy ...

Will is physically excited by the cathedral and willingly allows himself to be transported by it to another world. But to Anna, it's merely a thing of the past and she rather resented his ecstasy, wishing he might curb his enthusiasm.

Lawrence writes:

"The cathedral roused her too. But she would never consent to the knitting of all the leaping stone in a great roof that closed her in [...] it was the ultimate confine [...] She claimed the right to freedom above her, higher than the roof. [...]
      So that she caught at little things, which saved her from being swept forward headlong in the tide of passion that leaps on into the Infinite [...] the wicked, odd little faces carved in stone, and she stood before them arrested.
      These sly little faces peeped out of the grand tide of the cathedral like something that knew better. They knew quite well, these little imps that retorted on man's own illusion, that the cathedral was not absolute. They winked and leered, giving suggestion of the many things that had been left out of the great concept of the church."

Understandably, Will is unimpressed with such thinking and has little or no time for the carved faces; his wife was "spoiling his passionate intercourse with the cathedral" and this made him bitterly angry:

"Strive as he would, he could not keep the cathedral wonderful to him. He was disillusioned. That which had been his absolute, containing all heaven and earth, was become to him as to her, a shapely heap of dead matter [...]
     His mouth was full of ash, his soul was furious. He hated her for having destroyed another of his vital illusions."

Anna's nihilism, however, inasmuch as it's a counter-idealism, is an active negation of the negative and of nothingness. Thus, despite Will's initial anger and despair, gradually he became more responsive to the call of the gargoyles than to the perfect surge of the cathedral itself, realising that outside the cathedral "were many flying spirits" that could never be contained within the holy gloom.

"He listened to the thrushes in the garden, and heard a note which the cathedrals did not include: something free and careless and joyous. He crossed a field that was all yellow with dandelions [...] and the bath of yellow glowing was something at once so sumptuous and so fresh, that he was glad he was away from his shadowy cathedral.
      There was life outside the church. There was much that the church did not include. [...] He thought of the ruins of the Grecian worship, and it seemed, a temple was never perfectly a temple, till it was ruined and mixed up with the winds and the sky and the herbs."

And so, my advice to the good people of Paris is this: either finish the job and demolish the rest of Notre-Dame, or leave it as a lovely ruin, roofless, and at the mercy of the elements.


D. H. Lawrence, 'Sketches of Etruscan Places', in Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays, ed. Simonetta de Filippis, (Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 32-33.

D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, ed. Mark Kinkead-Weekes, (Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 188-89, 190, 191. 

Jamie Reid archive 

15 Apr 2019

On the Nine Lives of Cats and Two Methods for Ending Them

I. On the Nine Lives of Cats

The myth of cats having multiple lives is one found in many countries and cultures ...

In England, for example, which is presently home to around eight million cats, they are believed to have nine lives, divided equally between playing, straying, and staying curled up by the fireplace on a comfy chair. In some European nations, however, such as Greece, cats are said to have seven lives; this number falling to just six within the Arab world.   

No one really knows why (or where) this myth originated, but probably it has something to do with the fact that cats are instinctively good at extricating themselves from potentially life-threatening situations. Naturally supple and almost supernaturally sensitive to danger, cats - unlike clumsy human beings - invariably land on their feet and not flat on their faces.  

II. Cat Throwing

Of course, no matter how many lives they possess, cats can be killed if they fall from a significant height; or, indeed, if they are thrown from a belfry, as they used to be by the good people of Ypres during the Middle Ages and early modern period.*

There are various local legends about how this festival of animal cruelty originated; some suggest it was designed to protect the city from evil spirits (cats often being associated in the popular imagination with witchcraft); other sources say the cats were rounded up and killed each spring simply in order to control their numbers.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it was an annual source of great amusement for the townsfolk - as was the craze for cat burning that swept neighbouring France in this period ...

III. Cat Burning     

Cat burning was a gruesome form of popular entertainment in France prior to the 1800s, in which people stuffed dozens of cats into a basket or sack, hoisted them high into the air, and then lit a large bonfire beneath.

