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Friday 30 November 2018

Filosophy on Friday: Vegetarian or not

Non-ethical Vegetarianism. Written and unpublished in 2009.

Vegetarianism is often described as an ethical lifestyle choice. I became a 'vegetarian' primarily for health reasons, this is something other vegetarians have a tough time figuring out. First, let me describe my position. My diet is not correctly vegetarian, but pescetarian or what is amusingly called 'semi-vegetarianism', basically, I occasionally eat fish. About twelve years ago I decided to stop eating all other meat, I did not have to provide a reasoned argument to myself, but I have since had to retrospectively provide one for other people who cannot understand either; why I wouldn't eat meat or why I wouldn't call it an ethical position. Before that, let's look at what other proper vegetarians are likely to say about their reasons.

A less-than-common ethical vegetarian position is “animals are people too.” The argument of this position is that animals have complex emotion lives, feel pain, are in other ways similar to us and therefore they should be respected and (presumably) cared for in the same way we care for other people. This argument is based on a flawed premise (several actually), it is the fallacious position of 'argument by analogy'. This argument has also been used to describe why we would react to seeing a person in pain or to put it another way, 'how do we know that that person is in pain and not acting?' The argument from analogy says that because they seem to be in pain and we have experienced similar pain we can then surmise that they are probably in pain. This argument is extremely problematic (which is polite philosophical term used when something is obviously wrong) for a number of reasons, so I'll just stick to the ones that help our human/animal picture, it presupposes that every perceptual experience of an event requires a mental process. Now, science may describe something like a process, light in the form of radiation effects the eyes and neurons fire in the brain inciting memory and so forth, but this sort of 'subconscious' activity isn't particularly illuminating in how we phenomenologically encounter things (whether they be people or animals in pain) in the world. I'll summarise my position as “we see pain.” We might say that we simply recognise another in pain and our reaction to that may be called ethical, i.e. we don't start on the assumption that she might NOT be in pain (unless we have grounds for that conclusion) but that she is and the decision to help or aid them (secondary to the recognition of pain) depends on who we are and where we are (to simplify matter). Our reaction to other life forms is more complex, we would (I assume) react with more emotion to the death of a horse or dog than we would to the death of a rabbit or pigeon. This shows that our reactions to animals in pain is somewhat cultural convention and leads to a more sensible vegetarian position.

A more common-sense vegetarian position is that “animals are living beings that do not deserve to suffer.” This is further elaborated with the argument that we, as the dominant intelligence, do not need to kill animals for food anymore. Of course, the 'we' in question might only be the developed 'West' as in developing countries there really isn't always much choice over what to eat. If you have meat and the other option is starving, then it isn't much of a choice, although the poor in the developing countries also tend to have a 'vegetarian' diet as well, but this isn't an ethical choice either (more of an imposition). So, let's just focus on people with enough food to make a choice of what to eat.

A common argument against vegetarianism (and that we do not need to eat meat to sustain a healthy diet) is simply, “I LIKE eating meat and dislike vegetables, why should I give it up?” One might reply with moral or environmental (more common nowadays) reasons. The environmental position for vegetarianism is that cattle (etc.) use up so many resources in their rearing and adversely effect the environmental in the process that it is in our best interests to cut down the amount of cattle we have. The simple-minded reaction to this (carrying on with the theme) is, “what would you do with all the cows, kill them all?” Well, no, it wouldn't need to be immediate. The amount of cattle born would simply be controlled more rigorously. However, an appeal to environmental grounds is unlikely to convince our steak-loving friend to whom the prospect of Global warming is seen as an opportunity to work on his tan. For the environmental argument to be more persuasive there needs to be a cultural shift in the acceptance of environmental issues, however this still does not address the practice of rearing animals for meat as a moral wrong. So, let's return to that position.

