Meanwhile, elsewhere

Having finished trawling through my travel notes from the past 13-14 years and before moving on to describe recent scenes and reflect on the strangeness of the world anno 2017, I would like to quote from two quietly impressive pieces of writing that I have come across this year. The first is from a collection of essays around the theme of public libraries by Ali Smith (2015). It is the sort of rant that I appreciate!

“Elsewhere there are no mobile phones. Elsewhere sleep is deep and the mornings are wonderful. Elsewhere art is endless, exhibitions are free and galleries are open twenty-four hours a day. Elsewhere alcohol is a joke that everybody finds funny. Elsewhere everybody is as welcoming as they’d be if you come home after a very long time away and they’d really missed you. Elsewhere nobody stops you in the street and says, are you a Catholic or a Protestant, and when you say neither, I’m a Muslim, then says yeah but are you a Catholic Muslim or a Protestant Muslim? Elsewhere there are no religions. Elsewhere there are no borders. Elsewhere nobody is refugee or an asylum seeker whose worth can be decided about by a government. Elsewhere nobody is something to be decided about by anybody. Elsewhere there are no preconceptions. Elsewhere all wrongs are righted. Elsewhere the supermarkets don’t own us. Elsewhere we use our hands for cups and the rivers are clean and drinkable. Elsewhere the words of politicians are known for their wisdom. Elsewhere history has been kind. Elsewhere nobody would ever say the words bring back the death penalty. Elsewhere the graves of the dead are empty and their spirits fly above the cities in instinctual, shape-shifting formations that astound the eye. Elsewhere poems cancel imprisonment. Elsewhere we do time differently.”

The second quote is from a 2009 essay on darkness and the writings of Virginia Woolf, in which the American writer Rebecca Solnit reflects on the ”tyranny of the quantifiable.” This is ”partly the failure of language and discourse to describe more complex, subtle and fluid phenomena, as well as the failure of those who shape opinions and make decisions to understand and value these slipperier things. It is difficult, sometimes even impossible, to value what cannot be named or described and so the task of naming and describing is an essential one in the revolt against the status quo of capitalism and consumerism. Ultimately the destruction of the earth is due in part, perhaps in large part, to a failure of the imagination or to its eclipse by systems of accounting that can’t count what matters. The revolt against this destruction is a revolt of the imagination, in favour of subtleties, of pleasures money can’t buy and corporations can’t command, of being producers rather than consumers of meaning, of the slow, the meandering, the digressive, the exploratory, the uncertain.”

Although the caravan has travelled far, there’s still a long way to go… Re-reading these passages I wonder if I’m a bit stuck with John Lennon, but what the hell. All power to the imagination!

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