Oxford During the War (1942) by Paul Nash
You can disappear off the radar, over enemy lines, under barricades, into the shadowed streets, and you’ll still blink on my map like a beacon, like a lighthouse, like a green light at the end of a dock, like a cursor. Am I waiting for the next word, or are you?
No one wants to occupy two territories at once. We’re told to accept one life or another: Be here now or try to get somewhere else instead. Make up your mind. But there are things you stumble on that you can’t unsee: the green breast of the new world, an aesthetic contemplation you neither understand nor desire, something commensurate to your capacity for wonder. Finally.
Our world insists on telling simple stories about the complexity of longing. This is the most reductive spin I have for you: You can’t crave the new world if the old world doesn’t exist at all. East Egg needs West Egg for its sense of self-importance. Otherwise, all you have are closets filled with beautiful shirts, gorgeous parties packed with convincing extras, infinite stacks of paper that add up to nothing. West Egg needs East Egg in order to savor the generative folds of its inferiority complex. West Berlin needs East Berlin just to feel sexy in its own skin. There needs to be a wall here. Without a wall, this city is just an endless strip of Zaras and Starbucks.
Nobody wants to live that way. Infinite abundance and freedom incite a hunger for limits. Build a wall right down the middle, and embrace your conflicted soul.
Even when your spy is gone for weeks and months and years on end, you’ll still wonder. The new world makes the old world look cramped and fusty, all tight stairwells and narrow alleyways. Where will we put our four-car garages, without knocking down some of this highly inconvenient history? Wouldn’t it be hotter just to raze all of this shit and start over? That’s the tension. No course of action implied, no moral imposed. The question is looming there, whether you acknowledge it or not: What else do you want? Kanye is our Gatsby, surrounded by an embarrassment of Richie Riches, stricken by a palpable longing for something else. Not less, not more, but other.
Reconnaissance is always just a front for gathering self-knowledge. That doesn’t change the simple fact that I know something about you that no one else knows. Some piece of your mind lives inside mine now, like a strange animal, like a blinking light on the map, like a parasite, an aesthetic contemplation I grew to understand and desire in spite of my best intentions to ignore it.
We tell simple stories about the enemy to keep all of this barbed wire in place. We tell sentimental stories about our homeland, but you can only sing Edelweiss with conviction when you’re fomenting contempt for a world full of foreigners with zero fucks to give about blossoms of snow. You recognized the conquistador in me: lamentable striving beyond the moment, a dual citizenship of consciousness, raw greed paired with the missionary’s zeal for teaching condescending lessons to the new world’s OGs (or that’s how the old world’s SGs would put it, anyway). How many different words have invasive species of human invented for “perfectly satisfied people whose lives we intend to ruin permanently”?
I like to think of our connection, if you can even call it that, as some haphazard calling to become more generous with ourselves and others, to reach past the mundane for the sublime. I like to think of our comedy of errors as preordained, disordered, inordinately out of the ordinary. I like to think of us, period: united in our confusion, duty-bound, patriotic to a fault, waking up in the middle of the night and hearing morse code in the AC. I like to give this strange animal that lives inside my head room to roam, even when all it does is sit there, indifferent as stone. It feels good to whisper to a stone, Suspend your disbelief with me.
Maybe talking to rocks makes me feel more alive. The point of existence can’t be to hold perfect dominion over your body and rule it with an iron fist, to make every cell bend the knee until you can’t feel a fucking thing. If I start lying about the wildness in my veins, I’ll lose all sense of what I own. This green light comes and goes. It’s not a choice. Denying your senses will drive you mad or kill you. Honoring the weight of your perception is honoring the divine itself. This world has always treated a woman’s intuition as a form of madness. Why break with tradition now?
Gatsby’s funeral implies a reductive moral that transforms all capacity for wonder into unquiet darkness. Maybe all I know about you is that you see around these tight stairwells and narrow alleyways, even if you’d never dismantle a single brick. Maybe all I want to tell you is that you’re not as simple as you think you are. You’re a seismograph that picks up on shivers from centuries ago. Your blood echoes with your great great grandfather’s secret wishes. You’re manifesting the will of creatures you’ll never meet. Your vitality depends on giving them room to roam.
What else do you want? Stretch out your arms farther. Fight this current with everything you’ve got.