Near Window 11

… an interesting question.

This time last year I was resurfacing from a pretty deep depression. I know this because I remember, but I was reminded of it because my Instagram archive decided to display some choice pieces of last spring for me to look at. Most of my content last year was me waxing lyrical about birds or trees or light. Here’s one:

——— imagine here a brief hiatus in which I went deep on my insta and sent my friends photos of us from 2015 with captions like « omg so long ago » and other such vibes. I won’t bore u by including them here, but I can assure u that they’re good pics of me with varying lengths of hair and at varying degrees of sobriety ✌️it’ll probably be charged about in another vidéo -Apéro that I’ll have with my best pal sometime again this week (that’s drink wine & face time to u)

Anyway I spent an inordinate about of time looking at last spring today. Looking at the sun drenched, green robed fields of home. A ghost spring of recovery, silver streamed into my retinas whilst the depopulated spring outside my window battles the war for us. Paris occupied again. Here, there are two springs existing at once. One in my phone, one outside my window, and neither of which I am actually IN. The one in my phone is huge, i walked about ten miles a day with the dogs, over hill and down dale and across streams and through woods. I was documenting the wild magic of becoming. The one in reality small, one room, two windows, a courtyard, a corner of sky.

So many shots of chubby knees and heavy docs striding through fields growing progressively greener. Shots of the dogs running, begging, smiling, tongues lolling. shots of brickwork, of country pavements, of pub signage, or birdsong, or birds, or blossom, or blooms or new leaves. Where I’d been I’ll I’d posted relatively little. In coming back to myself in recovery I posted more and more. A minds eye view of both the return if the spring, and my return to myself. An almost « real-time » video essay: what does it mean to become in the season if becoming? An interesting question. One I have no answers for, except the list of shots I mentioned above. One which is still being answered as we never cease to become. Either way it is spring on my phone, and it is spring outside, and even though I am inside in my flat in Paris, in my phone I am running through fields in England. I am both. I am all.

In reality though this compulsive Instagram documentation is not a video essay, in that I have not consciously created it to have structure and form like an essay is supposed to have. More accurately you could call it a video notebook, like the stacks of notebooks at my mums and the two I have here that have every single thing I’ve ever written in them in pen and paper form. A video sketchbook: some light, some birds, some sky, a song I like.

I read a paper by Simon O’Sullivan called « Fictioning Landscape » (it’s on his website) about the relationship between landscape and fictioning in the form of video-essays. He particularly focuses on weird examples, that unpick the fabric of reality and posit weird fictions of the past and future within them. The examples he examines present a « porous border between fact and fiction » and insinuate a foreground of temporal shift; futures that won’t happen, pasts that didn’t quite. The notion of the then-spring encroaching on the now-spring implies a layered temporality, too: now-spring is all-spring.

O’Sullivan discusses some brilliant examples of audio-visual essays including Justin Barton and Mark Fisher’s On Vanishing Land and Victoria Halford and Steve Beard’s Voodoo Science Park. J would highly recommend looking them up – the book of voodoo science park is brilliant – highly recommend.

My friend, Josh Vyrtz, makes video-essays – you can look at them here. They each possess a kind of fictioned surreality, whether theyre about painting a landscape as toilet graffiti or sitting on a bench from 9-5. There’s a joyous kind of whimsy to them, that’s tinged with a melancholia, and a hunt that there’s some kind of Magic going on, links to external spaces, spaces outside of the frame.

Thé above photo is a still from my favourite of josh’s performance/video essays. It was about his dad, who died. About his own self discovery, and about learning about Switzerland where his dad is from. It was also not about this at all, but about vulnerability, and masculinity. In the film josh was himself and his dad and a plastic gnome. In the performance he was himself a cab driver, and a whirling dervish of emotion. It was a performance, an essay, a film, and a thing of beauty. To my mind josh was create a fictional past in which his dad had shown him Switzerland, and a future in which he had been shown. Fragile, vulnérable, wishful. It made me cry.

Of his video essays « what would be the soundtrack to my life? An interesting question » is my fave on YouTube – I’d urge u to watch it. It’s only about 5 minutes long.

I’ve written a lot about music over the last few days; being inside all the time, it’s one of the few things I can always do without getting bored of doing it. This video essay of Josh’s starts very close to his face, like the moment at the end of a party when your smashed and on a sofa chatting shit:

« there are some songs which, when I listen to them, make me feel like the lead in a movie »

Cut to josh blue lit, by fountain, gazing around , telling us, conversationally, and in response to the obvious question « which songs? » the top five songs on the soundtrack of his life.

Cut to josh silhouetted against a pink dusk, London skyline rising jagged on the horizon, and josh freewheeling in his bike, bare arms conducting the symphony of a London bike ride: wheels ticking, bike creaking, wind blasting, river rushing. We don’t hear the songs he mentions, just the sound of the city, and of the weather. It’s joyful in its release, melancholy in its près back sonic element. It makes me ache for London, and ache for the outside, and for riding my bike. I don’t know why the lack of music makes it feel melancholy, like a dream. What do you hear in dreams? Music? Real life noise? Quiet?

Josh’s video essay turns the wind and the river and the bike into the soundtrack of his life, they become the music; that actual music may change that’s playing through his headphones, but the sound we hear never will. It makes a temporal shift. Josh will hear these sounds on every bike ride he goes on, and for someone who rides his bike almost every day pre confinement, that seems to me to be the true soundtrack of his life, if he ever manages to hear it. In the film josh makes the city an orchestra, the weather the symphony: himself riding no-hands-on-the-handlebars conducting the sky. The fiction here, though an aesthetic one – (re)making a conversation we’ve had before – enacting a freedom and joy of riding through the city in fine weather – creates a performance journey. One that exits real time and creates a « music-time » or a « film-time » as much is I created a « spring-time » within my phone. The film is saturated with residual emotion, and by not providing the music, Josh allows that emotion to speak for itself in the box of film time we can all dip into with an internet connection.

Both of Josh’s films that I’ve mentioned here are hugely emotionally charged. They both alter space-time and allow something to speak « not to us but to something within us » which is how fictioning works: creating a space-time in which the truth is made not true, and by which we can pro rated ourself on the plane of now. Whilst they don’t engage with the weird in the same way as O’Sullivans examples, they engage with a melancholia that seems ever present (I would call this grief-space)

like listening to a song u thought was happy but is really sad. Like Dancing Queen, or Boys of Summer, or Loaded by Primal Scream. Joy and melancholia: two sides of the same thing.

In these uncertain and tumultuous times, where the news is often based on « post-truths » it becomes « crucial to produce other and better » fictions than created by the state or the media « by which to orientate ourselves within our world.

Near Window 9

Caribou, confinement, and the coming of spring

“It is spring, that is to say that it is approaching THE BEGINNING”

Scrolling through Twitter at some god awful hour this morning I saw a green and yellow painting of daffodils. Mottled grey blue of sky and brown thatch of distant trees reminiscent of the arrival of spring in William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All :

Under the surge of the blue

Mottled clouds driven from the

Northeast – a cold wind. Beyond, the

Waste of broad, muddy fields

Brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

David Hockney, confined in Normandy, has painted the archetypal spring view, reminiscent to me of Lent fasting, of school holidays, of spring fairs. Of the becoming and the returning of the spring; new and old at the same time. He’s called the painting Do remember they can’t cancel the spring. The painting is joyful, yet there’s a restraint in Hockney’s iPad stylings that isn’t usually there, a pared back response to the view he’s been presented with. Hockey in confinement paints in starker, more drab colours. There is no true joy in the coming of this uncancelled spring. The joy of yellow cannot combat the sadness of brown.

I went out today, into the quiet of a Parisian morning, cold edged air like the cracking of an eggshell. The streets are deserted as they never have been, everyone inside and fearful, but the morning is as glorious as any one I’ve seen. The sun barely up, the sky itself pale with its own becoming. I had that familiar loosening feeling, of the ending of the long winter, and the upward spiral into spring; and then I remembered I had one hour within which to move around, to buy bread and loo roll and milk and then turn on my heels for home. I was unreeling from my insides, but tethered to the safety of home. Out on furlough for eggs and bread.

A few weeks ago, pre confinement, Matt @xenogothic tweeted something about Caribou’s new album Suddenly, that resonated with how I felt about it: full of spring bops, but tethered to an innate sense of melancholia that seeps through the alum with every subsequent listen.

The album stakes its emotional territory lyrically, and through the clever use of windy samples in “lime”, or Sunday morning soul in “home” to place you in a memory, whilst making the moment of that memory happen in the present. In a google hangout yesterday my friend was talking of the semantics of nostalgia making the memory always already present, so its tatters to the past become meaningless almost in the act of remembering. Another friend with whom I’ve been writing letters has written some questions to me about this to, like :

How do you know what was real? How do you protect memories from new feelings that will ultimately twist it? How do you travel in time throug memory without altering the memory?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I don’t think it’s us who travels in time, but the memory. We’re always on the surface, weathered by the ghostly returning of past/future moments: spectral weathers (if you’ll let me name check my own book?)

Suddenly is suffused with memory, with a retrospective glance inward, and feels, when listening to it, like an album made inside someone who’s been listening in on pop music and has made an album that orbits it: not part of it, but born of it. Apologetic soliloquies to sisters, mothers humming lullabies, the four to the floor of the club still reverberating in your bones as you lie in bed waiting for the room to stop spinning, an elegy to emotion, and rawness. Dan Snaith (the man behind caribou), when he sings, seems to me like he’s whisper singing in the confessional, or right into my ear. The fragility of his voice caught in close miced glory, and more often than not without reverb or delay. Dry, soft, and conversational, like whispering in the night to keep anxiety at bay.

I especially get this feeling in “Sister”, the albums opener, where Snaith whisper sings:

Sister, I promise you, I’m changing

You’ve heard broken promises, I know

Like a conversation had late at night, in response to a sister saying they’re worried about you. The rolling progressional chords and steady heartbeat like rhythm seeming a metaphor for revolution, and not the kind of revolution that overthrows governments or changes the world, but the kind that turns the world again, continues the revolution of a cycle. It feels like a mirror held up to life in confinement; the beating of my heart, the tick of the clock, and the cyclical shift of the sun as it revolves in the room. 

“You & I” has a sense of the opening approach of spring, the synth chords warm and bouncy like the first day you can go out without a coat on. The arpeggiated chimes that punctuate the verses and chorus sounding like sunlight through freshly grown leaves, calm and calming, yet its chorus and outgrown derail this feeling of warmth and comfort by pushing us into a feeling of high tempo anxiety, discordant rush, snatches of voice. The end feels like the upcycling of a Bond climax, all running and car chases and guns and thrill. A final sampled “Hey!” Echoing into the void before opening into the inherent melancholia of the opening of “Sunny’s Time”. The piano warped like an old record rattling on a gramaphone that you’ve left too long in the garage. The speakers are damp, and it sounds as though the sound has to travel through time to reach the present moment; from the becoming of its recording, to the moment of its hearing. 

