On a Metro train in Paris

January 27, 2011

What is a writer? An artist? or just a narcissist. Especially bloggers. We think we have something important to tell the World, or to convince the World that we are right when actually we are the crowd. We are the amplified vanity of our real life selves. We can be creative and we can have spells where our mind is numb and empty. Most of the time we are just attention seeking. We need people to know our thoughts and opinions. If we locked ourselves away in a room and smoked ourselves to death reading the great writers like Hemingway, the World wouldn’t miss us. The World would have missed Hemingway. Perhaps we are interpreters. Perhaps we feel the need to vent or maybe we have no other way to express ourselves. Do we bring something to the World? I think so. I think bloggers are a new field of writers entirely. We are journalists without employment and yet our work is free for the entire World to see. We are commentators. It doesn’t matter our motives or our apparent desire to feel we have your attention. Are we artists? Some of us, yes. Most of us, no.

Sometimes we all just need to scream and punch and kick and fight and laugh crazily and beg to get off the train and lock ourselves away and think, because if we don’t we will be inflicted by a ferocious, endless insanity. But introspection is much like a kettle. It has a boiling point. It needs to be poured out when it reaches that point.

Writing, is my way of doing that.

On a Metro train in Paris, a young French mother was sat next to her little boy. She was sketching fellow passengers. Not all of them. Maybe just an arm of one of them, the hair of another. She sketched beautifully the vacant, lost expression of a middle aged tall man with short grey hair and a tweed jacket. She could have chosen anyone on that carriage to sketch; she chose the man with the most forgettable face. She saw the ordinary and created something extraordinary. And when the man left the train, she switched her eyes to the next person she wished to sketch, and she never scribbled anything out or started again. I was intrigued by her, the entire way. She is an artist. I wish I could do the same. I don’t have it in me. So I write. But there is no difference really. It is an outlet. An artist or not, it is an outlet. We are both channelling our minds to something that is uniquely ‘us’.

I do not write for any artistic sake. I am not an artist. To be an artist, you need to be able to suspend a sense of reality and express the sense of private solitary that is just aching to burst out. You see it in the writings of Silvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg. Theirs is a unique Worldly interpretation that is expressed beautifully. They see a red rose and say it’s green, and you don’t know why they say it, but for some reason it makes sense that they do and I want to be them. But i’m not. I cannot express why I sometimes see a red rose appear green. I guess that is why I, like everyone else in the World, cannot do what these geniuses do.

There are many parts of the World and reality that I live in and don’t understand or find absurd or want to throw in the bin and forget, which other people tend to find normal or at least easy to deal with and I can’t and I don’t know why. I frustrate myself if I try to explain the way I see much of the bullshit I’m supposed to accept as a mere “fact of life” that you “can’t change” so “why worry? just get on with it“….. no, I have no time for that attitude. I mentioned not long ago, being yelled at at work by a colleague for putting a tray of food down on the table that people were sat at, rather than the table that they weren’t sat at, and taking the food too them. It wasn’t inconvenient. The people at the table were laughing and joking with me (which they weren’t with any other staff) and no harm was done. To be shouted at, made me stand for about three minutes, and laugh to myself. You have to laugh at absurdities, because if you don’t, you risk acquiescing to that way of life and you risk trying to legitimate it to yourself, you risk betraying your thoughts and your unique understanding, and I don’t want to be in that World. Fuck that World. I don’t fucking want it.

“At this point of his effort man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.”

