Strange Collaborations

This morning, a parcel arrived containing my author copies of Snapshots of Museum Experience, the book on which I collaborated with my former partner, the late Elee Kirk. It is good to see the book published after so long. But this has been something of a strange collaboration. Over two years ago, Elee and I went into the our favourite coffee shop here in Leicester for what we called, half-jokingly, a ‘summit meeting’. We always liked to schedule in time …

The Zhouyi – a Tool for Invention

A couple of weeks back, I said I would post the text of my talk at the Third Annual World Yijing Summit Forum in Wuxi, as it might be interesting or at least entertaining for visitors to this blog. Since then, I’ve been in touch with my translator Junxia Pu 浦军霞, who has very generously given me permission to simultaneously publish her Chinese translation of the text. So here it is, in its entirety, with parallel text in Chinese. I …

The Duracell Bunny and the Deputy Political Commissar

It is lunchtime on the first day of the Third Annual World Yijing Summit Forum in Wuxi, China and I am in the dining hall surrounded by a bustle of other delegates: scholars, Daoist priests, diviners, geomancers, inventors, poets, financial speculators, management theorists and other mystics. I have come to the conference to talk about my book, Sixty-Four Chance Pieces, a collection of stories, each one drawn from one chapter, or hexagram, of what is one of the most ancient …

To Steal With the Eyes

Just over a quarter of a century ago, whilst I was a student of Fine Arts, I fell in love with the strange charms of anthropology. After starting my degree, it turned out that I wasn’t a particularly good artist, so I took refuge in the university library instead. I used to walk the library waiting for books to leap out at me and surprise me. And in this way, in my second year at university I stumbled across the …

A Quiet Evening Derailed…

This is the text that I used as a basis for my talk at Cambridge Union, on the 23rd November, whilst opposing the motion that ‘This House Would Kill One to Save Many.’ I wanted to avoid going on about trolley problems and to try and bring out two things that I thought were often overlooked in these discussions: the question of the actual fact of killing, and the question of the uncertainty inherent to the many ethical situations — …

Back Home, Close to Midsummer

I am now back in the UK from Myanmar, and have been enjoying the beautiful midsummer weather. There’s a lot that I haven’t yet written about Myanmar — and may yet write — and a great deal I could say about everything that has happened over the past few months. But for the time being, just to signal that I am home, and that I am alive and well, I’m posting this poem that I wrote a couple of days ago. It …

The Pleasures of a Good Index

It is extraordinary that one of the most comprehensive ethnographies of Burman culture is still The Burman by Shway Yoe, a.k.a. Sir J. George Scott — a Scottish journalist, schoolmaster and colonial administrator who lived in Burma in the nineteenth century. The Burman was first published in 1882, but remains an amazing repository of information. You can get the book everywhere here in Yangon, in pirated knock-off reprints of the Norton edition. I was given a copy by a friend soon after I arrived, and I’ve …

Soft Work

For the last few days, I’ve been in Chiang Mai, where I’ve been having a short break whilst also sorting out a new visa for Myanmar. And whilst it has been in some ways a break, at the same time, I’ve been getting a lot of reading, thinking and writing done. It has felt both idle and productive. And this time away has given me a chance to think about something that has been on my mind for a while …

Learning Burmese: A Poem

Since being here in Myanmar, and somewhat uncharacteristically, I have started to occasionally write poetry. This is something I haven’t done for a very long time; and when I mentioned (confessed!) this over on Facebook, a few friends said they’d be interested to see what I’m up to. So, with some hesitation, here’s something that I’ve been working on. I hope you enjoy it. * Learning Burmese At first, there is no language.       There are only things and solitude. Out of loneliness …

In Yangon

It is just over a week ago that I landed in Yangon, where I will be living for the next five months. It is a warm Sunday morning, and I am in a crowded restaurant that is noisy with families who have come out to eat Sunday breakfast together and to chat. And after a week, I have shaken off the jet-lag, and am beginning to adjust to the rhythm of life here. I am in Yangon to teach a …