Over the past seven days I have been posting pieces written in the twentieth century, so I feel I have had a week off from the Daily Essays project. Time, I think, to get back on board, and indeed to remind myself of the perpilocutionary impulse that pinged in my head at the start of the year. Then, the idea was very much to pluck a topic almost at random from the world’s storehouse of topics, and to bash out around a thousand words. As it has worked out, I have been pootling off in all sorts of other directions, and all that conceivably holds the year’s postages together is that (a) they are all roughly one thousand words in length, and (b) their titles all begin with the word “On”.
On Sunday the sixth of May, in the early afternoon, I find myself thinking of the following: Nikita Khrushchev, Kew. Rhone., mountaineering, and an ideal world where a jazz standard called Chutney On My Spats really does exist. I imagine it as an up-tempo Cab Calloway number, later adapted and slowed down and made beautiful and strange by Thelonius Monk or Miles Davis, and then, with added words – but what words? – being sung in arrangements by Dinah Washington or Sarah Vaughan. I don’t know much about jazz, so that last sentence is a pretty good example of perpilocution.
I am keen to stress, though I am not sure why, that those really are the topics bustling about in my brain this afternoon. It would have been easy enough for me to compile a quite different list, to pretend I was thinking about w and x and y and z, and you would never know. But what would be the point? Today, for reasons which are fairly clear to me, but which I will not go into here, the four topics I have listed are uppermost in my mind. What I suppose I ought to do is to pick one and then write about it, for a thousand words or so. But before doing that, I am reminded of a passage, somewhere in an essay by Nicholson Baker, where he tabulates the subjects he has been thinking about on a particular day. It is a long, long time since I read the essay, but if memory serves Mr Baker’s point is that his list of thoughts will be arrestingly different from the list of thoughts that, on the same day, go through the head of the person closest to him, in all ways, his wife – and that their closeness, their attachment to each other, is unaffected by the wildly different jumbles of things occupying their respective brains. That, at least, is what I remember.
This afternoon, as I say, I have arrived at having a head full of Nikita Khrushchev and Kew. Rhone. and mountaineering and Chutney On My Spats by processes I can clearly trace. It is, almost certainly – no, no, certainly, without doubt – the first time in my life that those four specific topics have jostled together inside my cranium. It may be the last time, too, though probably not, now that I have chosen to write them down, together in a list, and given that writing, that list, a life beyond the ephemeral, by posting it on Het Internet. Assuming that cataclysm does not deprive us of the power of electricity, and that international woman of mystery Primrose Dent does not press the big shiny red button that turns off Het Internet, then my list will be preserved, in the aether, forever and ever. One day in the far future, when we are all dead and gone and our children too are all dead and gone and their children too, and their children’s children, when untold generations have passed and humankind has evolved to that state familiar from any number of black and white science fiction films, where our descendants have huge heads and little or no hair, and they all dress in the same space age uniform, or in white robes, unless of course by that time they are merely brains in jars of bubbling fluid, with wiring attached, in that distant future it should still be possible for a person, or an enjarred brain, to access all the billions and billions of pages of Het Internet, and, while browsing in an aimless and desultory fashion, as I am sure they will, stumble upon Hooting Yard, quite by accident, and flick from page to page, from essay to essay, and alight, at last, without particular intention, upon this very piece, and read about Nikita Khrushchev and Kew. Rhone. and mountaineering and Chutney On My Spats, and thus those four separate, unrelated subjects, which just happen to be occupying my mind this afternoon, will occupy the huge pulsating advanced mind of the person or brain of the distant future, which is, I suppose, a kind of immortality.
It is an immortality not granted to whatever collection of gubbins bubbled to the surface of my conscious mind yesterday afternoon, or in the afternoon of the day before, because I did not record it. I did not make such a list. I did not tabulate, as Nicholson Baker did, one day late in the twentieth century, or early in this, I forget which. He made his list to demonstrate the distance, the distinctness, of his thoughts, from the thoughts of his closest companion. I made my list to contemplate my closeness to an unimaginable consciousness of an unimaginably distant future. My future reader – let’s call him, or her, or, by then quite possibly, it, Zagzob, or some such science fiction name – may have absolutely no idea who Nikita Khrushchev was, nor what Kew. Rhone. was, nor indeed have any concept of “mountaineering” as we do. After all, what with geological time, all the mountains might have been flattened, or Zagzob might be living in some kind of clean and gleaming artificial subterranean utopia, or, if there are still mountains, nobody will bother to climb them any more, having other leisure pursuits and adventuresome opportunities, ones we cannot even begin to guess at with our primitive mental blinkers. Zagzob will surely be utterly befuddled by Chutney On My Spats which, though I might dream, does not exist, and never has.
Although, of course, between now, the afternoon of the sixth of May 2012, and the afternoon in the far distant future when Zagzob reads these words, some jazz person of the future might indeed write the piece, and record it, and over the years it may be rerecorded untold times, in all sorts of arrangements and adaptations and versions, until it is considered a standard. It may even be that, as Zagzob scratches his or her or its gigantic pulsating hairless cranium in perplexity, wondering what a Nikita Khrushchev was, or who Kew. Rhone. was, or precisely how one might go about mountaineering, he or her or it, being a jazz buff, might be humming Chutney On My Spats, or indeed playing a version of it on their future Windows Vista Cranial Insertion Pod Hub device.
I find myself wondering if that is an accurate prediction of the far distant future, and hoping that it is so. Perhaps a science fiction writer can iron out the finer details.