Thursday, 26 March 2009

Coming down with Wordsworth and Human Traffic

Comedowns are an inconvenient reality. Whether they are alcohol or drug-induced, or merely the realisation of a natural high’s termination, the after-effects of a good time tend to taint enjoyable experiences.

William Wordsworth, a poet preoccupied with notions of the sublime and solitude, pleasure and pain, formed a model of what we might now call ‘post-session depression’ in his poem, ‘Resolution and Independence’. Although written in 1802, the lyric poem is relevant to anybody who has ever experienced a low that follows a high:

But, as it sometimes chanceth, from the might
Of joys in minds that can no further go,
As high as we have mounted in delight
In our dejection do we sink as low;

This passage from the third stanza encapsulates Wordsworth’s exploration of the immediacy between joy and dejection; that to experience the pinnacle of pleasure is to automatically become despondent.

Human Traffic may not necessarily be the most obvious contemporary cultural reference in relation to poetry of the Romantic period, but the film does bear some ideological resemblance to Wordsworth’s verse.

The film follows Jip (played by John Simm) and his friends as they indulge in the drug and club culture of the 90s and, when Simm’s character discusses ecstasy, his sentiments are reminiscent of Wordsworth’s: “We risk sanity for moments of temporary enlightenment.”

Jip then turns to the fragility and temporality of joy detailed by Wordsworth, “The last thought killed by anticipation of the next.” Although Wordsworth is sober and Pip under the amphetamine's influence, the two have in common a delight in the present but also an awareness that this dream-like state will at any moment switch to despair.

It is not only an eternal search for enlightenment which the Romantics poets and clubbers of Human Traffic have in common. Where natural delirium fails to ignite, both have sought alternative highs, primarily of the chemical variety.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, composer of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, famously pushed the self-destruct button when searching for inspiration later in his life; his alternative high, opium, eventually contributed to his death. Compared to Coleridge, Pete Doherty looks less a tortured soul, more a mischievous schoolboy sneakily sipping on his parents’ sherry.

‘Resolution and Independence’, however, is not concerned with the pursuit of an intoxicating escape from reality but, rather, a natural clarification of matters of joy and dejection.

One doesn’t necessarily need to be recovering from a drug’s side-effects to endure a comedown. For example, having experienced the rapture of a concert or the rush of a last-minute winner at a football match, once the immediate joy has passed, it seems that the only way for our spirits is down.

The culmination of expectations and ecstasy of the moment mean that, even in perfect sobriety, we have entered the highest point of pleasure and, as a result, we immediately enter a state of decline.

No comments: