imomus (imomus) wrote,

The undiscovered continent needs a festival!

1. Although you, my dear Click Opera readers, will never know the 50-year-old Momus "directly" (I'll have slung my blog hook by the time I turn that corner), this unlikely person is arriving, and imminently. I wonder what it will be like to be such a farcically old age? I read in today's Guardian, in an interview with Martin Amis, that there's a "thickening out" of life that comes after 50 – "there is now an enormous and unsuspected presence within your being," he says in The Pregnant Widow, "like an undiscovered continent." The exact nature of this "thickening out" and this "undiscovered continent" isn't made explicit; I suppose you have to buy The Pregnant Widow to find out, or turn 50 yourself.

2. Stephen Moss also says, in the same article: "Amis is fascinated by the way he has changed since what he admits was a midlife crisis in the early 90s. At its simplest, he has discovered the purity of love, love without ego... Women, trophies to the early Amis, have become redeemers." Which all sounds very nice, but we need more detail. Or something else: a ritual!

3. Yesterday I posted a photo to my Facebook page and captioned it "I've decided to enjoy my midlife crisis". Someone called Aki Tudor commented: "Just don't get a red Porsche:)". You could say that Aki's response -- to reach for the stereotype of the red Porsche or Ferrari as a recognised sign for substitute testosterone, a kind of symbolic Hormone Replacement Therapy -- is so conventional that it's almost ritualistic. Repeat this kind of formula enough and it becomes a reflex refrain, like shouting "Bless you!" when someone sneezes.

4. An Anon wrote yesterday on Click Opera: "A side note: it is funny that puberty seems to mean a lot on nature's terms but nothing in legality's terms." That made me think of how, just as we're always creating new taboos, we're also always creating new festivals. Sometimes it takes an artist to "design" them.

5. The artist Chad McCail created a new rite in a screenprint published by Edinburgh Printmakers. It's called Relationships Grow Stronger, and -- rather in the manner of my Book of Scotlands -- it imagines a parallel world where things are done differently.

6. Here's how Chad McCail explained the print for "This is part of some local event that the people round about have created to mark the fact that these children, who are all about the same age, are becoming adults. It's marking their passage from childhood to adulthood; they've become fertile, they now have serious responsibilities, they can create children. And they're not fudging it, they want everyone to acknowledge that this is happening. And of course we do fudge it. We don't talk about it, we don't mark it, we don't like to acknowledge that it's happening, really. And that's difficult for children, so I wanted to make a picture where maybe it was being acknowledged." McCail's picture shows a tree outside a suburban house, garlanded with model penises and vaginas, a sort of sexual Christmas tree.

7. I thought of McCail's print on the second Monday in January. We'd been late getting away from Onomichi, and I was tired after a couple of hours piloting the Daihatsu Naked up the expressway towards Kansai. Out on the freeway it's every man for himself; headlights, tunnels, passengers sleeping, sipping coffee from a pet bottle to stay alert. When we arrived in Kobe, I didn't notice them at first: girls in kimonos, brilliant as humming birds, swarming around the railway stations. Yoyo, waking and rising from the back seat, explained: today was a national holiday, Coming of Age Day, Seijin No Hi. It's a festival in which everybody who'll turn 20 this year dresses up and drinks at one of the big parties held to celebrate their ability to drink, and vote, and smoke.

8. Although Seijin No Hi doesn't feature penises and vaginas balanced on Sexual Christmas Trees, it is at least halfway towards Chad McCail's vision of a parallel world in which the "seasonal" changes in human life are socially recognised and pleasantly ritualised. For me, coming to a pleasant halt (it was impossible to drive through the crowds of excited young people, asserting their newfound power over passing motor traffic) in the centre of Kobe was a magical and mood-lifting experience. After the weary modern tension of the expressway, I felt the ritual celebration take me somewhere else: somewhere youthful yet timeless, thronging and joyful, dense and urban yet pre-modern. As if the energy of youth culture had been harnessed to some kind of primal-aristocratic court culture obsessed with the fragile beauty of transition. As if adults and children -- and individuals and society -- were looking at each other with shared knowledge.

9. Seijin No Hi reminded me of what a successful society Japan is. Japan succeeds, at moments like these, for the same reasons Chad McCail shows the West failing. We fail because we make important life-seasonal transitions secretive, leaving them for individuals to discover and cope with in solitude (perhaps with the aid of therapy or art or the occasional parental lecture) rather than providing something as joyful as a festival or ritual for it.

10. Watching BBC4 documentary The Waughs, Fathers and Sons last night, I noted a similar theme, again to do with coming of age. Part 3 begins with a letter Victorian patriarch Arthur Waugh wrote to Alec, his son, who'd been caught wanking in the chapel at Sherborne School. "Every time seed is lost from the body, the backbone is slightly affected," Arthur wrote. "If one feels weaker after a natural loss, it follows that a forced loss of seed, such as self-abuse entails, is much more mischievous. It is indeed a deadly danger, because it undermines the very seat of life. The result of self-abuse, if carried on persistently, is first weakness of body and mind, and finally paralysis and softening of the brain."

11. "But I suppose, in a way, it was rather wonderful of a father brought up in the Victorian age even to be writing to his son at all about this sort of thing," says Alexander Waugh, who agrees with his grandfather Evelyn that the worst thing is "being brought up in the dark". Perhaps... but a luminous ritual or a festival might have saved them all the embarrassment.

12. I'm off now to invent some "turning 50" rituals. Let's see, what did David Bowie do? Didn't he dress up like a Tibetan and ask younger singers to do his songs? The thing is, you can't just invent a single ritual, or even a single festival. You have to invent a whole surrounding culture to depersonalise, dignify and perpetuate your rite of spring, your welcome to autumn, your Whitsun Weddings. If it's not cultural, it's just a party.

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