Tag Archives: A Dance with Hermes

Reflections on an evening with Lindsay Clarke at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 6 September 2017

by Ken Masters

‘Hello everybody, assuming you can hear me! I am the ghost of Aristotle, and I haunt the Elwin room at BRLSI, especially when the Philosophers have their meetings and are in their full, satisfyingly “middle-excluding” flow, forensically objectifying, reifying, and literalising everything that their minds can come up with. I must tell you, however, that I am in “shock”!

A Dance with Hermes‘Into this hallowed room (I remember a gratifying visiting Professor of Logic, who, whilst debunking “Eastern Philosophy”, and cutting short his fourteen pages of definitions of “consciousness”, waved his arms in the air, inviting in the energy to energise the very expression of his de-bunking – which intangibility I can not possibly recognise, classify, or exonerate) came one Lindsay Clarke, propagating one irritatingly intangible “(A Dance With) Hermes”, full of vital “presence”, whom I hoped I had seen off aeons ago. Give me Apollo any day. His Talk, (or was it a Lecture, or a Book-relaunch), had the normal BRLSI format of Introduction, Talk, and Questions – but how long would he go on for, with Questions, to give the audience time to sign that tall pile of books I could see, that they might or might not wish to buy?

‘My normal, space-excluding, rigorously defined categories, which allow no variation within them (for me, white is white, and black, black, rather than anything varying between), were challenged from the outset. So, a “A Talk is a Talk, not a Book re-Launch as well”, and I resent having my question-time squeezed! (I’ll have to invent another category, which will then also be “objecti-fiction”, but don’t tell anyone.) LC talked of Hermes as a “betwixt and between, THRESHOLD sort of creature; mischievous, equivocal and nonchalant about boundaries and definitions”. Ugh! (I once heard of an Anthropologist called Mary Douglas, who wrote a book called Purity and Danger. Plenty of impurity here! Of course, I must discount any emotional reaction I might have.) This trickster “god” already had us “by the goolies”, to use a metaphor that I shouldn’t. LC then went on to tell us that he himself had already received the same treatment! He explained that Hermes would never let him be pinned down (in any categorical system); so, were his “Poems” really poems, with or without the quotation marks, or were they verses, or “squibs” – “call them what you like”! If that was not enough, Hermes confused the rhyming schemes, again to defy the usual. Then LC mixed his talk with “poems” to illustrate just how far Hermes tweaks the “normal forms” and dancingly inhabits the “twixt thresholds”. When it came to Questions, I sensed that the audience, so transmogrified and bemused (the Philosophers had probably voted with their feet beforehand, and the event was promoted for a general audience rather than specifically for the poetry afficionados) that they could hardly articulate any question or argument sophisticated enough for my taste, even with LC moving to the front. BUT they found Lindsay Clarke, and what he had to say, “wonderful”! I was warned off from the outset, through the introducer’s accolades for LC’s novel, The Chymical Wedding – “alchemy”, I ask you! She then foreclosed the Questions – or were they Comments? – because there were few, so far—or perhaps because of that heap of books waiting? As a good empiricist, I do not have quite enough evidence to say. More shock – the queue was very long, and, instead of leaving, people talked while they waited. Few left immediately! All that vigorous though strangely calm hermetic “stirring up”, and the Clarkey intangible “presence”, had had its effect! I don’t begin to understand, or where to start on the “Content”!

‘I eavesdropped for a while, into their chat, their emails afterwards, maybe relevant for a blog, definitely not a book review: or have I got that wrong as well? What sort of category is “blog”? Anthony Nanson was talking with Ken Masters about a blog, who then went off to commune with an equally delighted Alan Rayner. Here are some snippets from what they had to say afterwards: Alan Rayner emailed to Ken Masters et al., “Hermes symbolises the ‘mutually-inclusive middle’, the immortal, intangible holder of the dynamic threshold that brings receptive spatial stillness (darkness) and responsive energetic flux (light) into the mutually inclusive embrace from which material form emerges in place-time.” What language! Hope he’s defined his terms! I should mention that that KM had asked AR to express what he perceived about Hermes and his Dancing “in a nutshell”. Actually, AR coined the expression “the vitality of the intangible” for Hermes, just afterwards. This man creates “poems” and “art” as well as precision in language that a philosopher or scientist might approve, even if what he says is “non-sense” within normal paradigms. BUT I’m belatedly realising that, as I categorise and objectify, everything starts to die …’

