The centre cannot hold

20th March 2022.
I haven’t felt like writing, I haven’t felt like reading the media, not that I often do, I haven’t felt like watching the News. I can only think of the slaughter of young men. The thought of the youth in the Russian army who have been forced to the chink of their lives on a whim. Unlike the Ukrainians they are not fighting for their honour they are fighting to soothe a despot. Dying bodies are everywhere. Is the human physiology, our neurobiology programmed to forget?

It is only two years ago that we saw those first photographs of hearses being drawn through Codogno the Italian town where Covid began in Europe. I have imagined visions of the reports in Hong Kong, where they have run out of coffins; visions of dead corpses lying beside living patients.

I wonder why the body changes its name to a corpse once it has deceased.

I feel the fallen nature of our status. Lucifer was the brightest angel of all before he was consumed by pride, vanity, and greed. Didn’t Covid teach us that the world is one great chain of being. Didn’t Covid prove the accuracy of Chaos theory, of the Butterfly Effect. We continue to ignore our inter dependence and are driven by ignorance. History must be laughing at what fools we mortals be. Bertram Russell predicted our predicament in 1951, writing about the future of humankind and a world government. He imagined the worst.

I am no good at jokes, I never remember them and never know when to laugh. I freeze with shame as soon as anybody begins to recount one. The only joke I can remember is the idea that if God wanted to go on holiday the last place he would choose is Earth.

I haven’t said much about my eye surgery, but it is a bit like coming down from a turbulent acid trip. Nothing looks quite the same. Everything is sharper but murkier. It is not the best time to have a super dose of reality. I look in the mirror and I do not recognise myself. Everyone looks older; perhaps the eyes are meant to grow dim. Let us hope the technicolour of today’s blue turns out to be a promise of approaching serenity, but how to forget ‘yesterday’s’ sands from a jaundiced sirocco. I imagined an angry god, another despot, urinating all over our human folly.

I think of Russia where I have spent more time than in any other country. I think of Osip Mandelstam, I think of Osip remarking: “Only in Russia poetry is respected – it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?”
I think about Anna Akhmatova and her poem about her son Lev imprisoned in the notorious tower of Leningrad prison where she waited every day in a queue of women bereft for their children and imprisoned by Stalin’s will.
Seventeen months I've pleaded
for you to come home.
Flung myself at the hangman's feet.
My terror, oh my son.
And I can't understand.
Now all's eternal confusion.
Who's beast, and who's man?
How long till execution?

I remember being a seven-year-old and listening to the News and hearing a presenter announce: ‘Stalin is dead’ and wondering why they were announcing the death of a starling.

Now I know that Shakespeare was right. There is special providence in the fall of every sparrow.


Hilary Mantel and Jane Haynes in conversation Autumn 2009 (left) & BBC - Podcasts - Start the Week with Andrew Marr (right)



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