So The Eleventh Letter is out in the world as a real thing (I love the www.thepigeonhole.com edition as well, with it’s songs and interviews I forgot I had given). It feels very good indeed – not least because the people associated with my publisher seem to be the kind of people I like meeting. Long may it roll on.
I wanted to write something about becoming fifty when it actually happened, back at the beginning of October. But October’s been like a berth on a clipper crossing the Pacific sometime around when my grandfather was born (1857). October, an uncomfortable bunk in the year 2016, one of the ships sailing me through time. Years can be like boats. There are many non-scientific ways of thinking about time travel: friendships, lives, things which have happened and the echoes or ripples that carry forward.
Afterwardsness … I’m not particularly fond of Freud as a psychologist, not in the prescriptive sense of x + y = neurosis z, as some might have him, but as someone who thought about life I find him irresistible. His notion of nachträglichkeit, often translated as ‘afterwardsness’ might be one of the best boats of all.
Sailing on, I’d like to mention a discovery I made today. I was reading about the wonderful Jean Laplanche (who appears, incidentally, in Agnes Varda’s film ‘The Gleaners and I’ talking about winemaking and psychoanalysis), whose thoughts about the enigmatic signifier I may owe much of a career to, when I cam upon a startling reference to a seminar he gave in Kent in 1990. I was startled because as far as anyone connected to my training at the University of Kent was concerned, Laplanche was a non-person, not even a mystery, but one of those figures teachers and trainers seem never to have heard of. I shrugged, inwardly and outwardly, but always felt this unawareness was a little like the kind of unawareness we each sometimes cultivate in relation to a kind of tricky problem. Laplanche was joint editor of what’s become the standard encyclopaedia of psychoanalysis and, internationally, a figure something like The Pet Shop Boys might be to anyone with an interest in music (Orthodox Psychoanalysis, for all of its all its apparent esotericism, has something of the spirit of Take That).
And there, as I read about Jean Laplanche, was a reference to a paper, ‘Psychoanalysis, Time and Translation’ delivered in 1990 to the first year of students completing my then newly established training. Laplanche wrote a book called ‘New Foundations of Psychoanalysis’ and there he was, in at the start, the foundations, of a training that later seemed incapable of recognising him.
There’s a story in all this, if I ever get the time to look into it.
I mention it here in relation to my becoming 50 not specifically out of pique but to show maybe something of what I mean by echoes and ripples from the past. I find something out and it seems to be an intersecting, me and Laplanche catching up somehow … somehow.
If you read me much you’ll know I tend to think a lot of things come to us indirectly, rather like the ball in a pinball machine. I used to play one of those at a caravan park near Newhaven where the ball even went down a hole later to appear randomly from one of many other holes in the machine. In life we don’t see the paddles or the curves of pins; or the strange electronic mushrooms or the jump pads (I imagine there are more correct technical terms). Sometimes we can’t even see the arc or the angle of something as it approaches: it simply lands.
I began by saying I wanted to write something about being 50, but it seems that’s still on its way.
The Pigeonhole are serialising my novel, The Eleventh Letter, next week in advance of its print publication on Thursday (incidentally I saw that Wordery are selling the novel at a discount, and they’re another enterprise worth supporting). You can join up to Pigeonhole for free here.
The Pigeonhole’s (#ThePigeonholeHQ) a great idea – Anna’s a proper book person … doing things electronically.
I imagined picking up the phone and talking to someone dead about Donald Trump. Someone who hasn’t been around for a while. My mother would be good: as much as anyone she used to surprise me with her instinct for where to look if you really wanted to see what was going on. I’m sure she’d find it hard to conceive of Trump, as he’s known today, continuing to run for president without clowns running wild in the streets. The madness has to be visible somewhere if Trump isn’t going to put on makeup and a wig and start threatening children with a chainsaw.
I’ve been ill. A lot more ill, apparently, than I imagined I was – and that brought me up sharply. Like a horse pulling up at a fence. So, there have been two days of sitting still and watching things happen, and listening and occasional reading. I’ve been too ill to read, really; which has been a shock, realising that my fundamental retreat is temporarily out of bounds.
What I’ve been left with (and I have to point out I have been very well looked after) I remember from the last time I was this unwell: conversations in the street, sounds of cars, sirens, motorcycles and trains. Changes in the light. I wonder that I don’t get lost in them, but I don’t. I seem simply to be here, a minute or two at a time, sometimes aware of the various unpleasant things occurring in my body, sometimes talking, stroking a cat. Breathing, which is getting easier again, and trying to follow the changes in the light.
The light has been my main preoccupation. When I was very young I almost lost my sight and spent many weeks unable to see properly. I remember the orange-darkness of the hospital ward, and the sounds of doctors, other patients, nurses and most of all the floor cleaner. I liked that because it meant it was nearly the start of a day. All the time, I could barely detect shapes, more the light. Here in my bed I can follow the light through the leaves in the trees, still mainly green but browning, onto the white walls of my bedroom. I felt this morning as if I was being bathed in white light but the sky was grey. It was something to do with the room, maybe, as if it were alight around me.
The reading I did on Monday has been posted here.
It’s at the end of the second set: around 32.40 …