We might say, with the common-sense vegetarians, that although animals are not equal to people that they ARE fellow life-forms and that we, as intellectually superior beings, have a duty to protect and not exploit them, especially when the vegetarian or vegan diet is show to be more healthy and sustainable than a meat-based diet. Let's call this the 'guardian' position. First, the claim for vegetarianism as a more healthy and sustainable diet is refuted by other claims, also backed up with scientific 'evidence', only going to prove (I think) that science can pretty much prove anything (especially if properly funded). The guardian position leads back into the environmental picture quite easily, "our reasons for adopting this ethical stance are due to a holistic understanding of the planet." That is, accepting our place in the Global ecosystem is also to realise the importance how we source our food and how that effects every other structure. Perhaps, this guardian position leads not to total vegetarianism but to a more balanced diet. However, in this holistic picture a certain religious view also becomes apparent. A new-age, pseudo-buddhist/hindu, that advocates vegetarianism as a 'higher' calling. To this, as with most religious views, there is little argument (that will be heard).

Of course, we might say “are we the ones to protect the planet, can't it look after itself?” However, this position probably just looks cavalier and arrogant (if not slightly ignorant). A less extreme version of this could be to say that "we kill as we live, everything we do adversely effects the planet anyway." I say, less extreme, but this nihilistic position is really just the reverse of the guardian position. That is, “it's all fucked anyway so let's have a burger and fuck 'em.” To these young men (as they mostly are) I would reply that, it is true that everything we do effects others in some ways. Even sustainably sourced food (vegetarian or not) might be construed to have negative implications, but that it makes more sense to try and limit one's impact than to simply wave one's hands in the air and give up.

Finally then, what are my apparent non-ethical reasons? As I stated at the beginning it was for 'health' reasons, now, that's not particularly true. Since I've stopped eating (most) meat my diet HAS improved, and I've become a much better cook too, but I was never overweight or had any particular reason that my diet needed to change radically for health reasons. In fact, my position might just be the opposite of the man that loves his steak and chips. But that's not quite it either. Really, I suppose, I just don't have a reason. If you ask me, I might tell you something, but there's no great philosophical reasoning behind it and why must there be? Must we have a complex set of reasons behind every benign choice (or seeming 'choice') we make with our lives?

My 2018 Reply: Non-ethical Morals

I stopped being a vegetarian, or more correctly a pescetarian, in February 2012. The defining meal was not as impressive, it was a reduced to clear chicken sandwich from Tesco's in Coventry, but the action was a total rejection of the 'lifestyle' I had lived up until that point. There were several resons behind my change, some of which I had been internally debating for some time, but the final push came about because of the death of my close friend. It should be noted that after Thomas died, I also fully withdrew from my PhD and made other decisions that were more or less motivated by grief. Some of which, I retracted from (that is, I didn't kill myself), others I regretted, and others (like this decision) I did not change from. In the case of vegetarianism, it was because, as I said, there was an already exisiting conflict within myself concerning my 'lifestyle' at the time, as well as a cultural shift (as I perceived it) towards what would become known as 'virtue signalling'. Although that term has been quickly corrupted by the alt-right and is now merely a term of abuse rather than anything worthwhile. For a contemporary history of the term 'virture signal' watch the informative youtube video by hbomberguy.

You might wonder how could I proclaim (in 2009) that I had 'no complex set of reasons' behind my ethical lifestyle and also state that I was conflicted about said choice. Perhaps I would have been less conflicted if I had adopted a more militant ethical position? It would have at least given me a stock answer to every time as I was challenged about my behaviour, which was almost constantly.

However, as I have said in other discussions on other topics, to do so would not be to act as I am. Being in state of anxious self-questioning is my default position. Why then cease to be a vegetarian?

If my reason to stop vegetarianism was to have an end to the repeated questioning about why am I doing such-and-such then it was a monumental failure. As I now have the question 'why did you stop?' as well as people expecting that I am vegetarian (because they have forgotten or, more interestingly, they are simply assuming it in me) and then having to describe both why someone might want to be vegetarian and why they would not. Luckily that was not the reason.