According to one historian, the assembled masses "shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized". The remains were often collected as souvenirs and taken home for luck.**

Although the practice varied from place to place, the suffering and ensuing hilarity remained the same; it was said that wherever the scent and sound of burning felines filled the air, laughter was guaranteed.  

Interestingly, Jean Meslier - a French priest (who privately held atheist views) - partly blamed the rise of Cartesian philosophy in which animals were viewed as automata, possessing neither soul nor sentience, for the practice of cat burning. He argued that such thinking inhibited natural feelings of kindness and compassion that man would otherwise have for living creatures.***


* In fact, the last recorded event of this kind happened as recently as 1817 and is commemorated in the so-called Kattenstoet, held regularly since 1955 on the second Sunday of May. Thankfully, a jester now merely throws stuffed toy cats from the Cloth Hall belfry to the crowd below, who eagerly await with outstretched arms hoping to catch them. For more details, visit the official Kattenstoet website by clicking here.    

** See Norman Davies, Europe: A History, (Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 543.

*** See Jean Meslier, Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier, trans. Michael Shreve, (Prometheus Books, 2009), pp. 562-63.

13 Apr 2019

Paul Morel and Knife Crime

Susan Catherine Waters
Young Boy with a Pocket-Knife


According to Professor Woody Caan, experience of bullying or victimisation at an early age is the root cause of knife and gun crime. In other words, many teens carry weapons for self-protection; not because they want to feel powerful and intimidate others, or are inherently attracted to a criminal lifestyle. 

Thus, the best way to prevent stabbings and shootings by angry, but often frightened youths, says the professor, is to invest in effective anti-bullying policies and cultures that do not breed hate and insecurity within primary schools. Make children of six and seven feel loved and safe in their environments and they'll not feel the need to arm themselves as adolescents. 


Such liberal idealism seems a little naive to me. However, the idea that bullying results in a desire to arm oneself and perhaps seek revenge upon thugs who think it funny to threaten and humilate others whom they deem to be weaker or more vulnerable, finds support in the following scene involving a 13-year-old Paul Morel (the protagonist of D. H. Lawrence's novel Sons and Lovers).

Paul has a passion for foreign languages and literature. But he doesn't like sports and refuses to compete in anything: "'I don't care whether I'm first or last. I don't care whether [everybody] does things better than me. What does it matter?'"

As Lawrence notes, this "modern and decadent contempt for action separated him from the mass of boys" and made him a prime target for bullying. Paul had a few friends, but the rest "regarded him coldly, with hostility, or contempt", thinking him aloof and somewhat effeminate, with his fancy ways and fancy clothes.

In an astonishing passage, that betrays the fact that, although exceedingly gentle, Paul is full of the molten hot potential for murderous violence, Lawrence writes:  

"Once, the bully faction, which he scorned, avoiding them [...] were set upon him because of the respect or consideration shown him by one of the teachers. They attacked him first with the sleering, coarse abuse of a gang in cry. He made no answer, merely looked away. Meanwhile his heart was boiling with hate. Then they took offence at the bow of black ribbon his mother tied him for a tie. The biggest bully tore it off. Another ripped his collar.
      Paul did not move, only stiffen his back against the tugs on his clothing. He did not speak, nor moved a muscle of his face, only his eye like a mad thing's flashed from neck to neck of the bullies.
      'If,' he said over and over again in his heart, 'If I had a knife, I would stick it there, and there, and there,' glancing his eye from throat to throat, looking always at the big vein. 'If I had a knife, if I had a knife -'
      Then, as he imagined the difficulty of pulling a knife out to strike the next blow, the delay thereof, he changed his glance, looked intensely between the eyebrows of the lads, whose faces he saw not.
      'If I had a revolver - there, there, there,' he counted in a flash, 'with five chambers, I would blow their brains out, one after the other.'
      He chose the spot, felt his fingers stiffen to the trigger.
      'Though,' he said to himself, 'I'd rather have the knife, to strike, to strike in their necks.'"

What this tells us, amongst other things, is that the will to violence and urge to kill is nothing new in teenage boys and that if pushed too far too often - or called upon to protect their friends or family members - even the meekest or most docile of creatures will retaliate or seek revenge:

The smallest worm will turn being trodden on, 
And doves will peck in safeguard of their brood.


