Desert Island Discs 2008
I have always wanted to go on 'Desert Island Discs' on Radio 4 and so, in 2008, realising the unlikeliness of this occurrence, I pounced on the chance to evince my thoughts for an HR initiative at the company I was working for at the time. I just rediscovered my notes whilst looking in my files for a photograph of myself in a multi-coloured waistcoat. I have posted it here for some amusement (not the waistcoat image)...
Desert Island Discs
Cameron Maynard, October 2008
Often I've entertained the idea of escape as all of us do I believe. This desert island question allows us to think about what is central to us, what it is we can't leave behind. The most obvious thing of course is our self. What is the self though? I don’t know but I do know I believe in the individual, as a singular and whole entity, and I believe in the individual as inextricable from humanity – this myriad we are a part of which is in turn part of a greater unity. The individual has a drive towards self fulfillment and I believe this can come only from taking a conscious part in bringing about unity - the self cannot successfully live by itself. The main man Leo Tolstoy (who sadly didn’t make it into my list) can help us out here:
'I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one's neighbor - such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps - what more can the heart of a man desire?'
Many have gone into the wild (a parallel to the desert island) on their own never to return and who knows what truths or illusions they found (we have some inkling from Jon Krakauer's fantastic book, and Sean Penn’s subsequent film, 'Into the Wild'). But there other figures throughout the ages who have gone off into the wild to search within themselves and have returned either profoundly changed or with their resolve strengthened, eager to pass their findings on to others. A few obvious examples come to mind - Jesus, Zarathustra (Nietzsche's fictional creation), Henry Thoreau (not all level in their impact of course) - there must be hundreds or thousands more. These people have benefited mankind through an exploration of the self in connection with the world, their beliefs communicated through their selves. What they seem - and I must stress seem as I certainly don’t know - to come back with is a deeper sense of connectedness - the need to pass on the beliefs they have formed away from the fleeting and ephemeral having been touched by the unchangeable and eternal. I don’t wish to suggest that my level of profundity is comparable to the aforementioned fellows when I mention that this idea came to me when I spent three months in a rural, mountainous area in Abruzzo, Italy, in the winter, with barely any knowledge of the language and only a few nods and vague mutterings coming from my mouth to the locals within that time. I found myself amongst the majestic silence of the mountains for days and days on end. After believing I had to some degree escaped, one day the idea of connectedness hit me quite violently. As I walked through the mountain paths, formed over hundreds, perhaps thousands of years by shepherds and their flocks, saints, brigands and more recently tourists, and turned off the path I was on into the 'wilds' themselves, my eye glimpsed, and then gazed, upon an unsettling form nestled in the leaves; a large, white plastic container with a lightning strike boldly printed on its side. As I looked further I saw other plastic and metal articles poking out of the ground. It was a dumping ground of industrial and household waste from the lowlands surrounding me up here in my idealised virgin hills of the Abruzzo. I was shocked but it taught me a valuable lesson - we can never escape. We are always connected. Every trace that leaves us connects elsewhere. How could I expect to escape these things when I myself am a part of their creation? Each day I throw things away with disregard - they have to turn up somewhere, and just when I was near to believing the illusion that I had escaped, the past came back to me and manifested itself in this way, shattering my illusion of earthly paradise...unless, I now believe, I commit to playing my part in bringing this paradise to be.
The desert island is often seen as a symbol of earthly paradise. How many times, as urban dwellers, have we looked from the bus, through the condensation on the window, our gaze drawn through this to a vision of a white beach, a blue sky and a palm tree poised delicately over the lithe body of a relaxed and carefree person lying on the beach? The advertisers know how to get us. How far away though would one actually be on this desert island? Planes would fly overhead; detritus would float to the shore from the factories and ships far away. The clouds would rain on me with moisture collected from the seas, lakes, lands of places far away. I will not have escaped and will still be part of the world.
