into 2012…

walking on the beach new year 2012

walking on the beach new year's day 2012 © David Litteljohn

I came back from my adventure in Iran becalmed; no wind in my sails. It was foolish to expect to find those things I sought there; as if travelling were like going to a supermarket. Iran was a profound experience that I am still processing…

Soon after I returned, my dog, Ninja, died; at 15, a frail old lady by the end. Her kidneys failed. I cradled her in my arms as the vet injected her with an overdose.

Christmas came. I grumble every year and tell anyone who wants to listen (or who doesn’t) that I hate it. I abhor the way capitalism goes rampant. But this is only a layer thrown over the faded one the Christians, in turn, used to cover up the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. Beneath all the layers, there lies the hope and expectation, in the depth of winter, of the sun’s rebirth; the hope there is in the year beginning to swing back towards the light, towards the resurgence of Nature. This is a deep yearning, particularly in the North of the world. At this time I am forced out of my hermitic existence into the company of people, into the embrace and drama of family. Perhaps there too I (we) seek a rebirth.

A rat dug its way into my house and took up residence in its walls and ceiling. The beast never actually got into my house proper – into those parts I live in. Well, my sister claims she saw it towards the end of its ‘visit’ scurrying across the floor, but I wonder if that might not have been a mouse. We often have mice, but a rat seems altogether more threatening. Is it the folk memory of the Black Death that makes us so afraid of them? Apparently they carry disease, though I wonder if this is true of a country rat. Out here what is it that makes a rat, among so many other wild creatures, particularly odious? Even in the city, I would think that any disease a rat brings into our houses comes from the filth that we spread around us; perhaps we hate rats because they remind us too much of ourselves.

In spite of my, no doubt, sentimental love of the country and its beasts, I tried to kill him. But he outwitted me. Several times I found the trap snapped closed, with the tahini bait (I had run out of peanut butter) stolen. A couple of times I found a poor field mouse mangled in the jaws of the trap. When I tried to block his entry tunnel with rocks, he dug under them and, as if to mock me, took to racing about in my ceiling. Eventually I closed his tunnel with chicken wire. I think he’s gone now. By the end of his visit, I had become quite used to him. In spite of my ancestral fears, I wonder why I should resent some creature seeking shelter within the no-man’s land of the hollows in my house?

A gale blew a tree down over the power cable to my house. For three days we had no electricity. The thin skin of the human virtuality tore. The cold of winter seeped into my home. We scurried about trying to get things done before the sun went down – for, afterwards, though we had candles, trying to find anything, or do anything, was far more difficult. There was also silence. A profound and absolute silence. The rarest, strangest phenomenon: the one thing that cannot exist in the human virtuality is silence.

In the end, desperate to reconnect to that virtuality, I dug out the generator the previous owner had left, and that I had not laid eyes on in the four years I have lived here. Miraculously (seemingly so, for one used to electricity appearing ‘magically’ from the sockets in my walls), pouring gasoline into it, we could run the central heating, have showers, even power the TV for an evening. Very strange this business of converting gasoline directly into TV programmes. Also strange was discovering how much energy each system consumes: boiling a kettle caused the roar of the 4.8KW generator to rise to a screech.

So, with the skin of ‘civilisation’ torn back to reveal the cold, unforgiving and relentless reality beneath, I was left casting nervous glances towards the finite amount of gasoline I had disappearing, anxious it might run out before I had finished watching my programme.

So many of us now live entirely cocooned in the human virtuality, that it is almost impossible to see the underlying reality upon which we build our lives. Living in a house in the middle of nowhere, I would seem in a better position than many to glimpse that reality, yet it takes a storm for me to ‘really’ experience it – and what was my reaction? – a determined bid to reconnect, to force my way back into the cocoon…

10 thoughts on “into 2012…

  1. Isn’t connection a fundamental part of our humanity?

    In a way, the electricity-less house in the middle of nowhere is much more a real cocoon (physical isolation, barriers thrown up between you and the rest of your surroundings) than all those things that lead you to our contemporary version of a connection. If virtuality is a cocoon, then it is a very porous one – never before were we able to reach out and touch so many, and be touched by so many… :-) What do you think?

