Resumption

Last Sunday — 10:29

Wednesday — 10:52

Today — 10:33

So, last Wednesday week looks like a fluke rather than a trend. No worries, there’s good news in the midst of the lapse. Last Sunday we’ll mark down as a regression to the mean — but at the same time I made it all the way to Leopold Street before breaking stride. Wednesday was a different story: I had spent most of Monday and Tuesday hefting and assembling a flat-pack daybed for our upcoming visitors. I couldn’t run past Magdalen & Iffley, I ached and gasped, and was (on the whole) glad merely to have completed the mile. This morning was more like last Sunday, except that today it’s raining and chilly. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d have done better in dry, warmer weather. ‘Dry’ we can expect, most of the time; it will be a while before I can realistically hope for warmer, though.

Re-markable

I took Sunday off — Saturday had been the Maginnis-Loves wedding and reception, which entailed a lot of standing and sitting and conviviality and eating odd things at unusual times — so that when I woke Sunday morning somewhat achey in joints and head, I determined to give myself the day off from running my biweekly mile.

So imagine my surprise this morning when I reluctantly (did I ever mention that I dislike running intensely?) clambered out of bed, squeezed my feet into my trainers, skipped rope for a short warm-up, and then ran the mile in 10:10! Not only is that my best time ever, coming after a Sunday on which I didn’t keep up my practice of biweekly running, it’s a 10-second improvement over last Wednesday, which was itself a 10-second improvement over my prior best. A ten-minute mile is now in sight, which would have seemed unthinkable even two months ago.

Moreover, I pushed my not-break-stride mark to… well, the landmark won’t mean anything to you, but it’s the garage beyond the Rusty Bicycle, beyond the 20 kph warning sign, from which somebody occasionally sells second-hand furnishings. I’d have liked to push on the extra few steps to Leopold Street, but that was not in the cards. My legs felt good — I run with the constant recollection of years when ‘running’ meant just stretching out your legs, applying some energy to operating them, and zooming along for a hundred or so metres. Those days are long gone after decades of my not resisting academic couch-potatosity — but if I recall them now when I gasp and totter along my route, the hope that sometime I may be able to run the whole mile, and that someday I may recapture the limberness, the lung power, and the vitality to just give a joyful sprint for a short distance sometimes appears in my heart and gives me a wee booster shot of capacity.

The Persistence of Modernity

I was thinking this morning about the phenomenon of people pushing back on ideas — not strictly ‘postmodern’ ideas, but ideas that have become generally accepted in the aftermath of the strong pressure postmodern thought exerted over several decades. (That last clause made me feel rather old.) Think of the idea that ‘objectivity’ isn’t a viable stipulation; sure, we should strive for impartiality, but at this point I can’ think of anyone who holds on to the discourse of being objective. Even relatively conventional biblical scholars make productive use of the premise that particular ways of thinking contribute to, and are shaped by, the cultural milieu from which they emerge. To a certain extent, postmodern thought won — that is (far from justifying Trumpism and its allied discourses of deliberate falsehood), even the sort of thinker who belittles anything to which the epithet ‘postmodern’ can be even implausibly attached has often assimilated some of the pivotal points associated with the execrated French names and neologisms.

Nonetheless, people dig their heels in and resist the full implications of the ideas that they’ve partly assimilated. In fact, they resist all the more determinedly as they’re sure that the postmodern bogeyman is wrong; ‘that’ — whatever the theoretical or political or cultural point in question — ‘is too far, that can’t be right.’ Or more often, they just take as granted some implicitly very modern premise, such as the univocity of meaning, or the superiority of the contemporary world, or some other such (usually unstqted) axiom. and because the critic knows enough that he’s not objective, or that everyone knows that the latest X, Y, or Z is best.

The gesture that says, ‘I’ve adjusted what I think about meaning, power, privilege, social location, and so on, so I can just return to interpretive business as usual’ — which I’ve seen over and over — needs a shorthand signifer. I was tempted by ‘neomodernism’, formed analocially to neoliberalism: the same thing in a slightly different form, but just as pernicious if not more so. But Neomodernism is already in play as the designation for an architectural movement and as an effort at a reasoned reassertion of modern philosophy. To avoid confusion, I think I’ll call it remodernism.

Most theological critics paid only cursory attention to the specific study of modernity (or the rich varieties of antithetical movements artificially grouped together as ‘postmodernism’), so that if there’s a general assent within the interpretive discipline that it’s safe again to do the same old thing so long as you don’t make crude blunders about the role of power/authority/race/gender/sexuality/culture, almost everyone will revert to the modern homœostasis. It’s like Peter Sloterdijk’s observations on ‘enlightened false consciousness’, only in a slightly different key. Everyone knows, but no one changes their practice. Welcome to remodernity.

Plateau, Chmatteau

When I wake up on Sunday or Wednesday morning, my first thought involves whether there’s any way on earth that I can rationalise not running. ‘Oh, it’s raining…’ ‘Oh no, there isn’t time…’ ‘Maybe a meteor will strike me…’ Yesterday morning my left knee was complaining when I woke up, and the pavements were wet (though it wasn’t actively raining or drizzling), and Margaret and Jennifer and I were planning to make an early start for the day, so I felt the temptation to just give the mile a miss this time.

