In summer 2013, I took a trip with Tony Craze, my father and a fellow-writer, to Gurs, the site of a former internment camp near Pau, France. We are now writing a book about the trip, On Passage, which is composed of a series of meditations on passage: for each stage of the trip, we both write about a moment of our journey, and then reply to the other's text. It is a conversation in fragments. Slowly, we are building up a patchwork of intersecting meditations on the theme of passage. Below is an excerpt from one of my more recent entries:
We have been writing about memories, condensed in objects, and yet when I think of train stations, what comes to mind are not objects, but their absence.
My life is full of objects. These cumbersome things are often generated by the fact I have objectives, goals to set out towards, things to be achieved, and places to go.
The great joy of journeys is that they generate time in which my objective is near (it’s achievable), but momentarily out of my reach. I can’t yet board the train. I can’t yet get on with it.
This is the time for coffee in Quick, the molten brown liquor threatening to melt the plastic cup and cascade in an ambulance-journey of burns down my arms.
The French film-director and writer Chris Marker captures these moments of time well when he talks about his memories of moments whose function is only to produce more memories. Time which is not full, but an echo chamber of dreams of times to come, and times that have already passed. So much of our trip will be spent waiting, and I am not ashamed to say that I love it. What is contained in these fleeting moments of suspension is so much more than the promise of the great time of progress—in which great things are achieved—or the time of dissolution (those hours we spend in front of the wine bottle).
These are the times in which life is turned back on itself. Come August, the orderly spaces of French train stations, those sheltering grounds of L’Etat Social (but not L’Etat Providence), are transformed into refugee camps. The burnt faces of the good French bourgeoisie hide the horrors they have seen—white sand and the glances that mama exchanged with a stranger—under straw hats, or conceal them in sleeping bags as they slump on the floor of the station. These waiting-times make life’s support visible: suddenly we are all in transit, and the good walls of those strong Parisian homes spill out into early-morning shouting-matches endured under the unrelenting eye of the departures board.
Heidegger makes a lot of these moments in train stations. The world’s chief purveyor of Schwarzwald Kitsch writes of a man waiting for his train. He could read a book, but does not. He could look around, but can’t. For Heidegger, this is boredom, the capacity man has that a stone does not possess: the capacity to see possibilities but not to enter into them.
I think of these moments somewhat differently; it is in these moments I can imagine myself as a stone. Unable to do things instrumentally, I become light, and enter into them.
Our trip will be measured in coffees and walks, drunk and taken because we are just a bit too early. We are always out of time, and these moments of anticipation and delay are the moments in which we exchange the words that would otherwise find no place. Was it not then, waiting in a coffee shop styled such that it wouldn't look out of place in Notting Hill, that you said to me, “this trip is about learning how to deal with my departure.”
I will come back to that line, later. More forcefully now, I remember the way we watched Die Große Stille together. We both dream of being monks, you and I, and of a time in which each moment is full, because we are content with each second, in its fullness. How wonderful then, to see the monks scurrying for evening service, forever out of time: to know there is no time in which we are not late, or early, but that the moments of being out of time do not have to lead to anxiety, but can be the portal through which God enters.
It is in these moments I have my best thoughts. Not while sat at the desk, the word count looming ominously below my words (this entry is at 778…), but while out on a walk, where a sudden conjuncture (the phrase of a drunk, the sun on a slat, and the words I remember my mother used to say) reveals something. These lateral thoughts are vital because they reveal something new: and isn’t that, ultimately, what all thought should do?
These moments out of time are not dissimilar to what happens here. Every Sunday, bar the last, I have woken, and written a text for this book. I never know what I will write. I never have to write anything. In the moments before the dissertation starts, when the sun is still an orange that is redolent of sleep, I am free.
All photographs (c) Joshua Craze, 2013.