‘One of the things people should remember when they compare Shakespeare with me and hand him the short straw is that he did not have my advantages.’
– P G Wodehouse
There is an elephant in the room – this computer,
an evolutionary change happening in our lifetime,
reducing our customs to fossils and converting
our children to new formats. As the Digital Age
powers on, I look wistfully at my books,
pen and notepad, and see that language is mutating.
Now the Web is a field of seething energies,
ready to extend and pool consciousness, is this
the transformation of the world to a unified virtual mind
or merely another noisy playground and marketplace?…
That is Roger Horrocks on the effect of the digital world on books, writing, literature, culture – and, ultimately, identity. The full piece is here and it’s well worth a read.
He doesn’t come to any conclusions – sensibly, I think. We’re in the middle of a revolution right now – and for once the word ‘revolution’ is not hyperbole – and it isn’t at all clear what the outcome will be.
Horrocks isn’t sure whether to be optimistic or pessimistic. Personally, I’m tentatively optimistic.
New Zealand has always had a very “thin” cultural scene – it is a function of our small size and distance from everywhere else. The internet has broken that down and will no doubt break it down further.
My optimism lies in Horrocks comments about the ‘field of seething energies, ready to extend and pool consciousness.’
It is in the process of wrenching our notoriously parochial cultural scene out of its small-town-ness: it is also breaking down hierarchies and – dare one say it? – the ivory towers of universities.
Technology is breaking down both distance and walls and this has only just begun, I believe. It makes our small size less telling, provides easy access to a more global perspective and ideas and, obviously, helps ideas get around.
History is also deepening. The passage of time itself is helping, of course. But there is, I’ve noticed, a real hunger to talk, argue and occasionally throw things about New Zealand’s history, amongst the generation coming through.
As for the choice Horrocks outlines in the last line quoted above: I don’t think its a choice. It’s both.
The trick is going to be making sure the extension and pooling of consciousness happens along with the noise.
Having pondered the matter for a while, I’m doing the WordPress migration. So here it is.
Do not expect frequent posts. I usually do something on the weekend, but not every weekend.
It’s a hobby. I’m not going to make the mistake of thinking of it as anything much more than that, even though it is, obviously, a hobby which dovetails very closely with other interests and with work.
It annoyed me a lot, last year, when there were a few feature articles about the New Zealand blogosphere and it focused almost totally on the political ones.
There are plenty of other things to write about, argue about, even get quite angry or excited about. And to me the most interesting stuff going on in the blogosphere wasn’t – and still isn’t – the particularly inane high school gang/sporting team level of “debate” (and here I use the word “debate” ironically if not totally and utterly wrongly) which goes on.
But they keep politics in its place. Where it should be.
There are a number of specialist blogs adding much to the country’s conversation – on books and on economics, to take two examples not totally at random.
I’ll write more on this, somewhere else, some other time.
|Yours truly, above Lake Wanaka, last week.|
Must confess I thought, when I saw the title in good ol’ Unity Books, that only a French bloke would find the need to come up with a philosophy of walking.
Shades of Sartre in the scroggin; Pascal in the polypropylene; Derrida in the long-drop.
‘We must really manage one day to do without “news”,’ Gros begins one chapter – one which seems to me to be the core of the book, headed ‘Eternities’.
This may sound strange for a journalist, but I know what he means. One of my favourite political philosophers, Michael Oakeshott, was dismayed to be told, by a star pupil, of an intention to go into journalism, telling the lad, after a long silence, that ‘I think the need to know the news every day is a nervous disorder’.
‘…walking makes the rumours and complaints fall suddenly silent, stops the ceaseless interior chatter through which we comment on others, evaluate ourselves, recompense, interpret. Walking shuts down the sporadic soliloquy to whose surface our rancour, imbecile satisfactions and imaginary vengeances rise sluggishly in turn….You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the paths, the caress of the long grass and the freshness of the wind….’
“rejoicing in that suspensive freedom, happy to set off, one is also happy to return. It’s a blessing in parentheses, freedom in an escapade., lasting a couple of days or less.’
‘Suspensive freedom’. I love that.
The freedom in walking lies, he says, ‘in not being anyone, for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life.’
He is very good on what it’s like: he slows down and notices the process of walking.
