Saturday, 24 November 2012

Clackmannan and Alloa

Clack log

Went to Alloa in Clackmannanshire on November 2nd to visit the Poetry Jamboree and to read a paper on Joseph Macleod. Had a really good time. Because I couldn't get time off work I couldn't spend extra days in Scotland and had to be there just for the weekend. Long hours on the train from Nottingham.

We were all put in the same hotel - Broomhall Castle - so that you could get in two hours of intense poetic conversation before 10 o’clock. I asked about the campaign building up to the referendum on independence in 2015 and found that the information I collected in June (while in Edinburgh on holiday) was out of date - the support for a yes vote has gone up from 30 to 38%. This suggests that the vote will reach a still higher peak as Salmond gets into his swing. I find victory hard to think about.

I found it easier working with etymology. I looked the name up in Ifor Williams’ edition of the Gododdin when I got home. It seems very likely that the Manau Gododdin from which the Brythonic army sets out in the poem is Clackmannanshire. The isle of Man is Manau in Welsh and Mannan in Gaelic. So Manau corresponds to Mannan in Gaelic. Evidently Gaelic speakers came to the Forth Valley and changed the name from Manau to Mannan. ‘Manau Gododdin’ is so named to distinguish it from the Isle of Man. Clackmannan means ’stone of Mannan’ and still exists - I found a photo of it on the Internet. I was within two miles of it but didn’t get to see it due to urgent poetic business. I guess there was some ‘*Clog manau’ which was renamed Clach Mannan in Gaelic.

I delivered the talk on Macleod because it was the launch of the second volume of selection from his poems which Waterloo have just brought out. I hadn’t seen the book before but when I got to the Tower in Alloa - there it was. Hurrah!

The mansion next to the tower was owned by the Earl of Mar, who after leading the disastrous Jacobite uprising of 1715 spent the rest of his life in exile, drawing plans for rebuilding the mansion and redesigning the gardens. There is in the Tower a model of the design - with a large fishpond on the roof. So practical. The mansion burnt down in 1800 so that only the mediaeval tower still stands. If there had been a real fish-pond on the roof the mansion might not have burnt down! Thought of a theory that unrecognized political losers had, in centuries before the twentieth, developed interesting forms of art because they were excluded from political effort and were unwilling to use the forms and symbolism of the dominant group. That is, they were in the dominant group, had wealth to spend, but were of the defeated fraction. Is this a good theory? I think it only holds true for a few cases. Bizarreries and extreme stylisations mostly are unrelated to politics, being driven by fashion and thriving among clients who are in no way opposed to the ruling political group. I am trying to remember what I know about William Habington (1605-52), who wrote in a retarded imitation of Spenser and was a Catholic. His cultivation of mediaeval or quasi-mediaeval vocabulary is said to have been an expression of his resistance to the Reformation. But is this the true interpretation? I have looked at two of his poems on the Internet - only two. But they weren’t Spenserian at all, they were in the Metaphysical style common to many English poets in the early 17th century. So the whole thing may be a canard.

There is a building called Lyveden New Beald near the small town in Northamptonshire where I went to school, which I used to visit at weekends. It is built to embody a complex symbolism, and at the will of a Catholic landowner who used a scheme which was greatly unlike other Catholic architecture of the time and which experts today find it hard to interpret. It is distinctive if not necessarily also beautiful. It is an admirable thing, but I don't think we can find a whole class of such works. If we skip a century or so and get to Blake, it is undeniable that he was part of the ‘faction out of power’ and that his art has everything to do with heresy, sects, artisan resentment of the education of the wealthy. With the political energy of people who would never be allowed to vote. But that is not the same as development of an ‘oppositional’ style of art by the wealthy, which is what I am pondering just now. It would be nice if Mar had also developed some deviations of form which expressed his resentment and revolt at the exiled state, capturing a will to power which would have swept away the economic order associated with the Hanoverians and the Protestant interest. I did not see that in the model, which looked rather conventional, if grand and spacious.

Mar was hopeless as a leader of revolts. Can we see a continuity of Loserness and Wishfulness between Jacobite Scots after 1715 and Scottish Nationalists in the 1940s and later decades before modern triumphs? I hope not.

With the ‘underground’ poetry of the Seventies, the oppositional style clearly has a political meaning invested in the smallest cells of its structure. The problem is now whether there is also an audience which is able or even willing to retrieve that meaning.

A few miles away from Alloa is a castle known sometimes as Castle Gloom. This may connect with glom, Gaelic for chasm. Certainly there is a very chastic chasm opening beneath the castle. I found it disturbing to think of Gaelic being spoken here in the East Central Belt. I don’t know why I find it disturbing, perhaps because contemplating the ruin of another Celtic speech-community arouses certain emotions linked with death and dissolution in me. At a more superficial level of experience, I find it also confusing. Presumably the Central Belt in late mediaeval times was a speckled mixture of different languages, which eventually resolved into a uniformly Scots-speaking outcome. But there must have been Gaelic-speaking families in the Forth Valley at one time. There is a tendency among some recent Scottish scholars to describe Scotland as having been completely Gaelic-speaking at one time. This would certainly raise the question of where the Scots language comes from. It seems to disqualify it as a national language, if it is just an overflow from England in the 16th century or sometime. But it is also a completely wrong theory, I think. Upscale Loserness and Wishfulness. Admittedly there is almost no linguistic evidence for Scotland prior to 1000 AD, hardly anything in Scots before 1200 AD. Hardly anything in Gaelic before 1500. The kingdom of Northumbria included all of Lothian, and Edinburgh. It seems very likely that Anglian was the spoken language already in the 7th century in Lothian and most of the Borders, and that it has continued to be spoken there ever since. The place-name evidence differentiates sharply between areas with almost all Gaelic names, areas with almost none, and areas with none at all. The latter two, where they are very full of Anglian names of villages, fields, and so on are likely never to have been Gaelic-speaking. A few Gaelic names south of Edinburgh (Balerno, Dalry) are possibly relics of estates being bestowed on Gaelic-speaking nobles even though the peasants did not cease to speak Anglian, i.e. Scots. (Dalry means ‘share (i.e. of land) of the king’.) The idea of an all-Gaelic Scotland is a nationalist phantom.
There is another name, Slamannan, the ‘moor of Mannan’. The first part is the word sliabh, usually meaning ‘mountain’ but in this case a moor, a wet peaty place as Scottish uplands generally are. The form is interesting, presumably this was a dialect area where the word was pronounced ‘slew’ and so assimilated into the ‘mannan’ part.

Over breakfast, Peter Manson was talking about research he is doing into the Forties poet Dorian Cooke, and how many of Cooke’s poems he has found. If not yet the typescript of a book which Cooke was trying to get published in the later Forties. Cooke’s letters to JF Hendry are in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. (is that right? Was it the university library?)

Heard readings by formalist poets nick-e-melville and Dorothy Alexander, new names working in the wider world of forms that opens once domestic anecdote is put out by the back door. Failed to buy copies of their works to bring home. Reflected how I haven’t done any delving into Scottish poetry in the last 15 years.

I travelled during Friday evening and missed the readings on that evening. My colleague had a birthday on Thursday and reflected that she wouldn’t then want to go to work on the Friday. Hence I couldn’t take the day as leave. A birthday is a birthday. I was freezing on the platform at Larbert while Frank Kuppner was reading in Alloa. Such is the cultured life.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Why do Europeans speak Indo-European?

Andrew Duncan
May 2012

1. The occasion of this essay or aide-memoire is my loss of belief in a theory (of IE origins) which I believed from 1987 to 2012. I found this loss upsetting. But I wanted to write about the circumstances. The theory I lost was Renfrew's idea that the spread of IE languages in Europe was part of the spread of farming, from the south-east. The total replacement of older languages was because they were not spoken by farmers but by foragers, the Mesolithic population, who did not densely populate the continent and were relatively easily diluted and washed out by the dense peasant populations as they gradually spread. So the first Indo-Europeans lived in Anatolia, in an area (perhaps the Konak plain) which took up farming, and their language family spread through Europe from the south-east as its speakers diffused, bearing farming techniques, from the 7th millennium on. The languages recorded in the early second millennium in Anatolia, Indo-European but of an aberrant type (the ‘Anatolian’ languages) would be a relic of this folk movement. This theory replaced a much older theory, in which the Indo-Europeans were not the first farmers, but invaders from the horse-riding world of the Steppes, whose languages replaced in Europe those spoken by an already dense peasant population, originating at least partly in south-west Asia. The ‘vector’ for their amazing expansion, despite small numbers, was military superiority, giving rise to ‘feudal’ societies in which the upper class spoke an Indo-European language which was gradually copied by the peasant majority. The nature of this superiority was speculated on, and consisted either of rude barbarian vices or pristine barbarian virtues. This is the Steppe Origins model.
The problem with the 'peasant-Anatolian' theory was set out by Benjamin W Fortson III in his text-book on the IE languages (Indo-European Language and Culture. An Introduction), at p. 43, where he says that the terminology for parts of a wagon is as old as the unified IE language and so the speakers of that language were still in one place up to the invention of vehicle technology and the domestication of the horse. These innovations can be dated from archaeological evidence, and this dating is incompatible with the Renfrew thesis. I read Fortson in about May 2011 and have been unable to shake off the logic of what he says. I therefore now think that the version of the Indo-European spread set out in DW Anthony's The Horse, the Wheel, and Language (2007) is much more probable. (The dating of the first horse riding has changed considerably in recent years, due to research by Anthony and associates.) This aide-memoire sets out the reasons for this.

1a. The finding of a source for the first Indo-Europeans is a free area of intellectual activity. That is, because it is almost insoluble, or at least unprovable. Language historians have long speculated on the source area for the language whose descendants we have so very many records of. 26 such essays are collected in Scherer’s 1967 anthology (Herman Scherer, ed. Die Urheimat der Indogermanen, 1967.) Notoriously, if you read one explanation of a complex event you feel satisfied, and if you read three explanations you feel dissatisfied and in need of more information. The 26 essays leave behind pervasive dissatisfaction. Written texts point us to the forms of earlier stages of the language, but not to places where those forms were, prior to writing, spoken. If we find related languages in Greece and the Punjab, we can project back to a common source, but we can't get a directional fix on that source. The radius of the 'projection lines' is already then so long that the source could be almost anywhere in Eurasia. Of course west Africa, let's say, or Ireland, are out of the frame - but have not genuinely been eliminated. There is no good reason to think that a speech area of 2000 years before the first (relevant) written record can be proved to be right even if it is right.
(Scherer includes some fringe material, e.g. by Kossinna and Neckel, but gives us the mainstream rather than the really speculative or crackpot stuff. I mean, Neckel comes across as a psychotic scholar rather than as a mere out-patient.)

2. The Steppe Origins model calls for the new language to spread on a massive scale from the incomers to the existing peasant cultures of Europe. That is, a language which was a marker of a pastoral way of life and Steppe origins in around 4000 BC came, at some later date, to be spoken by farmers on a large scale, and in areas from modern Belarus westwards as far as Ireland and Spain. Its spread over the majority of the continent could only follow it having become the language of the majority of individuals in a dense agricultural population. That is, demographic weight was the basis for its ability to spread. The spread occurred in two strokes: first as the language of horsed pastoralists, then as the language of a farming culture, although with pastoral components as well as field cultivation. We would want traces of the spread of the new culture across Europe. An archaeological complex which fits that role, whether well or badly, is the Corded Ware culture. The unity of this culture across huge parts of Europe matches the unity of the IE languages and is an adequate material entity to carry the theorised language community. This culture crosses many national borders and archaeologists do not use standard notation, so it is also referred to as Single Grave culture and Battle-Axe culture. (In German, variously, Schnurkeramik, Streitaxtkultur, Einzelgrabkultur.) This brings us to another problem, namely that archaeologists of a certain generation hate the idea of migrations and so write up evidence which is wholly compatible with migration and with the spread of new languages with their speakers in any other way, so long as words like migration, invasion, dominance, replacement do not appear. This is a sort of protest against the facts of European history - a traumatic response. Christopher Hawkes labelled this deviation 'immobilism'.

2a Renfrew has not published a second book on his 1987 theory, but the papers he has published on the subject (indo-europeanization, language reconstruction, etc.) since 1987 must amount to several hundred pages, so that the 'Renfrew Theory' is significantly different now from the classic statement then. In fact, the summary came before the detailed and specialised studies. This makes it unusually hard to refute.

3. The Corded Ware culture of roughly 2900-2350 BC was identified in significant papers by Kossinna (1902) and Tadeusz Sulimirski (1931) as the product of the first Indo-Europeans, the point from which they disseminated. Kossinna's view, overwhelmingly coloured by nationalist urges, is that Corded Ware spread from North Germany and that here was the first home of the Indo-Europeans. It follows that heroic Germani rode their horses all the way to north India and bequeathed the Vedic language to their descendants. Also, that they impetuously flooded across the Balkans to Greece and founded Greek culture.
This heritage of fantasy inspires caution, and what Anthony says about the Corded Ware culture at pp.367-8 is cautious. This horizon covers most of North-Central Europe and seems to have been a culture mainly of farmers which nonetheless has some share of individuals coming from the pastoral steppe world, and which derives a large share of its economic wealth from pastoralism. It therefore fits the desired shape of a culture which has the numerical strength to influence an entire continent, and yet spoke a language deriving from the remote east - the steppes north of the Caspian, on the Volga and Don rivers. Anthony is not assertive about this. He seems to find the origin of the Corded Ware material kit too early for it to fit the migrations he is mapping. He speaks more of eastern Corded Ware cultures speaking languages like proto-Germanic, but tacitly allows for other Corded Ware cultures speaking other languages. The cohesion of Corded Ware (or Schnurkeramik) culture offers pathways which would have facilitated the spread of an intrusive language (and some of its speakers) from an ‘entry point’ (or, ‘entry strip’) over a very wide area.
The Schnurkeramik culture starts too early to be the wave of Steppe horsemen which Anthony describes. Yet the extent of the culture matches the wide-scale homogeneity which we find for Indo-Europeans at the dawn of history, and which we (it follows) want to identify in the Europe of the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, well before that dawn. (The cordlike decoration on the pots has been seen as an imitation of the ropes by which the pots were, frequently, suspended for carrying or storage.) Anthony speaks of a merger with an existing culture, but surely if we have a complete change of language we want to see a complete change of culture. If Corded Ware People = (Western) Indo-Europeans then the 'steppe invasion' theory is wrong. Corded Ware begins in the Middle Neolithic and is a peasant culture, the product of the primary farmers who pioneered field cultivation in a Europe of untouched fertility. If later on it acquires a much stronger pastoral component, while retaining its artefact culture, that can be thought of as a mixture of eastern incomers with the existing western pattern, but it does not sustain a change of language - from the old languages to Indo-European. It does not explain why the old languages died - and were never written down. Yet the Schnurkeramik is too large-scale, or too late, and too strong in pastoral components, not to be part of the story of Indo-European.
Corded Ware does not fit the bill, for Anthony. That is, it ‘kind of’ does fit the bill. But it is not a good match. This is a real problem with the Anthony model and it has to do with him being a historian of the Steppe world. The area where the posited Indo-European population flows into Central and Western Europe is outside his territory, and not even a feature of his outstanding book, so not one we could criticise. I think a new story needs to be told here. He is very clear that the Corded Ware group is not the ancestor of the Indo-Iranian or the Anatolian languages.
Frustrated, I drew down some information about the Corded Ware culture from Wikipedia.