And so therefore I would use this island experience as an opportunity to discover more about the links between matter and between this and thought, and hope to reconcile in some way knowledge and belief, for once they must have been ‘conciled’; as one, and I feel it is our role to bring back this unity. To explore this I will need to carefully select what inanimate companionship I will take with me to help me on this journey, hoping that its inanimacy will transform within me and pass through me to realise itself as positive thought and action thus becoming reanimated itself. The interplay between these concepts is captured wonderfully in the words of Hermann Hesse, one of my selected authors:
'Just as something inexpressibly golden or silvery blinked for a quivering instant in the twilight of the green river depths, an illusion that contained, nevertheless, the most blissful promise, so the fleeting profile of a person, seen half from the back, could sometimes promise something infinitely beautiful, something unbearably sad. In the same way a lantern hung under a cart at night, painting giant spinning shadows of wheel spokes on walls, could for a moment create a shadow play that seemed as full of incidents and stories as the work of Homer. And one's nightly dreams were woven of the same unreal, magic stuff, a nothing that contained all the images in the world, an ocean in whose crystal the forms of all human beings, animals, angels, and demons lived as ever ready possibilities.'
This passage reflects one of the early, and still central, concepts within philosophy; that of Plato's Cave and the pivotal question asking us ‘what is real?’ One of the most obvious points Plato’s allegory brings to mind is that in many ways we are created by our environment - we learn our language from those around us; this structures our thoughts, our thoughts structure our speech and actions, and these in turn move out into the world to join the infinite traffic of ideas and influences that shape our lives. I've put it simply here but I hope this prompts thoughts of the infinity of interconnectedness that we exist within.
I heard a few months ago of a man who lives alone on a small island in the Outer Hebrides. Not totally outrageous until one hears that he has tattooed himself to appear as a leopard. A leopard is an African creature I believe - not local to the islands of the Northern Sea. Where then has this leopard come from and why is 'he' a solitary creature alone on a chilly rock in the ocean far from 'home'? What I am trying to illustrate is that the 'I' we are all so keen on isn't as individual as we perhaps imagine. We are part of the world, part of each other, formed of the universe, in it and due to return to it. We must embrace all that we can and open ourselves to reality, allowing it to light our path. Identify, to as great an extent as possible, the freedoms and limitations of existence and be obedient to these. The following quote from another one of my selections, Zorba the Greek, helps to clarify this idea:
'I was at an exhibition of Rodin's works, and I had stopped to look at an enormous bronze hand, "The Hand of God." This hand was half closed, and in the palm an ecstatic man and woman were embracing and struggling. A girl came up and stopped beside me. She also looked and was moved at the disquieting, eternal embrace of man and woman. She was slim, well-dressed; she had a wealth of fair hair, a powerful chin and thin lips. There was something determined and virile about her. I normally hate inviting a conversation, and I do not know what urged me to turn to her and ask: "What are you thinking about?"
"If only we could escape!" she murmured resentfully.
"And go where? The hand of God is everywhere. There is no salvation. Are you sorry'?"
"No. Love may be the most intense joy on earth. It may be. But, now I see that bronze hand, I want to escape."
"You prefer freedom."
"But, supposing it's only when we obey that bronze hand we are free? Supposing the word 'God' didn't have that convenient meaning the masses give it?"
She looked anxiously at me. Her eyes were of a metallic grey, her lips dry and bitter. "I don't understand," she said, and moved away. She disappeared.'
Picturing the sculpture by Rodin described above I would wish my own desert island experience to manifest the fruits of introspection into creations of my own. I doubt that, like the leopard-man, I would be driven to such a level of self-artistry but I certainly would like to work with my environment to create a harmonious existence for myself and the birds, trees, sea, sand, rocks, air and various other multitudes that would be both my neighbours and my life-source. An example project I would wish to undertake is to begin by building a hut and adding to it so that, in time and with grace, it could become a magnificent creation such as Bishop Castle in Colorado - an amazing building built by one man who has continually added to it since beginning in 1971. However I would not be staying put on the island unless people were coming to live with me. I would feel a need, I’m sure, to get back to the company of others. How to do this? One of my selections is 'Civilisation' by Lord Kenneth Clarke. In this he talks about, and shows in detail, a magnificent Viking ship. I would spend time copying (and perhaps simplifying and downsizing!) the design for this ship safe in the knowledge that the Vikings journeyed for thousands of miles aboard such elegant vessels. I hope there would be trees on the island.
