Wednesday 31 December 2008

Christmas spirit

In the hinterland between Christmas and New Year, I went, today, for a walk in the Howgills (the Lake District itself is as busy now as it is for August bank holiday and thus best avoided). On easy ground and with no navigational issues I found myself wondering what the best way is to approach the Christmas holiday period. As a child, I recall, it had a very particular resonance, independent of either religious or secular mysticism. There was a specific and exciting ambience and, even if the prospect of being given presents was part of the cause of this mood, it certainly wasn’t its object. The odd thing is that I cannot now recall what the mood was, what it took the time to be ‘about’ (not, of course, that it was literally about anything).

(2008 having been such a lamentable year for me for reading fiction I’ve resolved – a little crassly – simply to read a Dance to the Music of Time in 2009. Surely such a simple project will work! Already one feature of the book series is striking. It is realist but it starts in 1921 and continues to the 1970s with the same degree of access to the details of the time. Aspects of the narrator’s school-life, for example, are portrayed – unbelievably – with infinite and unproblematic access to their mood. Does anyone have such memory?)

One possible clue as to how to approach the season is something I’ve been struck by increasingly this year: the false ring of being wished a good Christmas on, say, Christmas Eve by people one might well see within a few days. Such wishing seems to compress a weight of expectation onto a single day and a single perspective: such as a solitary attempt on the summit of Everest or one’s necessarily personal interview with Death (pictured). No-one would compress wishes for a summer onto the fate of Midsummer’s Eve, for example. A good summer is both temporally extended and (potentially, at least) shared.

Perhaps the best that one can hope for is a kind of collective Humean projectivist illusion. What’s right within the false sounding wishing is something like the idea of taking the season to have a kind of meaning (again, though, not really/literally). It’s that which is collectively supported by the disproportionate enjoyable round of mulled wine parties, dinners, evenings out etc. But the problem with that as an idea is that it still leaves the content of projected attitude to be explained: the ‘meaning’ or atmosphere. (In a more serious vein, that is the problem for projectivism in general, mentioned before.) That remains – to me – as opaque as Jaspers’ idea of delusional atmosphere. What could it be?

I return to delusional atmosphere and its content here.