Being The Beginning Sunday, January 23, 2011
1 The Exchange Sunday, January 30, 2011
2 bildende Kraft Saturday, February 5, 2011
3 Gossamer Wings Friday, February 11, 2011
4 Nemesis Saturday, February 19, 2011
5 Odd Shoes Friday, February 25, 2011
6 al-Rûh Friday, March 4, 2011
7 A Love Supreme Thursday, March 10, 2011
8 The Three-Cornered Light Thursday, March 24, 2011
9 Serendipity Tuesday, April 5, 2011
10 The Watchman Friday, April 15, 2011
11 The Upright Way Sunday, April 25, 2011
12 Angels Wednesday, May 4, 2011
13 The Cave of Montesinos Tuesday, May 10, 2011
14 Idols Tuesday, May 10, 2011
15 Nightingale Sunday, May 15, 2011
16 The Perfect Square Sunday, May 22, 2011
17 Haunting Thursday, May 26, 2011
18 The Uncontainable Wednesday, June 1, 2011
19 The Ear of Malchus Monday, June 6, 2011
20 Mauvais Pas Wednesday, June 15, 2011
21 Sinan Qua Non Saturday, June 25, 2011
22 Spirit-Level Sunday, July 10, 2011
23 Witness Saturday, July 16, 2011
27 The Vanishing Point
28 The Cat Walks
29 The Approximate Likeness of Being
Becalming Unscientific Postscript
The sirocco (Scirrocco scillocco sirocco It., Sp. siroco xaloque, Pg. xaroco,
Pr. Fr. siroc, sirocco South-East wind; from Ar. schoruq (scharq east) ) – An
Etymological Dictionary, T.C. Donkin, (1864) – is a hot, oppressive, and often
dust-laden wind blowing from North Africa across the Mediterranean to southern
Europe. Known locally as the khamson.
Horace called this wind the plumbeus Auster, heavy as lead.
“And the ‘Ãd, they were destroyed by a furious wind,
exceedingly violent . . .”
surat al-hãqqah (The Catastrophe); 69, v. 6
“The fear instituted at the Retreat is of great depth; it passes
between reason and madness like a mediation, like an
evocation of a common nature. . .”
Madness and Civilization
“The psychotic ‘loss of reality’ does not arise when something is missing
in reality, but on the contrary, when there is too much of a Thing in reality.”
The Metastases of Enjoyment
Having turned off the main road just outside the village, Ahmed al-Akrash stopped. He left the car engine running, turned on the interior light and once again checked his map and the directions that had been given to him. In the distance he could just make out the forest of pine, stretched across a low hill like a saddle. Not too far away, he thought, before he accelerated down the narrow, twisting secondary road. A mile or so later, driving too fast, he almost missed the forester’s access lane and braked late to send a spray of bark, moss and mud high into the air. He slowed, drove slowly along the pot-holed track, deeper and deeper into the forest, until finally he found what he was looking for. Two old crumbling stone pillars, the directions had said. He angled the car through the narrow gap between them only to find his progress blocked by a padlocked modern steel gate. Turning off the engine, he opened the window and listened for a moment. He got out, looked around and then climbed over the gate and began to walk the last stretch to his destination.
The laneway was an avenue of conifer and holly, standing sentinel behind crumbling perimeter walls, the stones just about tethered by clinging ivy. He noticed a brief movement in the forest to his right and strained to see in the dusk, his heart beating fast. After what seemed an eternity a large puck-goat, horned and bearded, ambled into a clearing, stared back at him for a moment, before disappearing again into the gloom. Ahmed al-Akrash relaxed. In the distance a square-tower type castle rose up above the canopy of trees and he could see surrounding scaffolding and materials for a new roof.
Suddenly, he stopped abruptly again, frozen in time and place by the deep baying of two large dogs that were coursing down the lane towards him. He’s hated dogs, ever since . . . He thought about running, looked for a tree to climb but then picked up a rock from the ground and tested its weight in his hand. A sharp shrill whistle sounded and the dogs, a pair of Dobermans, instantly pulled up, laid down with their paws forward, eyes locked on Ahmed’s every movement. He felt unable to move, paralysed by his fear. The rock was heavy in his hand. A man sauntered down the track toward him, smoking a cigarette. He flicked it away as he approached and the red tipped butt arced through the night sky. ‘They don’t like visitors,’ the man said brusquely.
