Some of you may have noticed a suspicious silence the past few months. My apologies. I got a little broken. Maybe you know the feeling? The times when you feel like you’re living in a wat of honey? Something slow-moving and unbreathable at any rate.
For the most part it has meant that I’ve been disinclined to talk. Or write, or make or print or bake. Do any of those things that would mark me out as being alive. So I haven’t been still, I just haven’t been here. Turns out Sartre (and a whole other bunch of more depressing existentialists) had it to rights, being in-itself is well nigh impossible for people. So this is to say: I’m sorry I disappeared, I am here now, I will catch myself (and you) up and I am project.
Normal is fragile (and if you recognise the reference, delusional) and much helped by the presence of friends. Thank you, and much love.
Also, how much do I love this song?
Like most people who read blogs, I’d been reading them longer than I’ve been writing my own. And one of my favourite reads is the monthly installment put together by the DUFC (down under feminists’ carnival). Yes, I know the logo has an apostrophe missing – I love them anyway! This month I’ll be hosting the carnival so you can look forward to reading about the crème de la crème of feminist bloggers from hereish. In the meantime, those of you who are from hereish and write blogs, should submit some posts! To submit you must: identify as a feminist, identify as being from australasia and have written something in the month of april that you’d like us to read.
Go take a gander, submit through the carnival website, or if that fails (sigh! the vagaries of the internet and suchlike) shoot me an email with it instead. And I should mention, the deadline is the 5th of May, but I am subject to more vagaries than the internet and as such, the earlier I have the submissions the happier I’ll be. There could be cookies.
Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (affectionately know as babasaheb) was born on the 14th of April, 1891. He was from a harijan (untouchable) caste and campaigned his entire life for the rights and lives of his people. And all day today people have been terribly troubled by the celebrations in the streets to mark the anniversary of his birth. I have heard twice that this day is problematic because none of the cleaners (and cooks and chandals and chamars and all those other people who perform essential functions and are then either shunned or patronised or both) are coming in to work. And several people have mentioned that the streets are too full and the music too loud at the demonstrations being held all around Pune. If it weren’t so infuriating, it would amuse me. And not just because when these people speak of caste based discrimination, they all use the past tense.
I am willing to consider the argument that the caste system was a complex and mutable thing. And that the creation of a monolithic and immutable hierarchy lies at the door of british ethnographers. But babasaheb Ambedkar had it to rights – all harijans who abide by the religious and cultural practices of hinduism derive no benefit from doing so. And that living on the outside of a religion that does not accept their presence as human does qualify them as having entirely different needs and beliefs. The politics here are of affinity under a system of enforced identity, and oh the power of claiming that with pride. It’s no surprise of course that he and Gandhi had radically different views on the nature, cause and function of the castes in India. Or that Gandhi bitterly opposed Ambedkar’s proposal of forming separate electorates for harijans even though he considered them necessary for other discriminated against groups and religions within India.
So today I get to celebrate a man who read and wrote and thought when all around him were desperately trying to pretend he didn’t exist while also adding to my ever growing list of why Gandhi was an annoying pest. Remind me to post that sometime. In the meantime, and if you’re interested, go read babasaheb’s paper on the genesis and function of caste, or better yet his thesis on who the shudras were. I need more friends who’ve read this stuff!
Poetry and mental illness
In my honours year I did a research project on the links between mental illness and artistic genius. The purpose of course was to enquire into the commonly referenced idea that madness is a necessary condition for the production of brilliant work. The research, unsurprisingly, is much more ambiguous than popular belief. And much more cautious about making statements regarding causation.
One reason for this ambiguity in the research is because, by and large, it involves the retrospective diagnosis of literary figures with conditions they may or may not have named of their own volition in their lifetimes. Take for example Virginia Woolf. Even the most cursory reading of her letters and memoirs provides evidence to the claim that she suffered from bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression, so named for the bouts of hyperactive mania followed by corresponding bouts of depression). She even referred to her experiences as madness that came in waves she could neither foresee, nor forestall. So it’s reasonable to infer that what she was dealing with was a manifestation of what we refer to as bipolar disorder. But here’s the thing: there is a gulf between self expressed/identified madness and diagnosed madness. Not to mention that treating it as a dichotomy rather than a continuum erases a multitude of experiences. Add to that that a key difference between mad/mentally ill or not, is the judgement of whether or not the madness is interfering with the person’s daily function (as determined by an expert who is not the person whose existence is being judged). Even more problematically, daily functioning is defined as per a capitalist, ableist framework where anything that interferes with smooth social conduct, eight hour work days in a job, an individualist/internal support system is seen as a problem. But perhaps that is the beginning of a different point. Suffice to say that looking for evidence of madness in the lives/experiences of people who have been judged to have been artistic geniuses skews the sample rather spectacularly.
Which brings me to the next point: and that is about set theory and syllogistic reasoning. Not all geniuses have mental illnesses. Not all people suffering from mental illnesses are artistic geniuses. Some people who have mental illnesses are also artistic geniuses. Therefore sometimes mental illness and artistic genius happily co-exist. And sometimes mental illness precludes artistic genius (or the expression thereof). And other times artistic genius is a protective factor against some mental illnesses. So basically all you can say (with any degree of integrity) is “madness and genius are both parts of some psyches”.
