false starts, true beginnings

The English language doesn’t carve out clear distinctions between varieties of knowledge: savoir and connaître; know-of and knowhow; the things you learn and the knowing that comes from familiarity. Perhaps the hardest to pin down is the knowledge derived from continuous incremental experience, the area under the curve where the x-axis is time.

We count ‘big time’ in centuries, but our sense of them doesn’t map to round figures. In literature, milestones often come early in a century, but rarely at the beginning: 1922 delivered high Modernism with Ulysses, Jacob’s Room and The Waste Land, echoing the Augustan moment of 1726-28 that gave us Gulliver’s Travels, The Beggar’s Opera and The Dunciad.1

The year is 2015; we don’t quite know what year it is. The notion that 2020 will show up five years from now seems absurd, that ‘10 years ago’ refers to ‘2005’ hardly less so. We recognise that some things weren’t part of our lives a decade ago (iPhones, Twitter, a black US president, an impending sense of doom) but digging back to the point of their emergence sets off a temporal slippage, a missed gear. This is the crest of the beginning, and still the not-quite-begun.

Perhaps it’s not entirely that. We began the next century ahead of time, anticipated it, sent Marty McFly to explore it and are waiting for his second coming among us, where we will know him by his hoverboard. This first decade-point-five becomes a continuation, uncovering what we projected of our fin-de-siècle desires, until the second-order effects converge to wash them all away.

‘Los Angeles // November, 2019’

  1. The equivalent in the 19th century? Perhaps 1847, which began with Vanity Fair and ended with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, a truly late beginning.