Vertigo At The British Museum

So much is free, but you can’t hold it, can’t touch it, you don’t own it. Well, “you can’t take it with you” as they say.  Why hold on to something?  But when you get a digital something, you have the ghost of it, the music, the book, the film; it’s free but it’s gone. You are holding on to air.

I went to the British Museum recently, and there it’s different; old school.  You can walk past things, you can, in theory, touch them (signs saying “please do not touch the exhibits” only encourage it.  I have never seen a sign saying “do not touch the MP3s”, because, well, you can’t).  Egyptian gods stare down the aisles and ages, Greek bodies are held in split-second frozen marble.  And under glass, ancient thoughts written down are too far back in time to find or feel.

This stuff is old.  Really old.  The feeling is strangely vertiginous, as if looking back is like looking down, and the further you look the higher up is the precipice from which that past is viewed.  Looking into the strange, ossified eyes of an Egyptian mask, it seems every smile has behind it a thousand others, and in front of it many more to come.  Years ago, and years yet to live.  It seems impossible that this has happened.  I catch my present day grimace’s reflection and find it lacking.

Recurring dreams of childhood dreams left me with a kind of “fear of infinity”, and a quick google has identified this as apeirophobia.  For a long word, this strikes me as being too short, abrupt almost; it should have within it an impossible cycle of repeats that can never end.  It should be spelt up a kind of Escher staircase, or possibly down a spiral one.  Apeirophobeirophobeirophobeir…o…..ph….

Faces smile back at me, perfect and timeless.  We assume that to create something timeless is a good thing – yes, Hotel California, what a timeless classic etc.  For me, timelessness is a nightmare of arrested activity, a trapped movement, invisible mucus wrapped around me like a coiled snake.  Air into vacuum.  Michelangelo’s David will always be youthful and virile, a snapshot (or sculpture, the only thing they had in those days, terribly time consuming) perhaps taken before his later decline into obesity and alcoholism.  Like Instagram, these are models of ourselves we cannot match.

But then we arrive in the Japanese Galleries, and this is why I came. They have the lights low here, to try and halt the inevitable decay of the treasures within.  It’s never busy.  Silk scrolls curl, woodblock prints fade, everything is fragile, is broken, ceramic pots are wonky and endearing.  It is not timeless, because the effects of time, the aesthetic benefits of time, are seen here everywhere.  It is full of time.

An iPhone 6s, for example, is exterminated well before its natural demise to make way for an upgrade, maybe one of these new ones with a screen that goes past the edge of the handset (to where?).  We don’t get to see it decompose, it’s corners fraying and worn, signs of use making it more beautiful, more personal, lived in, like an old book or wrinkled face.  The Japanese call this wabi sabi, the acceptance of transience and imperfection, where an object only really reaches its full glory as it begins to lose its shine.   Beauty as process.  Dropping your phone on the pavement or down a toilet doesn’t count.  The internet can document the passing of time (it is mainly about the passing of time) and yet nothing ages…..it’s merely information, a shared thought trapped in purgatory between the mind and the world of real things.

Back in the Japanese galleries, my phone’s message notification disturbs the murky light.  Must make some time to get back to them, just need to find my bank details and address and phone number, I don’t like to keep people waiting.

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I Like To Stay Well Informed

 

It starts with good intentions.  Not mine, especially, but those of a guy raising money to clean up the oceans, to clear the gyres of tons of plastic waste that our Evil Capitalist society has generated.  Every pointless piece of Amazon parcel packaging adds another weight tied to the foot of our planet, and it’s ending up somewhere in an ocean that once seemed too big and shapeless to know the end of but now seems to be facing its demise.  And here is this dream guy entrepreneur to steer us away from it.

What a great story.  God I am so fed up of the apocalyptic tales, the Evil Capitalist System is failing us, smash it up.  How great, then, that from the go-getting spirit that so often twists itself into greed comes a plan to undo the mess that greed itself has made.  A great story.  I am feeling so good about myself right now.  There is a video.  The music is tooth grindingly awful, and contrary to his intentions makes me mistrust him completely, but the euphoria is working.  So, post number one, shared with a click.  It’s then that the problems start.

