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It begins with a tomato.

A ripening tomato. It will be sliced in half, along with the others, and laid out to dry in the sun next to the terraced olive grove shaking violently in the wind. She turns this one in her hand though, because she has just become aware of something: it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful because she has grown it herself, she will eat it and it will be delicious, or else she will exchange it for some other thing. It’s wonderful because it’s a beautiful thing in itself, in its own right, round and red, taut skin, aromatic, sharp even. In the recent Italian film, Quiet Bliss, this moment makes my heart leap. It’s the moment when our protagonist, forced through debt and eviction to learn to live off the land, acknowledges and takes delight in the things around and before her. It’s a moment, something like freedom. There is no trace of sentimentality here, but I sense we are yearning for such moments of delight in our lives, in our art forms and in our storytelling.

And so, I wonder, what might an age of delight look like? We have been keen to name epochs. We have had a dark age, an age of enlightenment, now supposedly the digital age, amongst others. What if we embraced the natural world in a way that forges a kind of ecological aesthetic, one that delights in the complexity and creativity of life? Could language be a key? Might we delight in our words, in the very forms and structures, bending them and twisting them to our own desire? After all, these things have always been ours. Could the sensual and the sublime be dangerous, subversive? Might we remember the painters, the composers, the writers, the singers, the mystics and the ecstatics throughout all of human history who have insisted on this? As people concerned with the current state of things, we are long accustomed to the tragic, the cruel, the violent, the unimaginative, the cynical and just downright bad news. We could do with more exchanges in delight.

Meanwhile, somewhere, there’s a tomato ripening in the sun.

—Cybèle McNeil is an Australian cultural anthropologist and playwright.

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