Possession of the Senses

To write a blog in 2019 feels anachronistic. Rapidity and noise are the order of the day. This morning I read that Facebook plans to launch a currency—a cryptocurrency—named Libra, and I read yesterday about their Horizon project which will perhaps at last create a viable virtual reality, packaged as a game. We must—mustn’t we?—find new ways to make money. Keep all mouths fed. VR games were in video game arcades when I was a teenager, and I put on the mask and entered the space—1992 or ‘91, I guess. A novelty, just a novelty. I think it cost 10 dollars. I can’t remember the game, something involving a gun—a quietened space, a gun, a motion of the head this way and that. Walk without legs, shoot without bullets, or consequence. It all meant something very different back then.

There’s something I want to say, but I don’t yet know how to say it. I can feel it wriggling and crying out in my belly and heart, something. It feels like Ted Hughes’s flopping flapping crow. Edie the kitten is in my lap trying not to fall asleep. It’s time for her nap, but she keeps getting up to find things to chew on. There’s something I want to say, over time. Am I patient enough? Over time, yes—surely. Sure. Say it, go ahead and say it. Is this why we write? The writing keeps time for us, it remembers.

The title of this blog comes from an interview with the writer W.G. Sebald, which remains available on Amazon, of all places: The Questionable Business of Writing. Toby Green asks if restlessness and destructiveness have a relationship in Sebald’s work, and Sebald, affirming the point, adds:


“Right now we can hear the traffic outside, the noise of the generator, the aeroplanes above–this proliferation just makes rigorous thought that much more impossible. It is impossible to imagine Wittgenstein thinking out a problem in front of an audience today. Impossible. 

Amazon.co.uk [Toby Green]: How do you feel that this growth of noise has affected our perceptual abilities? 

Sebald: Enormously so. I received a letter from a librarian after the publication of The Rings of Saturn , claiming that he had seen archival material that said that the Battle of Sole Bay—off Lowestoft—had been heard in London. Newton heard it from Cambridge. This sort of thing is inconceivable today. We can barely even imagine how it was then. It just shows how much we are losing possession of our senses, and how much noisier our world is now that it ever has been before. It has got much worse in the last ten years.”


The link to “Newton” in the original text, reproduced above, leads here:

I would shelve this book over and over when I worked at the State Library of Queensland, 25 years ago. It’s a big book. Heavy. Popular, yes, and usually left on the floor after perusal. The Cindy Sherman book, too, but it wasn’t as heavy. I don’t blame the reader for not moving them. Helmut, Isaac—the great photographers of physics. Nowhere on the Amazon list is Isaac Newton,  presumably because he hasn’t published recently or his publisher hasn’t put out a new edition. Already things are getting out of hand. A proliferation of links, things to look at, paths to follow, memories and wonderings … Noise. I’m adding to it. Click my links, click their links, and theirs, and theirs.

The only thing I want to say today is that the title for the blog comes from Sebald’s response: 

It just shows how much we are losing possession of our senses, and how much noisier our world is now that it ever has been before.

Anachronistic to write a blog in 2019, but perhaps it is a way to gain some possession of my senses, if only for the length of a blog post, from time to time. I was inspired too by long-time reading of Ursula K. LeGuin’s blog. Gain a little space. Her cat’s name was Pard. Of course my chosen title has other meanings—Possession of the Senses—but I barely know what they are, I just feel them. There’s no need to know yet. Writing is a way to find.

I am sitting in my dining room in Santa Fe, New Mexico, looking at two hills which are known, I’ve been told, as Sun and Moon Mountain. I don’t know which is which. It’s autumn, a cooling afternoon. There is a kitten asleep on my lap, stretching, gaining my attention. Now in the space of a few words she has dozed off. A month ago I could hold her in one hand. We sat together in the bathroom playing with Fred’s old toys. We made a game of leaping off my shoulders. Now she is twitching, her little white paws running, her long black mouse tail swiping this way and that.

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