Sunday, 18 December 2011

What you sayin', Bertrand?


This is an exceptionally long post. It is actually essay-length. If you’ve read any of my other longer posts then 1) well done for getting to the end and 2) be a bit worried because this one’s even longer than the others. You might want to pop to the shop and get a few supplies in before starting. I wouldn’t bother “sitting comfortably”, just phone work and tell them you’re taking the day off.

I’m no philosopher. I ain’t pretending to be clever or muffin, so if you were here for the advanced class, then I’m sorry but you’ve actually stumbled into Philosophical Ponderings: the Advanced Remedial Level by accident. You may know from some of my previous posts that I’d been banging on about thinking about the old M.O.L. This is, obviously, not something that I have begun wondering about recently. As a child, I spent so much time on my own thinking about why we were here; where we came from and generally being a bit serious that I occasionally used to experience momentary black-outs when considering the enormity of things such as, quite how long ago the dinosaurs were and how amazing it was that we’re here at all. Now I am aware that this M.O.L is a question that isn’t exactly new, a bit like Michaela Strachan, it’s actually pretty old, never goes away for long and pops up when you’re not expecting it with a seeming pretence of youthful novelty. “The meaning of life, you ask? Well gosh, I wasn’t expecting that, I’ll have to get back to you!” I was fully aware of the unoriginality (vanity, even) of what I was asking and I’m not pretending in the least to have anything of any consequence to say on this. It had just been that a series of events had conspired to get me a-thinking about “IT ALL”. Y’know, you’re bumbling along, thinking things aren’t the best they could be but you’re doin’ okay, you’ve been working hard, the worst is over, you have survived adolescence and university mostly unscathed, notched up a few more notches on the old bed-post than you would have liked to in the process but generally you know how to make your hair “work” and you’re even beginning to get better at doing things like making conversation with other people’s grandparents and you have a pretty high success rate with poached eggs, la-dee-dah, you think to yourself, I am some sort of actual grown-up. And then no sooner do you reach this sort of moment of self-realisation, just like the heroine of a Jean-Luc Godard film, BANGCRASHFUCK! It all goes wrong and you hit the usual mid to late twenties we’ve grown apart-heart-break followed by “all I had been working towards, all my hopes and dreams are shattered” ennui-slash career crisis. That was a bit heavy. I think it might be time now for something like this:
[Insert lol related joke here]
So when I give this really long self-deprecating and overly self-conscious disclaimer about how embarrassed I am to be asking this question, I guess what I’m really saying I’m bothered about is not the question itself but that despite the fact that we ask this question to ourselves so often, there is so little security-cleared advice on the matter. In everything most of us do we are wondering, “Why am I doing this?” This applies to our careers, our children/our un-children, arguments with boyfriends, the decision to exercise or not exercise, the question of whether to practise our ukuleles or trawl the internet for pictures of kittens with humorous captions? What does it all mean? Should I worry about any of this? Even if you pay by the hour to find the answer to that question, you’ll never get one. (That would be unethical, obviously.) So now, back (briefly at least, don’t worry, there’s another tangent right around the corner, in fact, less of a tangential corner and more of a Thelma and Louise tangential canyon), yes, so back for a moment to the list of three pieces of evidence I mentioned some weeks (now, months) ago that I would like to present to the M.O.L jury (sorry/not really sorry for repeating myself- oh and by the way if anyone has any suggestions as to who might be on the M.O.L jury panel, please let me know, I’ve had a think and I’m creatively stumped… I’d imagine that choosing the jury would be something like deciding the panel for X-Factor, not all the members of the panel should be experts in the field… this shouldn’t necessarily be Project Runway: The Philosophy Season- I’d like to think outside of the Tupperware on this one. It also makes me think of that ubiquitous magazine Q&A question: “If you could invite anyone alive or dead to a dinner party… who would it be?” Where some numpty always says something like, “Ooooh, I’d ’av: Nelson Mandela, John Lennon and Martine McCutcheon.”) Anyway, the official line-up can wait, so for now consider the following to be recommendations to you my dear jury of six loyal followers and an unspecified number of lurkers that read this blog (I know you’re there even if I don’t totally know who you are [although, I sort of do]):

