In the face of an impending Phd completion I’ve been getting the night sweats. Turns out that finishing an epic on the future of internationalism and work makes you want to perform amateurish brain surgery to remove those 3am paranoid thoughts about the prospects for humanity. Last week I ran away from these haunting existential thoughts to a Greek Island. Swapped Bauman for Bikini.
In an attempt to go back to an earlier time in life when I actually slept for whole nights I went sans technology to Zakynthos. What I didn’t know until 5am at Gatwick was that it’s the party central destination for the UK’s disenfranchised youth. Hundreds of teenagers wearing their existential predicament on their sleeves and arms. Bodies shaped by processed food and porn addiction, the human condition in black and white tattooed over a generation of young bodies. Overheard conversations about sex and violence, pills and porn between sweet sixteens with tattooed necks shouting “Miss Piggy” and “rage machine”. Self-loathing in ink.
Holidays are a bit of an adventure because you never know quite where you’ll end up. Economic crisis shapes landscapes, external and internal. Athens populations returned to their rural homes, not quite a moneyless economy but a radical drift back to nature. In one way a revolutionary shift away from the narcissism of big business to an earlier, saner time but with deep fears for the next generations when the capital runs out. Sleep but uneasy.
To assuage the guilt of taking a break from saving the world, like many activists I bury myself in a Holiday Guilt Book, the one that saves your soul from the corruption of not working. For 15 years my HGB was a hardback copy of Michael Harrington’s Socialism Past and Future. I can’t tell you anything about it but it was carried across beaches of the world to hold my conscience and anxieties about taking a timeshare on being a useless slob.
After several years of analytic slog talking back to my superego, this year I went for a smaller paperback HGB by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. Entitled The Art of Loving with a cover design screaming “I am lonely and in existential pain” this book can clear a beach. Promising start when you’re defending prime tanning space.
My excuse for reading about love in public is the prospect of doing some work on love later this year (a risk if you think I’m puerile now). Thinking about love has caused the rather disturbing experience of my mind going totally blank and hurtling me back to heartless teenage questions about whether love exists or does it all just come down to sex? I know, I know, you’d expect more from a grown up but be assured that even Freud can sound like a kid heading for Zante with his deep attachment to sex and the primary role of the libido. An hour into mastering the art of loving and I’m on the verge of hurtling the HGB into the clear waters of the sea snorting “I don’t know anything about love”. Then I read this.
“If man is to be able to love, he must be put in his supreme place. The economic machine must serve him, rather than he serve it. He must be enabled to share experience, to share work, rather than, at best, share in profits. Society must be organised in such a way that man’s social, loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it. If it is true, as I have tried to show, that love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence, then any society which excludes relatively the development of love must in the long run perish of its own contradiction with the basic necessities of human nature.”
Me, bolt upright on a beach channelling a bit of humanity.
Returning to a simpler time is a much needed fantasy and one that an economic crisis offers us. But whether we’re 15 or 50 some things don’t change so much. Our biggest challenge continues to be how to grow up loving ourselves enough so we can sleep easy at night. Even without writing this indelibly on our bodies in ink, we all share this need to find and understand love to make our lives bearable and sleep a little easier.
Leave a Reply