Monday, 24 June 2013

Silence is golden

I have on the coffee table beside my chair Georges Duhamel's Querelles de famille. It is a patchwork quilt of a book in which Duhamel, a now largely forgotten French novelist and essayist, sets out his case against the creeping encroachment of technology on life in the France in the 1930s. The picture is fascinating and alarmingly contemporary in all its resonances.

Duhamel had made his name just after WWI in which he served as a field surgeon. Fifty-one months on the front and over 3,000 operations gave him the raw material for two fictionalised accounts of his experiences, Vie des Martyrs 1914-1916 and Civilisation 1917. Like Querelles de famille, these works are a patchwork, or to use a more noble term, they are impressionistic. The author approaches his goal not using the sharp lines of rational discourse but rather through suggestion, allusion, example and juxtaposition. The particular stories are for another time. In Duhamel, what emerged from this war experience was a sound distaste for rationalisation and mechanisation. Months on end of removing shards of shrapnel from every nook and cranny of men's bodies will do that to anybody, even to one who applauded every new advance in surgery so as to be able to repair, or at least to palliate, the damage done by the awful mechanisation of war.

Querelles de famille was written just over ten years after the end of WWI and at a not dissimilar interval before the outbreak of WWII. The logic of Ford and the spirit of Taylorism were just beginning to have an impact on French industry. Rationalisation was a growing theme among a new generation of thinkers who would pave the way for the technocracy of the 1950s and beyond. On the home front, consumer society really started here also, the explosion of the 1950s being anticipated by the growing availability of disposable and quickly obsolete domestic playthings which, according to Duhamel, were beginning to fill up the poorly-managed rubbish dumps of the 1920s and 1930s.

I was going to tell you also about the noise pollution which Duhamel so strongly decried.... But that will have to wait. As if on cue, my eldest twin boy - on the left here - is currently yelling and, well, I cannot think straight! You would not think he could make such a din!

Oddly enough, all of a sudden, Duhamel's suggestion for a Parc national du silence seems strangely attractive ... unless you're four months old!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

What goes around comes around ...

... and I've been around a bit since last I blogged!

Is there anybody there? said the blogger, 
Looking at his flatlined stats;
And his blog in the silence whirred away
Like Eliots's purring cats.

This blog was always likely to lie dormant for a little while, given that its vocation is to celebrate what Pieper and Borgmann define unsatisfactorily as leisure or focal points. One needs time to breathe in a world full of words and that is not a proposition that ought to be enunciated.

That said, my recent failure to show up has been more connected to events chez Sudlow. My wife gave birth to baby boys in February - a tremendous moment. The crest of happiness this moment brought to our household was immediately cast into shadow when it proved that one boy, John Henry Joseph, was having breathing difficulties. By the end of the same day we had a diagnosis: TAPVD, as the cardiologists called it. Bad heart plumbing, to we laymen.

John on the right and Pip on the left ... or is it?
Fast forward several months of endless hospital visits, chaotic childcare arrangements for our toddler daughter, and some serious worry and prayer, and John is now happily ensconced at home next to his identical twin brother (Philip Charles Benedict), a blessed recipient of the surgical brilliance lurking at Birmingham Children's Hospital and the proud wearer of a four-inch scar. Jobs a good'un, as they say from where I come.Twins are not as hard as I thought they were, but the difficulties they pose are wholly unimaginable before you're in the situation. We often find ourselves wishing we had a third arm or simply the gift of bilocation. But of course, alongside the double trouble, there is double joy. The boys are now four months old and like to live, thank God!

Anyway, now I've explained why I've not been at school, I can tell you I will be back here hanging out a little bit more regularly and very much as before. I thought of ending this post with the famous words of Fray Luis de Leon who, after some years of incarceration while he was being investigated by the Inquisition, was released and returned in triumph to his lecturer hall where he had been arrested. The students welcomed back the famous theologian with shouts and clapping, and when the tumult had died down, the good friar looked up at his audience with a sparkle in his eye and said 'Dicebamus hesterna die' ... which roughly translates, 'As I was saying.

But can anyone really say this better than Arnie?