As Mark Smith, the original Post-Nearly Man, asks, ‘Moderninity, what is it?’ Xenochronicity is a term derived from two sources – Zappa’s xenochrony and Jung’s synchronicity. Definitions, gentlemen, please:

‘In this technique, various tracks from unrelated sources are randomly synchronized with each other to make a final composition with rhythmic relationships unachievable by other means.’

‘Synchronicity . . . consists of two factors: a) An unconscious image comes into consciousness either directly (i.e., literally) or indirectly (symbolized or suggested) in the form of a dream, idea, or premonition. b) An objective situation coincides with this content. The one is as puzzling as the other.’

Thank you. Now, what do I mean by it? That the things I do all turn out to be interconnected, but that I am too stupid to notice this at the time. (You may apply this argument to yourself, substituting ‘busy’ for ‘stupid’.) Moreover, that when I attempt to align myself to what I dimly perceive as the zeitgeist, the nap of the universe appears to be against me.

So I fail to notice that I recurrently try to form collaborative groups to present performances or gather publications that step aside from traditional models of readings or anthologies — On Your Nerve with David Kinloch and Donny O’Rourke; Book of the North with a host of NE writers (both described on Gairnet); Elegies for Andrew, a poetry/musical tribute to Andrew Waterhouse with Sean O’B, Linda France and Keith Morris; and now the Bulgarian book neareast, which rethinks the presentation of an anthology of translations. I didn’t come up with all these ideas, but I helped formulate most of them, and take part in plenty of others like them (Holocaust Memorial Day, the Homages to Barcelona project, Poet to Poet in China, etc, etc).

Some part of my imagination wants to build or join communities of writers, musicians and artists, and that accretive, familial urge is present in the way I build up books from interrelated sections that cross categories, whether performative, linguistic, or to do with cultural assumptions as to high or low culture, poetic or non-poetic genres or approaches to writing.

Equally, whenever I try to match this process to some date, issue or anniversary that the reading public or just the media can get a handle on, I always fail miserably. As Johnny Vegas says in today’s Guardian, ‘documentaries, they’re very immediate – what are you thinking now? And I’m just like, I don’t know what I’m thinking. I’ll know once I’ve got home, but…’ On one level, this is palpably untrue – Vegas is a great improviser, but on another it’s an indication of a resistance to our society’s ways of processing experience.

I’m constantly aware of relinquishing creative process – letting some book I should’ve read slip into the pile of ‘one day’ reads; missing that movie that had a scene that just related to…what was that dream I was going to note down? I’m constantly improvising in response to the latest project, the latest deadline – which I’m always stretching or missing. Sound familiar?

Just glance over at this novel blog I tried to set up for the Mozart anniversary (preferrably before I get stuck into erasing its history): all I was doing was digging out some chapters I had already written about ten, twelve years ago, tidying them up a bit, and posting them. After I’d done that, I thought I might get round to writing some later ones. The whole thing was as low-key as it could get – this was a pure entertainment, not intended for publication in any other format, a training ground to get me back into fiction (an issue I’ll return to elsewhere). But could I manage this?

The first few months I was genuinely busy, but I can’t even remember why I didn’t do it after that – that’s exactly how crap I am. I’m the same when confronted by any aspect of the poetry ‘biz’ — prizes? I’ll miss the deadline; awards? I’ll botch the form-filling; submitting poems and touting for reviews? I forget; schmoozing events? I can’t even make myself turn up.

Get your act together you inefficient self-defeating oaf, the admonitory voices cry, and fair enough. As soon as I’ve done this, for instance, I’ll get right back to my overdue PBS comments. But what I’m pursuing here is how that recalcitrance is part of the creative fugue, the necessary trance that means you finally do connect the obsessions to each other and get a momentary glimpse of the whole terrain.

Reluctance, stubbornness and waywardness are creative virtues if only in these terms. (I can generally manage some approximation of efficiency in my professorial role, and I almost always turn up for gigs.)

But creativity requires us to be strangers to time, if not to time-keeping, to enter that space in which, as Jung has it, things can connect according to acausal principles. These dazes and delays can be decades long, and the works you glimpse in them can mutate as though they’re dreams or even held in some compelling coma of their own. Perhaps they’re simply maturing, or you are. Perhaps they’re crossing the lightyears inside. Perhaps, unlike in the fairytales but like in the serious head injury units, they’ll never wake up.

Certainly, I have enough ideas floating in that indeterminate landscape, and every now and then, I’ll sit down to write one thing and another (as happened with the long poem ‘Rabotnik Fergusson’) will demand to appear instead.

Certainly, that space corresponds for me exactly with the kind of space depicted on this blog. No, the articles are not in order; yes, the photos could be grouped into different albums; no, the visitor just wanting to know where my next gig is won’t find out at the moment.

But, as I’ve been saying ever since I started blogging back with the wiary, I see art very much as the process of finding quite specific shapes – some on the page, some in experience, and some in this space, where a few different instruments and time signatures are currently attempting to combine.

About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
This entry was posted in xenochronicity and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to xenochronicity

  1. Pingback: Origins, Grafts, Whispers | gairnet provides: press of blll

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s