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The Metafizzical Essays
of Nicholas Hancock

The Poet of Despair

Published by The British Hancock Society
with the permission of the author.

LIFE IS A
SPECTATOR SPORT

                                     LIFE IS A SPECTATOR SPORT


For over ninety-nine percent of us – the seeing population – experience is overwhelmingly visual. This is not to deny the importance of other senses, particularly those of touch and hearing, but simply to emphasise the hegemony of sight.
     Seeing, though, goes far beyond the optic nerves and the primary visual cortex. It is the using of the visual mechanism to inventory the world about us and to round up all the imagery we can get hold of, closing it up in the corrals of our mind. This is no search for beauty either: aesthetic considerations play no part. Our eyes are CCTV cameras, and as such are trained on everything our body comes across; besides, our closed circuits cut us off effectively from all the other human screens.
     But we’re intensely interested in the people around us, judging their actions and motives more stringently than we ever do our own. Taking in the lustrous eyelashes of this other camera crew, our partner, what we do not see is the head-necks of her Demodex reaching into flaked off skin cells; changing our sheets, we fail to notice the scurrying yellow dust mites, too small to obscure the blue-white stripes of the mattress, yet quite covering them; similarly, on looking up at the stars we fail to see their hugeness. Our vision is limited to that which is close to us in size or in space.
     John van Druten’s or Christopher Isherwood’s title I Am a Camera gives the measure of our voyeuristic bent. Here we are, collecting our personal album of images, preferring generally to be the fly on the wall as against the terrifying alternative of becoming committed. We end up as Toms peeping at the exaggeratedly egotistical world of pretty young bodies in claustrophobic conversation at the Big Brother house or Anne Robinson surrounded by her weak links and humiliating them to our great satisfaction. To put it another way, we are twitchers or train spotters, though our quarry is neither locomotives nor birds.
     Why, though, do we scurry round collecting our treasure of visual memories? What do we expect to achieve?
     I rather think it all comes from an innate, subconscious despair, a personal eschatology according to which the end of the world is at hand for us individually – despite creeds fervently proclaimed, despite fingers passionately crossed and murmured ave Marias or inshallahs. Our stored pictures do not weaken this conviction, but they do allow us to accept it: it’s as if the repeated flashes of remembered consciousness lit up the dark, making it more acceptable and less terrifying.
     Like other spectator sportsmen, however, we are generally precluded from participating in the grand show round us, eyewitnesses whose testimony will never be required by any court of law.