Saturday, 31 December 2016

Quotes#4: Philip Larkin and Nas

Philip Larkin, in his poem Dockery and Son:

Life is first boredom, then fear, 
Whether we use it or not, it goes,
And leaves what something hidden from us chose...

Nas in New York State of Mind:

It drops deep, as it does in my breath/
I never sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of death/
Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined/
I think of crime, when I'm in a New York State of Mind

Thursday, 29 December 2016

The 50 greatest things in life

In The Photographer's Playbook, a book of exercises for photography students, Dennis Keeley suggests listing "your fifty greatest things in life, in order" since "if you cannot identify, qualify, contrast, or uncover the hidden parts of greatness, it is more difficult to prioritise your own processes and procedures in making work".

I'm reading the book for general interest and life inspiration, rather than to improve my (infrequent) photography, but a) I'm fond of lists b) I thought listing the greatest things in life might help me prioritise how I spend mine and c) I can't find any reference to this exercise online and I think that's a shame because I think it would be interesting to see how different people's lists compare (imagine how cool it would be to read the lists of people you admire) and how people's lists change over time.

So, in possibly the most on-the-spectrum thing I've ever done, here's my list of the 50 greatest things in life, in order of sheer pleasure-giving power (as opposed to, say, the eradication of small pox, which, although indeed great, has never sent a shiver up my spine):

  1. Sex
  2. [Redacted pending legalisation]
  3. Love 
  4. Sunlight (felt) 
  5. The anticipation of / start of a night out 
  6. Women (appearance of) 
  7. Good writing 
  8. Synth 
  9. Colour 
  10. Uncrowded swimming 
  11. Sunlight (seen) 
  12. Water (sight of) 
  13. Other natural vistas 
  14. Beer 
  15. Electric guitar 
  16. Drumming 
  17. Blues guitar 
  18. Wine 
  19. The look of Michael Mann's films
  20. Lamb kebabs  
  21. Rum 
  22. Clusters of skyscrapers 
  23. Bass 
  24. Barbecue 
  25. Sitting in a field 
  26. Shelves of books 
  27. Racks of magazines
  28. An unexplored city 
  29. Getting into bed tired 
  30. Playing football 
  31. Crisp mornings 
  32. Quiet 
  33. Good coffee 
  34. Identifying with a tragi-comic fictional character's chagrin at the shitness of things 
  35. Neon 
  36. Running 
  37. Flowers 
  38. Buffalo sauce
  39. Good tea 
  40. Hunter S Thompson 
  41. The concepts of JG Ballard 
  42. The hard-boiled noir style
  43. Whiskey
  44. A cold glass of water on a hot day
  45. Hokusai woodcuts 
  46. Burnished metal 
  47. Staircases 
  48. Glass
  49. Wood
  50. Heft
I basically came up with this list in an afternoon, so it might change over the next few days and / or a longer period.

Saturday, 3 December 2016


Are any human actions inherently worthwhile, rather than being worthwhile because of their impact on some other person or animal?

Maybe knowledge creation.

But can knowledge stand alone?

The universe is full of information that stands alone; knowledge is the conversion of information into a useful form.

If someone counted the number of grains of sand in the Sahara, they could choose to express their knowledge of that information by, say, writing one sentence for every grain. But that wouldn't be very useful: someone else would have to count all of those sentences to gain that knowledge. It would be more useful to write merely an order of magnitude. Every attempt to express knowledge of something also increases the amount of information in the world; the key to being useful is to minimise that increase as much as possible.

Which actually has nothing to do with the reason I started writing, so I'm failing my own usefulness test here - sorry.

I started writing because I'm wondering: how many things are worthwhile if they go unperceived by someone else?

Exercising is worthwhile if it makes you healthier and happier, even if it has no effect on anybody else.

But can a life be worthwhile if its effects are entirely self-contained? I think not.

So if you want your life to be worthwhile, does that mean your main pursuits should be outward-looking?

In The Photographer's Playbook, Ed Kashi advises aspiring photographers to "be passionate" about their subjects. He's photographed Northern Irish Protestants, Kurds and Syrian refugees. Worthwhile activities, no doubt.

But what were the Protestants, Kurds and Syrians doing while he was photographing them? They probably weren't photographing him back. They probably weren't photographing each other.

But maybe the happiest among them were making each other food. Telling each other stories or listening to them. Helping and healing.

So, does worth demand the existence of pain? And if so, is there enough pain to go around? And if not, what does that mean?

Today, the average person has to spend most of their life working. In the future that may not be the case - it maybe wasn't the case in the past, when we were tribal, for example - but today it is.

Are there enough jobs that directly salve pain for everyone to have one? No. So should we therefore create more pains?

Consumer capitalism creates pain in order to salve it for profit - ideally temporarily and repeatedly. This is bad if its overall impact is negative, for example because of impact on the environment, or if the pain grows through repeated invocation. But is that always the case? And does the involvement of profit necessarily negate good feeling?

We could instead slice these jobs more thinly among ourselves, but then would they be too thin to satisfy?

Or we could forget about manufacturing pain and instead try harder to slice genuine pain more thinly, through more effective redistribution.

But then what would we do with ourselves? What did tribal man do with himself?

Again, as Yuval Noah Harari asks in Sapiens: what do we want to want?

Everything is relative. Without real pain, would our boredom become the pain that we'd salve for each other through clowning? Would the meaning of life be to play the fool for others?

The wealthiest among us already have lives like this. Maybe I already have a life like this: what is my Facebook activity if not clowning for your amusement?

If it works, why am I writing this?