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Thursday, 26 January 2017

Forgetting to Remember

'For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.' - Elie Wiesel
'Forgetting the extermination is part of the extermination itself.' - Jean Baudrillard

It’s a common incantation that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it (George Santayana, 1906); it comes out with the familiar litany of prosaic quotes to mark historic anniversaries and commemorations, it prefaces innumerable texts, and it serves as an effective justification for any historical analysis. I’ve even written it on the inside cover of my dissertation notebook. And yet, whilst we remember this incantation, do we always remember to remember the past?

Tomorrow, January 27 2017, marks international Holocaust Memorial Day: a day completely and totally dedicated to remembering the Holocaust, to remembering not to forget it.

Iconic scene from Spielberg's (1993) 'Schindler's List'. Source: photo by Allstar/Cinetext/Universal - © Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar from Imdb.com

I’ve struggled with the idea of having a defined temporal bracket set aside for the purpose of memorial for a while, traceable, I think, to when I sat cross-legged on the floor of a classroom, listening to my primary-school teacher translating the news of some bombings in London and asking us all to be quiet for a minute to remember the victims. Amidst several other fidgeting, cross-legged kids, I scrunched my eyes together and tried to will myself into remembering. Every few seconds I’d soften the scrunch in one eye to a split vision, quickly checking that everyone else was still remembering. I’d then resume my scrunch and focus on my own remembering. I don’t think I ever thought about the victims for more than a few negligible seconds; what really occupied my minute of remembering were tangential thought processes about the act of remembering, about why on earth I was being told to sit in silence and remember something that no one I knew had experienced and I certainly hadn’t experienced, or about what other people were thinking about and, oh dear! I wasn’t actually remembering what I was supposed to remember! I kept forgetting to remember it! I’ve observed countless minutes of silence since my cross-legged, scrunched-eyes experience, and I always find myself coming back to this circular questioning of performing commemoration of particular memories within a defined, imposed minute of silence – or, by extension, a universally dedicated day.

From the outset, I want to be clear that I do not dispute the dedication of minutes of silence or days of dedicated memorial to remembering particular events/victims. What I seek to question is the everyday alternative – are, the everyday alternatives, I should say – to these normalised forms of ritualised commemoration.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

In critique of critique

At Cambridge, critique is something constantly drilled into you, thrown at you and encouraged from you. And I've noticed in my everyday life that I'm much more critical of things, I'm 'very much more political', as my mom would have it. It's something I'm grateful to have gained from my time at Cambridge, so far, and an aspect of my course that keeps me going when I've got sixty dense pages of reading notes to get through in one afternoon for the umpteenth supervision essay of the term and I'd really rather not read about the historiography of milk consumption. Genuinely.

Critique to me is a form of analysis, engagement, a means of reading and interpreting the world that expands upon the black and white frame given to you. But I think there's a limit to critique, and a backbone to it. Critique is an Achilles heel. It's necessary, but it's often essentialist, and I think there's a point to be made about critiquing critique: its application, its point and its context. 

Monday, 12 December 2016

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Let Others cycle in Cambridge


Turn right away from the track, down the road of tennis courts and cottages dressed in autumn, heading towards the traffic lights; the turning I took after my first training session with CUAC, whence I spent an hour and a half transgressing a ten minute journey back to college. Head straight on at the traffic lights, over the wooden xylophonetic bridge and up around the lefthand corner; dodge the cyclists racing back from the UL and walk the steps where I discussed intersectional feminism and setting up societies with friends. Cross the lights I've run a thousand times in makeshift interval sessions clothed in the escape from work, and walk up over the bridge past Trinity and Tit Hall, on which I scattered sequins and stars as I ran over it and back to pose for pictures with friends before King's Affair. Turn right past chalked signs pointing To The River and over cobbled stones, past the room in which I discussed postmodernism over tea and red wine in the early hours of the morning and the gateway in front of which I posed in tacky Christmas jumpers, turning left again and then right. Trinity Lane and King's Parade: the heart of Cambridge. Walk past the spires of King's chapel, the wall I jumped off at 6am in a white ball gown and stupid-inch heels after a ball, where I sat eating sushi with friends and past which I loudly speculated to tour-guides trying to sell me punting trips that I was neither here nor there. Past the haunt of coffee shops and unproductive dates, the bookstores I've convinced myself another two, or three, or five, books can do no harm, and the route I walked whilst trying to convince a guy I wasn't his soul mate, or whatever. Past Catz, the college in which I first encountered the prospect of studying in Cambridge. Past the sandwich shop that sells over-priced ice creams but is the only place that stocks them in January so I buy them anyway. Keep walking. That's how I constitute my geography of Cambridge. Flâner; wander, aimlessly, solitary. The world is yours for the making, as they say. 

Except maybe it's not. 

