The construction work on the old farm is coming along. Having demolished the house, barn and cowshed and removed the rubble, they seem to be building a house that looks like a converted barn, as well as a double garage, and have started landscaping. I looked up the planning permission and managed to find the developer’s website, which says: ‘Many people aspire to live in barn conversions. However, the opportunities to convert or renovate an existing barn are limited – there are only so many of them. Moreover, the cost of renovation or restoration can be considerably more expensive than building from new. That’s why a barn-style house is becoming an increasingly popular option.’
When did my double turn up? When was he born? There was a carpark and a concrete path between thistle bushes. I shook my father’s hand, turned away and started walking back to my room in the boarding school. A room in a corridor full of strangers speaking a strange language. In that moment it felt as if I split in two: a body walking down a path and an anonymous observer.
I’ve heard of similar experiences, of people leaving their bodies and looking down at what was happening to them. People who spend the rest of their lives trying to reverse that moment.
I was maladjusted – that’s what they told me years later when I asked why they sent me away. I’d taken up with the wrong crowd, was on my way to becoming a criminal. That was true in a sense. So this was what I needed, I supposed, it was good for me.
When I wasn’t in class I hid in my room or walked in the forest. I barely spoke. I’d forgotten most of my Danish in any case, and still thought in English. I’d overhear people saying I was strange. In the weekends I escaped to my grandparents’ farm in the country and cycled to the coast on my grandfather’s old bike.
What seems clear to me now is that something goes wrong for everyone. One way or another – suddenly or slowly, of our own will or by force – we go astray. We lose sight of some essential part of ourselves. Hide from being. Yet we can never close ourselves off from it completely, never lose our link to the unity we sprang from – how could we? As Michel Haar wrote: ‘We are held in being, and no matter how tenuous the thread attaching us to presence – for example in fainting or dreamless sleep – we are never, as long as we are, released into pure nothingness.’
(From ‘The Moment’.)
Here sitting in a dark grey café, where coffee tastes sour and expensive. The feeling that London is a simulacrum of a simulacrum — a city that lives not even off its mythical image but off the image of an image: this is how a city should be, for this is how the moneyed imagine it, this is what they want (I can only imagine they do — several levels of fantasy).
Anthropologically empty place, this café — no weight, no identity, no history, no future. Sooner or later it will be replaced by a bicycle shop or turned into luxury flats. There are already several punters dressed in cycling gear here (Lycra failing to conceal bulge), their overpriced bikes leaning against the front window — omens. You can tell a lot about a city by its social spaces. You can tell a lot about contemporary London by these new places of congregation — dark grey churches that sprout from out of nowhere; non-places more suitable for the heaping up of wealth — via MacBook — than conversation. More suitable for doing the invoices than the writing for which the invoices are done. More suitable for admin than life.
The pecuniary ugliness of London grabs me by the balls sometimes. Reminds me that for all the fantasy we are somewhere else: we exist on an island in flight from pleasure. I guess that here in this caff they have tried and failed to regain that pleasure lost. But they’ve only managed to make it more expensive. More sour. And more grey.
— Fermando Sdrigotti
Metrics – the moral code of a sourly reductive managerial culture– are the means to make sure that professionals’ working conditions should more and more correspond to the alienated, insecure, hollowed-out working conditions of so many other members of society. There was a time when the authorities had to deploy squadrons of mounted dragoons to quell the unruly mob. Now they just set them quarterly sales targets. Spreadsheet capitalism is much more effective than old-style ruling class repression, not least because it pulls off the conjuring trick of seeming to give priority to individual agency while in fact subordinating everyone to supposedly impersonal market forces. At bottom, performance metrics operate through a culture of fear, but one in which the arbitrary whim of a lord or master has been replaced with the terrifying implacability of a row of figures. ‘I’m sorry, John, your numbers aren’t good enough, we’ll have to let you go.’ The metric fixation is an attempt to extend that mechanism to activities that cannot be reduced to the equivalent of sales figures.
– Stefan Collini, London Review of Books, Nov. 2018
The handy representation of history as the temporal actualization of the supratemporal makes more difficult any effort to bring into view what is unique, the unique concealed in the enigmatic constancy which at times erupts and is assembled into the suddenness of what is genuinely Geschick-like. The sudden is the abrupt that only apparently contradicts that which is constant, which means, that which endures. What is endured is what lasts. But what already lasts and until now was concealed is first vouchsafed and becomes visible in what is abrupt. We must calmly confess that we never reach the vicinity of the historicity that is to be thought with a view to the Geschick of being so long as we remain ensnared in the web of representations which, all in all, blindly take refuge in the distinction between the absolute and the relative without ever going on to sufficiently determine that solely upon which this distinction can be determined, limited.
– Heidegger, The Principle of Reason (tr. Lilly)
I have never seen a class so deeply demoralised, so incurably debased by selfishness, so corroded within, so incapable of progress, as the English bourgeoisie […] For it nothing exists in this world, except for the sake of money, itself not excluded. It knows no bliss save that of rapid gain, no pain save that of losing gold. In the presence of this avarice and lust of gain, it is not possible for a single human sentiment or opinion to remain untainted. True, these English bourgeois are good husbands and family men, and have all sorts of other private virtues, and appear, in ordinary intercourse, as decent and respectable as all other bourgeois; even in business they are better to deal with than the Germans; they do not higgle and haggle so much as our own pettifogging merchants; but how does this help matters? Ultimately it is self-interest, and especially money gain, which alone determines them. I once went into Manchester with such a bourgeois, and spoke to him of the bad, unwholesome method of building, the frightful condition of the working-people’s quarters, and asserted that I had never seen so ill-built a city. The man listened quietly to the end, and said at the corner where we parted: “And yet there is a great deal of money made here, good morning, sir.” It is utterly indifferent to the English bourgeois whether his working-men starve or not, if only he makes money. All the conditions of life are measured by money, and what brings no money is nonsense, unpractical, idealistic bosh.
– Friedrich Engels, Condition of the Working Class in England (tr. Kelley Wischnewetzky)
Heidegger: ‘The unfittingness of mere beings, of nonbeings as a whole, and the rarity of being, for which reason the gods are sought within beings. If someone seeks and does not find and therefore is compelled into forced machinations, then no freedom for the restrained waiting of an encounter and an intimation…’
Machinations… We see ourselves in animals, nature, other people, in God, cunningly remake them in our own images for our own ends. We diminish and master them, reduce them to almost nothing. Isn’t the path then cleared to replace the whole world with a mirror of ourselves, to a total communication network and a total, false immediacy? We’re forced into machinations that empty our lives of meaning. Many we enable because they feel good. This isn’t only an age of exploitation, but also of fun; the two have become linked. ‘Have fun!’ we shout to each other, ‘enjoy!’ When you’re not busy earning money – exploiting or being exploited – you’re supposed to have fun, do something exciting, be exciting: above all fill your time to the brink with activity. What they used to call idolatry is now almost life in its entirety. We reflect ourselves in the things we buy, eat and wear, our homes, jobs, interests, politics, friends, children and lovers. We stress over critical targets that mean little to anyone outside our workplaces. We claim more and more fraught identities, manage our social media profiles on platforms that manipulate us, and create personal brands (something that’s now being taught in British schools). We try to define ourselves using the tools that dispersed us in the first place.
No freedom for the restrained waiting… For meaningful idleness, a gathering up of your time on earth: what they used to call prayer. Everything seems to conspire against it. Yet everyone knows the unease that comes over you when you’ve spent long enough doing nothing meaningful, at work or in your ‘spare time’. What do we do to hold it at bay? Work harder, have more fun; devise clever therapies and health and fitness fads to administrate it out of our minds and bodies.
Of an encounter or intimation… An intimation of something more, something wholly Other that can take us out of our everyday machinations and show them for what they are. A hint of God in the moment, passing through the innermost heart of time.