Pieter Schermer

In his own right

The use of the sea is in the salt
drowning in tears schools of herring
twisting and turning react hysterically
to light beams rays of the sun
reaching two hundred meters at most
after this level we dive in darkness
deep sea lives on marine snow and detritus
creatures once unseen derive their lives
from rotten corpses and faecal whirling
down under everything leads to the abyss
with its bestiary of freaks albino giants
deep down in an ocean of silence
they live a life of unknown living poems

Placenta jellyfish float under the surface
like implicit words flow unborn
that’s how thoughts travel
as above, so below; as below, so above.
all in all passed by stardust
everything in everything
speechless aliens after all

Stars come out from deep space
dropping reflections of the universe
into the dark movement of the ocean
writing words with waves
a gulf stream of endless songs
whirling around the passengers
perpetual mobile of memories

The embarkation for Cythera is cancelled
all gleam and vista of heaven and earth
the black field of shining waters confuses
waves of people debark the Ark of Rupture
in the wake of the vessel memories see the light
old trees for hearth and home gave their lives
on them the shine of birth in tree rings
drilled and daggered deep vault of heaven
with glimmering sun at daybreak
world and universe rise out of their cloaked state
it is contained in this small vibrating crystal
drop that trickles down the windowpane
comprehensive in itself returned similarity
sentiment lay down its memory in sediment of thought
the homecoming of the salt in condensing tears of time
cannot make us forget the overwhelming love
for the utmost experience having lived

Mer à boire

The sea is the pre-eminently anarchist playground. Seventy per cent of the surface of the  earth is covered with water. We eat and drink from the largest habitat on earth. Pirates and fisherman are not the only ones who practise exhaustion on the seas. Recreational tourists are even worse. Their huge cruise ships, floating castles, visit the Antarctic. All ships wandering over the oceans are in fact sailing under the black flag. Strictly speaking it is all piracy. A mortgage on death. Poets are aware of that. They wear out the words, sometimes find new ones, recalibrate the old ones, concerning the heap of water we call ocean or sea. Did Coleridge’s mariner hand over the holy spirit to Baudelaire by his shooting of the albatross? Ah, wretch, said they / the bird to slay / that made the breeze to blow.

Back in 1965 I am sixteen years old when the whaler SS Willem Barentsz moors in the harbour of Amsterdam after her last crossing. The Dutch quit whaling. I decide to visit the boat. Everything is of quite large proportion on the ship. Great round holes are gaping for the slices of whale to pass for the cauldrons, where the mammals were skinned on the flensing deck. The chopped cuts are impaled on stakes and disappear into the iron mouths. The blubber slithers on after it is thrown downwards in the boilers to cook whale train. The surface is still covered with a thin layer of tainted grease that is not dissolved by cleaning up. It spreads a sickly smell of death. An informative documentary is shown, that makes a profound impression on me. One could ask questions. I have mixed feelings. Fascination, but on the other hand a strong repulsion, because the hunt is all about death, like the corrida in Spain. I imagine the explosion of the harpoon deep inside the whale after it penetrates the body. I cast a last glance through the big gateway in the back of the ship. The whales’ slipway to the slaughterhouse.

The Sea takes over, determines its own right. It takes lives and it saves some. Laws of Nature reign in a stream of causal connections. Take the weather: wind, storms, cyclones, temperatures, tsunamis, monster waves and maelstroms. Mother Nature eats her own children. Cruel and ruthless. Everything is sacrificed in advancing time. These waters are the shredder that grinds all waters. A harsh Darwinism, where wastage and economy are just figments of imagination, like human scale and nature. Biodiversity and natural balance are just snapshots. An anthropocentric measuring point in an eternal process of change, of surviving adaptation, extinction and [re]birth. The blender of nature is on the loose, grinds all waters and what is in it. Biodiversity and natural balance are snapshots. A measuring point in an eternal process of change, survival, extinction and [re]birth. Eternal return of the Ouroboros. Amor fati.

But that is rationalizing things. Let us conquer the other parts of our brain. On the other hand there are romantic thoughts. Sea Shepherd fights for the whales. Everything is permitted to express empathic feelings for these highly developed mammals. They strive to give a solution. People do not want to accept the destruction and the extinction, they search for a way out. But there is only a detour. Society forgets that it is part of the disaster and the solution at the same time. Can one be victim and executioner at the same time? The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus reminds us of some undeniable truths: panta rhei – everything flows. “No man ever steps in the same river twice.”  And “War is the working principle of everything.”

Is the White Whale captain Ahab’s alter ego, or better, his super-ego? The morally attached revenge is his redemption. Moby Dick definitely pulled his leg. Iceland, Norway and Japan are fond of the whales in a snobbish way, that is to say their meat. Every 22 of November there is an historical hunt, called grindadráp, for hundreds of pilot whales at the Faroe Islands. It ends in a huge slaughtering orgy. The bay of Tórshavn turns into a carmine bay of blood. In the Apocalypse of St John, Revelation 17, 3–9, enough is said about the scarlet whore of Babylon. It is a symbolic Babylon that refers to Rome and indirectly to the capital and those in power. The inhabitants of the Faroe Islands bring that allegorical scene to life. Sade taken too literally.

