online: 10 april 2004

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9 april 2004 unifications


1. To be a sundial.

After the experience of standing on a stone, as the vertical part of a sundial, and telling the hour by seeing which of several other stones one's shadow points to. The stones are set in a lawn and the hours are indicated by the number of holes drilled in the hour stones - which are laid out in a curve in the grass.

Thinking of this afterwards I was surprised how strong an experience it was - to be oneself a missing part of a simple artefact, a semi-natural clock. Is it that this satisfies some wish, deeper than most, to be a part of nature, to be a part of planetary movement?

Or is it a contentment coming of being a specialised part of a specialised machine? To give up autonomy (and the so demanding role of being human, of being capable of anything) for the comfort of being totally obedient to the simple function of a pillar or a pointer? A specialist and nothing more.

I prefer the first of these explanations - the joy of being part of a machine may be real but is surely slight, whereas the joy of being part of nature is surely as profound as it is inexplicable, touching life at every point... but am I making a false distinction between sundial and clock, nature and artifice? Probably.

2. From sheds to luxury cottages

At one point in today's walk I noticed the primitive huts of allotment holders, set on a sunny hillside, accompanied by an improvised house in a junkyard, all within 100 metres of expensive houses built in Tudor cottage style and no doubt containing many modern appliances and comforts. Both kinds of building are on expensive and exclusive ground adjoining Hampstead Heath. Two worlds, usually kept apart but here, through some geographical or economic accident, they are together - and it seems in peace and accord. I like the contrast, very much, and the way it puts in doubt one of the assumptions of modern life - 'keep the rich and the poor apart, the class war is permanent'!

3. What now?

Having noted these two conditions, each putting in question a duality of modern thought (nature/artifice, poverty/wealth) I feel two small steps nearer to a unification of human life - a realisable perfection, perhaps, but not a finality.

Wishful thinking or constructive realism?

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