Monday, August 25, 2008

Time Capsules

I was quite taken by Brian Appleyard's feature on "time capsules" in the Sunday Times. Commenting on Warhol's habit of creating various time capsules to tell the truth of his life - many of which remain unopened - he asks quite a few luminaries what they'd save for the future. An interesting side-point he takes from James Lovelock, that we should be creating a "bible" for our times, also made me think. I'm not sure that " a year of Radio 4" buried on a memory-stick would be quite the thing the future wants or needs. It struck me that one of the problems about what is deemed to survive is the famous, the already mediated. There's been a few fascinating programmes recently around old colour films and photographs and what's perhaps most interesting is that in the days before mass media, there was less of a consensus about what should be filmed or recorded.

My own time capsule would be - as I think all should be - a bit of a personal thing. I'd probably include some of my writings - some of my stories set in contemporary Manchester perhaps, or "High Wire", the novel that I wrote starting with election night 1997. Although fictional - I was trying to write the truth as I remembered it, not something re-discovered through research or artefacts. It's what spoils books like David Mitchell's "Black Swan Green" for me; too many cultural signifiers. I reckon our own cultural signifiers are personal, perverse, non-universal. I'd probably include a CD of my favourite songs of say, last year, which already seems out of date, but the future probably needs to hear "With Every Heartbeat" by Robyn next to something by Thurston Moore. One of the NOW series would only tell a quarter of a story. I'd also include half a dozen literary magazines of the last few years that I've read or had something to do with - and more importantly, kept around. Again, I'd probably include some of my own poems rather than someone else's - they have a particular truth about them, that I find hard to uncover in much contemporary poetry. I don't think I'd include this blog - or any other for that matter - though perhaps this is the ephemera that one should be looking to preserve. Perhaps a few YouTube videos. I'd also find room for the Aldi brochure or an Argos catalogue. Surely more historical truth in there than in any official statistics or the like? Brian Appleyard includes series 4 of "The Wire" and the iPhone. I guess if the box was big enough you might put this Dell computer in it - I think the future will probably think we all sat there with our laptops and our tiny devices, it might come as a surprise to see the hulking beasts that still dominate the home and the office. As for "The Wire," love it as I do, I don't think its anyone in this country's job to try and "get" America. I'd probably choose a DVD of something relatively unloved; BBC3's "Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps" perhaps, alongside probably the best satire of the last few years, the first Christopher Ecclestone-led series of "Dr. Who." As for novels of the last few years, I'd probably pick Will Self's "The Book of Dave" if only because it has a buried time capsule at its own centre - and, something by Magnus Mills, probably "All Quiet on the Orient Express."

Now all I need is a tin box....

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