So this is permanence?

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?


2 thoughts on “So this is permanence?

  1. Great post Neil, very thoughtful. I am compelled to post a small counterpoint, in that I’m all for the wonder of the moment, the power of experiences that move and shape us. My belief, lightly held is that, at a profound level, experience is everything.

    The urge to create a legacy can be argued as not much more than an egotistical folly, and with a global population of nearly 7bn, I’d say even the need to procreate in order to leave a legacy could be argued as pushing it a bit. We can touch people in their lives create special moments that stay with them for a lifetime whoever they are. We can and inspire people in many moments and many ways, yet the mothering bond is special.

    So this is my point – what of the honouring of something by those who appreciate it, the shrine-like appeal of legacy as bestowed by beholders. Democratic acts that create something transcendental or scared and have value as something totemic? What of legacy as a representation of the patina of experience accrued over time, the legacy of ritual and those things we honour because of the place they have created in our hearts?

    Attachment is something to steer away from at any level, but I am also sympathetic to the idea that legacy is respect for the things that have worked in the past and made us who we are. For civilisation and the ages to come they are helpful signposts, a recognition of the hard work done which does not require reinvention. I fear for the goldfish with the 5 second memory doomed never to learn from cultural legacy. The counterpoint for me then is that legacy is what could very well save us from collective memory failure. In times like this, I wonder if that could come in handy.

  2. Yum I love a good think…feel…be – is this about obliquity – the old one about the honey bee and the pollen – so the bee goes to collect pollen and make honey – but on the way to collect pollen he gets some on his wings – silly bee – and then as he flies he ends up spreading all that pollen from his wings and therefore spreading good everywhere – silly bee…is the point that if we do good – it’s fairly inevitable we will leave a legacy – likewise if we do bad same deal – so perhaps if we are in any way overcomplicating things which it is only human to do – then I suppose we look at our pollen management policies and we think – OK if we are going to leave a legacy anyway then it may as well be a good one – but then – silly us – we start to try to manage the whole pollen system rather than just hunt for the pollen in the usual way – so to build on your thoughts and those of Anne – if we stick to the knitting (new metaphor introduced here btw) then we’ll make a jumper – if we have a weather eye on the jumpers we’d like to make – it may change some of our knitting ideas – but it’s still just about the knitting not about the jumper…any help – best I’ve got :/

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