Did I miss eating meat? Well, not really, certainly not at any point while I was a vegetarian, although it is true that I have found several things that I ate before and have only recently tried that I do now enjoy. We never used to eat roast chicken when I was younger, for example, something that I now quite look forward to. However, I felt constrained by my choices certainly and as someone who at that time (in 2012) was living on very little money, I found it difficuly to get a proper meal within my budget. Potatoes, lentils and cabbage only provide so much.

It was such that when a vegetarian meal would always cost the same as a meat-based meal despite being essentially the same meals, but with one of them including meat, it started to highlight some social attitudes. The fact that by weight tofu would cost more than chicken, or that some cheeses would cost more than beef, or that asparagus would cost more than fish. That the former 'peasant' staples of polenta, bulgur wheat, couscous, and quinoa would also find their value increasing as the demand for such items increased, showed that vegetarianism had become profitable.

Once a 'style' has shown itself as a marketable commodity we can expect saturation, followed by a backlash and then either a return to a previous early state (and it's later revival) or the disappearance of said style. As fashions have always been about more than clothing and music, but also hold a particular worldview, then their cultural appeal and limited lifespan can be well expected. However, when these 'fashions' were (or are) about rejecting this commodification it is something of an abhorrence to find them comercialised in such a manner. In a sense, it can be seen as the further success of 'capitalism realism' in the cuture wars, in that all perspectives are shown to be reducible to capitalism as such there is no other possible way of existence. At least, that is the perspective being sold to you.

However, even if we bypass this aspect of the effect of capitalism and anti-capitalism (there is yet no such word to successfully encapsulate the opposition as no such opposition has yet been successfully formed) upon our 'lifestyles' there is the more generic position to be considered. If you want to belong to such-and-such a group then you must be prepared to pay for your membership.

Although the cynical perspective is to dismiss such-and-such a lifestyle as a 'fad' (something in itself unarguable) this does not lessen their present cultural impact (not unless this view becomes the majority view and even if it does counter-cultural is very marketable right now). Although it might draw some attention to the shallowness of the actual lifestyle being portrayed. That is, as a performative cultural display of a lifestyle, rather than one that holds onto any actual ethical values. Those who are vegan today for stylistic reasons are unlikely to have the moral wherewithall to withstand even a slight cultural shift against their 'beliefs'.

You might now turn this argument upon myself. Was then my own dissolutionment with pescetarianism because my beliefs lacked the certitude of a definite background argument? Was it, in fact, nothing more than a performance of having a identity, one that I lacked the backbone to critically support when placed under any sort of pressure?

Perhaps. Perhaps I've never really cared. Perhaps my environmentalism is rather born out of my own fear of death. Perhaps people do not really care for others, but only for their own sake, but then the thief also believes that everyone else steals. However, I believe in the truth and value of care.

My personal perspective does not refute or deny vegetarianism, nor is my argument with capitalism one that denies others a moral life within capitalism. I do believe it is possible to be a moral being in even the most non-ethical states of being.

So, when I eat my burger now I do not say “fuck 'em” but neither do I interrogate my own actions for moral reasoning at every step. I do retain an awareness that allowing these 'breaches' in moral culpability is the slippery slope of middle-aged acceptance of dogma. I try and eat a balanced diet within my budget, I consider my environmental impact, but I do not punish myself for when I cannot live up to certain ideals.

Tangentially Related Photo of a Favourite Public House

Thursday 29 November 2018

Thoughts on Thursday: Empty Words, then and now

Empty Words: April 2009

The manifold problems of our present day cannot be solved with a return to the 'good old days', and a reintroduction of the religious attitude into work-life. This puritanical desire to flush the system clean is understandable considering how corrupt World society is presently, but the abolishment of decedent entertainments and of a refocusing upon work, the family and the soul (whether worldly or individual) would fail almost immediately. The problem is not in what our practices are but in how we approach them. Put simply it is a matter of how and not of what. Losing an arm changes what one is, but not how one is. A good man who loses an arm is still a good man, but is now a one-armed good man. This is only a recent belief, of course, for a long time the persecution of those born or made 'different' was positively encouraged, e.g. “the disabled are paying for sins in past lives.” This rhetoric is hateful nonsense.