‘Welcomes are sometimes worn out,’ Ahmed replied, throwing away the rock.
The man relaxed and immediately lit up another cigarette. He leant down to pat the two dogs on their heads. ‘You must be Ahmed. I’ve been asked to give you every bit of help I can, by our mutual friends – Malachy MacGaoth at your service,’ he said with a grin.
MacGaoth held out his hand. Ahmed took it, keeping one eye on the dogs. ‘I am Ahmed al-Akrash. It’s good to meet you.’
‘You look a bit worse for wear,’ MacGaoth observed.
‘I’ve been hiding out.’
‘Come on in. I’ve some fish on the go. Are you hungry?’
‘Good.’ MacGaoth whistled sharply and the dogs bounded up and ran ahead of them towards the castle.
‘What about my car?’ Ahmed asked.
‘Give me your keys? Gabriel will bring it up.’
‘Young fellow who helps me . . . with the building, don’t you know. Thick as a goat . . . but he can drive.’
‘I saw one!’
‘A goat! Big male . . . in the forest.’
‘Did you now? Must have strayed from the farm down the road. They make cheese.’
As they neared the base of the castle Ahmed looked up at the steel scaffolding surrounding the ramparts. ‘How old?’ he asked.
‘From 1230 or thereabouts. Used to be a monastery here as well. That lump of rubble over there.’ MacGaoth pointed to an old archway and a collapsed wall. ‘It takes all my time to keep it from falling out from under me. Quiet though, and private.’
They reached the main entrance. It was a low Norman-arched doorway. Ahmed began to stoop to enter but suddenly noticed a strange carving in the capstone over the door. It was a female figure, with her legs wide apart and her two hands coming down behind her thighs to separate the large labial folds of her sex. There was a finger-sized hole between the folds, the lower margin of which was smooth and worn. The figure’s face was contorted. Ahmed’s face betrayed his disgust.
‘A sheela-na-gig,’ MacGaoth said, as he watched his visitor’s reaction.
‘A sheela-na-gig, the strange idol carvings that appeared in Irish churches and castles in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. No one quite knows the reason. “Sile” is the Irish for Julia and a “ghig” is an old hag or midwife. Midwives were often thought of as witches and perhaps these were put up on buildings to ward off the evil thought associated with them coming into the church or castle. Like al-Uzza perhaps.’
Ahmed said nothing, but remained disturbed by the carving.
‘Put your finger in the hole there, and make a wish.’
‘Allah preserve me, no!’ he protested.
‘Come on in then.’ MacGaoth directed him inside. ‘Gabriel!’ he shouted at the top of his voice.
A thin boy, sixteen or seventeen at most, Ahmed estimated, appeared from nowhere. He had a high forehead surmounted by red hair. Arabic red not Irish, Ahmed noted. The boy grinned, and Ahmed watched as the three metal studs planted in the skin below his lower lip seem to separate in different directions.
‘There was a call for you, while you were down the lane,’ the boy sneered, in a high-pitched rasp.
‘Who was it?’ MacGaoth asked.
‘That cokehead wanker you set me up with, who was so spaced out he couldn’t fucken do it. What was his name again?’
MacGoath’s eyes narrowed in annoyance. They flicked in Ahmed’s direction and then back to the boy again. ‘Watch it Gabriel! No names!’
‘Just telling you, dude. I’m pissed off with all that other fucken’ shit you have me doing for the two of ye.’
‘Go get your man’s car, will you?’ MacGaoth ordered, tossing the youth Ahmed’s keys. ‘Remember to open the gate.’
The boy grunted and stuck a middle finger in the air close to MacGoath’s face.
‘What did he mean by that?’ Ahmed asked, glad to see the back of the boy, whose voice irritated him.
‘None of your concern, Ahmed!’ MacGaoth said with finality. ‘Come on in.’