    And the Winter Solstice is also about reconnecting, isn’t it? As we desire the Sun to come again, we connect to the rythms, the powers-that-be, to our own anxiety about losing that life-line / connection…

    1. I agree that where and how I live is even more of a cocoon than living in a city, however, this is so small that it’s almost like wearing a big thick coat *grin* – ‘reality’ is just outside my door. In spite of that, I can go for days where I remain, essentially, fully disconnected from it. Consider then how much more disconnected you are living in a city: where the boundaries of the cocoon are way beyond your touch – you’d have to take a vehicle to reach ‘reality’. And, yet, on another level, the membrane that separates you from ‘reality’ is still exceedingly thin – stop the energy supply to Lisbon and see how quickly that membrane would dissolve. However, barring such a disaster, you remain safely cocooned in the ‘virtuality’ – so much so that it may be difficult to be aware of ‘reality’ at all – even in your memory (I’m making lots of assumptions here *grin*)…

      As for your point about ‘touching others’ – that just makes it worse! All of these people we are in touch with just deepen the illusion that the virtuality is ‘real’… since, for human beings, other human beings are so fascinating, that it is difficult to see ‘reality’ past them…

      As for your point about the winter solstice, yes, though only marginally so. The ‘actual reality’ of the solstice is buried beneath not only the conceptual layers that I describe above, but vastly more so by the fabric of the cities that most of us live in – that literally cover the earth and blot out the sky – so that the solstice in turn becomes something virtual. And it is here, it seems to me, that we are making the dangerous category mistake: for there is a vast difference in the degree of reality represented by Christmas – as a virtual, cultural and commercial analogue of the solstice, and the solstice proper – representing the position our planet has relative to the sun…

  2. Caveat: as you very well know, as a true post-modern child, I am deeply suspicious of separating virtuality from reality (or the other way around), or any other such dual concepts.

    Having said that…
    I really don’t feel disconnected – I look outside my bedroom window and I’m able to see a plethora of different existences, different modes of living from my own, different plights and struggles, preferences and postures. Of being in the world and dealing with the world. I step out to the street and the full force of that impacts upon me: I am gazed upon, I gaze upon, I evaluate, I am evaluated, I am read and read others. As I enter a bus, a car, or go on foot, I am constantly risking my life in a car accident, or being run over, mugged, etc, just to get some groceries. Just the other day I was returning home on foot and passed by two drunk men in a dark and deserted area near my house, who were arguing amongst themselves if I was a woman or a man. Do you think my fight or flight response wasn’t activated? Of course you could argue that I could have everything delivered to my house and never leave it. But then I’d still yearn for human contact, and that contact is also fueled by the new media. As long as I ail, lust, hunger, and so on – as long as I have a bodily experience – I am never without reality. And as long as others around me have it too, reality will always come knocking.

    Isn’t virtuality real? If someone offends me through a telephone, or on the internet, don’t I get really hurt, actually hurt? Are those feelings not real? More than seeking the illusion behind virtuality, I try to think in terms of seeking the reality inside virtuality, and the virtuality inside reality. (The mere notion of ‘reality’ as such is in itself a virtual thing, an idea, a concept.)

    As for the solstice, I didn’t mean to signify that Christmas is a good analogue to the solstice, but that the solstice is a good analogue for our relation with virtuality and virtual technologies. The solstice proper has never been about the position our planet has relative to the sun – it was always about, I think, the way our lives are touched by it.
    Now we know about astronomy – and in a way, this isn’t knowing more reality, but knowing a different reality or, if you prefer, it’s an addition of layers of reality upon reality through which we filter our experience.

