…For the stoic, open, the passage from the local to the global is always certain; for the garden, closed, the inference from the local to the global always problematic… —Serres
The concept arrives like a revelation, there is not thinking and rethinking, it is chosen, we will live life to the fullest extent possible. We have a bath whenever we want to, we turn on the heating on a cold summer evening without considering anything but the sudden chill, we take a bottle of cherry vodka from the cupboard and start to sip it, even though its late in the evening. In the café in the morning after we have spent a long evening drinking with friends we treat ourselves to an extravagant breakfast. As the-the-the bacon passes our lips for the first time we feel triumphant, the polymorphous joy of breaking all the repetitive lines of everyday life, breaking the chains of causality, exploding through us and out into the local space with such resolution that it opens the world up around us. Such things never last and after a few mouthfuls joy transforms into mere food, the pleasure we began eating with vanishes in the face of time and the day. We can barely speak across the table until the coffee stimulates our brains. There is nothing left to be done but continuing as the pleasure burnt itself out, extinguished in the face of the day.
Then on another day we are drinking wine with a woman, or simply alone on a sofa thinking of going to bed, trying to imagine that we are truly happy. We have scarcely imagined the phrase before the sense fades because happiness can only be touched for the slightest instant. Perhaps true pleasure can only exist in the past as it is when you say after a meal with friends “that was fun wasn’t it ?” The rhetorical question intended to convince yourself that the acts were pleasurable. Then years later you look in an old notebook that is in a clear plastic storage box under the desk, reading an entry we can see we must have been happy then – in comparison to our current alienation and misery. In this moment though we are trapped in the moment and we hope it continues, we might be falling in love, perhaps even be cross and angry with something someone has said, be falling asleep on the sofa because we are unable to concentrate on reading the book, perhaps entering the warm house from the cold November evening feeling the heat caress us, we feel almost wholly well but know this sense will pass. The feeling floods us, beneath this though another layer of pleasure and happiness is emerging from the wells of desire, though we cannot reach it until it surfaces. Here is a feeling we cannot touch, trapped somewhere in some unknown otherness like a painting that is hidden beneath another painting which can only be seen using x-rays, surfacing in the radioactive traces which threaten to harm the viewer, translated into the drumming and punctuation of the piano players fingers. In this we can recognize that we are happy, happy. It is instead true that we know we could be happier.
The abrupt English woman has a sister, who she makes sure you don’t meet until after you are committed. Sleeping on the second floor suppresses a way of being asleep which is deeper and ultimately more refreshing, just as when we are sitting somewhere, perhaps a library or on a train travelling south on which we are reading a book even as we are constantly tempted by the pleasure of closing the book and talking to people on some social media platform or other, not so much a distraction as a desire to breathe freely. Beyond this moment of distraction, perhaps, perhaps we, beyond this warm space and the lives (always multiple) that we share with those who are closest to us, are beginning to hanker after some difference that is being proposed by the book that has just fallen to the floor from our hands. Either way we think as we pick the book up from the floor that we’d like to be with strangers in a cafe in the south somewhere, in Nice or Caton or the Point de Serres. There was that time with Clive in the wedding reception in Sicily, or was it Corsica? The ex-girlfriend in her small hotel near Peignoir in the foothills who is always imagined in her old house in Amsterdam for some reason, or MS who is only ever spoken to hurriedly in the lobbies of hotels that he is pausing in during his endless transiting from conference to conference, the Romanian guy with the unspellable name met in the dark hotel bar, the middle aged American woman whom I met one night in the hotel in Plano, explaining she was in a training conference in the industrial building across the dry field, perhaps we might have looked like characters in a discursive movie…
(Usually, these hidden moments are just the other side of the truth, a thin glass wall separating us from a fidelity to the other who we can hear and see through the wall. Their space looks warm and restful compared to the cold and bleak space we are sitting in, though they may be thinking the same of us as we sit idly typing words and phrases into the keyboard. Either way we know that at some point the warmth will cause the frames to warp and the cold wind will cause them to freeze.)
There are moments which our therapists would identify as the explanation of why we cannot enjoy ourselves, in the way that our culture fulfils its role as censor, advising its children to end the relationship immediately. Relationships it always says are unworkable across difference. That the difference is not like the fall of atoms, the clinamen, but more like the steady state of gravity as the moon slowly escapes the attraction of the earth. And you acknowledge that perhaps they are right, we are even tempted to understand them, accepting the terrible violence of cultures and communities as they insist there is something more to be had in waiting, that we will find something better in waiting, just around the corner it waits for us. But what is this thing that we are supposed to wait for and will it really find us…
Perhaps we are sitting in our car in a traffic jam caused by a depressive worker in a white van committing suicide on the E1, and we look to the right at a beautiful person sitting looking across the lane at us, is this what they tell us to wait for. A smile, a shrug. Has she also been told to wait, to seek out this thing, searching, feeling our way across the concrete to speak, touch, love, indifference. And then perhaps this culture which wants you to belong, founded in sacrifice, the falling of atoms, perhaps it is merely thinking of hindsight what is it that hides behind the most perfect loves? What is it that hides behind even the most stupid eyes that look up at the photo on the wall? Is that monochrome image from childhood something else as the woman from the car lies asleep in the bed in the Sofitel hotel in Dijon whilst my car lies abandoned on the E1. Or is it the smile she gave us in the moment before speech?
Stephen Brockbank is a philosopher and was once an engineer who lives on a remote island in the middle of England.