Archive for December, 2009
December 19th 2009
In my first blog (below) I described a strange coincidence, and promised to return to it to explore its meaning . . .
The shoulder-shrugging pragmatist will reply: “There is no meaning. It’s just an unlikely, meaningless coincidence.” A part of me (the radio producer part – there was no mention of any of this in the programme) would agree. But the other part of me – the part that enjoys Haruki Murakami’s stories – spent the next few days pondering Fenton Gray and “Fenton Gray”.
The first thing to say is that I don’t believe that such phenomena tell as anything about the objective, external world. The synchronicity of Fenton Gray and “Fenton Gray” does not reveal some new dimension of physical reality hitherto unknown to science. That is not, however, to say that they are necessarily without significance or meaning. (This is where the two ways of looking at the world part company.) I have an old friend who is extremely knowledgeable about the esoteric arts. In the past she has given me astrological and Tarot readings, and from her I have learned that when it comes to such matters, interpretation is all. Their meaning belongs to a personal realm.
When I came to think about my experience of Fenton Gray and “Fenton Gray”, the first thing that struck me was that, from my perspective, its context was that of a chain of other coincidences:
Fenton Gray had gone into the same business as his great-grandfather.
The grave of Dan Crawley (and of a number of musical hall stars whom we also featured in the programme) was in Abney Park Cemetery, which had loomed large in my life twenty years before.
I was reading Murakami’s stories, many of which revolve around what might call the significance of inconsequentiality. Indeed, the story I came to on the day after the cemetery/museum day, “Chance Traveller”, is explicitly about coincidence, the main strand in the story being introduced by Murakami recounting strange, inconsequential coincidences that had occurred in his own life.
Strange coincidences one usually thinks of coming out of the blue. But from my point of view, the Fenton Gray/”Fenton Gray” coincidence seemed to fit a pattern, and the more I thought about it, the more its meaning seemed to lie in the phenomenon of coincidence itself. There was a message for me in this strange event, and it was to do with coincidence.
In his Introduction to Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I-Ching or Book of Changes, Jung describes synchronicity as taking “the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers.” If the observer is receptive, the fall of the yarrow stalks can provide a psychic Polaroid of the moment. The same is potentially true, I think, of many incidences of objective coincidence. It all depends on the imagination of the observer.
And perhaps, in our increasingly complex, globalised and interconnected world, the importance of chance will loom larger. Everything moves faster, and there are more collisions. It is said that everybody in the world is five steps (“met somebody who has met somebody etc”) from everybody else. (In my own case, I know I am one step from both Osama Bin Laden and Barak Obama.) That would not have been the case two hundred years ago, or perhaps even fifty years ago.
And perhaps a new kind of fiction is emerging from this world – the fiction of Haruki Murakami’s stories and novels, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Roberto Bolano’s monumental 2666, which I have just started reading. For me, returning to fiction writing after a long absence, the strange case of Fenton Gray and “Fenton Gray” pointed towards a particular imaginative world.