..this was the road to civilisation, sure enough, but its cost was a loss of diversity, of the quiet kind of flourishing that goes where things are not being built and goals driven towards. She herself relished the early Saxon world, in which concepts of power had not yet been reconfigured; for in a way the Dark Ages were themselves a version of ‘the new reality’, were the broken pieces of the biggest plate of all, the Roman Empire. Some called it darkness, the aftermath of that megalomanical all-conquering unity, but not Mrs Lewis. She liked it, liked the untenanted wastes, liked the monasteries and the visionaries, the early religious writings, liked the women who accrued stature in those formless inchoate centuries, liked the grassroots – the personal – level on which issues of justice and belief had now to be resolved, in the absence of that great administrator civilisation.
The point was that this darkness – call it what you will – this darkness and disorganisation were not mere negation, mere absence. They were both aftermath and prelude. The etymology of the word ‘aftermath’ is ‘second mowing’, a second crop of grass that is sown and reaped after the harvest is in. Civilisation, order, meaning, belief: these were not sunlit peaks to be reached by a steady climb. They were built and then they fell, were built and fell again or were destroyed. The darkness, the disorganisation that succeeded them had their own existence, their own integrity; were betrothed to civilisation, as sleep is betrothed to activity. In the life of compartments lies the possibility of unity, just as unity contains the prospect of atomisation. Better, in Mrs Lewis’s view, to live the compartmentalised, the disorganised life and feel the dark stirrings of creativity, than to dwell in civilised unity, racked by the impulse to destroy.
I just re-read Rachel Cusk’s Aftermath: on Marriage and Separation in preparation for early next year when a group of writer/editor friends and I are meeting in Melbourne for a one-off book club to discuss this book over dinner and the reviews it received and how it was interpreted (one of the reviews even won hatchet job of the year).. and I loved this book when I first read it but I love it ten times more now.