Spring whilst seeming like the happiest of new awakenings, freshness, beginning again, it also seems to be suggested with the melancholy of endings. There’s an old English folk song I heard sung once in my local pub by a man with no teeth that caught, for me, that sense of euphoric release; albeit one that knows it cannot last. 

The primrose blooms, the cowslips too,

The violets in their sweet retire,

the roses shining through the briar,

And the daffodown-dillies which we admire will die and fade away.

These lines, in acknowledgement of the temporary nature of the coming of spring are reminiscent of the scant lines sung by Snaith in “Sunny’s Time”

It all found me since I’ve been gone.

I’ll be back when this is all done.

“Sunny’s Time” slides itself into “home” with a relative danceability. It feels like coming throug the door with a baguette, and an avocado and a box of eggs, the coffee on to brew, windows flung wide to let in the new spring breezes; but with the bitter sweetness of wishing there were someone there to spend that morning with you, and a particular someone at that. Like the first lonely Sunday morning after a breakup, when you’ve gotten past the getting drunk phase and your friends have deemed that you could do to be left alone a bit, you wake up with not much to do, and a wish to do not much with someone that isn’t satisfied by eggs on toast. It’s the beauty of a good morning undercut with a lonely melancholia; like putting on happy music that only makes you cry. This is further compounded by the sample of Gloria Barnes singing “Baby I’m home, I’m home, I’m home”. The final time you hear this sample, it’s cut short with a gothic cut off, sending an echo like a door slam into the following guitar chords, pitch shifting like a memory. It’s like someone’s last words, like they’re ready to tap out: baby I’m home. 

Perhaps this melancholia is part and parcel of spring, a cruel season, in that it rips us raw: raw winds, on new skin. This is how the wasteland starts, 

Breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain

Like parents whipping us up and pulling back duvets to get ready for school, the world outside the cocoon of duvet is still too brutal, too cold, and too concrete. Winter, though brutal, is the season for dormant dreaming. I spend the three months of hibernation waiting for the spring, though – dreaming of bluebells. Is it as Emily Brontë says: that “there’s a spell in the purple heath” that burrows down inside us, “to wildly; sadly dear” that yearns for its partner found in springtime? Brontë mourns the coming of spring when she is without it. The “cold sun” with its “chill” beams, the “dreary sky” is “frozen”. The long winters make me feel this way, too. Chilled to my bones, warming myself at the first few rays of sun, almost kissing the daffodils and bluebells when they first show their bright faces above the mud. It’s driving me mad to be so separate from it. Yet even Brontë notes the “transient brilliancy” of spring, and of spring sunshine sliding swiftly over the garden wall. Spring is beautiful in its ephemerality. The Hauntology always revenant whose joy in arrival is tempered and haunted by the knowledge of its passing. 

In “Never come back” the lines “and you never come back, and you never come back to” are repeated ad infinitum, it’s the feeling of losing the spring once it’s come, like being at the afters , intertwined on a sofa in someone elses’s house whose name you don’t know. Early morning sunshine beaming behind closed curtains, a sliver of dust filled gold breaking onto a table littered with beer cans and ashtrays.

In Williams’ spring and all, “dazed spring approaches” almost unaware of itself, with “the stark dignity of entrance”, dually reminiscent of Hilary Duff standing at the top of the stairs in A Cinderella Story, and of the procession of the cross at the beginning of mass, leading the priest from sacristy to altar.

“Magpie” from Caribou’s Suddenly is reminiscent of this duality, and of that tethered freewheeling sense I had walking to the boulangerie this morning; a loosening of the self, whilst still being tethered to home. The song wheels in circles, shining aurally like sticking an ear in a kaleidoscope. In a way it reminds me of the beginning of “Entangled”, the second track of Gensis’ A trick of the tail. At about the half way point, though, Snaith opens out the filter on the track, which takes it from 1975 to the present moment, and it releases you from the constraints of its first half. With the shift in tone, you’re released out into the depths of sound like into an ocean, or a huge crowd. The song de-isolates you, by disconnecting you from the self and connecting you with something outside of yourself, something that sleeps back to you, and almost cradles you.

The mood of Suddenly is almost entirely sweet, the chord progressions are so warm that, listening in my bed under a square of sunlight, I slip in between the grooves of the songs and hang there. Strung out on synths. Snaith’s control, and measured pacing, and restraint almost feels like he’s in confinement too. Like there’s something holding him back from unspooling himself into the tracks. That’s the feeling I had with some of the tracks on Our Love and Swim. In reality I feel like he’s in a space as small as mine, with the front door locked and the windows open only a crack.

The final track, “Cloud Song” is the only song that really embodies a release, a slack in snaith’s tight control. It opens with the close miced voice that seems to characterize the album, just him singing in my ears as the synths return to that cyclical pattern as found in “Sister”, the album turning and returning to the beginning as the chord progressions do. “When you’re alone with memories”, he sings, “I’ll give you a place to rest your head.” The place to rest your head is here. Not to be away from memory, but to converge in a collective practice of remembering. Dan Snaith’s personal traumas are writ large upon this album, but sung softly and quietly. His traumas become our traumas, and the act of opening them out allows us to share in them, and share ours within them.

The cyclic return of the chord progression is as smooth and azure as the water on Suddenly’s cover. Kaleidoscopic and rushing into the build of “Cloud Song”, the music slides in between me and the world: trills of synth like birds calling, or radio signals clogging the airwaves. Dissonant in repetition. Sliding.

He sings:

“Nothing’s granted an eternity, nothing lasts it all will fade.

