Like the sentinel moon

Home life people Like the sentinel moon

In our increasingly shrill, buffoonish world, immodest and exhibitionist, a certain cool detachment may well become the most striking and unusual of qualities. It's not only brand names that are eager to elbow or trample their way into our consciousness, gesturing wildly and uttering deafening howls; politicians, film directors, writers and musicians do the same, clamouring to be seen as original or acclaimed as outright geniuses: this has become the norm for anyone with something to sell or a desire to be recognised. In the general hubbub, all those ranting voices are at risk of cancelling each other out; advertising campaigns overlap, merge, and hardly anyone can remember which company or business was behind which particularly successful advertisement or slogan. Our human capacity for absorbing information remains limited, as does our memory, our attention span, our interest and our powers of concentration. Feeling overwhelmed, bullied and buffeted merely encourages one to switch off and ignore the flood of enticements and entreaties. Nothing is more counterproductive than making someone feel they are under siege. Nothing is less alluring than over-exposure. Nothing arouses less curiosity than an excess of light and information. Nothing is more alarming than the sense of being invaded.

We have largely forgotten the power of mystery; very few of us dare to appear elusive, that is, to reveal only a little of ourselves and then withdraw, leaving behind only a memory of that brief appearance and making anyone who glimpsed it long for more. The reason Shakespeare still remains so intensely alive four hundred years after his death is because his texts are often enigmatic, but not so enigmatic as to be indecipherable. You can understand them, but, if you pause and study them in detail, you realise how very ambiguous they can be, that they are not as easy to understand as you thought on a first reading. They illuminate, but more in the manner of an explosion in the night than of a huge lamp lighting up a living room. That is, they illuminate, but at the same time retain an inner mystery, they are surrounded by shadow and provide food for thought; they invite you to enter in, to explore and to woo them, and their refusal to give you everything only makes you want to tease still more meaning out of them.

Today, perhaps, a brand name with a long pedigree and a long history should be bold enough to ‘withdraw', to remain in the shadows, to put up a little resistance and play hard to get. Instead of invading and overwhelming, instead of pushing and shoving, instead of making a noise reminiscent of tyres screeching to a halt, instead of creating ever more dazzle and glitter, and continually trying to startle and alarm, perhaps such a brand name should give off instead an air of cool detachment, like some world-weary person who has seen and heard it all and is therefore unimpressed. This detached person looks around him and watches the new shrieking multitudes rushing past - doomed to be ephemeral and to disappear. He is like the sentinel moon, which on some nights, despite everything – and despite man having set foot on it nearly half a century ago – still obliges us to look up and gaze at it in fascination. A brand name like that should pretend to be eternally imperturbable, and, at the same time, visible, never the same, but slowly changing, just as the moon changes - a natural artist since time began.

Javier Marías