Summa: diary (November 1-4, 2022)

Who’d have thought that he — of all people — would’ve brought me that reminder of love’s necessity in all things (LinkedIn engagement)

November 1. Over the weekend, I ‘attended’ the Sunday service of Holy Communion at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London. At the Eucharist, the congregation was invited to stand around the altar and receive the bread and wine. They’d not done so since the first pandemic lockdown in March 2020. The arrangement emphasised the communal aspect of communion — which isn’t as appreciable when communicants walk-up to the celebrant, one at a time — and reminded me of Courbet’s Burial at Ornans.

Gustav Courbet, Burial at Ornans (1849-50) oil on canvas, 315 x 600 cm, Musee d’Orsay (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I’d also time to sift through some of the far too many streamed documentaries about paranormal investigation on TV. Netflix’s series entitled Surviving Death is well worth watching. It presents a wide-ranging, solid, balanced, and unsensational account of the subject. One of the interviewees is Professor Chris Roe. Presently, he studies anomalous experiences and paranormal belief at the University of Northampton, England. I first met him when I was a member of the Society of Physical Research, at its annual conferences in Manchester in the early 2000s. He was, then, a PhD student and I, an early-career academic presenting papers about my work on spirit photography. Chris is now President of the Society. He and I met a number of distinguished ‘ghost hunters’ at those conferences. They were intelligent, modest, and grounded men and women who didn’t suffer either the credulous or the delusional gladly. Moreover, each was persuaded that verifiable supernatural phenomena were a rarity. In contrast, populist TV and YouTube documentaries about paranormal investigation purport to capture images and sounds of ghosts and demons in every episode. The investigators’ claims remain uncontested and are dependent upon their eye- and ear-witness testimony, for the greater part. I suspect that most of the supernatural encounters are faked for the purpose of entertainment. No more authentic than professional wrestling.

International Conference of the Society for Psychical Research, Manchester, UK (Sept. 5–7, 2003)

11.00 am: I visited the ‘Collaboration in Practice: British Lithography 1800-2022’, at the School of Art. The show is curated by Paul Croft. He knows his stuff. In an email to him, I wrote:

Superb show. A rich experience. I learned a great deal. So well-paced; and a fine example of an exhibition as a teaching aid (apart from anything else).

It’s a two-visit exhibition, for sure. And two l o n g visits at that. I particularly enjoyed the historical sweep, and observing the ways in which the print processes had been adapted and extended by successive art movements. Continuity and change; tradition and innovation. Those principles have always been at the heart of the School’s philosophy.

‘Collaboration in Practice: British Lithography 1800-2022’, School of Art, Aberystwyth University.

November 2 (All Souls Day). I am alive, still. One day, I’ll no longer be so confident about that assertion. One day, I’ll look back on this day (and kindred ones) and wonder why I didn’t pursue it with greater urgency, passion, determination, joy, and hope. ‘So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom’ (Psalm 90.12). Today is my 23,154th.

Remembering my family on this day. As far as I know, no one in my family attended either chapel or church once they’d got married and begun a family. That wasn’t uncommon in the South Wales valleys. They would’ve each considered themselves to be nominally rather than committedly Christian. Nevertheless, they were moral folk with a keen nose for inequity, dishonesty, and disloyalty. Socialist by instinct to a woman and man, they put their neighbour’s needs before their own. The example of my foremothers and forefathers provided the bedrock for my own values.

‘ Those are people who died, died’ (Jim Carroll (1949-2009), ‘People Who Died’ (1980)):

Great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, uncle, and mother and father

November 3. Throughout the week, I’ve continued to record and aggregate spoken words for the ‘Creed’ [working title] project, and to develop the BibleSound database. The latter’s categorisations emerge from the source material, rather than are imposed upon it. Thus, the divisions are finally determined only when the textual material is fully reviewed. As the biblical references are re-examined, so the process of reflection and annotation begins. While both projects belong to the same planetary system they are, nevertheless, worlds apart: related, but distinct.

Precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little‘ (Isaiah 28.10).

‘Creed’ [working title] Ableton Live 11 mapping (above); BibleSound database (below)

The ‘Creed’ arrangement lends itself to the possibility of an improvisatory delivery. Insomuch as I wouldn’t remember which buttons on the sample launcher correlated with which specific words they’d trigger, the sound output would be random (for the most part). Which is not to say that the procedure couldn’t generate lexical sense. The precursor for this piece is a visual artwork entitled ‘Intercessions’. The exhibition catalogue description is as follows:

‘Intercessions’ comprises 64 ‘prayer words’ derived from the Book of Common Prayer (1662). They are arranged into four sets of 16 words that are made visible on LED monitors. The words combine randomly in a variety of chance configurations (like the tumblers on a one-armed bandit), continuously auto-generating prayer requests of more or less syntactical integrity and semantic sense. There are 65,536 possible permutations.

John Harvey, The Bible in Translation, The Pictorial Bible III (Aberystwyth: School of Art, 2016) 17.
John Harvey, ‘Intercessions’ (2011/14), digital medium and LED screens.

November 4. 7.50 am: I walked into a Claude singing, under my breath, the chorus to ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Morning’, from Oklahoma. At this time of the morning, only the dog walkers prowl. In the cemetery, a couple with a young one in a push-chair passed by me talking — suitably gravely — about the competing demands of mortgage and council tax payments. The recession of 1980-3, into which I stumbled upon graduation, was (like today’s) the worst since World War II. Likewise, it was accompanied by public-sector strikes, spiralling inflation, and public unrest. About that time, my father was made redundant in his mid 50s; my mother became the breadwinner (working as an assistant in the local town library); and I eked out a paltry wage as a freelance graphic designer, while living in Cardiff. By 1984, following two years of national suffering and depravation, conditions in the UK had begun to improve significantly.

Llanbadarn Road, Aberystwyth

8.45 am: At my study desk, I pressed on with the BibleSound database, adjusting the categories as I went. Reading the Bible only for sound is rather like watching a film with the picture turned off. 11.00 am: A Skype chat with one of my former PhD Fine Art students. As they say: you can take the person out of the job, but you can’t take the job out of person. However, these days, our discussions are about life, love, and laughter, rather than doctoral study.

51. ‘Crucified’, ‘Creed’, 12 words (series); 12 words (parallel)

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