"Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself, and then comes to resemble that picture" - Iris Murdoch

Tuesday 23 August 2022

Hopeless feelings

Landscape painting (Fort Tryon Park, New York City, with grey underpainting) by Christopher Willard visual artist and author, via Wikimedia Commons
Yesterday afternoon I was trying to write. When I'm facing a deadline I often find myself thinking of the last person I was in love with. There are various possible reasons for this—some less complimentary to me—but one theory I have is prompted by this piece by Darren Allen. Perhaps there is something about writing that brings up the fear of death: out of all the possibilities that have been swirling inside myself, I am putting something together which is small and imperfect. This perhaps awakens a desire to, well let's not be too narrow, to co-create something that can take up those possibilities. Perhaps falling in love is finding someone you can trust to be a co-creator. Since this March my response to this mood has been to put on some Ben Howard, but though I'll never get tired of his playing or lyrics, I'm beginning to worry that this is locking me into a kind of madness. Yesterday I thought of an alternative solution, to replace that drive to co-create with a sense of solidarity. Schopenhauer apparently says—I've never read Schopenhauer, I saw this in a conference ad—that at a certain point eros makes way for agape. I didn't like this, because the two shouldn't be opposed like that, but there is obviously a problem to be be solved if you're continuing to be drawn towards someone who is not there in your life any more. In this context, I think solidarity can stand in for agape. That awareness of a particular someone out there somewhere being herself in the face of struggles might be enough to make sense of things. And that is a stiller awareness, not an energy that needs to be kept in harmony by the constant flow of music.

On my way home I walked through a churchyard. Suddenly I saw ahead an odd-looking little bird: red-brown, tail and head both turned upwards. It started hopping away, and then hopped through a gap in the fence. I hoped it might stay there, having got me out of sight, but when I reached the gap it had disappeared completely. The pit of my stomach fell away. A long time ago, I sang a song by Schumann called Happiness, in which the poet writes that if you stay still for long enough, the bird might land in your hand for a short while, but then it will go. Looking back at the gravestones, I was hit by bitterness. These had been the reason why I chose to go through the churchyard in the first place: I'd been thinking about the names, and how I feel a sense of identity in English graveyards despite them not including names like mine, and why this might be, maybe something to do with language being something you live inside and names being a part of language. But now it seemed to me that you can only keep hold of something if it's dead. Then I raised my head and saw the trees.

In the evening I wrote. I found a playlist of songs from movements centred on the working class in India. I don't know Hindi or Bengali so I couldn't understand the lyrics, but you can look at the images and search for the lyricists and the others involved and get an idea. You've probably heard the story of how, when he was interning over at Counterpunch, Ed Miliband was asked by Alexander Cockburn how pure his hate was, to which Miliband replied that he didn't hate anyone. I'm afraid I'm probably with Miliband here. But I think there's something purer than hate. When I went dancing in my early to mid-20s, at some point I would usually think of death. I would imagine my heels knocking death in the teeth. But that isn't hatred—dancing is still itself, still joyful—more like a marking of a boundary, Camus' non. At a certain point, listening last night, my ideas started flowing and I had to turn the music off to formulate my thoughts precisely. Then they stopped again, and by then I was sad and tired, so I put on some Ben Howard.

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