by Julian Langer
If I am going to write about tomorrow, maybe I should start writing this tomorrow.
The problem then becomes: tomorrow will be today, and there will be a different tomorrow, which is when I will have to start writing. The same problem is one you reading have to confront – you can only start reading this tomorrow, if you are to read it in the proper time. Ultimately, you and I will both be doomed, if we rest our hopes on reading or writing tomorrow, but perhaps being doomed is a decent enough ending to start at.
You should probably read about tomorrow, tomorrow.
Yesterday we were doomed. We were also doomed several other yesterdays ago. A doomed yesterday might be better called a noterday, given the nihilism of doom-talk and the negativity that goes with nihilism.
Even more yesterdays ago, techno-industrial civilisation was looking at the tomorrow of the Millennium. Both transcendence and disaster were promised for tomorrow then. Maybe neither were true. Perhaps both were. The dawn of a new historical epoch and all that could signify.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the sociologist Baudrillard became infamous for stating that history had ended, with globalisation, hyper-realism and the totalitarian presence of progress. But, to quote the man himself, “(t)he end of history is, alas, also the ends of the dustbins of history … (t)here are no longer any dustbins for disposing old ideologies, old regimes, old values”.
And here we are, in the dustbin, at the end of history, plagued by old values, regimes and ideologies – living the tomorrow no one hoped for in the Millennium.
“I never put off till tomorrow what I can possibly do the day after” Oscar Wilde
To mark the Millennium event, Ben Okri’s poem Mental Fight was published in 2 parts, by The Times newspaper.
Poetry is a strange form of art. It is very much something you can enjoy the day after tomorrow. Poetry does not command the same authoritarian presence in space as theatre, sculpture, film, TV, music, or most other forms of artistic work. But I’d say that poetry’s power is in its lack of authority – as authoritarianism is only embraced by the most powerless groups and individuals.
Poetry is mostly a written form of art, as we encounter it in the dustbin of history – the hyper-real totality of progress. There are of course oral traditions and poets, but these, by virtue of their (lack of) form have already succeeded in escaping being captured by history, so I won’t bring them into this thought exploration.
Written language is subject to what philosopher and semiologist Derrida termed differance, the deferral of meaning. Action - radical, political, basically any - is often deferred to tomorrow. Tomorrow we will deal with it. Tomorrow we will get it done. Derrida’s notion of differance is linked to his concept of deconstruction, which speaks to the basic instability within text (something I am attempting to play with in writing this piece, as I defer from point to point).
“At night, towards dawn, all lights of the shore have died, and the wind moves.” Jeffers
Back to Ben Okri’s poem! (If we can get back to it.)
Rather than attempting to write a (perhaps) (anti-)postmodernist essay-interpretation of a postmodernist poem in postmodern-culture (if postmodern-culture is possible), starting from the constructed work, I think that I will start from a place of deconstruction. Most poems take a somewhat deconstructed form already, as they are written in verses or stanzas. Mental Fight is no different, as it is written across multiple sections, with subsequent subsections delineating lines of demarcation across the structure of his piece – my mind is, as I write this (today), instantly reminded of the logician Wittgenstein’s book The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (probably the most beautiful book on logic and the driest work of poetry I have ever read). Already relatively deconstructed, some of the work is already done.
I will save writing a detailed analysis of the poem for tomorrow (and allow its deferral to mean that I never write a detailed analysis of Mental Fight) and will, in the spirit of experimental writings, present poetic responses to dissected deconstructions of Okri’s work.
“Human kind cannot live long timeless”
Ben Okri, you are right,
But we have no time,
There is no time.
The world is dying today.
What is the fucking point in tomorrow,
If the world dies today?