Captain Nemo and the Nautilus became the scientist Jacques Cousteau in his submarine Calypso, named after the seductress of Odysseus. In 2006 the same old Cousteau, an environment activist, stated to Yves Paccalet: “An earth and humanity in balance, it would contain a population of one hundred to five hundred million people, but educated and capable of self-sustenance. The aging population is not the problem. To stabilize world population, we must lose 350,000 people a day. It is a horrible thing to say, but say nothing is worse.” It is not Hitler that is talking. It is biblical. To save our love life, stop breeding!

In 1960 Jacques Piccard descended in the Mariana Trench to 10,911 meters in the bathyscaphe. Explorative expeditions are surrealistic adventures. Imagine a huge white octopus that crawls over an immense field of asphalt. Volcanism in the deep-sea trough tickles our imagination. What does Mother Nature learn us? Destruction, chaos and creation form a deadly sequence in time. These forces go berserk against all possible worlds and existence itself. Together they comprise the world’s existence. Nature contains the Masterplan of Death.

In Montevideo a young man stands on the shore, looking away from the Rio de la Plata. His eyes fixed on Europe. Isidore Ducasse is his name. His writings are done in cephalopod ink, the dark pigment used as an escape mechanism. That’s just what this bibliomaniac needs; to go away. But his writing would be without any possible way to escape. His thoughts disappear by staring at the sea. They vanish into the ocean where creatures digest those things that only can live on fantasy. Creatures wandering around. Dreams getting lost. Volcanos slumber in the abyss. Sulphuring pipes full of sea anemones grasping around with their greedy polyps. A forest of tubeworms clamps around the torching stove pipes of the geysers. Tube dwellers just pulsate and eat in an endless rhythm. Hydrothermal deep sea vents are basically seafloor geysers spewing as much as 867°F (464°C) hot water through the chimneys. A range of various species inhabit the vent sites. They prove that Earth could sustain life all by itself in a process called chemosynthesis, independent of the sun!

Where only thoughts dwell, dreams originate. Lingering around with whales singing their old songs, remembering. The runaway North Atlantic Drift circulates colourless blood round the surface of the earth. Potato sized manganese nodules wander over the ocean soil just to grow, reacting to the changing magnetic field. Waters teeming with schools of fish. Life celebrates its triumph. Swarming krill serves the masters. Gigantic baleens cramming their bodies. Obese mothers of the north are squeezing blood out of water. Everything swirls away in the current. Even in the deepest through there’s life. All good things come from above. Corpses, dung. All edible things go into recycling. Everything in everything. Economics. It is an enormous infinite centrifuge. This is the perpetuum mobile searched for. On the Mid-Atlantic Ridge thousands of shrimps, Rimicaris exoculata, crowding around the black smokers at the Snake Pit hydrothermal vent field. Permanent heat generates smoke through the chimneys close to the central athanor of magma, the kernel of the philosophical furnace. Life out there is a living paradox. But it did not need to be continually attended. Who could not love the Blob fish with its melancholic expression of Pierrot Lunaire before he hangs himself on the lantern? His name? Collateral Damage. The squids and the octopus are more agile. They run and jet stream themselves into another dimension. Let us skip the term bycatch.

Stoic H2O

Water knows how to behave, self-modifying. It seems as if a creature is building a monstrous being that can adapt any form possible, flexible like an amoeba, assuming that it can take any shape in all phases of aggregation: ice, rime, mist, steam, fog. Evaporating clouds are acting metaphors as are the frostwork flowers on the windows.

We belong to the aftermath of Epictetus, the Stoics, Lucretius, [see his De Rerum Natura / On the Nature of Things] and Spinoza. It seems stoic philosophy is a surviving way to look at the world. Virgil writes in the second book of his Georgics, apparently referring to Lucretius: “Happy is he who has discovered the causes of things and has cast beneath his feet all fears, unavoidable fate, and the din of the devouring Underworld”. At the same time our imagined future offers us a glimpse into the abyss and the emptiness, a peek in the void. Futurology mostly lacks logic. Mankind lives without any other purpose than death. Nature of this beast is aimed at conservation of the species in a Darwinian manner. Nature is the most reliable predictor there is. Species extinct. Here too, aimlessness. The goal is beyond our reach. Behind the rainbow, across the horizon. However, there is not enough water to satisfy the thirst of the explorer. Georges Bataille concluded by laughing about our possibilities, but on the wrong side of his face.

