Unfulfilled Utopias (Anarchy in Arcady)

Everybody in the UK is doing nostalgia this week. I find this tricky because I am instinctively a republican but on the other hand I do have a warrant signed by Her Queen, being Regius Prof and all that. So I willl compromise and try a bit of Saxe-Coburg-free nostalgia.

I have been doing a spot of tidying up and so rummaging amongst childhood books and parental effects. Back in the sixties, it seemed obvious that by the year 2012 we would be well on the way to World Government. Hah. And there would be no war. Hah. And we would have jet packs. Hah. And we would all work less. Hah. After a bit longer (23rd century according to Star Trek) money would no longer exist or even have a meaning. We would be transitioning to the money-less economy by having computerised money stored on microchips in our clothing. Hmm. Almost there… And of course Engerlund would be the bestest footy team forever !!! On the other hand, cricket-wise we would be rubbish for ever and probably Gary Sobers would be beatified. I did have a friend who taught in a school with lots of West Indian kids, and one of them brought her an apple on Gary Sobers’ birthday. No, really.

Well, we did get the Beatles, and the Internet, and credit cards, so much of the time Hoi Polloi were happy enough. But now we are waking up to realise that the rich have been taking the piss out of us for thirty years, and we are still being fooled. (Nice interview with Paul Krugman here .) I write this carefully as a moderately well paid person, right on the divide between those who have made no progress and those who have grabbed loadsa money.  The honourable vision of European government also seems to have gone horribly wrong, and is adding to the problem.

More rummaging.  Came across some old bits and pieces belonging to me Mum. She died a few years ago. Among these was a store discount card, labelled “Valid in Arcadia”. This seemed very strangely poignant.

Arcadia is a group of companies. My father worked for Debenhams, who were bought up by Burtons, which begat the Arcadia group, which then splintered again, or something like that. Anyhoo, just before retiring my dad was entitled to a staff discount card, valid in any Arcadia group store.

Arcadia is a real place – a province of Greece. I have no idea if it is suffering more or less than the rest of Greece, but I think things are bad everywhere. Chaos and poverty.

Through much of European history however, Arcadia has been a symbol of pastoral simplicity and timelessness. Most of the ancient Greeks lived in cities by the sea, but the Arcadians were shepherds and farmers : innocent and happy. Then Poussin went and put a bitter taste into our mouths, with his famous painting. Shepherds gather around a grim tomb engraved with the words  “Et in Arcadia Ego”. Even in Arcadia, death is here.

In our innocent happy times, your credit card works and you can buy yourself a new hat whenever you like. But eventually all that is left is the piece of plastic embossed with the reminder that death too comes to Arcadia.

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6 Responses to Unfulfilled Utopias (Anarchy in Arcady)

  1. telescoper says:

    Arcadia also gave its name (indirectly) to the Cajuns of Louisiana, via the French-speaking former Canadian province of Acadia. Hence the expression “Et in Arcadia Zydeco”

  2. andyxl says:

    I am a big fan of Clifton Chenier, but still have no idea what you are talking about.

    • telescoper says:

      “Cajun” is a corruption of “Acadian”. The (French-speaking) Cajuns were kicked out of Canada by the British and eventually wound up in Louisiana, taking their wonderful Creole patois, music and cooking with them. Not a lot of people know that.

      • andyxl says:

        Well lawks a muzzy. Did not know that.

      • You just need more familiarity with American English (which Peter has obtained on various occasions). Once you start pronouncing “Indian” as “Injun”, it is obvious that “Cajuns” come from “Acadia”.

        Saw Joan Baez Sunday night. Since one of her musicians was from Louisiana, she worked in some deep-south pronunciation at one point, completely hilarious. I’ve heard that her Dylan impression is spot-on, but have never experienced it. By the way, her cousin is a famous proto-blogger, now graduated to full blogger (and even on WordPress).

  3. […] blog post yesterday by Andy Lawrence put the word Arcady into my head, and thus reminded me of this poem by William […]

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