Saturday 28 March 2015

The Man Of The Crowd

“Not long ago, about the closing in of an evening in autumn, I sat at the large bow window of the D——- Coffee-House in London. For some months I had been ill in health, but was now convalescent, and, with returning strength, found myself in one of those happy moods which are so precisely the converse of ennui—moods of the keenest appetency, when the film from the mental vision departs—the achlus os prin epeen—and the intellect, electrified, surpasses as greatly its every-day condition, as does the vivid yet candid reason of Leibnitz, the mad and flimsy rhetoric of Gorgias. Merely to breathe was enjoyment; and I derived positive pleasure even from many of the legitimate sources of pain. I felt a calm but inquisitive interest in every thing. With a cigar in my mouth and a newspaper in my lap, I had been amusing myself for the greater part of the afternoon, now in poring over advertisements, now in observing the promiscuous company in the room, and now in peering through the smoky panes into the street.”
 Edgar Allan Poe, ‘The Man Of The Crowd’

After six days in hospital last Autumn, the second paragraph of The Man Of The Crowd felt apposite. Hospital provided plenty of time for reading, and, although I had read Poe many years ago, the quote came up in Patrick Keiller’s The View From the Train, in the essay ‘The Poetic Experience of Townscape and Landscape’. Knowing that my partner would be in Stockholm in the Spring and that I would travel there, this future promised a possibility of the experience that Keiller writes about, achieved more readily when unencumbered by the concerns of everyday life, and, perhaps, by the experience of the novel over the familiar; while in hospital there seemed to only be an ever expanding present - although six days is not long, it felt that way, with the lack of sleep and every new test and the wait for each test result - there would be a future again when I got out. Convalescence and depressed feelings related to the ill health that had put me in hospital prompted the longing for some hazily defined point in the future that would excite me again. Moreover, being confined in the hospital provoked the desire to escape one’s immediate surroundings, beyond hospital itself, as if the daily experience of home and work had been given the taint of sickness.

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