Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Living the afterlife

And him, the cripple in Library, is he still living and where? He was only my age but sickly, hobbling with a stick, an uncombed clump of straw coloured hair. His last years were already furnished and waiting, I thought, all  heavy curtains and evening light, embers and sherry. He was reading Byron and Keats, big leather volumes hauled up from the vaults. His eyes were large and kind. But why does his image surface now, half way down the stairs at Leicester Square tube station? Memory's papers. Vast shelves, boxes and sheets of information. Unsuspectingly a file is pulled out and you're shown a photo, a recording, a voice abruptly released from a folded envelope. It's put in front of you like a Tarot card for your inspection. A face from your Oxford days. The dry smells from the Upper Reading Room, the light through the great leaded windows, the creaking silence, and time drifting slowly like floating dust. And alongside the cripple, another. A bent man in a black tattered gown, with bottle glasses and a greasy combover. He was said to be the bastard son of F.R. Leavis, but this was perhaps only a metaphor translated by time and rumour into fact. He'd enter by the corner door, glancing about like an intruder, picking a book from the reference shelves, frantically flicking through pages, suddenly stopping and sitting to look; his eyes following a nervous finger, as if combing the text for buried sense. But the book would slam shut and he’d steal away... a library bird, picking at fading texts, the limp gown flapping, a curious detail in the corner of our day. The cripple and the madman, signs sent by memory. Like those mocking gargoyles in the corner of medieval illustrations. Figures of what I thought I might become: Frayed and insane, a faint light flickering in a bedsit window; condemned to wander in a world increasingly inward. Living the afterlife.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Grandad's welding goggles



My grandfather gave me his welding goggles. He was a welder before the Second World War. He served in the war as a private. They talked about socialism, the soldiers. I learned my politics from him. “When they talk about bureaucracy it’s always to attack socialism. But what are banks but the bureaucracy of capitalism?” My grandad would counter every lazy thought that fell from a politicians mouth. When people say the working class is reactionary they have short memories. It’s important to have a long memory, historically speaking. To remember that the past sits in judgement on us and not we on it. It tells us 'no, things have not always been thus'. Here are possibilities that were never realised. They wait patiently in the pages of memory, snoozing in the anteroom. Sometimes we need our grandparents to pull us out of the present, to laugh at various modern stupidities we take for granted. I should have asked him more of course, about the war, about Palestine where he was shot by both sides. I should have recorded his voice. There is a local newspaper clipping from 1923. My grandfather kept it. A 6 year old boy from Shipley fell out of a tree and was admitted to hospital. He is expected to make a full recovery. This boy was my granddad. A reality fragment from a different age. I remember visiting him when he had dementia. His smile remembered me but his mind had forgotten. When I told him I was his grandson he laughed. But I still have his welding goggles, his copy of Das Capital, and the story of the boy who fell from the  tree.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

On dreams

 The only time I’m 'in my head'  is at night, when the lids are shut, the light of consciousness gone. But even asleep, free of gravity, we do not slip into ourselves. We cede control to a vital power. It makes things. A horse, a neighbour, a country, a sideboard; a highstreet, a law, a voice. These things have never existed before. The dream, as we call it, invents them from scratch. Last night, for example, in the corner of the dream a tiny detail, a curved length of carved and burnished wood, part of a sideboard. The wood is inlaid with distinctive lettering, hieroglyphsitching with sense. This object, with its peculiar signature, is not from childhood or anywhere else. It has been designed from zero by the dream.  The dream does not conceive and afterwards execute these objects, these people, these counties. It conceives and executes them at once, in the same instant. Our waking selves cannot do this. If we saw these things in graphic or material form, we would say these were the results of someone’s masterly intelligence. But in the dream, whose intelligence is this? Whose creative force? Not quite mine, for waking I can not conceive them nor create them. And when I wake I scarcely know what they are. If dreams are our inmost self, then we do not recognise or understand ourselves. The dream is a dark impersonal intention. This is what we find when we’re deep ‘in our heads’, a demiurge speaking in tongues, works of fine art erased by the sun. If only we could open the valve that would release these original powers, their fantastic arts, if only we could in our waking existence, fashion flesh with such quickness. There is more wild invention in a single dream than a many shelffull of fiction

Monday, 11 July 2016

"Middle class intellectuals" meme

Back in the noughties, there were extensive blog debates about the pros and cons of invading Iraq. One of the more curious memes employed by the pro-war writers was the idea that anti-war opinion was largely the preserve of the middle class ‘dinner party’ left, with their “bruschetta orthodoxies”.  All this seems rather arcane and silly now (for some of us it did at the time) not only because the anti-war concerns were rational and warranted, and non class specific,  but also because those using the “dinner-party” meme were themselves middle-class intellectuals like David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen.  The gesture is one of fake populism, pretending that your own view stands heroically opposed to some nebulous liberal-left middle-class consensus and, by implication, with ‘ordinary people’ and “the bloke down the pub”. This might not be worth mentioning were it not that the same rhetoric is surfacing again with regards to Brexit, where the Remain/ Brexit divide is narrated as  the conflict between a metropolitan/ liberal/ middle-class elite and the “ordinary people” defying them.  Once again, it’s nonsense.

Friday, 8 July 2016

When people speak of death being near they tend to mean in time..

When people speak of death being near they tend to mean in time. For me it's a question of space. Like living in a house near a cliff edge.  It is not an expectation that death will come soon. It is already there, like the cliff edge; or better still, like the sea; or better still like the dark shore across the waters. Living in sight of it quickens the pulse. We are always quickened and sharpened by the presence of a limit. A place where one thing ends and another begins. It is always better to live here, at this limit. For this limit always changes things. A life lived in the presence of its outer-limit, death, will be a different kind of life, a truer life, a more intensive life. It has nothing to do with "living like there's no tomorrow", in the fast lane, consuming a ticklist of pleasures. The opposite is true. You are slower; your senses are more receptive, you are happy to watch the snowflake melt.  You are slower because quietly amazed, and amazed not by the flash and the bang and the whizz but other things ordinarily imperceptible, the church bells sunk underwater. Living in proximity to the cliff edge, the sea, the dark shore means having new senses, new eyes, new flesh... And time is ripe like fruit on the tree