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December 13, 2008



"You tell me that I am 'not accused of anything' but you ask me to give you my recollections of the period early in the Transformation, the run-up to Christmas 2008. Of course that moment is so distant in time now that it is hard to recollect much.

"But at least one memory does stand out. It is of a brisk, December morning when, as usual, I walked my youngest son to school. Times were getting harder economically, and I think everyone sensed that. Edifices, which had once seemed so solid that one had not even considered whether or not they were eternal, stood on the point of collapse. GM, for instance, announced that it was shutting down a third of its factories for a month. We hadn't hit the levels of catastrophe they experienced in Weimar in the early 1920s -- then even the lightbulbs and the doorhandles were being ripped out and taken away. But I remember thinking that the coldness in the air that morning was an analogue of the chill which had settled discernibly on the country.

"Everything felt pinched; people seemed just slightly wary, quieter than normal, introverted, preoccupied with their own thoughts. It was as if everyone had become just slightly more selfish, as a person does, for example, when they start to get hungry, when, you know, the rumbling in your stomach turns into a subtle, dull, enduring ache. We weren't hungry, you understand. But perhaps our spirits were. Anyway, somehow, it felt like that.

"My son and I walked along our street. By any measure except those of the income levels in the surrounding towns we were economically safe, cushioned, even though my wife and I worried about money all the time. Over the preceding weeks, as the rate of autoburglaries had risen sharply in our neighbourhood, I had started surreptitiously to 'check' parked cars for damage.

"We strolled along. We had grown used to passing houses with seasonal decorations and ornaments still glowing in the morning haze -- little strings of illuminated blue icicles hanging from the eaves, ruby-coloured lights wound round tree trunks, that kind of thing. Four of five houses up, on the left, a portly, cross-eyed neighbour, whom I quietly loathed, had set up some a family of glowing, wire reindeer on her lawn. ('For the children', she had simpered to me a few days before.)

"Except that this morning, when we passed her house, the reindeer were gone. The indentations made by their hooves on the frosty grass, like a fragile set of fingerprints, were still there, the little pressed-in shapes preserved for a while at least by the crystals of frozen dew which had formed round the hooves. But the metal animals themselves had vanished. Owen bowled on by without any comment. But I found myself lingering, thinking at first, as was my habit then, aesthetically, gazing at the view appreciatively as a scene of pure emptiness. Then I realized what had happened. The reindeer had been stolen. And that seemed eerie and slightly menacing to me. Even the cheap gimcrack-ornaments, surely almost worthless, were being taken away. We had come to that. Then I came to myself, picked up my pace and reached Owen before the crossing.

"I have come to feel that events of this kind -- so trivial in the light of what even then we understood about what was happening -- were not really to do with the simple desire on someone's part to make some fast money. How could that explain these stolen reindeer? No, instead this had to do with the moods of vengefulness and random destructiveness which we were all gradually, and to a greater or lesser degree, falling prey to. This was a glimmering of anarchy.

"For some people -- perhaps many for all I know --, these feelings of anger and destructiveness remained purely private, promptly suppressed by their consciences from articulation even, let alone carried over into action. Or checked by social protocols. Looking back now, though, I think that we were all in some sense paying for something we had been complicit in. Which of us escaped whipping in what followed? And which of us deserved to? People who came through unscathed were people who were merely lucky. Their being unscathed was morally meaningless.

"I recollect most strongly that as I stood staring at the reindeer prints on that little lawn on that frosty morning, I had the sudden conviction that at some deep spiritual level we were thieves whom other thieves were robbing. Our god was the dollar, our evangelist was Hobbes. And this was our mean new world....

"Oh, it is all very inadequate, I know. But I cannot explain it any better than this. There it is. These are the memories I can speak of. I have told you what I can bear to remember. This is my version of the truth. And, now that I have complied with what you asked me to do, I would like to be silent. Ah, but wait, one other small thing: I do recall as well that the next day there were rumours from a block not far off that a pile of ashwood intended for the family's private fire had disappeared from a front yard. You see? Christmas 2008, yes, it was the season of disappearances, like a parody of an advent calendar, in which every day a door closed and something that had been present dissolved into thin air.... But enough. Obviously, one now sees these were just tiny symptoms of the playing out of an enormous process which we had absolutely no way to grasp. It was a process which you know as well as I do would crack many hearts."

Posted by njenkins at December 13, 2008 02:12 AM

With the exception of interspersed quotations, all writing is © 2007-09 by Nicholas Jenkins