And yet it always ends too early.”

The spring outside the window rises like a Gershwin clarinet solo in response, so clean and clear I feel I almost pour out into it. What of the spring un-sprung, of the world unturned? Rather, what of the world turning without me, and me unable to break the winter chrysalis. Spring playing out there, and orchestra without audience – an unheard soliloquy – a film with the sound turned down.

The first spring of a new decade, unexperienced and lost. A necessary loss, one we must do, but a loss all the same.

In a way Caribou’s Suddenly is 2020s perfect spring/summer album. Seeking an escape, but confined. A spring sounding elegy to lost moments, lost memories, lost things. “I wish that you were here by my side”. “Do you ever miss me like I miss you?” I listen to it and I hear all the moments I won’t have, and I hear all the moments I am having, and all the moments I have had and will have, all existing in the cacophony of now.

In my apartment the spring turns his shoulder and shifts his weight away from the window, sliding himself into another crisp March night. The north wind blows chill through the window, and I close them. I put on “Sister” and begin the cycle again.

And yet, it always ends to early

A brief encounter with left melancholia, and how Auden showed me the way out.

I tweeted, prior to the election results, that I was worried that the election would go like the scene at the beginning/end of A Brief Encounter – where Celia Johnson watches Trevor Howard walk out of her life forever. That all this would be was a brief touch on the shoulder, that Corbyn would haven taken the piece of coal dust that is austerity and tory policy out of our eyes, and then we would have to board the train in the opposite direction, and go back home to our boring husband and awful children. I’ve thought about that parallel a lot, since.

It’s perhaps a bit too much of a reach, but the aching melancholy of it, the almost, might-have, could-have-been-ness of it, felt too much for me. Like this was the turning point, the fork in the road whereby we might have changed something, but we didn’t take the turn, and carried on instead. We let Jeremy Corbyn (cast as Trevor Howard in this re-telling) leave with a brief shoulder squeeze and no words, and I (I’m obviously Celia Johnson, come on) have to sit with a friend i didn’t even KNOW was a tory and just listen to them babbling on, completely unaware that the result had completely gutted me (not that my tory friend babbled really, it’s just very fitting because of Dolly Alderton).

Anyway. Back to Celia Johnson. 

When she’s on the train with her awful prying friend, she says “this can’t last. This misery can’t last. I must remember that and try to control myself.” I think of my own anger, misery, and dismay, and the fact that it is, ultimately, futile in the long run. Being angry and depressed about the result will bring me nothing. Being divisive about who voted for whom, will only drive everyone further apart, and we are already a country divided. What is necessary now, is that we come together, that we use all these feelings of anger, frustration, heartbreak, as a way to motivate ourselves through the mire, instead of flailing about in it, and talking about the failure of the left.

Celia also says this: “there’ll come a time in the future when I shan’t mind about this anymore. When I can look back and say quite peacefully and cheerfully how silly I was. No. no. I don’t want that time to come, ever. I want to remember every minute. Always”

I want to remember every minute of hope that the Corbyn campaign ignited in, not only me, but so many people in the country. Everyone who was out canvassing, and talking, and trying to make the world just a tiny bit better. There will never come a time when I am not angry about the country’s failure to make the right choice for everyone in it, instead of focusing on brexit, or not wanting to pay £20 more a month in tax. 


I feel as though the world had shifted, it looked different: darker, and less hopeful. I wasn’t even at home, and yet I felt somehow that everything had skewed in the wrong direction. I had gone to bed in one world, and woken up in another. 

“It is as if 

We had all left our house for five minutes to mail a letter 

And during that time the living room had changed places 

With the room behind the mirror over the fireplace’

Here, auden is writing of a kind of existential dislocation. We are not where we were before, it looks the same, but it ostensibly isn’t, and it can’t become the same thing again. It is fitting that this Auden line fits so well, it’s from For the Time Being (which in itself is a funny phrase by itself, for is time ever being at all, or are we all being time, and if time is being, is it being itself or something else?). Everything crumbling away into nothing much, tossed out into the cold. “Winter completes an age” ravaging the land, casting us all out, rendering everything to nothing. 

“Like wheat our souls are sifted

And cast out into the void.”

Auden’s poetry diagnosed a sickness in England, a “country where no one is well”. In the 1930/40s we had a similar problem to the one we have now. Bubbling dissent, rife racism, a nationalistic and isolationist drive. I’m not saying it’s a carbon copy of the time, because it’s not. But Auden’s diagnosis, of a world switched into its uncanny double, revealing the worst bits of ourselves in a bid to claim something as our own (a country, a house, a job, a headstone) is easy to see as still valid, now. 


But now I’m thinking that perhaps I am clinging to hard to the failure of the labour party to enact the changes they pledged in their manifesto, rather than looking for opportunities in which I might be able to make a difference. Government is not the only way to enact change. 

According to Walter Benjamin, ‘left melancholia’ is the state of the revolutionary, who has become more attached to a political ideal, than ever actually seeking and seizing real opportunities for change. So attached to it, that even clinging to its failure is more preferable. We ought not to cling so tightly to Corbyn, to the failure that 12th December brought to our feet, but to focus on true, real, and actual opportunities whereby we might make a difference. 

We’re don’t need to fight each other, we need to help each other. 

I’ve been thinking about these Auden lines a lot, too: 

But the new barbarian is no uncouth 

Desert­ dweller; he does not emerge 

From fir forests; factories bred him; 

Corporate companies, college towns 

Mothered his mind, and many journals 

Backed his beliefs. 

