Last night, I read a very interesting article called ‘The Need to Learn’ by John Berger in issue 88 of Brick Magazine (kindly sent to me by Jane). In it, he talks about the French Resistance during World War Two, the Strauss-Kahn affair, and the increasing globalisation of the modern world. At the heart of his essay is a basic call-to-arms: a need to say ‘no’ in our current economic and cultural climate where ‘resistance’ seems to be more of an ‘act’ rather than action. He describes a demonstration in France where numerous economic and political issues are aired in one big gathering, and where words are linked to concerns that are firmly planted ‘on the ground’. That is, words which are about survival, individuality, and saying ‘no’.
In contrast, Berger argues, the globalised world we live in is not about the ‘ground’ level or the individuals who populate it, but rather, is about the ‘aerial’ perspective. Writing about Strauss-Kahn, Berger notes that the ‘IMF, of which he was managing director, proceeds according to a sophisticated logic that is aerial, concentrated upon the virtual; upon speculation about risk, tendencies, and estimation of profitability; upon the constant of the ever-elusive confidence of investors. To such an aerial worldview, what happens on the ground, like any form of collateral damage, is incidental and without far-reaching importance. Generally speaking, according to this logic, it can be ignored.’
My mind works in strange ways sometimes when I read something that impacts me at a particular moment. This is especially true when I’ve been working long hours and I’m tired, like I was for much of last week and the weekend. I don’t know if my thoughts would have strayed in the direction I’m about to explain if I had not been so tired when I read Berger’s essay. He is not saying anything that I don’t already know, or that I haven’t read before by others. But he says it in a way that instinctively resonates with me, at this very moment, when my body is aching and I’m exhausted from work.
The past week for me has been all about the aerial view: keeping one foot in front of the other, ticking things off a to-do list, being ‘practical’ (whatever that means). Everybody goes through these stressful weeks at work, I’m not unique. However, when I undertake such long weeks of work without a break for my own writing, I often have this out-of-body feeling, like I’m floating above myself. It honestly feels like the ground has been pulled from beneath me and I have this unsettling disoriented feeling until the moment when I get spare time to sit with my notebook or my laptop and write.
I find it so ironic, therefore, that the process of writing is often viewed as something airy and aerial itself when in fact for me it’s a form of ‘grounding’. I guess you could say that one of the functions my writing performs is a way of letting me say ‘no’ to the world; not to childishly escape it, but to resist the image of myself as defined by what I do (i.e. my job) rather than what I am. I don’t think my writing process is really that different from the pleas for individual recognition those demonstrators in France were talking about, because there’s a limit to our individual tolerance of the ‘aerial’ perspective that views us as insignificant worker-ants. So here’s to catching up on sleep and finding time to write.
Image credit: On top of the Cathedral of Learning watching the 1960 World Series, by George Silk, from Life Magazine image collections.