Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wild Strawberries

When I remember to tend a particular corner of my garden the results can be surprising. Apparently the phrase 'wild strawberries' in colloquial Swedish  alludes to an underrated gem of a place of personal or sentimental value.

Swedish film-director Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries (1957) features Victor Sjöström in his last screen appearance as retired Doctor Izak Borg, who travels from Stockholm to Lund accompanied by his daughter-in-law Marianne, (Ingrid Thulin) to be awarded a life-time honorary doctorate. 

 In some ways Wild Strawberries is an early road movie, the story centring upon a journey both external and internal. En route Dr. Borg has experiences which remind him of his past. He offers a lift to three hitch-hikers, the pert and vivacious Sara, (Bibi Andersson) with her two competitive lovers, and to an argumentative married couple who he soons asks to get out of his car for the sake of the young people.  But by far the most memorable moments in the film occur when Bergman conjures up surreal settings and imagery to portray Dr. Borg's unsettling dream world. Reviewed by critics as one of Bergman's warmer and more accessible films, Wild Strawberries nevertheless hovers in the shadowy world of  life self-assessment with its regrets and past loves.  

Wikilink - Ingmar Bergman

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman

The big highlight of this year's Los Angeles Film Festival is the world-premiere (June 25)  of The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman. Commissioned by Swedish National Radio, the experimental chamber operetta for radio, written by Ron Mael stars him, along with his brother Russell Mael, also of Sparks. They will be joined on stage by Maddin, Finnish actor Peter Franzen as Bergman, Sjöwall reprising her role as a Hollywood starlet, and Ann Magnusun as Greta Garbo. It's being performed at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre and showcased to attract investor interest in the film project of the work.

Remembering that the brothers were once resident  here in England, back in the early 1970's as part of the  glam-rock scene, Sparks first tasted success in GB before returning home to L.A. in 1976. It was a very different music industry way back in the 1970's; they've been more than survivors but quirky innovators in pop music for the best part of forty years now, always one step ahead of the field.   

It's a wonderful thing Ron has done writing for the silver-screen goddess Greta Garbo (1905-90). I just love this utterly in character song from the apotheosis of the musical. Garbo appears and advises Ingmar Bergman who is faced with the dilemma of choosing between filming in Hollywood or returning to Sweden. All the best tonight to Ron and Russell, wish I was there !

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thunder and Lightning

The first summer storm of the year. Thunder and lightning are invariably associated with God by most religions. In ancient Greek mythology lightning is a weapon of Zeus which is forged by the Cyclops. In Norse mythology the god Thor (Thursday) is a god of thunder, its sound  was believed to come from the chariot Thor rode across the sky,  lightning was believed to emanate from his hammer, Mjölnir. 

I've written on the symbolism of lightning in the Tarot in a previous post entitled The Tower. A detailed account of a violent thunderstorm at Norwich in June 1665 involving fireballs by Sir Thomas Browne can be found here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Carl Jung and Sir Thomas Browne

'Then think strange things are come to light, 
Whereof but few have had a foresight.'

Earlier this month (June 6th) it was the 50th anniversary of the death of the Swiss psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). The occasion sparked debate as to whether Jung's psychology is relevant nowadays in a world which is increasingly literal-minded and skeptical towards symbolism, mythology and the interpretation of dreams. For myself the occasion reminded me once again of the many curious connections which Jung shares with the English physician and philosopher  Sir Thomas Browne (1605-82).

Both Jung and Browne were doctors who held a deep interest in humanity, both engaged in intense self-analysis, including analysis of their own dreams, both studied comparative religion and read alchemical literature closely, sharing an interest in the writings of Gerard Dorn (c.1530 –1584) and finally, both were interested in unusual psychic phenomena such as coincidence or synchronicity, as Jung termed it.

It's not known whether Carl Jung was familiar with Browne's Religio Medici, which was translated into German in 1746; however Jung used the phrase Religio Medici several times, unwittingly connecting Browne's spiritual testament  to the art of alchemy when stating -

'For the educated person of those days, who studied the philosophy of alchemy as part of his general equipment, - it was a real Religio Medici'.[1]

Jung also linked Browne's  Religio Medici  albeit unconsciously to the Swiss alchemist, Paracelsus (1493 -1541) when he  stated-

but that other pivot of Paracelsus's teaching, his belief in 'the light of nature' allow us to surmise other conjectures of his Religio Medica. [2]

And in fact the central chapter of Browne's The Garden of Cyrus is a fine literary example of a Paracelsian physician busily engaged in, 'seeking truth in the light of Nature' in the field of botany. 