On the other hand, I am constituted by duty as a leading element, and I’m particularly acutely aware of the value of keeping healthy, so I donned my trainers and set out for the mile. The knee turned out not to bother me, and though my breathing hasn’t advanced as much as I’d like (‘Why is that man making those gasping noises when he runs, Mummy?’), I did push my not-break-stride back to the Rusty Bicycle at the corner of Magdalen and Hurst. The rest of the mile went smoothly, though nothing exceptional stood out in my experience of it. And when I hit the ‘Stop’ button at the front gate, my time was 10:29 — almost ten seconds faster than any previous mile, and fifteen seconds faster than the plateau at which I’d been stuck.

I don’t assume that I won’t fall back, but it’s an encouraging advance toward a ten-minute mile, just as the corner of Magdalen and Hurst is an agreeable milestone (almost two-thirds of the way) toward taking the whole mile without stopping.

Regaining

Just when I thought I’d be stuck at the 10:44-ish plateau for a long time, I wrapped up my mile in 10:39 this morning. I felt heavy, not loose and limber (one experience I want to recapture is the feeling of just stretching out and running freely, if only for a few strides), and I let my not-break-stride point drop back to the intersection of Magdalen and Iffley, but the overall time seems not to have suffered from that.

We’ll see about Sunday.

Grey Grim Morning.

Did I mention that I very strongly dislike running?

10:42 — yes, that sounds like a plateau. I felt all right most of the way, and pushed my don’t-break-stride mark to the 20 kph street sign on Hurst, but finished in the same general time as the last three or four miles.

Scintillating

Just leaving a marker here — another day with scintillating scotoma. Will look back and add previous dates.
Here we go: 5 June and 24 February, the last two. On a previous occasion, I told Ed Turnham ‘I experienced two of these as an undergraduate — the first while I was up late reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I ascribed to exhaustion and the intensity of the novel; and the second while I was driving at full speed on the motorway between Maine and Pennsylvania, at which time I narrowly avoided a catastrophic collision. Since there was no internet back then, I had no convenient explanation for the latter incident. I put it down to residual trauma from the assault I had experienced in secondary school, which included my face (and especially my left eye) having been clubbed. After those, I have no recollection of any specific recurrence until recently.’

Come On

What makes ‘Come On, Eileen’ great?

In the first place, plenty of people don’t think it is great, and even people who think it’s great can agree that it’s painfully overplayed. Whether you like it or not, it would probably sound better if you hadn’t heard it seventy krillion times.

It’s overplayed for a reason, though: there’s a lot to admire about it, mostly in the arrangement — The lyrics are all right. The repeated ‘thoughts verge on dirty’ (then ‘Well, they’re dirty’) motif provides an ingenious turn on outright explicit candour, or cloying romance, the first time you hear it; but it doesn’t wear well. Kevin Rowland’s singing as a grown-up, and we get what he’s referring to. It might do well as a device lightly deployed, but instead the Dexys hammer it home. The trope of ‘we’re different from those people’ does its usual work, though the song is unassuming enough* that it doesn’t seem too condescending, and ‘beat down eyes sunk in smoke dried faces’ is a fresh way of making this characterisation.

He’s sweet-talking Eileen, but he invites without threatening (in the song; the video shows Rowland and another member of the band grabbing and holding Eileen against her will, though it concludes with Eileen joining Rowland and walking into the distance arm in arm with him). Partial credit.

But the art lies in the arrangement, in several ways. First, the arrangement underscores the lyric’s hopefulness with brightness, but without drama (contrast ‘Born to Run’ — another ‘we’re not like them’ song). Predominantly up-tempo, with prominent hooks in the upper-register fiddle, banjo, and tinwhistle (and a high-end piano part), the arrangement is both full and at the same time airy and light. Langer and Winstanley did their job well.

More important, I’d argue, is the episodic structure of the song. If you count the outro, the song shifts among five distinct portions: verse – slightly slower chorus – verse – chorus — slow, but accelerating bridge – chorus, slightly faster – fade to outro. The very distinct sound of each portion flows utterly convincingly into the next. I’m a sucker for episodic structure in popular song, and ‘Come On, Eileen’ hits that squarely

I can hear out people who don’t like it, but even when I try to be too sophisticated to like it, many subtle touches in ‘Come On, Eileen’ win me over. At the second modulation from verse to chorus, Rowland sings ‘We’ll hum this tune forever’ — I probably will.


* Does anyone think that the role Rowland’s playing really believes that his/their youth and cleverness ensures that they will escape resigned fatalism? The music expresses hopefulness and confidence, but the lyric sounds to me as though they’re self-aware that they’re enmeshed in the same circumstances that beat down their older neighbours. Maybe that’s me as an old, arguably beat-down, guy.

Yup, Plateau

This morning I pushed my did-not-stop till a few steps beyond the corner of Magdalen and Hurst, and I felt about as good as ever, and my final time was around 10:48 (maybe a little less, maybe more — I had trouble hitting the correct button to stop the timer). Still better than regressing, and I still hate running.