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17 March 2011

What is Life?

From Love, etc. by Julian Barnes.

'Life is first boredom, then fear'?  No, I think not, except for the emotionally constipated. 
Life is first comedy, then tragedy?  No, the genres swirl like paint in a centrifuge.
Life is first comedy, then farce?
Life is first tipsiness, then addiction and hangover at the same time?
Life is first soft drugs, then hard?  Soft porn, then hard?  Soft-centred chocolates, then hard?
Life is first the scent of wild flowers, then of toilet freshener?

The poet has it that the three events of life are 'birth, copulation and death,' a bleak wisdom which thrilled my adolescence.  Later, I realised Old Possum had omitted some of the other central moments:  the first cigarette, snow on a tree in blossom, Venice, the joy of shopping, flight in all its senses, fugue in all its senses, that moment when you change gear at high speed and your passenger's beloved head does not even stir on its spinal column, risotto nero, the third-act trio from Rosenkavalier, the chuckle of a child, that second cigarette, a longed-for face coming into focus at airport or railway station...

Or, to be argumentative rather than decorative, why did the poet list copulation rather than love?  Maybe Old P was more of a goer than I thought - I am no student of biography - but imagine yourself on your deathbed, reflecting on that brief allotted time between an arrival of which you were not conscious and a departure on which you will be unavailable for comment:  would you be deluding yourself or speaking true if you maintained that the chief events of your life had been to do with the breathless unfolding of the heart, rather than with a catalogue of shaggings, even if they numbered mille tre?

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