>>There have been many different views concerning the origin of the Corded Ware culture. There is broadly a division between archaeologists who see an influence from pastoral societies of the steppes north of the Black Sea and those who think that Corded Ware springs from central Europe. [...] The distribution of the Corded Ware Culture coincides in part with the earlier Funnel Beaker Culture, with which it shares a number of features, such as cord impressions on pottery, and the use of horses and wheeled vehicles, that can be ultimately traced to the cultures of the European steppe<< (Wiki)

>>On most of the immense, continental expanse that it covered, the culture was clearly intrusive, and therefore represents one of the most impressive and revolutionary cultural changes attested by archeology. The degree to which cultural change generally represents immigration is a matter of debate[.]<<

>>In summary, Corded Ware does not represent a single monolithic entity, but rather a diffusion of technological and cultural innovations of different, contemporaneous peoples, living in close proximity to each other and leaving different archaeological remains.<<

That is, an impact zone of continental magnitude. Well, this is what we are looking for to explain the linguistic geography as eventually trapped by written records. The Corded Ware culture was linked with the Urheimat already in the 19th C, so this is not some heresy. Interestingly, the source says that the Corded Ware era replaced the Funnel Beaker (Trichterbecher) layer and that both covered huge areas with significant similarities of material culture. This suggests that the process by which a single language came to be spoken over a huge area, and the process by which Indo-European spread from the east and washed away older languages, may be quite separate. That is, there was a niche for languages which would cover such a wide area as North Germany or Northern France, and the successful candidates were Indo-European ones. The process by which the radius of a language came to be a couple of hundred miles long needs separate investigation from the geographically local source of languages such as Proto-Germanic and proto-Italic. If single languages came, during the Late Neolithic or at other points, to have very long radiuses for their area of domination, then most of the older European languages or language-groups would have died off anyway.
In this area of intellectual reflection, the suggestion that the Funnel Beaker territory did not coincide with the extent of a language, but could perhaps have included a dozen different languages, is of great interest.

4. Anthony's model definitely has the incoming cavalrymen winning armed struggles with the existing population, and after those occupying positions of lordship in which the sedentary population were in client relationships to them. This is how he interprets the new mixed cultures. He repeatedly describes a legal situation in which the farmers paid dues to ‘lords’ who were the Steppe incomers, and where political power was wielded by the lords. This correlates with burial evidence in which a very few individuals had rich burials whose equipment correlated with the material culture of the Steppe. He is keen to suggest that local people could aggregate to this status group - via a client arrangement involving oaths.
The incomers were on horses. The Peasants were not mobile because they were on foot and also tied to their fields, as their principal means of subsistence. The peasants could not easily abandon their crops and the investment of labour represented by the clearing of the ground, the buildings, fieldworks, and so on. A likely outcome was that they would remain with their fields but be subject to the distraction of the surplus, as taxation, feudal dues, etc., by an exploitative group who can accurately be described as 'lords', as feudal superiors.
This situation bears an amazing resemblance to what we learnt about in primary school as the feudal system. Indeed, the proposal is that this combination of knights with mastery of horses and of metallurgy as applied to weapons, and of peasants who produced the wealth but did not have full enjoyment of it, was prevalent in say 800 AD as a reminiscence of a social order present in the 3rd millennium BC. The technical debt of Western European feudalism to eastern sources, in the steppe world, may have been considerable and tends to be forgotten - although noted by historians such as Lynn White and Hugh Trevor-Roper.

5. The model has horsemen flooding in with their herds and occupying discrete areas in between terrain densely populated by the peasants. They went for empty areas which could be made productive by horse-based pastoralism. Their early settlements were separated from each other. This was a diffraction diffusion, not a smooth diffusion. This phase of separation gives us a context in which the oldest Indo-European language could break down into separate families. Thus, the three different language groups of Western Europe, Celtic, Italic, and Germanic, may record three discontinous areas of early IE settlement in eastern Europe, and different routes to the west. The persistence of coherent blocs of farmers allows for a formative isolation of early Western Indo-European groups.

6. The geography of the early IE languages is very distinctive and puts strong limits on the possible explanations for the data pattern. Reconstruction has shown that early IE was very coherent. This shows a point origin. The ‘point’ could be a larger area if the speakers were mobile, which would be typical of pastoralists in dry and not very productive pastureland, such as the Steppes. However, soon after this ’point’ stage the language had spread over a huge area and begun to disintegrate. In general, a society of horseback pastoralists, with the ability to undertake very long treks in search of lush or undefended pasture grounds, fits very well the puzzling geographical pattern which has related languages spoken all the way from Bengal to Ireland. The combination of single point origin, mobility, and loss of continuity or cohesion, puts strong constraints on the explanatory model. A story in which pastoral tribes overran pre-existing peasant populations, achieved power and settled down, and were then separated by clumps of the languages these peasants spoke, is the best model. This is the diffraction diffusion. When much later the IE languages mopped up the older languages, to produce a map of Indo-European languages without gaps where other languages were still spoken, they had already evolved away from each other. The process whereby each recorded language family became de-indo-europeanised is of singular importance. The lack of intermediate languages between German and Polish, for example, or Latin and Gaulish, is of great interest. It is quite possible that other languages were spoken in say 1000 BC and then died out before the arrival of literacy brought them to written record.

7. Cultivator societies tend to reach much higher densities of human per acre than pastoralists. This is why various Steppe invasions did not lead to cultural replacement in eastern Europe or Northern China. The Russians and Ukrainians did not start to speak Mongol. We should not project this back onto prehistory. Cultivators whose ploughs were drawn by oxen and had no metal parts, who had no horses or wheeled vehicles, were not going to reach high population density. The gap between them and the steppe pastoralists was not so great then.
A key difference between a simple invasion + exploitation story and Anthony's narrative is that he points to ways in which the migration from the Steppes could have improved the productive powers of the (wholly rural) economy in Europe and raised the carrying capacity of the land. Thus, the peasant cultures of before 4000 BC did not have wool. This was a new product made possible by specialised breeding of sheep (to have a long staple). Extensive grazing of poor pastureland was newly possible because of the invention of riding, for shepherds and cowboys (sic), and so made great areas productive which were not suited to arable farming. In fact, the modern pattern of European farming, with mixed arable and pastoral, only became possible with the innovations from the east. (However, horses were not used for ploughing - this only became possible with the invention of a working plough collar, in the 12th century AD.) Because the steppe invaders had strong contacts with the North Caucasus and its metallurgy, they were expert in bronze working. Indeed, the transition from Neolithic to Bronze Age in Europe is possibly connected with the arrival of Indo-European languages - and not with greater productivity allowed by bronze tools. Bronze was only of use in certain areas of endeavour, and was not a huge advance on stone tools. Yet the end of the Neolithic was a great transition and upheaval in the European world.

8. The second stage of IE expansion is from a speech society of peasants or mixed farmers of Indo-European speech with the population density associated with intensive land use. This stage two source society was not less numerous or dense than the societies who acquired a new IE language from them. This is easy to model. The first stage, where a peasant society takes over a language from a tribe of pastoralists who were less densely implanted in a territory, is more difficult to model and so of greater interest at this point. Anthony is very clear in explaining that pastoralism is also a source of wealth and that the arrival of 'mixed farming' may have been a much more efficient and indeed wealthy way of life than the peasant farming before the arrival of Steppe innovations in the form of horses, wool, wagons, new breeds, etc. That is, the new language may emphatically have recruited very large numbers of people from the peasant culture - acquiring new impetus and mass along the way.

9. Looking at the scenes proposed for the control of peasant farmers by horsemen brings an unmistakable impression that the ability to herd and move and instruct grazing animals was training for doing the same to humans - and that this shaped the new social organisation.

10. The breakdown into separate languages, the parents of Punjabi, Gaelic, Latin, etc., was correlated with geographical diffusion from the zone of origin. The distance in formal terms that various languages have travelled from the reconstructed Indo-European ancestor language may be an indicator of what kind of journey this diffusion involved. It could even tell us where the point of origin was - but the difficulties of translating changes in language structure into geographical space are obvious. The distance between Celtic and Germanic, as types, and the reconstructed ancestral language with its morphological richness in verbs and noun endings, its panoply of tenses signalled by endings, is striking and asks for an explanation. Why are Latin and Greek so much more conservative? were they the results of less radical sociological changes and journeys? This would be compatible with the source language being in the east - as Celtic and Germanic are found in the westernmost region, as well as in the northern part of Central Europe.
Many of the major modern works of synthesis about the period of European history in which the IE languages spread are by Barry Cunliffe. Cunliffe describes the history of language in terms largely agreeing with Renfrew. He refers to the original language 'giving rise, by creolization, to ... Slavic, Baltic, Germanic, and Celtic', in a process of contact-induced language shift (Europe Between the Oceans 9000 BC - 1000 AD, at p.138). Meanwhile Anthony says that no one has ever found any traces of creolisation in the IE languages. The contrast is amusing. Evidently Cunliffe thinks that creolisation occurred in Slavonic because anything else is incompatible with the 'Anatolian' model of diffusion. But no one who has learnt Russian could ever think this language had undergone creolisation. The paradigms of endings go on forever. Russian is an archaic Indo-European language close to the mother language. This is quite in accord with IE origins being in the steppe world, where today Russian and Ukrainian are spoken. It is not compatible with the Renfrew thesis.
Celtic and Germanic are the groups which are under suspicion of showing either creolisation or partial creolisation. This is controversial. However, it would fit with them being at the furthest stretch from a point of origin on the Volga. Sigmund Feist described a theory of Germanic as a creole in 1932. Understandably, German scholars have not been happy with this idea! It remains under-researched (and unrefuted). The suspicion remains that archaeologists take ideas about language which suit their preconceptions and leave all the other ideas or facts alone, regarding them as 'technical' or something like that. (I believe Marek Zvelebil has written about ‘creolisation’ of early Neolithic farmers and Neolithic foragers as part of the origin of Indo-European, but this must be some technical and non-linguistic sense.)
The modifications to Celtic do not much look like the changes typical of a creole. The complex verb endings are still there in modern Irish - I am looking at Teach Yourself Irish. This is the style of the oldest Celtic and our best window onto Bronze Age Celtic. However, Celtic has gone a long way away from the original Indo-European type and this is compatible with language mixture. (Actually, the case endings of Celtic nouns vanished very early, although there is a magnificent range of endings as plural markers.) The development of Welsh and of Scots Gaelic in post-mediaeval times looks quite similar to creolisation, but we know this was a late development because of the kind of language we see in the very ample manuscripts of Old Irish. It has no relevance to the Bronze Age.
Teach Yourself Irish, possibly a rather conservative textbook, discusses the existence of a dual in nouns in 20th C Irish. It is remarkably difficult to imagine a creole Celtic which would retain this notably archaic, elaborate, and unnecessary feature. Of course, within any language area, especially one covering most of Western Europe, there could be groups speaking a creolised language in some district.
The more geographically extreme languages, like Old Irish, look like the most ancient Indo-European, the more recent the break-up of the ancestral language must be and the more rapid and hard to explain is the expansion.

11. Domination. There are two discrete Left responses to the inequality of power which has marked so much of the past of Europe (although presumably not the whole past, uniformly). One is to focus on it and to regard silence about it as dishonest, collusive, abject, and basically unworthy. The other is to regard mention of it as impolite. Archaeologists since 1960 have plumped for the latter approach. This is why someone trying to trace the expansion of a language, i.e. of the territory inhabited by its speakers, is baffled by the modern archaeological literature. The information is there but it is buried under interpretative phobias and collective denial. Anthony is not an archaeologist but an anthropologist. His knowledge of archaeology comes mainly from scholars of what used to be the Soviet Union - who have a quite different set of prejudices than their western colleagues. (These prejudices were a quite different set of wishes and intellectual practices than Marxist ideology, even if their publications up to 1989 made obeisance to the grandiose errors of Engels and his pals.)

12. If we accept that the written record of the Middle Ages was dominated by the literate, a tiny minority, then we can guess that the picture which the written records tell reflects the wishes, including the unfulfilled wishes, of that minority. The literate were either part of the dominant group or at least worked for them. It would follow perhaps that the image of feudalism is not historical reality in its full extent but the projection of the wishes of the wealthy. This gap can be overrated, but I just want to observe that the idea of oppression complete in its nature and geographically 'flawless', i.e. without regions or groups for whom it hardly applied, is too simple.

13. Cunliffe has also published radical new theories, developed with John W Koch, in a book about Celtic from the West. This depends on a new theory, advanced by Koch and not yet proved, that the inscriptions of roughly 800-600 BC found in the region of Seville and associated with ‘Tartessus’ and the higher culture of the Phoenicians bringing East Mediterranean innovations, were in a Celtic language. The claim piled on top of this is that this first inscription was also the point of origin of the Celtic language family, and that this family spread along the shores of the Atlantic, without major migrations, from south-west Spain. Hence ‘Celtic from the West’. The inscriptions are all very short, and in a mainly alphabetic, partly syllabic, script whose phonetic values we know now, because they are similar to those in other Spanish inscriptions in other languages. The problem with Koch’s reading of the brief funerary inscriptions is that he does not know what they mean. The recognition of ‘Celtic’ roots as known from Welsh is only correct if the meaning is correct - but this is derived entirely from the glint of recognition. This method has been acknowledged as effective by the majority of scholars for certain classes of inscriptions, but these have the common factor that they are long texts. You can be blinded by glint.
Tartessian may be the oldest written version of a Celtic language. This does not make it the zone from which Celtic speech radiated - over territories which had no writing at the time (so that their speech could be Celtic, Slav, or anything you like). The oldest IE languages are the Anatolian ones. No one regards them as the point of origin for all the other families. They are too aberrant and have too many structures missing. First recording in writing is not the same as being the first to be spoken and the oldest. Celtic may have been a discrete entity in 2000 BC or even 3000 BC - in the stage of diffraction and loss of continuity.

14. Cunliffe and Koch, fascinated by the anti-migration fashion, suggest that Celtic could have spread from the region at the mouth of the Guadalqivir to Scotland as a trading language which people on the coast learnt in order to trade and then adopted as their daily speech. Then it spread from the coast inshore, to the hinterland over huge areas, flowing like water. None of this involved migration or any human movement except a few merchants and sailors who did not settle. Thus Gaul and the whole of the British Isles abandoned their languages to adopt this new speech, the littoral-mercantile languages. None of this is credible without population transfers as well. I am not aware of any examples in real history. Surely it is more plausible that Celtic came from the east, as one of the waves of Indo-Europeanisation which brought Italic and Germanic too, that it was already the speech of the Atlantic littoral before the first writing down of Tartessian words, and that assimilation along the coast only involved some details, names for imported objects, rather than a complete language transfer. The Celtic languages, probably, do not record the common elements of the cultures along the Atlantic coast, and the importance of these did not guarantee a common language and stands even without that. Cunliffe is insistent on the continuity of the Atlantic Littoral, and connecting linguistic discontinuity, i.e. indo-europeanisation, with archaeology is indeed a problem. Cunliffe does not explain, though, how Celtic reached the Guadalquivir valley.
Merchants learn the language of their merchant partners from other ports. Fishermen develop pidgins to use in ports where they land for trade or other purposes. But is it normal for peasants to learn a trading language and to abandon their own speech for it? has this ever happened in history? Long-distance trade does not seem to have been of great importance in the late prehistoric Atlantic world. It was a subsistence economy, not a commercial one. Trade from Tartessus, near Africa, to Ireland, would have been a tiny trickle.