Returning to my expected stay on the island I would assume that in such a situation one forsakes the relationship of the individual to their society and culture and therefore the associations inherent within this. Of course one always carries with them their past, one's present state is created, in part, by its past. However I would take the opportunity to attempt to shed as much as possible such cultural associations and draw closer to the essence of being, away from the ephemeral nature of much in contemporary life. Therefore many of the selected works to take with me I believe have an essence of eternity within them, a quality within that is beyond the here and now and our conception of time and constraint. I sense within these works boundlessness and a struggle to reach beyond limits to points beyond comprehension - something I would consider essential for the inner life when trapped in a physical, bordered location. In many ways though we are all 'trapped' - in our bodies, the structure of our thoughts, our cities, our lands, our world, our universe. The inherent paradox within such an endeavor is that in attempting to transcend such limits we must also embrace our physicality, our senses, the interaction of this with our minds and with the sensual world. For this reason the other noticeable feature of my selection is their ability to rouse the senses, to revel in creation and the material.
I shall leave you with an apt quote from Zorba whose advice I shall certainly be heeding when on the island looking at the sun as we move around it, its light disappearing from my eyes to light the path for a new day for those folks over the horizon -
'How simple a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. All that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple heart.'
You are allowed to take 4 albums, which would you take and why?
1. 'Piano Concerto no. 3, Sergei Rachmaninov' performed by Martha Argerich
Simply the most powerful and technically accomplished music out there I have ever had the honour of hearing. First time I heard this I had a small seizure and went a bit mad for days afterwards. My mum prefers Julius Katchen's version which is slightly slower and perhaps less likely to induce this state.
2. 'Very Best of' performed by Supertramp
Rather uncool of me to choose a 'Best of' but this really is the best of. I first remember hearing this in the car with one of my brothers - can't remember which but they all love it, as does my sister I believe, so it is a good album for both memories and melodies. I particularly enjoy Rudy - it captures their shifting, and at times stone cold funking, progressive rock sound. Also Supertramp is the name the dude from 'Into the Wild' took as his surname - possibly from the book, 'Adventures of a Supertramp', from which Supertramp (the band) took as their name, or directly from the band - whatever way around the concept is sound.
3. 'In Between' performed by Jazzanova
[...] the majority is sublime. The interwoven instrumentation and subsequent musical textures created are warm enough to wrap yourself up in and take a really pleasing nap.
4. 'MCMXC ad.' performed by Enigma
Some might say a desperately cheesy choice, but I say otherwise. This was the first album I bought, or to be more precise bought for me at my behest by my parents, when I was somewhere on holiday in France at the age of ten I think. I clearly remember listening to this with my dad driving and my mum in the passenger seat. My aural pleasure was to turn to suffocating embaressment however when my emerging adolescent mind realised half way through the heavy panting of the woman on the song what might be going on (not of course that I actually knew). This uncomfortable experience aside this album has been a classic throughout my life always ready to be relied on for forgetting the world outside and turning inwards.
You are allowed to take 4 books, which would you take and why?
1. 'Narziss and Goldmund' by Hermann Hesse
Hesse's writing has something I've not seen elsewhere. Evocative and penetrating - as words - do not do it justice but merely point one in the direction of its majesty. This particular book, set in Medieval Germany, is about a young man who is sent to monastery school at Mariabronn in Germany where he befriends his teacher Narziss. He is intrigued and attracted by the promise of a life of peace and serenity within the monastery, but is drawn too to the world of the senses and when he encounters a young peasant wench in the fields outside the monastery a descent from the realms of the spirit occurs and Goldmund is drawn off into the world outside.
