Why would I start a blog now? Clearly I’ve missed the ‘golden age’ of blogging, but perhaps I see it as something to fill the void (mine, not yours) left by my social media retreat. Or more precisely, to fill in the void I find social media has created. For some time now I’ve felt myself to be lacking creativity, uninspired, unable to follow ideas through, etc. I suppose I’m hoping to recapture something of the joy I used to find in writing.
But I’m also starting a blog – this blog – because I’ve been unable to shake from my mind something said by Robin Mackay at the memorial service for our comrade Mark a couple of weekends ago. Talking of the need to speak openly, Robin said something along the lines of risking a wager on shared experience. I forgot the exact wording almost as soon as I heard it, as happens too often, but that idea – of a wager on shared experience – has distracted me every day since. Thankfully the eulogies have now been put online, so they can be read as they were intended to be heard:
In speaking in memory of Mark I can only speak for myself. But I feel a responsibility to speak openly, just in case my feelings, my questions, and my pain, are not merely my own. Because that’s the risk Mark chose to take: wagering on the potential of shared experience and shared understanding, sometimes at the cost of a self-exposure that was perilous for him, where others would have retreated into safety; he remained true to his own thought despite his personal fragility; indeed, in exposing and examining that fragility, he transformed it into a discursive force to be reckoned with.
Is shared experience and shared understanding not the necessary foundation of our collective progress and action? And is collectivity – collective care – not the real foundation of individuality, as Keir wrote last week? I’m more convinced than ever that these are the essential and crucial conditions we need and are grasping for. Lately I feel an unshakeable sense of urgency, as though our ability to keep the flame burning – let alone dive headlong into the oncoming storm, petrel-like – absolutely depends on it. Keir says we need to “care for everyone, so that everyone can be brave” – and that’s the rub, isn’t it? Being brave. The wager is the hard part; wagering means risk and exposure. Our trepidation produces political impotence, but also social inertia and internal distress by means of comparable doses of distanciation on one hand, and on the other a quasi-taphophobia, as if we might end up like Poe’s Fortunato despite all our good intentions. Being exposed is scary.
How do we overcome fear? I’m fucked if I know. But I suspect one aspect is either realising you’re part of a community – a collectivity of experience and understanding – or otherwise building one. As such, this blog is really a personal wager. I don’t even know if anyone’s reading, let alone if so much as a scintilla will resonate with an other. But I’m certainly beginning to admire those who try to point to shared angst and frustration as a means of arriving at shared joy, power, or even something less profound but no less meaningful. I think of the title of Nadia’s blog, ‘Not alone in the world‘ and pretty much everything an older friend, John Ledger, has painstakingly committed to paper. At the root of a wager on shared experience is something like an indeterminacy of sociality, but what I admire about these different projects is their apparent insistence on the possibility of shared understanding. Hopefully through sending occasional sorties over the distance I might convince myself and others of the possibility too.
Lately I’ve been indulging my longstanding enthusiasm for northern soul. Released in 1966, it wasn’t until the next decade that ‘Landslide’ found an audience (and the other side of the Atlantic, at that). Tony Clarke opens: Misery is rushing down on me just like a landslide. He goes on to tell us he’s got no shelter, no place to hide. His only hope is the song’s listener: Baby save me, don’t you let me get caught up in this landslide. Despite the open stress of the song’s lyrics – and the futility of Clarke’s appeal for rescue apparent in the closing bars as his voice fades prematurely into the wall of sound (No, no, landslide, no no no…) – the singer’s cry for help is transformed into the song’s rally cry, its driving drums and bass providing stability and just enough of a push, the horn section bold and confident, glimpses of a piano just hinting at something playful or joyous (but you’ll have to work a little harder for it to come through). The infectious drive of the song – some have called it the ultimate northern soul record – seems to contradict the ubiquitous misery the singer finds himself facing. Or maybe it is in fact because of the singer’s outpouring of emotion – the act of sharing his pain and fear of sadness – that it is so relatable. A wager on shared experience.