From The Moment:
In the evenings the rooks and crows congregate in the air, split apart and come together, then suddenly settle in the trees as night falls. Who knows what they’re saying to each other as they fill the sky with their raucous calls? Are they gossiping, fighting, finding mates? Yet they can also talk like us, mimic our speech. They can recognise our faces, bring us gifts or take revenge on us, even through generations. They’re social, cunning, adaptable.
Early humans, it’s said, learned about their surroundings from corvids. Interactions between hunter-gatherers and corvids may even have led to a kind of cultural coevolution: the birds may have changed their behaviour to lead people to large prey in hope of a meal of leftovers, and people in turn may have changed their behaviour to understand and follow the birds. Our close association with them, and the need to defend our food from them, may have refined our own co-operation and communication. Later cultures saw them as living symbols of natural and divine forces—sometimes light, sometimes primal darkness. Crows and ravens carried messages from the gods or had sacred ties to the sun. They were bearers of meaning in the world. The negative connotations of corvids largely came about with the rise of industrial agriculture and the sight of crows picking at corpses on battlefields. They became seen as threats to profit and birds of ill omen—to us. But these kinds of physical and symbolic links between people and animals have long since broken. Animals are now mostly products or sources of entertainment, to be used and segregated, or only let into our world as pets. Even so, they’re still essentially the same: both like and unlike man, as John Berger wrote. They still gaze at us from afar, from the silence of the day, and before their gazes we’re more alone than ever. We look to them to find the secret of our origins but they don’t answer us. Maybe their non-answer is the answer: find the secret for yourself.
From The Moment:
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.
From The Moment:
The bats hang under the bridge like bunches of grapes.
Hard not to shudder, as when one sees rats crawling over
each other or a snake slithering across a river. But now
in the gloaming they come alive, flit back and forth between
their roost and the river to drink and to feed on
insects. The water ripples where one has grabbed a bug
just above the surface or taken a sip on the wing. They
must be Daubenton’s, says S., they like water. The bats’
calls start as questions thrown into the void: pulses that
bounce off walls, off water and trees, and back into the
creatures’ nervous systems, which in turn recreate the
world around them so intimately they can catch tiny
insects invisible to us as we watch from the bank. What
to us is a confusion of flapping wings is to the bats a
high-precision hunt. Almost blind, they’re nevertheless
at home in their environment in ways we can only piece
together from outside.
From The Moment:
Heavy with homesickness for being: ill-adapted. In my
heaviness the moment passes me by. I’m looking for it in
these scattered words. Is it looking for me too, the moment,
calling me into itself? Does it need my words to
come to itself? But it’s been and gone and I’m passing
my time in detours. Then—miracle—the words come together
and lift me into it.
A walk before lunch. I sit on the stump of a tree and write
a note on my phone. The screen reflects the sky as I write,
partly obscuring my words. When I name a thing it comes
alive for an instant, then sinks back into itself. These
words really should be varying shades between black and
white, appearing and disappearing on the screen. And yet
they seem to be making their way towards something.
The wisdom of certain everyday phrases. We speak of being
in the moment and of pregnant moments. We speak
of the fullness of time, of a time that’s ripe. Beautiful
phrase: the fullness of time. What does it mean? In everyday
language, when something happens in the fullness of
time it happens at a time that has finally come, a time of
the fulfilment of some event. Something comes into its
own, something time has ripened. For Paul it had to do
with the first and second coming of Christ, and the coming
to pass of God’s plan at decisive moments in history.
But what if it were taken to refer not to a past or future
event so much as to time itself? What if the fullness of
time referred not to a time that’s ripe for something but
to a time that’s ripe with itself, that fulfils itself in the
If the moment is the revelation of the fullness of time,
it can’t be part of everyday time. It can’t simply be one of
a series of separate nows, but rather the felt instant that
opens your present out to the future and gives your past
meaning—only to withdraw again.
Splice’s description of The Moment:
In the murky aftermath of a breakdown, a man still at odds with himself takes flight to a cottage in rural Norfolk. There he intends to strip his life of everything trivial, everything superfluous, paring it all back to the essential truths, values, and experiences. In doing so, he keeps a fragmentary journal: not a record of progress as such, but sporadic notes on his new surroundings as he attends to minor changes in search of an ideal moment-a moment of unity between body and mind, in which there is no distinction between sensation and thought. For decades he has been hounded by the sense of a split self, as if under observation by a nameless double, and he feels that the opportune moment, if it can be found, will relieve him, just briefly, of this spectral presence.
Peter Holm Jensen’s début novel is a mercurial marvel of contemplative literature that at once adopts and dismantles the diarist’s form of expression. It is not a linear account of ordinary events, but a cyclical and recursive record of noticing the ways of the world. It does not tell the story of its narrator’s life, but opens up for him a quiet space in which to savour the changes of the seasons, the migration habits of birds, his connectedness to his partner, the fluctuations of his ineptitude and capabilities. But it is also not an environmentalist’s lyrical notebook, for its author feels the pains of precarity and indignity under neoliberalism, nor is it an account of stoic persistence in the face of daily adversity and aimlessness. It is, rather, an attempt to come to terms with the indifference of the forces within which we live — time, nature, globalisation — and to extract from this void of meaning something immanent, something true.
In the murky aftermath of a breakdown, a man still at odds with himself takes flight to a cottage in rural Norfolk. There he intends to strip his life of everything trivial, everything superfluous, paring it all back to the essential truths, values, and experiences. In doing so, he keeps a fragmentary journal: not a record of progress as such, but sporadic notes on his new surroundings as he attends to minor changes in search of an ideal moment — a moment of unity between body and mind, in which there is no distinction between sensation and thought. For decades he has been hounded by the sense of a split self, as if under observation by a nameless double, and he feels that the opportune moment, if it can be found, will relieve him, just briefly, of this spectral presence.
Photos of my forthcoming book, published by Splice.
My book, The Moment, published by Splice, can be ordered here.