Enter post number two, another article.  It turns out, this guy hasn’t thought some of the obstacles that might frustrate his efforts.  These include the sea, the animals in the sea, the fact that not all plastic floats on the sea, the fact that the sea is deep, sometimes really really deep and you can’t moor things to the sea bed when you’re in a really deep bit.  I start to smell some sour grapes, he thinks this guy wants media attention as much as anything else(I think back to the music, and silently vouch for that opinion) but it seems very well researched.  Contrary to popular belief, by which perhaps we mean hope, it seems this thing won’t work.  And that was posted, one click, as an answer to my original shared post, by one of my friends.

But then I think about the second guy.  Maybe he used to work with the first guy and they fell out.  Maybe they argued on Twitter.  Maybe the first is an Evil Capitalist who wants to make it look like that same Evil Capitalism can become Benevolent, can provide all the tidy up solutions as well as all the money.  It’s self regulating you know.  We can create tidying up jobs as well as messing up jobs, like the maids and the landed gentry.  It’s a Capitalist dream.  So I don’t know whether to believe him either.  You see, in the old days, one had to kind of get in a boat to see what the sea was like.  Better still, get out of the boat and get in the sea.  And someone who has done this, and who comes in after a hard day at the office with barnacles in their hair, I will read their thoughts on this subject, but how do you distinguish that from the writing of someone who has a well meaning interest in ecological issues as it reflects their belief in a fair society?

Then I looked closer.  At the dates.  The first actually predates the second, and addresses most of its concerns in a massive (ok well I think that is big) 523 page feasibility study.  I went too fast.  I was looking for something positive, then found it, then lost it again, etc etc.  I have bruises on my knees from their under-the-table jerkiness.

We move too fast.  You cannot learn to swim by moving arms and legs balanced on a chair.  You cannot learn to play music in a practice room, you cannot change business practices without having been a businessman, and you cannot talk about what poor people need without having experienced poverty (or at least talking at great length with people who have).  These are preperations for learning, the real work comes later.  As a musician, I learnt phrases, memorised solos of the great and the good, I prepared as best I could.  But when I got on stage and no one listened, or I felt the energy sag under the weight of my correctly learned arpeggios, it was then that I started to learn what I needed to do to play music the way I wanted it to sound.  And it’s never too early to put yourself in that position, in my opinion.  I wanted applause.  It was a good lesson.

I write because I enjoy it, I enjoy choosing words, not because I want to change the world.  If the world is going to change, I want to hand that onerous task over to people who know something about it.  I want them to plan it out carefully, sensibly and with an even temper.  I want them to be able to listen to people, both good and evil, and come to some arrangement.  Let’s find the experts.  I wouldn’t hand over the orchestration of one of my tunes to a anyone other than an orchestrator.  The world will not be changed by some hypocrite like me who has a tax free ISA account but objects to Cameron’s tax avoidance and who doesn’t look at the date on articles.  I am, however, an expert on why I think some music is crap and some is great (please note this is not the same as defining said music as one or the other).  Do ask, but sit down first.

The internet is like a massive branch of B and Q with no staff, it has everything but….where?  And how do we know what works?  Facts are unchecked, views unsubstantiated, sentences are unpunctuated.  It is an anxiety dream made real, or virtual at least.  We are constantly being told to get angry (social protest), outgoing and confident (school), ambitious (work).  These are all, as far as I’m concerned, hysterical, short term reactions to a world full of complex problems.  If you love something (music, changing the world, banking), start early and go slow, investigate, have breaks, read a book.  I know, I sound old.  I am old.  If we all took things more slowly, with more patience, with less focussing on an outcome we already want instead of where the facts are leading us; well, that sounds like the death of the internet in its present form, that form being the under-recruited shop type model outlined above.  Oh well never mind.  What we need are experienced shop assistants who….I am going to abandon this metaphor here as my funding fell through at the last minute.

And if you are writing about something, you’d better have the dust of it under your fingernails, it had better be the blood that flows through your veins.  I want to see the plankton, with a microscope obviously, on your flippers.  And I am appealing for your honesty, because we all need to know that in this shiny new world, bullshit and research, it all looks the same.

 

 

Some Acknowledgments : Boyan Slat, , Victor Guitierrez and Matt Nixon, whose book “Pariahs : Hubris, Reputation and Organisational Crises” got me thinking about some things I previously knew nothing about and now know a little.