Sunday, October 03, 2010

Numbers are what life is all about

I was just lying in bed and contemplating the dire state of our personal finances. Life, I decided was all about numbers. No one actually has any real money, nothing solid. They have numbers that open an account, numbers written on bits of paper sent by the bank, numbers they write on bits of paper to give someone or numbers on a plastic card which can only be used when you remember the numbers that unlock them. Yet, strangely, this is no safer a method of commerce than the days when you had copper, silver and gold to trade with. Nice solid, round heavy cash you could put in a box and hide under a bed. So robbers could steal the lot. Robbers can steal numbers too.

As it was a Sunday morning, my husband and I sat in bed with a cuppa and listened to the Point of View slot on the radio at 8.45am. It was Professor Liza Jardine's last one of the series and in life's synchronous manner she spoke about numbers too. But her main drift was about history and how periods of art and culture often seem to occur in times of depression and apparent decay in society. These waves of creativity do not arise from happy times and joyful spirits but rather from the opposite.

Historians of the past delighted in battles, conquests, and recording the deeds of those famous men and women who brought about sweeping changes from greed, desire for power or pure madness. They were the movers and shakers and the masses were shaken and stirred, moved hither and thither as if at a whim. However, beneath these waves of well recorded events lies a huge flowing sea of the unrecorded events of ordinary people and their lives. And from this sea of fear, anxiety, humiliation, suffering came forth the occasional person who was able to voice what this silent majority thought and felt. The poets, artists, musicians and writers.

We are now entering a dark age all our own. Perhaps this is why so many people are taken with fantasy writing, fulfilling a need to turn away from life's anxieties and escape into Tolkien worlds of their own making. Writing sites such as the Harper Collins site, Authonomy, are awash with writers writing fantasy,YA and erotic romantic fiction set in some golden past of happily ever after. Writers have generally recorded their times through their works so what can we say about our own times filled either with fantasy worlds or else with horrifying darkness and violence? Our many crime writers fulfil this latter role as they explore the shadier side of our modern societies. Ruth Rendell, who has written almost a novel a year for some decades, has recorded the various moods and problems of English society through the 70's to the present time through her often disturbed and strange characters. Ian Rankin has probed the underbelly of elegant Edinburgh. Stieg Larsson explored Scandinavian darks and seaminess, and so forth.

In the Middle Ages the fantasy was perhaps fulfilled by myths, fairy tales,superstitious and religious thoughts while the violence and horror of battles, plagues and torture were all to real. Nowadays, in our 'civilized societies' most of life has become virtual, interior, explored through film, books, computers.
But as Liza Jardine said, it is the masses who now need to record their feelings,fears,ideas,loves and passions. We ordinary people make history now, not the great battles or the sway of Kings and Queens and generals whose days are past while the unwashed masses lived and died in obscurity. The tide has turned and swept us all up onto the shore of conscious existence with all our flotsam and jetsam. After all, there's nothing much left to be conquered in the outer world. We all must now learn to conquer ourselves from within. And writing, art, poetry and music is the way we can do this and speak of the times we now live in. A strange world of the mind, regions within, lands to be explored and conquered inside our own hearts and souls.

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Favourite Quotes

  • My home is my retreat and resting place from the wars: I try to keep this corner as a haven against the tempest outside, as I do another corner of my soul. Michelle de Montaigne
  • Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony: Mahatma Gandhi
  • Friends are people you can be quiet with. Anon.