from Andrew Brown (Triarchy Press)

Andrew Brown, minister at the Unitarian Memorial Church, Cambridge (UK), wrote in response to a recent Idioticon mailing to talk about connection, conjugation and mythogeography. Here’s a condensed version of his thoughts, for which I’m very grateful. Andrew acknowledges sympathies towards Christian atheism, religious naturalism and communalism and is a jazz bassist, photographer, cyclist and walker.

Only conjugate! That is the whole of my sermon.

“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die”  (E.M. Forster, Howards End)

Since their publication in 1910, Forster’s words have been used, especially in left/liberal circles, as a rallying cry for better connections to be made in society and as a plea for people to connect the rational and emotional aspects of their being. But is the rallying call “Only connect!” the one that we need today?

The philosopher Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi feels that ‘connection’ in the digital age has become all about smooth, frictionless, punctual and repeatable interactions; about creating compatibility between the machine and society’s various parts according to pre-established technical/societal standards; about speed of connection and becoming highly responsive to fast flows of rapidly changing information.

Understood in this way, connection leaves “no margin for ambiguity in the exchange of messages, nor can intention be manifest though nuances.” Pre-determined code becomes dominant. That’s why the phrase “only connect” can be promoted with gusto by certain sectors of industry and society.

The digitization and automation of our world is now stopping us engaging in something central to human-being: namely a deep involvement in the countless continuous processes of slow and deeply nuanced becoming. For most people there is no time to engage in a reflective interpretation of our world. There is only time for “connection” in order to facilitate the constant high-speed transmission of digital information.

This is why Bifo’s understanding of “conjunction” is so helpful. He sees conjunction as:

“. . . the meeting and fusion of round or irregular bodies that are continuously weaseling their way about without precision, repetition, or perfection” and “Conjunction . . . can be viewed as a way of becoming other. Singularities change when they conjoin, they become something other than what they were before, in the same way as love changes the lover or the conjunctive composition of a-signifying signs gives rise to the emergence of previously inexistent meaning.” 

And Phil Smith’s books Mythogeography and Rethinking Mythogeography are also helpful, because they offer us a number of practical, creative, sustained, subversive and enjoyable ways to find conjunction.

So, if I may dare, I’d like to re-present Forster’s famous words in a fashion suitable to our own age:
Only conjoin! That is the whole of my sermon.

Or, to pick a more evocative word with the same Latin root (from iungere “to join together, unite, yoke”):
Only conjugate! That is the whole of my sermon.

Andrew J. Brown, Cambridge, June 2018


You can see Andrew Brown’s unbowdlerised text at the Triarchy Idioticon here (where you will also find references to the writers quoted).

If you are ever prompted to write for the Idioticon, do please be in touch.

Thanks for reading, as always.

Andrew Carey