Saturday, 21 July 2012

Life is Tense

It would appear that the Pirahã Indians of Brazil have no future. Could this be on account of the relentless progress of ‘civilisation’? Quite possibly: but the Pirahã are futureless also in the sense that their language contains no future tense and, consequently, they live their lives from day-to-day. Or is it the other way round? Does the way they live determine their language? But that is a question beloved of Whorfians and the like, people who study Linguistic Relativity. It’s not so relevant if you are content, as are the Pirahã, to exist in the present.

How I envy them right now when the pressure is on me to face up to the future in the form of the nine-day programme of gigs which is the Manchester Jazz Festival. My dilemma is one of forward-planning and I am feeling overwhelmed by the number and variety of performances on offer; the fear of picking the worst ones and of missing the best; the anxiety of timetabling my life so as to weave its mundane events into the Festival; the question of whether or not to book tickets in advance and the reluctance to recommend gigs to friends and risk being responsible should they come away disappointed.

My anxieties obviously threaten to spoil my enjoyment of the music - besides which jazz is a fluid and freeform affair so it feels counter-intuitive to have to plan minutely for the pleasure. But I ought to have no problem with thinking ahead since our complex language provides us with just the grammatical tenses we need for such thought processing. We know, for example, that the Jazz Kings are scheduled in the programme for Wednesday. We might say, therefore, that they will perform on Wednesday. We might also say that they will be performing on Wednesday or we might say they are performing on Wednesday – in which case is it Wednesday already? Perhaps the application of Linguistic Relativity theories is not going to be as helpful as I had hoped.

Tempted by advertising and hype I also considered whether attending another kind of festival might be a good idea. The ones which appeal to me are multi-cultural and include music, literature, film, food etc. all compressed into a long weekend. On reflection, however, given so much choice and so little time I suspect my anxieties would be compounded to the point of panic, my decision-making facility would seize up completely and my entrance fee would have been wasted.

It wasn’t always like this. My first experience of music festivals was relaxed, unplanned and free-wheeling. I am reminded of this by a photo of a girlfriend and me on a ferry bound for the Isle of Wight circa 1970. She wore platform shoes, a mini-skirt, a summer blouse and a straw hat. I wore plimsolls, jeans, flowery shirt and a thin nylon jacket. We had no other clothing, no tent – nor even an overnight bag (although we did have a couple of grams of Afghan Black which proved to be a tradable commodity when seeking accommodation). Otherwise our approach was very Pirahã, very ‘in the moment’.

I’m not sure what happened to change all that. Certainly the music festival concept has evolved from its idealistic beginnings and has become more of a commercial proposition: the simple, one-band-at-a-time schedules I once enjoyed are not the best format for maximising profit.  Simultaneous multi-stage complexity is the new norm and forethought is essential if you want to get the most out of your festival experience. But I can’t help thinking that the Pirahã are on to something and if there was no future then I wouldn’t be so tense.


Anonymous said...

Have you seen "Nostalgia for the LIght"? Apparently, only the past exists.

Wonderman said...

Now that would really complicate my dilemma...