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This Week's Editorial: 23/10/20

This week's editorial is written by Ben Morgan:

How are you? It's a question I used to know how to answer: "Not bad", "good", "doing well", or "fine". These, and a number of other placeholders, were understood to cover the spectrum, from "My boyfriend just proposed next to a moonlit lake" to "I almost didn't get out of bed today". I still use them occasionally, even now – but things have changed. "Fine" sounds particularly ironic. Our pretence that we believe it has become transparent.

Uncertainty about how to encounter other people is a keynote of this moment. Normally, when our life gets too complicated, we can go and chat to someone whose problems are different from ours. Their difference, which seeps into the texture of our own experience, is at least as reassuring as their sympathy. It is also integral to it: sympathy works best when we are neither too close, too involved, nor too far apart. Right now, as we all endure the same set of problems under circumstances whose difference is starker than ever, that balance is often unavailable.

How, then, do we speak to each other? How can language offer us new words for our new realities? In the public sphere, the signs aren't good. The terms "social distancing" and "self-isolating" were thrust on us without our permission, and went global before we could protest. They are virtuous acts, but ugly phrases, both bureaucratic and weirdly theatrical. The needless modifiers "social" and "self" feel like a technocrat's language for grief. They describe what we are losing.

Privately, however, many people have been trying to reinvent themselves, or at least the way they tell the stories of their lives. We all now have to accept a huge caesura in those stories, in which we cannot translate time, as we are told we should, into labour, money and self-advancement – or else are overwhelmed by obligations. The recent resumption of an uncanny version of normality has only made the glimpse of a different life harder to forget. Are we really supposed to just get on with it? The request itself feels scandalous; perhaps it always should have.

I was honoured to be sent the work published here, and asked to write this editorial. I found that the artists in this edition of One Hand Clapping – even when they are whimsical or laugh out loud funny – are intensely serious about the times we share. We meet landscapes made strangely exquisite by geological trauma, lives strung together out of disparate moments, brushstrokes that resist and blur the objects they evoke. The emphasis is on surprise and juxtaposition, which also means the discovery of sympathies. Sometimes the encounter is within the work, as in Hugo Williams' "Quarantine", in which the narrator makes a second self to witness his own isolation. One curated dialogue which stood out to me was between the poetry of Fran Lock (here describing a "Gullgirl" who breaks against the sea and then rises) and the paintings of Isabelle Mignot, which look like waves breaking, or beautiful relics of a flood. But there are many, many more.

Lose yourself in the worlds of Mignot, Lock, Williams, Andrew Vidgen, Philip Gross, Lorraine Geoghehan, Lesley Quayle, June Wentland, Susan Butler, Hélène Demetriades, Oliver Comins, Jo Brandon, Ben Morgan, Sheila Jacob, Padraig Rooney, James Wood, Fred Pollack, and Jo Balmer's Sappho. Listen to Sam Fendrich or Charles Shaar Murray telling the story of Jaco Pastorius, as produced by Steve Shepherd. Read Noah Rasheta on Buddhism or Brandon Robshaw on etymology. The glancing encounters, the metaphorical leaps, the sudden swerves and breaks and incongruities offer us a language which meets this moment – which, in its own way, tells us how we are.

Ben Morgan is a regular contributor to One Hand Clapping.

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