Well, yes, metaphor. The limitations of metaphor and wilful obscurity. You talk about making mud pies and wallowing in ooze, and on rereading it sounds as if life should be a mess. Which is not the case. There are things we can change, things we should change, good and better choices. And then there is the stuff to be accepted, what is beyond our control, what lies beyond our individual sphere of influence. Gifts that drop out of nowhere. The first line of a new story that comes to you on a midnight clear. The ending of a story that reveals itself just after you have given up on the damn thing. Relationships: and the impossibilities of love and desire and what simply doesn’t work, what stays with us as regret or longing. What to do about faith and doubt, so inextricably linked? Mystery, sublime, ineffably mystery; and the mundane, and the question of who finished the muesli and forgot to buy more.
And 100 years ago it was 1913, the year before the Great War. Here in South Africa, the housemate’s grandfather had bought one of the first cars ( a black Ford of course) in Kimberly, from diamond diggings profits. In the British Protectorate of Rhodesia, my great-grandparents were prospecting for gold on the Lowveld amongst the thorn trees of fever country. In New York, on Lexington Avenue, crowds were queuing to see America’s firstInternational Exhibition of Modern Art.
Diary entry 1913, written by Franz Kafka: Don’t despair, not even over the fact that you don’t despair.
Rehearsals were underway in Paris for a performance of Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, starring the dancer Njinsky. Al Capone was expelled from school and Louis Armstrong arrested for firing a gun in a public place. This was the year when both Rosa Parks and Richard M Nixon were born. The suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was sentenced to three years in prison in London for her battle to get women the right to vote. Virginia Woolf was 31 years old and newly married. And the Parliament of South Africa passed a bill that barred any black person from owning land anywhere in the country.
Nobody in the United States, Europe or Africa foresaw the terrible war that would come in the following year and change the world. The First World War would come too as an unwelcome surprise to many, although young men everywhere were eager for war, the glory and excitement of battle.
A century later, war might sadden or horrify us, but no, not surprise us. The idea of a war to end all wars is too familiar now that apocalyptic global catastrophe is part of the given, the nightmare we live within.
Marcel Proust in Swann’s Way, written 1913: Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life.
How close they seem to us at times, those alive in 1913 — and how far away at other times. How sad that we can’t share their optimism going into the second decade of a new century filled with scientific discoveries and shockingly new art, hopes for emancipation and lasting peace. We remember what came after.
Virginia Woolf: On or about December 1910, human character changed. I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered, or that a hen had laid an egg. The change was not sudden and definite like that. But a change there was, nevertheless; and, since one must be arbitrary, let us date it about the year 1910.