You dancin’?

Posted by on Feb 6, 2007 in Uncategorized | No Comments


Top night out with Al, John and John last night. Drinks, dinner, teasing, laughter and taxi home.

Al and I flatshared years ago and it was then that he first introduced me to A Dance to the Music of Time

This 12 volume novel seems to be a bit of a boys’ thing: 12 volumes, hundreds of characters and one 70 odd year span of English Upper Middle Class life in the 20th Century…

The title comes from an observation made by the narrator in the first few pages of volume 1 (A question of Upbringing), Nick Jenkins (an art critic) about the Poussin painting above, as he sits watching snowflakes on a coal fire:

“These classical projections, and something from the fire, suddenly suggested Poussin’s scene in which the Seasons, hand in hand and facing outward, tread in rhythm to the notes of the lyre that the winged and naked greybeard plays. The image of Time brought thoughts of mortality: of human beings, facing outward like the Seasons, moving hand in hand in intricate measure, stepping slowly, methodically sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take recognizable shape: or breaking into seemingly meaningless gyrations, while partners disappear only to reappear again, once more giving pattern to the spectacle: unable to control the melody, unable, perhaps, to control the steps of the dance.”

Over the next 12 volumes, he recounts the people he has met over the previous 50 years of his life and suggests that none of the individuals really understands the dance or the role of the others in it. Instead each face appears, disappears and reappears from out of the darkness according to indecipherable rules…

So it is for me with Al and the 2 Johns, I thought as we stood at the bar of a Fitzrovia pub. We all met a long time ago and have found ourselves giggling many a time since then as our lives have gone off into the darkness (or so it seems to those left behind).

But this is not just a personal post: I think the same thing applies to all mass behaviour. Each of us is unaware of the role of others; each of us slightly bemused by a dance that started long ago; each of us has the impression that the dance is ours alone, that it is somehow shaped by our consciousness and experience.

So why trust the individual’s account of how stuff works, then?