The problem resides, I believe, in language. This is not to say that if we cleaned up our grammar we would clean up our souls. Not exactly. It is not so simple a matter, however, language is still a part of it and part of the problem. The problem lies in its use, or rather, its misuse. A phenomenon I will call 'empty words' pervades our experience of the modern World. Governments and the media are adept at using them, as is academia and the 'man on the street', that is, the public in all its generality. Politicians talk and talk, academics write book after book, and people engage in seemingly endless gossip about everything, but nothing ever seems to get said. All those hours of interviews with sportsmen, celebrities, politicians, people 'having their say' and all ultimately worthless, because nothing is actually being said. There is no acceptance of fundamentals true to human existence. Even the greatest work of art that attempts to deal with these vital subjects is diluted and dismissed in the public arena of empty words. That we engage in idle speculation and chatter is not a new phenomenon, indeed, it is as important as any other part of what goes to make up being a human. It is as important that we can sometimes brush over the dark and weighty issues that could otherwise drag us down into a nihilistic stupor. The problem is that this 'sometimes' has now become the norm and any other engagement is an extreme rarity. It was in a time that we may call 'the past' (setting an actual date for the birth of the totality of empty words is itself an empty gesture) that words were acknowledged as powerful, but we can not go back to this idealised past, we can only go forwards or collapse entirely.

A young man I know replies when asked how he is with the same answer every time, “good, extremely good.” He is neither a fool or a liar, but has grown up with these empty linguistic structures all around him. Even the fact that I ask him 'how he is' is testament to this society-wide acceptance. So, I would plead with you, the next time you ask someone how they are to actually mean it, if you are to ask them at all.

This might seem an ill-founded concern to some, but in the use of these 'empty words' we stop actually communicating to each other. This can only mean that governments hold more power over us, by dissolving language (whether purposive or not) to such a low-level that it is now almost impossible to get anything heard they effectively remove any resistance. Such is the constant noise of millions of empty words echoing across the all-encompassing moronic media coverage, it's like screaming into a storm. And this is freedom? The freedom to say absolutely anything, no matter how shallow or banal, but who is actually listening if everyone is talking? Everyone wants to be heard, but no one wants to listen. This will all change, in time, but what it will become can only be hoped for or dreaded.

Empty Words: November 2018

You might have guessed that I recently found some old writings of my own on a previously lost USB. If so, well done for paying attention.

This is another from a fairly prolific period that came with the completion of my Masters dissertation. What followed was what felt like a very difficult period in trying to best convey my ideas for a PhD, something that I never managed to do clearly enough to those that provide funding and this lack of financial support was the main reason I gave up in my research. Although there are essays totalling around 50,000 words (or more) from that time and I'm surprised in the breadth and depth of my researches. A lot of the writings about the 18th century merely passed through my head and I've utterly fogotten them, so that reading them now is akin to an out-of-body/mind experience.

However, let's deal with the subject at hand and not my own personal historic digression. It seems that with this topic of 'Empty Words' what I am decrying is the lack of intentional seriousness within our conversations in society, perhaps not at every level at every occasion, but that an occasional slackness has now become the norm and that a failure to even attempt to communicate something truthful has taken root. Certainly in 2009 this might have seemed far-fetched, but it seems like I might have been onto something, if not a something that I described with very much precision.

