Origami Posada

On Saturday I was in one of my favourite weekend haunts, the Crown Posada: a narrow, high-ceilinged, magnificent preservation of the Victorian pub as secular place of gathering if not worship – all stained glass, globe lights, long banquettes, dark wallpaper, good beer, and no bloody TVs. A few records are played on an old dansette, those quarter stotties I can’t help thinking are bannocks are sold with a free packet of crisps, and people come in waves throughout the day to talk or, like me, to sit alone and read a paper, or just think.

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It’s a peculiar kind of thinking you do in bars, even bars as amenable as the Posada (I hunt them down – decor, time of day, where to sit): you have to not be too much the anomaly, not be taking up a table at a busy spell, not be too much distracted by the conversation of others, not be too pissed…

You need to be just floating in that zythophanic state a few pints induces, the one in which you come up with words like ‘zythophany’, by finding an early Greek word for ‘beer’ (perhaps from Egyptian), and linking it, whether to Joyce’s idea of the epiphany, or to those poetic effects Pound went on about – melopoeia, logopoeia and phanopoeia. ‘Phanein’ in Greek is to show or to reveal, so just as phanopoeia focusses on how poems generate visual images, so zythophany concerns itself with those ideas that just pop into the drinker’s brain.

If you’ve had a few you might then think about the possible link between ‘phanein’ and ‘fanum’, the Latin for temple: the word behind ‘fane’ – and the Posada is certainly a fane – which is itself the word behind ‘fan’, ‘fanatic’ and, just possibly, ‘fancy’. So zythophany is just a fancy word for fancy – fancy that! Coleridge had a few things to say about fancy that might have related to his own opiophanic tendencies:

‘The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; while it is blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word CHOICE.’

Fancy, then, is a kind of daydreaming using readymade elements presented from the memory. Here we have one of the great cultural value judgements: this, he argues, must be opposed to the two higher orders of invention performed by the imagination – firstly it extracts meanings from such mechanical processes, and secondly, ‘It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealise and unify.’

Ah, the Imagination! Sitting around stoned out of your Romantic gourd on Kendal Black Drop or indeed mildly pissed on Radgie Gadgie it ain’t. But of course Coleridge’s philosophical need for clarity of category is not unconnected to his psychological need to compartmentalise his pharmaceutically induced daydreaming – which, though it may have led to ‘Kublai Khan’, also led to years of misery and underachievement, not to mention, as he nonetheless did, the constipation – from the more productive genius of a figure like Wordsworth. (We also won’t mention the more automatic-seeming passages of ‘The Excursion’.)

But the interconnectivity of the mind, its blithe and/or obsessive overlooking and overflowing of our neat categories, whether they claim to be philosophical or psychological, fanciful or imaginative, means that we must be at least as defined by the time we fear we waste, as by the time we’re sure we spend productively. Indeed, what we produce is inevitably derived from both conditions.

We are as fond of self-recrimination as we are of judging others – and are often guided to our more intemperate condemnations of those others by the sheer convenience of applying something that disturbs us about ourselves to someone else instead. Perceived sloth is one of our culture’s cardinal sins – the worker who will not work is an offence against profit, as the workshy prophet Ian Duncan Smith continues to preach. Daydreaming in its ‘bad’ form of procrastination is our internalised version of this crime against Capital.

Procrastination – the nearly deliberate putting off of unavoidable duty – is arguably a type of guilt-ridden rebellion. The extent to which we berate ourselves about it is pretty much the extent to which we have internalised the system by which we are simultaneously sustained and oppressed, rewarded and judged. Bewildered by opposites, we find we are not, in Keats’s phrase, ‘capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’ – and so we go to the pub.

(‘We’ is a relative term deployed here to get back to my starting point. ‘You’ of course may go shopping or for a cup of tea or to the cinema, or, eschewing consumerism, go for a walk, wash, tidy, or otherwise step away from the work.)

Meanwhile, back in the Crown Posada, a few younger sorts have wandered in. Having to swagger sideways because of the narrowness of the establishment, they make their way to the end of the room in search of the large lairy interior it must surely possess, to which this is merely the dad vestibule. But no – disappointed and bewildered by being able to hear each other not say very much, they drift back and leave. They are not fans of the fane.

A very drunk couple attempt the same search, remarking loudly on the inefficient way their dads and mams are sitting, so they can’t get a seat. On their bumbling way back I hear myself mutter something in annoyance, and the young lad sitting next to me with his lass asks what am I saying? I make some grumpy reference to the fact the bloke is very drunk, and the lad replies, ‘Well, he’s in the right place then, isn’t he?’

At that point I reawaken to what I myself am getting up to. I have just folded two origami CD cases for the copies I’ve made for a friend. I am in the act of ripping out pictures from a colour supplement to make a collage for one of these.

20130922-160111.jpgThese are not pub-friendly activities, and my neighbour is right to, gently, remind me of this. We are here to escape work, but on work’s terms – namby pambyism of the sort I’m getting up to would not be welcome in many places, and it is me who should thank my lucky stars for the Posada, rather than the drunken couple who are not, frankly, causing anyone else any bother.

They are in the right place, however wrong I find their reasons – and for exactly the same reasons, so am I.

After a few minutes of still not being able to find a seat, they make their uncertain way back out into the sunlight. I realise I have enjoyed my allotted quota of escape, ’emancipated from the order of time and space’, finish my pint and fold away my sheets of paper, and follow them out.

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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.
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