15. The Steppe model of Indo-European origins involves things like the invention of warfare, armies, conquest, class inequality, lordship, and feudal dues. These techniques may have been revolutionary in their time - and moved history on to the next stage, even if the word ‘progress’ hardly seems to fit. In some circumstances, history is not only ‘the propaganda of the victor’ but the story of the victor. The abolition of feudal status in much of Europe dates to the period 1789-1861. The synchronism with the rise of Indo-European studies, and the readers who formed a market for them, is obvious, however indirect the connections. This ‘political subconscious’ has long bedevilled the field of archaeology and of language history.

16. Braudel is the most famous historian of the AESC school, rejecting the history of events in favour of long-term changes and unconscious structures. Famously, he developed his ideas as a prisoner of war in a German camp, a situation where there was very little change from day to day and the long term offered the only gleam of hope. Anti-event historians underrate invasion as opposed to la longue durée. Braudel would not have been where he was at all without the events of May 1940 - a few weeks which dramatically changed the lives of millions. Perhaps his version of history eliminates foreground in favour of things that are inconspicuous and unimportant. Only looking at what is unimportant. Only listening to what is silent. Many wars simply reverse the results of previous wars, just as the defeat of May 1940 was swept away by the victory of May 1945; but that is not true of all wars, in fact they can be decisive and much of history or prehistory may be the story of wars that decided quite fundamental things -such as what languages were spoken in Europe.
Fairly obviously Renfrew is presenting us 'prehistory without events' and Anthony, along with Schrader, Gimbutas, etc., is presenting us prehistory with bloody and decisive and dynamic events. There is an opposition between kinetic explanations of history and processual ones. There is an obvious affinity between historians who reject the study of events and modern archaeologists. Both want to be ‘structural’ and both want the actions of rulers, and politics in general, to be unimportant. The idea that history might be about winning and losing control of territory and of populations is not of interest to them.
Kinetic refers to something like the edge of a sword - even more acutely, the edge of a sword at the end of the arm of a man on the back of a galloping horse. (The man on horseback can be seen as a kind of ballistic process.) A prehistoric sword may have been the agent in a process whereby one person lost their life and another became the lord, and the whole social structure flowed out from this cut. Or it may have been a display object. Or it may have been used, in wars which were hastily entered into, very numerous, and indecisive. As for a plough, this may show a social order, as structure flowed out from the economic basis, the source of calories. Or the workers in the field may have been largely excluded from the political process - as conducted by a nobility. Interest in agriculture leads us towards processual explanations and interest in armed warriors leads us towards kinetic explanations.

17. The pre-Indo-European peoples still here today include Finns, Basques, Estonians. None of them very numerous. The percentage of the European population speaking old European languages is less than 3 by my count. (Magyar is a later arrival.) The Steppe contribution is 3% of the biological material but accounts for 97% of the speakers, i.e. of the humans. We can produce models to explain this. For example, elements of dress show downwardly mobile patterns, a cascade where they start as aristocratic fashions and diffuse downwards to the population as a whole, through however many intermediate stages. Particular words have followed this path of downward diffusion via imitation of the prestigious model. The idea that a whole language could diffuse downwards is coherent, although it is very hard to find in history. The spread of Latin over much of Western Europe might not be a good example, because the arrival of the Romans involved wars destroying large parts of the human material of the native societies, and mass migrations of people from Italy to be bestowed with land grants on arrival (‘colonies’). So ‘replacement without migration’ is hard to find. All the same Gaul and Spain lost their ‘old’ languages (excepting Basque) completely.
Archaeologists seem very happy with ‘dominance diffusion’ theories of language spread, whereby a dozen or so incomers can lead to the complete replacement of the native language spoken by hundreds of thousands of people already there. This version of language change, unfamiliar to linguists, is necessary to support the theory that migrations are so rare in prehistory as almost to be banned. This theory may be wrong. The idea that prestige is vital to the language choice of individuals, so that if 99% of a population speak a language but regard it as inferior, the stigma of a social group who carry out inferior roles and lack political influence, then in successive generations the percentage may be 89%, 79%, 69%, 59%, finally 0%, as individuals gallantly fight to be upwardly mobile. Concrete examples of this without massive populations of the incoming language to provide a ‘pole of attraction’ are apparently completely missing. But if you have the preset goal of proving that the Anglo-Saxon invasions were only a few dozen people, you need to fantasize that the spread of English was due to the Romano-British giving up their own language to acquire something more prestigious, and that 3 million Romano-British (6 million, in one version) acquired a strange language from a few boatloads of Saxons (who must have had a gift as language teachers).
The idea that 3% of the genes correlate with 97% of the speakers relies on a ‘dominance diffusion’ model of much this kind. It holds that the mere ‘dominance’ was followed by a stage of ‘fusion’, in which a sharp difference between lords and peasants was replaced by a coherent culture in which everyone spoke the same language. The incoming 'knights' or 'chivalry' took over political power enough to impose their language in the new society, but adopted the territorially bound way of life enough to merge with the peasant population. Exactly how Indo-European languages could have spread to countries which were nowhere near the Steppe Zone and also not part of the Corded Ware area in the 3rd millennium is not clear, and this is an area yet to be developed rather than a weakness of the Steppe Origin theory. The further spread may not have had anything to do with horse-borne raiders and herders.
If a dozen warriors land on some foreign shore, risking their lives, they can out-fight and replace the existing elite. However, the next step may well be to marry native women. They would tend to be a male group. Their children then have mothers who speak the older language. Why should the children speak the language of their fathers? especially if hardly anybody understands it? Political power is not something you can keep locked up in a casket - it grows when you use it. Marrying the local maidens was a way of making alliances, to balance the feuds you probably have. In order to exercise power over a population, you presumably want to speak to it - and be understood. Reasons for abandoning the 'new' language, the incoming one, are thus very weighty. Tiny conquering strata can be seen, at many points in history, to adopt the language of the conquered - if only to exercise their power and make their prestige audible to all. Language replacement is more compatible with large-scale migrations - enough to make the minority language useful rather than ceremonial and symbolic. The spread of IE over almost every part of Europe west of the Carpathians is an indication of the migration of large numbers of people in many periods, not of a kind of acquisition of long-distance prestige goods by mimicry.
I should point out that if we are talking about a few aristocratic figures moving to be chieftains five miles away from home, and there is a large population that close by speaking their ‘noble’ language, linguistic assimilation of the population in the zone they are arriving in is quite credible, at least over the long term. However, the spread of the IE languages took place rapidly over great distances and we have to look at mechanisms that account for long-distance movements of languages.
I had to look at one point for records of the Frankish spoken in Northern France, in order to compare it with Anglo-Saxon, testing the theory (based on place-names) that the Saxons came from the South Netherlands rather than from Saxony. But, as I found, there are no records of Frankish, the language of Charlemagne. The relics are fragmentary, or late and radically altered (the law words written into Latin texts as marginal glosses, the so-called Malberg Glosses in the Lex Salica.) (See ). Otherwise there is one late translated text and a few runes. The Franks were a 'drowned elite', they abandoned their language to adopt the Latin-derived speech of their conquered subjects. How come Frankish disappeared and left no texts when the Frankish Empire was the central institution of the West and the basis for everything that happened in Western Europe after that? The facts are strange. But factual. ‘Dominance-diffusion’ may be a clever idea that doesn't happen. It is not the norm in human sociology.
Fieldwork in sociolinguistics has turned up interesting evidence for the solidarity of the people of lower status. Someone living among the ordinary people, which could mean 80% or 90% of the population, may wish to sound like the people they live among. The idea that everyone is striving upwards is not borne out by field observations. The force of solidarity, and the psychological wealth it implies, may induce people to abandon prestigious minority speech patterns. The idea of perpetual striving to imitate the language of power is crude and undifferentiated. It is by no means the case that the oppressed majority generally admire the wealthy minority and their manners. While dialect has for centuries been dying out in favour of standard English, it is by no means true that the prestigious speech norms of the 17th C came to be the ones used by everyone in subsequent centuries. People acquired the speech of large towns, on moving into them, but learnt this speech from the bulk of the population dwelling there, not from the noble elite, with whom their contracts will have been exiguous. Urban speech levelled down dialects because the cities included people from many diverse dialect zones. The levelling was not upward mobility.
Quite how a few thousand steppe horsemen induced a rather numerous peasant population, in the early contact zones of Yamnaya Culture and Corded Ware, to adopt a new language, is a tantalising question. I think we are speaking of a numerous population, using good grazing terrain for a pastoralism which was outstandingly successful and nourishing, and comprising a whole pastoral society, rather than a few mobile and aggressive warriors. We are also speaking of migration.

18. Attila got as far as Châlons on the Marne before being defeated or at least fought to a standstill. This was ‘the Battle of the Goths and the Huns’ in 451 AD. The Huns were certainly a mounted people from the Steppes. Famously, the Ostrogoths fought in Attila’s ranks while the Visigoths fought on the Roman side. Attila’s army was a colourful mixture of a dozen different peoples. This quality of ‘rolling up’ allies and clients was presumably a characteristic of great steppe leaders, victorious gamblers whose personal power increased with every winning throw. The ability to win over or intimidate client groups was presumably part of the ‘political technology’ of such leaders. Most of the warriors in Attila’s army spoke a Germanic language, so if he had won we would guess that the linguistic result would have been a spread of Germanic - not of Hunnic. Today, we cannot find a single village that speaks Gothic - or Hunnish. The idea of Indo-European coming into Europe west of the Steppes relies, I think, on a military alliance which did not succumb to defeat and disintegration, but rather sustained itself over centuries. In this long run, only, would the client groups have come to adopt the language of the dominant clan as well as its political hegemony. Otherwise the incoming language would have disappeared like Hunnic and Gothic - and Scythian.
A valid model in recorded history for the success of Indo-European could be the spread of Turkish. Two-thirds of Anatolia speak Turkish today, yet the number of ‘original Turks’ who came from the Altai region must have been quite small. We find a number of regions where a Turkic language is today the majority language of a dense population. These regions do not have the same history, however those long and perhaps puzzling histories offer a mirror where we can examine the theorised spread of Indo-European from an origin in arid steppes that did not support millions of people. One point of interest is the ‘skipping’ pattern, in which a mobile group of people passed through a whole region and colonised the one beyond it. Thus we have Iran and Kurdistan separating the Turkic homeland from the settlements in Anatolia. The Turkic realm is a discontinuous one, and this is what we expect from Bronze Age Europe too.

19. This more specific version of how the IE languages spread has implications for substrate studies, the research which deals with elements of IE languages which are not part of the inherited IE vocabulary and which belong perhaps to submerged pre-IE languages. This involves mainly lexical items but can also extend to things like prosody and the location of word-stress. If the incoming languages had extensive contact with peasant (Corded Ware) peoples already around 3000 BC, and in eastern Europe (north of the Carpathians), then the fascinating substrate words may come from a long way to the east and the substrate layer in Dutch or English may come from the Dniestr-Bug region rather than from the shores of the North Sea. This may not be very useful if we don’t have any supplementary sources for the ‘submerged’ languages either in Western Ukraine-Rumania or by the North Sea.
Anthony sketches a theory whereby the language of the peasants in south-eastern Europe was ‘Afro-Asiatic’. This needs decoding somewhat - it is the name of the language group which includes Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, and Ancient Egyptian. The idea that the spread of farming went along with the slow diffusion of the people who developed farming implies that the language of these first farmers- also in Anatolia and the Balkans and the Danube basin- was a language of the Fertile Crescent. The spread began in the early 7th millennium BC, so although the arrival of writing was hardly earlier than the end of the 4th millennium, we find it very easy to believe that the peasants of 6700 BC spoke languages related to the first written languages: such as Akkadian, Babylonian. These are Semitic languages, hence the term ‘Afro-Asiatic’ applied to early European peasants, which is the most diffuse and permissive way of indicating ‘Semitic or somehow related to Semitic’. It is a little difficult to conceive of the peasants of Bulgaria and Rumania speaking Egyptian, and the ‘Afro-Asiatic’ languages in south-west Asia are, all, Semitic, so we are really talking about Semitic languages in Europe. Or, maybe, ‘peri-Semitic’, or ‘Pre-pre-Semitic’, or ‘peri-pre-pre-Semitic’. There are however early languages in Anatolia and in the Fertile Crescent which are not Semitic.
Anthony points to ‘tawr-’ (bull) as a possible loan word in western Indo-European (as a loan from an Afro-Asiatic language). This was first suggested in 1832, but is abidingly an ‘outlier’ for language historians. As a European loan-word, (not known in Indo-Iranian), this could be a trace of contacts with the European farmers who transmitted the earliest domesticated cattle to groups roaming the Ukrainian or Moldavian steppe. However, this word exhibits the phenomenon of ‘s mobile’, so that German Stier (English steer, ‘bull’), with an initial s, corresponds to Latin taurus, Irish tarbh, etc. This phenomenon is generally regarded as belonging to the earliest stratum of Indo-European - and, less certainly, the initial s- is seen as original. This would mean that the root is ‘stawr’ rather than ‘tawr’. Tangible evidence for a possible pre-Semitic language being spoken in south-eastern Europe is non-existent. Which means that there is no evidence against it. It is quite a beautiful idea. Indeed, if farming spread across Europe from the south-east well before the waves of Indo-European, we can readily imagine pre-Semitic being spoken in France, Belgium, England, or Scotland. I like this idea.

20. Why do modern archaeologists hate migrations? or, why did archaeologists up to 1960 or so love migrations and produce beautiful maps showing so many of them? In the 1950s, carbon-14 dating came along and allowed an objective chronology to be developed, for the first time, for the parts of the world which were not very close to Egypt and other Near Eastern civilisations, with their written historical records. Unfortunately, archaeologists had not allowed this lack of basis to stop them from dreaming up dates and chronologies for the whole of Europe, and to some extent for ancient prehistory - anyway for the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Carbon-14 isotope measurements demolished a whole swathe of official knowledge which was part of the legitimating property of learned institutions. No real knowledge was destroyed, but a lot of embarrassment was caused, and people learnt something valuable about the sociology of knowledge, and legitimation or exclusion of knowledge. (The assimilation of the raw data provided by carbon-14 came after a delay, after 1960 or even after 1965.) A major casualty of this revolution was the elaborate scaffolding of Diffusion, by which everything in western and northern Europe was a delayed imitation of world-leading processes taking place in the Near East. Objective dating made it likely, if not wholly certain, that many of these advances had been made locally and autonomously. An extension of this was a critique of the migrations which had been postulated by so many older archaeologists as the bearers of cultural change. Each of these could be discussed as local imitation of prestige goods and customs, paid for by local elites who were acquiring new display objects and not themselves being replaced at all. Rather than have a million people migrating, and a million others dying, you have ten top craftsmen migrating and producing ‘top goods’ which are prestigious because they refer to the elites of other countries. It is more like buying a high-performance car than being conquered. It is more economical and so a better explanation. There is no longer any “Bell Beaker people” but a fashion, a linked set of prestige goods.
This was one of the great ideas of the 20th century (personal view!) and most of its results are not going to be rolled back. Regrettably, this hypothesis became too admired and swelled to the level of dogma. It seems likely that some processes in prehistory were in fact migrations, and that archaeologists who have graduated since 1960 are phobic about this real possibility.
In the popular media, as well as in learned circles, there was a levelling emotional investment in invasions, a kind of aesthetic sensibility which was interested in duels and battles and victories and conquests before all else, and which saw other processes in history as essentially tedious interludes which happened monotonously and in infeasibly large quantities. This was heavily kinetic and anti-processual. It was related to the nationalism which came to a partial halt in 1945, and its mythology of armies, heroes, acquisition of territory, triumphs, humiliation of national enemies, etc. Today, this repetitive imaginative world belongs to the neo-conservatives. It is understandable that archaeologists should have reacted against this since 1945 - or really since 1933, when the implications of militarism were already apparent to the educated strata in European countries, observing Germany. However, it is possible that European history and prehistory really were full of wars, victories, conquests, and subsequent migrations and creations of new elites, even if this offends the feelings of modern scholars. The peaceful life-styles of modern university scholars are not genuine arguments to prove that people in prehistory could not have been militarists and that certain Bronze Age societies could not have had ruling strata who were foreign invaders.
Having said that this was a great idea, it would be churlish not to credit it - to Renfrew and to JGD Clark.

