Thursday, 16 February 2017

that oceanic feeling

Last week, after over-writing myself into a state of intense boredom, annoyance and impatience with myself (at least I think that’s what happened), I read and reread that post about the evening I went with workmates to the MSO concert at the music bowl, along with some of the posts adjacent. The stuff that I thought was dishonest. I can sort of see how it must look to an observer – like a scene that doesn’t add up. Here on one hand, is me writing about feeling a kind of cruisey, lazy elation on that evening; on the other here I am snapping and snarling about being tired and cross and sad. Well, at this distance of a few days, I don’t think it’s as evasive and untrue as all that. I think I want to be happy, am primed to be happy, and when the opportunity presents itself, I do just fine at being very happy. But I’m on thinnish ice and a shortish fuse with lack of good rest and some private stuff going on, and being happy does seem to require a bit of an act of will to get things started. Nevertheless, it’s good when it happens, so good.

On rereading the bit about the music bowl evening and thinking about how I could have captured it better, I thought, I should have said it was like being on an ocean of people. Literally, figuratively, precisely, that’s how it felt. The hillside swells and undulates down into the bowl, and in the warm air, the massed humanity covering every visible surface seemed liquid, buoyant, rather than vegetative or carpetlike. A bit salty, ozonal, even.  The baby was so important: her tiny new body, her little round face only as big as the palm of my hand, in that pre-individual state where the self is not differentiated from the whole world.

The oceanic feeling is the name Freud gave to a human experience which he linked with proto – religious states and, by implication at least, related cultural practices: wholeness through regressive loss of ego, basically. Religion is a joke as far as I’m concerned but other experiences sometimes grant access to a similar state. Sex can work; something about being in a crowd can do it, as I’ve been saying; but most frequently I find that it’s listening to music, and only listening to music in the complete solitude and privacy afforded by a closefitting pair of earbuds. I’m addicted to my headphones. Any time I’m by myself or quiet, I put them in. The music I listen to the most now doesn’t sound as good heard ambiently. It’s distant. Channeled straight into my ears it feels boundless, oceanic. A good few years ago now I wrote an essay about Francois Truffaut’s film of Fahrenheit 451, where among other unrealized ambitions I tried to articulate how the movie and the book differently deal with feared threats posed by modernity to the interiority of human beings. Truffaut thinks it’s about surfaces - spectacular narcissism - Ray Bradbury believed it was electronic sound. As I cruise around with my headphones in I think a lot about this very famous passage from the novel:

The little mosquito-delicate dancing hum in the air, the electrical murmur of a hidden wasp snug in its special pink warm nest. The music was almost loud enough so he could follow the tune.

Without turning on the light he imagined how this room would look. His wife stretched on the bed, uncovered and cold, like a body displayed on the lid of the tomb, her eyes fixed in the ceiling by invisible threads of steel, immovable. And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind. The room was indeed empty. Every night the waves came in and bore her off on their great tides of sound, floating her, wide-eyed, toward morning. There had been no night in the last two years that Mildred had not swum that sea, had not gladly gone down in it for the third time.
I don't know about you but that all sounds kind of pleasant to me.

Anyway, I am not feeling so clogged up as I was last week. 


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