The Palace

There’s a bit in Brian Eno’s A Year With Swollen Appendices where he’s in Egypt, and a boy rides past on a bike shouting “I am here! I am here!” repeatedly, and Eno dubs this “perhaps the single and central message of humanity”. I’ve always really liked that.

As I sat in the lobby of our hotel in London last week, I mused on the feeling of obscelescence and redundancy. There’s a moment in Accelerando where one of the central characters loses all the computational stuff that augments his senses and mental faculties – he’s reduced to bare meat and a comparatively sluggish consciousness. This leads him (even after he’s fully restored to bright shining augmented posthumanism) to worry a lot about how long he can remain on the bleeding edge. Now, everyone feels this at some point, I believe: the horror (or at least angst) of realising that What Once Was has passed, never to be surpassed or even attained again. The loss of the intellect, the passing of the peak, the fading of the beauty, whatever it is. The fear that all that lies ahead is swimming ever harder, if one can even manage that, only to drift inexorably downstream.

So, a fundamental question is how to deal with this? If all my best lies behind, then what of the future? Naturally, having hit my early thirties, I have somewhat irrationally started to worry at this question myself. It’s absurd I know, but there you go.

The answer, it seems, is just this: to have hope and not worry about it. Nothing more that. For one thing, your best days may actually lie ahead. However, a stronger statement is the following: now is what matters – the past is gone and cannot be changed, and the future is yet to arrive, if at all. The question is not “what have you done?” or even “what would you do?”, but simply “what are you doing?

As such, I contend that just as “I am here” is the single and central message of humanity, so is “What are you doing?” the single and central question. (Not “where are you?”, I note.)

Of course, the real question is what do I have to do to discuss this with Brian over a glass of wine some time? ;-)

(Aside: it’s so hard to find anything specific in Eno’s book, because you just keep getting distracted – there’s an interesting idea or fact or insight on every page. Given that I’m reading Quicksilver at the mo, this one particularly caught my eye: 16 October. I also asked Anthea how many mature oaks she thought it would have taken to build a top-of-the-line ship in Nelson’s day. She guessed ten. The anstonishing answer (from Brewer’s) is about 3,500 – 900 acres of oak forest. She said, “I wonder what we’re doing now that’s as wasteful as that”. I said it’s still called Defence.)

50 Eno Moments, which I don’t have time to read right now.

2 Responses to “The Palace”

  1. July 18th, 2005 | 9:30 am

    You’re still to give us your review of QS… (Please don’t say it’s a must-read, I’m trying to avoid 1000 page books at the moment) As for trees and navies, the protection of sources of “naval stores” was quite a big military object in its own right, hence the relative strategic importance of Scandinavia in the 18th and early 19th centuries. As Eno points out, things don’t change: the US military that’s currently having fun in Iraq is also the world’s seventh largest consumer of oil.

  2. GlenSC
    August 13th, 2005 | 12:39 pm

    If you liked the Eno’s book you may also find Bill Nelsons Diary of a Hyperdreammer pretty intersesting.

    You can get a free idea of the flavour of it here and