‘Everywhere is somewhere’ – thoughts on passing through
November 18, 2012 2 Comments
“Good, yes, you’ve done well
Here is a small prize
The history of the world”
The Gang of Four (1982) ‘The History of the World’
I’m told that there’s a mediocre swashbuckling film from the 1950s with an inadvertent claim to fame. A viewer who knows what and when to look away from the foreground of the film’s harbour-side action will spot a Bedford van chugging up a hillside road on the far side of the estuary. I love that incongruence, the everyday bleeding into the scene despite the best efforts of the film crew to stage the scene for 15th century authenticity.
I love watching old films with outdoor action sequences. Not because of the story-line, but because of the incidental opportunity to see people, cars, buildings passing through the frame. As the camera pans on and each bystander leaves the shot I wonder what it was like to be them, where they were going, what was on their mind, who they were and what those accidentally captured slices of their lives can show and say.
Perhaps for a moment I feel that I’m passing along those streets, that I’m getting a glimpse of real day-to-day lives being lived in a moment of the past.
Child development experts (of a structuralist hew) tell us that infant spatial awareness passes through a number of key stages – from the egotic to the abstract. For Piaget and his ilk, early world perception is purely egotic. The toddler see’s the physical world around him only to the extent that it is an extension of himself and his support needs. Nothing else is or can be known if it has no connection to that survival preoccupation. But as the child grows this world-picturing becomes first nodal, acknowledging the independence of the surrounding world, but still from an instrumental point of view (i.e. ‘how do I get to the shop that has the sweets that I want?’) but then in time the picture becomes fully abstract. The world is accepted as exterior and independent, something to be encountered, and somewhere that exists even when not being looked at or used by the viewer.
I recall two moments in my childhood when my outlook moved onward along that axis. First, a family journey somewhere in the mid Devon countryside, travelling between a succession of villages. Looking out of the car window I saw a group of children standing on a street corner playing. The scene at first made me think, ‘why have these people come to this strange place that only exists for passing-through?’ and then reflexively it dawned on me that they would think the same of me and my street corner where they to drive past my home. At the time it seemed a very profound revelation. Writing it now it doesn’t. But that shift from egotic/nodal to fully accepting of independence of the world and the lives in it was important. An adult who could still only see the world through their own eyes and position would be missing so much…
The second occasion was at secondary school. A road lay beyond the school fence. Standing in the playground at break, looking out I would watch the cars and lorries trundle past. By this stage I was fully aware of the independence of those vehicles, and their part of the world from my needs and control. Indeed, I think watching those cars and lorries going about their business emphasised to me the smallness and insignificance of any one person’s place in the world. That baker’s lorry, those people driving to work, that birth-life-death cycle playing itself out around me was universal, timeless and unstoppable. Yes, this was the moment that I developed a sense of system. A sociological epiphany of soughts.
So, as I seek out the Bedford van climbing that hill in that film I’m marvelling at the film crew’s inability to fully control their event, I’m trying to cast myself momentarily into the life-world of the driver and I’m conjecturing the plot of the delivery route that he was driving, the history, purpose and fate of the organisation he was working for and the arrangements by which the loaves of bread wobbling in the back of his van came to be made, shipped, sold and consumed. That journey had consequences, but they were ‘only’ every-day effects. The bread was delivered and eaten. No one would remember that particular loaf, or that particular delivery journey. Yet, this one iteration of the journey – a journey repeated without record on many thousands of other almost identical other occasions – was accidentally captured for posterity.
A humdrum moment frozen in the background of an unremarkable film, but for me it’s the most fascinating bit.
Photo source: http://www.newbury.net/forum/m-1259580804/s-all/