Well…, This is indeed the 10th post of this series. And it is morphing. From what was originally intended to be a Sunday evening write-up and review of the previous week, we currently seem to be moving to a post that get’s published a day or two (or more) after the date in its title. But let that, for now, not cause our hearts to sink but vialiantly… ah, I got nothing. Who cares anyway. Not many, I know. I have web-stats activated. But that’s fine. I’m doing this for myself. I’m happy to share and excited if others find my waffling interesting. But I don’t worry about whether I get enough page hits. I used to. On my first website I had one of those counters. As you did in those days. And some pages, to my amusement, still do. Sure, more page views must mean better content… So, of course, I hit refresh a ton of times to drive up that counter.
After all, they say there is power in numbers. That is, of course, usually understood that many people stand a better chance against an enemy, than few. But there are also powers – or meanings (will & imagination) associated with numbers. Think 666. Or 93 (if you’re aThelemite you will now!). Personally I like to sit on seat 23C when flying and use gate #42 wherever possible on London tube stations… These are small numbers… Let’s look at a larger one: 16.000
It was actually a bit over two weeks ago that I turned 16.000 days old. Feel free to do the maths, personally I estimated that this makes me roughly a childish, though sometimes precocious 13 year old. After all, why should I be much different from most people out there. But before going off on the wrong tangent which, if a straight line, will never intersect with my intended trajectory again, let’s stop right here and consider something else. (No, not the question of why I’m bringing this up this week, rather than the week it actually happened- that might be due to forgetfulness or as part of a cunning plan to obfuscate the exact date through willful imprecision!)
The question I’m thinking of pondering is why we tend to count our age in years, rather than days. Or, you know, months, weeks, (as done with the very young) or even time-spans we actually have a relation to, such as to some degree hours and, mostly, minutes or seconds. Considering that we always only ever live in the present moment (even though our mind may be far from there) means it would make, in a way, sense to count moments rather than longer time-frames.
Quick: how many “moments “ do you remember? Vs how many years can you recall in full, even when condensed to an operationally sensible level of precision? Obviously I’m not arguing against counting our age in years. There’s good reasons for it – it keeps the numbers low. Yet, with increasing techologization of our lives, a certain accelerationism and with it, maybe at some time spaceflight. And with that we encounter the issue of time dilation. I remember, the first encounter with possible consequences of this phenomenon I had was when reading Stanislaw Lem’s Return from the Stars (Or Transfer, as the German version I read at the time was called). In the book Lem, of course, one of the philosophers among the Science Fiction writers – as well as more, or less covert critic of the Communists Regimes in Easter Europe at the time -, let’s an astronaut return from a ten year trip to Formaldehaut back to an Earth which in the 127 years that have passed there, has become an Utopia without wars and violence in which a – sort of – new kind of humans live. The differences between the main protagonist and the changed surroundings he’s returned to soon lead to many problems… It’s been a while and details are fuzzy in my memory, but any book by Stanislaw Lem is worth recommending. Or an excursion away from the original topic we were on…
Memory, not even as persistent as melting watches it turns out, is, as science shows, a dynamic system, not a static database. So in it, as in dreams, time gets dilated: those short moments we remember with intricate details and enough story that we could make a movie from it are just as meaningful in memory as the years remembered as a blur of a few highlights and outcomes. Cue montage music and fast forward through a flurry of pictures.
I mentioned that bit about being in the present moment earlier, which now we shall use to segue away from all this poor man’s philosophizing (although People like us owe this to the world, before the world starts to seriously consider Slavoj Zizek a philosopher…) to an old Eastern philosophy: Zen. Heck, it’s even in the title of this blog. After a couple of weeks of erring in my ways (lol) I finally managed to get some regularity into my (Soto) Zen practices. I started going to a Dojo in London’s picturesque (not) Caledonian Road almost 3 years ago. And while I found enlightenment once or twice, it never lasted long enough for me to even realize it. Well, maybe I haven’t found it at all. Most likely. But that’s not even necessarily the goal. Even though, unlike other schools of Buddhism who believe that it takes many lifetimes of meditation, Zen’s schools believe that enlightenment is a possibility within one lifetime (or at least that’s how I understood it)… it’s the practice that is all that matters. But even whichever way – and Alan Watts has written and spoken a lot about that in a way quite accessible to Western thought – it is a great exercise for that living in the moment, for full awareness; a way not to learn to control your thoughts, but not to let your thoughts (and emotions) control you. It shares certain elements here with Stoicism, even though the two philosophies also have some fundamental differences. And that’s not just down to differences in Western and Eastern thought (think Zizek vs Lao Tse… sorry, I’m gonna stop Zizek bashing eventually…)
Let’s talk about the Far East for a bit longer. This weekend the Summer Explorers series of Film Screenings by the Japan Foundation came to an end and, like the weeks before, I managed to get tickets to one of the films. This time it was Cat Samurai (trailer), a period comedy about a Samurai who’s hired to kill a cat. And can’t. And instead adopts the cat…The movie is based on a popular Japanese TV series, which I yet have to see if it is available online (or DVD), subtitled I hope – it’s been 150 days this Sunday since I started learning Japanese and it’s not been enough yet. Might actually still take a while… I’m still motivated, but at the moment I’m also at that point of pessimism where you realize that after early small – very small – successes, the next steps are much harder and it’ll take you a while to go from being able to repeat a few phrases to actually speaking even simple sentences all by yourself. But I have dwelt on the joys of language learning before, haven’t I.
I do sometimes regret a little having been a bit lazy at times and not started learning more languages earlier… I did have a go at Russian for a bit a couple of years ago. But stopped – or “took a break” – and quickly started forgetting again. Which you do when you stick to it. I’ve forgotten pretty much all the Latin and Ancient Greek I’d learned in school. Never had much of a chance of using them, though. Might have been smarter to learn French instead, but thought that there’d be plenty of chances to learn that later… I’m happy I had a chance to learn those classic languages, root of European Humanism that they are. But maybe rather than focusing on studying those languages to the level we did it would’ve made sense to keep things more superficial and instead get an introduction to other historically important languages, living or dead, European and beyond. Because, fundamentally, getting to know another language means getting to know a different way of thinking, a new power of shaping one’s perception of the world and thus shaping the world. If Die Grenzen meiner Sprache sind die Grenzen meiner Welt, then learning new words, syntax and semiotics widens those limits into new borderlands and beyond until whole new continents of thought emerge and reality gets expanded and we become mind-altering minds.
And on that note, with very little about the actual events from the Week that Was and instead a tour de force freestyle we wrap this up at loose ends…
Find below a couple of pictures from last week. Some from my “usual” haunt, Borough Market, some from Regent’s Park and Frieze Sculpture 2018 where I stopped by on Saturday after the cinema.
(update: 22.08.18 – minor corrections. Hyperlinks added.)