The new barbarian is the contemporary tory, fostered by the state to believe that it is purely their worries that matter on the whole. No one else’s. Just theirs. In the factories, the college towns, the corporate boardroom. Why help others when the government wants to just help you? You’re doing alright, why can’t everyone else do the same? The new barbarian is suited and booted, and walks past the dying with their hands outstretched; seeing, but not caring. The new barbarian is James Grieg’s “your boyfriend” on twitter. He’s the guy at the pub who told you “I don’t like Boris either – but I just couldn’t give my vote to corbyn, even if I do like some of his policies.” They’re also the person who’s always lived in the town you’re from, and can’t see a world outside of it. They remember Blair, and the war in Iraq, and they conflate the huge stock market crash of 2008 and the last labour government into one issue, when they’re really two. They’re kind of everyone. The new barbarian is all of us. 

Except the journals don’t back the beliefs, now, but create them. Our newspapers, and twitter feeds, and facebook feeds, and pub gardens, and coffee shop queues all incubate and create the same views over and over again. 

I’m reminded of Mark Fisher saying in a lecture once that we’ve not entered the 21st Century yet, but that we’re just rehashing 20th century culture on higher definition screens. We won’t stop watching friends, or wearing mom jeans and chunky trainers. This is, in itself, something I’ve spoken about before (and so have many other people far more eloquently than I ever have or will) But it is worth mentioning again, briefly. If we fall into the trap of continually rehashing the past, then it creates zones in which we enact our dissent without actually challenging the systems of control. Capital then feeds off of these performative acts, by directly profiting from the spaces which enable them. It creates a “safe space” within which to be anti-capitalist, without having to actually do anything about capitalism. 

So what do we do with the “new barbarian”? For starters, I should probably not use that phrase, as its problematics far outweigh the poetic Auden link. But really, how do we convince those who voted Conservative that Conservative policies serve no one except the very rich? How do we get out there and actually enact change? 


Auden was writing in the 30s. A time of similar political unrest, of rising inequality, and rising violence against marginalised groups. A time in which unions between countries were collapsing. Crisis impending. If we can see parallels between then and now, then knowing what happened in 1939; what is about to happen, now? 

I’m put in mind of Auden’s “Consider This and In Our Time”, which I would have liked to have quoted here in full so that you might read the whole thing, but I will link it here. It’s my favourite Auden (apart from stop all the clocks, but that goes without saying)

As the hawk sees it or the helmeted airman:

The clouds rift suddenly – look there

At cigarette-end smouldering on a border

At the first garden party of the year.

Such a cinematic opening. Full of impending doom and dread, caught in the tumult of weather, of the viking sounding hawk and helmet, and the close up on a cigarette smouldering on a border. What border? Between where and where? A garden party, which sounds like such a tory endeavour; perhaps a border not between places but between people. 

The beginning sounds like the beginning of a war, hitting the unaware. I need you to read the second stanza, because it sounds to me like a political campaign, a cross-section of the country called out into the open to be told a lie that will fill them with ‘immeasurable, neurotic dread’. 

Is it the left’s fate, then,  that 

“After some haunted migratory years

To disintegrate on an instant in the explosion of mania

Or lapse for ever into a classic fatigue.” ?

Will we fall apart, or lapse into inertia?

I’m afraid my analysis might be weaker than I’d have hoped, but the unease of the poem is palpable. It teeters on the edge of something, and feels so foreboding to me of the events that followed. The poem is dated 1930, and feels prophetic. Borders, and helmeted airmen, insufficient units, in uniforms, and furs; and uneasy. The whole poem seems a portend for what came after; so what warnings can we wring from it, now, with hindsight? 


The last few months of 2019 were a brief encounter with what might have been – indicative of a left melancholia embedded in hauntology, and unable to dislodge itself from its failure. Would we ever make it work if we actually managed to get what we wanted? 

To return to A Brief Encounter, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are always already thwarted, it will never work. I often wonder, when I’m watching it, if the two of them ever actually want it to happen at all, or if the suggestion that it might is the true seduction. Do they actually want to feel the heartbreak of the almost-neverness of it?  Doesn’t this smack of left melancholia itself, so attached to the ideal that even the failure of the ideal is as intoxicating as its possibility?

Perhaps Auden’s poetry, too, is a warning which, unheeded, could lead to the cyclical returning of previous events. Auden warns against the cyclical returnings of things, whilst A Brief Encounter enacts them.  History exists to tell us what not to do, so why aren’t we listening? The swing to the right will result in more of us dying. But perhaps there’s no use in trying, perhaps it is destiny to circle around the drain before slipping into it.

Either way, on that morning, Friday 13th December 2019,I felt the future that could have been putting its hand on my shoulder, walking out the door, as some incessant tory babbler lectured me that magic money doesn’t grow on trees, and the nhs can’t handle how many people use it. But none of these things are true. Money isn’t real; and the nhs could function better if it hadn’t been stripped of its reserves by. The. tory. Governments. It’s all a numbers game that results in some people getting rich, and most people dying poor.

That friday morning I kept thinking ‘he didn’t go… any minute now he’ll come back” it won’t be over, we can do it all again. But I have never won an election in my lifetime, and I don’t know how to imagine winning one in the future. This is the inertia I feel now. Even the Labour leadership campaign feels inert, I hadn’t even heard of Keir Stamer before this week, and suddenly here he is favouring a “broad church”. Where has all that fire gone? Why aren’t we actually still seeking methods and moments of change?

