In the spring of 1822 an employee in one of the world’s first offices – that of the East India Company in London – sat down to write a letter to a friend. If the man was excited to be working in a building that was revolutionary, or thrilled to be part of a novel institution which would transform the world in the centuries that followed, he showed little sign of it. “You don’t know how wearisome it is”, wrote Charles Lamb, “to breathe the air of four pent walls, without relief, day after day, all the golden hours of the day between ten and four.” His letter grew ever-less enthusiastic, as he wished for “a few years between the grave and the desk”. No matter, he concluded, “they are the same.”
Nearly everyone I know feels that some quality of concentration they once possessed has been destroyed. Reading books has become hard; the mind keeps wanting to shift from whatever it is paying attention to to pay attention to something else. A restlessness has seized hold of many of us, a sense that we should be doing something else, no matter what we are doing, or doing at least two things at once, or going to check some other medium. It’s an anxiety about keeping up, about not being left out or getting behind. (Maybe it was a landmark when Paris Hilton answered her mobile phone while having sex while being videotaped a decade ago).
The older people I know are less affected because they don’t partake so much of new media, or because their habits of mind and time are entrenched. The really young swim like fish through the new media and hardly seem to know that life was ever different. But those of us in the middle feel a sense of loss. I think it is for a quality of time we no longer have, and that is hard to name and harder to imagine reclaiming. My time does not come in large, focused blocks, but in fragments and shards. The fault is my own, arguably, but it’s yours too – it’s the fault of everyone I know who rarely finds herself or himself with uninterrupted hours. We’re shattered. We’re breaking up.
It’s hard, now, to be with someone else wholly, uninterruptedly, and it’s hard to be truly alone. The fine art of doing nothing in particular, also known as thinking, or musing, or introspection, or simply moments of being, was part of what happened when you walked from here to there alone, or stared out the train window, or contemplated the road, but the new technologies have flooded those open spaces. Space for free thought is routinely regarded as a void, and filled up with sounds and distractions.
“Right now we need to articulate these subtle things, this richer, more expansive quality of time and attention and connection, to hold onto it. Can we? The alternative is grim, with a grimness that would be hard to explain to someone who’s distracted.” – Rebecca Solnit.
We inhabit a culture that privileges novelty and growth over the cyclical and regenerative. Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way.
Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (via exhaled-spirals)
Bilinguals overwhelmingly report that they feel like different people in different languages. It is often assumed that the mother tongue is the language of the true self. (…) But, if first languages are reservoirs of emotion, second languages can be rivers undammed, freeing their speakers to ride different currents.
Lauren Collins, Love In Translation from the New Yorker, August 8 & 15, 2016
Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.
Jane Austen, Persuasion (via persephinae)
Mary Magdalene is the madwoman – angry mad – in Christianity’s attic. She was hidden there because of an open and not fully appreciated secret, and its implications, at Christianity’s core: that the male disciples fled and the women did not.
Jane Schaberg, “The Ressurection of Mary Magdalene” (via slaughterofbruce)
A monster is not such a terrible thing to be. From the Latin root monstrum, a divine messenger of catastrophe, then adapted by the Old French to mean an animal of myriad origins: centaur, griffin, satyr. To be a monster is to be a hybrid signal, a lighthouse: both shelter and warning at once.
Sacredness is a form of entropy. It accrues to the rational like pollen falling earthward on a spring day or leaves during an autumn chill. The Jacobins and others established their “Cult of Reason,” or their “Cult of the Supreme Being,” re-dedicating churches as temples of reason, and enacting a festival in that ideal’s name upon the altar of Notre Dame. But ultimately temples are places of faith, no matter how loud the denials. A cult is still a cult, after all.
I reached the Department of Doing Things Especially Quickly just before 9.00 p.m. The elevator was now reciting the history of the Department the way it was supposed to, which made me glum until I realised it was making up all of the dates.
‘Way to go,’ I whispered to it as I got out. ‘Fight ‘em from within.’
‘Right on’ it whispered back.
Michael Marshall Smith, Only Forward