Aphorisms III

Consuming isn’t easy, sometimes. It’s a form of emotional labour. Though series and films can play themselves out in front of us, we don’t just sit and absorb their images. Or at least, not by default. In this way, A Clockwork Orange has a fallacy in it – that being forced to watch something would change us, simply by being made spectator. Of course this is the case for certain experiences, that we are particularly receptive to, but the active spectator can critique whilst in the process of watching (hopefully not out loud though, for the sake of others…)

This idea has an interesting expression in the world of music – are there not songs that you love, whilst being almost completely ignorant of the lyrics, or cognisant of them only in a vague, catchphrase fashion. Consuming music like this is simply allowing it to bounce off us, alter our rhythms. But to consume the whole is to process the message of the song, and to come to a conclusion regarding its sense. I do this rarely. It’s a lot of work.

*

Sometimes I come across people like this. I ask – do you love books? They say – Yes, I love 1984.

*

Nationalism is the symptom of a badly functioning state.

*

“Become who you are!” Careful not to read this as an exhortation to selfishness. For who you are can well include others.

*

Le Corbusier said of the High Court building in Chandigarh “it’s about majesty, the power and home of the law”. And this is a crisp example of the way buildings are conditioned by histories – of the materials, of state and society. When I see poured concrete in the Indian sun’s heat, it can seem stuffy, and humid. I wonder at the corrosion brought by the rain, conditioned by my viewing of Slumdog Millionaire, absorbing the backgrounds of bollywood and countless documentaries. But to someone who was born and lives in Indian rain and humidity, coming to the High Court in 1955 will not have brought up these feelings. They might only see the rectangular immensity, the incredible newness of the state of India, the absolute unlikeness to bland imperial domination, they might see rebirth. They might see a clearness, and a simplicity which I can see through a glass darkly. Or they might not. I would love to read an account of someone coming to this building for the first time.

*

People say we are insulating ourselves in small online communities, because we won’t listen to their bullshit.

*

When you go back to a piece of music that means a lot to you, so much that you are scared to hear it, it can help to bear this in mind; that every moment we listen to it adds to the chain of moments that will stretch back through our life and be brought along with it when we listen the next time. It can sometimes be hard not to be disappointed if the song no longer affects you like it used to – but if that’s the case, you aren’t listening for the song, only the way the song used to sound.

*

The figure of the guardian angel comes across as melancholic now, as opposed to simply wistful at some past time. It was once a mysterious and hopeful possibility, but now it brings with it this longing for a story we can never have.

Only one story is more comforting and leaves me distraught and that is being with lost friends once more. It’s interesting how the time machine as a story idea is often focused on the future rather than the past. But insofar as the past comes into it, this impossible meeting again takes over. And often the figure propelled into the future strongly wishes to return for the same reason.

*

What we feel when we hear about vast forces in the galaxy is our previous alignment of values and it’s particular connections and associations in our minds being blasted as if by solar wind, burning away to reveal a transformed conception of ourselves. I would hazard a guess that those who grow up already knowing this stuff would find it odd that we found it unnerving to hear that, for example, Mars used to have an atmosphere, but it was destroyed by the sun.

*

Criticism (in the artistic sense) is an odd beast, often wanting to control us. Aesthetic theory can be the same. Wanting to tell us how to consume, how to spend our time. To alter our values. Fair enough, if our values are themselves arbitrary. But they might not be. Certain of them might not be in the realm of justifications.

The ground of a certain sort of criticism has yet to be found, and perhaps never will be – the sort that says, this art is bad. Do not like it. But the principle that has a certain legitimacy is this – here is a fact that may interest you about that book. Here is something that might help you understand it. Here is a history that changes how you experience the show if you know it. What do you think?

Criticism that behaves otherwise is like the heritage of a lord – illegitimacy based on position, and nothing more. Position can be powerful, ‘pragmatic’ and has its logic. But it collapses with the slightest comparative thought.

*

Do not confuse mechanical change in page form and grammar with progress and prowess in content and content relations. That is the avant-garde of the heart.

*

It is foolish to count the number of people who appreciate a thing. If talk of number, one person’s care is worth as much as ten people’s, as much as a thousand, as much as one million. What we are searching for is a care which has quality. Once we find this, we can be comforted. But the talk of numbers can creep back in via the back door. Do not be foolish enough to let it in. Ten thousand of the same thing is still the same thing.

There is a story of a gardener who built a garden on a mountaintop above a city. Thousands of people made the climb to visit this garden, but the gardener’s apprentice was confused to see her remain quiet and not show true joy. This went on for a month, until he saw her rise and talk to a visitor who was standing back from the rest. The visitor bowed to the gardener, and pointed calmly to a part of the garden without a single flower, a place built with care to counterpoint the rest. That night, the gardener smiled all through her evening meal. The apprentice asked her: “why are you happier after that one person came, than after the many crowds that have come?” And the gardener looked at him and said “Surfaces reflect better than depths”.

*

Esoteric knowledge has the joy of a puzzle to be solved. But – easy to forget – its rareness is not a sign of its importance.