It is a childish rebellious nature. And because it is my nature, I cannot change it, nor do I wish to change it. I don’t want to be like everyone else. And that’s where writers fall down. We assume that we have something unique to say, that we aren’t like everyone else, that we think differently and can’t seem to understand the World like everyone else seems to manage to do perfectly. Realistically, we’re not tortured, or artistic, or even different. We are just far more over analytical and far more self aware and far more neurotic. I am horribly self aware, that I have to be in control of every situation I find myself in. If i’m on the street walking, I have to know who is in front of me, who is behind me, who is walking up the street from me, which way the car in the carpark opposite is likely to come, and if it’s going to rain at any time soon. I’m neurotic as hell. I don’t particularly need control with my friends or relationships. I just need to know that I am fully in control of myself and aware of absolutely everything that is going on around me. I absolutely hate that idea that I am boring someone, or that I am being made out to be stupid. I analyse everything and everyone. I am trying to hold on to my own sense of self all the time and I feel like I am losing. I question everything and everyone. I question my own intelligence and worry that it’s all false and that i’ve managed to somehow manipulate everyone into thinking I have an ounce of intelligence when in fact I have nothing to offer anyone in the way of intelligent conversation. I cannot relax. I am a fucking mountain of anxiety. I try to pander to what is emotionally acceptable in the hope that I am acceptable to you.

Introspection is not necessarily a bad thing. It helps me grow mentally, and places the present in the context of what came before, and what I expect of myself tomorrow. It is my meditation, because it is myself, testing myself. It is a form of creativity in itself for me. I like that. It is however different to a constant feeling of awareness. Awareness is good, but constantly, it just creates anxiety, and anxiety at awareness exhausts itself because it allows for nothing but the negative to take hold. Introspection leads to a natural rebellion. Awareness leads to anxiety.

If rebellion was not natural, and was pointless, we would not have the great works of art of literature that we today admire so greatly. Rebellion is simply dissatisfaction at the workings of the World. It seems to exist more with the younger generations. The older generations claim ‘wisdom’, because they’ve given up, lost hope for a better World, and acquiesced to the whim of those who pay them. The rebellious nature acts as a kind of spark that you need to keep going. I cannot live without that feeling. It would be a waste of my time. It is rebellion, in the sense that it makes no sense to me that 6.5 billion people, can be classed as one of very very few Nationalities or Religions or Races, like little cylinders all fitting nicely into the round hole they have been assigned. We are all, absolutely all of us, rectangles trying to be forced into the round hole. It is not cynical or pessimistic. It is sincerely optimistic that humanity is better than this.

Camus begins his book The Outsider with the line:

“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.”

It is a beautiful start to a book. An existentialist book about a man who has completely rejected expected human reactions and emotions, and is just a very natural person, unaffected by the emotional norms forced upon us by society.

Trying to define oneself is in essence limiting oneself to the limitations of language, and around a social framework placed in the context of your time and geographical location and it is therefore quite impossible. I would also be limiting myself to collective understanding, and I cannot know experience and definition of myself, outside of my own constructed reality. No one else has had my experiences, or my memories, or knows how I react to situations, to people, to colours, to objects, or to events. I am me and I like me but I cannot define me. There is no absolute. A lack of absolute individually, and logically therefore collectively, leads me to conclude that nothing has to be “just the way it is, you just have to get on with it” if that is not how you interpret the World. Trying to define oneself is like trying to hold sand. We define ourselves and those around us, by our individual perceptions.

You build up a persona for yourself in front of different friends and family. It’s all fucking bullshit, but you start to believe that’s who you are. It isn’t who you are. Who you are is screaming at you to open its cage door. Sometimes you want to go away and start again, like your whole life had been written on a piece of paper you now want to screw up and throw into the fire.

The only truth is that happiness is fleeting, because for happiness to be meaningful, it requires the opposite. The past is gone. The future is irrelevant and living is what actually matters. And so when we aren’t living, when we are just existing, we are more aware than ever that happiness is fleeting, and it has fleeted. Perhaps we think that by writing and gaining recognition for our writing, we are creating our own fleeting happiness that is vacant from our lives elsewhere. Like a drug. A thought needing to be written down, takes the shape of our life until it is written. Until we sit back, and see it written. Then we momentarily feel a fleet of happiness and accomplishment. We are not alienated from our writing, like we are from our day to day work. The writing we have created is as much a part of us as our legs and arms. That is satisfaction on a level that is inexplicable.