The door closed behind them and they immediately turned into a narrow spiral stone staircase that brought them up to the first floor of the tower. Ahmed looked around at his surroundings. There was a large fireplace with carved heraldic inscriptions and a roaring fire; a large oak table, four high backed chairs, and two rocking chairs. There was a worn thick-woven carpet on the ground.
‘Take a pew,’ MacGaoth instructed, but immediately sensed that Ahmed did not understand what he meant. ‘Take a chair Ahmed. I’ll get us food.’
Later, once the food was cleared away, they sat in the rocking chairs, nursing cups of coffee. Gabriel had been dispatched to town, money in his pocket, ‘for a few pints’. They waited for the sound of his motorbike to disappear into the silence of the forest. ‘Mightn’t see him for a week,’ MacGaoth said, as he leant forward to stoke the fire.
The two dogs were sprawled out between them, their eyes remained always on Ahmed. He looked at them. ‘What are their names?’ he asked.
‘Sam and Del . . . Samson and Delilah in full. Appropriate don’t you think?’ MacGaoth asked.
‘What do you mean?’ Ahmed questioned, confused.
‘Samson, the first suicide-murder terrorist and what you’re about to do,’ MacGaoth said bluntly, in an almost distracted fashion.
‘Why do you say it like that?’ Ahmed was taken aback by the bluntness.
‘Suicide-murder, like it’s a category?’
‘It is.’ MacGaoth stopped stoking the fire and looked at his visitor directly. He continued, ‘It is a category, an identifiable part of the spectrum that includes suicide, suicide-murder, murder-suicide, murder, each with their own stimulus, purpose, goal, emotion, cognition and consistency.’
‘It is not that easy to define,’ Ahmed protested.
‘On the contrary, it is my friend, but perhaps not so easy to explain.’ MacGaoth countered.
‘You sound knowledgeable?’
‘I was a psychiatrist in a former life.’
Ahmed noticed for the first time that MacGaoth’s eyes are tinged yellow. ‘And now this?’
‘I told you. It’s not easy to explain.’
‘Try,’ Ahmed said.
‘I spent many years working with the victims of political torture, trying to heal their spirit, trying to understand why such evil existed, trying to erase that evil with goodwill, good intention, good . . .’
‘I realised it was pointless. Evil does not recognise the existence of good will or good intention, either in an individual being, or being in general and despite the claims of citizen sociologists and pragmatists has no capacity for justice, or charity, or reconciliation. Healing the spirit of tortured men and women was an exercise in futility when their spirit remained forever terrorized. I discarded my inward desire for truth in favour of an outward expression of that truth.’
‘Evil will only see its reflection when confronted by a greater evil, and is terrorised into submission.’
The image of the Sheela-na-gig flashed in Ahmed’s consciousness. ‘Are you prepared to die for that conviction?’ he asked.
MacGaoth brought his hands up to cover his lips, and looked at his visitor for a long time. ‘Good God, no.’ He laughed off the suggestion. ‘I am not yet that ambivalent. I still see death as the end of reason.’
‘Your own or others.’
‘My own, of course! I still hold out some hope for myself. Living is my challenge and I leave the business of dying to the martyrs and the martyred. ’
‘You have a strange sense of humour,’ Ahmed said sadly.
‘Somebody once said, Kierkegaard I think, humour is always a concealed pain but is also an instance of sympathy.’
‘Is that it? Is that why you want to help me? Sympathy?’
‘Perhaps but also because I believe that existence, each being’s sense of being, lies within the individual and no one else.’
‘Is it madness?’
‘What you intend?’
‘Are you a fanatic?’ MacGaoth asked.
Ahmed thought for a moment. ‘Fanatics are full of doubts. That is what drives them. Me, I know the sun will come up tomorrow, I know what is in my soul.’
MacGaoth smiled. ‘Do you believe you’ll come back again and do this . . . do what you intend, another – what is it, ten times?’
‘Do you see it as a duty?’
‘To a political cause?’
‘To your faith?’
‘No. . . well, perhaps yes, but in a very specific way, a conviction of right over wrong, a certainty of a greater good. As you have mentioned it’s part of the truth in me, part of the reflection that is my becoming. Part of my witness.’
