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INVOLUTION- An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God
CollaborArt Books 2013 Pb 427pp (£17.99/ebook £4.99
ISBN 978 0957500204
Reviewed by David Lorimer
Philippa Rees is a polymath brought up in South Africa who studied literature, science and theology and who has brought these strands together with her own experience in this brilliant epic poem telling the story of the Western Odyssey of the mind with parallel explanations in 150 pages of notes.
She has been working on this theory of involution for many years and was in correspondence with Authur Koestler, Konrad Lorenz and E.F.Schumacher in the 70’s. The nine Cantos of blank verse- a dialogue between Reason and Soul…..read more on Scribd
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
(T.S.Eliot. Burnt Norton)
My second shot at renewed motherhood arrived without formal invitation, and was as ill-timed as my own birth had been. Teaching in a Catholic convent as a now unmarried mother, a swelling belly was as unwelcome as an invited priest suddenly swearing from the pulpit. The fact that the father was their beloved Director of Studies and the only honorary layman in a fluttering coterie of veils only compounded the disaster. He was (tactfully and regretfully) invited to resign.
Without a job between us we went to Florence to ponder on the future, if there was to be one. He had never been out of England, (except in the war in uniform) and we found a frescoed room near the Pitti palace, with a roof garden overlooking the Arno, and bought a Moses basket in the straw market. The bambino that should have occupied it was, instead and disappointingly to all clustering eyes, filled with bottles of wine and presents of Panforte for the children yet to be introduced. His respectable past life was over, and at fifty he contemplated unemployment with a baby on the way, two others to support, and an irresponsible scribbler, with mystical tendencies, growing larger by the day. He was thrilled, thrilled but terrified. He saw winter in Florence as though in a dream, a world of incomprehensible promise, and beauty, empty and shuttered with vacant streets filled only with literature and, perhaps appropriately, a galloping Renaissance, yet to breast the hill.
My second exposure to motherhood, was as though the first had been a pre-run for two more, to get better at it; again two girls and exactly the same ages apart ( to the day) as the first two. Life was on edit and redraft.
The first of the second pair, born at noon on a cloudless summer Sunday, introduced me to a conspicuous daimon, who scarcely asked her consent before stating his intentions. The doctor who delivered her, pronounced her ‘perfect’ and departed to play tennis. Her arrival filled with sunlight was the renewal of a life that she had come to teach me to navigate. She contemplated the world through wide open eyes, as though simply checking her recognition. Each phase was mastered and ticked off. I remember no tears or sleepless nights, simply a steadfast walk to inner certainty. By four she was a fluent reader with a passion for books devouring stories about children left to discover for themselves: Laura Ingalls Wilder took her to the prairies, Arthur Ransom to the Lakes, the Railway Children covered her in steam and the Wierdstone of Brisingamen terrified her, delightedly. C.S.Lewis was constantly bookmarked with a frayed nappy-rag, and Aslan shared her bed. I think he still does.
The preferred were about intrepid courage in difficult circumstances, usually the result of grown ups, screwing up. That figured. Like me her first passion was horses, and riding, spending every moment at the local stables where retired polo ponies covered in mud, saw out their days for children who curry combed, plaited, saddled and cantered about unsupervised through lanes of Lady’s lace and nettle.
When there was no pony the dog was saddled with her lolling and threadbare pink lamb and put through its paces over jumps made from any available stick or support. It took us years to discover why a collie that had never been fed, except at supper time, constantly begged for biscuits! ‘But I thought they are supposed to be so intelligent?!’ Since I was never a diligent laundress, the crumbs in the pockets were never found. I had assumed a willing collaboration; mothers can be incredibly blind.
These two passions for wild terrain and horses found a focus in a sudden and dedicated passion for American Indians, whose rugs, tepees, feathers and moccasins littered the five year old’s cell, and whose symmetrical designs in black, ochre and red were taken to art. When an elderly godmother announced that she was going to visit America she offered a caution ‘I wouldn’t bother going all that way, the prairies are not what they were, and there are hardly any buffalo left’! Her world was all in books and in the past.
Then the daimon took its firm hold on her collar, getting serious about the violin she was given for her sixth Christmas. The violin and the daimon took the opening bow together and the child disappeared. Playing the violin was all she wanted, in life: Except for horses— they remained—to be joined later by elephants. At seven she busked to streets of spectators in Spain, and kept a festival on ice in Portugal until the proper band sobered up. Playing was as natural as breathing to begin with. Only after a serious fall and a broken collar bone it became necessary to choose. Broken fingers, wrist or elbows was no longer an option, even the collarbone would raise its complaint, later. The daimon, given its head, is a ruthless master.
