In those few minutes between sleep and full wakefulness, sometimes strange, random thoughts emerge. I suppose they may be remnants of a passing dream though no dream can be recalled. Most mornings, for me, those random musings disappear to join the forgotten dreams once the distractions of the waking day demand our attention. Not so this morning.
My prominent thought on waking was an interview I’d watched, some ten or more years ago, with the environmentalist and magazine editor, Satish Kumar. The interview was one in a series filmed by a regional radio and podcast group, and its signature question, always coming at the end, was to ask their subject what they thought was the purpose of life.
As I remembered it, Mr. Kumar at first seemed taken aback by the question. Then he burst forth with an answer. The purpose of life is to LIVE! Everyone seemed overjoyed with this, not least Mr. Kumar.
Now what I was thinking this morning was, though it is a good answer in the context of end of interview drama, it is also quite a useless one. Useless, that is, for anyone seeking a meaningful answer to the profound question.
Now the speed of thought travels close to the speed of light, and I apologise that it travels faster than it takes to read the above, but what can I do? As quick as that, I was thinking about Haiku, the Japanese short-form poetry. The rules of haiku seem disproportionate to its length, and are quite specific and demanding. Transposed to English, and I suppose western languages in general, it takes the form of three lines comprising precisely 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively. The whole poem must at least imply an momentary aspect of nature and a season.
After all these imposed complications, it may seem funny that Matsuo Bashō, the Japanese master of the form, said that Haiku is, or ought to be, useless. I’m not clear what he might have meant by this; pointless, mundane, banal, perhaps?
No time to hang about this one, only seconds away from wakefulness, racing on, my thoughts settled on an old derogatory turn of phrase, a put-down, likely picked up from an older relative,
“…neither use nor ornament”.
As someone involved in solving design problems and now being casually interested in most aspects of design, I find the words sum up what I feel is wrong with most stuff. Stuff being all that is manufactured and therefore, you would think, made for a purpose, whether that purpose was purely practical or aesthetic, or a proportion of each of those. Of course, there’s too much which satisfies neither and for those items the phrase is most apt.
At this point I decided there was no point lying in bed and got up, washed and dressed, had breakfast and then typed this up. I’m wondering whether a new post category is in order – Useless.