We expend a great amount of energy trying to seek meaning to our lives and our World. We fail every time. We fail because natural meaning or purpose is absurd. The universe is indifferent to our existence. It isn’t laid out for humanity. It isn’t hostile to humanity. It is simply indifferent. And so trying to seek a natural meaning, is illogical. I write, to try to define myself and sort of create my own meaning.

I cannot word my arguments very well when I speak. It is my biggest set back and I hate it. I get so frustrated with myself. I see words jumbled up in my mind and I want to say them all but I cant arrange them in a logical order and so it just becomes a mess of words and sentences that mean nothing and I start to panic, which only makes the situation worse. I cannot construct sentences in the way that I want to. I have ideas and arguments and yet they are just feelings that I cannot convert into words and I despise myself for it. I don’t want to come across stupid and useless. I want to come across strong minded and passionate and in absolute control. I want to come across confident and authoritative when I speak. But I can’t.

That is why I write.


We have exiled beauty….

March 2, 2010

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

A stunningly imaginative and beautiful choice of words, straight from Ecclesiastes. Language that if written today, would become the wasteful mutterings of the unimaginative.
George Orwell took the very same passage from Ecclesiastes, and to prove the point that i’m trying to make, he translated it into Modern English….
“Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”

Orwell was Left wing. He was Socialist (although, not in the practical sense, he was a scientific Socialist). He believed, and stated on many occasions in essays, that it is the job of the Left, to question society, to not allow corruption and lies to become common place. That real intellectualism is a product of the Left, because to be “Left” you have to be dissastisfied with the current “systems” and offer change, you have to think, you have to be Utopian and not settle for the notion that reality is unchangeable. Where as the Right, or “Conservativism” is just the opposite, and is what it states, Conservative, no reason to question, no reason to disbelieve what you’re being told. Orwell, was in short, great.

He goes on to state that the modern use of the English language is similar to snow, in that it covers the truth, it blurs the outlines, and so is perfect for political and business talk.
There are two problems I see with this modern use of language.
1) It’s lazy. The quote from Ecclesiastes is a beautiful string of words. The use of metaphorical speech together with ease of flow, is incredible. It’s beautifully thought out and expressed. The point it makes it clear and it makes you want to read it over. The second, and recreated quote, as proven by Orwell, merely opens a book on popular phrases, and shoves them together. For example “element of the unpredictable” and “taken into account“. Simple phrases, we’ve all heard a million times before. Nothing new or provocative in the slightest. And that is exactly the point Orwell was making.

The free market does not allow for such wonders of creativity. Books like Jordan’s autobiography top the charts every year, spilling the beans on her lugubriously uninteresting life. Because as a population is working longer hours, for less pay; the only leisure time we have, we spend on our Xbox’s or reading easy to follow but disastrous excuses for “literature”. It’s easy. We have no time for beauty. Beauty requires thought. Our society doesn’t like thought. It likes blind acquiescence. The plethora of literature that passes by unnoticed, is unnerving. And so where is the incentive to write and to contemplate the beauty of the imagery one can create using words that haven’t already been seen a million times before, why would they want to? Evidently, it is 100 times easier to pick commonly abused phrases out and weld them together. Phrases like “leave no stone unturned” that, when first uttered, were almost ingenius, but using them over and over, is laziness of it’s worse kind. Especially in a Nation growing in it’s sense of Nationalism, it would make sense to utilise the language of the Nation we so candidly defend, in the best way possible, rather than relying on pre-spoken phrases. You’re no longer a citizen of England, you’re a Robot of England. Your voice works, but your brain is disengaged. We could be a Nation of Thomas More, Shakespeare, Hemmingway, Byron. Instead, we’re men in suits rushing to get on the Circle and District line, desperately clinging onto the hope that we wont be late into the Office for the unfathomably boring Powerpoint Presentation the boss is putting on later.

A tirade of idioms like “Take no prisoners” which seemingly posess no determinable meaning whatsoever, suddenly become common place. Because, we’re lazy with language. Language has been a artform of pure beauty for centuries. Existentialist Philosopher Albert Camus notes “We have exiled beauty; the Greeks took up arms for her” before pointing out quite rightly that: “We are ashamed of beauty. Our wretched tragedies have a smell of the office clinging to them, and the blood that trickles from them is the color of printer’s ink.” He’s fantastically right.