Unlike the unfathomable daughters that had preceded her, this was the easiest child to guide and provide for. She took the reins, what she was and needed was never in doubt. Finding teachers that took a six year old’s demands for technique, scales and studies was another matter. They all thought it should be fun or yoga and country dances. All local teachers excused themselves, finding her seriousness suspect, and incapable of feeding it.
I was, of course, accused of being one of those ‘pushy’ mothers. Little did they know I could hardly run fast enough to keep up with the instruments, strings, urtext scores or the expense of the few who would take her seriously but who taught in the Conservatoires and charged accordingly. I knew nothing about the world of musical education, or its ruthless demands for knowing the right people. My Sundays were spent driving to London and using the available churchyard yews for essential purposes, while she was taught under a lofty coffered dome by an austere Japanese maestro. Her daimon lashed its tail over time and our very limited bank balance.
It also whipped up the jealousy of her sisters. Her younger sister also demanded a violin and played it with consummate ease, much more fluent, dextrous, and flamboyant. She wanted no bothering with scales or technique and refused to practise. Look it’s easy! It was, for her, because physical mastery came naturally, music was incidental. Yet the convincing fluency bought her an education, and the affluent school that gave her a full music scholarship introduced her to her other daimon, the ease of finding money and those that had it. Life, since, has trickled coins into her lap: From University she was head hunted before graduation, and she has never yet had to apply for a job. The violin has never been out of its handsome case since she played the Bruch violin concerto at a final concert and packed it away. Music was the core of existence for one, the means to ease and privilege for her sister. One language, two interpreters.
For me music and the disciplined training it demanded was the trapping of that sun through the bars of industry, the only thing that kept me connected to what I had turned from, for the sake of my second-chance daughters, and the only consolation to which I could willingly harness myself without too much regret. I attempted to master the cello, founded an orchestra and built a concert hall, since I knew none of the right people. Music linked me to early dreams, and to the highest of human aspiration, to articulate feelings, not merely to think.
So it incubated another refinement necessary to re-working of the book. It was the power of music that sought expression through poetry, the cadences of words, their evocative rhythms, and the shaping of themes, unconfined as to meaning, but no less accurate to the interpretations of the heart. So our daimons inter-twined: I needed her passion for music to educate my language for the passion to communicate ideas, ideas deeper than the intellect alone could apprehend.
My daughters have all held up mirrors to define my deficiencies, and to refine the conviction that nothing is without meaning, and that each partakes of All, but none will conform to expectations. Everything they became was evident within the first year, had I been more perceptive. The first walked away, seeking emotional disengagement, and now undertakes intrepid solitary journeys to remote African areas to survey for dams or roads. I’m told time out has sampled bungee jumping and white water rafting. The second is affirmed by domestic and parental perfectionism and bakes moist sponges for beautiful serene achieving children. The third still seeks service to music, teaching and playing whenever music takes the baton rather than egotism, and the fourth is still trying to discover where the pearl in the world’s enigmatic oyster might hide.
I hope I have finally learnt to get out of their light. It has taken much too long.
The book’s final resurrection, after forty years, is now no longer a theory, as it was originally, but a celebration of all creation and all creativity. It took its final shape from sharing the longing of one daughter for whomplaying Beethoven was more vital than a longed-for pony. Longing is one thing I feel I have come to understand, more potent and present when denied. So Involution is entirely about longing, for recognition, for expression, for understanding, and all those inspired creators driven by its incremental refinement, to lose themselves and be carried towards a wider sea, and take us all with them.
Stillness now the new persuasion
Imperious stillness fills the ears…
The unmarked stave the new horizon
Makes music’s journey new, explicit;
To hollow the heart for a deeper longing,
To finger the strings of a naked thirst,
Prepare the ground for a joyful breaking…
Returning to silence its borrowed jewels of song.
The Book that Wrote the Life: My amiable thug of a book to whom I unwisely said
OK. Enough already. It is time to dig deeper and get up close and personal.
Why would anyone write a new ‘Divine Comedy’? Start again. Why would an unrecognised poet and a non scientist write a poetic history of science? Well I have said it was the book that wrote the life, and choosing was never done by me.
I am now going to ‘come out’ and tell you what this seeming whimsy really means. Involution has caused me to ponder very deeply on how ordinary life gives evidence of it at every level. I would have no conviction if every life did not reflect it. I wrote the usual autobiography, only mine started with emerging onto the Serengeti plains and came pushing on through civilisation(s). I spent time in Greece and I absolutely loved Florence in the Renaissance, after which things rather went down hill, until I found myself beached in modern life and wondering where we might gone instead. Hence the book to find out.
