Derren Brown (2021) A Book of Secrets: Finding Solace in a Stubborn World.

I can’t remember very much about Derren Brown’s guide to practicing stoicism in an unhappy world, Happy. This is the follow up. Pretty good fun, more like a chapbook and diary (his father died during Covid). I’ll no doubt forget all the lessons learned here too.

 Stoics taught us fortitude comes from controlling our thoughts and actions. The common mistake we make is to try and manage things we cannot (serenity prayer). Derren suggests, You are not fragile, you have all the resources you need.

Without stoic wisdom, what is our default mode? Mine is to read books and leave the real world behind, or in front, or wherever it goes when you’re reading.

No feeling is final. Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours.

Knowing Everything.

Let everything happen to you.

Beauty and terror

Just keep going

Leonard Cohen Beautiful Losers:

How can I begin anything new with all of yesterday in me?

Hidden Ambiguities.

I remember moments of my own excessive certainty; my many years as a Christian patiently explaining to anyone who would listen how Jesus must have risen from the dead. There were simply no other explanations for the events that took place. P31

Richard Holloway.

Religious mansplaining.

Whenever a spiritual revelation is enshrined in an institution invented to carry its meaning through time it is easy to understand how its guardians can become overprotective of the treasure they are responsible for, especially if their access to the original it theoretical rather than experiential…there is a clear tendency in subsequent generations to overdefine and concretize the original revelation.

Divinise the one to whom the original revelation came.

Cf. political revelations, ‘Marixsm-Leninism’. Maoism, Fascism.

The New Seekers in the early seventies would like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. The Seekers, a small Chicago based group that believed the world would end 21st December 1954 at 7am. A flood would wipe out humanity. But they would be saved. Picked up by UFOs with whom they were in contact by psychic links with the planet Clarion via automatic writing.  The group had been infiltrated by social psychologists that monitored what happened next, when the flood didn’t happen and the alien never showed up. The group, like the Jehovah’s before them had given away all of their belongings and removed all metal items from their clothing such as fly zips and bra straps, in accordance with the instructions they had received.  

Tears and disbelief were put aside when a message came through the channel of automatic writing that the group had been spared the coming apocalypse. And because of their belief God had also spared the world.

The believers doubled-down on their belief with an outpouring of evangelism. Much like anti-vaxxers, Trumpism and a belief in QAnon hadn’t been channelled, not be automatic writing, but by Russian state hackers.

Michael W. Miller, writing in the Observer about Janet Malcolm makes sense of this cognitive dissonance by quoting her.

Hypocrisy is the grease that keeps society functioning in an agreeable way, by allowing for human fallibility and reconciling the seemingly irreconcilable need for order and pleasure.  

Aristotle: the good life as principally steering a course between the extremes of temperament. Neither intellectual cowardice, nor plastic New Age wisdom.

We have largely forgotten the role of Fortune in our lives. The Greeks were very keen to remind us. Pride, in our modern mantras, at the mercy of FATE.

Schopenhauer mankind trapped between pain and boredom.

Slippery selves every face having its opposite.

Rilke: People in love are the furthest distance.

Arthur C Clarke (1962) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic [or Star Trek]

We live longer and more happily when we have friends around us.

David Bosiano (2018) Emotional Success.

Prosocial feelings, no man is an island.

Gratitude

Pride in ourself(ves) and others.

Compassion.

John Paul Satre: ‘bad faith’ , an insincere existence.

Nietschean ideal of ‘Become who you are’.

Jonathan Rauch (2018) The Happiness Curve.

Wait, Wait. Wait. Life gets better after your forties.

Paul Harris, American magician: A baby arrives in the world and embarks upon a gradual process of disenchantment.

Busyness. A marker of success. Doing becomes being.

Identity: cognitive dissonance, rationalize and edit out what does not fit in with notions of ourself.

Jim Steinsmeyer, designer of magic and theatrical special effects.  Magicians guard an empty safe. [cf Wizard of Oz, when the curtain pulled a man pedalling a bike and shouting through a megaphone]

Emanuel Levinas: Face to face encounters the bedrock of our existence.

Beauty, striking beauty, causes the body to ache.

Shyness, can make those suffering from the condition (introverts) seem cold and aloof.  Susan Cain (2012) Quiet.

Shyness a fear of negative judgement. 

277 Schopenhauer. Most people discover ‘when they look back on their life that they have been living the whole time ad interim, and they are surprised to see that which they let go by so unregarded and unenjoyed was precisely their life, was precisely that in expectation of which they lived.’

