Thursday, 1 January 2009

I am not ready to let go of 2008 yet.

There were too many things that happened in it that I'm not done with. I know I don't have to let it go, but that's the problem with New Year. I feel like I should, somehow. I'm not going to, though. New beginning or not, things that HAVE happened are too important to be divided by an arbitrary watershed. The future is less important, it hasn't happened and it's mutable. The past is more solid, though still malleable, but its continued existence is valuable.

I've finished Sexing the Cherry, which might explain more extended musings on the nature of history and its relationship to time. A few quotations:

'As your lover describes you, so you are.'

'My own heart, like this wild place, has never been visited, and I do not know whether it could sustain life.

In an effort to find out I am searching for a dancer who may or may not exist, though I was never conscious of beginning this journey. Only in the course of it have I realized its true aim. When I left England I thought I was running away. Running away from uncertainty and confusion but most of all running away from myself. I thought I might become someone else in time, grafted on to something better and stronger. And then I saw that the running away was a running towards. And effort to catch up with my fleet-footed self, living another life in a different way.

I gave chase in a ship, but others make the journey without moving at all. Whenever someone's eyes glaze over, you have lost them. They are as far from you as if their body were carried at the speed of light beyond the compass of the world.

Time has no meaning, space and place have no meaning, on this journey. All times can be inhabited, all places visited. In a single day the mind can make a millpond of the oceans. Some people who have never crossed the land they were born on have travelled all over the world. The journey is not linear, it is always back and forth, denying the calendar, the wrinkles and lines of the body. The self is not contained in any moment or any place, but it is only in the intersection of moment and place that the self might, for a moment, be seen vanishing through a door, which disappears at once.'

'Maps are magic. In the bottom corner are whales; at the top, cormorants carrying pop-eyed fish. In between is a subjective account of the lie of the land. Rough shapes of countries that may or may not exist, broken red lines marking paths that are at best hazardous, at worst already gone. Maps are constantly being re-made as knowledge appears to increase. But is knowledge increasing or is detail accumulating?

A map can tell me how to find a place I have not seen but have often imagined. When I get there, following the map faithfully, the place is not the place of my imagination. Maps, growing every more real, are much less true.

And now, swarming over the earth with our tiny insect bodies and putting up flags and building houses, it seems that all the journeys are done.

Not so. Fold up the maps and put away the globe. If someone else has charted it, let them. Start another drawing with whales at the bottom and cormorants at the top, and in between identify, if you can, the places you have not found yet on those other maps, the connections obvious only to you. Round and flat, only a very little has been discovered.'

'Lies 1: There is only the present and nothing to remember.

Lies 2: Time is a straight line.

Lies 3: The difference between the past and the futures is that one has happened while the other has not.

Lies 4: We can only be in one place at a time.

Lies 5: Any proposition that contains the word 'finite' (the world, the universe, experience, ourselves...)

Lies 6: Reality as something which can be agreed upon.

Lies 7: Reality as truth.'

'The most prosaic of us betray a belief in the inward life every time we talk about 'my body' rather than 'I'. We feel it as absolutely a part but not at all part of who we are. Language always betrays us, tell the truth when we want to lie, and dissolves into formlessness when we would most like to be precise. And so we cannot move back and forth in time, but we can experience it in a different way. If all time is eternally present, there is no reason why we should not step out of one present into another.

The inward life tells us that we are multiple not single, and that our one existence is really countless existences holding hands like those cut-out paper dolls, but unlike the dolls never coming to an end.'

'I have set off and found that there is no end to even the simplest journey of the mind. I begin, and straight away a hundred alternative routes present themselves. I choose one, no sooner begin, than a hundred more appear. Every time I try to narrow down my intent I expand it, and yet those straits and canals still lead me to the open sea, and then I realize how vast it all is, this matter of the mind. I am confounded by the shining water and the size of the world.

The Buddhists say there are 149 ways to God. I'm not looking for God, only for myself, and that is far more complicated. God has a great deal written about Him; nothing has been written about me. God is bigger, like my mother, easier to find, even in the dark. I could be anywhere, and since I can't describe myself I can't ask for help. We are alone in this quest, and Fortunata is right not to disguise it, thought she may be wrong about love. I have met a great many pilgrims on their way towards God and I wonder why they have chosen to look for him rather than themselves. Perhaps I am missing the point - perhaps whilst looking for someone else you might come across yourself unexpectedly, in a garden somewhere or on a mountain watching the rain. But they don't seem to care about who they are. Some of them have told me that the very point of searching for God is to forget about oneself, to lose oneself for ever. But it is not difficult to lose oneslef, or is it the ego they are talking about, the hollow screaming cadaver that has no spirit within it?

I think that cadaver is only the ideal self run mad, and if the other life, the secret life, could be found and brought home, then a person might live in peace and have no need for God. After all, He has no need for us, being complete.'

'As I drew my ship out of London I knew I would never go there again. For a time I felt only sadness, and then, for no reason, I was filled with hope. The future lies ahead like a glittering city, but like the cities of the desert disappears when approached. In certain lights it is easy to see the towers and the domes, even the people going to and fro. We speak of it with longing and with love. The future. But the city is a fake. The future and the present and the past exist only in our minds, and from a distance the borders of each shrink and fade like the borders of hostile countries seen from a floating city in the sky. The river runs from one country to another without stopping. And even the most solid of things and the most real, the best-loved and the well-known, are only hand-shadows on the wall. Empty space and points of light.'

From Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson (London, 1989) this edition published by Vintage, 2001

There was more I wanted to put in, but some of it I felt too keenly to write about in any public way. She becomes more and more like Virginia Woolf the more I read. I need to go and get hold of a copy of Orlando to read again - I think there would be a heady number of parallels between the two. This is a book further divorced from reality than Oranges was, but closer to philosophy. It's subject is different, though. The last book was about love, while this one is about time. Actually, they're both about both of them and more, but these themes are guiding ones. Cherry has a great deal to do with why we 'journey' through life - where we are going away from and where we are going to, and what is the nature of the journey. It's frenetic, in that one cannot escape the travelling. I find that scary, really. The sense that there is no moment of completion or or rest - that all paths lead to the sea, by its nature eternally changing, never still and enormously dangerous. The idea that one can drown in oneself, because one can never find it all out. But it is also exciting. For myself, the balance between fear and excitement is governed by my mood at the minute. If I'm feeling confident, then it will be exciting, and if I'm not, then I will worry about drowning before I have decently explored.

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