DOOR INTO THE LIGHT
Heaney’s book, of course, chooses a different title for its mystery and (self) revelation, for comfort, and what we might call ‘knowableness’: locus and a smidgen of hocus pocus. It's a book that positions that great writer before he sets out, away from the merely familiar Wohnlichkeit, into the savage politics of his time. Yet it's 1983 not 1969, and I'm reading Heaney’s book sitting in a dirty bedroom in Leeds. I have my own savage times to deal with back there. Someone wants to destroy society. Actually, everyone wants to destroy society. It’s an age that has many parallels with 2017. Marxism on the streets and a decaying regime in power desperate for its hierarchies to prevail or perhaps merely persevere.
Anyway, downstairs, with its cabbage smell seeping into our crappy Victorian terrace from the allotments next door, there are a million woodlice scurrying across the blackened cellar kitchen lino, waiting for me and my housemate to come a-stamping.
Nothing surprising in this glimpse of student life, except that this idea of the younger me reading poetry is a tiny personal explosion of social mobility. Something art offered and which nowadays has been replaced by massive personal debt. Later that week, I shall be walking into Leeds town centre to find some second-hand Beckett, Endgame probably — I have it here on the shelves beside me now. I'd have read it listening to Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, borrowed from Leeds music library. For a working class kid from Manchester, I wonder what had happened to me at that point. Poetry, music, theatre — how did that young lad gain access to that sort of stuff? — ah, Art school.
Art is the enemy of borders, now there’s something banal and wonky. What I think I mean by this is, once you dip your toe in to the world of culture, the world’s comic order shifts outwards, ripples don’t come back. I don't know any successful art that puts you in your place, even if it deals ‘in place’ — the very naming of something is a dispossession, a dis-location, a loss of sorts, inside the fabric of its reception. All attempts at positioning in art have the opposite effect, for the reader isn’t there, but elsewhere.
For Heaney’s immediate audience, his recounting of rural life was no doubt familiar, but like Virgil's Eclogues, that very picture of the tools of the trade, the seasons and the seasons' work, lies in contrast to a world of conflict. The bucolic winsomeness is enabled by permanent bloody war, just out of sight, at our boundaries; truly a measure of our own times: the veil of freedom concealing from us the real nature of the world. Things break in. Doubts creep in. The boundary moves. The boundary fractures.
Still, back there in 1983, that young art student has escaped from one life’s expectations. Why bother reminiscing? Well, in our new world, the one we’re building right now, inside our incoherent passion for national divestment, for dis-integration, we are imagining a new locus, and those powers shaken free from the moderation of the centre are intent on managing the nuclear force of our revolution. And it is a revolution. We need to make sure that the new walls we choose to live inside, the ones we want to erect to keep our world in order, are ones we want to be constrained by. What keeps people out, locks people in. The familiarity of the dark can be a comfort, but a door into the light involves uncomfortable transformation.
And that, my friends, is 600 words.