    1. *grin* you only confirm my point. Yes, the Human Virtuality is real, but it is contingent on something that is considerably more ‘real’; that is, Reality. I have never intended to suggest that the Virtuality is not real to us. What I am saying is that it is up to us to align it with reality – that is, if we keep the underlying reality clearly in sight. I’m afraid that there are many signs (global warming, ecological degradation etc.) that we are not doing so: that we are so blinded by our created Virtuality, that we are not seeing the underlying reality. The greatest danger we face, it seems to me, is that the Virtuality is becoming increasingly opaque…

      1. But does that “underlying” reality is ever in our grasp, in our reach, or we receive it only as a part of a virtual system of its own (language, sensory input, etc)? And what if we construct wholly new real modes of living (think The Matrix), where our necessities from Reality change drastically? Does then this version of reality hold any intrinsic value? Big questions… :)

        1. Big questions indeed. I take your point, that all reality is, by necessity, virtual – at least for us. However, I think my point still stands… it’s all to do with ‘transparent’ these layers of virtuality are – how closely they accord with whatever objective reality exists. It seems to me clear that certain human virtualities – societies, for example – are so patently opaque, so deeply unrelated to the objective reality, that they lead to disaster. One such, for example, might be the Judeo-Christian-Islamic complex, that maintains that the world was created, by God, for the use of human beings. This seems to me to be clearly implicated in the path of ‘development’ that humanity has been on that seems to be leading to all kinds of natural catastrophes…

          As for the Matrix, of course it is possible to change our relationship with the underlying reality – in the way that it is done in The Matrix, is an example – but even there that does suppose that some kind of equilibrium is established between the human/computer virtuality that allows that virtuality to persist… Such persistence seems to me always contingent on the underlying reality remaining unchanging… if it begins to change, then the system built upon it will come unstuck, and, if those managing the system do not have their eyes on the underlying reality, it seems to me that they will be unable to stop their system failing…

  3. I’m shying away from the Human Reality debate, but there’s finally direct responses to some of the topics:

    Christmas: I bemoan the comodification of Christmas (and its adoption in places for no other reasons than commercial ones in places like Hong Kong). The academic side of me would also say that Christmas is quite an oppressive religious relic of the Judeo-Christian annexation of pagan Winter festivals. Being neither much of a commodities person, nor a religious person, one would think Christmas is a terrible time. However, it is one of my favourite holidays. I’ve always associated it with a string of family dinners (some claimed weeks in advance and others spontaneously spilling over from the night before), and the family reunions. After I went to university, it became high school reunions as well. It was a time where people made lots of effort to make labourous dishes, and spend time being happy together. My mother would stress about preparations, but I haven’t quite inherited the stress when I picked up the preparation bit. I must say, at least this Chinese family makes an excellent turkey because we do not make it far too dry – no good Chinese would touch far-too-dry meat. And the ‘parents’ would look forward to the next day when we made our family special turkey-bone congee. :P I spent Christmas in Germany this year and I must say, thousands of miles away from home in a country I’d never been to, I found a place that gave many of the Christmas traditions Canadians adopted still alive and well with those traditions long after North America has moved on. After all, isn’t Christmas a time, as with any other time, where people find a way to be together, celebrate, and weather out the bitter cold and darkness?

    Mouse: My first response was Robert Burns’ Mouse poem. You are no good Scott. :P

    No Electricity: As kids, we always loved having no electricity because it meant a) that my parents couldn’t open the garage door to drive us to school, and b) we could light lots of candles and the fireplace. The latter suddenly made everything usually deemed boring very fun – card games, board games, reading… one time the three of us kids lit the fireplace at home because it was so cold, but since it was too dark we didn’t realise we hadn’t opened the chimney hole large enough, so after about 30 minutes of blazing fire, we realised we had accumulated a cloud of smoke in the living room. We then proceeded to spend 1 hour opening all the doors to the porch and fanning the smoke out with blankets…talk about welcoming the winter! :P Oddly enough…even though we lost power often enough in the winter, my parents had never bothered to invest in a heater or generator of any sort – the fireplace and the gas stove were the solutions to everything. ^^

    1. thanks for that, Athena – all most interesting. My only comment is that all the good things you state about Christmas could and were attached to winter solstice celebrations that, through annexation, Christmas has inherited. Thus I think your positive points don’t, for me, rescue Christmas at all… :O)

      1. Agree they’re pagan traditions. My point is more that I don’t mind what it’s called. :P It’s called Christmas ’cause it’s annexed everything as you said – it’s a convenient term for signalling all the things I like that aren’t attached to the religious connotation. :P Rather than having to list it all every time.

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