Jung may even have been familiar with the contents of Religio Medici from hearsay for he accurately lists the themes of Browne’s psychological self-portrait but mistakenly places an old head upon young shoulders when writing of a colleagues work- 

it was a real Religio Medici, a complete survey of all the religious conclusions an old doctor might draw from his innumerable experiences of suffering and death and from the inexorable  realities of life's reverses.[3]

C.G. Jung helpfully lists much of the subject-matter of Browne's Religio Medici  when defining the original Latin meaning of the word religio as-

a careful consideration and observation of certain dynamic factors, understood to be 'powers', spirits, demons, gods, laws, ideas, ideals or whatever name man has given to such factors as he has found in his world powerful, dangerous, or helpful enough to be taken into careful consideration, or grand, beautiful and meaningful enough to be devoutly adored and loved. [4]

Browne's Religio Medici (1642) is very much a  product of Renaissance thinking. Along with the self-reflective Essais of Montaigne (1533-92) and Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) it exhibits a Renaissance spirit of enquiry into the psyche and is a celebration of individuality as well as the mystery of personality.

From the early 19th century the mystery and cult of personality found an outlet in the Romantic movement. The  poet Coleridge, an enthusiast reader of Browne, wrote a short note-book verse in admiration of the Norwich physician. By the most curious of coincidences the self-same verse was selected by Jung's secretary, Anelia Jaffe to preface the Swiss physician's autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963).

He looked at his own Soul,

With a Telescope. 
What seemed all irregular, he saw
and shewed to be beautiful constellations.
And he added to the Consciousness,
Hidden Worlds within Worlds.

Coleridge's early usage of the word, 'consciousness'  was in all probability introduced to him from his association with the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850). The Oxford Dictionary credits the first usage of the word 'consciousness' to  Wordsworth in 1804.

The workings of the unconscious psyche were often revealed to romantic poets and alchemist-physicians alike in their  experience of dreaming. Both Jung and  Browne were fascinated with dreams, especially their own. Jung describes in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, a series of life-changing dreams, including one in which he became trapped in the  golden age of alchemy, the seventeenth century, his life-changing dream  inaugurated a life-long study of alchemy.

Browne in turn, was in fact a lucid dreamer. This ability, in conjunction with his wide-ranging reading matter and fertile imagination provided him with rich fuel for his artistic creativity. Browne's ability to lucid dream is the source of much of his so-called 'dream-imagery' and 'mystical symbolism'. He confessed of his ability in Religio Medici thus-

Yet in one dream I can compose a whole comedy, behold the action, apprehend the jests and laugh myself awake at the conceits thereof. Were my memory as faithful as my reason is fruitful I would chose never to study but in my dreams. [5]

Browne never elaborated upon the psyche in as much volume or detail as Jung, however, he did pen a short tract upon dreams, even theorizing upon the possibility of their interpretation thus-

Many dreams are made out by sagacious exposition and from the signature of their subjects; carrying their interpretation in their fundamental sense and mystery of similitude, whereby he that understands upon what natural fundamental every notional dependeth, may by symbolical adaption hold a ready way to read the characters of Morpheus.  [6]

Browne's proposal of a 'symbolical adaptation read the characters of Morpheus' that is, a belief in the ability to interpret the psyche's symbols in order to interpret dreams,  along with his deep interest in the mystery of individuality, his utilizing of concepts and symbols from the alchemical tradition, especially in his diptych Discourses Urn-Burial and The Garden of Cyrus, earns him a place in the embryological beginnings of modern psychology. Indeed, included among Browne's many neologisms are those of a medical nature such as 'pathology' and 'hallucination', concrete evidence of his contribution to the development of psychology. 

At the heart of much of Jung's own interest in dreams and alchemy there's a deep study of the varied and ever-changing symbols which the psyche produces in art, dreams and alchemical literature. Jung's great discovery was that the mystical language of the alchemist-physicians and their bizarre symbolism attempted to describe the psyche's contents.