1. Lars Von Trier’s 'Melancholia'. I said you should watch this as I had fully intended to use one of my free Cinema City members’ tickets to go and see it before I had to admit that I had recommended a film I hadn’t actually watched because in the end I never managed to get out of bed in time. That was me admitting it, just now. So in place of an actual review of the film I’ll say that it’s something to do with the actress out of Spiderman who used to say she wasn’t going to give into Hollywood pressure to have her pronounced incisors corrected until she gave into Hollywood pressure and had them corrected, yeah, her, that Vampire-movie child-star, something to do with her and that bloke who wasn’t the short English one with a hammy Southern accent out of True Blood, but the other one- something to do with them and the end of the world. The fact that it’s to do with the end of the world is why I thought it might be appropriate evidence but, sorry to say, I still haven’t done my homework and it’s proving difficult to download illegally (not that I do that- except I do- note the sarcasm- course, I don’t- I do). Anyway, as I am rubbish and lazy, I cannot speculate too much about what answers this film might give us had I actually gone to see it but anecdotal reports so far say it’s incredibly dreary. On the other hand, I’m still keen to watch anything directed by a man famous for bullying Nicole Kidman as no one likes her really, do they?

2. So yes, we keep on asking but there seem to be no real answers, unless you want to, like, dose up on the, like, Prozac of, like, organised religion, man. Enter Mr Will Self with his Book of Dave. My instructions on this one were to “believe”. (Before I continue to rant on talk about the novel I just want to mention briefly that I was really sad to read in this weekend’s Guardian Review of Mr Self’s terrible illness. That’s all I’ve got to say on that, so back to Dave.) EXPLAIN THE BOOK. What answers does this satire give us? Perhaps none, other than the very important one which is not to trust answers that are spoon-fed to us with sugar by Mary Poppinses in dog-collars, obviously, and whilst you may not know the answers you can still comfort yourself by laughing at those who think they do. Which leads nicely onto my third piece of evidence and, hark, for quite a revelation it is!

3. Graniad article: I said to read it, and here this is where my original disclaimer kicks in again. Much like my previous sausage roll feminism this is juice drink philosophy, not freshly squeezed. But somehow, like choosing a bottle of Lucozade instead of a fruit-smoothie after a night out binge-drinking, it managed to help me to kick-start my day and cure me, at least temporarily, of my M.O.L hangover. This article from 2004, is a summarised version of ‘What’s It All About: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life’ by Julian “my real name is probably Baggins” Baggini. You may know him from other toilet-reading classics such as “The Duck That Won the Lottery: And 99 Other Bad Arguments” and “The Influence of Egg and Bacon Flavoured Crisps on 9/11* and Other Underwater Basket-Weaving Experiments”. I would imagine, although I cannot be sure, that he is probably friends with other intellectual-writing-for-Generation-X authors John Sutherland (“Is Heathcliff a Murderer?: Great Puzzles in Nineteenth-Century Fiction”), Tom Hodgkinson (author of “How to be Idle”, “How to be Free” and “How I became idle and free by telling you how be idle and free but I hope to god, you never do or no one will buy my books anymore”) and that other Guardian darling, sneary-self-help guru, Oliver Burkeman with his new book, “Help!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done” which tells you so much about [what the book is about and…] what life is really all about in just the title that you really need not read the book at all but just go… well, gosh, I think that perhaps what this is going to tell me is that ultimately whatever I do in order to be happier, the most I can expect to achieve is to be slightly happier and get a bit more done, therefore…. maybe I should just stop worrying about being happier, worrying about getting more done, reading books that tell me to stop worrying, reading books that tell me to get (a bit) more done and just fucking well be a bit happier and get a bit more done. It’s that classic modern folk expression again, isn’t it?: JUST DO IT (I think it might have been something Beowulf said). Anyway, I merely josh about these writers as I like them all and besides I'm part of the tabbing generation who can’t concentrate on anything too heavy for long and would probably never read non-fiction if it wasn’t for Sutherland & co.