Let's look at today's 'Humpty Dumpty' POTUS, who uses words to mean exactly what he means them to mean, except that this linguistic failure on his part is not merely in his use of 'hot air rhetoric' or 'salesman diatribe' or my own 'empty words' that pepper his every speech (just look the difference between a live performance and reading a transcript of one of his 'speeches' to see what I mean) that I was concerned with. It is his, and many others, constant 'hiding in plain sight' or 'dog whistle' comments within their public speeches that are of greater present concern.

That being said, the rise of fascism back in 2009 seemed like a historic concern. It felt like although perhaps we weren't quite getting the promised future from our counter-cultural days in the 90s (my own perpsective) and that New Labour had, in fact, turned out the be The Man, but in another form. Despite that, things seemed alright and even the threat of militant fascist Islamism represented by Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda was sufficiently distant or alien as to be a thing to unite against and that the threat from inside our own cuture was an unthought-of possibility. This might explain my focus upon 'the religious attitude' meaning the medieval authoritarianism of the Taliban for example.

Who was indeed listening? As I mentioned. Well, the extremists within every culture apparently, who took this freedom to say anything, to say the most vile and inciteful things possible in the open space of the internet (to begin with). To stir up what they consider necessary, a race war, another one of their final solutions. But, of course, none of them now will use this language. Many of our words might be hollow, but they (the fascists) do know the power of certain words and even in denying the 'left-wing academic' focus on language use, they will use very specific phrases to 'dog whistle' their supporters.

I remember a conversation (around 2008) with an American Zionist who was convinced that secular Europe's fading Christianity (it's "spiritual void") would be replaced with Fascist Militant Islam (if they weren't careful!). He was only partially right, but I suppose I should allow him that foretelling, it's just that it wasn't Islam but Fascism (the distinction between Fascist Islam and Islam will be saved for another day, but it is hoped you can already see it) and they are doing this through our own Empty Words, turning them into Meaningful Fascist Words right in front of us, albeit one's that have eminent deniability built into them.

Monday 26 November 2018

Melancholy Mondays: Now We Are Forty

So, the day came and I turned forty years of age.

The heavens did not proclaim anything, no unanticipated solar eclipses happened, I did not turn to stone, crowds did not gather, indeed, despite being an unexpectedly sunny and clear day the ninth of September 2018 was just another day.

I had some old friends around me, who know me well enough to not make a big deal of it all. There was no heightened expectations like we always used to have for every single Hogmanay party, which never ended in anything other than an abject disappointment.

It would have been better, however, if the woman I love was feeling better, but at that time she was suffering with terrible morning sickness. Something that has slowly faded now she is in the second trimester. Still, there are other things to look foward to, and if anything, this was an excellent lesson in "you aren't the important thing anymore."

The important thing is to come. The important thing is my son. The important thing is the life we make for him together. The important things are what we can teach him.

I don't suppose I'll end my Melancholy Mondays, or my various concerns about things in the world, it's just that I've something else now. He might not have arrived, so to speak, but his presence is already here. It is changing how I see the world, see my place within it and my future role as a parent.

I had always looked to being a parent with both hope and dread, as I suppose many have, but now it is imminent I have no fear. Not to say that I am without concern (that will never happen) but that the overwhelming fear of it all has faded away and a certainty has replaced it, now there is only a longing to begin.

Not that I expect things to be easy. For most of my life I've being waiting for this one thing to be sorted and then everything will be alright. Except, that has never happened and it's taken me a long time (too long really) to realise that this really is what John Lennon meant when he said, "life is what happens when you are busy making other plans." Well, it's high time to focus on the life and leave the plans to others.

My worklife isn't were I want it to be, nor will it ever be unless I can make certain changes or sacrifices, or more likely, to simply accept the way things are going. Libraries might never leave society, but they will certainly change and actually they always have. The basic message that we liberal-minded folk hold, the 'free access to all information for all' might be our current mantra (and one worthy of fighting to hold onto) but it is not the librarian's Hippocratic oath. There is none in the profession, beyond preserving knowledge, and I suppose that's something after all.

