Belated Farewells...Passionate Friends

Plus, watch my recent recording with James Delingpole.

There are few disadvantages to not patronising the mockingbird cathedral media, but one is certainly that, far more often than constitutes a trivial matter, you do not hear about the deaths of people you once knew in a compartmentalised kind of way and did not have a commonage of friends to keep you in touch with their circumstances. Twice in the past week or so I’ve discovered that someone I knew in this way had died during the course of the annus horribilis that was 2020. One was the great Irish painter Mick Cullen (above), whom I knew years ago when he lived in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre for artists at Annaghmakerrig in County Monaghan. Those were glorious days and we had such fun and talking, and it grieves me greatly to know he is gone. Mick was in his early 70s and, as far as I have been able to glean, still working up to the onset of his fatal illness. Over the next week or two I hope to dig out an interview I did with Mick back in the day, when he was at the height of his powers, and put it out on Unchained. 

The other friend who died — in September, 2020 — is someone I’ve mentioned many times in interviews over the past few years: Mike Cooley, from Tuam, Co Galway (pictured above), possibly the world’s leading technological philosopher of the last half century. Mike was 86 and, like Mick Cullen, still working nearly to the end. 

Because of the significance of Cooley’s thinking in the context of the coming Artificial Intelligence revolution and the cultural coup currently being imposed under the heading of ‘Great Reset’, I want to write something fairly comprehensive about him and why his way of seeing things is so vital for us at this moment. I hope to publish this sometime in the next week or so also. 

Meanwhile, today, I want to give you a taste of the kind of mind we are talking about in Mike’s, so have reproduced below a chapter from my 1994 book, Race of Angels, comprising entirely Mike’s own words in describing an incident from his childhood in Tuam which encapsulates his entire philosophy. 

I got to know Mike because he had gone to school with another Tuam sham I was friendly with at that time — the great Tom Murphy, one of Ireland's two great playwrights of the second half of the twentieth century. It was through this friendship that I came to know Mike a little and, in 1993, when I was writing a book (to be called Race of Angels) about the drifts and meanings of Ireland's increasing penetration of global pop culture (the band U2 was my principal motif, though it was not a ‘U2 book’) I somehow got the idea that I needed to talk to Mike about some of the questions that were bobbing around my head about the role of culture in challenging the drifts of the technological/technocratic agendas. We had previously had several intense conversations about Ireland, Irish culture and the way things were moving as a result of technology and globalising economics, and Mike featured strongly in a BBC Radio 4 series I presented in 1992 called Wide Awake in Ireland. I got a bit bogged down in researching and writing the book and, in due course, coming to the end of my first draft, began trying to convince myself that talking to Mike wasn't all that germane. Then, one morning, the phone rang and I picked up to Mike’s voice. 

Our conversation that day yielded two chapters for my book. One was a description by Mike of an incident from his childhood, when he had gone with his father to a stonemason in his hometown, Tuam, to commission a ‘monument’ for the grave of his grandmother. This was the chapter reproduced below, ‘The Shape of an Angel’. The entirety of this short piece was just Mike's voice describing the way the stonemason conveyed to his father the various options available to him: stretching his arms out to mimic an angel, looking sorrowfully downwards towards the ground, then joining his hands and looking joyously upwards, and so forth. The stonemason also described the process by which the angel would emerge from the stone, limb by limb, and invited the child Mike to come round and monitor this miraculous process every few days. Cooley described how, in designing computers for manufacturing systems in Japan, he subsequently used the conceptual framework he acquired that day in the stonemason's workshop. 

Where it fitted into my book related to the particularity of cultures to places, and the paradox that, whereby we look on, say, pop music as a ‘global’ culture, even this owes everything to the particularities of specific places. Since then, the encroaching globalised culture has flipped the meaning of ‘diversity’ from an understanding of the valorisation of multiple cultures in their own places to cramming multiple representatives of differing cultures into innumerable individual places, where they immediately begin to homogenise everything. My central point in this section of the book was that the world was being re-colonised, and that there remained the possibility that pop/rock 'n' roll, by continuing to carry the individual sparks of autonomous cultures into the centre of the postmodern city — using the Trojan horses of market dynamics and mass consumerism, an unlikely hypothesis I now concede! — could rescue us from this condition, perhaps especially in the form of a band that had emerged from a long-colonised culture who therefore understood the dynamics of colonisation inside out, if not outside in. This was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a forlorn hope: U2 nowadays hang around with George Soros and are busy in their spare time working on the re-colonisation of Africa under the guise of philanthropy. 

All this, of course, happened before I got myself cancelled from just about everything, so I was still being invited to speak at arts festivals and the like. Whenever I would read my work, I would read this chapter in its entirety, making clear that I had not contributed a word to it. About 15 years ago, I blew the English novelist Julian Barnes off the stage at the Cúirt literary festival in Galway (I haven’t been back since!), reading that piece and a few that were entirely my own, even though — when I submitted Race of Angels in the first place — my publisher had wanted to drop the chapter because it had nothing to do with U2! ‘Is he Bono’s granddad, or summat . . . ?’ my editor called to ask me. This is why the chapter carried the strange coda that follows Mike’s prose-poem, which I’ve left in below, about Johnny Rotten’s father: that was my way of ‘justifying’ its inclusion in a book that, by then, had deviated somewhat from the original proposal. 

