king abba

Europus or Europa?

I have just released The Voyage of the Kresala, the latest title in my Seven Songs fantasy series, where we start to see more clearly the great divisions taking place across the European continent. The conflict, of course, arises from the question of the moment, currently affecting several countries and it boils down to this: Which do we want? The megastate Europus, uniformly bent to (for want of a word) Germanic aims and standards? Or the beauteous Europa with her myriad and varied delights that Zeus himself could not resist, and so carried off to Crete on his bull-like shoulders?

When I put it like that, I suppose it’s fairly clear which of the two I would rather see. It’s also fairly clear which of the two is preferred by Syriza’s Yanis Varoufakis, the “erratic” Marxist now heading the finance ministry in Athens. For him, the question is not simply one between head and heart, as some might suppose. Varoufakis sees as inevitable that the Europus he dislikes so much, born out of neoliberal economics and politics, will fall apart with the demise of capitalism that Marx predicted. As he says confidently, it carries within it the seeds of its own destruction.

We have a reasonable idea of what Europus represents. Rigour, uniformity, discipline, good housekeeping (to evoke Madame Thatcher) and so on. All that Kafka warned us against, in vain? Equally George Orwell in 1984, a scary vision, in many aspects already a reality: people at the service of the machine, too frightened to be different, and controlled or monitored in their very thoughts. What perhaps we hadn’t realised as we created Europus is that people were dispensable in this great work. As the juggernaut trundled through our once independent little nations, changing all the road signs as it went, people were shovelled to the wayside like snowfall on a motorway. This human wreckage, fruit of austerity, was the “price to be paid.” Not by the bankers, not by the politicians, nor by those with their noses in the trough in Brussels and Strasbourg. No, a price paid by the young, the small traders, the elderly and the vulnerable. Civic values, democratic values, social values, all these were waved aside as the economically correct troika imposed its will on one nation after another, in the process setting up governments that simply toed the line and were given no option to do otherwise. In other words, not representative of their nation’s peoples at all.

Can we say what Europa herself stands for, by way of contrast? Diversity, imagination, creativity, art, elegance, versatility …? And adding to those the relational values of trust and mutual self-awareness, perhaps that offers us a mix that we see in imitation of nature itself. Such a blend would be characteristic of sustainability, the most vital quality that we should be aiming for given the state of the modern world.

Perhaps we can throw light on the difference between Europus and Europa if we think in terms of Henri Bortoft’s authentic and counterfeit wholes. Europus in this schema would be a counterfeit whole par excellence, a monolith to which its parts are in service and even servitude. For, let us be clear, we are only parts in this construction, and therefore are truly dispensable. Just as the giant corporation turns thousands on to the street in its juggling of the books, so Europus’ first instinct is to do the same. The bottom line is made up of numbers, not of human lives.

Europa, though, may be considered as an authentic whole. I do not daydream about perfection here, but it is very noticeable how deeply the values in southern, Mediterranean cultures hold society together at the daily level of life where it really matters. Leaving aside the long history of conflict between powers, there is an underlying social fabric that goes back hundreds of years, and now we find a growing sense in these countries that something precious and meaningful in its own right has been violated. Just as Islamic militants shatter ancient artefacts that are meaningless, even offensive, to them, so also the juggernaut Europus wields the hammer against all that offends economic probity. Well, yes, in some cultures perhaps there has been a lack of care for the morrow, in the interests of living today to the full. Yes, we acknowledge there, too, the hidden workings of those family knots and networks that cut corners in the interests of getting results. And those inexcusably long lunches before getting around to the real business on the agenda … Time wasted? Who is to say? Perhaps this is a more valid way of establishing working relations and outcome, as opposed to alcohol-free profit-making purely for its own sake.

What emerges from Europa’s way of doing things is a continually self-refreshing dynamic, often full of surprises, that actually makes “government” at times irrelevant and certainly of less importance. This is freedom, but for a purpose. The future will manifest these battle lines more and more, I predict, as our century progresses. The smaller political parties that favour Europa are already marshalling support and will grow in strength and number. Their social mission is becoming clearer and clearer.

As mentioned in the opening, I present an imagined future for these developments in my fantasy series, The Seven Songs, where the battle is already over as we enter the first book of the cycle, King Abba. We are in 2034 and Europus is in hegemony. Those faithful to Europa have been swept aside in a merciless suppression and are reduced to handfuls of dissidents scattered in places of relative safety. But the monolith must fall through its own internal weakness and all is up for grabs again. Can the freedom fighters unite and regain the initiative? Will deposed King Abba’s children be able to turn the clock back and restore the beauty of Europa?

I watch with interest as events in the real world unfurl, bringing about huge social changes which King Abba himself has foreseen, and in which he will play his part, too, for the eventual salvation that we and Mr Varoufakis all devoutly pray for.

The latest title in The Seven Songs series, The Voyage of the Kresala was released in February.