21. Kossinna.
Actually, some archaeologists were militarists. You have to know the history of the discipline enough to realise how far into racist and militarist fantasy many of its leading scholars, in the period of high nationalism, say 1870-1945, plunged. Nazism was a product of the imagination and that imagination shaped the past according to its predilections. The sponsors of Nazism and the tier of educated Germans were not two distinct and segregated groups of people.
Gustaf Kossinna (1858-1931) was the scholar who linked archaeology and racism, cunningly and inextricably. His 1910 paper on the origin of the Indo-Europeans already has the essentials of the Nazi view of the world. It is impressive as a work of ideology, insistent, disguising itself behind accumulations of true facts, difficult to unravel from the facts. He was one of those people whose emotionally chosen ideas are so extreme and so unpopular among the scholarly community that they overwork, tirelessly and accumulatively, gathering facts to weave into their prejudiced programme so as to defy criticism. Indeed, advances in scholarship, which mostly demand more work and more time, are often inspired by unpopularity - someone who is likely to lose, given the opposition of much of the audience, can develop new methods and a new level of detail in order to crush their rivals and become the winning side. Kossinna’s wildly subjective fetishization of the Germanic people, seen as the master race and as the most authentic Aryans, gave him a faith which enabled him to carry out staggering amounts of work - as worship of his ideal. He was a loser but an obsessional one. This moment of flamboyant fantasy has left traces which affect the silent rules of the profession to this day. If we see a small number of IEs conquering huge tracts of Europe and winning with unnatural consistency, we tend to flash back to Kossinna’s world-view, and recognise the scenario. But, this military success may really be why a language spread from one obscure and not very fertile or rainy area to the whole of Europe, and beside that to much of India and to Iran. History can be the story of the victors.
If you look at the linguistic pattern which probably prevailed across Eurasia in 4000 BC, there would have been hundreds of language groups. The infant Indo-European was just one of these. As time rolled by, IE won and won and won and constantly eliminated its rivals, as we were still seeing in the 20th C. This ‘loser dies, winner reproduces’ pattern is familiar from population genetics, and the analogy with families of humans reproducing is almost inevitable. This analogy attracted extremists who already believed in a ‘master race’, but it is also possible that it has put modern scholars off: we don’t want history to be the story of the winners. But linguistically it really was the history of the winners, and still is. A language which has millions of speakers is just a more precious asset to a skilled speaker than one with 5000 speakers, and populous languages develop irresistible attractive power.
Kossinna identified (in 1902) the Corded Ware people with the earliest Indo-Europeans, which allowed him to place the source of the latter in North Germany. He was trained as a linguist and possibly saw archaeology mainly as a support tool for reconstructing the prehistory of languages, identified with the ethnic groups which spoke them. He spent a lot of time in museums but possibly never led an excavation. The idea that a shift in aristocratic accoutrements was a matter of fashion would have infuriated Kossinna, it destroyed more or less his whole life’s work. Without migrations, no master race. His proposal that material cultures could be equated with population groups, i.e. peoples, was accepted, some time after he developed it, by the majority of European archaeologists. It is part of the ideological armoury of most amateur archaeologists, the readers of books about archaeology, to this day. However, a large proportion of academic archaeologists who have been trained since the radical surge of 1968 no longer accept it, and are in search of less suggestive terminology and a sparser kit of assumptions. It is an outstanding example of an assumption which had more social support, i.e. among people living in the 20th C, than strictly evidential support.
V Gordon Childe took his basic ideas on ’material culture = people’ from Kossinna. His vision of prehistory through migrations and warfare strongly resembles Kossinna’s. It does not correlate with his conscious political views, which were Marxist.
I am not aware of a militarist party in archaeology or philology at the present day. This whole line seems to have dried up in May 1945. However, my impression is that such a party may exist outside the professional world of specialists - thriving among amateurs and on Internet forums. There is for example a publishing genre of ‘archaeology for wargamers’.

22. Marija Gimbutas wrote about the relationship between the Steppe world and the peasant culture of south-eastern Europe, representing a continuity between the tradition of scholars linking the IEs with the Steppes from the 1890s on, and the new version of Steppe origins, based on modern Russian archaeology. I mention this because several recent works attribute the Steppe Theory to Gimbutas, as the latest adherent of it in around 1990, counter to the usual practice of attributing a theory to the scholar who first formulated it. The ‘Urheimat’ was placed in South Russia by Schrader already in 1883, also by Uhlenbeck in 1895, and in the Kirgiz Steppe by Brandenstein in 1936. Koppers saw their culture as closely related to that of the earliest Turks. Gimbutas follows in the line of this older German scholarship in placing the Indo-Europeans at a point from where access to India was as credible as access to central Europe. Renfrew has described this as the SCGM theory, for 'Schrader, Childe, Gimbutas and Mallory'. The model she offers is radically unoriginal, as it strongly resembles the Nazi interpretation of early European history, with a master race seizing all the key points in the fabric of the state and the economy and sweeping everything aside. I think her work is obsolete and weighed down by lavish psychological fantasies. The problem with it, even as sentimental fiction, is that it casts the whole of European history since 4000 BC as the achievement of the violent and aggressive and domineering. This is simply unacceptable. The point that a new culture arose in eastern Europe at the start of the Bronze Age, that it had mixed origins and that it was not suffering from some sort of ancestral curse, has to be accepted. Gimbutas' theory coincides too much with Nazism: she is saying that all the achievements of European history are due to the Aryans, the Triumph of the Will. No, we can accept that warfare was a preoccupation of the European past but not that militarism was the force which made history progress. This is an emotional response but Gimbutas' work is overwhelmingly guided by literary impulses and not by scientific ones. Are we supposed to say No to metal, horses, and the wheel?
There is a line of sentiment which finds the whole of European history to be evil and power-seeking, but which attributes these problems to a minority, while underneath them the Innocent went on leading peaceful lives. There are other fringe archaeologists who have promoted these ideas. HJ Massingham, who promoted Diffusionist ideas, also wrote in the 1920s (in ‘Downland Man’, 1926) about how evil the Celts were, obsessed with militarism and expert in the use of metal, obviously for military purposes - in contrast to the gentle and peaceful Neolithics. This was a reaction to the trauma of the First World War. He simply saw the Celts as the Prussian Junkers projected back into the first millennium BC. I think everyone loves peace, but the search for a small group of people who make wars happen is in vain, as such a group does not exist. However, an account of European prehistory and history which passes over the existence of warfare is inherently flawed.
The wish to eject guilt from history expresses itself by ejecting the low-status majority from history and proclaiming their innocence of the great events which led to conquests and dynasties. My impression is that fringe archaeology in general has a high density of people who wish to say no to history and to identify with an ‘innocent majority’ who are permanently abused by a violent minority. This is the view of Marxists but it is much more widespread than that. The wishful thought here is to have a European militarism which can be separated from the history of European politics in general - as if the occupation of the land could be separated from the wish to possess land.
Part of the readership for books about archaeology prefers not to hear about the mighty and the wealthy and their feats and procreation. People who dislike the landowning class of the 20th century may well dislike their forerunners in the third millennium BC. This is what we mean by a ‘political unconscious’. It is very noticeable that the hippies loved the Neolithic and wanted to reject the changes which arrived with metallurgy and so on. If they also loved the Celts, it was from screening out the data from Classical historians about Celtic love of warfare and so on.

22a. According to Bruce Trigger, (A History of Archaeology pp.168-70), one of the main themes of JL Myres' The Dawn of History, in 1911, was 'his belief that all hierarchical societies developed when politically dynamic, pastoral peoples, such as the Semites and the Indo-Europeans, were forced by drought to leave their homelands and to conquer and to rule politically less innovative peasant cultures. According to Myres, the Indo-Europeans, whom he believed to be nomads from the steppes of central Asia, were particularly adept at imposing their language, beliefs and social customs on conquered peoples, while adopting the latter's material culture.' The link between the apparently rapid expansion of IE and the dynamism of steppe horsed pastoralists in times for which we have narrative histories was made very early in the history of the discipline. I understand that Adolphe Pictet's work of 1859 already locates the Indo-European homeland in the steppes to the east of the Urals. Actually, the major questions and the most likely answers were formulated a very long time ago. We are in a postclassical age in that sense. The really new element today, or in the last 20 years, is the maturing of Russian-Ukrainian archaeology and the effective grasping of the subsoil archive of a cultural area which had few permanent settlements and which was of huge extent. This allows theories about the location of early Indo-Europeans in time and space - and in steppe excavations - to be made exact - so that they can be tested properly - so that we can reach some level of confidence in them. Renfrew famously pointed out that Dumézil never said, over 400 publications, where or when his beloved indo-Europeans lived. Anthony’s virtue is less originality than precision - because he can be proved wrong he can be proved right.
Even the link between the invention of riding and the spread of the new language was made very early - by Childe in 1926, if I am not mistaken. Childe's testament in 1957 recommends more research into this riding/Indo-European link. In all this time, no-one has ever produced a clinching reason why the Steppe Origin theory should be wrong. The rider is that, because nomads had no need for writing, records of languages spoken in the steppes are very late and there is no evidence in this region of a date relevant to the Indo-European dispersion.

22b. The Steppe pastoralist theory was not the consensus theory in the period 1890-1970. Why not? I think the reason is simply that so many scholars in the field were German nationalists, and they all wanted the Indo-Europeans to have come from Germany. This is the legacy problem with the Corded Ware theory - it was used by Kossinna in 1902 to relocate the Fore-Homeland to North Germany. The historic populations of Iran and North India would thus have migrated from Germany. Populations? actually just the ruling class, the 'bearers of culture'. But outside German and Austrian scholars of a deutschnational mentality, Steppe Origin was the most popular theory. There is nothing anticlassical about believing in it now.
My impression from reading Scherer's anthology of 'solutions' is that the language historians failed to produce a convincing result where there were no language records - so archaeology had to take over. Locating the 'Urheimat' at a point where both Europe and the Punjab were accessible was a speculation based on geography, and language history had nothing to say about it. A substantive account was held up by the inadequacies of Soviet archaeology - and followed the development of that discipline with the advent of prosperity in the Soviet Union. A further delay, probably, was due to a lack of knowledge of Russian among Western archaeologists.

23. The disappearance of all the old languages of Europe, with so few exceptions, is alarming. European history seems to open with the population surrendering their culture and folklore. Oral literature is bound to the language in which it is memorised and, from observation, tends to be lost when the speakers change their language. Translation is possible for some genres but not for others. Tunes would have survived, and musical instruments. Linguists are happy to sift through fragments of lost memory and detect possible non-Indo-European languages which survived to the threshold of literacy, towards 0 BC; to Basque, Estonian, Finnish we can possibly add Etruscan, Rhaetic, Iberian, and perhaps other, more shadowy, tongues and their speakers. But as literacy arrives and gives us historical narrative we see grand political events replacing one IE language with another. Thus, Latin became the speech of Iberia, but several of the languages it replaced there were already Indo-European, to be exact Celtic.
The demise of the Old European languages is a startling process. It calls for study and I can imagine people writing entire books about it in the future. There is no direct evidence for it but it is something we can use our leisure hours to think about. It seems like a remarkably thorough process. Every 'accepted idea' about peasants is that they are obstinate and conservative, they are the deposit of archaic words and customs. Somehow in the Bronze Age this was not true.

24. Anthony uses as his model (p.118-9) for people changing their language, in the phase of mixture between incoming steppe pastoralists and European farmers, in the Corded Ware period, a piece of research by the great Norwegian anthropologist Fredrik Barth. Barth (b.1928) did fieldwork (in the Fifties?) in Pakistan, among two groups speaking different languages: Pathan and Beluchi. The Beluchi were pastoral nomads, the Pathans cultivators. Barth recorded Pathan people who had lost land or position in their birth society moving over and becoming Beluchis. Among the Beluchis you could find sponsors who would become your patron and lend you cattle, acquiring you as a human asset without regard to genealogy. This cattle-herding society was more receptive to individuals and success in managing the herd could lead to a rapid rise in social status. Arable land was a non-elastic asset which was merciless for individuals who were born into the wrong family or lost inherited plots through misfortune. However, this does not show the peasants losing their language. Pushto is not dying out. The Pathans, or Pushtuns, are very numerous and over the past 30 years have been a major factor in world politics as the pool of recruits for the Taliban and the insurgency in Afghanistan. This model does not demonstrate the features which it is supposed to demonstrate. It does not illustrate a process by which a new Indo-European language could have spread over a more numerous peasant population.
Anthony's description of how one language could slowly take over the whole huge but interconnected Corded Ware area is convincing and has many features. But an observed model for this prehistoric process is missing. We know of dramatic processes in the Steppe world where huge areas were rapidly fused into one polity under the authority of successful khans, so that the whole Steppe world became a unity - above all a military one. The leaders were risk-takers and were rarely successful in the long run. Their followers were not at all loyal in the case of failure. The outcome, once such a heady unifier overreached and fell, seems to have been that the different ethnic groups were still speaking their own languages. The process of acculturation was much less rapid than the process of building allegiances. Yet, language shift did eventually follow the force lines of allegiances - 'dominant' languages did spread and 'absorb' client clans if the dominance lasted long enough.
Anthony is very good at explaining how the dynamic of wealth in stockbreeding may have produced a different kind of society in the semi-arid grazing lands. Flocks, in contrast to arable land, can be multiplied at great speed so long as you have access to grazing land. Military prowess may have guaranteed this access. The combination of mobility and of rapid accumulation of the basic asset of animals may have produced a much more fluid society in which, critically, client-patron relations partially replaced genealogical ones. Such a society had the potential for expansion - by flocks breeding, by migrating on horseback, and by acquiring new individuals or families by patronage. This last may have extended to taking over entire villages in what we would see as 'feudal' relations.

25. Dušan Boric (in Prehistoric Europe. Theory and Practice, edited Andrew Jones, 2008, p. 132) refers to 'Around mid-5th millennium cal. BC this continuous development [in Serbia] was temporarily disrupted in most of the areas covered by the Vinca and Tisza cultures of the central and north Balkans. It seems that this change is related to new cultural formations [...] from the upper reaches of the Tisza river. These mobile herders might have brought an end to some tell settlements, such as Vinca." Thus 'mobile herdsmen' were intruding into Vinca Culture cultivator lands in the mid-5th millennium BC. They were 'mobile' by foot power, because there were no riding horses at that date. They could not be Indo-European at this early date (following Anthony’s analysis). They came from the north-east - the Hungarian plains, roughly. This unexpected 'preview' of the Indo-European expansion perhaps shows us a social-military technique being developed - perhaps by 2500 BC this was a piece of political knowledge which the steppe chieftains were thoroughly familiar with. Any such early intrusion leaves the possibility that parts of the peasant world, in east or south-east Europe, may already have spoken Indo-European dialects prior to 3000 BC.
The history of peasant: pastoralist contacts over a long border (in the Danube-Dniepr area) was very long even before the Yamnaya-era expansion which Anthony is describing. In particular, Anthony explains the Anatolian languages (Hittite and Luwian) as the record of an expansion from the (eastern) steppe world well before the arrival of horse-riding and the wheel. This accounts for the puzzling relations between Hittite and related Anatolian languages and the 'classical' Indo-European languages and their verb structure (and so on). Archaeologists frequently read these contacts as pastoral intrusion onto settled cultures, with raiding and violence.
Because we have pastoral groups on flat and grassy areas of Europe so early, the Indo-Europeans would have had to contest these resource niches and displace (or absorb?) the earlier pastoralists. In the model, the key innovations of horse riding and wheeled transport were the advantage which made this possible.