It's perhaps worthwhile reminding ourselves of the distinction between words and symbols. Unlike  a  sign or word, a symbol can never be fully explained, its  protean-like nature revitalizing itself whenever of value to the psyche to describe a spiritual or religious content. Browne's near exact contemporary Athanasius Kircher (1602-80) (a favourite read of the Norwich physician, as the catalogue of his library reveals)  defines the function of symbols as -

to lead our minds by means of certain similarities, to the understanding of things vastly different from the things  that are offered to our external senses... Symbols cannot be translated by words, but only expressed by marks, characters and figures. [7]

For C.G.Jung the terms symbolic and psychological were synonymous. In his view-

the language of the alchemists is at first sight very different from our psychological terminology and way of thinking. But if we treat their symbols in the same way as we treat modern fantasies, they yield a meaning - even in the Middle Ages confessed alchemists interpreted their symbols in a moral and philosophical sense, their "philosophy" was, indeed, nothing but projected psychology. [8]

The predominant symbol and expression of the religious values of western civilization for the past two millennium, the Christian Cross, is ultimately itself an undefinable symbol, despite the attempts of mystics throughout the ages. Another modern symbol which provokes strong conscious and unconscious affects is the swastika. In direct antithesis to the Christian Cross, the swastika symbolizes the darker nature within humankind; it also cannot be fully defined. 

Throughout the history of alchemy, symbols are employed in a bewildering proliferation and variance. Writing almost as if with Browne’s most difficult work, The Garden of Cyrus in mind, Jung stated-

Intellectual responsibility seems always to have been the alchemists weak spot... The less respect they showed for the bowed shoulders of the sweating reader, the greater was their debt to the unconscious...The alchemists were so steeped in their inner experiences, that their whole concern was to devise fitting images and expressions regardless whether they were intelligible or not. They performed the inestimable service of having constructed a phenomenology of the unconscious long before the advent of psychology..The alchemists did not really know what they were writing about. Whether we know today seems to me not altogether sure.  [9]

Browne and other theologically inclined alchemists lacked a precise terminology to describe the psyche's contents. Each developed their own highly idiosyncratic symbolism to describe the psyche and its contents, succinctly described by Browne as, 'the theatre of ourselves'. In Browne and other alchemically inclined European writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there can be discerned an Ur-psychologie which Jung identified as none other than the rudimentary beginnings of modern-day psychology.

Jung provided the scholar of hermetic philosophy and alchemy with new tools. His understanding of alchemy remains rewarding. Once acknowledging Sir Thomas Browne's diptych Discourses Urn-Burial and The Garden of Cyrus are literary works highly influenced by the tenets of  Hermetic philosophy, new light can be thrown upon their theme, imagery, symbolism and relationship to each other and illumination upon the cloudy obscurities of their text. For example, from a close reading of Jung the source of Browne's famous image in Urn-Burial-     

 Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us. 

can be identified.Using Paracelsian 'astral imagery' for his own purposes it was the foremost protagonist of Paracelsian alchemy, Gerhard Dorn (1530-84) who claimed there was in man an 'invisible sun' that is, a life-giving force equivalent to the imago Dei or image of God in man. In his essay Speculativa philosophia, reprinted in the anthology, Theatrum Chemicum (vol. 1) a work which Jung valued sufficiently enough to take with him when traveling in India and which was also in the library of Sir Thomas Browne, Dorn declares-

The sun is invisible in men, but visible in the world, yet both are of one and the same sun.

In Carl Jung's magnum opus on alchemy Mysterium Coniunctius (1955-56) one reads-

In Dorn's view there is in man an 'invisible sun', which he identifies with the Archeus. This sun is identical with the 'sun in the earth'. The invisible sun enkindles an elemental fire which consumes man's substance and reduces his body to the prima materia.  [10]

Throughout the history of literary criticism there have been  solitary voices who have provided insights into understanding the obscurities of Browne's symbolism. As early as 1959 the literary critic Peter Green noted that Browne,

'packs his prose with as much concentrated symbolic meaning as it will stand' .......  'Mystical symbolism is woven throughout the texture of Browne's work, adding, often subconsciously, to its associative power of impact'.

The primary symbols of Browne's diptych discourses, the Urn and Quincunx pattern share an intimate relationship to each other. Green also recognised the psychological import of Browne's highly original symbolism stating  -

by concentrating, almost like a hypnotist, on this pair of unfamiliar symbols, to paradoxically release the reader's mind into an infinite number of associative levels of awareness, without preconception to give shape and substance to quite literally cosmic generalizations.

