Four meditations on lines by T.S. Eliot: part I

CHORUS:

…King rules or barons rule; we have suffered various oppression, but mostly we are left to our own devices, and we are content if we are left alone.

We try to keep our households in order; the merchant, sly and cautious, tries to compile a little fortune, and the labourer bends to his piece of earth, earth colour, his own colour, preferring to pass unobserved.

Now I fear disturbance of the quiet seasons: winter shall come bringing death from the sea, ruinous spring shall beat at our doors, root and shoot shall eat at our eyes and our ears, disastrous summer burn up the beds of our streams and the poor shall wait for another decaying October.

Murder in the cathedral: part I.  T.S. Eliot

 

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Vast works of other ages encumber

Stse is an almost-island, separated from the mainland of the great south continent by marshes and tidal bogs, where millions of wading birds gather to mate and nest.  Ruins of an enormous bridge are visible on the landward side, and another half-sunk fragment of ruin is the basis of the town’s pier and breakwater. Vast works of other ages encumber all Hain, and are no more and no less venerable or interesting to the Hainish than the rest of the landscape.

Ursula K le Guin, Four Ways to Forgiveness, Gollancz 1995.

Le Guin’s galaxy was long ago colonised by humans from Hain.  Indeed this is so buried in history’s layers that humanity’s first origins are forgotten, and people on Earth believe themselves aliens.  After that great expansion and genetic manipulations by the ancestral Hainish, peoples in each system developed in isolation for a thousand millenia.  Time dilation during near-light-speed travel and cold-sleep means that your left-behind children and grandchildren grow old and die before you make your new start on another planet.  In the last few thousand years, which might be only a few lifetimes for space-farers, the Hains have sought to bring all humanity back into a loose community called the Ekumen.

This positioned le Guin as a galactic social anthropologist.  The underlying framework for each story is that of Ekumen observers exploring and falling foul of variations of kinship, politics, religion and economics.  Her most recurring themes are variations on gender and sex, and the power relationships which spring from these.  The Left Hand of Darkness, her novel written nearly fifty years ago, to me seems fresh and challenging in its deconstruction of our assumptions about humanity, encapsulated in the sentence “The king was pregnant”.  The four novellas which comprise Four Ways to Forgiveness offer perhaps a more conventional take on sexuality, shockingly so, for it is tied into power dynamics, slavery, rape and oppression.  It took me a second reading to confirm that her gentle writing style was, in each narrative, capturing a love-story.

The throw-away description of the enormous bridge, the ancient vast ruin present but ignored, gives to me the feel of le Guin’s universe.

I drew this listening to the hypnotic rhythms of Canto Ostinato (Simeon ten Holt) weaving a tapestry of sound from four pianos.

Why had people bothered to build a bridge when there were boats and flyers to ride?

The quote is from Ursula K Le Guin, ” A Man of the People”, the third of four novellas that comprise Four Ways to Forgiveness.

Having sketched this quickly, I now see her iconic bridge is different in scale, described as enormous, reaching far above a landscape of tidal pools inhabited by myriad wading birds, descended originally from those brought from Earth.

It is old, maybe a million years.   So, I guess, it was built across a long-changed landscape, and likely by machines and labour controlled by strident imperialists, alien to the contemporary pueblo-dwellers with production divided by gender, lineage and tradition.

Complex systems

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This weekend, I have been thinking about complex adaptive systems.

Wikipedia tells me that complex adaptive systems contain multiple diverse interacting components and that the system is structured such that it adapts and learns from experience.  At least, it appear to learn.  The system is not conscious or reflective on its experience.  An ecosystem can be seen as a complex adaptive system.

In a cancer, the malignant cells are themselves diverse: some dividing, others resting; some forming a tumour, others infiltrating adjacent tissues, others again invading blood vessels and migrating.  Then there are the array of non-malignant cells: those forming blood vessels; inflammatory cells responding as if this were a healing wound; immune cells perhaps recognising and killing cancer cells, perhaps exciting such killer cells, perhaps damping the immune response.  All these various cells are in communication with each other, sending short range messages by direct contact or chemical signals.  This complex adaptive system is called the immune microenvironment of the cancer.

I am not prone to hyperbole.  Still, I think we* sit on the threshold of a major shift in how cancer can be treated, using new drugs to manipulate the immune microenvironment of cancers.  The drugs are becoming available.  The challenge is to understand the immune microenvironment sufficiently so we use the drugs effectively.

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This piece started with a layer of charcoal, the images driven by recent reading and current music.  I tore into the dampened paper creating highlights and texture.  This was then obscured by layers of gouache and acrylic paint, allowing charcoal and sea salt to disperse slowly, suspended in the very wet washes.   After a week or so looking at it, turning it one way and another, eventually I saw in it a narrative suggesting a complex system.

 

*”we sit on the threshold of a major shift in how cancer can be treated” – by “we” I mean the worldwide cancer community – patients, carers, researchers, clinicians, health care providers, research institutions, industry and those who commission and fund cancer care

The Ribs

The idea for this image clearly has its origins in China Mielville’s steampunk masterpiece, Perdido Street Station.

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In my imagining, an urban density of neon-lit blocks and dwellings, surmounted by a tall temple’s spire, has risen beneath the gigantic fossilised skeleton of an ancient beast.

So this image does not truly depict Mielville’s vast diverse metropolis, New Crobuzon. where the Ribs jut over Bonetown, a makeshift market of temporary stalls, with scanty brick buildings and abandoned lots edging dirty scrubland. Tools break and cement remains fluid.  A baleful influence from the gigantic half-exhumed bones limits development on the gravesite.

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This piece started as an A1 size memory of the fallen tree in backlit woodland, drawn in chalk pastel, washed and blotted.  Seeking to further disintegrate it, it was wetted and covered in inks and white gouache.  Weeks later, I drew the Ribs into the dried-dark image in oil pastel and painted onto this resist with diluted white acrylic.  This still exists in that form, awaiting further work. I took a digital image and explored future directions of travel on the iPad in ArtRage.

Sinfonietta to Fleshquartet

To the sounds of Janacek’s sinfonietta, I layered translucent pixels onto the uploaded blotswyrm

Now my mind dances to a different tune: a chance mention on the radio opening up new ideas for drawing.