26. The Danish archaeologist (working in Sweden) Kristian Kristiansen produced a map (in ‘Europe before History‘) which shows 8 culture areas in Europe in the Bronze Age. This is a major work of synthesis and such generalisation is the product of a vast amount of detailed work. It is irresistible to try to match these up with the language groups recorded much later, as writing arrives in these parts. The matching is interesting because it is not obvious, the fit is intriguing but not good. Cunliffe’s ‘Celtic from the West’ theory says simply that the ’Atlantic zone’ on this map is the homeland of Celtic, i.e. of a language ancestral to Gaelic and Welsh. Scholarship up until 2001 or so placed a Celtic language in the Hallstatt-La Tène area, which following Cunliffe we now think was the product of an eastwards migration of the Gauls, the one recorded by historians like Livy. The preceding language in the region of Bavaria and Austria was therefore not Celtic. So what language was spoken in the ‘North Alpine’ culture area in the Bronze Age? We seem to have lost this one. It looks like carelessness on a grand scale. But inscriptions from this area are remarkably few. Logically, therefore, it could have been the home of a non-Indo-European language for which we have no testimony. The testimony we have is Celtic and this may well be late and intrusive.
The culture zone located in south and eastern Spain may match up with a language known from inscriptions and referred to as ‘Iberian’. It was non-Indo European. So perhaps this culture zone was non-IE in the Bronze Age and perhaps it, too, represents a surviving language of Old European peasants.
Otherwise, three of the zones on the map can be fitted quite comfortably onto the areas of Germanic, Italic, and Greek. There is a ‘Nordic’ zone and a ‘Lusatian’ culture area, either of which could be the area of Germanic. If Germanic is the 'Nordic' culture region - then Lusatian is something else.
The ‘Carpathian-Danubian’ zone is problematic in terms of our grasp of the later languages of this area, which we think were diverse - Illyrian, Dacian, Thracian, etc. The evidence of say 0-500 AD is very poor and the languages died after that, so it is not surprising if the matching does not work very well. Few scholars would accept that this was a single language area, even though a single culture area. Perhaps we are saying that the Balkans were already balkanised.
I think that there is considerable room for further speculation about the relation of these cultural realms and boundaries to linguistics - which I look forward to.

27. Some scholars suggest that Rhaetic, spoken in perhaps east Switzerland, Austria, and the Veneto, was a non-Indo-European language. Wikipedia says:

>>Raetic (also Rhaetic, Rhaetian) is an extinct language spoken in the ancient region of Raetia in the Eastern Alps in pre-Roman and Roman times. It is documented by a limited number of short inscriptions (found through Northern Italy and West Austria) in two variants of the Etruscan alphabet. Its linguistic categorization is not clearly established, and it presents a confusing mixture of what appear to be Etruscan, Indo-European, and uncertain other elements.<< (from:

One line of opinion says that Etruscan was not a migratory language from the Aegean, but an old European language - and that it was part of a family with Rhaetic. So this is another candidate for survivals of the pre-Indo-Europeans. Perhaps it was the language of the Bronze Age North Alpine realm, and of the bearers of the Hallstatt culture? the evidence is minute. But we have speculation to fall back on.

28. Anthony describes a cluster of five terms to do with vehicles which can only date from the invention of the wheel. Fortson adds another, the word ‘nave’. The word in this list which means ‘pole’ or ‘wagon shaft’ has a descendant in English, the word ‘oar’ - I suppose this means ‘long wooden member used for transmitting energy for propulsion’. It does not mean part of a wagon, though. It is the coherence of this group of words which is convincing. Darden adds another, the one for 'harness' which appears in Hittite as turijo. He discusses this one but is not convinced.
As an afterthought, a comment on the incompetence of European archaeologists before carbon-14. Archaeology arose from the study of antiquities of the parish, a matter of local pride. As it matured, it involved intense and rather muddy engagement with particular local sites. Most of the profession were very attached to the sites and the finds. The number of people who got into long-distance comparisons was quite few, and I think this accounts for the flimsiness of some of the theories which unified data across great distances. For example, in the 1920s Childe was possibly the only archaeologist in Britain who knew a whole range of European languages and had the energy to read, every year, publications from most of the continent and to form them into syntheses. Indeed, archaeologists in different countries did not use an 'international' nomenclature, so that the same phenomena in different regions were written up using quite different descriptive names, and comparison was and is rather difficult.

29. Anthony cites an article named 'Pokhovannya dobi eneolitu-ranu bronze na pravoberezhzhi Pivdenno Bugu'. The Pivdenno means 'south (the South Bug river), and corresponds to Russian 'polden'. The word means 'midday' (etymologically 'full day'), and south is the position of the sun at midday - in Polish, 'midnight' also means 'north'. This article must be in Ukrainian. The correspondence between Russian pol and Ukrainian piv is bewildering but is a feature of many words. This is why the find-site is 'Tovsta Mohila' and not 'Tolstaya Mogila'. Anthony is willing to read articles in Ukrainian - this is how high the bar is, I'm afraid. I saw a posting which argued that because evidence for something was not on the Internet there was no evidence. I think this is a pathological error. Very little of the evidence or the arguments in historical linguistics is on the Net. To get with the Steppe Theory, you need to read recent archaeology published in Russian and Ukrainian. At a pinch you could spare the Ukrainian. People who do not have access to university libraries may find this exclusive - it shuts them out. Anthony’s work is available in paperback, in English, and it transmits the results of an immense amount of archaeology from east of the Bug.
This set of circumstances also justifies me writing amateur notes that can be read on the Net.
(Darden quoted from his paper in Robert Drews, ed., Greater Anatolian and the Indo-Hittite Language Family , 2000)

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Critique of ‘Failure of Conservatism’

This is a re-visit to a book composed circa 1993-5 and published in 2003, in case my views had moved so far in the intervening years that I had to denounce or un-say parts of FCon. I revisited some key concepts in ‘The Long 1950s’. This note is probably of zero interest unless you have read both the books already.

Writing The Long 1950s, some 17 years after ‘FCon’, I was actively trying to promote material I’d missed in that final book. I thought to re-read FCon and see if the text actually needed correction on any points. These are the notes I made. The Long 1950s (published 2012) is about the mainstream and good mainstream poets and FCon was in part a critique of the mainstream - and of conservatives rejecting all the innovations that floated up after 1960.

As a first move, let me point out that the ‘shopping list’ of excellent and indispensable books of poetry in FCon was expanded by about 40 books over the years (and that the expanded list is on this site somewhere). What was the problem? Ignorance. Sheer ignorance. But then... I did some work.

The 7 volumes (of the complete work on modern British poetry) represent ‘massive simultaneity’, as the first volume goes through a chronology and the others linger inside the same time-span but report on different poets and stylistic areas. It was possible though that adding so much data undermined the generalisations which appear from time to time in volume 1 (FCon).

p.47-8 The line of argument foregrounds the Movement too much. The energies of literary conservatism don’t lend themselves to bagging up together as a ‘movement’. Also ‘the Movement’ rubric clearly includes work by John Holloway (The Landfallers) and Anthony Thwaite which I actually like. Not for the last time, I focused on an anthology (New Lines) too much and didn’t manage to blank it out and look for other things from roughly the same area of the sky, less highly lit but much more interesting. Things that seize the attention can paralyse the attention.
Eric Homberger sums up the period 1947-61 as one of Formalism, and this is a better label as it also allows for the good poetry in that style. In around 1961 things were changing and the people who wrote that sort of poetry moved on to a freer style.

p.57 At one point there was a chapter on Scottish poetry which got cut to bring the book within a feasible length. I put it on the web at So it would have been more sensible to show material on George Mackay Brown and Edwin Morgan before getting into some minor poets.

p.177 "the last 16 years really have been dominated by poetry without characteristics." This generalisation misses out the good bits. Connect this with, at p.229-30, me making more generalisations about the run of the mill output of vacuous pop and banal academic poetry. The ‘dominated’ statement is a cop-out because there is always tons of bad poetry. It is sensible to point the microphone to where something musical is to be heard - in this case I missed the chance to label a group of ‘post modern’ writers such as Ash, John Hartley Williams, Reed, Kuppner, Crawford. They weren’t typical but it is fair to view them as a sound belonging to the 80s & opening up new possibilities. They 'dominate' because they were so good.
What I don't get into is whether this group took over the 'lead role' from the Underground in around 1980-3 as the Underground was in such disarray and the 'post-modern' group were so much more able to reach the reading public through the usual gatekeepers. The question of decline in the Underground fascinates me. I have never published about this because I can't make my mind up about it. However I would welcome debate on this point. I think the office of 'lead role' has disappeared. But perhaps it was still there in 1974- and the convulsive struggles of the next three or four years were a symptom of this office dissolving, pouring out its strength and confidence.

p.240 This list misses ‘mine field’ by Judith Kazantzis, 1977, which was possibly the first full-length book of feminist poetry.

p. 243 These figures are interesting but the point that the share of women writers in new books being published went up from some 12% in the 1950s to about 50% in 2010 or adjacent years is utterly missing here. I didn’t have that figure in 1995 or even in 2003. Working up these summative figures is hard work and the sources I found were unproductive. The books listed here stop in around 1985. It would also have been logical to include a chapter about women poets here. But it just didn’t occur to me.

p.252 ‘the poetic mainstream did not increase in complexity’. Again, I think I was dazzled by some essentially unproductive foreground phenomena and ignored much more valuable cultural creations hiding behind them. However much dumbing-down took place, every day, the mainstream publishing outlets did expand to include poets like John Hartley Williams and the range of poetry on offer did become more complex.

p.253 This does not mention the (Anglo)Welsh Underground - a wondrous cluster of poets to whom John Goodby and I dedicated a whole issue of Angel Exhaust magazine in 2010. Issue 22. A revelatory research project. How regrettable that this earlier survey, at page 253 and on, failed to mention Paul Evans, Graham Hartill, Harry Guest, and so on. I was relying on certain anthologies from the region which for reasons we can’t go into here left out the innovative poets. Knowledge of the modern poets in Wales only followed extensive reconnaissance on the ground and penetration of elite rural networks of poets by high-risk face to face work - twenty years later. We more or less lurked in Hay on Wye and Llangattock, hiding round corners and ambushing people.
The problem is roughly - (a) you read a survey anthology full of stupid poems, made by some utter jerk (b) you conclude that the jerk didn’t leave out a few dozen brilliant poets. Sheer idiocy!

p. 317 We have to ask why I came back to the question of ‘period style’ in Long 1950s and had to write again about the period 1980-97 to get it right. FCon has a chapter about what happened in the 90s but I had already published a book (Legends of the Warring Clans: the poetry scene in the 90s) which described a large number of 90s books without generalisations. Then I rewrote the story of this period in 'The Long 1950s'. I kept coming back because I didn't have an overview of the period - it is too close in time and too decentralised stylistically. In fact the watchword 'balkanisation' retains its validity.

Another question is whether FCon increased polarisation in the scene - a significant error when the theme of ‘The Long 1950s’ and to some extent ‘The Council of Heresy’ was depolarisation. But my feeling is that it’s not contemporary enough to infuriate people, it deals with the recent past which has already slipped into a colder, more rational, territory for us all. Also, fruitless arguments are fuelled by ignorance and misunderstanding, and FCon provides floods of information. This is the significant thing, and it is what historians are supposed to provide.

Note 2016. This is a critique of the first edition and the second edition will change everything. It definitely contains a lot more information. The first edition dates roughly to 1995 and new information has arrived.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Long Poem of the 1970s

A feature of the 1970s was the migration into long poems. The semantic context of short poems appeared to the new sensibility as shallow, conventional, and frustrating. The stalls of the time were full of A4 stapled-photocopied books which always seemed to be instalments of something even larger. The magazines were full of “extracts from works in progress” which were only partial disclosures of a glimpsed but unimaginable whole, only sequences of a few frames from an energy wave running on the idea that history itself was changing all the time. The open project seemed to give the poet a better chance of controlling this rush forward – and so expressed a revolutionary faith in guiding the wave of change towards a better society. The impulse came largely from the USA, where open poems taking decades to write offered a monumental challenge that seemed to raise the standards of poetic art.

The underground came into being because the mainstream structures failed to support the way poetry was moving. It made extra demands on space and funding, and the restrictions came to be emotive issues. The difficulties which editors and publishers put in the way of long poems demonstrate that there was a huge creative pressure to write in this way, The age of long poems came to an end – but no-one has ever said to me that they got fed up with the long poems. I have the impression that the logical development of poetry into long structures was checked by the budget problems of harassed editors – the underground could not afford it all. It attracted too many writers, not enough readers.

Since reviewers were unable to judge the complete works from the instalments, it is appropriate to revisit them now seismic activity has stopped. There has been no comparative study of these impressive poems. The period is one of mystery. There are no reliable anthologies, no textbook, no consensus. Few of the poems have been reprinted since the 1970s. Their extent pushes us back from confident conclusions; this constellation of undefined relationships between poems continues the novelty and uncertainty of the relationship of parts within the poems, which offer themselves as suggestive nontransparent spaces.

We presume that the genesis of such works is slow, and so that changes to their design occur slowly; there may have been a dip in mid-century where poets were uncertain of how to write long poems, faced with the collapse of traditional genres (narrative, verse drama, sonnet sequence). The emergence of these works at this moment, 1968-75, may be simply due to an exceptional economic conjuncture, the end of the post-war “30 year boom”. This is also why works from a much earlier period, by Hendry and David Jones, came into print at this moment; Faber had not published a new book by Jones in 22 years up to The Sleeping Lord. His work came out decades after it was written. That is, the milieu could acquire work orphaned by past eras and conjure it into life.

The short poem can challenge social and semantic structures by omitting them (as pop poetry did), but cannot demonstrate new ones. The motive for the long poem was probably, therefore, a state of conjecture and uncertainty, where the organisation of personal and collective behaviour was up in the air, as part of revolutionary social change. A key factor is then the reader’s capacity (singular and collective) for dealing with incomplete forms. Perhaps they define them as improperly formed, and reject them, with a businesslike snap. Perhaps waiting for a long time amounts to despair and disillusion. And perhaps the incomplete is an object of optimism and fascination. To give up completeness is also a renunciation of authority. The reader’s rules for treating uncertainty certainly dictate the quality of their experience when reading these conjectural poems. The end of the bar line?

We can get to a common theme in very concise form by considering the notion of the liminal as described by Victor Turner in a series of works (perhaps first in a 1964 paper). In certain rites, peoples go back to a fore-time where classiifications break down and a primeval unity is restored. People partake of communitas, where social roles and classes break down. These moments often take place in wild places, where there is no ownership, no property divisions, and no marks of human labour; they are marked by pure liquids, such as water or blood. Actions in these states partake of flow, that is they are fully formed, instant, and there is no such thing as mistakes. Often, the creation and first appearance of categories is recited there - and creation myths may belong to liminal rites.

These are called liminal states because they are rites de passage, on the threshold (limen) between two social statuses.