Green firmly classified the two Discourses as one organic whole, united in theme, imagery and symbolism, stating-

The two works are interlinked by a dualistic pattern of opposed symbols -death and life, body and soul, substance and form, accident and design, time and space, darkness and light, earth and heaven. They can no more be separated than the voices in a fugue;taken together they form one of the deepest,most complex, most symbolically pregnant statements ever composed on the great double theme of mortality and eternity.

Densely-laden with 'dream imagery' and highly original proper-name symbolism, the diptych Discourses attempt to portray fundamental elements of the psyche, namely consciousness and  unconsciousness.  Urn-Burial  with its imagery of darkness, the unknowing nature of the human condition and the irrational, attempts to portray the unconscious psyche. In complete contradistinction The Garden of Cyrus with its imagery of Light, germination, growth and the botanist busy, 'seeking truth in the light of Nature', is Browne's  delineation of consciousness and is exemplary of the  'active imagination' of the alchemist, no less. 

The union of the opposites was as C.G.Jung recognised,  the main quest of the alchemical opus. In many ways Browne's diptych Discourses Urn-Burial and The Garden of Cyrus are exemplary as a literary art work symbolizing the union of opposites. They are also Browne's major contribution to the embryonic science of psychology. Sadly however, readers and publishers both lazily continue to imagine they are fully informed upon Browne's artistic and scientific sensibilities having read only Urn-Burial without reading its companion, The Garden of Cyrus, a work which may well be the Obverse, and not the Reverse of Browne's alchemically minted coin. Together Browne's Garden-Grave discourses, half solemn, half playful, are an embryonic portrait of the human psyche which anticipate a key concept of  Jungian psychology, namely the archetypes.

Indeed, not only does one of the very earliest usages of the very word 'archetype' occur in The Garden of Cyrus but Browne's Ur-Psychologie also attempts to describe the archetypes. Many proper-names associated with the archetypal figure of ‘the wise ruler’ including Moses, Alexander the Great, Solomon and the Emperor Augustus,  as well as the titular Persian Shah, King Cyrus, are named in the Discourse. Browne's proper-name symbolism also alludes to the archetypal figure of the ‘Great Mother' as a symbol of fertility and fruitfulness with mention of Sarah, Isis, Juno, Cleopatra and Venus.

At the apotheosis of the Discourse Browne summons up the foremost archetype of western civilization, namely the hero, in the form of the Greek Achilles, while the elusive trickster figure of Mercurius in the form of Proteus and Hermaphrodite  is also fleetingly alluded to  in The Garden of  Cyrus. 

 The worthy physician boldly declares at the discourse's apotheosis -

A large field is yet left to sharper discerners, to enlarge upon this order, to search out the quaternio's and figured draughts of this nature.

Centuries later, Browne's exhortation to  search out the quaternio’s was earnestly heeded by C.G. Jung. The quaternity and the number four were a corner-stone of the Swiss psychologist's mapping of the psyche's structure. Jung's predilection for the quaternity structure and its importance is explained by him thus -

The quarternity is an organizing schema par excellence, something like the crossed threads in a telescope. It is a system of coordinates that is used almost instinctively for diving up the visible surface of the earth, the course of the year, or the collection of individuals into groups, the phases of the moon, the temperaments, elements, alchemical colours, and so on. [11]

Incidentally, a superb sculptural representation of the archetypes in quaternity form can be seen in the Layer Monument  which can be seen in the church of Saint John, Maddermarket at Norwich.

Jung’s writings are also of great interpretative value in understanding Browne’s preoccupation with the quincunx symbol which is alluded to throughout The Garden of Cyrus. Jung noted of Browne's distinctly home-made symbol of  individuation - 

The quinarius or Quinio (in the form of 4 + 1 i.e. Quincunx ) does occur as a symbol of wholeness ( in China and occasionally in alchemy) but relatively rarely. [12] 

Again the question must be asked, whether Jung was acquainted with Browne's writings for somewhat astoundingly Jung identified the Quincunx pattern as none other than - a symbol of the quinta essentia which is identical with the Philosopher's Stone. [13]

Finally, on the subject of coincidence or synchronicity, a subject which fascinated both Jung and Browne,  while writing this post I was kindly donated a copy of Edgar Wind's The Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance (1948). Wind's single reference to C.G. Jung occurs whilst commentating on Browne's  statement -

The smattering I have of the Philosopher's Stone (which is something more than the perfect exaltation of Gold) hath taught me a great deal of Divinity. [14]

In a foot-note upon Browne's highly revealing hermetic statement, Wind states-

On pastoral edification through alchemy see ........raised to a system by C.G.Jung, Psychologie und Alchemie (1944).  [15]

I hope I've provided sufficient evidence of Browne's extraordinary relationship to Carl Jung. Separated by centuries, yet united in many of their observations upon the psyche, the two physicians share a curious elective affinity.  

