‘And so you read Pragmatism,’ he mused, ‘while the fate of the Empire stands in the balance.’
‘Yes,’ said I, ‘and the Paris Academy of Sciences were discussing the functions of θ and the Polymorphism of Antarctic diatoms last September when the Germans stood almost at the gates of Paris.’ (1948, p.199)
Armed with the flippancy and intellectual conceit which were second to none, W. N. P. Barbellion recorded a future ceaselessly spurned by sickness and circumstance. Born in 1889 in Barnstaple, he aspired to be a naturalist and began keeping a diary at the age of thirteen. His lust for life antagonised by his social class and ill health stationed him at a uniquely tragic standpoint from which he witnessed fin de siècle.
The Journal of a Disappointed Man vividly highlights the universality of human suffering during one of the greatest and most devastating turning points in history. By pitting his own ambition against an increasingly industrialised world, Barbellion’s diary poignantly portrays the economical, sociological and political climates of the years leading up to the First World War.
In The Signalman, Charles Dickens demonstrates the powerlessness of humanity in the face of technological advancement by interconnecting the supernatural to the mundanity of life during the industrial era. By attributing human qualities to the paranormal, Dickens effectively emphasises the unforgiving brutality of industrial machinery. The Signalman follows an unnamed narrator’s attempt to befriend a solitary rail worker who is plagued by a ghostly apparition whose continuous warnings lead to the rail worker’s death.
Ghosts in Dickens’ stories are almost like the light of morality which appear before those who have lost their way, such is the case for The Christmas Carol. By the same vein, the ghostly apparition in The Signalman demonstrates desperate concern for the well-being of the living. Published in 1866 in the Mugby Junction, five years after the Clayton Tunnel incident and a year after the Staplehurst rail crash, wherein Dickens was a passenger, The Signalman is perhaps Dickens’ statement on the industrial lifestyle, wherein people’s lives were no longer overshadowed by gods but machineries.
Recently I have realised that I do not write much about myself — myself as a physical, living being who is a part of this world. Instead, I talk about the abstract and the vague, ever-changing nature of a ‘self’. I dwell inside my own head to work out what it is that makes me who I am. While I do think about the physicality of life — the bodily pain and traumatically pivotal encounters from my childhood — they are only memories translated to me through hazy illusions of realism and distorted impressions of emotions and images. Sometimes these memories move, but only as glitches of corrupted film reels. More often, my memories are stagnant sun-faded polaroids.
Is it the weather, or is it life, that is beginning to get to me (again)? There are so many things to do and so little time. Where is the future? Why has it not arrived; I am worried.
What is this life that I do not understand. What is this smile which I cannot see. I do not know anything. I do not think I know any more. No matter how hard I try to move forward, there is always something in the way. Just as I’ve learned to accept that that’s okay (all I have to do is soldier through or find a way around the problem) my emotions catch up to remind me of what I am.
Writing things I do not necessarily mean for the sake of meeting deadlines and good grades. The return to studying is taking so much of my time that I have not been able to get my own writing done. I feel restless and anxious with this constant darkness at my back, this fear of time running out. I am constantly nagged by my own ambition that I am not living up to my full potential.
These past few months, there are times where I wonder if I made the right choice choosing Keele instead of UEA. Am I wasting my time in this foundation programme? Would UEA have been able to cultivate my skills more efficiently? For the former, I’m not sure. For the latter, probably.
These doubts which cloud over my life tend to linger in the back of my mind, very far back because that is where I have pushed them.
I cannot afford to regret. One step forward, twos steps back — I simply do not have the time for this unproductive behaviour. I must move forward because that is where the future is. That is where I must go.
The opening chapter of Anne Enright’s The Gathering presents the darkness of humanity as a universal concept by relating the macabre as a form of normalcy and a point of intrigue. By focusing on the narrator’s internal conflict — whether or not to expose her brother’s secret — and by juxtaposing the narrator’s domesticated life with a haunted past which has been distorted through memories, Enright enables readers to easily empathise and accept the narrator’s attempt to ‘libel the dead’.
I used to be a quitter. A loser who would readily go down without a fight. I remember a time where an unconscious slight would make me burst into tears. Even as I grew up, I stayed that way. Every fight and tension that involved me during my younger years would end up with me losing and crying.
At fifteen years old, my schoolmates called me Crybaby. Bullies would make fun of me for this trait that I couldn’t seem to shake off no matter how hard I tried.
It’s still the same now.
Only, I no longer berate myself for being sensitive, no longer apologise needlessly when something isn’t my fault, no longer quietly accept the decision others make of my worth. Or I at least try not to.
The wind blows from the north. There is this thing in the heart that makes me look left and right before crossing the boundaries of life; this same terrible thing forces me to look back and plant a seed of doubt.
Is this right. Is this wrong. Am I a good child. A competent human being. What am I doing here.
12th July is my birthday, and I stand on the scale of time, anxious by the countdown. I look left and right and under myself. Where is my past. Where is the future. Covering my ears and clawing at my eyes, I do not wish to know what others are doing. Why are they happy. Why are they successful. Tell me, what is sorrow like.
Have I started a war, or has there always been one waging within me?
Every time I think I’m okay, finally, I’m saved, for sure, this time, it ends with a step backwards. I’ve got a lot better, and now I’ve got worse. Nobody ever talks about what happens after they are cured. One step forward, two steps back. Will this ever end? It’s difficult when I can’t see where I’m going. So in tune with other people’s feelings, I can never figure out my own. I go through life believing I’m okay, then I snap. Only after the fact do I realise that I am not okay after all.
I don’t want to go back to feeling hopeless, but now I’m wondering if I’ve ever left that lonely place. Have I all this time been living a lie? Have I grown accustomed to my own numbed mind, and has it tricked me into thinking I am now qualified to aspire to be a competent human being? I do not know.