WHISTLING IN THE DARK:
I've been reading sonnets and I went to a con.
A couple of weekends ago I went, albeit quite briefly, to the FanExpo show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The Metro Toronto Convention Centre bills itself as “Canada's #1 convention and trade show facility”. I do believe it was used during the G8 summit held here some years ago. It is a massive facility near the heart of the financial district that is the heart of Canada’s economic engine.
At one point, I happened to be on an escalator, descending towards the secondary main entrance hall of the center: a large room that is almost entirely without real functionality as far as I can tell – it is basically a landing point for escalators from the skywalk above and a top point for escalators descending into the subterranean exhibit halls. As such there was a lot of space available for decoration and they did not fail of it. It being a product of Canadian civil architecture in the late 20th century, of course they affected a Native Canadian motif. The floor has a massive mural of the Turtle which is held, in many Native myths, to bear the world (or at least North America) on it’s back. And above Turtle, Raven (a creative trickster) was taking flight. All of this is shown to great advantage when you are descending on the escalator. As I was doing so, a girl bent to fix her boot, standing over Turtle. If I recall correctly, she was wearing a velour purple corset-y kind of affair, a black miniskirt and strappy, bondage-y platform boots. She may actually have had someone on a leash – or I may be misremembering as there was quite a lot of that going on.
I remember having a strong sense of the convention centre, the hot point of consumer and contemporary political culture – decorated with the faithfully rendered and magnified motifs of a conflicted culture displaced by the above mentioned political culture centuries ago, and overrun with young fetishists who were there forming a semi-counter-cultural power block massive enough to take over this place as clients.
I felt this most profound sense of… contemporaenity? I knew, without a doubt, that this moment, this cross-section of macro, sub and counter cultures could not have existed in this state of enthusiastic yet entirely mundane and pragmatic intermingling at any other time except within my life time. Indeed, on some levels, my consciously remembered, consciously self-analyzed life (so from just before puberty), corresponds exactly to the beginning of the post-70s cultural disintegration that led to this moment being not only possible, but, in fact, almost wholly unremarkable. It was the exact opposite of nostalgia – a profound sense that I would have felt out of place in any other time: I would have had to spend far too long telling them about internet chat rooms and MMORPG gold farmers and Madonna’s Sex book and how you could buy it in Coles – except that you can’t anymore because the publishing world is ruled by big-box stores and Sex went out of print because, frankly, no-one cared that much…
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Meanwhile, I’ve been reading Shakespeare's Sonnets. So this Shakespeare guy? He’s pretty good… I guess I always thought the sonnets would be kind of degraded, contrived versions of the language in the plays – that since he was so good at the plays, he couldn’t really be good at the sonnets as well. I’d read 130 and of course 18
(18 maybe the most popular for everyone else, but not for my age group – thank you Sting!), 116 and one or two others. But of course those are the declarative ones. I never realized that, once you past the awful business at the beginning about the youth who’s beauty is so precious and he’d better have son now before he gets totally old and fat and gross and no-one loves him and he dies penniless and 30 pounds overweight and gets eaten by Alsaciations – once you get past that, the sonnets are so urgent, so abject, so personal and so naked.
I mean they work within a form, and a quite demanding one – and they are quite skillfully executed – so there is a level of contrivance but…
The one that struck me most viscerally was 17 - I found myself on the streetcar, reading the sonnets with some determination, and feeling frustrated by the manipulative tone of the early sonnets and thinking to myself, “jeez Will, you’re really laying it on a bit thick, don’t you think?” and I turned the page on “[w]ho will believe my verse in time to come,” and his image of yellowed pages surviving long after his death – and I had the most visceral sense of being addressed directly. And I suppose that’s the thing about the sonnets – it’s not so much that they speak always to the concerns in my life, but that I can empathize with them so immediately and so completely that the idea that I am separated from their author by 400 years, to say nothing of the walls of the English literary canon, seems… bizarre. The sonnets are, in their obscure way, so clear and so simple – and from time to time so personal, I feel like they were whispered to me or passed to me in a note from the old man’s hand himself.
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So yes – if you’re looking for me, I’ll be wandering somewhere in the last 400 years or so… beyond that, I’m afraid I can’t say…
…I have my cell with me though, and I could try to meet up with you later…