2. 'Zorba the Greek' by Nikos Kazantzakis
My eldest brother David recommended this to me a few years ago and in many ways I see him reflected in the character of Zorba. Thinking on it now it invites comparison to Narziss & Goldmund as it involves a young traveller meeting a worldly man who becomes his friend and, in some ways, guide to life. It would be interesting to take both of these books to the island with me because then I would have some sense of companionship brought through the pages of these books - I may end up befriending a coconut called Zorba and a Toucan called Narcissus a la Hanks in that weak film ‘Shipwrecked’. Although I hope this doesn't happen.
3. 'Lindisfarne Gospels' by Eadfrith
Everything about this book is remarkable. In the 7th century monks wandered through Europe, avoiding marauding barbarians, to Britain via Ireland. They brought with them learning and, importantly, the written word, via Christianity, to the Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Pictish population. This gospel book, created in the early 8th century, would have taken months, probably years, much of it in extremely chilly conditions under candlelight, to complete; it is incredibly detailed. It contains breathtaking "carpet pages" which involve layered images of intertwining beasts that create strange patterns of infinite wonder. The art within the book contains an intriguing mix of styles influenced by the aesthetic of the locale right through to roman, Byzantine and possibly even Greek and Egyptian style - indicative of the cultural influences and complexities that we share. The text is in Latin but in the 10th century a monk wrote in between the lines an English translation - the first translation of the Gospels into English - which would help me out and actually give me something to read! Much to ponder on with this particular book - it would be nice if I could take the original. Check this great online Turn the Page edition! It's also an admonishment to our society's current obsession with speed and efficiency - two constructs mercifully unlikely to be needed on a desert island.
4. 'Songs of Innocence and Experience' by William Blake
Just dip in anywhere in this book and you'll be amazed. Beautiful words in mystical alignment enrapture the soul. Again it would be marvellous to have the original copy that's handwritten and illustrated by Blake.
You are allowed to take 4 films, which would you take and why?
1. 'Baraka' directed by Ron Fricke
My sister gave me this film for my birthday and she must have found it in the top draw because it is marvellous. It would allow me to view the world away from the island without being there in person. The director took a few chaps with him around the world filming all sorts of things - tribal rituals, chicken farms, New York City, some Buddhist fellow walking down a street at extraordinarily slow speed and so on. A visual treat.
2. 'The Man with a Movie Camera' (Cinematic Orchestra Version) directed by Dziga Vertov
This was made as a silent film in 1929 and, similar to the above, explores the imagery of the world in which we live. This is more focused on quotidian life and therefore it is a great compliment to the above film - people brushing their teeth, getting on the bus, leaping over hurdles at sports day. The version I've chosen has a soundtrack recently done by the Cinematic Orchestra - an excellent group of excellent musicians playing excellent music.
3. 'Civilisation' directed by Kenneth Clarke
So I could take the best ideas of our complex, confused and at times magnificent civilisation to implement in my own small way on the island. Great, great TV program created by this man who was director of the National Gallery by the age of thirty. On the island I would heed his words, 'It is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.'
4. 'Weird Science' by John Hughes
From this I would hope to gain some tips on how, using rudimentary scientific methods, I could create a beautiful woman to join me on the island. High likelihood that this film would send me mental though if I watched it too many times (I'm already on twenty views I reckon).
You can also take the Bible or the Complete Works of Shakespeare, which would you choose?
The Bible - a source of Shakespeare's inspiration - and the closer to the source the better I think.
Last but not least, you are entitled to take a luxury item of your choice. What would this be?
A chisel set for making and sculpting all sorts of things from wood and stone – statues, cutlery, keystones, pipes, millstones and other items of utility and aesthetic pleasure.