The eerie (but not weird) nature of my daily ‘lockdown’ walk

An eerie New Square
Like (I am sure) many of you, there are moments when, whilst outside on my statutory, single period of exercise a day, the strangeness of what I am experiencing suddenly hits me and then I find myself struggling to find the precise language with which to describe it. As a recent article by Kaidi Wu (‘Hypocognition is a censorship tool that mutes what we can feel’) puts it:

It is a strange feeling, stumbling upon an experience that we wish we had the apt words to describe, a precise language to capture. When we don’t, we are in a state of hypocognition, which means we lack the linguistic or cognitive representation of a concept to describe ideas or interpret experiences.

It’s a reminder that without certain words we can be wholly blinded (accidentally and sometimes quite deliberately) to the occurrence of certain things. So, for example, Wu points out that if we lack the concept of benevolent sexism then we are blinded to its occurrence, whereas knowing the concept can suddenly render it visible.

Blossom on De Freville Avenue
Some of you will know that in recent years I have been particularly vexed to see this happening with the concept of ‘neoliberalism’ which has been deliberately suppressed by the mainstream media, much of which is run and financed by vested interests (the so-called 1%) who really didn’t want us (the 99%) to be able more effectively to identify what was being deliberately done to us as individuals and as a society, especially to what we call ‘the commons’, i.e. such things as our land, our state housing, health and benefit systems, our justice system, schools, newspapers and even the air we breathe and water we drink (cf. Guy Standing ‘The Plunder of the Commons’, Pelican Books, 2019).

Blossom in the Community Orchard, Midsummer Common
Anyway, this is not a piece about that deception (relevant though it obviously is to current inabilities to deal at all well with our current crises) but about the feeling mentioned above that I, and perhaps you, are getting when we are out and about once a day during this lockdown but to which we can’t quite put a name.

I’ve heard a lot of people say to me that the situation feels to them ‘weird’ but, thanks to the work of Mark Fisher (1968-2017), I don’t think this is the right word at all because it obscures some important nuances about the uneasy, unnerving, off-kilter, angst-making wrongness of it all that we need to articulate.

For Fisher, as Roger Luckhurst puts it in his LA Review of Books piece from March 2017, the weird is a ‘disturbing obtrusion of something from the outside in’, an ‘insidious intrusion’, a ‘confounding juxtaposition’, a ‘thing found in the wrong place’ (LA Review of Books).

But, of course, as I take my daily walk with Susanna there are no insidious intrusions that make a confounding juxtaposition; there are no things found in the wrong place. Instead, on Christ’s Pieces, Jesus Green, Midsummer Common and New Square I am simply finding all the usual, and to me still quite beautiful and uplifting, ‘commonplace’ signs of burgeoning spring, daffodils, cherry, apple, black- and hawthorn blossom, new leaves, cows, squirrels, birds and so on. (All the pictures in this post have been taken whilst on these walks. Just click on a photo to enlarge it.)

So, no, the experience is not weird at all. However, having said that it sure as hell isn’t at all commonplace. Fisher helps out here by offering us a second word, namely, the ‘eerie.’ For Fisher

‘places are eerie; empty landscapes are eerie; abandoned structures and ruins are eerie. Something moves in these apparently empty or vacated sites that exists independently of the human subject, an agency that is cloaked or obscure. [Fisher] wonders: What kind of thing makes an eerie cry? [And he answers, b]ecause it rises up from the outside, and remains there, it resists simple . . . interpretation (LA Review of Books).

An eerie Midsummer Common from Maids' Causeway
The empty landscapes of the commons, greens and squares are eerie; the abandoned structures of boat-houses, pavilions, cafés, restaurants, shops and churches are eerie. Something does seem to me to be moving in all these sites that exists independently of human subjectivity and which is cloaked and obscure. The whole situation, to me at least, emits an eerie cry from I know not where and that cry remains present, haunting the scene in some fashion but which utterly resists any simple interpretation. As some of you will have read in my piece from last Sunday, this is one reason why I don’t yet want to say much at all about what this all means or will mean. But what I do want to acknowledge is the presence of this eerie cry; I want to prick up my (and perhaps alert your) ears to this cry and listen very, very carefully indeed to ascertain what human message, if any and however vague and allusive, might meaningfully be ascribed to it by us in our scientific, political, poetic and ethical work.

