when will i be free saes the cilde to the stag
and the stag saes thu will nefer be free
then when will angland be free
angland will nefer be free
then what can be done
naht can be done
then how moste i lif
thu moste be triewe that is all there is
Published last year, Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep begins with the effect of digital culture on our sense of time. A world that is always “on”—the irony of “sleep” mode is that it avoids turning off a device—entices or requires humans to be the same. Gradually, we comply: we get less and less rest every night, we rise to check phones or tablets in the wee hours, we pretend work is leisure as we run the hamster wheel of social-media clicks. For Crary, a professor of art history, the life of digital timelessness manifests the most basic and inexorable drive of capitalism, which would shrink whatever is not producing or consuming. Sleep occupies that vanishing margin. Sleep does not want to be productive. “Sleep,” Crary writes, “poses the idea of a human need and interval of time that cannot be colonized and harnessed to a massive engine of profitability.”
Crary’s book therefore looks back seriously to a premodern vision of the quotidian, based on repetitive cycles of rest and rising—those spirals that Scheherazade wove into art. But this is not reactionary. Crary wants to reset our clocks, not turn them back. His most valuable insight is that the sheer fact of sleep can be a deliberate choice—a political choice. It could be a mode of resistance.
Among this new set of kids, the free range is fairly limited. They don’t roam all that far from home, and they don’t seem to want to. Hart talked with a law-enforcement officer in the area, who said that there weren’t all that many transients and that over the years, crime has stayed pretty steady—steadily low. “There’s a fear” among the parents, Hart told me, “an exaggeration of the dangers, a loss of trust that isn’t totally clearly explainable.” Hart hasn’t yet published his findings from his more recent research, and he told me he’s wary of running into his own nostalgia for the Rousseauean children of his memories. For example, he said he has to be honest about the things that have improved in the new version of childhood. In the old days, when children were left on their own, child power hierarchies formed fairly quickly, and some children always remained on the bottom, or were excluded entirely. Also, fathers were largely absent; now children are much closer to their dads—closer to both their parents than kids were back then. I would add that the 1970s was the decade of the divorce boom, and many children felt neglected by their parents; perhaps today’s close supervision is part of a vow not to repeat that mistake. And yet despite all this, Hart can’t help but wonder what disappeared with “the erosion of child culture,” in which children were “inventing their own activities and building up a kind of community of their own that they knew much more about than their parents.”
There is the scientific and ideological language for what is happening to the weather, but there are hardly any intimate words. Is that surprising? People in mourning tend to use euphemism; likewise the guilty and ashamed. The most melancholy of all the euphemisms: “The new normal.” “It’s the new normal,” I think, as a beloved pear tree, half-drowned, loses its grip on the earth and falls over. The train line to Cornwall washes away—the new normal. We can’t even say the word “abnormal” to each other out loud: it reminds us of what came before. Better to forget what once was normal, the way season followed season, with a temperate charm only the poets appreciated.
What “used to be” is painful to remember. Forcing the spike of an unlit firework into the cold, dry ground. Admiring the frost on the holly berries, en route to school. Taking a long, restorative walk on Boxing Day in the winter glare. Whole football pitches crunching underfoot. A bit of sun on Pancake Day; a little more for the Grand National. Chilly April showers, Wimbledon warmth. July weddings that could trust in fine weather. The distinct possibility of a Glastonbury sunburn. At least, we say to each other, at least August is still reliably ablaze—in Cornwall if not at carnival. And it’s nice that the Scots can take a little more heat with them when they pack up and leave.
The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky… . For the more we are, the richer everything we experience is. And those who want to have a deep love in their lives must collect and save for it, and gather honey.
Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet
H/T to Relief Journal, http://www.reliefjournal.com/2014/03/15/loving-expanse/