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w/e 2020-04-05

Hello from this quiet green island looking out over the rolling sea of the Herefordshire countryside.

I don’t think it’s any quieter than usual here – that would be hard – but it feels quieter, knowing that so little is happening. But, still, fields are being ploughed and sown, sheep are being moved around, vans are making deliveries.

One of the biggest downsides of moving here from central London was the huge rise in FOMO. Well, not Fear Of Missing Out but actually missing out. If I was an evil despot I could have fixed this by banning everyone else from doing anything I was missing out on. Then I’d no longer be envious and could enjoy doing nothing and going nowhere. No more going to coffee shops and cafes! No more cinemas or galleries! No more seeing friends! Definitely no more acting!

I am not an evil despot but I know a virus who is, and it has stopped all the things I was missing out on, so that’s nice. For me. I mean, this slight personal benefit is probably not worth everyone else having a miserable time, children staying off school, people getting ill and losing their income and dying, and the upending of everything we took for granted about society… Despots do tend to take things a bit too far don’t they.

§   I’ve had this Twitter thread by @pangmeli sitting in my head this week, which I awkwardly quote here in case it disappears:

a couple months ago, a fellow millennial colleague and I tried to explain the ‘whimsy’ fad of the early 2000s to our gen Z colleague. we were like, you don’t understand how bad it was. we participated in public pillow fights — we did graffiti that said ‘you are beautiful’ —

I realized we were both talking about it with palpable shame and disgust, like we’d been in the stanford prison experiment or something

I said it was a time marked by popular belief in the beauty and serendipity of strangers. it was the era of amelie poulain, michel gondry, free hugs, flash mobs, manic pixie dream girls, leaving a hand-annotated book on a bench and someone finds it (??) and you fall in love (??)

to this day I cringe when I see something with the same spiritual circuitry as that fad, like ‘little free libraries’ or strangers in opposite high-rise buildings sending messages to each other via signs in their windows

I think that fad feels shameful to me because it’s a confluence of things I don’t believe in anymore — pushing intimacy instead of letting it grow at its own pace, performing community/connectivity instead of building it, seeing boundaries as obstructive instead of protective etc

it was also a time in which *performing* spontaneity was seen as an act of spontaneity. like, you could be ‘spontaneous’ by acting out a pre-rehearsed skit in a public place

if I had to sum up the whimsy fad, I’d say it was a failed mass attempt to make reality itself into a movie

someone just argued that ‘little free libraries’ may make people ‘feel more connected’. I agree that acts of civic whimsy give some people the sensation of being connected. but by contrast, actual libraries — big free libraries, if you will — *actually make* people more connected

that’s why I find the whimsy fad so movie-like — it traffics in affect, not actuality. it’s about *feeling* connected, *feeling* special, *feeling* spontaneous, *feeling* beneficent — whether you *are* or not. it’s disinterested in any reality beyond the affective one

I don’t think I’d seen that whole bag of things – Amélie, Gondry, flash mobs, manic pixie dream girls, etc. – grouped together in such a way. I imagine all of these things, not necessarily bad in their own right, suddenly arriving at the same “spontaneous” party and looking around at each other and having a realisation that they’re all wearing the same clothes and, oh no, maybe they’re the baddies after all?

And I think a bit about the London Olympic 2012 opening ceremony which was enormous fun but also, now, seems like a culmination of some of that whimsy. Whimsy raised to the level of spectacle. It presented an illusion that we, in the UK, are “all in this together” and have a shared common history of tolerance, dynamism and fun. Some of us have looked back on it as if it was the last time when everything was fine when, in fact, it was the last time we allowed whimsy to deceive us about what much of the country is like.

And I think about everyone clapping to support “NHS staff and other key workers”, and particularly about Conservative MPs and Conservative voters clapping to support the people they’ve underfunded and sold off and taken for granted, and I think about how performative whimsy is a great way to whitewash the worst things.

it’s about *feeling* connected, *feeling* special, *feeling* spontaneous, *feeling* beneficent — whether you *are* or not. it’s disinterested in any reality beyond the affective one.

§   We started watching the National Theatre’s broadcast of One Man, Two Guvnors the other night but didn’t get very far. At first I assumed maybe it was a play-within-a-play, like Noises Off. Soon we’d see “backstage” and all the actors discussing this old-fashioned play they were performing, where cartoonish characters stand awkwardly around a room and TALK VERY CLEARLY AND LOUDLY, and where the jokes flop to the floor… but, no, it appears that… was… it? I feel like we’ve missed something, given the critical and popular acclaim, but we couldn’t bear to watch the rest.

§   I finished reading Kudos, the final part of Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, and it was fine but I haven’t enjoyed it as much as the previous two books. I don’t think it’s worse. Maybe I’ve just had enough of that for now. Or maybe the stories the characters tell weren’t as interesting to me. Or maybe the overarching narrative – the narrator at a literary festival – is less involving. Maybe it just feels weird to read Before-contemporary fiction (the recent Brexit vote is occasionally mentioned) right now. The characters’ Before-concerns now seem less relevant, slightly quaint. I hope that’s a temporary flaw.

§   Sorry. Good luck.

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