December 13, 2004

Down to me

I've always had this idea that I'd like to be the only person in a cinema audience. Either as a gag or as something more than that, I don't really know. Either it's an amusing irony I would like to share with my friends, demonstrating the eclecticism of my tastes, so individual that I went to see something that nobody else could wish to see, or I really want to do this, really want to be in that large, dark room on my own, want to keep everybody else out, want to keep them away.

I might want that, thinking about it. The more I think about it, the more I think I want it. I have a large rejectionist streak in me, the streak that makes me walk away from places, people, conversations, maybe before they walk away from me, maybe because they're never really what I want.

I was talking, last year I think, to a friend from university days who wanted to know why I'd cut him and so many other people off after we'd finished our time there - a deeply unhappy experience which culminated in much personal anguish and a breakdown that went on for five or six years. I told him I didn't know really - you never really know about things you do emotionally and impulsively, or at least you never know at the time even if you understand yourself a bit better some years down the line. But I thought I was just rejecting everybody because, friends or not, they weren't really what I wanted. Put like that it sounded spoiled and brattish. It looks spoiled and brattish on the screen. But that wasn't how it was. It wasn't something under my control. You can just get to the point where your systems start rejecting everything like the body rejects a new organ, and that was what happened all those years ago. I just didn't want anything any more, just didn't want to know anybody or anything any more, just wanted to be alone.

I've never managed to be alone in the cinema yet. I nearly managed it in Ilfracombe when on holiday in 1998. They have (or had, I don't know) a little arts cinema in the town and it was showing Face, which I hadn't seen, and when I turned up at the cinema I was the only one there. Unfortunately, they decided they couldn't be bothered to open up and show it just for me, a decision which led to a heated exchange on the subject of my having wasted the last half an hour waiting for them to open. (I say exchange. In fact, as I recall, I shouted at them and they couldn't be bothered to answer back. It's one thing to want to be on your own. It's quite another, I think, to have an argument entirely on your own.)

I was the only person in the cinema when the trailers began before Richard Linklater's Waking Life, although my hopes were dashed when another five people turned up before the film began. (There were, however, only three of us left in the cinema when the film came to an end. Ansd for all I know the other two were asleep.) The only other Linklater film I've seen is Slacker, which I saw at home, on my own, on video. I had a conversation about it with a friend afterwards in which he said that he'd seen it and thought of me. I replied that yeah, I had to admit that I'd followed all the conspiracy theories and ancient political discussions the characters had gone through in the film and I'd been familiar with all of them. He said no, it wasn't that. He'd just thought I ought to be in it. I'm still not sure what he meant.

There was a documentary on Linklater on Channel Four tonight. Not a very good or very illuminating one, but they did spend a lot of time repeating one line from Slacker which the presenter seemed to think was close to the core of Linklater's thinking. (I hesitate to use the term philosophy, if only because the presenter wanted to use the term Rickosophy which was embarrassing enough for several documentaries.) In Slacker, one character says:

Withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy.

It's not. But not necessarily in the way they meant. The way you'd look at it first, withdrawing in disgust would appear to be the active option, apathy the passive one. You take yourself away from the world - that's an action, a decision, an active decision. You don't care about the world - that's an absence, a lack, an emptiness. You do one after thought. The other takes place without it.

But I think maybe otherwise. I think it might be the other way round. I think apathy is a decision. I think you decide not to give a monkey's. I think you take the decision either that you do not care, or that it is not profitable to be bothered and deflected by caring and its consequences, or that life is just to short and too rich to waste on care. And, on the other hand, I don't think you decide to withdraw from the world in disgust. I think you end up withdrawing. Else there would be no disgust. I think you withdraw hurt, battered, traumatised, any of these or any combination of them, all of them a process of rejection just as your body might reject a transplanted organ. You do not want it to. As a matter of fact it is the last thing in the world you want to do. But you have to do it anyway.

Disgust isn't necessarily a moral reaction, a judgment. It's a giving up, a wearisome abandonment of the struggle, a having-had-enough. A final emptying of patience. You just say - you find yourself saying - no, no, this is no good, this is just no good, if this is the best there is then it is still no good. And you simply do not want it and cannot have it. And you find yourself sitting, or wishing you were sitting, in a cinema or a field or a whole universe completely on your own.


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