foundations

A combination of words and pictures and it feels like I am back to the drawing board. It began with discovering that Bernard-Henri Lévy is still being taken seriously by some elite somewhere on this planet (that was over at the Tomb) and was compounded by the endless newsletters I receive on Angola every morning. This morning I read a piece by the respected Angolan novelist, Pepetela (I’m currently reading his o quasi fim do mundo), in which he seems to be saying that in order for the country to have free, fair and safe elections everyone must accept very very tight control. I wonder what he means, precisely. And why? Does democracy really matter anyway? Fundamentally? And then I had a conversation with a very bright and interesting woman who works in what you might call the consultancy sector, advising big business about people and telling big business why, for example, local people living next to their oil explorations matter. Cynicism is my only response. Since when has big business wanted to do anything for people, really, seriously? Is this not simply about anthropologists adapting to capital?

I’m no closer to understanding the tension between ideology and fact: this is the essence of the problem. I know what I believe in, and I know the ideas and theories in which I believe, but they collapse almost entirely beneath what I have seen and what I’ve experienced. This is where the confusion between fact and fiction emerges in all of my work. And because my learning has emerged from engaging in one way or another with politics in London and bits of southern Africa, the essence of my time is taken up with trying to understand liberation, freedom, justice, socialism, and I suppose nationalism, alongside what I see and experience. And always this desire to be part of a club, a group. The yearning to be able to be part of a movement, but forever remaining on the periphery. Always the fact jarring and defeating the theory. Experience always overriding ideas. Like that rubbish up there, the foundations upon which many houses are built. That rubbish up there.

And still clever people tell me ‘what the fucking people say is irrelevant…’ And still clever people tell me that ‘the fucking people don’t know about geopolitics…’ This being an argument in favour of the theory. But the thing is, whenever I speak to ‘the fucking people’ I am struck by the fact that they do know what they are talking about, and what they complain about tends to come true and tends to become the essence of the problem. Which is why I gaze at the rubbish up there everyday, because I fear that if I don’t, I might become lazy and allow the theory to overwhelm the fact. Though it would make my life so much easier if I let it.

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7 thoughts on “foundations

  1. Don’t let it, Lara. I always thought the whole point of theory – whether scientific, sociological, ideological or whatever – was that it was falsifiable. Which is to say that you have to work, always, to break it down and build a better one, a theory that works better for those it’s supposed to be working _for_. In other words, any decent theory is something you should persistently _not_ believe in, the more so the more tempting it gets to be o’erwhelmed by it. And the only way to do that is to always keep the rubbish in view.

    Having said that, I’m probably being very naive. I’ve no experience of your world, of your life there. The best I can do is analogise to my own experience in large hospital organisations (a very poor analogy, I know). Work out of the clinical areas for even a short time and it’s appallingly easy to get caught up in business models and governance frameworks and key performance indicators and find yourself segueing away from the fact that there are people in there, sick humans who aren’t just product, who aren’t product at all for fuck’s sake, and you just want to shake someone in a suit and shout “It’s a _hospital_! Hello!”.

    I may be wrong, but I also think this has connections with what I was trying to say here (http://observererror.wordpress.com/2008/08/25/terrible-beauty/).

  2. Rob, I’m sure you are not naive [but] The trouble is I don’t like theories per se. I don’t want to build a better one or find a better one, because I like understanding the world through my own spontaneity and flexibility. Theory gets in the way. It makes sense of non-sense, and I prefer the latter. It covers up the world, a lot of the time, instead of revealing it. The only ‘theory’ I’ve ever read which ‘made sense’ (without destroying non-sense) came from Marx. And I’ve started reading Deleuze and Guattari and I like them for their chaotic approach to writing. But I’d be lying to say I understood them. Anyway…
    I like to live in the moment, right inside it. I don’t believe in a God and am probably even anti-religion, but I think it would be very honest to say that for me, when I am there, in the rubbish, talking and engaging with people of any creed, age, sex or colour (though probably not class), I get a kind of spiritual up-lift. Sometimes it’s like an epiphany. It’s ecstatic. That’s just from *engaging with people* I meet on the street. It might be in Bamako or Hackney, in Liverpool or Saurimo, the beauty is it doesn’t really matter. But it is in those conversations and being with strangers that I see and experience some truth.
    I’ve gone a bit astray here… It all fell out of my fingers. Better stop.

  3. P.S. Yes, it does have connections with your ‘terrible beauty’. Although, I would caution against believing that violence and death are necessarily more ‘truthful’ than, for example, doing the ironing or walking to work. If you see what I mean…

  4. Lara—everything that you have written speaks directly to how one relates in a spiritual way which is through love. It is deviously simple and more difficult than any theory. It doesn’t matter about believing in God–it’s like saying you don’t believe in gravity while becoming a high wire performer.
    Whenever you feel that uplift, that lightness you know you are in the place of balance on the wire and thought is irrelevant.

  5. “it’s like saying you don’t believe in gravity while becoming a high wire performer” … yah, and [or, but?] I would have thought that would help, otherwise it would be too terrifying. But I get nervous on a step ladder…

  6. I don’t understand Deleuze & Guattari either (hmm, D & G – that should probably be funny, but isn’t), but their rhizome thing makes sense in my gut, and nomadism has always suited me. I, shamefully, haven’t read Marx. Yet.

    I think we’re on the same page though, Lara. When you say that “it is in those conversations and being with strangers that I see and experience some truth”, that’s basically what I was getting at when I was talking about the hospital. I have a love-hate relationship with nursing, and while doing research (the main part of my job) keeps me intellectually sane (that’s where I get to tangle with theory an awful lot), it’s talking to patients and nurses on the wards that keeps me human, through those little moments of connection, those little sparks and flashes of some kind, or lots of different kinds, of truth.

  7. That’s not a phylosophical question, it’s just what pigs need and love to do…

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