Wormwood and The End of The World – Perception and coincidence

Have you ever thought of an old friend who you hadn’t seen in years, and then met them minutes later?

As I was writing this post, I was in conversation with my brother while walking down the road in Dublin, talking about this type of coincidence. As luck would have it, we were midway through this conversation when an old friend who I hadn’t seen in years appeared directly in front of us. Coincidence? Read on.

On April 26, 1986, in northern Kiev Oblast, Ukraine, a fire started in Reactor 4 of a large nuclear power station near the towns of Chernobyl and Pripyat. The Chernobyl power station, which had begun operations nine years earlier, went into crisis as the fire spread and soon a small explosion occurred in the reactor. An evacuation was ordered, and fire services entered to attempt to reduce the damage and the spread of radioactive material into the air. However, it was already too late. Irradiated gas leaked into the local area, and within hours people began to feel nauseous and light-headed. Soon both towns were evacuated, and have never been repopulated to the same extent (although some people live there, in a fascinating story uncovered by Holly Morris).

A photograph of rain falling down a window with a red light distorted in the blur of the exterior

In weeks to come the devastation of the Chernobyl disaster became widespread. Continue reading “Wormwood and The End of The World – Perception and coincidence”

Seeing is Believing – Blindness metaphors and understanding

“My excellency, I could illustrate the greatest manuscript of all time for you. Since my eyes will no longer be distracted by the filth of this world.”

Quote from ALIF in My Name Is Red by Ohran Pamuk

A desaturated image of a page with miniature illustrations from an old Irish book“Seeing is believing”, “a lens for the world”, “visionaries”, “point of view”: The eye is a metaphor for understanding or belief. But why do we connect the eye with our understanding of the world? Do you see what I’m talking about?

What if you couldn’t see the words that I have posted here?

What if, as this post continues, you descend into a pit of blindness?

Is it easier to only believe what you see? Or is there more to be seen if you can figure out a way to look beyond the traditional, the typical, the incidental?

The idea of blindness is discussed in Orhan Pamuk‘s book My Name Is Red. Blindness is used as both a metaphor and a story-telling device, but it was chosen by the author (partly) as a symbol of the commitment of master miniaturist painters such as Bihzad and their dedication to painting even as their eyesight failed them. Blindness, in the book, is seen by some as a mark of pride of a true master miniature painter. It is put forward that only through blindness can we really see the world for what it is. Continue reading “Seeing is Believing – Blindness metaphors and understanding”

Home is Where the Hearth is III – Return

Departure | Displacement | Restoration


One of the regularly cited problems with modern cities is the constant feeling of displacement that can occur in the repetitive landscape of supermarkets, airports or office blocks. A restoration for this is often found in cultural movements and architectural developments that adjust a population’s sense of place.

Maria Lewicka describes home as ‘a symbol of continuity and order, rootedness, self-identity, attachment, privacy, comfort, security and refuge’. This importance of the idea of home is continuously repeated in studies on the concept of place, and also in literature and art. But most profoundly, it finds its way into our daily lives. Order is the key point, but in consistently displaced circumstances people cannot find this sense of order.

A graphic showing the word "restoration" with a settled, symetrical aestheticIn Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, the pathetically pitiable protagonist Quoyle meanders back from New Jersey to the home-land of his family, Newfoundland. Quoyle is a clod, unable to help himself or his family, and he seemingly does not fit into any public society. His work and life are in as much disarray as one another. But when he returns to his family’s home-place something happens that makes everything fit into place. There is not one event, just a coming together of place and person, and a type of normality is restored. The place does not create the identity, the journey does. But the home-place creates stability, order and sanctuary.
Continue reading “Home is Where the Hearth is III – Return”

Home is Where the Hearth is II – Displacement

Departure | Displacement | Restoration


Displacement from home is an uncomfortable feeling. It breeds suspicion and a feeling of nervousness, and rightly so. If, as previously discussed, home is a refuge, then displacement from home must create an opposing effect.

A graphic showing the word "displacement" with the letters jumbled up

During displacement there is a chaotic element. People find it hard to settle; rules can change regularly if moving from

one place

to another.

Everything becomes temporary.

And abrupt.

Continue reading “Home is Where the Hearth is II – Displacement”

Home is Where the Hearth is I – Departure

Departure | Displacement | Restoration


You go to a place, you go to another place. You return home.