Hello everybody. I’m Ken Masters, an old colleague of Lindsay’s from way back, re-met in good old BRLSI; and I am now writing this blog by invitation. Hope I won’t let you down. Such a shame, Aristotle, that you continue to haunt, and not just BRLSI. Through your ‘abstract rationality’, and ‘scientific knowledge’ based on it, you dismiss the ‘intangible’, and objectify; for instance, as you start to train us to use would-be empathic, artificially intelligent robots; to perceive living organisms as machines, computers; see trees as ‘sticks in the ground’ rather than fountains of water-flow, etc., etc.! Perhaps Alan Rayner will help us to see how old Aristotle remains important – but in his place. Alan’s recent book is called The Origins of Life Patterns in the Natural Inclusion of Space in Flux, and he gave it to Lindsay at BRLSI. He also goes on to say, in another email, ‘yes, I think some others would greatly enjoy Lindsay’s book, notwithstanding a bit of “All-oneness” in places, which Hermes would not appreciate. It is a work of creative verbal genius and classical scholarship … I had this extraordinary dream about the tennis match between Apollo and Hermes (some years ago) before my breakdown/breakthrough into explicit awareness of Natural Inclusionality began … Humanity now needs Hermes, and it needs N.I. very badly.’ (Which is why I, KM, am blogging.) So, what’s this about a ‘bit of “All-oneness”’, and why would Hermes not like it?

My Commentary on the ‘nutshell’: I hoped Hermes would refuse to listen to poor old Aristotle, especially where the ‘living and the intangible’ are concerned; and instead of ‘excluding the middle’ between LIGHT and DARK, facilitate the ‘mutually inclusive embrace’ instead. ‘Dark and light’ are distinct, but never discrete, separate, or opposites. (We can consider the Daoist yin/yang sign, with the yin dynamically within the yin and vice versa.) They are not to be entirely merged into an invariable, indefinite, All-one, grey ‘whole’, as the world turns, but mutually and dynamically embrace, ‘distinct but never entirely discrete’. But this is not quite what Hermes seems to do, in ‘His Opus’, no. 3, ‘Coniunctio’. ‘“Separate; coagulate” … First analyse the mass in [separate, Aristotle] pieces, then [with Plato] bring together what’s been torn apart … Sun and Moon, the King and Queen are contraries that must be reconciled before he can be whole, and from their union, a child.’ Seems logical? Yes, but this is the very approach Aristotle likes: ‘coagulating “Oneness”’. However, in ‘He [Hermes] Takes Off’: ‘Beyond sleep and waking, life and death, he flies into that elusive space that opens up where fire and water, heavy earth and and weightless air, and all such opposites are reconciled by his sublime imagination.’ Something different does happen. What?

Lindsay quotes quantum physics, technological advance: ‘but what will it profit us if, in the process of gaining technological control of the world [i.e. following Aristotle], we lose touch with our soul’; and he thus celebrates ‘the intangible’. (Read ‘Envoi’.) Now Alan, as a serious life scientist, also goes right back to first principles and the quantum level, to explain how intangible ‘quantum’ space, at sub-atomic levels is empty, continuous, still, frictionless, receptive/non-resistant, un-cut-able, everywhere – not ‘bounded’ like any monotheistic God, into any separate ‘wholes’ – infinite, eternal. The very strength of the RECEPTIVITY of (not discounted, cf. normal physics) space, included as such in Natural Inclusional Science, produces energetic FLUX; and, from this, ‘particles’ are ‘in-formed’ by induction. By being made of 100 per cent space and energy, not 99.9 per cent, they have both a tangible and an intangible ‘presence’ – and ‘influence’ beyond their physical form. No ‘particles’, aggregated as space-excluding ‘building-blocks’ into solid ‘wholes’, can ‘cut’ space; rather, space, remaining STILL, permeates everything, animate or animate, when it moves, or moves itself. As I walk around in ‘place-time’ I therefore do not carry ‘my own space’, the same ‘bag of space’ with my body envelope. Different local space then permeates as I move. I receive it, and the receptivity induces a more or less ‘dynamically coherent’

energetic flow that the trained inner eye can actually perceive. This is why I am a Qi Gong practitioner, and why this authentic Daoist tradition validates Natural Inclusion as a perspective that I believe we need to become paradigmatic (though not ‘complete’). Neither Abstract Rationality nor Holism will quite do. ‘Wholes’ are usually thought of as ‘definitively, completely, and rigidly bounded “Unities”, entirely abstracted from context; either an aggregation of likewise separate, identical smaller “wholes”, or a “total, utterly homogenised”, merged, blend.

