Last week I had the good fortune to hear one of my favourite writers Jim Crace talking about his new book “All That Follows”. He’d decided to write it in the present tense (which he said is a bit of a “no no” for self respecting novelists) because the past tense can be so “pompous”! I found his talk about the use of tenses in narrative inspiring and fascinating. His argument went like this: we humans have a unique ability, amongst the creatures on this planet, to tell stories and we usually tell them in the past tense using the traditional conventions …once upon a time…long ago…. because this gives us the power to shape what we are telling. On the other hand comedians usually share their jokes in the present tense. They tell their anecdotes as if they too were hearing the punchline for the first time.
There’s a certain irony that I’m reflecting on this whilst our political life is on hold after the General Election and we are in the mid-flow of parties negotiating the future government of the country. The UK is stuck alarmingly in the present tense of events as they unfold. And, after listening to Jim Crace I’ve noticed that all those media commentators reporting on the situation are trying so hard to spin a narrative and interpret what is happening without the shamanistic power of the past tense to help them. This only adds to the uncertainty and anxiety. On the other hand the jokey present tense commentary on Twitter seems a much more comforting and appropriate way of reporting what is happening. For me microblogging as reportage has come into its own. Here’s some of the tweets posted by commedian Armando Iannucci to show you what I mean!