In the final analysis, whether Jung’s psychology is of any relevance today hinges upon whether one believes  oneself to be a  random, genetic force of nature and of a strictly material origin, in which case Jung's writings are of little value. Alternately, if one believes in having a soul, Jung's psychology remains highly relevant to individual development. 

Postscript September 2015

In Laurens van der Post's 1976 publication Jung and the Story of our Time Van der Post writes of his drawing Jung's attention to the following quote by Browne-

'We carry with us the wonders, we seek without us: There is all Africa, and her prodigies in us; we are that bold and adventurous piece of nature, which he that studies, wisely learns in a compendium, what others labour at in a divided piece and endless volume. (R.M. 1:12)

The Browne quote elicited the following reaction from Jung, who according to Van der Post states - "He was deeply moved, wrote it down, and exclaimed, 'That was as is just it. But it needed the Africa without to drive home the point in my own self".

It seems that evidence of Jung's familiarity with Browne has existed since 1976 !

Books consulted 

C.G. Jung Collected Works vol 9. 10. 13. 14. 16. 18.
C.G.Jung Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963)
Browne -The Major Works  ed. C.A. Patrides  Penguin (1977)
Edgar Wind - Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance Faber and Faber (1958)
Green, P.    Sir Thomas Browne Longmans, Green & Co Writers and Their Work, No.108 ( 1959)


Header quote sir T.B. Miscellaneous Tract XII

[1] C. W. 10 : 727,   [2] C.W. 13:161,   [3] Cw 18:1465,   [4] Into CW 11,   
[5] R.M. Part 2:11, 
[6] Tract 'On Dreams' ,   [7] Obeliscus Pamphilus 1650,   [8] C.W. 14:737,   [9] C.W.16:497, 
[10] CW  14:49   [11] C.W. 9ii: 381   [12] C.W. 18:1602,   [13] C.W. 10:737   [14] R.M.Part 1:39, 
[15] Wind in Chapter entitled 'Pan and Proteus'

Part of this post is developed from a paper I delivered in 2002 at a conference held by the Wellcome Institute at UEA .

Saturday, June 18, 2011

War and Corpses

I am far from the first to state this - the present-day British government are behaving quite callously by deliberately  targeting those least able to fight back, namely the poor, the disabled, the sick and the elderly, in order to  protect their supporters, the rich. In fact the distribution of wealth of the rich has actually increased during this Recession.

The belief that a fascist government could never come to power here in Britian is quite simply a delusion, for as the  photomontage artist John Heartfield (1891-1968) realized, one reason  why the Nazi party were able to come to power in Germany was a direct consequence of  the Great Depression, along with the self-preserving desire of those with wealth and without any social conscience, to hold onto their wealth at the expense of the poor.  

Propaganda then as now,  manipulates the thinking of  the great majority, who unable to  think for themselves, lazily believe all they are told by the Media; such as, for example, that it's not the Bankers who are to blame, but the previous British government who were responsible for the World-wide recession. However, strangely enough, there's always sufficient funds in the coffers to finance yet another war, except the  present-day involvement in the Libyan conflict, now in its fourth month, is not really a war, but merely assistance to the rebels against the regime of Colonel Gaddafi. As ever, black liquid gold lays at the heart of British military involvement. Under the smoke-screen of establishing democracy the democratic rights of other nations are more important to the present-day British government than the rights of its own people.

Wikilink -  John Heartfield 

Friday, June 10, 2011


After one of the driest Springs recorded, the drought in five English counties, all in the east of England has now been made official. I would suggest however that this current drought, and the severe shortage of rain which farmers and food-growers are experiencing,  goes much deeper. There's a serious and  wide-spread drought and thirst throughout many regions of the world for a fairer distribution of wealth and resources, moral integrity, compassion, leadership and  spiritual  vision. These droughts can't begin to be remedied until humanity acknowledges, as drought along with volcanic eruption, earthquake, hurricane, flood, famine and  war,  painfully reminds those suffering, that humanity isn't as much in control of its destiny as it imagines, and the words of the Prince of Peace  are heeded-

Whoever drinks water shall be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water  I  give shall not thirst;  for the water  I give shall be a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


I've been intending to post on Sparks for some time when I stumbled upon a discussion between two American ladies who were wondering where on earth the 1970's pop-music duo had disappeared to. That shared query was  impetus and  motivation enough to merrily tap away at the keyboard today.

