“At first nothing crossed his mind. He was in that mostly empty-headed state of grace which is sometimes fertile soil: it’s the ground from which our brightest dreams and biggest ideas (both the good and the spectacularly bad) suddenly burst forth, often full-blown. Yet there is always a chain of association.”

Stephen King, Under the Dome

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“fascist techniques are identical everywhere: the presence of a charismatic leader; the use of populism to mobilise the masses; the designation of a base group as victims (of crises, of elites, or if foreigners); and the direction of all resentment toward an ‘enemy’. Fascism has no need for a democratic party with members who are individually responsible; it needs an inspiring and authoritative leader who is believed to have superior instincts.”

Rob Reimen, To Fight Against this Age

“But perhaps Laura wasn’t very different from other people after all. Perhaps she was the same – the same as some odd, skewed element in them that most people keep hidden but that Laura did not, and this was why she frightened them.”

Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

“No, he had not escaped. He had travelled and he had stumbled into what was like a plastic representation of what he had known at home; not the real thing – which was plain, unbeautiful, misshapen, fraught, and compromised – but the unreal thing – clean, bright, gleaming, without taste, savour or nourishment.”

From India to America. Anita Desai in Fasting, Feasting

The Half God of Rainfall – Inua Ellams

This a beautifully written epic poem, riven with joy and despair, that combines classical Gods, basketball and brutality as a way to illuminate how women struggle and succeed against the odds in a deeply unequal world.

It’s a simple story, of Demi, the son of Modupe, a beautiful woman who was raped by Zeus. Demi, the half God of the title, is conceived – part man and part powerful being, who among other things is able to conjure up water and rainfall when in despair.

Growing up in Nigeria, he joins the basketball team and discovers that he has skills and ability beyond compare, a consequence it turns out, of being a half God. He leads the Nigerian team to the world basketball finals, but just as the deciding game begins, the crowd chanting for Demi, he has his Godly powers removed, making him nothing more than a normal player and his team is destroyed. Angry he confronts Zeus and is killed, and his family, his mother Mordupe is distraught.

It’s a beautifully written, elegant poem, that tells of the despair, the rage, that so many people feel because they lack control over their lives. Demi, of course, who has a gift but not the power to direct it when he needs to. But also, and more than anything, this is a poem about women – about the powerful, resilient Modupe who despite being attacked by Zeus, despite being oppressed, remains a strong woman intent on raising a brilliant child.

The fact that Zeus, a privileged, powerful, untouchable male is able to brutally attack and rape her with impunity is the horror at the heart of this poem, one that both she and Demi try to seek justice for, and one for which they both fail. A reflection, surely, of the realities of our unequal world where Zeus-like men can get away with, quite literally in this case, murder.

The style of the poem is lyrical and upbeat and beautiful, and one that optimistically celebrates the power of the powerless, but nevertheless it is this sad theme that is the main message of the book.

You get this mix of power and despair in the opening lines to the second part of the poem:

“They say when Modupe was born her own mother,

Who worshipped the God of vision and fiction, screamed

When she foresaw the future looks of her daughter:

the iridescent moon she’d resemble, the dream

she’d seem to men and thus the object she’d become.

Her mother had known these men her whole life, had seen

them all … from the weak and pathetic overcome

by lust, to warlords who to crush rebellion

would attack the women to daunt their men and son.

She’d suffered such brands of violence. It had churned

her for years.”

“She couldn’t remember. Her thoughts no longer sat in a line like stepping stones over a stream but instead were scattered far and wide and without formation like buttercups in long grass. Alone and disconnected from their nearest neighbours.”

Benjamin Myers, Beastings

“The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd.”

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari express the complexity of the individual in the opening sentences of A Thousand Plateaus.

“The Priest’s mouth was a gash in his face as if the flesh of his mouth had been pulled tight across his skull then slit with a knife.”