Heidegger and the fourfold

 

The fourfold arises everywhere we look, both in classical and in modern thought. The tetraktys, the four elements, the four humours, William Blake’s Zoas, Jung’s pattern of basic psychological types, Martin Heidegger’s fourfold “thing”.

I find especially intriguing Heidegger’s exploration of the fourfold. Here as elsewhere, he offers a challenge to our customary way of viewing the world, a challenge addressed to science and rationalism as much as to our own habits of thought.

In order to make us think and “see” in ways that our received language has not developed to express, he breaks the boundaries of grammar. Nouns, parts of speech that we associate with defined and limited meanings, he turns to active verbs, such that presence becomes “presencing”, world becomes “worlding”, thing becomes “thinging”. When the world is “worlding”, as he puts it, that is, becoming truly present to us, it cannot be explained. And part of this worlding is when a “thing” becomes truly present to us in all its four dimensions. In a fine and suddenly evocative passage in The Thing (trans. 1971) he describes this arising of a thing as it “things” to us (lisping pun not intended …!).

Thinging, the thing stays the united four, earth and sky, divinities and mortals, in the simple onefold of their self-unified fourfold.
Earth is the building bearer, nourishing with its fruits, tending water and rock, plant and animals …
The sky is the sun’s path, the course of the moon, the glitter of the stars, the year’s seasons, the light and dusk of day, the gloom and glow of night, the clemency and inclemency of the weather, the drifting clouds and blue depth of the ether …
The divinities are the beckoning messengers of the godhead.
The mortals are human beings. They are called mortals because they can die. Only man dies. The animal perishes. …

I enjoy this passage for Albert Hofstader’s elegant translation, and also because it shows that Heidegger for all his nitpicking reasoning, or undoing of reasoning, is aiming for something higher and beyond reason, something that belongs to the domain of poetry and imaginal vision.

He goes on to explore further the unity of the four. This fourfold of the “thing” in its fullest being is a “gathering”, he says, reminding us of the Old German etymology of “thing” as a meeting or coming together for a purpose. Note that in Wildern the community gathers at the Meet-Thing to discuss matters of common interest, and herein lies the deeper meaning of thing as a “matter”. Addressing a matter is a process, not a predefined outcome, and similarly things that gather the fourfold into a single unity engage us in a way that encompasses simultaneously all the possible dimensions without predefinition.

To return to the foursome tree, the tree “things” because it engages us on all four levels, just as Heidegger proposes in regard to a chalice. Earth and sky, divinities and mortals are all gathered in the presencing or thinging of the tree.

And seeing the tree in this light is just what Prince Fion is experiencing as he has a sudden insight into the “book of Nature” and realises the difference between “knowledge” and “knowing.” Knowledge seeks to explain, while knowing waits for clarity of vision. Here something akin to a mystical process is at work.

Thus Fion’s search for understanding takes a great leap forward.

CJM

Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans. Albert Hofstader 1971.

The foursome tree

The two of them were towards the front of the procession and among the first to arrive at the foursome tree, where the hawthorn was now in bloom with tiny white flowers. Fion went straight up to look at the tree with curiosity, seeing the branches of the four elements mingled together. It was miraculous to see how the hawthorn stem, the ivy and the holly grew directly out of the rock, twisting together as they fought their way into the freedom of the air. The mistletoe hung from the higher branches of the tree, making up the four – the sign of completeness, as Margaret had said. Her words made him think that nature itself may be like a book which can be read, if you know how. Each living thing had a meaning to tell you, and you couldn’t arrive at it simply through reasoning. This was where her approach to knowledge differed so radically from what Fion had always been taught in science classes. Her way seemed to be about “knowing” rather than “knowledge”. And what was the difference? He had much to learn from her yet, he reflected. Or, perhaps to be more precise, much to learn from the tree?

Behind the Mountain, Chapter 4

The foursome tree really exists, in a mountain area of southern Europe. It is a remarkable sight, displaying exactly what Fion sees in the book. The roots of the hawthorn, holly and ivy grow from the solid rock and the mistletoe hangs in the upper branches where all four are entangled. Cattle and horses graze in the wide grasslands all around, and a chain of snowy peaks extends along the southern horizon. This open area is the Ras, as the book names it, for the summer grazing of livestock.

 

The significance of the four is built into the ancient Pythagorean symbol of the tetraktys, the triangular arrangement of the building blocks of creation, shown here. These can be visualised as the digits 1 through to 0, from which an infinity of numbers can be obtained.

While on the one hand representative of the ascent of the human spirit towards the One, the configuration also shows the pattern of descent from undivided spirit into the unfolding of matter, space and time. The One first divides, then extends, and finally has the potential to open out into  three-dimensional structures such as the pyramid and the cube.

Arising out of these forms and relationships come the elements of harmonics and proportion, so that wherever we find resonance and meaning can be traced back to these fundamentals. Nature is indeed a book that can be read, as Fion discovers, through “knowing” rather than through “knowledge”.