Dark Ecology and temporally blindness

Surrealism is a mentality and sometimes a way of living. A mentality towards experience. Observing things in a different way than average people. The power to be deviant is specific to Homo ludens. André Breton pointed to the book of the same name by Johan Huizinga in 1938. Creativity can bring solutions. But we must keep thinking out of the box. A man that rings a bell in a different way is Timothy Morton [born 1968]. He is perhaps not the purest philosopher but his views are charged. In Ecology Without Nature [2007] he proposes an ecological criticism that must be divested of the bifurcation of nature and civilization, or the idea that nature exists as something that sustains civilization, but exists outside of society’s walls. Morton states:

“Ecological writing keeps insisting that we are “embedded” in nature. Nature is a surrounding medium that sustains our being. Due to the properties of the rhetoric that evokes the idea of a surrounding medium, ecological writing can never properly establish that this is nature and thus provide a compelling and consistent aesthetic basis for the new worldview that is meant to change society. It is a small operation, like tipping over a domino…Putting something called Nature on a pedestal and admiring it from afar does for the environment what patriarchy does for the figure of Woman. It is a paradoxical act of sadistic admiration”. [Morton, Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics, 2007, pp. 4-5.]

Seeking an aesthetic mode that can account for the differential, paradoxical, and nonidentificational character of the environment, he proposes a materialist method of textual analysis called ‘ambient poetics’, in which artistic texts of all kinds are considered in terms of how they manage the space in which they appear, thereby attuning the sensibilities of their audience to forms of natural representation that contravene the ideological coding of nature as a transcendent principle. [Cf. Morton, 2007. p. 3]

So we have to check our rhetoric. Morton uses the linguistic analysis of structuralism and postmodernist deconstruction to understand what’s happening. There is some analogy in the way 17th century people looked in the black mirror of the Claude glass. They saw the landscape they wanted to see, according to Claude Lorraine’s fashion in painting. How they wanted nature to be their paradise. Literally an ideal landscape. When we cast our eyes on the ocean, there is an analogue vision, that is evident. But in reality there is a geosyncline, a through down under. It functions in our minds as an hermetic vessel, an athanor. The unconscious pit of darkness full of undiscovered secrets.

It seems that humans have difficulties to suppress or overcome their anthropocentric worldview. Schopenhauer knows the nature of the beast: The World as Will and Representation [1818]. Schopenhauer wrote in chapter 2 of his essay On the Freedom of the Will [1839]: “You can do what you will, but in any given moment of your life you can will only one definite thing and absolutely nothing other than that one thing.

Essentialism as philosophy can cripple us. We apply concepts, abstract ideas representing the fundamental characteristics of what it represents. Abstractions or generalizations from experience or the result of a transformation of existing ideas. Definitions are cognitive units, mental representations of one or more ideas, abstract performances. It is possible that there are experiences we are not capable to categorize. Essentialism is the reduction of our view on chaos. Between empiricism and idealism there is a thin line; intuition. We are looking for patterns. Tempting schemes of recognition. Reality undergoes a selection process. And anthropocentrism is in our nature [sic].

Surrealism is so appealing because of the role it gives chance, the unconscious, the experiment, freedom of the mind. Love, poetry and freedom are the three principal forces surrealism wants to practise. Rimbaud wanted to change life. Marx wanted to change the world. Poetry can change our imagination that inspires us to act differently and intercept in the problematic world.

Performative poetry

For In his own right I owe the inspiration to the Dutch classical scholar and symbolist poet J.H. Leopold [1865 – 1925]. He wrote a philosophical poem ‘Oinou hena stalagmon’ / One drop of wine [1910] and another poem called Regen / Rain [1914]. The title, One drop of wine, is derived from the Greek philosopher Chrysippus of Soli [c.279 – c.206 BC], the second founder of the Stoic school. When we render the first part of the poem in simple terms, it means, even if one drop of wine is so diluted on a molecular level, all the waters of seas and oceans create a situation where the wine is substantially present. A rather pantheistic vision. In its poetic activity the tiny drop contains the essence of the active substance as in homeopathy. Leopold’s poetry focuses on the contradiction between the desire to merge into a larger metaphysical or romantic connection and the inability to step outside one’s own personality.

J. Kamerbeek jr. pointed out in his analysis that the poem contains in its title a deictic call, the momentary thought designation. Later in the poem there is the anaphoric reference to this thought. He stipulated in his analysis “the coincidence of intending and the intended purpose, which is referred to as metaphorical iconicity.” There is a kind of homeostasis in the process to reach the equilibrium. The first stanza is one long sentence consisting of 29 verses. Perhaps One drop of wine can be taken as a performative sentence. It can be the catalyst of reading. Poetry can incite to act.

Just in plain words, no rewritten poetry, the first 12 verses of the poem ‘Oinou hena stalagmon‘.

On the forecastle knurled from
the black weather wood, the wine
is being sprinkled from the patera, and a purple rain
sinks down into the blue of the water surface
by priestly laudation and prayers
so that the sea, so that the barren winds
be merciful and to heart’s desire
the drop flowed from the chalice colours
the Ocean; one simple drop
permeates the whole clearness and
shares her essence to the seashores
to the deepest bottom

In the last verses the poet comes up with phrases like “the thin mixing and finely divided power“, “until she came to total comprehensiveness” and the glorious expression “in itself returned similarity”.

Issue 4 Table of Contents