Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Learnt in lockdown

July 15, 2020

I re-read Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year at the start of lockdown (no surprise there!) and thought I’d keep my own journal of this year’s experiences; that resolution lasted a few days, as there was so little to record. All the days were the same, melting into an endless fudge of time, so that frequently I cannot recall what day of the week it is, and end up at the end of a month wondering where the hell it went. However, after several months of nowhere near as much reading as I thought I might be doing, I have found myself taking stock with a longer-term perspective:

I miss: grandchildren very much, all the people I used to meet in my language classes (Zoom is there but no substitute for real interaction and company), my weekly yoga session – I’m getting stiffer – and the spiritual support of my local Quaker meeting (again Zoom to the rescue but see immediately above).

News: early on one of my daughters told me that now was the opportunity to get back in touch with all those people I’d lost contact with over the years. An excellent idea, as when you reach my age you’ve certainly managed to be out of touch with quite a few people, and the initial enthusiasm affected those I got in touch with, so we have made up some lost time. However, things are now quietening down again.

Stuck: initially to within a mile radius of our house, latterly we have been allowed exercise further afield, and this has compelled me to discover the walking possibilities near to where I live, which I have neglected for years in favour of further afield. But – first world problems, I know – I have sorely missed my travels overseas, my spring walking in the lovely Ardennes, and constantly making plans for my next adventure. As a solo traveller and walker it’s even harder: to perhaps fall ill a thousand miles and a couple of days’ drive away from home is not something to risk lightly. This has, for me, been the most frustrating part of the whole COVID experience.

People: I have been much heartened by the kindness of neighbours and their concern for whether we are OK – clearly we count as “elderly” – there are WhatsApp groups I can be in touch with and numerous leaflets have also offered help. I have also seen thoughtlessness, by those who ignore the concept of safe distancing when I’m out and about taking exercise, particularly some joggers and cyclists who are so wrapped up in their own little world that they don’t see others…

Shopping: I have explored new ways of getting those things we need, as well as new ways of doing without: lots of money has been saved as the realisation that I have enough has anchored itself even more firmly. And once I had sourced a home delivery of decent whisky, that was it!

Politics: I have always been pretty cynical here, but it has become even clearer over the last few months that there are some countries that seem to care about the welfare of their citizens and act accordingly, and others that don’t give the proverbial. When we are talking about about risks of life and death for many people, the sense of individual powerlessness grows very strong. Here in England, the wealthy and powerful are once again saying very clearly that they can and will do what they like, and the rest of us can fend for ourselves (polite version there!).

Planet: the news about the dire state of the planet and its future has grown ever worse over the lockdown months: vast mounts more plastic being used and thrown away in the name of being cleaner and safer, greater use of cars because public transport isn’t safe. What on earth are we going to do?

Gratitude: for being healthy and safe thus far, and more than anything for being able to be just that little bit further distanced from the world, and therefore perhaps safer, because we are retired. On the other hand, as we are frequently reminded, being older isn’t such a good thing here…

I wish you safety and sanity, dear reader.

Umberto Eco: Chroniques d’une societé liquide

October 1, 2019

81H7hoBex5L._AC_UY218_SEARCH213888_ML3_   This is the final collection of Umberto Eco’s brief, regular newspaper and magazine columns, and it has had me thinking more widely about the writer and his reputation.

Often his pieces are brief and laconic, frequently they are still relevant years after they were written; sometimes they have dated terribly, and sometimes they come across as the ramblings of an older man who doesn’t fully get the modern world. And certainly, whoever thought all the stuff about Berlusconi ten years later would be of interest to a non-Italian audience wasn’t really thinking very clearly…

Writing like this does come across as an art form which isn’t always successful: Eco is sharp on the current craziness of so many wannabees craving fame and stardom, via reality TV and the web. He’s good on technology in general, clearly demonstrating that almost everything that we use and/or rave about now actually has its origins in the 19th century. He sees our collective sense of the past and the idea of history gradually eroding, vanishing. And his musings on information overload and the almost impossibility of verifying and trusting any of it are even more relevant now, several years after his death. At the same time, while he’s fully cognisant of the astonishing speed of technological change, many of his responses to the internet and electronic communication are already outdated and surpassed. He’s also very interesting on our contemporary fear of silence.

It is journalism, which does date: the old adage about yesterday’s newspaper being only good for lighting fires or wrapping fish and chips in is still valid. When Eco casts his net wider, and when he’s reflective rather than just ranting (although very entertainingly), he is at his most provocative. Where are all the women philosophers? What do we mean by freedom of speech? At these times his columns show an awareness of the complexity of society. Only monotheisms seek to conquer others and impose their faith, and of the three, Judaism has never sought to do that. I’d never looked at religion quite like that.

Eco was a polymath, and someone whose writings I’ve admired greatly and for a long time. But I found myself briefly thinking about his reputation, and how long people may continue reading his works. A few of the essays may survive, the serious criticism and philosophy perhaps. To me, he remains pre-eminently a novelist, and a mediaevalist, which is why I think that only two of his novels will continue to be read. I did try re-reading The Island of the Day Before, and it was a chore; I haven’t attempted Foucault’s Pendulum again, and I don’t know that I will bother with any of the others, except Baudolino and The Name of the Rose, which I still believe are superb.

Usrula LeGuin: A Fisherman of the Inland Sea

October 22, 2014

31+OgXW2LGL._AA160_I’m following on from my post of a couple of days ago, really. LeGuin‘s subject is in many ways a fairly recherché one: what kind of communication, co-operation or collaboration might be possible between different species of humans on other worlds, in the context of the novels and short stories known as her ‘Hainish‘ series. Of course, the cultural and gender issues explored are meant to have us also reflect on ourselves here on Earth and how much we can really know and understand; LeGuin advocates caution, as well as openness, tolerance, understanding and (perhaps) acceptance. We also need to consider how far it might be either prudent or moral to take this…

Various writers have explored contact with alien species and what we might be able to understand: the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris was turned into a demanding, perhaps impenetrable film, as was the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic (Stalker). Even if or when communication were established, what would we actually be able to understand? We are into epistemological and metaphysical territory before we know it…

I’ve always thought that one of the most amazing and worthwhile things that humans do is to explore, and I often feel a thrill at the thought that my lifetime coincides with our beginning to explore cosmos and seek out other life and intelligence. I enjoy the insights offered by scientists such as Professor Brian Cox in his current TV series Human Universe, and then also feel a sadness that although I was in on the beginning of space exploration, I will not be around when we do make contact with other life forms.

LeGuin also has me reflecting on the differences between the novel and the short story, both of which she does wonderfully well. My expectations of the development of plot, character and ideas towards a resolution at the end of a novel are so different from what I find in a short story, where a single track moves relatively swiftly towards closure. I think what I lose in complexity, and in depth of escape from my reality, I perhaps gain in terms of the sharper and more detailed (because uninterrupted) focus on a single idea, character or event. I will need to take my thinking further: after years of ignoring and down-playing the short story in general, I am finding new things.

If you have enjoyed any of LeGuin’s novels or stories, then I think there is something for you in both the collections I’ve read recently. I’m awaiting delivery of another volume.

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