Sometimes phrases or sentences ring round your head for a long season, with meaning beyond that apparently contained in them.
A few years ago, the line ‘I spent that summer in the pursuit of an idea’ was like a flickering compass needle, impelling me to a way of thinking, acting and being. The line itself was from Agnès Varda’s Ulysse, and the method of Varda is exemplary. An idea may be present in the flicker of an image in a photo, or a memory, or an object, or an event, and Varda’s pursuit is neither gentle nor assured exactly, but a mixture of both; she is sure in her method, allowing each moment or object its proper place, neither forcing it nor holding it too loosely. Her simple brief descriptions of experiences and encounters show an easy ability to navigate the realm of feeling. It is as if she is holding in her hands, in her mind, a rare, delicate living thing, and treats it with deep care and interest. It is the tone of an expert, long practised at what she is doing.
At the beginning of this year, it was a phrase from Pierre Michon’s Les Onze, or The Eleven, in a description of a fictional artist, that rang round my head.
A young man so enamoured of the future that they seem to mirror the future of anyone who encounters them.
The second half of that sentence is there only for ballast, it is the first part that made the impression.
In the original French it is [Il était des ce jeunes]… épris l’avenir au point qu’ils semble montrer son propre avenir à quiconque les côtoie.
But it was the translated phrase that was in my head.
Enamoured of the future… In love with the future…
What can those words mean to us today? They seem so alien to me personally, and to the society to which I belong – western, liberal, middle-class. I feel, and feel most of those around me feel, an overwhelming anxiety and uncertainty about the future, personal, societal, global. The personal feeling must be accounted for elsewhere, but the more generalised feelings are bound up with climate change, the political treatment of younger generations, especially since the financial crisis, and a sense of impending and irreversible crisis, an inevitable worsening. The feeling of Western society faced with its demise1I do not wish to imply this is a matter for regret, or indeed for joy. merely it is change and fortunes change with it..
What would it mean, what could it mean, to be enamoured of the future? It is perhaps a feeling we associate with figures in the renaissance, or the enlightenment, a time, it seems to us, full of opportunity and possibility. Of course, those times were full of uncertainty, sometimes apocalyptic uncertainty and full of the deepest religious anxieties. It is unreasonable to suggest that ours are heavier psychological or social burdens because in some way ‘actual’, that is to say ‘scientific’.
We do not need to feel the future is rosy to feel enamoured of the coming week, the possibility contained in it, in love with the coming year, or years, to look at the world around us and for it to knap against the mind and create a spark in the eye. For us to know, in some sense, and to a degree, that the future is ours to live in.
And so I have been saying the phrase to myself, almost like a mantra, at the beginning of 2023. To try and think, how can I order my life, and so arrange my heart and mind, to create this feeling?