Macabre and vivid description from Benjamin Myers in Beastings

“He now realised that everyone, each in his own way, would take some stand in this affair, and that each person’s attitude would have everything to do with their station in life, their luck in love and marriage, their looks, the measure of good or ill fortune that had been their lot, the events that had marked the course of their life, and their most secret feelings, those that people sometimes hide even from themselves… though they would believe they were passing judgement on someone else’s tragedy, in reality, they would simply be giving expression to their own.”

Ismail Kadare, The Ghost Rider

“This premonition of violence made little rational sense, and yet it came to me too easily, almost as if placed in my mind by outside forces.”

Jeff Vander Meer, Annihilation

“James Broadbent said this and then began to chuckle quietly to himself. But it was laughter without a smile… it disguised something ugly and damaged; a harlequin’s mask worn askance.”

Ben Myers, The Gallows Pole

“This is the way of the city. London is a palimpsest. Industrial sites overlay agricultural ones. Sites of commerce replace those of industry. Private regency gardens become public parks. Public spaces become privatised. Abandoned factories, power plants and sewerage systems are transformed into museums, galleries and recreation zones. Schools become mezzanine apartment blocks. High street banks become betting shops. Pubs become flats. Churches become pubs. Everything is overwritten, eventually. There is no final draft of London.”

Marshland, Gareth E Rees

“Mayakovsky could never have retired to the country to write poetry about raising cucumbers… he needed literature to be a form of action or work, just like fighting in a war or building a railroad.”

Elif Batuman, The Possessed. Adventures with Russian books and the people whole read them

The Wild Hunt

“The Wild Hunt is a spectral pack of hounds that careers through the air, sometimes with an equally spectral giant huntsman, making a ghastly racket… No matter the country or culture in which you meet the Wild Hunt, it brings with it doom, illness, death or some unwelcome news.”

John Billingsley, West Yorkshire Folk Tales

#FolkloreThursday

“a phenomenologist’s job is to describe. This is the activity that Husserl kept reminding his students to do. It meant stripping away distractions, habits, cliches of thought, presumptions and received ideas, in order to return our attention to what he called the ‘things themselves’. We must fix our beady gaze on them and capture them exactly as they appear, rather than as we think they are supposed to be.”

Sarah Bakewell describing phenomenology in The Existentialist Cafe

“The worst readers are those who proceed like plundering soldiers: they pick up a few things they can use, soil and confuse the rest, and blaspheme the whole.”

Nietzsche in Mixed Opinions and Maxims – characterising me on more than a few occasions.

“Although my brother, to whom I’m close, asked solicitously what was the matter, I couldn’t tell him. There may no longer be much stigma attached to mental illness, but no one has any time at all for the supernatural.”

Will Self, A Figure of Speech

Chantal Mouffe was spot on in the The Return of the Political 25 years ago. Think everything from the Boston Tea Party to Brexit, Le Pen to Trump…

“The growth of the extreme right in some countries in Europe can only be understood in the context of the deep crisis of political identity that confronts liberal democracy following the loss of the traditional political landmarks.”

and

“A healthy democratic process calls for a vibrant clash of political positions and an open conflict of interests. If such is missing, it can be too easily replaced by a confrontation between non-negotiable moral values and essentialist identities.”

“Fat Charlie was thirsty.

Fat Charlie was thirsty and his head hurt.

Fat Charlie was thirsty and his head hurt and his mouth tasted evil and his eyes were too tight in his head and all his teeth twinged and his stomach burned and his back was aching in a way that started around his knees and went up to his forehead and his brains had been removed and replaced with cotton balls and needles and pins which was why it hurt to try and think, and his eyes were not just too tight in his head but they must have rolled out in the night and been reattached with roofing nails; and now he noticed that anything louder than the gentle Brownian motion of air molecules drifting softly past each other was above his pain threshold. Also, he wished he were dead.”

Neil Gaiman’s brilliant hangover description in Anansi Boys

“For anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather overcrowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.”

JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring