Monthly Archives: October 2022

The huge night and the slow dawn

A sleepless night. The huge night and the slow dawn. The sound of the binmen tipping our tins and bottles into their lorry, interrupting the birdcalls. The same old sense of final emptiness, which makes the thoughts I formulate in the day in front of my computer, with my grownup books around me, seem contrived and forced onto something almost helpless—onto what Gombrowicz called a furtive childhood, a concealed degradation. Completely unacceptable, I think, like the wronged consumer I am: why should anyone be made to deal with this, day after day?

There’s something to it, I tell myself, the old idea that despair is a seductive sin, a sickness unto death. That’s one thing the Christians always understood, that there are feelings we indulge at our own risk. But when the feeling is this long-lived, this unshakeable?

The Moment

Doesn’t the commonplace hold its own secrets?

Tree surgeons and reed-cutters are making room for new growth, opening up the landscape. The birds, flushed out of their hiding places, are everywhere. Pheasants flap and squall in the brush at the end of the field. In the garden a pair of magpies are madly nest-building. In the woods, green shoots are growing through blankets of dead leaves and brittle bracken. The hedges along the road are flowering and S. says she spotted her first bumblebee yesterday. By the river we see a blue tit hacking open a bulrush and spitting downy wisps to all sides. What’s it after, we wonder: nest bedding? seeds? insects? We move close but it’s too busy to care about us. Today I feel no need to leave this place. Spring is here in the nearest things, in the smell of the grass and weeds and air, as the Earth lavishly renews itself.

In everything well-known something worthy of thought still lurks, wrote Heidegger. Something can take hold. There are crocuses among the empty lager cans and crisp packets on the patch of grass beside the Co-op. There are primroses under the bare fig tree in the cemetery.

Writing about conservation, the Norfolk-based naturalist Mark Cocker says it’s the commonplace that should be protected, not the rare:

Our inherent orientation towards the rare has often distorted the way in which we look at the environment. How often one finds conservation policies built around a few charismatic species, such as the tiger, polar bear or, more parochially, the Eurasian bittern or corncrake. Singling out the flagship animal is often a way of simplifying a project for public consumption… when what truly makes an ecosystem flourish is the very opposite of its flagship representative: the sheer bio-luxuriance of its commonest constituents.

Moreover, he says, a preoccupation with the exceptional is almost hardwired into the human imagination. As with flagship nature programmes, it’s increasingly difficult to escape the lure of the exceptional and marketable over what’s right in front of us. The familiar is harder to appreciate.

I move between the bedroom and bathroom, the study and living room, the cottage and the Co-op, day in, day out. I grow too used to the world again. I make it too familiar, let the moment veil itself in the everyday. I become a burden to myself.

Sometimes the nearest things are the hardest to see. We see them too often to see them fresh, and understandably seek to escape them when they seem to have lost all mystery, all presence. Too much home and home becomes opaque, flat. I’m a body walking through the same rooms and fields and shops. No mountain peaks on this plain, no vantage point. The same, the same. The impulse is to look for a quick escape into the new and exciting, or a slow escape into resignation and resentment.

But doesn’t the commonplace hold its own secrets? Perhaps only our impatience obscures them. If we had the endurance of animals we might be better able to accept the familiar and simply wait, day after undistinguished day, until the day, unmasked, surrendered.

Doesn’t being lurk most mysteriously—nearest and furthest—among the things we move around every day, in the fact of their being here at all? Now on my walks I sometimes stop and look at one thing for as long as I can, a squirrel, say, or a flowering bush, until I see its strangeness again, the essential strangeness of its being, to which I’m somehow linked.

The Moment

Found guilty

Whether walking on the side or in the middle of the street, I always felt myself appraised, judged, found guilty by the Austrian crowd, the Austrian majority, and time and again I accepted their verdict, though with no idea of what I was guilty of. What a relief to be walking down a street, convinced that some member of the eye-trapper gang must be studying me from the side, and then to look up and see nothing but the vacant eyes of a doll in a shop window.

On this Yugoslavian street there was no majority, and accordingly no minority, but only a varied and yet harmonious bustle such as, apart from the small town of Jesenice, I have known only in big cities. And here, for the present, I was the foreigner, to whom, in the streets of Carinthia beyond the mountains, I have always been grateful, because he distracts attention from me, but who here had his place in the crowd, among the people of the street.

— Handke, Repetition (tr. Manheim)

A review of The Moment from Sean of Travel Through Stories:


People in search of a presentist experience need only look around them at certain cityscapes, replicated across the globe, for which the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas has invented the concept “Generic City,” associated with the notion of “Junkspace.” This is where presentism is really at home, eating up space and reducing or banishing time. The Generic City, freed from its enslavement to the center, is without history, even if it goes to great lengths to advertise its pseudo-historical district, where history is a service provided, complete with quaint trains and horse-drawn carriages. And if, despite everything, a center survives, it has to be at once “the most old and the most new,” “the most fixed and the most dynamic.” As the product of “an encounter between escalator and air-conditioning, conceived in an incubator of Sheetrock,” Junkspace never ages: it knows only self-destruction and on-site rebuilding or else almost instantaneous dilapidation. Airports, completed or (constantly) under construction (the ubiquitous “Work in progress. We apologize for the temporary inconvenience caused”) have become emblematic of the Generic City. They are forever transforming and mutating, while imposing ever more complex trajectories on their temporary inhabitants. As bubbles of expanding, transformable space, they epitomize Junkspace, and are its principle producers. Such space leaves no trace in our memories, because “its refusal to freeze ensures instant amnesia.” But can one actually live in a presentist city?

— Hartog, Regimes of Historicity (tr. Brown)

For those young people – including you – who live this modern agonising adolescence and who want the true radical music, I sincerely wish a dialogue accompanied by piercing pain will be born and fill this concert hall.

Les Rallizes Dénudés concert flyers, late 1960s