The visionaries of our time, Apple and Microsoft, have opened up our world, and our lives are now given over to internet screens. I am grateful for the timing that has allowed me to be part of this world festival of fact and fiction.
Yes, I am happy to read newspapers online, to listen to music via a screen, to search for information at the click of a button, to communicate, to check the time or the weather, to read and write in virtual print, to store my life in the cloud.
We live in the brightness of screens; when they sleep, we too shut down.
It was ironic then that my timing was so off yesterday and I was very far from my screen when a major event of our times happened, an event which was communicated to the world, not by text message, email or phone call but by a smoke signal from the chimney of the Sistine chapel.
But I too was in a chapel of sorts when the white smoke curled into the Roman clouds. I was in a temple dedicated to the god of ink print, Times New Roman herself, still worshipped daily in our humble bookstore. I was gathered with a group of the faithful to listen to the words of Anne Korkeakivi who was visiting our temple to speak of her recent book, a book where the universal sits beside the personal, where major events in world politics vie with shopping for dinner. A book where Time and timing are everything.
Present time and past time waltz with each other continually throughout An Unexpected Guest: A Novel. The main character, Claire Moorhouse is a modern day Clarissa Dalloway, setting out in the morning to buy the flowers she will need for her dinner party that same evening. She lives on rue de Varenne, a street in Paris containing buildings which date back to the late sixteen hundreds some of which were destroyed in the mid-nineteenth century when the visionaries of the day opened up the city and sliced through rue de Varenne in the name of progress. It was while walking down this very street in 2006 that the author first got the idea for this novel, inspired by the tension she felt in Paris at that time, the problems thrown up on those historic pavements by twentieth first century wars and the threat of bombs which slice through urban centres in the name of patriotism.
And so present time and past time compete for our attention right through the narrative. Present time is measured out, not by church bells as in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, but on the screen of a mobile phone. Past time defeats any measuring, it is present only in wisps and fragments, retrieved haphazardly from the depths of memory. Present time is ordered by means of lists and facts accessed on computer screens while the facts of the past were noted and stored only in memory. The crucial ‘timing’ in the narrative revolves around this duality.
The final irony of yesterday for me was that even though I have many tools and devices available to me to record my thoughts, it was in the solitude of my mind, in the darkness of the night, that this piece of writing came together.
Yes, I am happy to know that I don’t shut down completely when away from my screens. And yes, I am happy that facts can be stored perfectly in my memory, safe until they can be recorded in the light of day.
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