My impression is that the short poem is an adaptation to external pressure and hostility. The idea that a shorter poem is better is a stage towards the idea that no poetry at all is best, which was the underlying drive of the mass media. People who hate poetry give you five minutes, grudgingly, to deflect criticism, and you fit into the slot irrespective of what the design of the poem itself demands. The long poem is a seizing of autonomy, a protest against the marginalised and numbered conditions of the poem in the media. But also, pop music was shifting away from the single and towards the album at the end of the sixties; it seems that poetry may have been in line with mass taste in changing to longer forms, and even that the greater subjectivity allowed by the album forced poetry to go deeper in order to compete.

The reason for the increasing innovation, depth, and complexity of art in the 1970s is not hard to find. Walter Laqueur named his book on the international politics of the period A Continent Astray: the power structure had lost its grip, basic relationships were changing, and radical groups were powerful and courageous. The proof of this is the pessimistic state of the Cold War conservatives, really anticipating shifts of power which would weaken the grip of the rich over the economy, the military build-up, the political consensus, or industrial discipline. It makes sense to talk about “the system”, because an alternative was right outside the door, and really seemed about to walk in and take over. There was an alternative everything. Poets escaped the reach of banal judgments either by involution, the development of radical styles, or by extension, giving the poem more duration, allowing more complex semantic configurations. Both of these tended to lose the reader who did not have the same level of openness and adaptability.

Precision is only a meaningful concept if you can compare the poem, or the line, with a preset, agreed, fixed idea. The idea that precision is better is a variant of the idea that poems should exactly resemble the accepted generalisations of the era, and should not be original or critical. In modern times, the question is really whether the poet’s poems match their own aesthetic, and are precise in that sense.

The interest of long poems is partly that the relationship of the parts of a length of social process is explicit in them, rather than us having to rely on construction of several texts; and partly that the taxonomical chapter was about anthologies, and so dealt exclusively with short poems.

If a social structure is not dramatised and questioned in the work of an individual poet, it may nonetheless appear around or before the book we hold in our hands, in the shape of stylistic decisions whose end result is the text. If the geometry of a cultural matrix is truly shared, then a fragment of it implies the whole; it is possible for poets to make statements about social relations within the stylistic plane. Reflexive poets attuned to this regard with contempt poets who are not. The question for us is whether any of the reflexive poets are working with more than a highly organised narcissism, the skill of a couturier, or whether they are addressing something outside themselves— the space within which language is spoken, or the rules by which social action is ordered.

Style can become a social logic, recording a social vision of short distances as a narrative records a social vision of large-scale events. Instamatic Poems (by Edwin Morgan) is a transitional point between a narrative and a poem whose subject is its own point of view; the poems in it are playing a shared game but have no unity of scene or situation. This game unity could reflect a poet's temperament, but is for the ultra-sophisticated Morgan a deliberate break with the (personal and social) past in the form of a set of rules, i.e. almost a naked social structure. We can distinguish between a style psychotope and a narrative psychotope:

style (static; self-referential; one person only; cannot engage in test and conflict; selfconscious)
narrative (changeable; deals with a shared reality; unpredictable; not self-fulfilling; exposes characters to test and conflict, to learning experiences )

Style is differentiated and unified in the same way that a narrative is, but populated not by characters but by figures or distinctive features. It reproduces its own internal memory whenever the style re-appears; this context of interpretive rules can also flow from one author to another.

High Zero, by Andrew Crozier (1978) tnbp3, CC, AVA 37 pp.

It was suggested to me that the title refers to both Striking the Pavilion of Zero, by John James, and High Pink on Chrome, by JH Prynne; the book is dedicated to these two poets. The theme, for this commentator, is of reproach to those two stalwarts of the Cambridge Communist Party. When I interviewed the poet, he denied this - he had Prynne and James in mind as poets he felt close to. Zero remains, reassuringly, a low figure. In fact, the two poems at the start and end of High Zero are transformations of two poems from the named works (by Prynne and James, respectively). The seven-line poem which completes High Zero is a reprise of the seven-line poem "May Day Greetings 1971" which completes Striking the Pavilion of Zero. Similarly, a 20-line poem starts High Zero and answers the 20-line poem which ends High Pink on Chrome. Crozier mutates Prynne's lines -

The float is criminal; access by
blood spread, dimercaprol 200 mg.
Dead right you are as you bleed
for what you see and what you do.


It would flout its law
saturation by the contents spread anecdotally (BAL).
Shored up together as you breathe
you hear the brain stay tuned to you.

The 'tuned' bit must refer to two people in a bed breathing to the same rhythm. BAL is 'British anti-Lewisite', a poison gas (also connected to breathing, I suppose). All that seems to be a keynote is the reference to the sun looking "as if it were a lamp of earthly flame", which the cultural context (of the two poets mentioned) suggests to us is the introduction of phenomenology: the relation of perception to the physical limits of the perceiver, the law that the qualities of new perceptions are detected by what they resemble, the use of known quantities to describe, by means of a reference frame, unknown quantities. The sun is too bright ("over-exposed") to see clearly. "But/ in shock, rare gases leave their stain to/ burn its bright sign on everything.": the gases are neon and its relatives, within bulbs, fluorescent. The poet has explained that the work is in fact a composite of different voices, expounding different ideas, where no line is the direct voice of the poet.

Apart from the first and last poems, the work consists of 24 24-line poems, and as this implies there is a grid structure, with horizontal relationships between poems being as important as sequential ones. The poet has explained that he wrote all the first lines, then all the second lines, and so on. He was interested in the quality of visual art whereby all parts of the work are simultaneous, a total set of relationships; the poem is related to the conceptual art of the time, interrogating the physical nature of the medium of art and using arbitrary processes to produce results outside conscious control.

The fourth stanza says "The evolution of the principle optic/content is an illusion."
"Principle" is some kind of weird pun; there is an allusion to a quote from JD Bernal, in the 1930s, remarking on the limits of human perceptual equipment, and how a range of new senses would complete our understanding of the universe. Again, the point is that we are limited by our biological equipment: we are biased towards the visible because our eyes are so acute, but what we see is not simply "the world" but only what light (from the sun) bounces off, and information in other spectra we simply pass over. This is also a version of 'The development of the main body cavity/ is more obscure'.

'And for ever and a day runs on/ at arm's length, held with scents/ too vivid to see: beneath/ the reckless apex of that hope." I believe this refers to the continuing experience of life, within reach of the dense clusters of nerve-ends; invested with hope. The existential situation of the poet is limited in space and accuracy (by the limits of perceptual equipment), but indefinite in time.

It would take too long to summarise the whole 26-page sequence in these terms. Instead, we will talk at a higher level. The poem is obstinately domestic, physically sited in the poet's home; it refers frequently to phenomenological themes, and the static quality of the setting may relate to the exhibition of physical limits, which the movement of the perceiving organism tends to blur, since after all we move to overcome the frustration of standing still. The skin is the margin which decides you from now on. The theme also involves continuity, in fact circularity: the seasonal cycle is "the whole spectrum/ in a retained sequence/ beginning nowhere". While this is a more thorough description of the sun's course than a momentary one, it is also the mapping of an infinite figure. (I thought the "high zero" is perhaps the apparent circle described by the sun, but Crozier denied this in interview.) The other poets talk about the origins of English society, but Crozier denies the existence of an origin, and of a "before". His world ends at a horizon. The movement of the discourse is from one voice to another, "I have High Zero as a kind of theatre in which certain knockabout characters can be rapidly led on and led off.", although there is also a cycle of observations, i.e. of solar light.

Gases are a repeated theme (for example, the fluorescent bulbs, BAL, and air bubbles on the stalks of irises in a vase). I do not quite see why this is. To be sure, anything visible is part of the investigation. There may be a reference to the chemical senses (based on osmosis), which other animals rely on so much more than us, but I can't confirm this. The shapeless nature of fluids and liquids bears a special relationship to the definition of shapes and relative sizes by light, which the poem also seems to offer us; perhaps the transition from the unbounded to the bounded is the subject matter, with the implication that it is never completed. We can perhaps divide intellectual English poems of the period into those concerned with the origin of knowledge in light and those interested in the origin of categories in language.

One section (that beginning "there they were surrounded/ by their infidelities") describes a street demo, seen rather scornfully ("consciousness raised like a/ speculative loan"). The politics of this are fraught, but the moment was clearly one where most of the former demonstrators had themselves become disillusioned with the effectiveness of their exhibition of principles. Philosophical poetry is better at exhibiting a symbolic truth. The proposals belong to "the list of recurrent solutions/ to problems of the modern world"; cyclicity is here seen as negative, whereas in the rest of the poem it is (apparently) reassuring. Section three also includes references, apparently negative, to the transformation of values.

Two sections (the 10th and 11th poems) seem to deal especially with the use of arbitrary measures which structure consciousness in the way that verticals and horizontals structure the space of a painting. A regular beat inside the nervous system allows one to time incoming signals: their periodicity is faster or slower than the beat. The echoes of footsteps allow us to measure the distance of the person who is walking: at any moment, there is only one echo, but we "hear" a whole series. Perception is different from the model, which is an intellectual thing; it relates the pause between the sound and the echo to a distance. Experience is thus structured by our models as much as by primary perception. The poem is not hopeful about the quality of our understanding of the world, but is optimistic in its curiosity.

The atmosphere of High Zero is intellectual but also instantaneous. The arbitrary limits of the work demand the ability to make impromptus. By taking on very recent poems by Prynne and James, the poet rejects the recession into deeply internal processes - and upholds the evanescent, social nature of conversation.

Construing a conceptual work as though it is an autobiographical one is a classic way of misreading everything. Not only Crozier, but also Allen Fisher, use formal procedures to guide their poetry. I have had discussions about the possibility of publishing collections of procedures, in order to get across to readers the idea that poets may not just be remembering things that happened to them one day. The purpose of using procedures may be too complex to explain - let's just say that it was in the air in the 1970s, and it was hard to resist trying it out.

My sole companion in the forest: Ancestor Worship, by Emyr Humphreys 32 pp.
removed for book publication

Change: a Prospectus, by Tony Lopez (1978) 23 pp. Angels, CC, tnbp4

This is one of the famous A4 stapled photocopied productions of the era. Several of the poems are prefaced with hexagrams, and the overall design nods to the Book of Changes, used for divination (with yarrow stalks). The cover shows a sky full of birds migrating. So our state is one of wondering about the future. In 1978, this meant wondering about the transition to socialism. The poems can be used for divination. There are 20 poems, which, although there is no explicit articulation between them, all relate to the theme of revolutionary change. Poem 2 describes a journey for which there is no map and the problem of coming home. Poems 5 and 6 describe the exploitation (of everybody, presumably) by the Church and the landowners, while telling us that the primary producers can see, not only the parasitical upper classes, but also the future. The book is as it were a negative image from which we have to develop the real subject of the poem: we are about to put out to sea, and the memories we have of life inland are drifting away from us - the real point is life on the further shore, which the book never reaches. The real subject is a pristine, radiant, featureless circle - the future society, which it is our task as readers to imagine. The lack of explicit, classifying discourse leaves us with complete freedom intact. This is a moment of perfect balance where we can sum up our true wishes and our true understanding of how the world works. We could describe the language of the book as a deliberate withdrawal from the historically particular and from categories; everyday experience is being peeled away so that we can see time yet to come in its full extent. Because the new society will be so different from the existing one, the resemblances will be only the most basic and unchanging elements of human social order - this is how the timeless gets into the poem (although this withdrawal can also be defined as a liminal process).

The third and fourth poems discuss coinage, a theme which appears in a number of poems of the time. Perhaps the idea is that something went wrong with the invention of money, the whole commodity circulation system being imperfect at mediating between needs and productive forces.

Poem 7 is a report on a text whose true form cannot be recovered and which may not have existed, as it was a living thing. This is an attack (one of hundreds in modern poetry) on organised knowledge: where government and corporations (and the professions?) rely on formal records as valid memory, to attack the documents and their relation to the original event, is to disqualify the authorities who control social process. Along with the attack on the pricing mechanism, this composes an attack on the information by means of which society reflects on itself - exposing the arbitrary under the rational.

Poems 14 to 16 describe simple, Neolithic skills (hurdle making, digging for wasp-grubs and tubers, villeins covering themselves in lard to keep the winter cold out, storage of root crops underground for protection from microorganisms) seem to anticipate a society with much less wealth but much more autonomy. This reflects a belief that we are trapped into collaboration with capitalism by false needs which we are taught by advertising. The author is probably also thinking of the need for a sustainable economy, because he talks about ecology and pollution in poem 19.

Poem 18 describes the migration to Britain when there was still a land bridge; the migration of the Germanic tribes across the North Sea. This is symbolically the foundation of English society - by a voyage through perilous waters, and of uncertain outcome. It recovers the history of the last fourteen centuries as the unexpected result of a previous collective risk - recalling that humans can launch into the unknown and don't have to just cleave to inherited customs.

Fox Running, by Ken Smith (published 1980) 22pp. tnbp3

We see Fox running through a city (London); just running. He is a wild creature misplaced, treating the city as if it were a wild place. He lives by scavenging and is hunted by dogs. He remembers "mountain ash and the wide sky". The fox is not the poet (who says "I've seen him"), but (apparently) a man-animal creature called Fox is the hero.
Fox writes in the margins of the one book he has left. He shows us a film show of someone long dead (Muybridge's experimental studies of motion?), bouncing a ball. Beginning and beginning over again; he recalls a marriage which broke up. He is perhaps out of bourgeois society because of grief; he makes a living but only from hand to mouth. He gets work as a barman. He remembers the days of love, repetitively thinks of suicide. He and his wife fought; he got a single ticket to the city. He is afraid of living lonely and dying alone; he doesn't want to die naturally, wants to die dramatically. He wants to keep running. In a borrowed room in Camden, he starts again from nothing. He is 40. He travels, in circles, drinks, signs on the dole and argues it out with the social security department. He sees his double on the underground. At midnight, high up in someone's house, he recovers from his wish to die (ambiguously); he listens on shortwave radio to American Forces Network, the English-language Radio Moscow, the police frequencies; until daylight. He imagines a nuclear war and the end of society. He remembers his wife and says, he was born to write but she made him what he is, a fox. He recalls being a dog, i.e. a good citizen with a home. He drifts again through the city, reading graffiti and playground rhymes. He becomes a crow for a stanza, possibly a reference to another Yorkshire poet. He chases his double and sees him killed by skinheads. The next ten pages, centring on the theme of Word but very loosely organised, seem to be about the search for a meaning to life to hold onto while imagining a lonely and seedy death, and experiencing it day by day. The focus spreads out from a particular day to a lifetime, from the concrete figure of Fox to anyone anywhere. He wanders around far-flung parts of London; applies for a variety of low-paid jobs, imagines a series of impoverished and rootless lives. A parodic flashback to a year zero, to (Neolithic?) "stonecutters" in moorland villages. He recalls men he knew of an older working-class generation, living in squalor. The death of Fox.

Despite the objective details, the drama is taking place in the head of the hero; there is no dialogue. Another modern trait: there is really no drama, and certainly no resolution. We can speculate that indeterminacy at the level of the individual line is a compensatory move to replace the uncertainty once delivered by having several characters interacting, now lost in monologue dramas. Another theme could be said to be the internalisation of guilt, often identified as a great English trait; Fox doesn't seem to be able to find anyone to blame; logically, his wife is to blame, but the other rule of the time is that women aren't to blame for anything, so we don't get that either, and he internalises that failure too. The lack of interest in any kind of politics is an example of privatisation, there are no events except personal ones.

