The present had grown mysterious. It floated like mist at the heart of a derelict building, the windows all blasted out. You had to clamber over the rubble in the street, massed before the entrance, and by the time you’d made your way into the interior, you were back on the street, facing a derelict house full of mist.

In an odd way, you never reached the present. And the place the present was kept — the past — was also inaccessible. By the time the present had occurred, or you were able to make sense of it, it had been packed into another derelict house, the house of expended things. And the house, because it had no doors hung in the doorways, and no glass in the window frames, couldn’t prevent the mist from entering it, and floating over the old, ruined armchairs and settees, drifting up the rotten stairs, dampening the peeling 1930s wallpaper with lupins and butterflies.

The future, too, was inaccessible. The future was the place all the presents pointed to: it was a kind of phantasmal museum, with collections of hopes and dreams and plans, none of which could possibly ever come to fruition, because by the time they came to fruition, they were already in the past — the future was a place people browsed round exhibits of elapsed projections. The future, therefore, made up the ghostly triumvirate of derelict houses, the three houses of time.

Of course, this ghostly triumvirate was actually just the same property, perceived from different points of view.

At the heart of the mystery of the present — and thus, at the heart of the mystery of the past and the future, too — there was the moment.

Nothing could have been more perplexing or bedazzling to your imagination than the moment. It was the trace of an enigma, or the skeleton of an enigma, an enigma that had died and lost its life. It was as if a building had had all its foundations removed, and yet, instead of collapsing, floated.

The crystal machinery of the moment was more complicated than the burning neuron forest of the human brain, yet simpler than a black crayon dot on white paper. It could be divided and divided and divided, and yet never broken down to its constituent element. It multiplied everywhere, in its billions and billions, and yet everywhere it vanished. When it vanished, it left no trace, except for the world. And the world suckled from the moment like a baby at a mother’s breast.

No one could name an individual moment. It wasn’t like a street — like Pearson Street, say, or Bokutei-dori. Too small to attach a name to, it didn’t work like that. The moment was general and anonymous, and at the same time, precious and utterly specific. It was translucent, and yet totally opaque. It contained nothing, and contained the universe. It was discrete, and yet attached to its fellows in long strings. The moment was there, whether you dreamed or not, whether you were alive or not. It had no witnesses to the way it moved, and yet every human life could be said, in a sense, to be a profound and extended testimony to the nature and effects of the movement of moments. Restless as the sea, still as a snowflake caught in a spider’s web, built in a gap in a drystone wall across a moor, on a windless day, in Yorkshire, England. It was the essence of the art of the riddle: from the Babylonians to the Anglo-Saxons to the PhD students dozing in their quantum cocoons, the moment was the spring, the first explosion, the first thought.

As for novelists, story-tellers, singers, musicians — what would they be without the moment?

The moment was a transcendental mechanism. With each new moment, the entire history of all things was transcended. Nothing was preserved, everything had to be rebuilt and the whole planet and its narrative shored up with logic and assumption, culture and hearsay. Your imagination was bound up into the moment, with its paths of orbit, divergence, bifurcation, circling, shattering. The moment’s precipice stood before you. To leap from the ledge would be to enter an entirely new world: it would be an act of sublime baptism, of absolute alchemy, of the radical and pervasive transformation of everything, from the core to the perimeter, from the edge to the centre. No one could survive that leap. You certainly couldn’t. And yet, what choice did you have, but to jump?

The moment is the supreme construct — a fabrication of such beige and vanilla humility, you can easily overlook its presence; but a fabrication, too, of such imperious and angel-subduing pride, its tremendous landscape rears up with icy peaks and vertiginous ravines even within the confines of a wristwatch or a sugarcube, to remind you of an 18th century copperplate print of the Swiss Alps, pitched at the trembling edge where the picturesque and pastoral morphs into the Gothic and sensational, where Reason plays Russian roulette with God and Satan and that whole starry crew of unleashed dogs and singed and smoking wings and letting-go…

When we’ve finished here, do you fancy a coffee?

 

 


from the series construct (2012–present, ongoing)

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