The brothers Ron Mael (b.1945) and Russell Mael (b.1948) are long-time residents of Los Angeles, California USA. They released their 22nd  album in 2009, the  experimental operetta, The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman. In 2010 they achieved the unique act of performing in chronological sequence one of their 20 albums every night for 20 nights at the Islington Academy and Shepherd's Bush Empire, London. They may have performed their  last ever live gig in America on December 1, 2010 at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. Although there's been occasional years of hiatus between album releases, Sparks have effectively been in the music business for over 40 years .

Ron and Russell Mael first cut their teeth and found fame during the early 1970's  when resident in England. Their big hit  in England was  This town ain't big enough for the both of us (1974). The hit introduced the world to Russell's  hall-mark falsetto voice and quirky lyrics and Ron's dead-pan yet scary, facial posturing.With the poetic, teen-age sensibility of a Holden Caulfield (of The Catcher in the Rye), Russell has retained a unique and beautiful voice.  His more reserved elder brother Russell, a 1920's Igor Stravinsky look-a-like,  has developed a powerful rhythmic drive and unique melodic line on keyboards  to accompany his brother. Incidentally its mostly older brother Ron who writes their music, while Russell supplies and sings the quirky lyrics.

Doggedly ignoring all musical trends, styles, fashions and crazes, Ron and Russell Mael  have carved their own idiosyncratic style, a kind of 70's techno-vaudeville, suitable to accompany a Buster Keaton adventure comedy, a true hybrid of American and British pop. According to Wikipedia Sparks have created their own unique musical universe; that's debatable but the brothers Mael have been enjoying a Renaissance in the first decade of the 21 st century. Indeed the 21st century has seen a distinct new creative drive by Sparks and growing critical acclaim with each new album release Their last few albums have built upon the style and success of each previous release. The realm of light opera in often comic has  been a fertile arena for their creativity.  Abandoning their Giorgio Moroder techo-style of the 80's and 90's, ever since the arrival of L'il Beethoven in 2002 their new operatic style has gathered new fans world-wide. There's no opportunity to demonstrate their music  here other than to enthuse over it, but their lyrics are worth quoting for his often acerbic and off-the-wall word-play, witticisms and social observations . Their  humour is  up there with the odd-ball wit of the Marx brothers -
                       How do I get to Carnegie Hall ? Practice man, practice.

Sparks' distinctive humorous album art-work includes one  cover depicting a recent after-math, a light plane crash landed in a back-yard; in another the brothers are seen hands bound  in an out-of-control motor-boat, in yet another, Russell  lays prone having  hit the deck in a boxing-ring. in the other corner Ron, wearing boxing gloves, raises his  arms in triumph. The brothers like to express their decades long working relationship in their art-work.Other long-term sibling or male duo artists which immediately spring to mind include the British artists Gilbert and George and the film-makers the Brothers Quay, directors of the wonderful Piano Tuner of Earthquakes.

If you grew up during the golden decade of 1970's pop music, when the world was a slightly more innocent place, or simply enjoy hearing great 70's style pop music, then Sparks music often frantic and intense yet funny, rhythmically inclined with gorgeous harmonies especially the last four or five albums this century, are well worth hearing. Young listeners may also enjoy. Lovingly and painstakingly recorded in  sophisticated layered production, well worth hearing ! Pass me my Space-hopper ! What is there left for the  American Grandmasters of Pop, Ron and Russell to achieve with 21 albums to their credit ? However they  do like to defy and surprise expectations !

Exotic Creatures of the Deep (2008)

* Strange Animal  - "What a strange animal we are".
 Anyone who seriously contemplates the species arrives at this conclusion quite swiftly.

* (She got me) Pregnant - So how would a fragile male ego cope with finding after a one-night stand that they were pregnant ?

"And then you learn that though she is several thousand miles away/ there is a part of you she's given you and now you have to deal with it."

