Krapp's Middle Blog at 4am

4am on a Summer morning of one of the coldest years I have known, and I can't sleep. Another academic year ends; a year without my mother, without that strong, fierce mad drama of her defiance, draws on. Friends get on with their lives, some of choice, some of necessity, and I get ready to move from this memorable flat. I cannot sleep and can't not think.

I remember sitting in an hotel looking out over Istanbul two Christmases ago and being unable to sleep, throwing Yeats into the night; perhaps that would help.

I need some mind that if the cannon sound
From every quarter of the world can stay
wound in minds pondering
as mummies of the mummy cloth are wound
Because I have a marvellous thing to say
A certain marvellous thing
None but the living mock
Though not for sober ear
It may be that all hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock

Except that I have no marvellous thing to say. The mummy cloth thing just makes me think of silliness anyway; a Daily Mail story this week of a gyring Egyptian statue, which is either on a curved or disproportioned base set against glass, or being moved by differential heat or the harmonics of crowds. The mail are reading as much into it as Yeats reads into shroud bandages. People should be made to appreciate physics.

I find myself thinking over and over again these days of my parents, and of the world they lived in that's gone. My mum drove me up a road in Corby a year or so ago, chatting, and made the observation as we watched an empty street up and down which I had walked as a young man, and along which we must have been a thousand times, that there was no such thing as religion anymore. For a woman from the Donegal Mountains, that said a lot, but the conclusion to be drawn from it--that the hierarchy was coming near exhausting the patience of people, and that ordinary Catholics were largely incapable of or prevented from following the faith properly now, was inescapable. Mary Meenagh, you see, understood that some people were too clever and some things were so silly only clever people believed them. She taught her son, over and over, though he never learned in her lifetime, to use his eyes and keep his mouth shut. 

I should have seen in a million different ways; the people chewing gum and talking through a first communion out of some slouching pride; the lunatic campaign against secular homosexuals; the playing fast and loose with the creed; the undermining by the Church and its adherents of its own Pope; the Church's economic cluelessness. I love it and am not apostate, reader, nor any less pious, but sometimes one has to be brought to see. Put your trust in no hierarchy. The Bar has almost ensured its own destruction, the political class are a joke, professional is now a synonym for some antimatter grammar, and the hierarchy at the heart of Christendom, at least in its Western form, is somehow corrupted.

Night thoughts. When she died, I felt her spirit and my fathers united in Heaven, and imagined them flying forever in the days of happiness they were granted at their wedding and early married life. Yet there was none of the liberation I felt vicariously when my grandad's spirit soared out and I sat bolt upright. Just bleak loss, dripping slow...

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God

Tonight, as for many nights past, I cannot sleep continuously. I rarely sleep well. Maybe I should just assert myself--think myself into tiredness. Why would hierarchy fail right now?

The concept is deeply embedded in the West and therefore in most of its institutions. It stems intellectually from Plato, probably. The pre-liberal idea that knowledge is virtue, and that some would have a chance to accumulate it in universities or elaborate it through property, which would then create social validation, is older than most people think and not really compatible to what I know of other cultures.

At the same, time, however, that concept of hierarchy, either social or intellectual, has developed in lockstep with a fear of anarchy. Plato was in part reacting against Heraclitus and assimilating Parmenides when writing of truths which would have to be understood, to exist, only by the enlightened. At the other end of a couple of millennia, Delueze and Guattari recast truth as a sort of binary manifestation on the rhizomatic or paradigmatic surface of a disorganised, exploding idea. The idea that you can enter into and out of truth isn't a new idea. The idea that you have to be organised against it, but that somehow the order you produce has to be adaptable, isn't either. I suppose if you are philosophical rather than historical, you'd have more trouble with this proposition.

Perhaps what I mean is that we've never as a culture been good at sustaining mass movements, any more than we have wanted to extend moments of emotion. Instead. movements and moments have been attached to the interests of a self-sustaining group--as partially in the Church, or its offshoot ecclesial communities, for instance, or in most political parties and many charities--or they've been redirected and then suppressed, as in the popular crusades or socialism. Very few of the real hierarchies of family, insiders or interests which emerged have been maintained in one form for very long. However, in a way probably connected with the tides of climate and the cycles of the economy, most have reformed in such ways that they kept their spirit via more or less the same type of people being in charge.

The churning of elites and hierarchies that went on in the industrial period, and the way that elites fought back, is one of the things that makes it interesting. Mass immigration, for instance, threatened to destabilise the Atlantic rim for around forty years until Imperial expansion, mass capitalism, and political parties got a grip. Socialism threatened the middle classes in the west, until they took over the Socialist parties and diverted them into reforms that benefited, well, the Middle Class. Similarly, the Church fought a long battle against the printing press which saw it reform not once but twice--in Vatican one, elevating the papacy, marianism, and a supposed separation from the Orthodox churches, and in Vatican Two regenerating almost against itself to reify 'relevance' and merge it with incarnated symbolism. (The obvious logic of all of this is that at some point a regression to Justinian's Pentarchy will happen, and that a Vatican Three will pull off a reunification of East and West under a Council in which the Bishop of Rome is primus inter pares, but that's a thought for another blog).

You can see the process at work in Atlantic politics. Forty years ago, local government and the national legislature were very likely to be representative of the bulk of the people. However, this led to a situation in which ordinary people's concerns--money for overtime, or the limitation of monopsonies, or a preference for  making things to balance the country's payments rather than selling assets--endangered both capital and the petty bourgeoisie. So their children were educated in various self-serving ways to neuter working class movements and replace them with a false liberation-lite, a reified narcissism disguised as a novel sort of anti-technocratic left-liberalism. Then they promoted each other, screwed the education system, and handed the world to networks of influence and power which could only have dreamt of their present strength forty years before. 

To think that there are people around who feel liberated because of some expression of sex or another, which was once illicit and which is now not; as though humanity is defined by the moments which make fools of us all. What on earth are they thinking? But then again, the modern condition has often been defined by unhappy and demented activity, rather than rest. There was sense to Mick Jagger--modernists knew all about the tradition they wanted to destroy--quoting Shelley at the Brian Jones memorial in Hyde Park in 1969; 

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep
He hath awakened from the dream of life
'Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit's knife
Invulnerable nothings. — We decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.
The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven's light forever shines, Earth's shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments. — Die,
If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek!
Follow where all is fled!

Frankly, and I know its from a eulogy, I've rarely read anything which sums up the vicious silliness of a lot of modern life than that. A loop closed with it; Jagger and Shelly locked in eternal recurrence, their thrashing taken for defiance of the dark, their noisy minds and mouths for innovation and grace. That sort of thing has led so many simple-minded people astray--look at Tony Blair, for instance. One explanation for the Devil's number, 666, which as a lazy ape I like, is that is a stuck number. On the seventh day God rested; but a life of striving can never get to six without reset, and then it just becomes demented activity for its own state, six and six and six, recurring all over again because it can never get to seven.

Constant effort, constant striving, and for what? What does it profit a person if he gain the world and lose his soul?

Oh, sod this. I'm going to have an early shower and coffee and breakfast at Macdonalds. That'll do for me, in every sense.


Anonymous said…
Good to hear from you again, Martin.
Martin Meenagh said…
Thank you, anonymous. I got your other comment too, and I know that you value your privacy, so I won't put it up, but I am thinking of you, and hope that all is well. Forgiveness may, I presume, come slow, but it is better that it comes.

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