Oh how I realised how I wanted time,
Put into perspective, tried so hard to find,
Just for one moment, thought I’d found my way.
Destiny unfolded, I watched it slip away
(Twenty Four Hours, Joy Division)
My opening was going to be “What’s it to be, legacy or…?” when I realised that there is no opposite of legacy, which is rather odd in itself. The closest I got in my own mind was the now, the present.
I have been encouraged by several people to put all my poetry of the last couple of years in one place. These are works that were presented “live” and where I had specifically requested not to be filmed or streamed when delivering the work, instead preferring a “be-there-or-miss-it” approach.
In essence, I have been playing to the original idea of a “gig” as a one-time performance, a term first used in Melody Maker in 1926. Interestingly the word gig is actually an abbreviation of engagement – another angle on performing poetry rather than publishing it.
So I assembled the work, and then thought – so what? I abandoned the idea.
In the notion of the gig, the only legacy is the memory and stories of the experience. The beauty and magic is in the moment, and we interpret and recant that at a later stage. No amount of recording or playback can capture the experience. Live (official) recordings and unsanctioned bootlegs just don’t come close. Our stories may in themselves become myth, told and re-told until the event resembles something else entirely. But that hardly matters – who is looking for accuracy?
I then read FlipchartRick’s article on Genghis Khan, a leader whose legacy was nothing other than the waste he laid to the empire he forged, and the very few stories handed down over centuries. He clearly wasn’t at all bothered about leaving a physical or written record of his time on the planet. He was busy getting on with it. He was one leader who is all myth, and no substance.
So why are we so focussed on – and overburdened by the prospect of creating – a legacy?Are we not satisfied enough with the moment? Why do we feel the need to leave something behind, for when we are not here? Is our ego that tyrannical that we believe we might derive some satisfaction from being remembered for something even when we will have no ability to experience that recognition?
Nietzsche and Kierkegaard both drew on and agreed with Heraclitus in that reality is not a state of being, but of becoming – perpetual transformation. Conceptually, therefore, legacy is an absurdity.
Perhaps therefore the ideal legacy is the story, not the thing itself – a story that changes and twists over time, told and re-told, coloured and re-touched, a life of its own – and so never at the point of actually being a legacy, as it lives on. It is always becoming.
In the human sphere, there is no such thing as permanence. Unburdened by legacy, imagine what we might achieve?