At the end of A Brief Encounter Celia Johnson nearly jumps in front of the train that doesn’t stop.  Would that have been the exit to the system we could have used? I’m not suggesting a mass left wing suicide, but a clean break, perhaps not a jump in front of the train, but what if there were a way to jump on to it? What if we sifted up our own souls like wheat and jettisoned ourselves out into the void, riding the tail of a train that stops at no stations but the one that takes us outside of the systems of control: no timetable, no scheduled stations, no tracks, no destination? 

Maybe I’m labouring this too much.

Who fucking knows.

I feel like this might have been a confusing ride through my post-election thoughts, and I know that I’m nearly a month late in posting them. Maybe I’m sorry for making you read them at all.

I’ll leave you with a note on transience, which I’ve lifted from Freud. In trying to remain positive, I remind myself that all things are transient, all things end. 

“When once the mourning is over, it will be found that our high opinion of [what might have been] has lost nothing from our discovery of [its] fragility, we shall build up again all that [austerity] has destroyed, perhaps on firmer ground, and more lastingly than before.”

 

Upward spirals – cultural returnings, and depressive ontology.

I think it’s very interesting that whilst I’ve been returning to the late 1990s and early 2000s through my writing, all of a sudden things that were popular then, are reappearing everywhere for me now – and I’m speaking specifically about popular things from between 1998, and 2003, rather than the general 1990s nostalgia that’s been pervading the current cultural production for the past few years now (do you know anyone who doesn’t own a pair of mom jeans now?)

This year, two albums are coming out that seem to be speaking to me from that time too. When Mum drove up to Yorkshire to give us the news that dad had died in 2002, we only had two albums in the car for the return journey. Dido’s No Angel, and David Gray’s White Ladder. These are now my ‘sad music’, so I only really listen to them when I’m in the mood for some catharsis. However, it is really interesting to me that Both David Gray, and Dido are releasing new albums now, that seem to rehash the techniques and styles of their previous ones, just as I’m delving into the history and happenings of that same time period. As though the universe were conspiring – or I was unwittingly bitten by some zeitgeist-like bug that is making me think I want to write about the early 2000s.

We’ve lived through a lot of cycles through culture, the re-birth of the 80s around 2008 where I happily bought a ra-ra skirt, wore a lot of frost pink lipstick, and was obsessed with synth-pop and British New Wave. The 90s/70s revival which we’ve been living through now: sliders, and mom jeans, and rave culture, and flares, and flannel – although grunge has been conspicuously absent. I wonder if we’re about to enter into a rebirth of early 00s culture. Whilst this could be quite funny (everyone is now thinking of low-rise jeans, and footless tights, and putting foundation on their lips instead of lipstick – I can feel it) I wonder if it is part of the seismic returning and recycling of culture that has come to define the last 50 or so years – and what will happen when we come to try and recreate the 10s? What will we re-appropriate for the new decade ahead, when a lot of the cultural expression has been recreation of old ideas, in music and fashion in particular?

I wonder if my current fixation on that period of time, being obsessed with my dad’s movements in the months preceding his death, the depths his depression took him, and the concomitant production of my own depression born out the fissures created by that trauma still resonating within ‘my life now’, are symptomatic of a return culturally to the products and feelings of the late 1990s, and early 200s. The twin voices of Dido and Gray, which are synonymous for me to the production of my own grief, and became a way of coping with that, are now present in the surface landscape again – spectral weathers from the deep. Yet their albums were produced at the same time as these feelings of inward reflection, and time travelling memory were brewing in me.

‘watch from the wings as the scenes we’re replaying’, Mark Fisher quotes Ian Curtis’ lines from ‘Decades’ by Joy Division, as an illustration of depressive ontology. In that we always return to the same simulations, ‘like a junky hooked on every kind of deadening high.’ Yet I think it is perhaps a little more pervasive than that – I am a depressive, but it is not just me cycling through the last five decades of cultural production. There seems to be almost a sense that everyone is saying ‘but there is nothing new to make.’ but there must be always something new – otherwise what is the point of it all? what are we doing?

Obviously, it seems to me that it’s just the production capital over all else, that drives the production and reproduction of old products. What is the point of making new things, if you can get people to buy something that’s already been made before, and call it retro. We’ve got tonnes of old radios at home. Dad used to refurbish them, patching up their bakelite, and replacing their valves. Yet, I’ve got a new Roberts digital radio that I was given for my 21st birthday, and it looks like the old ones, but functions like the new ones. ‘Classic Design’ you’ll say – yet everyone’s house is starting to look like a reproduction of some Swedish writer’s retreat in 1961, all midcentury modernism and pale woods. I went to the London Art Fair this year, and even there the Piper and the Nash paintings were in full force: so out of fashion about 15 years ago, and yet returning. Fisher says that Ian Curtis wrote with the iron certainty that everything we do is pre-scripted. I don’t know if that’s true – or if it’s just that everything we do has already been done, but we do it anyway just to be seen to be doing something. These are like the upward spirals I wrote of in ‘An Open Letter to a Lost Future’: a constant returning to the same moments, but layering them each time with new iterations of those moments.

This is the first time that the cultural return cycle has reproduced things that I remember from the first time around (which in their turn are probably just recycled from the time before and the time before and so on) – but it is odd to me, it doesn’t seem to bring about the happy nostalgia, which I saw described on The One Show as the newest business model of the coming year. They had cultural theorists there saying that nostalgia, as big business, points to a need for the country to feel safe within memories of childhood – like fully grown men building late 80s gaming rooms in their basements. It was comforting, they said, to return to the safety of youth, and the cultural pastimes of that time recreated that feeling of safety.

I don’t know that they do make me feel safe, though – they make me feel unsettled, caught in stasis, preserved artificially for testing later.

