Category: Blog

Cambridge

I vaguely remember those golden days, when the international community still aspired to a congeniality which now seems conceited, when the fractures (at least to my adolescent self) were just beginning to show – when those nations which congratulated themselves for emerging victorious from the twentieth century began to rupture from within. I saw all of this from Cambridge, a city that sits at one extreme of the a socioeconomic, geographical, political, and cultural chasm mirrored in many other liberal democracies, conditioned by well-known forces of urbanisation, financialisation, and globalisation. Back in June 2016, 74% of Cambridge city residents voted to remain in the European Union, compared to 48% of the UK’s overall population. If anything surprised, it was that 26% of people voted to “Leave” in a city known for its global, liberal outlook. Here, the international elite are paid to dwell on the bureaucratic, constitutional, and diplomatic failures of western democracies. Its inhabitants tend to avoid the majority place where the most popular newspapers remain The Sun and the Daily Mail: where the whisking of technocratic cognition hasn’t produced a kind of cake you can both have and eat.

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Age of the universe

If the history of the earth were condensed to one year, it would be one hour til Auld Lang Syne before Neanderthals show up. At 23:58 and 43 seconds, the birth and death of Christ. Interpreters of the Bible dated the earth and universe at somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years. Comte du Buffon estimated in 1779 it was in fact 75,000 years old. A century later, Lord Kelvin estimated its age at between 20 to 400 million years. There is now scientific consensus that the universe is 14 billion years old. Some change in those last seconds before midnight.

A-level results

I received my A-level examination results: the long-awaited culmination of my submission to an educational state apparatus. Prepare in the way that is taught, write what is more or less expected and deemed correct, and one does well. Shift too far from expectations, lose whatever banal structure, dare to be different and you’re sending a costly signal. Grades are of course an imperfect measure of a student’s circumstance: their security, wealth, values, and support, and whether they have the opportunity, interest, and time to do what the work requires. These exist in a sort of inextricable amalgamation, to which must be added no small amount of effort. Perhaps there is benefit in talent, but more so a good school, cultural capital, and a resilient, even wry attitude. The diligent reader of mark schemes and examiners reports will find questions they have already seen. One systematically learns not the subject, but how to please the examiner burdened to distill your script to an alphabetic character. The ritual initiation went well for me. Of course my excitement lies not in the vapid production of letters on a piece of paper but the ability to move on to the next stage of education, where independent thought receives more recognition. The pleasure of learning finally comes for me and many others in October.

Festive bake

“Phwoar, not sure about that in November,” a customer opines. As I swept the floors and meticulously cleaned worktop surfaces, alienated by the Greggsoisie, I heard Baudrillard’s voice in the back of my head. I gazed upon a pocket of pastry covered in sage, filled with bacon, stuffing, and chicken, which tastes, in the words of another customer, “like Christmas”. I scooped one of the little parcels up for my lunch break, and found that it did indeed taste like Christmas – a sensual simulacrum of a Christmas meal. Not quite a copy of the real, but a condensed simulation of its traces, an artefact of hyperreality, a festive bake. Baudrillard explains how simulacra are ubiquitous in the postmodern age. In pre-modern society, there were clear differences between the represented and the original. In modern industrial society, it became more difficult to distinguish between the represented from the original, between image and reality. And in postmodern society, with a perfected ability to replicate images and objects, the distinction seems to have dissolved altogether. Christmas ostensibly connotes the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the foundation of the Christian religion. An array of festivities have developed around it, by now almost exclusively involving consumption. The reality of Christmas now lies in its replicated symbolic objects. Christmas is a festive bake. As I sat in the staff room with my lunch, I thus ruminated. The postmodern world is so contorted and inscrutable, that trying to make sense of it would surely only lead to perpetual headaches. Vita progreditur, dunnit mate. Tastes like Christmas.