* Lighten up Morrisey - Sound  advice to some sometime famous Brit. pop star who the Mael brothers admire.  
 "She won't go out with me 'cos my intellect's paper-thin/ She won't have sex with me unless it's done with a pseudonym".
*  This is the Renaissance -  "If you like to read, man you are in luck/ Gutenberg is cranking up a Bible with a centre-fold...Science is here , nothing left to fear"

*  Photoshop - There's some very dramatic multi-track vocals going on here
 "Baldness or aloofness removed without a trace. Photoshop me out of your life".

* I can't believe that you would fall for all the crap in this song
   More lampooning of  the music industry.

Hello Young Lovers (2006)

 * Perfume  -Russell names and sings the names of dozens of  perfume brands. 

*  (Baby, Baby) Can I invade your Country -  A  bold statement on Foreign policy.

* Metaphor  -  a track with superb multi-track harmonies by Russell.
"Chicks dig D -I -G metaphors, use them wisely, use them well and you'll never know the hell of loneliness".
*  As I sit down to play the organ at Notre-Dame Cathedral - A track which allows Ron to show-case his keyboard virtuosity, he must be playing at least five keyboards here.

" I got Faith, I got a deep abiding Faith, that in this Sea of faces, this sea of believing faces, there's always one face that's here to escape the rain".

On June 25, 2011 as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival, Sparks will present the World Premiere live performance of  The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman.


Sunday, June 05, 2011


He that would exactly discern the shop of a Bees mouth, need observing eyes, and good augmenting glasses; wherein is discoverable one of the neatest pieces in nature, and must have a more piercing eye then mine;  
 -Garden of Cyrus  chap. 3

There's a wealth of literature and religious symbolism  inspired by the  bee. The furry, flying insect is held in great esteem throughout the world despite its sting. Unlike the ant which invariably is likened to the robotic world of  automata, the bee has always been viewed as a hard-working  insect capable of altruism and self-sacrifice for the greater collective  good of the hive. Often used as a symbol of moral worth and integrity, the busy bee appeals greatly to the work-ethic of Protestantism.

The ancient Egyptians described   Pharaoh as He of  the Sedge  and Bee and  used honey as an effective contraceptive. In the Old Testament the story of Samson and the supernatural 'power' of honey can be found. (Judges 14:v.8). The Hebrew word for bee, dbure has the same root as  dbr meaning  'word'

In Classical antiquity bees were often depicted upon tombs as symbols of Resurrection; because the three month winter season when bees seemed to vanish was compared to the three days after the Crucifixion, only to reappear in Spring as if resurrected. In fact until the modern Industrial age, honey was  not only greatly valued as the only available source of sweetness but is also  the one and only food-stuff which  can never 'go off' and is incorruptible.

Bees have also symbolized eloquence, poetry and the mind. The Roman poet Virgil attributed the spark of divine intelligence to them. His fourth book of Georgics contains advice upon how to keep bees. Virgil's poem, over 500 lines long was for centuries one of the best-known works  of apiculture and how best care for  bees.

They alone hold children in common: own the roofs
of their city as one: and pass their life under the might of the law.
They alone know a country, and a settled home,
and in summer, remembering the winter to come,
undergo labour, storing their gains for all.
For some supervise the gathering of food, and work
in the fields to an agreed rule: some, walled in their homes,
lay the first foundations of the comb, with drops of gum
taken from narcissi, and sticky glue from tree-bark,
then hang the clinging wax: others lead the mature young,
their nation’s hope, others pack purest honey together,
and swell the cells with liquid nectar:
there are those whose lot is to guard the gates,
and in turn they watch out for rain and clouds in the sky,
or accept the incoming loads, or, forming ranks,
they keep the idle crowd of drones away from the hive. 
Bk 4 lines 153-169

Because the bee-hive has a radically different social organization to humankind's, bees and the hive have often been used as analogies to human society. Writers such as Shakespeare, Erasmus, Marx and Tolstoy each used the hive to describe human social organization. In his The Fable of the Bees (1714) the political thinker Bernard Mandeville argued that any distribution of wealth, even by theft, fraud and prostitution keeps the wheels of capital rolling and is thus legitimate. However his views were strongly condemned by  contemporaries as immoral.

Of all the varied literature relating to the bee that of the Belgian author and Nobel-prize winner, Maurice Maeterlinck's Life of the Bee (1901) is perhaps the most mystical. In Maeterlinck's work, contemplation of  the bee's life-cycle  and the hive rises to hymn-like heights of rapture. More recently the Swedish author Lars Gustafsson's novel The Death of a Beekeeper (1991) is a first person meditation by a Beekeeper suffering from advanced Cancer upon the imminent approach of death. 

