When I walk to the gym, as I did this morning, I walk along a short stretch of the A350, one of the busiest roads in Britain that cuts through Westbury. There’s a pavement, or sidewalk, and when I’m going uphill, it’s not possible to see the traffic coming up the hill behind although I can hear it. It’s not a good idea, when passing someone walking downhill, to step to the edge of the sidewalk to let them pass. If I did, I’d be very likely to have my head taken off by the wing mirror of one of the many huge trucks passing through.
Fine, but people walking down the hill, although they can see the traffic situation and are able to judge whether it’s safe, tend to go to the edge fearful of the approaching traffic. They prefer to hog the inside, so a battle of wills develops. Taken to its conclusion the battle could end, were it not for common sense and good manners, in a nose-to-nose collision.
So on these occasions, knowing I don’t have eyes in the back of my head, I stay close on one side so the approaching person has to tackle their fears, move out and judge from what they can see coming up the hill whether they can pass. That’s preferable for me. I’d hate to step into the path of what I can’t see coming behind me.
However, on some occasions, such as this morning, there is a person who takes up the whole sidewalk as though I don’t exist. And that makes me think. Do they know I don’t have eyes in the back of my head being human like they are? Are they that within themselves, not realising that we share most of the same features, even though we’re all unique?
If you haven’t read Notes from the Underground by FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY, do, it’s a great book. I found the full text here. I’m not sure which translation, but it looks good to me.
The protagonist, or paradoxalist, describes how he plans retribution from one small slight he received in a snooker hall by an officer who in the narrator’s view thought highly of himself and little of others. The novel was a great influence on the intellectuals whose stirrings led to the 1917 revolution in Russia and the formation of the Soviet Union. In fact they shaped 20th century modernism all from one fictional account in a novel.
However, fiction or not, Dostoevsky’s psychological portrait is very real. The small slight almost certainly happened and sparked some kind of terrible uncertainty in someone, and Dostoevsky thankfully chose to write it all down. Incidences like my A350 stand off remind me that one small slight could lead to writing like my writing, a whole revolution, and what next, post-post-modernism? So that’s one reason I wrote it down. The other was England’s batting collapse against South-Africa.
Small slights such as these are common place, and easy to deal with and best not dwelt upon. But I dwell because I’m a conceptual writer. We’re in an era where self-awareness is very low. I don’t mean people aren’t aware of themselves and their own needs. They aren’t aware that their self is the same as another’s self. It’s not a lack of empathy, it’s a lack of understanding of the human taken as a whole, as a single entity. It’s as if individuals are so talked down, they don’t even believe they’re part of the human race. And a person who asserts one-upmanship on the sidewalk without realizing it, a subconscious assertion, is failing to understand their small act of war.
By pure coincidence, when I got back, I had a message from Debra Di Blasi about my Friction Fiction podcast show. I spent the afternoon looking at her web site and writings, and found she has interesting ideas about small acts of war too.