‘Write what you know…’ that hoary adage implies that every writer collects a carpet bag of scraps, the better to fashion characters, places, and realistic situations. Then there is the other school of authorship, the so-called imaginatively fictional—what nobody thinks anybody knows, the fantasy, the Gothic steam punk, the sci-fi, the magic realism and mythological which are considered testament to what you cannot know but have the skill and versatility to make real and believable. They claim to be the ones who make Blue Peter toy towns out of fairy liquid bottles, metaphorically speaking.
I put it to you ladies and gentlemen; these are both drawn from a single continuum. The first writes what we know you know (yes familiar, know exactly where she stands…that part of London so well…so convincing) and the second what you once knew but have forgotten (often more convincing, probing deeper, but less definable). The layers of the subconscious furnish dreams and also fantasies, they are timeless, otherworld- penetrating, overwhelming, sometimes interlaced with surrealist extravaganzas, sometimes openly mocking, or indeed puerile. I believe that this web of connection that links each of us to one another, to those we have known in past lives; or met in dreams, finds the mouthpiece author to articulate and give them all new life through the books that enshrine them. Writing is the urge to articulate the preciousness of individuality, and make meaning of our lives (and fold in paprika or saffron dreams).
Our first book is almost always autobiographical in a narrow sense, and probably should be discarded. It sharpens the author’s familiarity with themselves, the better to apply a more detached and thoughtful eye to the components of other lives instead.
The more I read of the books people write and their relation to that author’s life and interests, the more it seems to me that books find authors by shaping their lives. Not so much ‘write what you know’ but ‘live the book first’. Authors stricken by tragedy make sense of it by writing ‘my story’,( or starting a charity) successful entrepreneurs sell success, philosophers weave philosophy into the loom of fiction, the injured write revenge, the ingenious a perfect crime, the enlightened write obliquely since they have nothing to sell but belief. Or they channel inspiration like St John of the Cross, Kahlil Gibran or Rumi, and become immortal in the literary sense. Shakespeare had to be Prospero first to whip up a Tempest.
Living forever, the immortality that writing implies and seeks, is, I think, what lies at the root of its compulsion. The writing calls for a reader to make a deeper sense of the solitude that an author’s experience wraps around his lonely shoulders.
I now understand that every aspect of my life has been relevant to conceiving and then writing Involution-An Odyssey. Every scrap in the carpet bag was used, but I suspect past lives I do not consciously remember set the tempos to spend more time with Galileo and the Renaissance painters in Florence, with Kepler in Tubingen and certainly the scholastics in Oxford and with the Invisible College back in Oxford halls of open and vigorous dispute. They were all places in which I felt immediate familiarity. Just as though I had come home.
My first ever day in Oxford (commandeered as a taxi for an elderly friend to visit her sister) gave me nine hours to kill. Without a guidebook I found the Raphael drawings in the basement of the Ashmolean, the Light of the World at Keble, the old library of Merton, and it was just like the visiting of old friends. My feet knew the way and those that awaited my re-acquaintance. It was much the same with Florence, where Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s House was open for airing, and Fratelli Alinari was having a sale, and Donatello’s David bowed his beautiful head; I was pulled by an invisible guide. All were being heaped up for this book. I sat down in New College Chapel for a rest and looked up at El Greco…’
…lengthened by attenuated grief From the harsh world now mired in the real…
Even a junk shop near the Duomo provided the palimpsest that backs the cover and the website, a single page of parchment torn from a mediaeval leather bound and gilded tome. ‘Cinquecento lira, Madame …prego…’
IT was for this reason that I could not write just a scientific theory, because Involution has been a lived truth, not a theoretical one. The synchronies that penetrate ordinary life on a daily basis, the friends you know you had to encounter, (because you were waiting for one another), the improbabilities that seem so self evidently inevitable once they have occurred; all point to the evidence of Involution. The future is causative, it draws, because past memory demands restorations, enmity needs reconciliation, joy seeks a new encounter and thought creates the circumstances for each. We know we know. The moment NOW is the space-time moment in which such synchronies occur. The clocks all stop. The genius who reported that searched for the cosmological constant, and thought it had been a blunder. Simply because no-one else corroborated, and expansion of the universe prevailed. Now they are not so sure. The red shift that gave us expansion may be due to atoms gaining weight and not speeding away. The prevalent governs vision, which is another reason for Involution written for non scientists…giving it a breath of hope.
I think Einstein was struck by a mystical Damascus. Consciousness, simply the universal field of connection? If so where does fiction begin and end?
Writers weave that field, and live the lives encoded in their memory and contribute their unique colours to the cloth. Experience is their vat, their river’s washing stone, their linen, hung out in words taken by the wind.