There is the ‘strange impression’ made by the first steps each day: you’ve made all the preparations, navigation, food, gear, timings, weather etc, and then
‘you head off, pick up the rhythm. You lift your head, you’re on your way, but really just to be walking, to be out of doors That’s it, that’s all, and you’re there.’
‘…the authentic sign of assurance is a good slowness….a sort of slowness that isn’t exactly the opposite of speed’
‘Days of slow walking are very long: they make you live longer, because you have allowed every hour, every minute, every second to breathe, to deepen, instead of filling them up by straining the joints…When you hurry, time is filled to bursting, like a badly arranged drawer.
‘Slowness means living perfectly to time, so closely that the seconds fall one by one, drop by drop like the steady dripping of a tap on stone.
‘This stretching of time deepens space. It is one of the secrets of walking: a slow approach to landscapes that gradually renders them clearer, like the regular encounters that deepen friendship. Thus a mountain skyline that stays with you all day, which you observe in different lights, defines and articulates itself.’
This is all gorgeous stuff.
There is, if you want it, a bit of Yer Ack-Shul Phillosophee: there are chapters on those famous, and not so famous, philosophers who have liked walking, and the book starts with a quote from Nietzsche
‘We do not belong to those who have ideas only among books, when stimulated by books. It is our habit to think outdoors — walking, leaping, climbing, dancing, preferably on lonely mountains or near the sea where even the trails become thoughtful.’
‘The climbing body demands effort; it is under continuous tension…It’s important not to weaken, but to mobilise energy to advance, to place the foot firmly and hoist body slowly, then restore balance.
So with thought: an idea to rise to something even more astonishing, unheard of, new.
and then again: it is a matter of gaining altitude,
There are thoughts that can only occur at 6000 feet above the plains and mournful shores.’
Discovered, online, a deeply fascinating piece of correspondence between two great writers of the homicidal, genocidal Midnight of the 20th Century – Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell. Waugh wrote to praise ‘1984’ but also to raise a few objections:
Winston’s rebellion was false. His ‘Brotherhood’ (whether real or imaginary) was simply another gang like the Party. And it was false, to me, that the form of his revolt should simply be fucking in the style of Lady Chatterley – finding reality through a sort of mystical union with the Proles in the sexual act….The Brotherhood which can confound the Party is one of love – not adultery in Berkshire, still less throwing vitriol in children’s faces.
And men who love a crucified God need never think of torture as all-powerful.
The two writers had much which divided them, but more in common than was perhaps obvious. Both magnificent stylists with the English language, both more than a little at odds with the age in which they found themselves living.
Both, in their different ways, affronted idealists.
And both with a definite, conscious, contrivance about their public personae: Malcolm Muggeridge (another magnificent stylist with more than a touch of sham about him) once wrote of Waugh visiting Orwell as Orwell was dying and commented about “the bogus country gentleman gossiping with the equally bogus proletarian”.
Waugh – the social climbing middle class boy who half aped, half sent-up (hmm…..perhaps three quarters aped, a quarter sent up) the upper English classes, was heading in a different direction to Orwell, who under his real name of Eric Blair attended Eton and was more of a social submariner.
It seems odd to find the two corresponded at all. But, apart from being superb writers, they were both men who recoiled from the ghastliness of their age
They recoiled, though, in different directions.
Waugh took refuge in a kind of obscurantist, throwback Toryism (he didn’t vote because he said he would not presume to advise his sovereign on her choice of advisers) and became a Catholic, it seems, mostly as a bid to seek a world not just outside the 20th Century but before the Reformation.
We’ve all heard of the phrase ‘more Catholic than the Pope’ – Waugh was more Catholic than the previous 20 popes.
Orwell, whose discovery of a cynically murderous power urge behind the idealistic platitudes of his ideological comrades when fighting in the Spanish Civil War, led to his rejection of his earlier communism. He was not, though, going to head off into the kind of imaginary world Waugh inhabited. He was too much of a realist for that, and in any case, unlike Waugh, he was a journalist rather than a novelist.
But he ended up in a kind of no-man’s-land, of the kind which, usually, can only see a rescue from either religion, drink, or the madhouse. It is intriguing to ponder where Orwell would have ended up if tuberculosis had not taken him aged only 46.