Monday, January 30, 2006

1913 - 2006 (2)

Ever been in the vicinity when older people (parents, that is; but, we'll soon reach that stage i.e. in a handful of years) recount how sometimes their parents made them pipe down and shut up (on threat of life and limb) when the phone rang? These conversations, highly anticipated, fraught with tension, and encouraging deathly silences, were conducted via what were known as "trunk calls." From what I gather about them, apart from needing to be booked much in advance, they were prohibitively expensive, and were (only) used to convey life-altering information (in the experiences of those who narrate these stories to me.)

That saturday, I made the calls not over POTS, but with SkypeOut.

But it would be inane to correlate "speed" and 'significance." And, dare I say this, journalistic as well, to attempt to do so. What these examples (or am I citing them as exemplars? Oh, the metaphysics of it all :-( ) do for me is point to something else... The way shifts in technology have, and can produce some of the deepest changes in/to 'the human condition'. A point(ing) that steers away from nostalgia (for the past) and dread (of the future)... but does not know how to negotiate what overcomes it: a curious mix of amazement (at the possibilities inventiveness allows, today) and bewilderment. That is, can these changes mean anything? Or are we being de-sensitized without even knowing it? Is our scuttering (what could be harsher than characterizing it as the way frogs leap from lily pad to lilypad) no more than one momentary distration after another? Being a dandy, unknowingingly, but celebrating it?

A few leaps (of logic, and personal insights, which I've been warned that no one is interested in) and we're left with something very stark. Of there being nothing but stories... Worse, 'lore.' Sort of the way those a generation or two away would say "when I was your age, a sack of potatoes came for half a rupee", (some of) our's (or is it just me, that) now chants "when I was your age, we moved our mountains of data on floppies! They'd go bad in a snap - one moment you have your write-up; a minute later, it would be gone! The wake-up call was reading "disk error reading drive A. Abort? Retry? Fail?"

I repeat... what's scary is being left with nothing but stories. With lore. But as we all know, lore doesn't last long. It's not a healthy diet, doesn't promise the minimum 2200 calories a day, or keep families above the official(ly sanctioned) poverty line. All it can do, is propose its own finality. And, as we know well enough, finality - which depends on necessity - means "you're fucked." Take that old example of nature versus culture. It's so obvious that each pole of this equation maintains itself through the force of necessity... not conforming/confirming (to) nature is interpreted as being a freak. Similarly, with culture.It's all metaphysics, Onto-theology masquerading as metaphysics.

*Smiles*. To be other than what is, that's the secret. To be, actually.

If I've lost you, with this diatribe (of cosmic proportions), don't worry, it's just the beer typing. If you've received an email from me titled "personal touch to random spam", you'll know what's going on right now.

With so much happening during the past week, it's only now that I've found time to take my mind off things (and, back to work.) (Not really.)

A week and a half later, what happened is a little easier to approach (no, tip-toe towards...) Sudden twinges of anxiety still slice me up, but things are better now. Around ten days ago, all I could think about was the loss we had just experienced, and the passage that had just taken place. From - for those who knew (about) my grandmother('s condition) - life and non-life, to non-life.

We sat down the day after it happened, a Sunday, going through some of our family's old photo albums. Having used a digital camera for almost seven years now (a hand-me-down (apart from being second-hand!) and thick as a brick) I had been browsing generically named folders, filled with generically named files for too long. It was an overdose of thousands of files, each existing, yet, named nothing more than (e.g.) DCP2354.JPG. It was in this context, that the experience of opening up albums - thick, bound in faux leather, gold emboss running along their edges, the plastic sleeves stuck onto photos - occurred.

Looking for a picture of my grandmother (it had to be *just* *right*) took longer than we expected. Hundreds of photos, some from the early and middle decades of the previous century.
Photos from nearly every decade except the first. Greying, yellowing, crumbling.Some in sleeves, sized in what is today called 'A4', for photos of entire families, even clans. Others with faded handwriting on their back, in/from fountain pen ink, marking places, dates, 'occupants' and owners of the prints...

(Hmm... 'occupants' - who occupied the insides of the photo's form/rectangle; who were occupied by the singular moment in which the photo was taken; who(se images) were captured forever by that action. I'd wander into etymology, but it's all about the phenomenon of the inside and the outside...)

At times like this... language 'trembles'. The photos, with the smiles, their times and their memories. It's difficult to make either meaning or sense of an event like death.

(To be continued.)


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