So if I am mad and I walk through this world in pain and with difficulty but without anyone noticing – I am not mad. Gah. In other news, my apologies for skipping last week’s post. I shall tell you of the events that lead to that presently. x
[Image explanation and translation: six window strip with Mafalda. Mafalda calls out, “bureaucracy!” in the first window. Windows two through to five she sits on a chair, looks around, reads a newspaper, stares blankly into space and waits. Window six her tortoise arrives and she greets him with, “your lettuce leaf”.]
In a square in San Telmo, a relatively old (and fairly touristy) barrio in Buenos Aires sits a bench with a statue of Mafalda. The statue was installed there in 2009 honouring the work of Quino (whose house is just across) and in recognition of the place the comics hold in the collective memory of the argentina’s reading classes. Each day bunches of people sit by her and have their pictures taken. And not all the hard-earned cynicism from a life being lived stops me from being one of them.
One of the (many) things I love about Mafalda is the variety of relationships she has with people around her. The comic would collapse pretty quickly if she weren’t surrounded by a group of friends and family that supported, challenged and annoyed her in about equal measures (shades of Buffy anyone?). Which is why I felt compelled to leave by her side, a crocheted tortoise and a note bearing the legend, “Porque Mafalda siempre tenía amigos” (because Mafalda always had friends).
How is that for a first in daytime yarn graffiti?
The verdict is in. and it’s not a just one. And there is little I can say at this point that would be even moderately coherent. So I’ll point you instead to someone who I think got it right. Kim from He Hoaka points out
Of all the evidence that was presented in the media and in court, culled from hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence collected, there is only one example of anyone other than the Crown causing harm to others (Apology followed shots). Four and a half years of harassment and vilification of those arrested, their whānau, the residents of Ruātoki, and Ngāi Tūhoe in general, does nothing to fix that harm.
We are expected to believe Ruātoki is a community of terrorists, and yet they have faced these years of provocation and threats without retaliation. The police have tried to humiliate and demonise these people, and have failed. They have been caught red-faced as the bullies they are.
I would suggest you read the entire article and then head over to not afraid of ruins and read this one too. Not just because it gives a complete breakdown of the verdict but because she has this to say
During the summing up part of the trial, the judge instructed the jury that, ‘Maybe there are two worlds as [Tāme’s lawyer] Mr Fairbrother has suggested but there is one law—the law that binds us all and under which you must reach your verdict.’
That’s true. There is only one law in New Zealand and that is the coloniser’s law. There could never be a fair trial. The New Zealand courts aren’t an objective arbiter between the prosecution and the defendants. The courts are part of the same colonial system that the defendants are fighting against, the same system they were on trial for fighting against. I’ve heard people say that the charges are bullshit, but really it’s the justice system that’s bullshit.
There’s no justice under colonialism.
What they said.
Mafalda sitting on a chair comforting a feverish and bandaged up globe placed by her side.
Were you aware that there is such a thing as a Tango conference? Up until recently, neither was I. Seven days straight of workshops and evenings with milongas. So of course, I booked me a ticket far enough in advance and got organised. I’d more or less relegated that to the class of things that are making me happy even though they are far, far away. People would say, “Well now, aren’t you excited?” and I’d say “yes” and think but it’s a while away still. And I’d got so used to doing that that it wasn’t until last week that I really realised that I’m going. And soon!
I have never been to Buenos Aires and you know, my ignorance is wide-reaching and fathomless and the only thing that I know I have to see is the house of Quino (and the statue of Mafalda). For those of your who don’t know who they are – Quino is Joaquín Salvador Lavado – an argentine cartoonist – and parent to Mafalda – the protagonist of a comic strip he created. In my head, Mafalda is in Spanish what Calvin and Hobbes are in English. It was the first comic strip I read in spanish. And I think it would be fair to say that it was the comic strip that made me want to learn more spanish. Reading (and understanding) One Hundred Years of Solitude (by Gabriel García Márquez) was what started me down this path of learning the language. Mafalda was what made the getting there seem both worthwhile and achievable. My spanish is still not good enough to read the comic strip without a dictionary at my side… so I have a ways to go, but it’s fun getting there!
Some of my favourite strips include Libertad. Libertad is the most radical and overtly political of the characters in Mafalda’s universe. And she is also the tiniest, (freedom being this little ball of hopeful cynicism is kind of a running gag) and totally awesome! And the strip below is perhaps my absolute favourite with her in it. There are others that are more political and what not, but this one is genius.
[Image description and translation: Single panel four-window comic strip with Libertad and her Dad. Dad indicates the potted plants in the corner as he kneels on the floor and asks Libertad if she likes them. Libertad responds “In pots no, I like plants to be in the ground proper”. Dad, “Yes, of course, but that is impossible. I live in an apartment”. Libertad, “You asked me if I liked the plants, not if I liked your life.” The end!]
And then of course there the one where Mafalda asks that the world stop spinning because she’d like to get off! I feel like that a lot. At any event, I get to take a bit of a break and step off the merry-go-round for a bit – a tango conference in Buenos Aires isn’t a usual stop, but one that I’m quite looking forward to!