Talking about Freedom

I’ve just been watching a documentary about Jean Paul Sartre, produced by the BBC in 1999. The BBC being the BBC and he being a radical iconoclast, I half expected it to turn into a hatchet-job.  I was pleasantly surprised, though. It does portray the man ‘warts and all’ but one is left with the impression that his warts were, on the whole, the kind that might well be found on any thinking person who lived through the middle of the twentieth century, were they to be this closely examined. It comes round to a positive, affirming conclusion, I think.  ‘He gave our generation a sense of freedom that directed our lives’, says one of those interviewed.  ‘We made choices which I think we can still identify with. I’m just aware that at the present time, the message of freedom that Sartre is delivering is not accepted as if this burden of freedom that he’s putting on everyone’s shoulders is too weighty . Maybe we are in a time when people don’t want to hear about freedom.’

That was  17 years ago. These days, I would argue, people seem to me to want to hear about it even less. To be clear, Sartre was taking about the freedom that we exercise from moment to moment to choose what we do next and, by so doing, to shape the individual we become – a freedom which, as he said, carries with it inevitable anxiety.  Exercising freedom, for Sartre, is a risky business – it’s easier to conform. He famously said that people were condemned to freedom. He also said that the French were most “free” when under German occupation: there were no easy ways out, no comfortable fall-back positions. One had to make frightening choices. Similarly, were he alive today, he might say that the refugees who make terrifying sea-journeys to reach Europe are more “free” than the Europeans they’ll have to live among. The pursuit of freedom is the  assigned lot of those who are driven to make difficult decisions or feel empowered enough to stand up for themselves (and, for that matter, for others). For my money, Jean Paul Sartre still has the power to empower.

 

 

Walking through the fields at twilight

Walking through the fields at twilight 
it's as if this is the only time 
and that daytime and night-time 
are no more than dreams of longing. 
Little has changed since I first went 
walking through the fields at twilight: 
it's as if this is the only time 
and the new house on the hill 
is no more than a dream 
and the spinning of the earth 
is no more than a dream: 
the sun is set, the moon is risen and I'm 
walking through the fields at twilight. 
It's as if this is the only time 
and that I have always been a man 
forever neither young nor old 
and the stones are the same stones 
and the trees I walk under 
have hardly changed since I first went 
walking through the fields at twilight. 
It's as if this is the only time 
and that daytime and night-time 
are no more than dreams of longing. 

(c) Sackerson, 2016

A Trip to the Hebrides

I came across a documentary about one of my favourite films this morning and spent a happy half hour watching it. It dawned on me as I did so that I had seen it before but I enjoyed watching it nevertheless.

In the film, Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) takes a trip to Scotland to marry her rich fiancé on the fictional Hebridean island of Kiloran. Bad weather prevents her from making the final crossing to the island. Waiting to make the trip she is forced to spend time with Torquil MacNiel (Roger Livesey) and his friends. As a result, Joan discovers that she’d rather catch her salmon in a river than buy it in a tin.

Not only does the film tell a gripping story – it’s also peppered with the quirky details that make Powell-Pressburger films so enjoyable. There are a couple in that well-chosen, two and a half minute clip above. Most famously, perhaps, there’s a roadside telephone box at the foot of a waterfall. It was built in the Summer. No-one realised that the waterfall was so loud the rest of the year that no-one using the box would be able to make themselves heard. The box actually exists – on Mull. Powell-Pressburger fans make pilgrimages to  the island to see it.