Sunday, 8 July 2007

Graduating to floods, Hopkins and being unselved

It was the Boo’s MA graduation this week. As she commented herself whilst donning the cap and gown there are endless comedy moments to be gleaned from such garb which she said was essentially much like male genitalia ..a great deal of stuff dangling down solely for display purposes. Having been to her first graduation I was well prepared with tissues and patience as I watched countless bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young people being clapped by fond family. ‘Probably at least half a million quids worth of student debt in this hall’ said the man next to me. He said it in a rather wistful, puzzled way. I suspected he might have privately wondered why on earth his child was doing art instead of something useful like engineering or pharmacy but had kept it to himself, not being the sort of man to want to cause trouble or tread on dreams. I noted when his son strode across the stage to have his hand pumped by a strange man for graduating in Fine Art he clapped vigorously and his wife cried. Behind many an art student is often a puzzled but supportive family.

The Boo had been at Hull Art School as an undergraduate and had lived for three years near the areas where the current floods have struck. We therefore watched the television coverage with personal interest and then there was that endless concert to draw out attention to the state of the planet. Global warming is of course far more serious than some sopping wet houses in Hull and Sheffield but, as in poetry, from the particular we can sometimes access the universal. A woman crying at the state of her new carpets and the steady loss of a glacier in the Himalayas seem to be so disparate as to make the connection ludicrous, indeed opponents of the Al Gore School of thinking would vehemently say so. There have always been cycles of warming and cooling, the world has always blown hot and cold, ice ages come and go, the desert was once a sea, the sea once a desert. But then I wasn’t scurrying around in a metal box on wheels or flinging myself through the air in one now and then. I wasn’t there, wanting to keep butter cool in a fridge, buying dates in plastic, washing towels at 60 degrees, keeping the computer on stand-by. It is much more useful and relevant to say I; the particular to the universal. We spend a lot of time trying to embrace our individuality these days, learning to love ourselves as Oprah would say; we want to be the ultimate particular. Now all these particulars may be bringing the universal down about our ears.
Gerard Manley Hopkins battled with the universal and the particular both in spiritual and poetic ways. In Binsey Poplars of course he speaks to our times in almost prophetic terms
We are making an art out of hacking and racking the growing green these days. He uses the odd word unselve in this poem, being unselved by an act. I tend to be an optimist, I am far too big and particular to be unselved by a few ecological problems; unnerved maybe, a few sleepless nights, a slight twinge of guilt, a fridge magnet that exhorts me to save it. What would being unselved feel like? Hopefully for me it won’t ever feel like watching my home disappear under three feet of water.

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