Earlier this week I wrote about the fenscape of Lincolnshire and said that we ‘humans need the comfort of a boundary that is less ephemeral than a horizon.’ I also noted that under those fenland skies ‘you are quickly overloaded with the weight of the void’.
After I had written it, or it had written itself to be more precise, I wondered what it all meant. Why did it feel that way, and as in the theme of the previous post, how has it shaped me.
L’appel du vide is one of those French existential phrases that we don’t have in English, meaning the call of the void or the vacuum. It’s also translated as the urge some people get when they are close to the edge of a cliff. Does everyone recognise that urge I wonder – I know I do.
Perhaps it’s part of the reason I don’t like heights.
Anyway it partly describes what I was trying to talk about when I wrote about humans needing smaller boundaries than an endless horizon. Faced with vast emptiness do some of us experience externally something of the echo of our own internal void? I tend to think, yes, it’s not likely to be just me is it? And when I talk about a fen horizon being too ephemeral I mean that to relate and cope with the vastness of it, we need to box it up a bit, break it down. A tree here, a stream and hedge there – Devon for example. Otherwise the question our horizon asks is too huge to cope with.
Call it what you like in philosophical, literary or psychoanalytic terms but I believe we all have ‘a void’ and some of us try to construct buffers or, like leaking buckets, fill them up to avoid acknowledging the l’appel du vide. Shopping, religion, television, computer games, writing, eating, drinking – all on the list of potential void-avoiding activities.
Perhaps a whole existence is one which is able to encompass the internal space without either seeking to fill it with busyness, or succumbing to it in other ways. After all it is a beautiful and creative place to visit, but if you had to live there all the time it might become rather like the countryside in winter – dark, damp, muddy and depressing. A place where you might need to drink a lot to just get by. On the other hand, working with the void can produce art with qualities that speak to us beyond mere words.
Maybe that explains the paradox in my own life, which is: to give my mind respite from endless existential questions, I have to occasionally immerse myself in the natural space of a landscape, the type which I might be accused of complaining that I grew up with.
Experiencing the void externally in a wildscape teaches me to go back and accommodate the inner one more wholly again.
The process could look like a year’s walk to Istanbul, or as short as an hour walking the dog. It could be a holiday retreat in the mountains, or a picnic on the Rowley Mile. L’appel du vide, for me, is bringing the inside out and it is essential.
I don’t believe it is as bleak as it sounds though, unless of course your l’appel du vide shouts at you every day and looks like the inner equivalent of the fens…
nb Notwithstanding all of the above, writing this has made me as melancholy as hell so maybe it’s just as well we haven’t got a bloody word for it.
Like many of us, this post has rather lost its way. Better then to say so, than pretend to be anything more than that: a little bit dazed and confused, unhappy but trying to remain positive. Sitting by the shore having a bit of a think, a bit like this.
I have heard a waterscape described as a void, but one that reflects yourself back at you. Can it really be a void then? I don’t think we are surrounded with voids in nature, rather that we perhaps host them inside ourselves. Does a void ask questions, or does it just exist as something to continuously fill up?
Of course, I don’t know, I’m just asking.
Carl Roger’s self-actualisation involves unconditional positive regard for children. I think it’s important. I also think a 14 year old in a court of law is still a child, albeit a damaged one, even in today’s atmosphere of extreme retribution. If only we could swap retribution for reparation.
And then there’s Carl Jung and his theory of individuation, a more metaphysical approach to integrating the parts of ourselves. There’s no time to consider that at the moment beyond this quote.
“Trust that which gives you meaning and accept it as your guide.”
We are all hoping London will be quiet tonight, but shops in Hackney, Mare Street have been closing early and battening down the hatches just in case. I am sure there will be many more elsewhere.
My particular interest is that my daughters are staying in Hackney with relatives, last night elsewhere near Leyton. My maternal alarm bells have been ringing for 24 hours now, but common sense says if they stay in the house they will be fine. Perhaps it will be no more noisy than a usual summer’s evening in Hackney…
I was noting how many times the word ‘unacceptable’ is being used by the authorities in relation to the London riots; I have now lost count. Their whole tone is too obvious, insulting to the rest of us who can work out the criminality and chaos on our own. We don’t want words, we want to see some action. Balls to the rewarding the criminals line you’ve been peddling Mr Mayor’s Office – your job is to be seen on the streets you are in charge of, with something more creative to say than lofty rhetoric.
There is a line in a book I have been reading by John Macquarrie – it is discussing the human need to have a basic minimum of things for an existence and then from that foundation a human might begin to realise the uniquely human challenge of self-determination, or indeed simply the self. Without the bare minimum humans are put in a constant state of need. Inversely with too much a human being no longer just has things, rather the things have them.
Too much, too little, they both can amount to the same stunting of humanity, most particularly when one is juxtaposed closely with the other. This is not an excuse for what has gone on on the streets of London, but it is a potent ingredient to throw into the bubbling pot of disenfranchised youth who hitherto no-one much cared about as long as they stuck to maiming and killing each other.
Update @ 18.30
Watching the unrest in Hackney on the television now it strikes me that the groups at the north and south end of Mare Street are in different gang territories: the Pembury and the London Fields. A young man I know told me this morning that his old ‘crew’ from Enfield had been touch yesterday telling to come to the hood and do some shopping. The other areas in London that have been affected will have similar gang problems. No-one is mentioning the gang word yet – too loaded and scary for a nice Tory government to address in the middle of the summer holidays. They need to wake up and admit to what is going on: the heart of London communities are being torn out by gangs and gangs step in to fill voids in society. I started the day with my head in hands, I’m going to end it that way.