Perhaps the cyclical returning is more indicative of the pervasiveness of the will to live, though. I wondered if that’s what Mark Fisher was getting at when he wrote that ‘whatever you do, you can’t extinguish it, it keeps coming back.’ But then Mark died too, so the truth in that is sort of marred anyway – because quite clearly, with Mark, and Ian Curtis, and countless others, it can be. Maybe it’s not the life-will that is always returning, but some kind of force to keep us going as long as we must, until we needn’t anymore. That feels a little like i’m saying there’s something guiding it, and I’m not sure that I think there is, but I can’t work out why we’re repeating moments over and over. I remember watching K-PAX for the first time, where Prot says that, due to the expending and condensing of the universe – we’re doomed to repeat everything over, and over, and over again, in exactly the same way – so we’d better make sure we get it right the first time. But if we’re repeating it, always, then how do you know that this is the first time you’ve done it? How do you know that there isn’t an alternative to what you’re doing already? How do you know, that you’re not doomed to fuck it all up in the end anyway?

Fisher states that depression is just a way of looking at the world, which it is. But he also positions the state of depression as a production of capital – and I think that this cyclical returning is so clearly symptomatic of that. Jodi Dean spoke, in Mark Fisher’s Memorial Lecture, that so often an alternative to the production of capital in this way, is ignored because we can’t see the alternative. This is also symptomatic of a depressives way of addressing issues – or at least I have found it to be so. There’s an alternative, should I be able to think without the ontological lenses of depression obscuring everything – but I can’t, because I can only look through those lenses.

Dean spoke tirelessly of ways in which we can combat capital. She’s right, there are ways to combat it – and her Q&A, though battling people who seemed just so Goldsmiths about their approach to Marxism, and their etymological issues with the word ‘Comrade’ seeming to dominate the discourse, continually expressed that there are routes of exit, should we wish to ‘dice with death’ and undertake them, and the involve a radical dissection of our actions within capitalism, despite our raised voices decrying it.

My issues with Dean’s lecture aside, I think the core message, of coming together politically to mobilise against the machinations of capital is inherently positive, and entirely possible if we are to move against the dissociative slide towards the depressive. Depressives, inherently, isolate themselves. I know that I cut out the depressive sides of me, and give a sunny face to everybody else. Combating the depressive’s view of the world as something that cannot be changed will only come if we unionise depression. That sounds mad. But I wonder if there’s something in it. I’m not calling ‘depressives of the world unite’, or maybe I am… But the view that the world turns without care back onto things that have already happened, and that we cannot interfere with this cyclical returning is what capital relies upon. It has to. We have to remain hooked in, feeding off of the ‘safety’ message that monetised nostalgia is offering.

What if we didn’t?

The question: ‘Is there alternative’ from Mark’s Capitalist Realism relies upon us to answer it.

 

 

LossScapes

 

I have just returned from a weekend in London. I don’t live there anymore, because for a while I couldn’t handle the threads of connection that seemed perfectly positioned to trip me up, entangle me, and not let me go. My histories were bleeding through and, in not having any defences left to keep them at bay, I became absorbed within them. I was raw, and I felt like I had lost any hard shell that might protect me from being affected by memory. I was grieving, for a loss I had experienced 16 years prior, and I wasn’t doing very well at it. Anyway, in going back, I re-experienced these places without feeling raw – and I found that I was almost unaffected by them – memory wasn’t tugging at the edges to try and come through – and it got me thinking more about the ways in which we process grieving, by attributing our feelings of loss to particular places.

Linguistically we refer to grief almost entirely spatially. It’s not a feeling of loss within ourselves, but rather a feeling of loss in the perceptible outside world. When someone we love dies, we lose them, they have ‘gone to a better place’, ‘passed on’. This is fascinating to me – the creation of an unforseen place where those we have lost have gone to and can only be reached by getting lost ourselves. An ‘outside’. Even ‘lost’ has a spatial connotation – to have journeyed somewhere and strayed from the well known path, unable to be found again. I wonder if this is because our environment is so key to understanding our relationship with others. We begin our interaction with discussing the weather, or the state of the roads. I am reminded of Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, where Mrs Dashwood’s advice to Margaret is ‘if you can’t think of anything appropriate to say you will please restrict your remarks to the weather.’ Relationships are defined spatially, too, our nearness and closeness to others needn’t be geographical, but that is still how we define them. When someone close to us is lost, that closeness feels somehow false – there is no way to connect spatially at all, they are outside of it. This is true, too, of people we didn’t know well either, for the potentiality for connection is lost as much as they are.

John Clare’s poetry is saturated with this kind of palpable loss, a grief for something missing in the landscape, and the grief of not being able to connect with others through it too. Paul Farley, in his introduction to Clare’s poetry wrote that ‘landscape and place are so important to an understanding of Clare, because [he] ended up so ‘out of it’ – he somehow exited known places, and was lost. His first terrains, sliced up and changed irrevocably by the 1809 Enclosure Act, produced in him a grieving that goes further than the nostalgic ache for childhood lands. Further to this, when he contracted Tuberculosis and needed to be admitted to a sanitorium and leave his home for a town only a few miles away – this displacement produced a further loss. He was like a fish out of water, a bird in the wrong climes. Environment, it seems had so much to do with how Clare related to others, and to himself. The later poems are full of it, that desolation of one displaced.