Returning to bee-keeping itself,  'even though as early as the 1530s it was well known that the male drones were sometimes obstacles to honey production, most writers on bees for the purposes of their labor/religious/political metaphors kept the King a King.  However it was known that the queen bee was a female at least since the C17th century. Charles Butler's Feminine Monarchie popularized the notion, and was also the first work to stray from the usual methods towards bees and beekeeping of repeating ancient sources on the subject, and offer something like practical, even scientific treatment. Butler even scores the buzzing of the bees to music'.[1]

The buzzing sound of the bee, in effect its song, has fascinated musicians and composers. The bee is celebrated in Rimsky-Korsakov's The Flight of the Bumblebee, an interlude from his opera The Tale of Tsar Sultan. Its salutary to realise that although Rimsky-Korsakov wrote many operas often of  several hours length, his miniature tone-poem of seventy seconds is the work for which he is best remembered. More recently the British composer Michael Nyman wrote a short concerto for Saxophone and orchestra entitled  Where the Bee dances in which the  melodic line played by the Saxophone  imitates the joyous, zig-zagging flight of the bee.

Thomas Browne's Religio Medici includes a poem of highly original apian imagery; the poet imagining himself  a bee.

And then at last, when homeward I shall drive
Rich with the spoils of nature to my hive,
There will I sit, like that industrious fly,
Buzzing thy praises, which shall never die
Till death abrupts them, and succeeding glory
Bid me go on in a more lasting story.
- R.M. Part 1:13

In fact mention of bees occurs in each of Browne's major works. Abandoning poetry,  his Pseudodoxia Epidemica includes a lengthy digression upon why the bee produces a buzzing sound (Bk.3. chap.27). Browne, rather bravely writes of placing a finger upon a bee in order to determine its buzz. Elsewhere in his writing's there's a curious record, purely in the cause of scientific investigation, of Browne actually eating spiders and bees to determine their culinary and dietary effects, while in Urn-Burial he notes  bee's  funeral rites, ejecting its dead out of the hive.

Because scientific enquiry was invariably  patriarchal in its thinking, it was assumed  that the Hive was ruled by a male;  not until the nineteenth century was it finally accepted that a female Queen, not a male King rules the hive. The construction of the hive has been a source of wonderment to many, not least to  Sir T.B. who in  The Garden of Cyrus waxes lyrical upon its architecture thus-

The sexangular Cels in the Honeycombs of Bees, are disposeth after this order, much there is not of wonder in the confused Houses of Pismires, though much in their busy life and actions, more in the edificial Palaces of Bees and Monarchical spirits; who make their combs six-cornered, declining a circle, whereof many stand not close together, and completely fill the area of the place; But rather affecting a six-sided figure, whereby every cell affords a common side unto six more, and also a fit receptacle for the Bee it self, which gathering into a Cylindrical Figure, aptly enters its sexangular house, more nearly approaching a circular Figure, then either doth the Square or Triangle. And the Combs themselves so regularly contrived, that their mutual intersections make three Lozenges at the bottom of every Cell; which severally regarded make three Rows of neat Rhomboidal Figures, connected at the angles, and so continue three several chains throughout the whole comb.

The bee is an insect now included in the ever-growing inventory of endangered species upon planet Earth. It's recent decline is a matter of great concern. Without bee's ability to pollinate, crops would not grow. In fact humanity's fate is dependent upon the bee. The Varroa mite along with the phenomena known as 'Hive collapse disorder' in which swarms simply vanish, has decimated whole colonies. In recent decades pesticides, along with motor-car exhaust fumes and mobile phone signals have also been blamed for the bee's decline . In fact the plight of the modern-day bee wherever industrial-sized fruit-crop growing occurs, has been likened to  many working hives being over-crowded upon a budget air-line for a long over-night flight, only to be awakened upon arrival without any acclimatization, to a long day's labour immediately upon landing. Needless to say such treatment is motivated purely by economic factors.

The above photo is one of my best snaps. I particularly like how the  bee's furriness and  transparency of its wings is captured.

[1]  Info contribution by Brooke
 Fable of the Bees
Virgil's Georgics IV
Flight of the Bumblebee