Ten Days a Week

Sometimes you can observe precisely the realm that you are locked out of by the glacial grind of employment, and the willing juggling act that domesticity must add, plus, if you have the creative failing, that other pattern that the ‘real work’, as we like to term it, maintains above and below our awareness of it. So the days and their years pass, juggling on the glacier while staring at the almost blank pages of a book, embedded in the ice.

Despite working seven days a week, as writers are wont to do, despite adding the session before or after the ‘work work’, as we like to term that (and how rarely, once you begin the slide toward the seven day week, will the work work stay in its strict 9-5 confines), either in the early early morning or in the late late showing, depending on your position on the avian spectrum of lark to owl, you can see precisely the thing that sits beyond it all.

This is the shadow of the week, its reflection, its unconscious further realm, which means, as the French revolutionaries correctly determined, that a week should last a neat ten days in total. In those other days, which should (we are, of course, firmly in the duty-bound realm of ‘should’ here) be named after the giants of science – Newtonday, Einsteinday, Hawkingsday – but which languish instead, nameless as undiscovered aliens, we place everything we hoped for in this life.

There we keep up with and catch up with our cultural guilts – books, languages, cinema, musicianship, bowling; there our accounts can be colour-coded, bills paid promptly, and our invoices sent off smartly; there the ‘real’ life sits, in which that nagging sense must somehow survive that something could be actualised, that it could be assessed, and that its true value could emerge.

This is, of course, the very definition of false consciousness that we are told Capitalism perpetuates, wherein we believe we can buy ‘me time’ by selling our labour, where holidays are for happy families, and shopping is indeed therapeutic, where men like Martian football, but women prefer Venusian chocolate. Where we deny that the inverse of the Stones’ song may be the truth: we can’t always want what we get.

I often catch a glimpse of it sitting in a bar or cafe or restaurant lined with mirrors: over the heads of the drinkers or diners, beyond the clatter and the chatter, there is the looking glass realm. Somewhere where time possibly runs backwards, enabling us to regain our dead, or perhaps it expands like the universe, so moments can last for months, or perhaps everything is frozen in fermata, as Nicholson Baker fantasised.

But right now its symbol is a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages and have now bought but haven’t time at the moment to read. That combination of fulfilled intent but delayed gratification sums it up perfectly. The book is ‘Zazie in the Metro’ by Raymond Queneau – one of those volumes which, through its associations alone (Parisian, Metro-related, Nouvelle Vague-esque, linguistically playful, obliquely Oulipian), let alone its offshoots (cinematic, the graphic novel, French whimsy from Tati to Amelie to Gondry to Scorsese’s Hugo), identifies a realm I really want to inhabit.

(Here I am conscious of but cannot fully inhabit the irony that Zazie herself wishes to visit the Metro, but it is closed due to a strike, and so can only point to the irony that I am unable to exploit this irony properly without having read the book.)

By writing this I am paying homage to the future act of reading and resisting as we all must through such acts of the imagination the inaccessibility of the Other Days, the looking glass life we long to lead. I am also sacrificing precisely in a Marxist sense my time, which should at this moment be spent in fulfilling one of my less nebulous duties. In that guilt, that sense of transgression and thievery, lies the true relation between the seven and the three, the materialist and the imaginative: our culture has pushed reality as we wish to define it out of time, just as I now am out of time, and must return to the task in hand.

But it is by such small acts of rebellion that we approach an analysis not only of what has been done to us, but what we desire, and how or whether we might achieve those desires. That which we eventually understand we cannot achieve we may no longer tolerate the lack of.

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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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2 Responses to Ten Days a Week

  1. So, I begin to understand I cannot achieve my PhD and I cannot tolerate the lack of same.

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