Saturday 19 November 2022

The insolence of the inanimate

Download audio file read by Glyn Moody.

Amidst the urban hubbub, the watchword for survival is serenity.

I am stuck in a gridlock traffic jam, an insignificant element in a huge matrix of static cars and frustrated drivers: what of it?  Things will wait, and if they will not, there is little point fretting: never regret what cannot be amended.  I am swamped by shipfuls of fools whose every act seems calculated to cross me.  But these are simply more of those amusing impediments, part of the burden we bear in living.  Besides, who is to say that in other's eyes I too am not that obstructive fool?  

So in the world of impersonal forces and of all-too personal men and women I contrive to pass my days without infusions of adrenaline to fray the fabric of the heart, grind down the molars or teach the creases of my face new lines of ugly anger.  But there is another, co-incident world where, in an instant, by a nothing, I am effortlessly reduced to insensate tantrums of volitional apoplexy.

I close the door on a kitchen cupboard.  I listen appreciatively to the faint click as the catch engages.  Then watch with annoyance as the door swings back.  I push it closed again, with more forcefulness; the door swings back again, only more rapidly.  Now I am slamming the door.  Not once but repeatedly.  I know full well why this door will not close: some object inside is pressing against it, forcing it open.  But I will not give in; I continue smashing the door against the lock until the contents are sufficiently disturbed to allow the catch to hold.

I need a wire coat hanger.  I remove one from my wardrobe.  It is surrounded by tens of other coat hangers, all suspended at slightly different angles.  As I withdraw the coat hanger, its hook snags on one of the others.  I shake it, which produces a pleasant tintinnabulation; but no coat hanger.  I shake it more manically, and in more directions.  Still no coat hanger.  By now I am pulling and tugging insanely; coat hangers cascade over the floor of the wardrobe, until enough have been dislodged to free the one I hold.

Why do I do it?  In every case I know what the problem is and how to solve it.  Instead, I am determined to continue as I began; I shall not be defeated.  It becomes a matter of honour: I refuse to let a mere object thwart my will.  If necessary I resort to violence to teach it a lesson it will never forget.

But it does.  Because there is an obstinacy to the inanimate which is not to be tamed.  It is almost as if objects conspired to act in this way to remind us that although we appear to have dominion over the visible world, it is a poor and superficial thing.  When doors stick, locks jam, and bow ties don't, they are like rebellious slaves proving that their spirit is unbroken, and unnerving us with the thought that one day they may rise up against us and cast off their servitude.  We feel as sadistic torturers must feel when confronted by glorious indomitable heroism - hollow, pathetic stooges.  The insolence of the inanimate ought to be a salutary reminder that violence is never a solution.


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