Week52 (Part 4): 'A farrago of superlative nonsense’

photo by Evonne Bellefleure, www.evonnebellefleur.com

photo by Evonne Bellefleure, www.evonnebellefleur.com

“Beware of an old man in a hurry”...have you heard that phrase before? i heard it for the first time just over five years ago on the original (and better in every sense) House of Cards (1990), as a passing reference by Chief Whip and machiavellian schemer Francis Urquhart (a character whose glove is fitted perfectly by ian richardson’s unnerving portrayal). the phrase has since stuck with me, its mystique growing with every random recall of the dialogue---always in richardson’s lowly registered chest-voice). at about two years ago, around the time i started work on this blog, the mystique unravelled and the source of my fascination with this phrase became more apparent: beware of an old man in a hurry? yes you should, but that particular demographic has less on its conscience compared to its conceptual opposite. that phrase rang a bell precisely because it was the opposite of a type that i had become fascinated with, the type that filmmakers like robert bresson could not their cameras away from and writers like ferdinand céline wrote novels for. that type is, more or less, that of a young man or woman in no hurry whatsoever, unoccupied by the otherwise fulfilling minutiae of quotidian life. the type has its sights set on some ideal distance, and is indeed endlessly allured by the distance of ideas, the hinterworld of actions wherein concept and principle have more significance than any activity; and day-to-day life, romantic concerns, artistic obsessions, fanaticism in favour of a sports team over another etc...are merely obstacles on their way to some eternal mind. it is in these fetid and luxuriously prostrated minds that the most persistent and unpleasant weeds proliferate. should we not instead beware of a youth so removed? somnolent and subterranean precisely at the age when life is most like a hanging-garden for their vertical attention. “I grew up in declivities, others grow in cities where first love and soul takes rise.” (sibylle baier). should we not beware instead of hounds withholding their howl till some idyllic dawn, till some perfect activity that, never arriving, gradually dips them in an eternal slouch that finds anchor only in the occasional spasms of desperate and confused lashings, both inward and outward. in retrospect it seems my own youth and young manhood began on the cusp of this peculiar kind of slouching...

upon looking into the origin of the phrase quoted by Francis above i, by accident, stumbled into what has since been a working-subtitle for this blog. the circumstances surrounding the phrase could not have been more british: in june of 1886 (indeed a very british time in history) randolph churchill, a mid-bench Tory MP and a most unforgivable man (also father to the soon-to-be very prominent winston churchill) sought to pad his political stats by taking on the 70-year-old prime minister and tireless supporter of the irish Home Rule bill, william gladstone.  the tactic was as obvious as it was ineffective, by way of: he’s too old to follow through on his goal of aiding the irish people in their most significant step towards self-governance. claiming that the scramblings of the pm are nothing but the pleasures of an old man in a hurry. to that effect, in his speech published in the Pall Mall Gazette (issue 6634, june 1886) randolph churchill was quoted saying “all useful and desired reforms are to be indefinitely postponed; the British constitution is to be torn up; the Liberal party shivered into fragments...And why? For this reason and no other. To gratify the ambition of an old man in a hurry.” 

what is of relevance here, however, was said just a few sentences prior to that famous phrase: “For the sake of this fifth message of peace to Ireland, this farrago of superlative nonsense, the vexatious and costly machinery of a general election is to be put in motion.” truth be told i was instantaneously bewitched by the very existence of the word ‘farrago’---defined by the Gage Canadian Dictionary as ‘a confused mixture; hodgepodge, jumble,’. if a publication is to be expected to last, and furthermore, to remain honest, it stands in need of a bit of hodgepodgery. next, and crucially, i was unable to resist the combination of superlative and farrago, for it at once suggested to my mind’s eye a frenetic energy that is nevertheless dedicated, at bottom, to a persistent creed of improvement. well then, what better campaign slogan than that for the rousing of a slumbering, slouching, horizontal youth? 

lastly is the ‘nonsense’ of which there is a confused mixture: but for our purposes here, nonsense is interchangeable with the minutiae, day-to-daily activity whose importance the aforementioned type is incapable of appreciating. if an aberration of that type should attempt to pick herself up, or trade his eternal wings for the sake of the passing and pressing moment, then indeed they would stand immediately in need of some sort of regimen, some daily acquaintance that is absolutely unrelated to any grand design or moral project other than the plain and simple thereness of bearing witness to the existence of other human beings and the work they produce. that would be yet another usage of art: as a plumb-bob for the convalescent, a brilliant surface for unimaginable depths, a re-acquaintance with the only possible form of eternity available to the human experience: that incandescent and fleeting combination of spirit and moment. music, for example, can in the best cases be the most undiluted experience of spirit and moment. (indeed i’m convinced that all of performance-art is a celebration of moments). 

in summa summarum: in a counter-intuitive sense, art can be a gradual incline into the unartistic minutiae of being, instead of an escape from it. this blog is, among many things, my practise of celebrating daily moments through the attention paid to the arts that occupy them. in the address to her fans after Netflix cancelled The OA, filmmaker brit marling writes, “While we cannot finish this story, I can promise you we will tell others. I haven’t figured out any other effective coping mechanism for being alive in the anthropocene”. which is perhaps what i’m trying to say here as well...