Friday, 10 February 2012

Entropy - Everything Is Broken

Not one of his very best, there's a befuddled, middle-aged innocence to the central conceit in this song, Everything Is Broken, from Dylan's album Oh Mercy.  He pokes around, bothered by the crashing of china, the snapping of tools and furniture.  Disorder and confusion everywhere.  He cannot turn round without something else hitting the floor. Just what it feels like when you're trying to tidy up.

The world is as he says; everything is broken, not destroyed, just a bit broken.  It's all a matter of time, if it's not broken now, it will be in the future; if it's repaired, it will be broken again. 

Dylan's song is the testament of a puzzled, but cheerfully up-tempo Cassandra. He doesn't like things crashing about and the sound of breaking glass.  Man-made objects shatter into rubbish.  Rocks crumble into sand and timber into humus. That's entropy, isn't it?  I speak with equal befuddlement.  But it's all running down, falling to bits, flying apart, isn't it?

How can we extract an enlightenment value out of this idea?  For I see that as a reasonable purpose in life, and in these pieces.  I used to believe in something I called "splitting and clumping - the music of the spheres".  It seemed to me to sum up a sort of heavy breathing of the universe, in, out, together, apart.  That process is as evident in human affairs, where things are broken, then re-organised in new units, as in the carbon cycle.  But now I see that that's just part of the advance towards eventual destruction.  Splitting looks like what will win in the end.

Well, I've started heavily, time to lighten up.  As we race back to England through the vast prairies of South Eastern France, most things look complete and continuous.  Ploughed stretches of gently curving soil, extending to the horizon.  I could beg for breakages here - shards of woodland, scraps of farm buildings, ragged trees and copses.  I exaggerate their lack; all these things are here, but nothing is messy or confused, agriculture dominates, reason and confidence speed the plough.  No pictures, our train is too fast; accidenti, as Italians say, my camera is broken.

We've had our Italian roof repaired and the tractor tyres and endless broken garage impedimenta are mostly gone.  Equally the soaked and rotting furniture from the bedroom, the plastic bags of detritus and history, the old fur coat and bike.  The cellar is still full, dozens of bottles of old peaches and tomatoes, some of those nice wide glass bottles, an old freezer, believed empty.

What remains is not very comforting yet, if you're looking for the serenity of an ordered and clean environment.  But we'll get there.  Reparations and renovations are our purpose and desire.  We're not going to be long about it, as we are not architectural perfectionists and entropy will eventually get us anyhow.  Plus, I prefer gardening.

The fierce winter weather has left shattered branches and scorched leaves in its wake.  The vast conifers prove their worth in the snow, holding the snow beautifully, letting it go gracefully.  We have none in our garden however, and I'm grateful not to have to put up with gigantic dark presences all year.  Funny how they have to be half covered up before they look nice.

Broad-leaved evergreens however - there's another story.  Laurel is drunkenly splayed, the leaves scorched brown.  More than a reproach, they're a positive smiting.

Elsewhere quite thick branches have sheered away from deciduous trees.  So now I understand some of the reasons behind the extraordinarily heavy pruning and pollarding that seems to be considered necessary here.  Look how harshly some trees are beaten into submission.  If it's not broken yet, break it before it will be seems to be the motto.

And yet look at how lovely the fruit and nut trees are.  Darkly drawn against the snow in their ordered formations,  they're multiplied quincunxes shaped by care and mathematics.

I could almost regret those apricots trees we have to lose, because of death and disintegration.  But a local farmer has planted hazelnuts in a broad swathe above our house. Those measured twigs are an excellent discovery.  It does seem to me that mature hazelnuts which have been well-pruned don't hold the snow - here are some which don't seem to have been as prepared as well as others.

Before we leave Italy, here's a vision of entropy set in the middle of nowhere.  Nature is doing its best, but perhaps it's just a concrete abstraction - a tax-break of some kind?  An art-work?  The countryside round here is mostly practical.  Time is not wasted on the follies of beauty or elegance unless the church plays its part.  But everything more or less works, and so many people are charming and kind.

In the song, Dylan has again hit some sort of nail neatly on its damaged head.  The song expands into broken hearts, broken promises, broken rules and laws.  It's an idea of endless application and fertility. If you have had the pleasure of reading Chronicles Volume 1 by Bob Dylan, you may agree with me that the eyes that observed all those people and events, all those rooms, all those closely described furnishings and woodwork, they seem to be the eyes of Everything Is Broken.  Out of the smashing and the falling, something is always rescued, for a little longer.  Renewal is possible, for a time.  But it's a bit of a battle, for all of us.


  1. Although a bit bleak both in the words and (some) of the pictures I loved this one. The hazlenut trees are so sweet and obedient.

  2. @ Anonymous. Well thank you for this comment. How right you are about both sweetness and bleakness - the bleakness had the edge. Tried to keep it up there, but it got the better of me!

  3. Thanks for this post Jane. Bleak indeed, but no more than the subject matter warrants, and I felt much supported by the final three sentences. Fine appreciation of the Bob song and good words to take forward in times of apparently chaotic destruction and confusion. Battling with illness in the family, and the garden overtaken by the breaking up of snow and frost......but recovery is underway for the people and green shoots will show me renewal. Thanks for your help in seeing it.

  4. Jenny G, thank you so much. How lovely to know that it was heartening! I could not ask for more. My best wishes for you and yours.