A martenitsa in a tree on Christ's Pieces
As I wrote these words during the week they served to remind me of a well-known (or is it now well-known? probably not . . . ) passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8:22-26 trans. David Bentley Hart):

For we know that all creation groans together and labours together in birth pangs, up to this moment; Not only this, but even we ourselves, having the firstfruits of the spirit, groan within ourselves as well, anxiously awaiting adoption, emancipation of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but a hope seen is not hope; for why hope for what one sees? But, if we hope for what we do not see, we anticipate by perseverance. And likewise the spirit also gives us aid in our infirmity; for we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the spirit itself makes intercession with unutterable groans.

Cattle on Midsummer Common
As most of you know I simply do not (cannot) share with Paul that thing not seen for which he hoped — i.e. resurrection and Christian salvation in another, static, super-stable, supernatural realm — but I most certainly share with him the recognition of the phenomenon that is the eerie cry, or in in Paul’s terminology, the groan.

In the first instance ‘creation’, in the form of our planet’s complex, intra-acting ecosystems, is clearly groaning under the pressure of our many destructive actions and general ways of being in the world (think of the ecological crisis we are in). This groaning is increasingly making us realise that from out of this parlous and painful situation some new state of affairs will be born, though what that will be (and what it will ultimately mean for humankind) is far from clear.

Daffodils and houseboat on the river at Midsummer Common
In the second instance, we are clearly groaning ‘within ourselves as well.’ Some will, I know, be groaning in total despair and anxiety, but for some of us there is the glimmer of hope that the pain of our current crises and its associated groan, rather than being an indicator of a coming, final, apocalyptic reckoning for human kind, may turn out to be a genuine ‘firstfruit of the spirit’ (i.e. a new, heightened consciousness of the ever-moving, interconnected and intra-active nature of existence). If this is correct then the cry/groan holds out the promise of being a firstfruit which can help — somewhat in the fashion displayed by the prodigal son — to encourage our anxious feet to turn around and begin walking in the direction of what was always our only true home, namely that ever-moving, interconnected and intra-active world just alluded to. To me that would be real emancipation and (re)adoption.

Blossom by the Fort St George Bridge
Those of us who do indeed sense this possibility, who feel we have access to this dynamic ‘firstfruit’ can even now, I think, meaningfully live in hope that (perhaps, just perhaps) our current crises will be our salvation, if not for ourselves then at least for our children. But, as Paul reminds us, ‘a hope seen is not hope; for why hope for what one sees?’ From where we stand we have little choice but to acknowledge that things really do feel very precarious and, at times, hopeless. But, again as Paul knew, ‘if we hope for what we do not see, we anticipate by perseverance. And likewise the spirit also gives us aid in our infirmity; for we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the spirit itself makes intercession with unutterable groans.’

Flowers and boat by Midsummer Common
At this time many of you, like me, may not know what on earth we ought to pray for (or, indeed, whether prayer makes any meaningful sense at all). But I take some small but real comfort in the suggestion that the eerie (but not weird) cry/groan I, and perhaps you, hear as we walk around the empty commons, parks, squares and streets, may be unutterably interpreted as being the spirit (of nature doing what nature always does) itself (figuratively/poetically) making ‘intercession’ on our behalf.

But, at the very least, the eerie cry/groan I sense every time I take my daily walk (which has always been for me a kind of prayer/meditation practice), seems to me to be both a powerful wake-up call to us to pay close attention to how the world actually is and our actual place within it, and also a timely reminder that (figurative/poetic) intercessions of any kind will mean nothing if those for whom the intercessions are being made (poeisis) do not truly change their ways in consequence.

Blossom on Christ's Pieces

Blossom on an eerie Jesus Green