Anyway, you go back to her and I’ll go back to, back to, back to Baggini, (a careful consonant/vowel swap still isn’t fooling us into thinking your real name is more exotic than it is BAGGINS). But good gravy, and juice-drink philosophy aside, I think the man might be onto something. He begins with an oft-related anecdote about a taxi driver who once had “that Bertrand Russell in the back of his cab.”

I feel, though, that I can maybe sympathise with Mr Russell. Let me use another two hundred-word tangent to explain! [I’ll use a different font and indent the text in desperate  hope of maintaining your concentration.]

Back in 2005 when I had begun ‘seeing’ (amongst other verbs in the present continuous… funny that ‘seeing’ is the one we tend to focus on, perhaps ‘touching’ is too crude, ‘smelling’ too subtle, ‘hearing’ too friendly?) a man we’ll call Mr. Rochester (or something funnier, but no comparisons to Bridget Jones and Mr Darcy, please) he used to call me sometimes when he’d remembered that he had a girlfriend who he could use his mobile to contact, when said mobile wasn’t lost under a pile of damp washing and pizza boxes, that is and ask: ‘What you sayin’?’ Now, at the risk of endangering my impossibly cool reputation (and I must stress that this was SIX years ago- we didn’t even have The Internet, Ukuleles or BlueTac then, for god’s sake, NO-ONE was that cool) but for quite some time this question left me rather puzzled. In fact, the question and my ensuing bewilderment were possibly indicative of some deeper miscommunication at play in our relationship but leaving that aside I was quite confused and for several weeks and months whenever Mr. Rochester asked me: “C* (*Insert real name here), what you sayin?” or “What you sayin, darlin’?” and I’d just reply in a way, which may have accidentally implied a lack of interest, “well, err, nothing really, Mr. Rochester,” when really, despite my Peckham ““roots”” I just wasn’t street enough at that time to comprehend what I now appreciate to be a wonderfully inclusive greeting (rather Batmanghelidjhesque, you might say).  So, using my own experience, I think perhaps when the taxi driver asked Bertrand, “What’s it all about?” he was probably just caught a little off-guard, a little out-of-touch linguistically, much as he might have been if he’d been asked, “Bertrand: What you sayin’?”

Now this is the point I got to on the 27th October and since then I've tried several times to finish this piece. All I really needed to do was summarise Baggini's article but I kept being stumped. Probably because, as he says himself, explaining the meaning of life in a cab journey is quite a tall order, and now here I am trying to juice-drink-philosophise his answer even further when you could just go off and read it yourself (-do). Second I was disuaded by trolls' comments on my blog. But third, I was just too busy all of a sudden, very happily living my life, happily not caring about the M.O.L. 

What Baggini basically says is that satisfying the M.O.L comes in two ways... looking for answers in a forwards direction and answers in a backwards one. Looking backwards is actually unlikely to help much, as 'life's purpose, if it has one, is not given to it by its creator', but this does not mean that life has no meaning. 'Meaning', however, does not necessarily belie long-term goals which unfortunately it often turns out we choose for the wrong reasons... we do things for the sake of other things, we study to pass exams....we work to pay the mortgage. Life can have all sorts of meaning, but it is meaning in terms of values, day-to-day values, of which we can make our own personal list (Baggini offers us Woody Allen's "Groucho Marx; Willie Mays; the second movement of the Jupiter Symphony; Louis Armstrong's recording of Potato-head Blues; Swedish movies; Sentimental Education by Flaubert; Marlon Brando; Frank Sinatra; those incredible apples and pears by Cézanne; the crabs at Sam Wo's; Tracy's face") and of course, we all have our own lists... so on that note, go make your own list, have a cup of tea, sit back and enjoy some of the beauty that life has to offer for nothing's sake but its own... Here's something to start off your list {skip to 4:45}:-

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