Book Week Scotland, Karen Campbell (2019) The Sounds of the Hours, presented in Parkhall library.


Long story. I was in Dalmuir library yesterday. For some reason I wanted to check out Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Diaries.

As you know Gramsci was leader of the Italian Communist Party.  Gramsci writes about how capitalism mutates and appropriates art and literature to establish a cultural hegemony. If that sounds pretty long-winded it’s probably because I don’t understand it either. Gramsci did. And it’s increasingly relevant today. The working class (that includes me) lost the propaganda war. What’s normal, just seems so.

Gramsci was imprisoned when Benito Mussolini’s blackshirts marched on Rome, which is the kind of lie Gramsci would recognise as myth making. Mussolini who wore a bowler hat and spats when taking flying lessons and petted a lion club in his lap, while his driver chauffeured him around the streets of Rome is a leader who sounds vaguely familiar. His switch from supporting the Communist Party to supporting Fascism also resonates with leaders whose only ideology is self-glorification.

Fascism shorn of its spats and bowler hats and lassez-faire disguise sounds to me just capitalism with added imperialism. Making Italy great again, by invading Ethiopia.   Making Germany great again by Anschluss and Lebensraum and seizing the lands of the lesser nations to give the German people breathing space.

Volksfuhrer, Adolf Hitler, demanded Jews and Communists be kept apart and concentrated in camps, caged as Trump cages refugees and immigrant children.

Business leaders’ demands of the fascist leaders were deregulation and a cutting of red tape.  Deregulation = no regulation.

Work makes you free. Himmler’s SS were paid a fixed fee by employers such as Volkswagon for them to provide labour. The SS provided food and accommodation and took a fee, in much the same way Sports Direct Workers or Amazon workers are not employed directly be the company. Zero-hour contracts, mandatory.

Short story. The Prison Diaries wasn’t in Dalmuir library.  Library staff said they’d purchase a copy, even though it’s been long out of print. There’s something beautiful in that.

I noticed there was a leaflet for an author, sponsored by Book Scotland, who was selling her book The Sound of the Hours in Parkhall library.

I couldn’t be arsed going and it was cold outside. But I’d been there. I’d did a gig 2016, Book Scotland, Dalmuir Library, when I was a writer, trying to sell my book Lily Poole (West Dunbartonshire library book of the week).  I decided to go to Parkhall and show solidarity with my fellow worker.

Karen Campbell was great. She talked about her journey as a writer. The Sound of the Hours was her seventh book, but her first historical novel. There were things I can relate to, her setting was often Glasgow, and her having been an ex-cop, but admittedly, not a very good one–write what you know –  she’d wrote detective novels. She also wrote about immigrants and the homeless.

The Sound of the Hours was a harder sell. It was set during the Second World War in Italy, but the Glaswegian part of Italy. Barga. You’ve probably spotted the contradiction. She told me things I was vaguely familiar with, how immigrants from the poorer Southern regions had come here to work, mainly to sell ice-cream and chips to the Scottish working class. A niche market and culture.

They were immigrants like my Da from Ireland, standing outside shipyard gates waiting for that call.

My hand was first up when she asked if we’d any questions. I said, ‘My Da, when he was drunk would always shout about the Gothic Line. That we should get on the blower to Paki.’ Paki I explained, was an Italian and was called Paki because he had black hair. I guess we could say those were more innocent times, but I’d be lying.

‘Was the place she was writing about anywhere near the Gothic Line?’ I asked her ‘Because that’s were my dad served in the army and watched his pals die’.

‘Aye.’

Barga was the Gothic line. Italy is mountainous. The Germans when they’d freed Mussolini from his hilltop prison split Italy like the Brexit vote. She said she’d thought about having the word Gothic line in her title. I was a step ahead of her here. That would have put her in the wrong camp, with Dracula and co.

We don’t judge a book by its cover. She admitted her cover was of the Friday night coup d’état from Bloomsbury order. I’m reminded of Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy in Truth & Beauty: A Friendship discussing how a bad cover can kill your book. And many of my readers reminded me the best part of my book was the cover. So I’m up to speed on the cover issue and she admitted on the foreground it’s got hanging branches with lemons. That fruit doesn’t grow anywhere near Barga, or Italy, generally.  A bland, blue-greenish cover is a bitter lemon for any author to swallow.

Luckily, I was already hooked. I bought a copy…Having read the first few chapters…well, that’s another story. Let’s just say I wouldn’t have, usually, have picked this type of book. Read on.