Tied to this is the fact that I only every wanted to be an artist, like my own dad did, and like him through cowardice and other handicaps neither of us have achieved this. Although until my own death, I still have this as potential in some form. Do I need to be a writer to consider myself worthy? I once did. I once thought that only in being an academic, would I have achieved something. It's not that I've given up (entirely) on the 'Art Life' it's just that I don't need you to tell me I'm worthy. Not anymore.

We all do what we can with what we have. There is no point delaying being a good person, the time to be good is now. I learned this lesson from Thomas. This isn't to say that I always make the right choice, the kind choice, the noble choice. Often times I act like an immature brat and am capable of being cruel and stupid in equal measure.

I've lost a lot of people in my forty years, some through carelessness, some through misfortune, some due to my own foolishness, some just because it was time. We are all just drifting, hoping to find some pure reason behind it all. Some delude themselves into thinking it is such-and-such a cause or ideology. I'm not going to proclaim that I know the answer, I don't, I just mean to do my best with what I have. To be the best father that I can. What else is there?

Salvador Dali, 'Geopoliticus child watching the birth of the new man' (1943)

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Quotes Worth Saving (24): Georges Bataille "What We Are Starting Is A War" from Sacred Conspiracy

Georges Bataille (1897-1962) was an intellectual, writer, mystic, poet, archivist, revolutionary, surrealist, communist, sexualist, and librarian. In short, he kept himself busy.

"What we are starting is a war. It is time to abandon the world of the civilised and its light. It is too late to be reasonable and educated - which has led to a life without appeal. Secretly or not, it is necessary to become completely different, or to cease being. The world to which we have belonged offers nothing to love outside of each individual insufficiency: its existence is limited to utility. A world that cannot be loved to the point of death- in the same way that a man loves a woman- represents only self-interest and the obligation to work. If it is compared to worlds gone by, it is hideous, and appears as the most failed of all. In past worlds, it was possible to lose oneself in ecstasy, which is impossible in our world of educated vulgarity. The advantages of civilisation are offset by the way men profit from them: men today profit in order to become the most degraded beings that have ever existed. Life has always taken place in a tumult without apparent cohesion, but it only finds its grandeur and its reality in ecstasy and in ecstatic love. He who tries to ignore or misunderstand ecstasy is an incomplete being whose thought is reduced to analysis. Existence is not only an agitated void, it is a dance that forces one to dance with fanaticism. Thought that does not have a dead fragment as its object has the inner existence of flames. It is necessary to become sufficiently firm and unshaken so that the existence of the world of civilisation finally appears uncertain. It is use less to respond to those who are able to believe in the existence of this world and who take their authority from it; if they speak, it is possible to look at them without hearing them and, even when one looks at them, to "see" only what exists far behind them. It is necessary to refuse boredom and live only for fascination. On this path, it is vain to become restless and seek to attract those who have idle whims, such as passing the time, laughing, or becoming individually bizarre. It is necessary to go forward without looking back and without taking into account those who do not have the strength to forget individual reality."


I think that this quote, one of my favourites, can be read in several ways. Many of which will be wrong, not that I believe my own perspective is the definitive, indeed, in a sense even an erroneous interpretation is still worthwhile in that it might shed a differing view. It is rather whether we take this singular description as the only description, rather than as one way of many. Reading through Bataille's own works will give one a greater idea of the author's own intent, but I will assume that those reading this might not have spent this time.

Here then is one thought. The 'civilisation' being rejected is the so-called civilised world of the neo-liberal capitalists that we all now inhabit. A world that has made us all ignore the beauty of a communal society for one of individualistic striving and domination. 

Tuesday 13 November 2018

In blogs past: The Phenomenology of Death

Here's a positively ancient blog post from way back in 2008 when I was a Masters student of Aesthetics.

I found the novella 'The Blind Owl' purely by my habit of roaming about interesting sections of the library and I'm glad that I did. I think a re-reading is on the cards and I'm fairly confident that the excellent National Library of Scotland will provide...