My introduction to Qi Gong, with a Chinese master, was to ‘imagine all the spaces in our bodies’ – e.g. between organs – then find that, with a light focus, they start to blend. We then become, within our skin, ‘empty’. In deep meditation, this skin itself ‘dissolves’ within consciousness, but not entirely. In Buddhist meditation, the body can appear entirely to disappear, into the ‘all’. In Qi Gong meditation, there is still perception of some ‘distinctiveness’. We do not lose our uniqueness into the ‘Unity’. Instead of ‘Wholes’, Alan prefers to talk about ‘Holes’, ‘Hollows’, ‘Emptiness’, in personal experience and his own Natural Inclusional ‘practice’. From this vitality of the imagination, emptiness, comes the sense and perception of ‘no severance’ from other life-forms, which implies being ‘fully-present-with’, immediacy. I sense this with Lindsay, and it involves a hermetic transformation. If we cannot do this, or at least accept it as a possibility, we are in the hands of building literal and perceptual WALLS to protect our (spurious) sense of ‘unity’ and ‘completion’.

Back to Hermes! ‘He Considers GUTS and Such’:

He likes it when we hanker after truth

in things, yet smiles to see how serious

we are in postulating theories

of everything …

and Hermes knows the universe expands

each time we think we’ve got the explanation.

Not this, not that, but both, or maybe none

of the above, his tricksy wisdom understands

what unassisted wisdom fails to see:

the tongue can’t taste its buds; the only snake

to swallow its own tail does not mistake

itself as literally true … nor, he thinks, should we.

I thank Alan Rayner, over the years, for sharing his naturally derived perspective, truth, of Natural Inclusion. His vitality and imagination, creativity in poetry and art, surely come, as do Lindsay’s, from ‘no isolation, or severance’.

I thank Lindsay Clarke for The Chymical Wedding, The Water Theatre, and now for his extraordinary and very special ‘Dance with Hermes’; for the wonderful ‘no-isolation, or severance’.

Words and logic alone cannot express truth as merely literal, even when talking of space, energy, flux, stillness, infinity everywhere and form somewhere. Look Alan up at the ‘bestthinking’ website, or on YouTube? His radical, evolutionary perspective of Natural Inclusion is something I need, like I need Hermes, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Lindsay wrote his ‘Note on the Threshold’ to introduce. He and Hermes seem to me to be also at the threshold of Natural Inclusion. Hermes, in ‘Koinos Hermes’, is ‘ever the unexpected messenger, who sends you glimpses of the wet fire and the lit dark in the loded stone’. But I’m not entirely convinced that the ‘magic work, of which one may not speak’, with HIM ‘begins and ends’ alone, unless it questions what he himself appears to say. I think it does.

POSTSCRIPT. As a dancer of traditional Greek and Balkan dance, I love Lindsay’s ‘poem’ A Dance with Hermes. As a homage to Hermes’s ‘winged buskins’, ‘lithe muscularity’, or ‘his kinetic stance that makes his godly body seem to dance where others merely walk’, I offer a short extract from The Broken Road, the final volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy telling the story of the eighteen-year-old ‘Paddy’ who set off in 1933 to walk to Constantinople. In the chapter ‘Dancing by the Black Sea’, Patrick, wet, cold, and starving (apart from the bottles of raki he has forgotten about in his knapsack), arrives at a cave near the beach, to find a fire, welcome, food, wine, six Bulgarian shepherds, and six Greek sailors, not to mention a broken bagpipe, mended by Patrick with an elastoplast. To cut a wonderfully told story short, dancing begins: ‘As the drone swelled, one of the younger fishermen began a burlesque Turkish belly-dance … It was very convincing, even to the loud crack that accompanied a particularly spasmodic wrench of haunch and midriff, produced by the parting of the two interlocked forefingers of either hands they were held, with joined pals above his head. The comic effect of this dance was all the greater, owing to the husky and piratical appearance of Dimitri, the dancer. “He needs a charchaff,” one of the shepherds cried, and bound a cheese cloth round the lower part of Dimitri’s face and across the bridge of his nose, like a yashmak. The rolling of his smoke-reddened eyes above his veil, turned him into a mixture of virago, houri and Widow Twankey.’

That was just the start of it. Hermes was surely at work. Hope you have enjoyed it.

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On the Cover: A Drink with Hermes?

By Kirsty Hartsiotis

dwh-front-coverLindsay Clarke’s new book, A Dance with Hermes, which launches this Thursday 1 December at Black Book Café, Stroud, is all about ‘Hermes, the messenger god of imagination, language, dreams, travel, theft, tweets, and trading floors’ and on the cover is an image showing Hermes flying, dancing, running across the page.

