A sombre weekend is sometimes really useful and sometimes really difficult. I listened to ethereal soundscapes as the sun slowly ebbed away. I made tea and watched words shimmer upon its surface. It’s the kind of combination that can fuel anything, and thus it demands a lot more of me.
The quietude has allowed a quiet reassessment of the use of the public. Public and private are a dichotomy, yet not straightforward opposites.
The understanding of public and private (but especially public) has long rested on several key concerns: one being public and private ‘spheres’, of voice and discussion; another being the public and private life, of sociability and community.
A new virtual public and private inextricably links these together in a fascinating and yet daunting way.
For months, the British boxer David Haye has used the public sphere outrageously. Boxing fans have voiced disapproval at his tasteless antics, and the swift turn to excuses following a limp defeat to Wladimir Klitschko rendered his public vulgarity all the more galling. Defeat means there is only more to lose through belligerence.
The public sphere feeds incessantly upon ‘ego’. And, of course, boxing is extraordinary in this capacity. But ‘public’ is, after all, a collective extension of ourselves. Hubris supported by performance is often commendable. Bravery. Confidence. Heroism. Hubris without it – stupidity. It’s the context that determines whether words are placed on the right or wrong side of the divide.
Does the private sphere escape these egoist traits?
The private is more perplexing. It demands more effort, leaves more silence, and provokes more unanswered questions. The private requires its own confidence and more thought about communication. It’s easy to be forgotten, but it also carries the power to be memorable or needed.
It has become increasingly difficult to engage privately. ‘Publicness’ has considerable benefits in a digital environment, and one cannot easily impart a personality or demonstrate sociability through silence.
To be public is to be transparent. There is a comfort in having discourse where everything can be seen. It’s also more immediate and more visible. Ask a question or send a message privately, and a response may never come. On the other hand, “I haven’t heard from you!’ somewhere visible will likely procure a response. Nobody wants to look bad publicly for having ignored something.
The private, as always, has its darker side. There are things channelled privately that nobody would dare say publicly. And being behind a virtual device, there’s a mask to say almost anything without consequence, however harmful.
For this author, the most challenging negotiation between public and private has not changed: the quest for private sovereignty. The pride I build is in my own principles, and in private acts. To divulge them, which may (or may not) afford me a little credit, would only destroy what made them special. Dignity is possibly the most private thing there is to hold.
Thank you, as ever, for continued support, visits, encouragement, and patience.