The Phenomenology of Death

The Blind Owl by Sadeq Hadayat

The Blind Owl has been interpreted in various ways; as a treatment of the author’s addiction, a reaction against the authoritarian regime of Reza Shah’s Iran, a work of existential psychology dealing with the author’s unease of the female and attraction/repulsion thereof (although the latter is a basic Freudian analysis and, by my opinion, not up to much). However, this short piece will not attempt to give such a broad generalisation for such a complex story as the Blind Owl (as one could easily bring up ancient Hindu and Buddhist texts concerning enlightenment, the mythology of owls, the history of Persia etc). Rather I will focus upon what is a definite ‘thread’ throughout Sadeq’s novella, that of the phenomenology of death. It is not to be doubted that all the other themes mentioned (even the Freudian) play a role, but to reduce the story to only one message is to destroy it. The confusion of powerful images gives it its coherence (we might think of Rimbaud’s poetry as a similar example).

The work is entirely poetic and should be understood as such, for example when Sadeq has he character say that he, “felt a pleasant pain.” When I say this you would understand me, but logically it is a nonsense for pleasure and pain are opposites such as cold and heat. We can all understand quite what a pleasant pain is describing, this is quite a basic example, but the work is full of more complex poetic juxtapositions. Death is a metaphor for the living, we cannot know it. To talk about it poetically makes sense, to talk about it factually we have to be indirect, discuss its effect and so forth. Here Sadeq considers death it what it means to us. That is, how it effects our life (thus phenomenologically).

At this moment my thoughts froze. A unique, singular life was created in me, because my life was bound to all the existences that surrounded me, all the shadows that trembled around me. I felt an inseparable, deep relation with the world, with the movement of all creatures and with nature. All the elements of myself and of nature were related by the invisible streams of some mind-disturbing, agitating current. No thought or image was unnatural for me. I could understand the secrets of the ancient paintings, the mysteries of difficult, philosophical treatises, and the eternal foolishness of forms and norms, because at this moment I was participating in the revolution of the earth and the planets, in the growth of the plants, and in the activities of the animal world. The past and the future, far and near, shared my sentient life and were at one with me.

At such times everyone takes refuge in a strong habit, or in a scruple that he has developed in his life: the drunkard becomes drunk, the writer writes, the stone-cutter cuts stones, each giving vent to his anxiety and anger by escaping into the strong stimulant of his own life. And it is in moments like these that a real artist can create a masterpiece.

It is with this, and at various encounters throughout the novella, that the narrator encounters the immediate potency of one’s own death. That it is I that will die, the realisation floods one with an anxiety that empowers or destroys. With acceptance one can “create a masterpiece” and it is only with this facing up to one’s (everyone’s) mortality that the world can be understood to make sense, thus the participation in everything. This ‘enlightenment’ moment obviously has links with Hinduism and Buddhism, and also with the philosophy of Heidegger and the French existentialists, but it is not a philosophical treaty masquerading as a story. The existential plight of the main character is palpable and considered one of the reasons it was banned for so long.

The dream-like imagery of the novella crowds in and overwhelms the reader (especially during the frantic second part), in effect the over emphasis upon the highly powerful sensory images and descriptions used by Sadeq stun. The language is so intense that it dissolves itself and we are left with the ‘feeling’ of dread, with the struggle of the ‘painter’ (the narrator) the make sense of the world. Who is the girl? His Wife, death itself, addiction/sickness, love, all of these. With his over determination upon language (his attempts to explain) we find that incessant describing is precisely because of its own insufficiency. The ideal then must be silence (death?) “I always thought forbearance from speech was the best of things.” And in this end it is death that “never lies” whereas with speech we constantly make dreams and images that continue to confuse.

The whole novella is a cycle, a dream within a dream. Complex and multi-layered, it's own over abundance of imagery reduce it to the silent image of a corpse.