The Shape of an Angel

A 'random' story from the U2 homeland

My grandmother had died. I was about five or six. And my father told me that he was going to get a gravestone made, or a 'monument' as he called it. And we went to a place on the Old Road in Tuam, to a stonecutter there. He was in my view an artist, craftsman, creator, in the great historical sense. And his knowledge of that had been handed from one generation to another. His father and his father before him had all been in that trade. And they had absorbed a sense of shape and size and form and appropriateness and use of materials. This is the kind of thing which defines our civilisation. When we have visitors from other countries, these are the kinds of things we show: the great statues, the great paintings and so on. But a lot of this was what I would call unselfconscious craftsmanship. And when we arrived my father said that he wanted a monument.

And the stonemason said, 'Do you want a cross?’

Now, had my father said he wanted a cross, he would have then described all the different kinds of crosses he could have had. But my father said, 'Well, no. I was thinking of a figure.'

So he said, 'Well, what about Christ with a crown of thorns?’ And my father looked a bit shocked by that, because some of these figures were quite grotesque. And he said, ‘Well, nooo, no, not exactly that.’

And he said, 'Well, what about the Mother and Child?’

Not really.

And then he said, ‘An angel?’ 

And my father said, ‘Oh, well, yes, an angel!’

And he said, ‘Well, would you like the angel looking sad down on the grave?’ And he held his hands in a very deferential way and looked down towards the ground.

And my father said, ‘Well. . . mmm. . . noooo.

And he said, 'Well, what about looking up to heaven?’ And he held his hands together, now higher than before, almost at his face level, and looked up towards the sky.

And my father said, ‘Yes. Yes. Yes. Something like that.’

And he said, ‘Would you like the wings outstretched?’ And he spread his arms out behind him.

My father said yes he would.

That was the total description that was given. The only quantification, the only attempt to give a sense of scale, was when we were leaving. The stonemason said, ‘I'll make it about as big as meself.’ And sure enough the figure was about the same size. He was able to call up a whole set of images in my father's mind. They were communicating at the level of language and image, with a very, very shared perception of what they were talking about, which can only come when you are deeply merged in a community and in a culture.

And the stonemason could see that I was fascinated by it all, and I was putting my hands on the different pieces of marble and stone.

And he said to me, ‘We'll have the shlab in in two or three weeks and I’ll show you about it.’ And when I came by, he showed me the nature of this slab of stone, and pointed out that the weak point of the figure would be the neck. And that another weak point would be where the hands protruded outwards. And he showed me that he'd have to use one part of the stone for that, where the grain was at its most dense. And he then set it upright and started to work on it. And he said, ‘If you come back in two or three days the head will be out.’ And it was as though the head was actually emerging from the stone, as though it were being born out of the stone. And I came back and I was amazed by the beauty of it. The head was just kind of escaping out of the stone. And he said, ‘If you come back in a week's time the hands will be coming out.’ And sure enough, the hands were emerging from the stone, these beautiful feminine hands, the fingers delicately folded together, with sleeves that hung down from them that you'd almost expect to see moving in the wind.

And when we designed this very complicated interface for this advanced manufacturing system, we used that conceptual framework, and we displayed on screen the blank piece of material, and the skilled person programmed the machine by drawing around on the screen the component that was still imprisoned within the material.

Without the culture, the solid-state physicist would describe exactly and in incredibly precise details the molecular structure of the piece of stone, but that wouldn't allow him to see the beautiful potential of that stone. He could only see it in this narrow reductionist universal way. Whereas someone in, say, an African culture could see the potential of the stone in a different way — the images are created differently there. The different local cultures mean that what you can see in the stone, or in the material, or in life itself, is a reflection of that possibility. So that instead of the stone having a one best use, whatever that might be, if it’s located in the diversity of regional cultures, each part of it can be seen as something different. This gives us enormous potential as we face ecological and other disasters.

We used to play a game when we were children of passing around a piece of wood and we'd sit round in a circle and pass the piece of wood around and ask everybody to say what they saw in it. And everybody would see something different. Some would see the head of a dog because there was a knot that looked like an eye. Others would see the knot as being like the stone in a piece of fruit. Others would see it like a clenched fist.

A stone is a stone. But it's only if you have absorbed that culture through generations of work that you can actually see the angel in it. 

(Professor Mike Cooley, in a conversation with the author. Professor Cooley is an engineer and one of the world's leading technological philosophers. His home-town, Tuam, Co. Galway, was also the birthplace of Johnny Rotten's father.)

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Also up today is my recent appearance on the Delingpod, click here to watch our full conversation or else you may listen to the podcast here

'For a brief moment in 1984, I was Winston Smith!'

'We thought reading Orwell had inoculated us against something like this happening.'

I recently did a stimulating stream on the Delingpod channel with the great British journalist James Delingpole —  he of Spectator, Telegraph and Breitbart notoriety. He's one of the select handful of journalists across the water who have taken to the ramparts to confront the Covid cult. We talk about the Time of Covid and how it's exposed the irrelevance — or worse — of so many  journalists, novelists, poets, artists, rock 'n' rollers and all the other alleged Voices of the People, who for the past 11 months have either helped spread the lies or hunkered down and banked their Covid dole, while the world they were supposed to be defending was turned into an open air prison.