2) Political talk manipulates modern language, in order to seem acceptable. When the Chinese robbed hundreds of their homes, in order to build the Olympic Villiage, it wasn’t described as theft, or robbery, it was described as “transfer of population”. Suddenly, theft is almost respectable. No one questioned it. If they’d have said “We’ve just evicted people from their homes, they had no choice, they now have nowhere to live, because, well, WE WANT MEDALS!!!!“, there’d have been outcry and public dismay.

It allows phrases like “freedom” to appear. They never define what they mean by Freedom, similarly, they never define what they mean by Democracy, and yet “transfer of population” is fine when it’s in the pursuit of “freedom” and “democracy“. Freedom, when stripped bare (arrgggh, i did it, a useless common metaphor) , means the freedom to gain unimaginable wealth at the expense of the labour of others.
Perhaps I’m not clear enough. An old couple, not so long ago, died together in their homes during the winter, as a direct result of fuel poverty. Not too long ago, E-On Chief executive was caught saying “Rising fuel costs, means more money for us hahahahaha“. Is that what Politicians mean when they keep repeating “freedom“? Why cloak greed behind a tirade of disingenuous language?
Orwell calls Political Speech “The defence of the indefensible.” He’s right. Political language has to be vague, in order to advance the interests of what Chomsky calls the “two factions of the business party“; be it Democrat or Republicans, Labour or Conservative.

Office talk, similar to political language; people in suits, using deeply clouded language to cover up their true meaning, is quite morbidly institutionalised now. It has embedded itself into the very economic core of society and so is not going to simply float away. You will often hear “We have a strong customer focus” instead of “we’re manipulating your thoughts, for profit“. You’ll hear “Our vision” means “our commitment to greed, is so strong, we’ll even right this clever web of words on business cards“. “Go the extra mile on this one“…. means… “from today, you have no social life, no family, no friends, you’re now utterly dedicated to making me money, I own you, bitch.

The business world has a list. They have four categories, and they pick words from those categories, to make a meaningless bundle of bollocks. You can do this too, i’ll give you all the tools you need. One word from each category, and you are now, a businessman…
ADVERB:
Enthusiastically, Completely, Continually, Dramatically, Pro – actively, Assertively, seamlessly.
VERB:
Build, Enhance, Maintain, Supply, Restore, Create, Utilize, Promote.
ADJECTIVE:
World-Class, Multimedia based, Long Term, High Impact, Diverse, Competitive, Cutting Edge, Market-driven, High standards in.
NOUN:
Data, Resources, Leadership Skills, Infrastructures, Materials, Solutions, Benefits for all, Technology.
There you go, congratulations, you’re now a businessman.
If I owned my own Corporation, i’d go with “Dramatically utilise high impact infrastructures.” It’s meaningless, it’s the language of the idiot, but apparently, it means i’m “professional” so it must be right.
The only way to combat such lack of imagination, such laziness is to think. Think about what you’re saying. Yes, in a way, the English language is forever changing. But the English language is also a tool for the individual to utilise, not to simply adhere to whatever the rest of society is doing. Even our Politicians of days past have been masters of language. Elizabeth I once proclaimed “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king”. Our politicians, are simply celebrities with buzz words and spun PR nonsense. Society is growing ever more pretentious with how it uses language.

“Here may we reign secure, and in my choice To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell. Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven. “

It isn’t a case of using the correct grammar. It’s a case of refraining from pulling as many Latin inspired words out of a “How to sound intelligent” book as possible, and utilising the power and the beauty of the English language and it’s capabilities. That’s where the true genius lies. As shown in the quote above, taken from Paradise Lost, by Milton. Two simple sentences, exploding with power, beauty and genius.

You do not need to use archaic lexis in order to combat modern English language laze, you just need to open your mind to the shear weight of words that can be used along side other words to create something as beautiful as…
“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”