Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Premature Nostalgia/Dirty Dancing (A Short Defence Of Melancholy)

Solitude. A kind of melancholy viewing photographs from the months past.[i] Meditating on the possibility of nostalgia for an activity that is, in essence, still happening. Perhaps I am more guilty of this kind of nostalgic revision than others, but in any case it’s not impossible to see how a trip of such length could entail such a sentiment.

I have been away over five months. It is now mid-february. I am, on the one hand, quite mystified as to where this time might have gone. On the other there is some evidence to suggest (a largely unelaborated lists of place names, events, smells, sights at the back of a book) that it has been spent in a wholehearted sensory overload kind of way.[ii]

So I am sat with this premature nostalgia and I’m looking at myself having it….and writing that. I suppose this is what I feared a Blog might be before I entertained the idea of having one. A self indulgent mess. I may have become my worst fear. Nevertheless I find myself considering the song ‘I’ve Had The Time Of My Life’ from the film Dirty Dancing.

I have no idea why this example above all others came to me. I can’t admit to liking the song (it reminds me of moles and bad hen nights) or for its context being at all apposite. Nevertheless it’s a song sung, we are led to believe, by two lovers who are addressing each other in the present tense and reflecting on, passionately some may say, a period in their shared recent past that is itself enduring through the course of the song. ‘I’ve had the time of my life, I’ve never felt this way before’. In this sense it seemed a good example of what  mean, of what premature nostalgia might be.

I wonder if it is a kind of nostalgia, if not precipitated by, then certainly conducive to the ‘holiday experience’ since contextually a holiday is, by definition, in parenthesis to the rest of your life. It has a clear beginning and end in time that is distinguished from one’s ‘daily life’ (whatever that may mean). Perhaps all nostalgia is merely processing information in a sentimental way and sometimes there is a temporal overlap not unlike the one used to explain deja vu. In my case this line, between 'daily life' and 'holiday' seems increasingly blurred and that is perhaps the motivation and reason for the reflective but ultimately pointless indulgences relayed here. The nomadic or holiday experience has become 'daily life'.

In any case I am lying in a hammock in Ayampe, a remote village on the coast of Ecuador. I have a cabaƱa right on the beach which has three beds of which, for two nights, I have been the sole occupant. It has a fan and a shower. It has silence or at least noise that is largely devoid of human intervention. (There are the cicadas and crickets who reach a fever pitch like a nature rave when the sun goes down. There is an insect, I don’t know what, that sounds exactly like the old dial phones used to sound when you let go after the number). It has a shop to buy basics and two restaurants that are virtually empty all the time. This place would be tranquil to the point of boredom I imagine if a complete lack of communication with the world and others hadn’t been the defining desire of your last two weeks.

The busiest the village gets is when all 20 residents and the five tourists distribute themselves into evenly spaced silhouettes along a stretch of beach 3 km long to watch the sun set. (The sun here is an enormous orange bubble that seems to deflate with great symmetry into the ocean around seven pm). In short this is where I want to be, my head and my location have co-incided perfectly. I feel very content. Nevertheless it is precisely here, out of this contentment that the nostalgia begins - is allowed to begin as I stop moving - and it is celebratory as much as it is a wistful acknowledgment of past time, you can ask Patrick Swizzle or Leonard Cohen.

[i] I want to defend this word melancholy. To wrestle or distinguish it from depression or flagrant navel gazing and introspection with which it is often confused. Melancholy is something that I think can be defined as much by its great beauty and sense of rapture as it is by sadness and introspection. This sentiment seems to me to be exemplified in the music of Leonard Cohen. If it is sad (and often it is) it is sadness elevated to an art form, and one that does not fail to admit the light as well as the dark; broadly life’s sense of wonder as well as it’s disappointments and absurdities. In this sense it seems to me one of the most balanced and ultimately honest and of all sentiments – who has not at some point of great euphoria wondered why life is not always such? And in that thought encapsulated a kind of melancholy that cannot be called sad? (As an aside; a sad or melancholy song that successfully communicates what is I think a not uncommon feeling seems to me to be ultimately positive and edifying. Conversely ‘depressing music’ will always be something that seems utterly compromised by its mode of coming into being – derivative or commercial schlock in any idiom or style that seems bereft of its own voice).

[ii] I only hope these concise scribbles somehow retain their ability to jog the details of these events when I do actually come to set them down.

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