D. H. Lawrence, Paul Morel, ed. Helen Baron, (Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 55.

This early draft of Sons and Lovers is quite different from the final version of the novel published in 1913. There's more humour, but also more violence and nervous energy. It also contains episodes - like the one here, based on Lawrence's own childhood experience - that were eventually discarded.  

Woody Caan (Professorial Fellow, Royal Society for Public Health), writing in a letter on knife crime published in The Guardian (18 Jan 2018): click here to read online.

Note: the lines at the end are - of course - from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Pt. 3 (Act II, Scene 2). 

12 Apr 2019

Paul Morel and the Sacrifice of Arabella


Paul Morel was a pale, quiet child, slightly built, with reddish-brown hair, and highly attuned to the feelings of others (particularly his mother). As his elder brother, William, tended to ignore him, he transferred his affections to his sister, Annie, who was intensely fond of him. 

Annie also possessed a large doll "of which she was fearfully proud, though not so fond", called Arabella. One day, Paul accidently jumps on the doll and breaks her face; something that makes Annie cry and, consequently, makes Paul feel helpless with misery.

Seeing how upset he was - once her own tears dried - she immediately forgave her brother. A couple of days later, however, he shocks her with the following suggestion: '''Let's make a sacrifice of Arabella [...] Let's burn her.'''

Naturally, Annie is horrified - yet also, Lawrence writes with knowing insight into the cruelty of children - fascinated by the suggestion and keen to see what her brother would do once she (silently) gave consent to the proposal.      

"He made an altar of bricks, pulled some of the shavings out of Arabella's body, put the waxen fragments into the hollow face, poured on a little parafin, and set the whole thing alight. He watched with wicked satisfaction the drop of wax melt off the broken forehead of Arabella, and drop like sweat into the flame. So long as the stupid big doll burned, he rejoiced in silence. At the end, he poked among the embers with a stick, fished out the arms and legs, all blackened, and smashed them under stones.
      'That's the sacrifice of Missis Arabella,' he said. 'An' I'm glad there's nothing left of her.'"

Whilst the intensity of her brother's hatred for the doll disturbs Annie, she remains silent throughout and following the sacrifice. I think we, as readers, are obliged to say something, however ...

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in much of the critical literature on Sons and Lovers, this scene, like so many others, is read symbolically from a psychoanalytic perspective.

Margaret Storch, for example, wearing her Melanie Klein hat, informs us that the sacrifice of Arabella reveals that what lies beneath the triangular oedipal structure is the more primary mother-child dyad and that whilst one might imagine this to be a relationship founded upon love, it can also manifest violent hatred at its core.

She writes:

"The 'sacrifice' is an act of desecration against a figure who should be revered. This is apparent in [...] the aura of 'wicked satisfaction' that emanates from defying a taboo. The body of the mother is, in fantasy, dismembered and destroyed, disintegrating in a flash of fiery consuming anger, and liquified into the wax and sweat of elemental fluids. When already blackened and 'dead', the fragments are retrieved with phallic curiosity by means of a poking stick, and then further pulverized into nothingness, not 'with' stones but 'under' stones, suggesting both a final horror that cannot be looked at and the gravestones that cover the dead [...]"       

Storch concludes that the scene is "a vivid depiction of a child's sadistic fantasy against the mother" - a fantasy that Paul shares with his sister Annie, whose presence and complicity is an essential component; for little girls too can (secretly) resent the suffocating love of a devoted mother and her moral authority.  


As much as I admire this reading, I don't quite buy into it. Which is not to say that it isn't true, only that something else is also true; namely, that children like mutilating dolls and action figures simply for the joy of destroying things, or because they hate the toys themselves - not because they hate their parents (although they might).

Interestingly, researchers at the University of Bath discovered in a study of 2005 that many 7-11 year olds grow to dislike their toys so much that they physically assault them. And of all the products the children were asked about, Barbie aroused the most complex and violent emotions.

Various torture techniques were gleefully experimented with in an attempt to express ambiguous feelings about the figure and common forms of mutilation included decapitation, burning, and even microwaving. What's more, the children interviewed saw these things as belonging to perfectly legitimate play activity; i.e., good clean fun.