‘A conviction of righting wrongs. A true shahid: the original meaning of the word, not a martyr but a witness.’
‘What drives it?’
‘Explain what you mean.’
‘My soul is everything that I am,’ Ahmed continued. ‘It penetrates my being. It has ammâra, whispering its breath in my ear, commanding me to evil because of my desire for revenge. But in sensing that desire it also has lawwâma, a righteousness returning me to the path from that evil so that finally I might achieve mutma’inna, tranquillity. It is everlasting.’
‘Ah! The eternal soul of a martyr! An escape from the examination of the angels?’
‘I am having it now, Malaky!’
‘Touche. And if there was another way?’ MacGaoth teased.
‘Are you a djinn sent to tempt me?’
‘What happened to you to make you want this witness as you call it, Ahmed?’
‘My grandfather was a stonemason in the village of Deir Yessin. In 1948 the Hagana Jewish fighters entered the village and butchered men, women and children. My grandfather was paraded through the streets of Jerusalem then brought back to the quarry where he worked, and shot.’ Ahmed stopped, and looked at MacGaoth. ‘It’s ironic really.’
‘You and me, the coincidence of history?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Deir Yessin is now known as Kfar Shaul, and the site of Jerusalem’s main psychiatric hospital.’
‘And what about you?’
‘My madness?’ Ahmed al-Akrash looked into the fire. ‘I am . . . was a teacher of mathematics and geography, displaced in a distortion of both logic and location to Sabra refugee camp. On 15 September 1982, Phalangists instructed by the Israelis, stormed the camp. My wife and only child, a girl of seven, were butchered with a meat cleaver but not before they were both raped. I was unable . . . I could not save them. In my anger I drove out towards the border. Attacked a patrol with my bare hands, with rocks. They laughed at me, set their dogs on me.’
‘I understand you now.’
‘My fear of dogs!’
‘Not just that! Everything.’
‘Yes.’ MacGaoth studied his visitor for a moment. ‘And what is the duty to your faith, that you touched upon?’
‘I cannot go into that too much, for your sake more than mine, only to say it is a question of intercession.’
‘I see. It’s revenge so?’
‘Retribution. It has always been our way . . . even before Islam.’
The two men rocked back and forth in their respective chairs without speaking for some time. MacGaoth eventually got up and Ahmed watched him pacing the perimeter of the room. His mobile phone rang and he answered it.
‘Yeah. No problem. He’s here with me now.’
There was silence for a moment as MacGaoth listened, his eyes flickering intermittingly to where Ahmed was staring into the fire. MacGaoth’s face suddenly contorted, his voice hardening to solid hatred, as he shouted into the phone. ‘Listen to me when I talk to you. I know what I’m doing. That’s done. It was all too easy to swap your sample. Security in the lab was shite, as they are in the middle of changing locations. You’ll have no further problem from that quarter. Now fuck off and stop annoying me.’ He hung up.
‘Problems?’ Ahmed asked looking up.
Their eyes met and Ahmed felt he had to know. ‘You never answered my question Malachy.’
‘About madness?’ MacGaoth moved in close and leant on the armrest of the chair. He stared at Ahmed, their faces about six inches apart.
‘I have looked into the eyes of many “madmen”, perpetrators and victims both, Ahmed. Whatever it is that they see, or feel, or imagine, is beyond my full comprehension. It is for their eyes only.’ MacGaoth withdrew and moved towards the stairwell where he turned and looked back. ‘I became unable to discern a distinction between the inner reality of an individual “madman” and the supposed sanity of the external reality of civilisation and its endemic “madness”. That failure is perhaps the real reason I stopped doing what I was trained to do.’
‘What now?’ Ahmed asked.
‘Come, we will make Yihya Ayyash, proud of us.’
Ahmed’s eyes opened wide in surprise.
Malachy MacGaoth smiled, taking pleasure in having caught his visitor off guard. ‘You see? I also have my idols. Listen Ahmed. I’m very good at what I do, what I enjoy doing. I’ll have you smelling of musk. I will show you the truth of the matter, how to strap it on, how do detonate it, how to focus its force . . . how to bear witness.’
A sheela-na-gig from north County Galway