The poem starts with an exit from society and ends with an exit from personal identity and a localised body as well. When Fox is listening to shortwave radio, he is a disembodied listener to floods of messages not meant for him, from which he is absent; the room is full of clocks showing different times; and it is midnight, outside the normal time of activity and sociality. It is difficult, in terms of conventional narrative or drama, to explain why Smith wants to reach this no-place, with its negation of oppositions. The key appears to lie in Victor Turner's theory of liminality. The liminal state explains why we might perhaps want to reach this no-place, and enjoy non-local information. The scene of someone listening to the radio in the middle of the night while thinking about the atomic bomb exactly repeats a scene in David Gascoyne's 1955 verse radio play, Night Thoughts. The scene showing the Neolithic parallels a moment in Tony Lopez's poem Change. In fact, the whole situation of Fox Running is someone on the edge of a new life - like Change. Dissociation opens a psychologically empty area which the mind naturally wants to populate with new associations. This energy aroused by negation is the vital force of the poem, the experience we enjoy while reading it. Smith's feeling is that any straight-ahead account of the breakdown of a marriage is going to arouse hostility and partisan identification which wreck the poem as much as they wrecked the marriage. One of the great themes, probably, of Western art in this period, say 1960-90, was the end of relationships - most intensely, the breakup of marriages. A fox relates to a dog as an unmarried man relates to a married (and civilised) man - this is the core image of the poem. Of course, the notion that the civilisation process could be reversed, and a marriage break up, is revelatory and tragic. Smith's special approach is to see the timeless as a zone of depression - the place you go during a nervous breakdown. We have this collective idea of the liminal - but its contents are deeply under-specified. Everyone knows about urban foxes, but no-one thinks foxes are really happy eating leavings from discarded fast-food containers, in the chill of 4 a.m., by the glow of sodium light.

It seems to me that there are higher level movements in the poem, as if soliloquies with a degraded argument structure, where the various lines are moving in the same direction. The arguments would be about trying to achieve dignity, about demonstrations of strength (to wipe away shame), and about social esteem. The whole poem is limited by Smith's paratactic sentence structure keeping us in a continuous present but avoiding synthetic judgments. The introduction of the Muybridge photographs is a 'self-showing', because Muybridge's instantaneous and discontinuous exposures added up to a continuous narrative; but photography can only show the present. Fox is in the situation he is in because of trauma - an event in the past, affecting him at a level which photography cannot show.

Ranter, by Barry MacSweeney (published 1985 but composed around 1979-81) 36 pp. tnbp3, CC 3

The book is divided into four sections: "Ranter", "Ranter's Reel", "Snipe Drumming", and "Flamebearer".
In the first section, the character Ranter is running around parts of Britain; he is seditious; he is chasing a lost love. A string of epithets qualifying Ranter points to the timeless nature of his revolt: they are drawn from 14th C, 17th C, 19th C, and then 15th C movements of lower-class revolt, so that the enemy is disembodied and the apparent contest of wills cannot take place. The poem is then wholly liminal, taking place somewhere where the rules of time and society have been suspended. (This may correspond, physically, to the high wastes of Northumbria, unpartitioned because they are useless for agriculture: they represent the pre-human landscape.) It is difficult, for this reason, to trace changes between the first page and the last. If anything is happening, it has to do with the woman he is missing; it is hard to relate the data about revolt to this, but presumably it serves to make Ranter glamorous, as a virile and defiant rebel hero, as an argument why she should come back. Myth comes in to replace sociology here. All the love story is recent, set in the 1970s, while none of the political stories is twentieth century. The name 'ranter' seems to refer to 'ranting and raving', to a radical religious group, seeking the overthrow of the social order, in the 1650s, and to a style of folk singing in Northumbria (cf. 'The Collier's Rant', and the folk group The High Level Ranters, punning on the name of the High Level bridge across the Tyne at Newcastle). MacSweeney almost certainly wants all of these meanings simultaneously. The resurrection of the Ranters came with Christopher Hill's The World turned Upside Down, a study of the most antinomian of radical groups in the Commonwealth period which found great favour among the antinomians of the 1970s. On page 6, Ranter listens to a radio broadcast in his skull from "Bede and Cuthbert", clerics from ancient Northumbria; and to Sweeney, a figure from an old Irish tale, whose feathered pelt Ranter seems to be wearing. Some passages may correspond to the original Sweeney's nature poetry. In the scela, Sweeney went mad in a kind of 'post-traumatic stress disorder' and left human society, to live in the treetops - a kind of negative liminal. Ranter is oppressed by militiamen or by the emperor Hadrian (who campaigned in the North early in the 2nd century AD). A mention of monks on Lindisfarne, a monastery with scriptorium representing Northumbrian cultural achievement. He hopes for his bride's attitude to soften. He has the powers of animals and is owner of the wild (p.11), a liminal place. People are oppressed and do not fight back. Memories (of married life?) in Woolwich. Another run of self-praise epithets. Drunk, he falls down the stair at an Underground station. More regrets. The Norman ravaging of the North, AD 1069 - an example of peripheral revolt put down by centralised violence. French words are a bad thing. He lives out of doors, in the hedges.

In "Snipe Drumming" the situation seems to be the same. His bride speaks, how poor she found Newcastle to be. The 'drumming' is male courtship behaviour, a non-vocal acoustic display which we can easily link to 'ranting' among humans.

In "Ranter's reel", (reel, a kind of dance), he makes a journey across the Northumbrian fells. Wild things are being hunted. It is his fiefdom. The bitterness of the poor, across all history. He is a figure of resistance to the powerful, and a bird. A threat to the powerful that their reign is coming to an end or reeling. Reel has associations with drink, unsteadiness, the loss of reason, high excitement, which make it akin to ranting. The next section is called "The Flamebearer" after a character, in Welsh Fflamddwyn, who was an Angle fighting against the Britons in perhaps 600 AD; the theme of Anglo-Saxons versus Britons appears again. He appears in those old Welsh poems as an object of terror. Ranter, himself the destroyer of a household, remembers making love and regrets. Pages 37-40 are spoken by the bride, regretting how things went wrong; symbolically, the assertions fall silent and the woman's voice takes over. Her speech is more coherent and continuous than his. She refers to him as a bully. The power relations within the poem have been reversed, the boastful male central speaker is now the subject of the poem's speech, an object of judgment.

Ranter differs from the other poems discussed here in that it not only sees force as the adjudicator of history but also feels willing to take on the "ruling class" on terms of force. The local structure resembles, perhaps, the blues: simple stylised units, frequently repeated, in no particular order, without explicit links, but internally very highly motivated, so that the wholes can easily be guessed. The whole reminds one of an Irish poem "The Lament for Art O'Leary" (in An Duanaire 1600-1900, edited by Sean O'Tuama), except that the praise epithets addressed by the widow to dead Art are here addressed by Ranter to himself. (The duckdown at p.38 may actually come from the lament as translated by Thomas Kinsella, eiderdown being a more everyday way of putting it.) This boasting is another feature of blues lyrics. The bird persona can be compared to Muddy Waters' little red rooster (and to the phrase 'free as a bird'). The word cloakclasp (occurring 9 times) refers to a penannular brooch, a very prominent item of adornment of the Gaelic gentleman, of which there are many in the National Museum in Dublin and not a few in the National Museum in Edinburgh; MacSweeney has seized on the bright and showy things, to make something with an endless series of high spots. The accessibility to the poem of historical moments scattered over 2000 years shows that we are in a liminal place: no particular time, all-time. The location is essentially Northumberland. The metahistorical schema comes essentially from EP Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, itself a projection of Soviet schemas of history, and epic history-writing, onto stubbornly un-cooperative English source material. The poet seized the core emotional situation and discarded the clogging detail and documentation. The use of Celtic and blues schemas helps to give 'structural' material a personal, heroic, focus, miraculously restoring it to narrative and flow.

The Bloodshed, the Shaking House, by Martin Thom 46 pp. (A4, photocopied typescript, stapled)
(published 1977 but dated 1974 in the text)

The first section is called "The Bloodshed the Shaking House", and opens with a dream about watching a 1950s TV set showing a town in Portugal where all the men are absent fighting colonial wars. It is an influencing machine. At the beginning of the dream, the speaker sees men and women in a corridor, on all fours, playing a kind of game of chess in which they are the figures. I think this chess game is a way of visualising the social order: where our actions draw their significance from their visibility to other people, within a set of conventions which are like a game (chess for example), so that we are simultaneously conscious of our bodies and intentions from within, and of the part they play as pieces in a game visible to others. This is very helpful in thinking about social systems - which involves in a similar double image. The significance of the passage is that it condenses something abstract and reflexive into something visual and immediate, which we can process with our visual imagination: what might be a key for Thom is the total emotional involvement in scientific enterprises (anthropological and psycho-analytical, mostly), so that the poet is talking about complex abstract ideas in a primary discourse. We can recognise this as the state of flow which Czikszentmihalyi spoke of: the poet is walking fluently through a landscape where ideas have become visible. This is what we are granted in dreams; and is perhaps how people's minds work when they are about to make breakthroughs in anthropology. I feel especially close to this, because I have spent so long trying to put social experience into conceptual form, which can be manipulated in the mill of thought; the idea of someone simultaneously living in their own mind and body, and moving in a chess game, was terribly exciting.

The influencing machine (Beeinflussungsapparat) comes from the 1914 account by the psychoanalyst Viktor Tausk of one of his cases. It is something in much the shape of a human body, containing inner works, which influence people, in a kind of broadcast. It had human organs which acted like switches, controlling feelings in her, identical, human organs. This puts in visual form the dependence of humans on other humans: our states of mind are dependent on other people's states of mind. Even the central process of art can be thought of as a kind of influencing technology, whereby the artist's state of mind is transferred to the spectator. Again, a wonderfully vivid concrete image for an invisible process. But this is not a rational construction, it is the product of a Croat schizophrenic, Natalija A, Tausk's patient. No-one has an identity wholly screened off from other people's wishes and beliefs, but Natalija, as a schizophrenic, had no protective screening at all, and this is what she was expressing in this great image. Most people have some sense of agency about their feelings, as acts which are partly involuntary and partly participatory; Natalija experienced her own feelings as alien imperatives, events happening inside her over which she had no control. That is - she was like a piece being moved in a game only, not simultaneously feeling ownership of her actions and sensations. The TV is an 'influencing machine' because it tells people what to do and feel. The rest of the poem can be seen as a sequence of images on the TV screen; it can also be read as an account of a phase in Thom's life, but one where most of the material is drawn from his study of anthropology, psychoanalysis, and myth. I know nothing about the later history of this patient, but her ability to shape telling images deserves proper credit. Thom's use of this imagery produced by mental disturbance is a crossing of deep barriers which explains, also, how he has got from academic study of anthropology (and then of psychoanalysis) to poetry. The discontinuity between The Bloodshed and earlier English poetry comes from his decision to use the full extent of his intellectual knowledge within the poem. The subject matter is, to be sure, ordinary human emotions and domestic relationships (the 'House' of the title), but the conceptual framework in which they are seen is wholly unfamiliar, because it embodies the efforts of a century of anthropologists to break out of Christian-capitalist mythology and think about how societies are organised, how subjective wishes knock into the complex symbolic games which all societies set up. At the same time, it is possible to take the flow of The Bloodshed simply as a sequence of scenes, fully realised and held together by an internal complexity and richness of relationship, which we participate in - while the idea of what does it mean to participate? what are our desires? is a kind of music to be heard on one part of the stage.

There are problems in paraphrasing the dream episodes in the later sections. I think this is partly because they are too uncategorised and delicate to put into recognisable terms; and partly because the paraphrase always seems to take longer than the poem. One page reads, in its entirety:

still human in the

net imagination

closely drawn, pinned with gold structures
an aereal cluster hanging

'no more strife' in five tongues, more
and more
in the dual relation
no one leaves

the princess slept here
her head
on and on
through the savage
side of her bed
and the iron flanks of
the mystical horse, her father
to birth in fields

wet with the dew metaphor
and swimming against time to our birth in her You who are full of things
and stand dry as tinder
living in sunlight
cannot go ever
fire tongue out

This is not an explanation of something else, but something that needs explaining. Perhaps this is the start of a new set of myths, setting loose further cascades of collection, explanation, and exegesis. It could be the constructivist product of montage from 5 or 6 texts, subtly joined - or a report of a dream, governed by the primary process, and using the identical principle of montage and onward flow. The whole sequence of The Bloodshed cannot be summarised, but possesses a fine flow, a kind of delirium in which we fly over the Eurasian uplands and lowlands, never losing impetus and never repeating effects.

Thom can be compared with Tom Lowenstein, not just because both trained as anthropologists but also because their poems have a comparable detachment from arrangements specific to 20th C Europe, an equal willingness to talk about the deep patterns of human behaviour, and an equal openness to myth.

Reference to the quoted passage shows clearly a liminal condition. The features which the reader finds most difficult - the absence of a concrete situation, the deletion of everyday purposive activity, the suspension of realistic limits, the timeless setting full of eternal and founding objects - are the most clearly linked to this condition. Indeed, the setting of the poem at the level of the most generalised ideas - about how the mind works, about how humans relate to each other - and simultaneously at the level of mythical actions and processes, shows how ideas and myths are related; natives of a liminal landscape.

Geographical crystal: Stane (being Place book 3) by Allen Fisher, (published 1977, as 'drafted 31.12.75') 100 columns with two columns per page [Angels; CC tnbp3)

The general drift of Place is to break down the polarisation of objective and subjective knowledge. The other parts are, so far as I know, Place Book One, Hooks, Eros:Father:Pattern, Docking, "Convergences, in Place, of the Play", Unpolished Mirrors, and Becoming. The project accepts that the observer is part of the observation, and details a vast number of inner sensations, perception of the outside world, and processes which occur in both media at once. Place is considered both as an influence on awareness at many levels, but also as the product of human action, modifying the environment. Place is an 'open' project; for example, although Docking is listed in Stane as one of the 'related works', it is not credited in its own accompanying notes as part of Place: instead we are told that one part of Place (section 66) is incorporated into Docking.

A map at the beginning of Place Book I shows Stane Street, a Roman road, running from Kent to Southwark, and presumably the main axis on which early South London grew - including the borough of Lambeth, the setting of Place. Stane is printed in landscape format. The columns are numbered from 1 to 100 at the bottom. The numbers printed at the top of the page refer to parts (listed as "45 to 81" on the title-sheet) which were interleaved and intercut to produce the final text. There are numbers at the top of the pages of Stane which refer to the Parts of Place (so that page 1 has 80 at the top). Numbered resources at the back of the book show how the text relates to its factual source material. Some page tops show, for example, (63)/74, to show that the Resources for 63 have also supplied material for part 74.

The back cover shows a street map of part of South London, partly replaced by a diagrammatic view of a texture which a note informs us 'includes photos and drawings of environments given way under stresses it was assumed they could bear'. They seem to be structural materials now showing rips. A small image on the front cover shows a map of Greater London. That is, we are being shown something at three different scales. This gesture casts the light back at the observer - it is saying something about the limits of our biological senses in the face of an environment whose processes occur on a much larger scale than our bodies. As clever mammals, we make up for this by all kinds of perceptual strategies - which sheds light on the multiple strategies of Allen Fisher. The note implies that London itself has been put under stresses too great for its materials - and has given way, failed as a community. This aspect is explored in Unpolished Mirrors and Brixton Fractals. The lettering is that of a typewriter. The text is printed in red. A note tells us that "STANE serves as a preview of Book III, Place 45 to 81, moving back into Book IV via Book II and including those parts of GRAMPIANS cut-in." This implies that there will be a later version of sections 45 to 81, but this has not been published so far as I know. The disruption of the notion of sequence is part of a new way of ordering information in word groups, pages, and books; what this draws attention to is the excess of possibilities for arranging data. It is organic - I mean, we are 'naturally' inclined to examine situations several times as new information arrives, so that viewing a kind of information once, and never being allowed to go back, is inorganic. The types of text we have are only a tiny cluster in an immense range of possibilities. Perhaps we have learnt and rigid ways of moving through fields of data - which are not the most appropriate for the part of the world we find ourselves in. We own them because they are old. Perhaps accepted sentence structures are inherited from early modern times and relate to acts of knowledge storage and retrieval which were suited to the organized knowledge of that time, for example in the law, the Church, or estate administration. Stane includes an index to the sections, which tells us for example '39 59 into 56'. Liberating the cutting and joining shows that the same piece of information can produce different results in different contexts.