You don’t return for 5 minutes to the bank. So what is the difference between home and another place? Why do we separate these two entities, and how do we create this separation?

Home is safety and privacy. It is outside of public norms; we do not have to behave with the same social rigour at home that we do in public places. A home allows us to dance on the kitchen table wearing our favourite Speedos if we should so choose; it does not conform to public rules and order, but to our own system. Continue reading “Home is Where the Hearth is I – Departure”

Perpetual Motion Machines – Why I don’t believe in bicycles

I don’t believe in bicycles.

No, let me specify: I don’t believe in the physics that govern bicycles.

Even more specific: I don’t believe in the physics that govern the movement of bicycles.

A gif animation of a cyclist moving in three frames

A bicycle cannot stand up unless it is in motion. It will slump in a rigid heap on the ground in an instant if left to balance by itself. So how can something that does not have enough balance to stand still manage to stay upright while moving. My theory: human imagination. Continue reading “Perpetual Motion Machines – Why I don’t believe in bicycles”

Heaven or Hell: Two literary journeys in the afterlife

Early warning:

This is a post that analyses themes in two books – Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman and JM Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus. There will be reference to the plots, including the endings, of both books so beware of spoilers!

Hell has been imagined in many circumstances. Heaven, perhaps less often, has been used as a plot device or a theme for artistic creation. The dichotomy of “eternal suffering Vs eternal bliss”, in whatever form these two things take shape, is a common theme in religious teachings, and has also been used to form philosophical theory in literature. After recently reading JM Coetzee’s divine The Childhood of Jesus I was reminded of Flann O’Brien’s devilishly good satire The Third Policeman, and this post is an analysis of the concepts of heaven and hell through these two works of literature. Continue reading “Heaven or Hell: Two literary journeys in the afterlife”

To Hell With It – How we imagine the evil afterlife

Since reading Orwell’s 1984 I’ve often thought about the climax in Room 101 and the idea of somebody using my worst fear against me. The idea is fascinating, because a fear can manifest itself in so many forms, but can be so particular to the individual. In the novel the malevolently regulated Ministry of Love have stockpiled information on citizens of Orwell’s dystopic world and use this information to discover a person’s deepest fear. They then use that fear against the individual to finally make them submit.

A photograph of a dark grill with light coming through, representing a prison

This vision of unleashing a person’s deepest fear to take away their humanity reminds me a lot of hell. The idea of hell has been something of a fascination of mine for some time. It all started when watching Nick Cave live, where I swore that the ground was opening up beneath me (anyone who has seen Nick’s recent tour will probably understand). Hell and fire, eternal torture, and the underworld are all connected. But where did this notion of “underworld” come from, what form does it take, and why does it go down into the earth? Continue reading “To Hell With It – How we imagine the evil afterlife”

Exquisite Explosions – The fine art of destruction

One of the first rules of writing is to open with a catchy line, and never with a technical topic. So I’m going to blow that one right out of the water and start by writing about entropy.

A Gif animation of a cup falling and shattering

Entropy is a theory in thermodynamics (yes, I’m doing it!) that has also crossed over into the fields of astrophysics and philosophy. It is used to describe a sudden change that causes erratic and chaotic events, often leading to the creation of entirely new objects. Entropy always moves forward with time, and creates events that cannot be undone. A good example is the collapse of a star, folding in on itself and becoming (perhaps) a black hole. Stephen Hawking describes the idea of entropy nicely in A Brief History of Time when he refers to how an “intact cup on the table is a state of high order, but a broken cup on the floor is a disordered state.” (p 161) Continue reading “Exquisite Explosions – The fine art of destruction”

Fadó, Fadó – An adventure through space and time

Fadó, fadó in a world not unlike our own, a group of people embarked on an amazing journey through the stars.

Our journey, as Homo Sapiens, started approximately 400,000 years ago. Like all stories, there is of course a long history to our arrival at the start of this journey, but this story is about our collective selves and how we have travelled. Before the castles and the aqueducts, before we farmed animals or spliced atoms, our collective protagonist (we) was about to embark upon one of the most astounding journeys ever taken through the stars.

A long exposure photograph of stars in the night sky

At a running start our adventurers have swept around the sun 400,000 times, and the vast Milky Way (that the sun is a small part of) has travelled around 16% of the way around the centre of the universe Continue reading “Fadó, Fadó – An adventure through space and time”