Of Islands and Granfalloons

 

Cartoon

Now that I come to think about it. It was inevitable that I would wind up living on an island. Not necessarily this island. But some island.

I was born by the sea in the West-Country of England, and apart from my student years in London, I have never lived more than a stones throw from the shore. I read somewhere long ago that the further inland from the ocean one travels, the more uncivilised the world becomes. I think I believe that, although the residents of Mogadishu or beach-front Gaza may beg to differ.

Islands have always held a fascination for me. I’ve visited and explored quite a few, ‘though not nearly enough. In Scotland the craggy black gabro peaks, pristine beaches and aching loneliness of the Inner Hebredean archipelago – Skye, Eigg, Rhum, and Islay among them . The beautiful island of Arran where I climbed the Sleeping Warrior to the summit of GoatFell to look out over theĀ  Kintyre peninsular and the Firth of Clyde and was eaten almost to the bone by flies and sheep tics. More recently I travelled to Norfolk island, a vanishingly small outcrop of rock, history and tough humanity barely a couple of hundred feet above the crashing waves of the South Pacific a thousand miles from anywhere at all and home to most of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers.

It’s the notion of a closed, self-sustaining system that attracts me. Cosmologists will tell you – if you can stay awake long enough – that the universe, or more accurately space-time is curved back on itself by it’s own weight, it is in three dimensions (four if you include time), what a paper mobius strip is in two dimensions. At the same time infinite but closed and therefore knowable. Like an island it has one surface and one boundary. Set off in any direction, and you will eventually arrive back at your starting point. This is enough to drive many folk, (Jo included) to distraction and dementia. They call it rock fever here on Waiheke. This is how islanders are differentiated from mainlanders. The ability to construct a meaningful and fulfilling existence from limited resources – both geographical and spiritual.

To be an islander is to be something at least. An islander will tell you if he is honest that he feels special. Chosen. Privileged. Even a little superior. Geographical separation, even if only a few kilometres engenders a powerful sense of identity and belonging. They attract more than their fair share of shamans, sharks, sociopaths and shipwrecked souls it’s true, but that only adds to the appeal as far as I am concerned.

This elevated sense of worth and belonging is of course, like most aspects of our ‘reality’ largely an illusion. Just another label. A Granfalloon* as Vonnigut would say. After all a continent is just a big island, and from an astronomical perspective what is the earth, the pale-blue-dot if not an island in the void. Walk in any direction, and eventually you’ll find yourself back where you started. If you don’t get shot, raped, robbed or blown up along the way.

Stick to the coast that’s my advice.

* * *

*In 1963, Kurt Vonnigut wrote a novel set on an island. San Lorenzo is a tiny barren Caribbean atoll with no natural resources, and no industry. It’s inhabitants live merge lives in hunger, poverty and without hope. The self appointed ruler Bokonon, a British Episcopalian Negro from the island of Tobago whose real name was Lionel Boyd Johnson invents a religion, designed as all religions are, to salve the peoples suffering, and distract them from the grim and pointless awfulness of their existence.

Much of Bokonons scriptures are in the form of calypsos.

I wanted all things
To seem to make some sense,
So we could all be happy, yes,
Instead of tense.
And I made up lies
So that they all fit nice,
And I made this sad world
A par-a-dise.
Bokonon

Cat’s Cradle is a satire on the tension between science and religion, the rational and the irrational, and of course mankind’s breathtaking talent for fucking things up royally. It’s very funny.

And depressing.

According to Bokononism by the way, a Karass, is the group of people you will interact with knowingly or otherwise throughout your lifetime, as part of god’s greater plan – in as far as he has one. in the extracts from the books of Bokonon which Vonnigut chooses to share with us, you get the distinct impression that God has pretty much lost interest in humans and moved on to other projects.

If you find your life tangled up with somebody else’s life for no very logical reasons that person may be a member of your karass.

A granfalloon, is a false karass. That is an arbitrary collective formed by humans, but of no meaning or relevance to the way the universe operates or god gets things done. Examples of granfallons include race, nations, islands, political parties, families, quilting circles and pop-groups.

If I was going to subscribe to a religion. I think Bokononism would be near the top of my list.
Just above Jedi Knight. Here are the opening verses of the First Book of Bokonnon. And the whole of the Fourteenth Book.

The First Book of Bokonnon

Verse I: All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies.

Verse II-IV: In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness.

And God said, “Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.” And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. “What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.

“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.

“Certainly,” said man.

“Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God.

And He went away.

Verse V: Live by the lies that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy. [ frontispiece ]

 

The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon

[ A short book with a long title.]

Title: What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?

Only verse: Nothing.

200px-CatsCradle(1963)

 

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  1. Peter Barker says:

    Possibly the worse web page design ever, but one of the best things I’ve read online. This is a great island story.
    http://www.janesoceania.com/suvarov_tom_neale/index.htm

  2. Declan says:

    The thing I like about Islands is that they let you choose wether to get on them or get off them…Bit like religion really. The only thing is that the choices in religion are all muddled up by people wanting it to mean different things for each one of them. At least Islands are not muddled by thoughts. Except when you get into “every man is an Island” thinking and then it is just as muddled as Religion. Which is the point really I guess. Be good to see you when your next off the Island I would like to hear more about that Jedi Knight one.

  3. Linds,

    you plainly have too much time on your hands.
    Mostly your writing makes me feel as I do when I speak Italian or French or English – inadequate. But this post lost me – even though I love Vonnegut.

    So it goes…

    Hope you are well my friend.
    Sorry I missed your text the other day.

    Go see The Descendents movie with Jo. It is very good. Close to the bone for me (I shed a few tears) but largely unsentimental and very funny in parts.

    Also. I am reading an anthology of Clement Freud articles. Excellent.

    But you are better.

    I thought you were an art director?

    Bastard!



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