I don't know of any successful exegeses of Fisher's work. I would regard a summary in prose which was longer than the poem (Stane, in this instance) as being unsuccessful - whereas taking a few themes and saying 'here, these are more important than the rest' is dishonourable. A structural value might be going to the limits of what we already know - to include the frames by which we normally constrain the speed and complexity of the information being made available at any point. If I suggest that information is normally packaged in an industrial way, in standardised and controllable units, this sheds light on Fisher's rules of procedure - he starts on the wrong side of those constraints and goes on from there. Basic techniques in this breakout are approaching from unusual angles, using subject matter usually neglected, looking at information on many different scales, and rapid cuts between different strata of material - showing new connections.

The deal offered to the reader is a speed-up in the rate of conceptual jumps in the data they are consuming. This is probably a dividing line in the audience - one faction sees the speed-up as purely desirable and exciting, one faction quickly gets bewildered and wants the poem to be normal and reassuring and just like all the other poems.

When Durer drew a rhinoceros, a beached whale, and the bones of an 18 foot giant, he chose these subjects because they were truly wondrous and unfamiliar, and because he had a means of recording. The availability of photographs, broadcasting, cheap printed matter, etc., has changed the terms on which art can be surprising. It is possible to re-analyse the history of poetry in terms of the collection of rare and interesting facts. This explains, perhaps, why so much of pre-modern poetry seems boring to us - because we already have better explanations of what it presents; and why such poets don't supply the information which seems interesting to us - because they were locked in cognitive frameworks which define what was strange and fascinating (and are different from the ones we are locked in). We could define myth in terms of anomaly, disruptions to the order of knowledge - and present poetry about myth as a collection of wonder-tales, defying sense, and recorded formally (in metre) because they were anomalous. Recent autobiographical poetry has a restricted audience because the lives recounted are not unusual enough - they adhere to sociological norms and so are too predictable; however, it is the anomalies which make the poems interesting - being autobiographical, on its own, was not interesting. Equally, readers of those times regarded religious lore as accurate information about the structure of history and the after-life. Western art since 1965 or so has had a bias towards the conceptual - this should not be understood as meaning that Western art of the previous 2000 years was not didactic and intellectually curious; instead, it expresses a new relationship between 'art' and other information media, where art lightens its load of primary information and focusses on cognitive jumps, shifts, and reorganizations. Art is a form of information and must conform to the basic physics of information. A vital factor is the information the spectator already has - art has to move into unfamiliar territory in order to acquire a unique data commodity.

In order to write a book which shows wonders and anomalies all the way through, you would today have to adopt techniques akin to Fisher's. It is not enough to find a rhinoceros.

While looking at this, I wondered about the word 'coherence'. Clearly, connection between successive sections is not necessary. We can make sense of violent shifts just as we can watch a landscape changing through a train window and disembark in another city. The rules for using the word seem to be completely subjective - it is applied when the reader is nonplussed and finds the next section not apropos. Further, 'coherence', as it is stepped up, gets ever closer to redundancy - the line which is most coherent with the previous line is one which repeats it exactly. Any line which offers new information is to some extent incoherent with the previous one. All the long poems we are looking at are very free in their construction. They do not converge on a line. I don't have a test of 'coherence' which many people could agree on. I find the poems 'well constructed' because I do not find myself confused or bored by the arrival of successive sections. But this confidence in the poets is subjective and relies partly on my identification with them.

"47" is a letter about rising damp in walls. It describes the passive-osmotic system of fluid circulating in masonry. This continues the theme, laid out in the previous section, of human life imagined as energy (a spiral) rather than as an anatomy. A human body exchanges energy all the time, and moves; anatomy is static. If you base your biology on corpses, you miss these things - and what is vital, proper to living things.

"46" shows us a voyage down the bank of the Thames. Mill pools where the water is strong and fish grow big; pent up. Chokes on the course of water considered as switches, where choices are made; (analogy with the course of fluids inside the body, the blood and lymphatic systems, affecting so much of the "sense of self"?)

A "less reduced" version of some pages of Stane was published as Fire-Place in a volume called Fire-Works, adding some more material. "Stane" is just a phonetic variant of "stone" (i.e. paved road), but may also represent a pun on stain, as a form of capillary action; the work is much concerned with buildings and the circulation of fluids in the earth and in the body, or, in fact, with the mediation between social and physiological structures and consciousness.

Any summary of Fisher's work is superficial; there are so many themes happening at once. One of the constructive rules is a pedagogic rigour whereby beliefs are constantly broken down into the experiences which found them, in the assumption that the reader has the right to judge of first and last things. We find him constantly reaching the zone of smallest form-generating differences (he refers in Necessary Business to "small initial differences"); the qualities which distinguish materials are ultimately in their molecular structure (and an exact definition of "hardness", e.g. of stone versus water, would be a molecular diagram). These slight quantities allow us to break down the sterile opposition between citizen and electorate, mind and body, person and place, will and compulsion, objective and subjective, personality and information, etc. and to tell a different story; the references to spirals imply the crossing of oppositions in mutual generation, winding eventually back to the slight differences which broke the symmetry of the apeiron and made stone different from water.

Interviews with Fisher during 2005 revealed the existence of a plan of formal symmetry organising Place. The details are explained in the interviews collected in Marvels of Lambeth (due to come out in 2012). The key concept is mirroring, which is a formal relationship between two poems or passages of poetry. To quote the 1974 book of explanations:
"In my terms then, a statement or fact laid on page five of Book I would find SHADING on page 95 of Book III. This reflecting nature brought about the structure. It is generally thematic from place I thru to XXXVII in Book I, and from LXXXI to XXXV in Book III."

Stane is thus a mirror of Place Book I. Since there are 37 parts of Stane and 37 of Place I-XXXVII, we might suspect that the parts map onto each other. It is slightly more complicated than that, since Stane is also numbered as pages 1-100, and Place Book I has a table in the back which demonstrates how it is also constituted by 100 pages (in the typescript and also in the book, although the page numbers are not printed). The symmetry is made more elusive by the fact that Stane starts with part 81 and works back to part XLV. Page 1 of Book I maps onto page 100 of Stane, and so on. The mirroring is not very obtrusive. For example, the line in Place 1 'walked the straight road in sunlight' connects with the line in Place 81 ''I walk from Balham gateway to the South/ my head from process of walking nodding', but other connections are not obvious. I understand the strategy was to allow readers to read 1 and 81 together and perceive new connections affecting the subject (of how site affects perception). Readers of a certain generation will recall a spoof travelogue recorded by Peter Sellers, in which the line 'Balham! Gateway to the South!" was heard. This scheme explains why notes are included at points which say 'GRAMPIANS cut into PLACE", and so on; the extra overlays partially hide the scheme from view. The passages about a visit to the Grampians probably do not take part in the fundamental symmetry. (Book I has an inclusion called Lakes, about the Lake District.)

The title of Unpolished Mirrors, a set of poems which is part of Place but only partially included in it, refers to incomplete symmetries: the reflection is dulled.

** Common themes have emerged in these poems, to my complete amazement. They weren't selected to resemble each other. Four of the poems discussed mention the Anglo-Saxon invasions of Britain, generally dated to the 5th to 8th centuries AD. Perhaps there is a shared imaginary which poets go to in order to find their visions. All the poets seem interested in the "fore-time" before the rise of mediaeval civilisation; all seem interested in the origin of our customs and social structure; none shows a situation between several people, and which is altered by a series of events which it structures; all are deeply politicised and deeply angry at the way we live. All have suppressed the signposts, the "ifs" and "therefores" which lead an argument: the discourse of the poem is "before" these, and this beforeness is part of poemicity. This points to a latent theory about the ambiguity of reality, which is chopped and channelled by the social structure, which is subliminal cognitive filters distributed over the whole population; poets like Raworth and Thom have gone on to make the acts of affabulation and composition the subject of the poem.

The striking of coins is described by Lopez and Fisher, and by Thom, whose discussion of the appropriation of metals almost certainly involves their circulation and treasuring as money. Important as liminality is, it is not present in the poems by Martin Thom and Andrew Crozier.

The hope that these large-scale poems would offer symbolic statements about social structure has been proved vain. In general, they deal only with a single mind, largely freed from social bonds. Experience is not shown as emerging from interaction with other people. This requires us to look at the sociology of privatisation.

The intrication of poems with the contents of books (of radical philosophy, politics, history, etc.) depends on collective representations, expressing wishes and the need for play as much as re-arrangement of experience, which precede both, although dialectically they can be shaped by both. These long poems show us, through an exhausting effort to seize and externalise, experience itself, as it is staged by human agents, in long or short strips: what good sociology captures better than bad sociology. The search for a central, dominant arena of social reality is vain, since the efficient unit of experience is clearly the individual brain.

These shared features include the restriction of the poem to the experience of a single individual, or privatisation; the shifting of stress from factual knowledge to intellectual method in framing and highlighting the material; the move away from narrative or drama or action; the collapse of a stable system of moral norms and imperatives, to be replaced by unquiet but essentially personal intellectual curiosity and model-making; the advance of untunable noise or dissonance within the models, and the pre-eminence of doubt as a response to it.

Myth appears in these poems, as part of the palette; but they form a strong contrast to Classical mythological poems. The oppositions which are significant to them are: central versus local-communal authority; the power of money versus less impersonal social bonds; tradition versus reason; Wales versus England; alienation versus fulfilment; symbolic versus sensory experience; subjective versus objective knowledge. These are not topics which mattered to Hesiod.

Another cast back shows a dislike of what the State does; the history of England, then Britain, as a "company" is surely centred on warfare against other states, with a long intricate chain of conquests of overseas territories, tax innovations, grabs of the entrepot trade, naval battles, sieges of key bases, arms races in workshops, acts of heroism, straight shooting, and what have you. The poetry in question excludes discussion of (warfare + political struggle + economic competition + competition between poets for legitimacy) — the ways of power. The State as military machine is cut out, and history is written in terms of (ordinary) households. If we go back to the late 19th century, we find the invention of sociology was just this: a study that shut out the State and looked at the citizen body. So poetry has been competing with sociology for a niche in the spectrum; but sociology was there first, because in 1900 poetry was still dealing with naval battles. This triangular relationship (between Church, State, and poetry) is not quite clear to me; the replacement by the State of the good works formerly carried out by the Church is clear; also, fear is part of the pattern, since the possessor class were frightened by the threatened arrival of the mass franchise (and this perhaps gave rise to sociology, in England and Germany?), and the poets we are discussing are clearly afraid of the power elite (shall we say, the military-industrial complex, the Tory Party, the City, and the Pentagon). Christianity lacks a coherent theory of the State, because its early strata were formed under State persecution and did not expect the Second Coming to be delayed long enough for politics to matter; this omission may be guiding the course of modern British poetry. Poetry since 1960 seems much more aligned with Nonconformism than with Anglicanism. All the poets discussed in this chapter are political radicals, excepting Crozier; and some comments outside the poems seem to equate the media with the forms of illegitimate power, and their wish to write long poems is related to a wish to compete with the "authorised versions" of the media, by supplying their own semantic context.

The omission of power politics from the boundaries of poetry seems to resemble a previous rule of omission, namely the simplicity expected of song and lyric poetry, which were not to deal with the sordid material of human relations. The double stance of radical poetry (ignoring the State and all its works while also planning actively to infiltrate over and transform the State) is very reminiscent of the stance of the Protestant churches in our period.

The abjuring of "power" is correlated with the excision of certain kinds of emotional pressure on the reader, and of pure self-expression. How can you disagree with the military-industrial complex and still want to unleash the self-aggrandising self of the confessional poet? When we see the poem as territorial object, we see the principle of competition for space at work in literature.

My research into the writings of popular Protestantism shows a valuation of physical details as corroboration of essentially unlikely tales of spiritual achievement; based on courtroom confrontations (Foxe's Book of Martyrs brought these to their greatest ever height) in which simultaneity and entanglement provided a difficulty of invention and so showed veracity; in these modern poems, there seems to be a rule that any experience which involves several different sensory channels at once is more credible. I don't say this is good or bad as a rule, merely that it provides the specific difference between British poetry and (say) French or Russian. Concrete details mark a good witness. If Fisher recounts his spiritual experience in seven or eight channels of perception at once, this can be taken as over-fulfilment. Another rule in the early lay-spiritual literature is that lighting effects in the sky indicate divine assent, something we find in many saints' lives; if Fisher relates his preoccupation with celestial light to the pineal gland, we may believe this or not. However reluctantly, we have to concede a similarity between the serotonin/luminosity effects and the lyrics of 'Astronomy Domine'.

A preliminary reading-list of Long Poems from the 1970s

Ulli Freer Rooms
FT Prince Dry-points of the Hasidim
Tony Lopez Change A prospectus
Allen Fisher Place (4 vols); Long Shout to Kernewek; Docking; Sicily; The Art of Flight
Tom Raworth Writing
RF Langley Matthew Glover
Jeffrey Wainwright Thomas Müntzer
Colin Simms (long poems on the American Indians, including A Celebration of the Stones in a Water-course, Parfleche, Carcajou, The compression of the bones of Crazy Horse)
Barry MacSweeney Black Torch
John Riley Czargrad
Gerard Casey, South Wales Echo
John Hall Days; Couch Grass
Iain Sinclair Lud Heat, Suicide Bridge
Andrew Crozier, High Zero
J H Prynne News of warring clans
Asa Benveniste Tabelli Linnaei
TS Law, Referendum
Ted Hughes, Crow, Gaudete, Cave Birds
Geoffrey Hill Mercian Hymns
Francis Berry Eyre Remembers
JF Hendry Marimarusa
WS Graham Malcolm Mooney’s Land
Ken Smith Tristan Crazy
Jeremy Reed The Isthmus of Samuel Greenberg
David Jones various poems in The Sleeping Lord (and) The Roman Quarry
Emyr Humphreys, Ancestor Worship
Walter Perrie Lamentation for the Children
DM Black, narrative poems (in Gravitations)
Edwin Morgan The New Divan
George Mackay Brown Fishermen with Ploughs
Martin Thom The Bloodshed, the Shaking House
George MacBeth, The Orlando Poems
David Wevill, Where the Arrow Falls
Brian Marley Bargain Basement sonnets
Nathaniel Tarn Lyrics for the bride of God
Eric Mottram 1922 Earth Raids
George Barker Villa Stellar, In memoriam David Archer
Eddie Flintoff, Sarmatians
Sorley Maclean, An Uamha 'n Oir /The cave of gold
Peter Levi, Pancakes for the Queen of Babylon
Kathleen Raine, On a deserted Shore
Paul Gogarty, Accident Adventure
Paul Jenkins, Cairo
Anthony Thwaite, New Confessions

We could complete this list with a number of other works which I do not greatly esteem.