Thursday, 27 May 2010

The unfinished story After she died, friends and neighbours helped him sort the necessary, the paperwork, the clothes. The hats. He thought of moving, and was too tired to realise that he was too tired. He came lastly to her computer, there being nothing visible about it to have stirred his attention sooner. On. It groaned shamelessly and the emails started to file in, stacking themselves in neat indifference. People to be notified, ignored, forgotten. They stared back at him. Who is this? This person doesn't know. It seems wrong to write 'she died, go away'. What difference does it make. By way of varying the task, he returns a few words in her clipt style. He allows the days to pass, watching others. The next time he goes to her computer, a reply is there. It enquires of her. He begins to pick through the debris of her style, tapping without enthusiasm at whatever might be used: an arbitrary sequence of non sequiturs, the polite barbs, half-recognised allusions to music or landscape, a blurred glimpse of time spent slowly. Soon he has built up a vague dialogue with someone in Wiltshire. He gathers fragments of her past, they do not have to be pieced together, he is writing it now. She gathers fragments of her past, they do not have to be pieced together. She declines to talk about her health, but enquires after yours. And this, and that. She notes inconsequential news, how amusing that you went there, alludes to the time of year, mentions the market, the concert. But what's this, she writes here of her partner's health, she who never mentioned him. She begins to absorb his life into her messages, those few words every month or two, spilled sparse, less sparsely now, from her address. His days less vague now in her words, though she now dead some time signs off as ever v1.0, May 2010 Other fictions: Of exactitude in democracy (after Borges) Day. Centre. Autobiography View The discovery When the time comes
Selfishness: living in an 'impoverished emotional culture' Occasionally you hear arguments defending individualism, and claiming that it is not directly related to issues of exclusion, disengagement or uncivil behaviour. The tide seems very much against these views now though, the bankers and the MPs have seen to that. Here's an item in the Daily Mail, with its squeaky-clean reputation as a stalwart defender of selfless collectivism, reviewing a book called The selfish society by Sue Gerhardt, and folding-in some points from the Catholic Church's Choosing the common good report and the Children's Society's Good childhood inquiry. Focusing on the influence of consumerism, Gerhardt identifies problematic styles of parenting which combine material indulgence with emotional neglect, speaking of 'an impoverished emotional culture'. The Good childhood inquiry emphasised the negative impact of individualism. So are we more selfish, or is it just that the ways our selfishness and selflessness play out have changed - perhaps not unlike the way our connections changed over a few decades from geographical community to social network? We may find out. According to their latest bulletin, ippr is beginning a new programme of work exploring selfishness, in partnership with the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen). 'The work will provide unique analysis, drawing on a comprehensive range of data sets together with new evidence to assess how attitudes and values have changed.' I can't imagine they'll keep the results to themselves.

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