Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Pillowcase

“What counts are the tangible books on one's shelves, whatever the soon-to-be-forgotten chequered-history of their publication and distribution.”

The man who spoke carried a large old-fashioned suitcase, as battered-looking as himself, one with metal spring-loaded catches that could be fitted into the notched slots of each of two fastening contraptions with rather more difficulty than a quick getaway would have required. Or so I surmised. It looked to me as if this individual who called himself Brian couldn’t get himself away anywhere quickly whatever the emergency or the nature of his suitcase!
I imagined it had a number of elasticated pouches inside for compartmentalisation of its luggage load. But before I could speculate further, he continued with a non-sequitur:

“Everyone is the outcome of a patchwork of motives, deceptions, truths, honesty, falsehood, chance luck, deserving fortune... of Toynbeean challenge-and-response.”

He spelt out one of the words because I looked puzzled, before he continued: ”I think this fits in with any observation about adding one's own experience to the melting-pot of history. All reality is a sum of such experiences. Mine. Yours. And everyone who has experiences at all to tell. This is why the internet can be such a useful tool in pooling all such experiences towards the goal of solidifying reality. But, meanwhile, the books are what count. The people behind them sink back eventually into anonymity or rise up to fame, whether deserved or not. They just do. The books remain.”

This looked if it was a chance conversation between strangers much like that time-passing small-talk in which one often indulges when on a train journey. Except we were in the waiting-room, not yet on the train. It was late.

I replied: “I am with you regarding books, Brian. But the internet! I never know whether to resist it or embrace it. A part of me once used to wait for the postman in the same way as today it waits for the email inbox to open. There's no helping people like that part of me. Actually, most of me wants to escape that bit of me. But, there again, just because communication has been 'oiled' by electronics (just as it was 'oiled' by the printing press in the Middle Ages), why should we destroy it by walking away from it, as I am often sorely tempted to do, as the only means to escape it? Partial, moderate use of the internet is not an option. When things are so oiled it sort of oils you, too. Makes you a different person. And soon you will not be able to recognise that different person because that different person will be you. It’s Hell on earth. Walking away from the internet cannot now reverse that process. That's the frightening thing ... just like the Large Hadron Collider.”

That last reference of mine opened the floodgates. Brian mumbled of the collider being 'the fast-swirling of nightmare’s moat' – 'a crystallisation of candle-dreaming' - 'the erection of a last balcony like a sea-side pier where we all walk towards its end and one by one drop into the sea after waving at the waves'....

“Only yesterday (7 November 2009),” he continued, “there was a nemonymous tweeter escaped from the aviary at Cern Zoo that dropped a white pellet of beget bread into the collider causing it to overheat...”

The train seemed as if it would never come, its steam fried to a frizzle on its boiler, I imagined. Giving up hope, the waiting-room’s benches looked decidedly uncomfortable for sleeping on. But beggars couldn’t be choosers.

“Never fear,” said Brian, “I have something for our heads.”

He tried to unfasten his suitcase.