Against the news

“Most people are other people,” as Oscar Wilde used to say, before he stopped saying anything whatever. To which Fernando Pessoa adds (in his Book of Disquiet), that they spend their lives in pursuit of something they don’t want; or do want, but which will destroy them.

I am more inclined to Mr Wilde’s view, though he’d serve as the Pessoan’s Exhibit “A.” It took me some time, in youth, but finally I came round to the view that most people are other people. They see things quite differently, even when, verbally, they see things the same. By this I mean that there are aesthetic, spiritual, even moral dimensions of human life — in addition to the dimension of Jonas Dryasdust (the antiquary in Sir Walter Scott’s Antiquary), provisioner of “background,” “history,” “facts.” These last can be written into footnotes and fine print, and are, like most contracts, boring. But the former things aren’t easy to compose; are impossible to convey entirely, from one unique sensibility to another. Illusion is actually required, to effect any transfer at all.

Or let us call it “art,” although the term is dangerously abstract, ersatz, and factitious. This can’t be helped. It means something different every time we use it. But whatever it is, it comes off the page, and begins to swim in the imagination. Audaciously it passes, through walls and skulls.

Between two people — let us narrow our range — there can be not so much communication as resonance. This is what makes the sacramental, Christian account of marriage interesting. (I’m aware that sometimes the resonance is dissonance.) It is linked directly not only to child support, but to the mysterious relations of human beings within “the Body of Christ.” It serves not only as ideal, but as analogy. It is one of those bottomless things — that hat, from which rabbits keep emerging.

Or widening again, there is a large field of correspondences, as the French poets call them, producing symphonic social effects, with crashing and kettle drums perhaps, or the harmonies within a string quartet in a side gallery.

Or duo, as when two viols talk to each other. They are not, strictly speaking, communicating news. I’m not sure what they are communicating, but I love to listen. I am thinking especially of gambas, my image of two old men on a bench, in a scene with peanuts and squirrels. (I took note, t’other day in a park, of two old men who looked like gambas.) They play to each other; they resonate together.

Or two old guitar virtuosi, as Julian Bream and John Williams — each an enigma to the other, and with techniques that seemed quite incompatible, until they began playing duets. (Had they met to discuss politics, say, it could not have turned out as well.)

And yes, there will always be news. As an old Czech friend used to say, “Always, there is something going on. For this I do not need newspapers.”