It's adults who often find such activity deeply disturbing. Perhaps because they read so much meaning into it. Or perhaps because it's they - not their children - who anthropomorphise cheap plastic figures and get ridiculously sentimental about inanimate objects.


D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers, ed. Helen Baron and Carl Baron, (Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 82-3.  

Margaret Storch, Sons and Adversaries: Women in William Blake and D. H. Lawrence, (University of Tennessee Press, 1990), pp. 98-100. 

Andrew McLaughlin, University of Bath Press Office, 'Barbie under attack from little girls, study shows', press release (19 Dec 2005): click here to read online.

11 Apr 2019

Reflections on a Black Hole in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

A black hole as captured by the Event Horizon Telescope
Photograph: EHT Collaboration

As a nihilistic anti-theist, it made me very happy when astronomers released the first image of a supermassive black hole yesterday, thereby demonstrating that at the heart of the universe is not a loving presence, or judgemental God, but rather an enigmatic object defined by its absence and darkness.

Certainly that's true for the Messier 87 galaxy (or M87, as it's known); a giant elliptical galaxy, fifty-five million light years from Earth in the constellation of Virgo, that was discovered by the French star-gazer Charles Messier in 1781.

And it's doubtless true for our galaxy also (in fact, the EHT team are presently working on producing an image of the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way and hope to have such sometime soon). 

Further, one is tempted to suggest that if there's any truth in the old saying that suggests the microcosm corresponds with the macrocosm - as above, so below - then maybe it's the case that what was once called the soul is nothing but a tiny and mysterious core of chaos; a dark source of eternal creation that exists beyond the event horizon of the known self; a place wherein psychological law collapses and all human reality is distorted beyond recognition.

And who knows, maybe we'll one day even have a picture of that ...


The astonishing image of the black hole was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (which is actually a network of eight radio telescopes spanning locations from Antarctica to Spain and Chile) using a technique known as interferometry

Of course, crackpot conspiracy theorists are, with depressing predictability, already claiming online that - just like the NASA moon landings - the picture is fake and the 200 scientists involved in the collaborative research project are therefore wilfully attempting to deceive the public as part of some elaborate hoax. 

9 Apr 2019

Punk Friends Reunited

I remember with vague fondness my time at Trinity and All Saints College, which was then a small Catholic institution affiliated with the University of Leeds, but which has since gained full university status and autonomy.

Although I was there under the pretext of studying for a degree in Sociology and Media, essentially, like many undergraduates at this time, I was more interested in extracurricular activities that might broadly be categorised as messing around and fucking about. 

This included the cultivation of my own punk persona, Jimmy Jazz - after the song by the Clash - and becoming part of a small gang of misfits that numbered amongst its members:

(i) Clive Hooker, a drummer and DJ from Northampton, with a speech impediment that unfortunately made him sound like Klunk from Stop the Pigeon.

(ii) August Finer, a bass player with a knicker-invading smile and a mohican haircut; ultimately, a nice, middle-class Jewish boy, from Knutsford, posing as a punk (but who did have a brother in The Pogues).     

(iii) Kirk Field, a drama student (who couldn't really act) and a vocalist (who couldn't really sing), but a clever, funny, charming personality with a quiff and a penchant for magic mushrooms who went on to become a successful tour operator and events organiser for people who like to party.

During the years 1981-84, we four were as thick as thieves. But, amazingly, the moment we graduated the magic spell that bound us together was completely broken; even my friendship with Mr. Field, which had been extremely intimate and intense, didn't long survive the move to London.

I suppose there were reasons for this - but no real reason - and I'm told that it's a common phenomenon; that adolescent friendships often blossom with spectacular colour, but then quickly fade and die and that it's pointless trying to hold the petals on.

Regrets? I have a few. But then again, too few to mention. Besides, any lingering sense of loss only adds a delicious poignancy to nostalgic reflections like this; which is how dead friendships can continue to give pleasure.           

If the opportunity ever arose, I'd be happy to meet any or all of the above for a drink. But I suspect there'd be moments of awkward silence. And underneath the delight of seeing them again there'd be a slight sense of boredom and embarrassment and a longing to get away as soon as possible ...