Category Archives: The Moment


Shielded by time

Flowerville on The Moment:

peter holm jensen – the moment (splice)

you had been meaning to write about this book since you finished reading it and you didn’t know how. this is a book in which we accompany the author through a couple of years living in rural norfolk; his ideas on writing, reflections on kafka and rilke; his partner; his neighbour who is a farmer who later on dies, the farm being sold, what this means when old farms are being sold; then there are his friends, some struggling to make ends meet; there are trips to surrounding villages; trips to the pub; his life as freelance translator and how this is brutalized by nasty old capitalism. alienation. misfortunes. grace. life going on, seasons. animals. vegetables. it is a kind of journal although it doesn’t feel this way.

you thought about it all and you thought it is very much a book about after, say, after something happened and somehow this had led to life being reduced to the essentials. not as a form of impoverishment, but as in all pretentiousness is gone, things are as they are, life is as it is, what is the nature of writing and what can be said, about everything. after all has been said and done. perhaps, as in: what if there’s nothing between you and the world anymore. 

it’s really the stage after irony, after deconstruction and so on.

A power that made everything you are both meaningless and meaningful. Room to breathe, a sense of dignity. As long as you were shielded by time, held in the perfect stillness of the moment. How carefully it has to be approached. But maybe that’s not the right word. Questioned, perhaps. Or undergone.

it’s a book one can’t argue with. not that you would want that. 

it’s been one of the most beautiful things you’ve read in a long time. 

and it seems to you that this non-shallow beauty of this book lies in the acceptance of existence, of its difficulties and trials and also of the complicated and not always forthcoming beauty (but nevertheless existing) of life.  it’s about holding on to that thread of being, a book of maturity and the occasional overcoming of alienation. 

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. But we can never close ourselves off from it completely, never lose our link to the unity we spring from. How could we? Michael Haar writes: ‘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.’ Never released from the link to being that lets us become our more or less divided selves and live on the same ground as all other beings, no matter how different from us.

Indrawn and dormant

From The Moment:

Bleak fields. Branches glistening with hoar frost on the way down to the river. I think of Wallace Stevens’ mind of winter. Does that help? I can’t decide, it’s too cold to think. A boat chugs by, leaving a dense wobbling wake in the near-freezing water. The path is ridged with hard mud. On the surface of the willow pond, the freshwater forms shapes that look like oil slicks as the brackish water sinks and starts to freeze. I spot a snipe at the edge of the pond, blended into the reeds and puffed up against the cold, its long beak sticking out from under its wing. Everything here seems indrawn and dormant: waiting, conserving energy, secretly growing. On the way back, black ice slicks the road and frost feathers on car windshields spread out in unique, intricate patterns.


From The Moment:

S. and I go to Morston to see the grey seals, which have started breeding on the Point formed of sand and shingle drifting up from the eroding eastern shore. The sky opens up beautifully when we reach the coast on the bus. Most of the passengers are looking at their phones.

Morston and its neighbouring village, Blakeney, used to be big seaports, but the harbours and river valley have silted up, in part due to the reclamation of the salt marshes, leaving room only for small boats. The seal tours are the main business now.

Quay sounds. Ropes creaking against poles, halyards clinking against masts, sea-spray spattering the staithe—a local word from the Norse for wharf. Our boatman, a retired lobster fisher, tells me he’s seen the spit lengthen in his lifetime and the fishermen move to wider harbours to the west. The tides transform the coast here daily: the sea is drawn far out then surges back in, sometimes flooding the quay and the car park. At low tide you can walk all the way to the Point, where the seals feast on exposed sand eels.

Back on land, we walk to Stiffkey through green, brown, and grey saltmarshes broken up by pools and streams. The path is lined by tough, weather-beaten gorse with delicate yellow flowers. You can eat the flowers, says S., here, try. It tastes like coconut. Hundreds of stub-faced geese, newly arrived from the tundra, have gathered on the marshes to honk about who knows what.
We stop and look out over the spit through S.’s binoculars. Once you would have been able to walk here from Denmark. This coast was connected to the continent by a land mass, Doggerland, a rich habitat of wetland and wooded valleys navigated by nomadic hunter-gatherers who followed game and fish in seasonal patterns. If you’d stood on this spot with binoculars in that deep Mesolithic past, I imagine, you might have seen smoke from their fires here and there on the horizon. As temperatures rose and melted the northern glaciers, Doggerland flooded and Britain was cut off from mainland Europe. The people who were left on this island continued their nomadic way of life, burning scrubland and felling trees with flint tools to make temporary settlements, from which they tracked and hunted animals. In the Neolithic era they were displaced by migrants from the continent who brought wheat, barley, sheep, and goats, and who began to root themselves in the region, building enclosures and burial mounds. In the Bronze and Iron Ages, farming intensified. More forests were cleared by the Celts. Norfolk was settled by the Iceni, who surrendered to and then rebelled against the invading Romans. The collapse of the Roman Empire led to even more movement and migration: Germanic people from Anglia, on the shore of Jutland, arrived and built villages with open field systems, integrated with the Romanised Britons, and founded the kingdom of East Anglia. When the Danish Vikings invaded in the ninth century and themselves intermingled with the East Angles, they may have started digging for peat as they had done at home. Under Norman rule, Norfolk became the most populous and most farmed place in the country. It developed overseas trade links and later took in thousands of refugees from the Low Countries, the so-called Strangers, from whom many contemporary locals descend. By this time the rising sea had flooded the vast peat pits dug throughout the Middle Ages and was slowly shaping the landscape that became known as the Broads.

Years ago, when I first started exploring the Norfolk countryside, I recognised many of the village names. The county is dotted with Danish place names from the time of the Danelaw, many mixed with Old English words. They made me feel less of a stranger. But whose home is this in any case? Flora, fauna, history, and geology: all seem as provisional here as the shifting sands of the coast itself.


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.
Towards what?

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.