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Writing my public space

"There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see." - Leondardo da Vinci

Johannesburg was my first city. Vanderbijlpark was my first town. London was my first metropolis. Cambridge was my first home. These places are all integral to who I am; their grid lines, their street names, their dead ends and their hidden buildings, their territorial boundaries, are as much a part of me as the fact that I have brown, chestnut hair, that I always have my toe-nails painted red, that I'm never without a book. Pemberley, Derbyshire is where I first fell in love. Molching, Munich is where I learned a love of words as freedom from the oppressive political climate in which I lived. Long Island and New York are where I learnt the fallacy of wealth and obsession. They may be fictive, but these geographies and their associated memories, learnt from Austen, Zusak and Fitzgerald, are no less constitutive of my identity nor less real to my sense of public space than Joburg, Vanderbijlpark, London and Cambridge. Because my perceptions of space and place aren't objectively granted, and neither are yours. They're written. By you, by others, by me. 


Geography is, linguistically, about writing the world. Geo-Graphy. Earth-Writing. It's inherently subjective and situated. Geography, at heart, is a personal interpretation, shaped by personal experience and perception. My geography of London is not the same as yours, or anyone else's, for that matter. Let's go beyond the gridlines and the barriers, the street names and the territorial boundaries, to the emotional and the psychological constitution of space in its identity as place.

Geography is as much an art as a science. You can get a sense of a space physically by analysing the geomorphological make-up of the rocks, or the biodiversity of its biomes, or the pollution of the air. But you cannot get a sense of place that is objective, scientific. It is, by trite definition, subjective. That's what makes it a place. Calling a space a 'place' gives it an identity. And this identity is unique to each person.   

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

F WORDS AND B WORDS

We're all equal now, and I can walk the streets as freely as my brother, right?
Spoiler: wrong.



Today as I walked to fetch my sister from school, a grand total of three drivers in the space of one road honked their horns voraciously as they drove past me, leaning out of the window and staring unabashedly rather than focusing on the road ahead. It's nothing out of the ordinary, and I'm used to it. I'm used to hastening my step and pulling my coat tighter. It's normal to cross the road or redirect my route if a group of burly men are up ahead. It's a reflex to walk past shouts and whistles without showing any sign of having heard a thing, tightening my facial muscles and gritting my teeth, pronouncing, irrespective of the truth, that I had a boyfriend and was on the way to meet him, when a random guy on the street approaches me and asks what my plans were for the evening, refusing to leave until the B word is spoken. All part of negotiating my everyday. But today those skin-jumping honks were three too many. I'm fed up of this discrimination being part of the patchwork construing my everyday; I'm fed up of them informing my imaginative geographies and the ways I perceive places; and I'm fed up of their existence being contingent upon the presence of a male, be this physically with me or imaginatively referenced. 

Friday, 2 September 2016

Fresh, man

September. New highlighters, new loafers, new goals. A new school year. A new beginning. September is, in my academia-led life, my New Year. 

A blurred capture of the Wren library at dusk after listening to Trinity choir sing on punts, as we rushed through the college to pre's. An apt capture of the frenzy of undergraduate days in Cambridge. One of my favourite pictures of first year, precisely because of its innocent ineptitude and undue glory, its unabashed identity. 

This October someone else will sit at my desk by the window to a 20cm wide balcony, leaning back in the way my year 9 German teacher told us not to on the chair that should have been, according to my room itinerary, a swirly chair, and gazing intermittently at the three drooping shelves above their head and the people playing basketball on the courts outside, in lieu of the blank word document staring at them from a virginal laptop screen. Someone else will spend hours pinning polaroids onto the small board by the desk and imprint holes into their fingers for the next week. It'll be someone else's heart in their mouth as they boil the kettle they brought with them under the advice of every cliche Fresher Guide on the internet in the corner of the room with the balcony door jarred open, as far away from the smoke detector as possible for fear of being that person who sets off the alarms and forces everyone outside. The room will tell different stories. That night planned to be a mean feat of tackling an essay crisis which spontaneously turned into a four hour long tea party might become instead a spontaneous 3am Coldplay rave. The solid week the room spent covered in glitter, sequins and stars, with white tie dresses, ball tickets, high heels and red lipsticks lying in a mosaic across the floor and covering all but the very shyest peeks of furniture might instead be a week of binge-watched Gilmore Girls episodes with new friends huddled around a small laptop screen, covered in an array of quilts and dotted with sliced apples covered in peanut butter and biscotti. The 3am phone calls complete with cross country pacing around the room in a vain hunt for signal may instead be a reel of early morning inspiration, of poetry sprawled across discarded Sainsbury's receipts. It'll be someone else's room in October, but N15 will always be my room. And changing its resident and the stories it'll tell a year later doesn't erase my residency or the stories I protagonised.