Thomas Hardy, too, filters his Wessex landscapes through trauma and loss. I find this most arresting in his poem ‘The Shadow on the Stone’ written after his wife Emma died. In the garden, in which Hardy is in repose, stands a druid stone upon which ‘the shade of a well-known head and shoulders/ threw there when she was gardening.’ Almost in response to his reminiscing, the garden itself produces her shadow for him offering the sense that she is standing ‘at his back’ and, upon attempting to speak with her, hears nothing ‘but the fall of a leaf’ and, ‘to keep down grief’ he leaves, without turning to see if she is truly there. This, to me, is the closest to explaining the presence of absence. The surety, that somehow by their not being there, they appear through hole – some strange spectrogenic hologram of moments gone flickering through – a final apparition.

I have felt this; not wanting to turn to find that the space which feels occupied, is empty. Or, sometimes, I wonder if I didn’t want to turn and look just in case it was full.

 

Which would would be worse?

 

In not looking, they are both there and not there. A Schrodinger’s cat of remembrance. Were they to appear you would be mad, were they to not you would simply be lost again, and they would simply be lost again, and the wound would be fresher somehow, as though you had picked at the scab.

 

I was born in Tottenham, to the right side of the High Road when looking on a map, and entered Bruce Castle Park through an avenue of trees when I went to play there with my family. I remember it, now, when I think of it, in High Summer, or early autumn. Dappled shade spread out over the grass, and the path that cuts through it. Running along, with my arms open to catch the wind as though I might able to fly, and my family smiling. I am smiling. In my memory of those places, we are always smiling. Even if we weren’t.

Some twenty years later I returned, having moved to the left hand side of the High Road in the conservation area. I have never felt more alone than I did when I made that move, I was desperately lonely – though I felt surrounded by my friends. I had been writing about loss and landscape for some time then, and completely and utterly started understanding grief and loss through place, I think I always had done, but I had been through a process of opening up old wounds and so the barrier between my loneliness in the present, and the blissful feeling of running open armed into feeling loved was worn thin. Time was resolutely ‘out of joint’, and I felt that in returning to where I had begun my life, I was weirdly trying to begin it again. I was an odd kind of ghost there myself – a revenant, trying to begin, again, by coming back. 

I was fine, I surmised, so long as I didn’t cross the high road at any time. If I went into Bruce Castle Park, which I did  and thought I didn’t remember it so well, I went in from the left through the playground and I didn’t venture to the other side. I left memory to fester.

One morning, around 5am, after coming home half drunk and feeling sad I took myself off for a walk. I walked to the High Road and, feeling too cowardly to cross it walked up past the church we had gone to every Sunday as a child. It was high summer, and the sun was peeping over the football stadium, casting it in liquid gold and slowly breaching the roofs of the houses. The traffic was light, the air felt like it shined, and yet I felt like I had been unclipped from some kind of safety harness. I couldn’t get a line from Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ out of my head: ‘there’s a girl in New York City, who calls herself the human trampoline, and sometimes when I’m falling, flying, or tumbling in Turmoil I say “woah. So this is what she means.”’ It’s how I felt, untethered in the early morning air, listless and listing, taking on water, at threat of going under.

I turned left to walk home and surprised myself. Here, I was walking a familiar path. The tops of the houses burnished, and the top windows winking reflected sunbeams down to me. I felt four years old – the street stretched wide away from me, little victorian terraces seeming huge either side. I felt like my dad were walking ahead of me, as though he’d just turned the corner up ahead and if I walked quicker I might catch him.

I walked on, and in breaching the East entrance of the park it hit me like a wave of recollection that these trees, this avenue through which I was walking was one I dreamed of and knew well. High reaching oaks, or Plane trees – I don’t remember which now – open handed leaves impeaching crystal skies pale with morning, and creating a similar effect in me, pale with mourning. Behind me, I could have sworn I heard a step. In between the row of trees, just out of my sight I felt as though my dad, with whom I must have walked this little path countless times, were standing there just out of sight. The day was so still, and I felt as though the traffic of the High Road, and Lordship Lane were on mute. I could hear birdsong and the frantic beating of my own heart.  I could, if I wanted to, walk around the tree. But I didn’t. I felt like Orpheus, as I’m sure Hardy did. Charged with not looking incase I should dispel this shade away by turning. I felt like I had been displaced, and returned – but in returning I had come home to an empty house, and I couldn’t turn my keys in the lock. I was alone, and yet I didn’t feel like I was, and that made me feel more lonely. Part of me thinks I went mad that summer. Part of me knows I did.

Joan Didion described grief as ‘a place none of us know until we reach it.’ A physical place which we inhabit, and yet I don’t know if grief itself exists as a kind of spacetime in concurrence with true time. Constantly hovering over our environments in a kind of miasma, waiting for us to know it. Which, in time, all of us will. I wonder if this is embodied in the landscape itself, already a cyclical production of birth, growth, life, death endlessly turning in a myriad of different cycle-lengths. Grief itself is similar to this. A cyclical returning to locations of, or thoughts of, grief and loss – and the potentiality for a rebirth through it. At least, I hope this is the case. For Jonathan Bate, though, ‘the price of this intoxication with spirit things is a definite break from the human community.’ The more we delve into the holes created by grief, and pull up ghosts from its depths onto the surface layer of the landscape, the more divorced we may become from the surface’s human inhabitants, the more divorced we feel from our actual lives.

Or, perhaps, the ghosts themselves are a definite break from the action of being human. They are suspended. Always young, always as before, unchanging and unchanged. I am reminded, again, of Paul Simon – I listened to ‘Graceland’ on repeat that summer, ‘my travelling companions are ghosts, and empty sockets.’ They were, there. The ghosts of my life, of myself, appearing through empty sockets in the surface.

or something like that.