Fittingly, this image is from a kylix, an ancient Greek wine cup, the kind used at Greek symposia, parties where like-minded men would gather to drink and talk, share poetry and enjoy entertainments. Symposia feature in Plato’s writing as places where learned men talk about the nature of life (and where other, drunker men gate-crash the party, sparking more chat!). In real life they may have been a bit more ‘lively’, with games such as kottabos, where the wine lees were flicked across the room to a target that would ring like a bell if it were it in the right way, and dancing and boys provided all kinds of entertainment.

Kylixes were made to be fun objects as well. They are usually decorated around the outside. The one from which the image on the cover of A Dance with Hermes is taken has athletes and trainers running around it. But with the wine brimming in the cup, you wouldn’t be able to see that there was an image on the bottom – a surprise when you had finished your drink! The surprise image was often of someone dancing or running, and our Hermes is no exception. He dances over the sea, clasping his lyre (complete with plectrum in red) and his caduceus – his staff with two intertwined snakes – as he goes.

The kylix is part of the British Museum’s collection, and dates from the 5th century BC – the cup type is much older, though, going back at least to Mycenaean times, decorated then with boggle-eyed octopuses. You can find out more about the cup here.

Join us for our very own symposium to share a drink and hear Lindsay Clarke talk about his book and share poems from it alongside Stroud’s own Jay Ramsay at 7.30pm (for 8pm) on Thursday 1 December at Black Book Café, Stroud. Tickets £5 on the door, redeemable against the cost of a book.

 

Lindsay Clarke reading in Stroud

By Jay Ramsay

lindsay-picLindsay Clarke is the foremost novelist of the imagination and the spirit alive today in Britain. He was the winner of the Whitbread Prize for Fiction for The Chymical Wedding (1989), and his most recent novel The Water Theatre (2010) continues his preoccupation with modern psychological initiation and personal transformation. He is a gripping storyteller as well.

Lindsay has always been a poet in essence. His last collection, Stoker, which recalls his upbringing in Halifax, is now followed by a return to alchemical themes in the figure of Hermes (aka Mercurius), traditionally the winged messenger of the gods. A Dance with Hermes (Awen, 2016) is the result.

He will be launching this book with a 40 min. presentation on Thursday 1 December at Black Book Cafe, Nelson Street, Stroud. I will be reading from Places of Truth now re-set in its 3rd edition. The evening will include Q&A and is also a celebration of Awen Publications, founded in Bath by Kevan Manwaring and recently taken over by novelist and ecologist Anthony Nanson (Deep Time, 2015). Doors open 7.30 for 8.00 p.m. start. Entry £5 (redeemable against the cost of a book). Please visit wwww.awenpublications.co.uk.

Those of you who saw Lindsay present at the Awen Forum Subscription Rooms series in 2012-13 will remember how enjoyable he is to listen to, and I hope you will join us for this rich evening.

Lindsay Clarke book launch

DWH front cover.jpgAwen are delighted to announce the publication of Lindsay Clarke’s new book A Dance with Hermes. Lindsay will be reading from the book, alongside Jay Ramsay reading from Places of Truth: Journeys into Sacred Wilderness, at a launch event in Black Books Cafe, Stroud, GL5 2HL, on Thursday 1 December, 8.00pm. Entrance £5 on the door (redeemable against the cost of a book). Contact: 01453 840887.

Here’s some info about the book:

In a verse sequence that swoops between wit and ancient wisdom, between the mystical and the mischievous, award-winning novelist Lindsay Clarke elucidates the trickster nature of Hermes, the messenger god of imagination, language, dreams, travel, theft, tweets, and trading floors, who is also the presiding deity of alchemy and the guide of souls into the otherworld. Taking a fresh look at some classical myths, this vivacious dance with Hermes choreographs ways in which, as an archetype of the poetic basis of mind, the sometimes disreputable god remains as provocative as ever in a world that worries – among other things – about losing its iPhone, what happens after death, online scams, and the perplexing condition of its soul.

‘Clarke brings his considerable erudition and love of language to allow the intellectual and the poetic mind to come together, imagining where and how Hermes might be concealed in everyday life – the whisper in the inner ear, the sudden silence when “the air hangs watchful”, or “the fitful flare that lights our way”.’ Jules Cashford

‘This is an impressive collection, with an ancient and perennial wisdom, and language that is modern, even “street-wise” without being cheap. I admire the range of contemporary reference; the “voice” of these poems suggests a real freedom of mind, and expresses a live imagination.’ Jeremy Hooker

‘Deft, witty, wing-footed – Lindsay Clarke’s poems wonderfully embody what they describe: the god Hermes, who is comprehensively shown to be just as revelatory and double-dealing in the digital age as he ever was in antiquity.’ Patrick Harpur