there’s an ant on your southeast leg
June 29, 2009, 11:21 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

From the article by sociologist Lera Boroditsky on the relationship between language, our bodies, and the space around us.  The past isn’t necessarily behind us, things aren’t always properly ordered left to right and, don’t look now but there’s a bug on your southwest leg.

Follow me to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, in northern Australia. I came here because of the way the locals, the Kuuk Thaayorre, talk about space. Instead of words like “right,” “left,” “forward,” and “back,” which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space. This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like “There’s an ant on your southeast leg” or “Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit.” One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. The normal greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre is “Where are you going?” and the answer should be something like ” Southsoutheast, in the middle distance.” If you don’t know which way you’re facing, you can’t even get past “Hello.”



fetish housework
June 29, 2009, 12:34 am
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This is from Bea Ballard’s article about her late father called My dad, the perfect mum at Times Online. Their mother died when the children were young and the father raised the children alone.

In this way of living, home is a reflection of a state of mind:  cleanliness is next to bourgeois repression.  To me it’s far closer to the truth than its cousin which drags God – unwillingly, no doubt – in.

We lived in what we came to think of as a very happy nest – there was a sense of warm chaos that was hugely liberating. He did not care about bourgeois concerns such as keeping the house tidy – as he once said: “You can do all the housework in five minutes if you don’t make a fetish of it.” He later speculated that the compulsive cleaning of a family home “might be an attempt to erase those repressed emotions that threaten to break through into the daylight” and certainly I remember finding the grander homes of some of my school chums eerily silent and stultifying in their neatness compared with our wonderful home, where old plastic flippers discarded from a beach holiday were used as doorstops.

partly colonized rooms
June 28, 2009, 7:32 pm
Filed under: departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

I am reading JG Ballard’s biography Miracles of Life and highly recommend it for it’s frank tone and sweeping scope:  boyhood in Japanese occupied Shanghai – as far as I’ve gotten – education and creative output in England.

Here is an excerpt from his description of Lunghua Camp where the Ballard family was interned by the Japanese when he was a teenager.   He describes the two years as a period of  material poverty but ironically rich in social and intellectual potential.  He saw it as the beginning of a lifelong creeping alienation from his parents and of a realization that adults were not necessarily in control and chronically made bad decisions.

This excerpt however, is about the loneliness of adult life and how the prisoner of war camp – it’s cruelty and lack of provision and space – was actually much more social and lively than British peace time living.  In acts of sanity later in life, Ballard commits to resisting isolating convention in his own family’s life.  For him, private baths and wardrobes are incarnate private hopes and dreams.

But I flourished in all this intimacy, and I think the years together in that very small room had a profound effect on me and the way I brought up my own children.  Perhaps the reason why I have lived in the same Shepperton house for nearly fifty years, and to the despair of everyone have always preferred make-do-and-mend to buying anew, even when I could easily afford it, is that my small and untidy house reminds me of our family room in Lunghua.

I realize now just how formal English life could be in the 1930s, 40s and 50s for its professional families.  The children of doctors, lawyers and company directors rarely saw their fathers.  They lived in large houses where no one shared a bedroom, they never saw their parents dressing or undressing, never saw them brush their teeth or even take off a watch.  In pre-war Shanghai I would occasionally wander into my parents’ bedroom and see my mother brushing her hair, a strange and almost mysterious event.  I rarely saw my father without a jacket and tie well into the 195os.  The vistas of polished furniture turned a family home into a deserted museum, with a few partly colonised rooms where people slept alone, read and bathed alone, and hung their clothes in private wardrobes, along with their emotions, hopes and dreams.

Miracles of Life, JG Ballard, 2009, Harper Perennial

the banks of the seine
June 9, 2009, 7:48 pm
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Here is a description of the consuming role education played for those lucky enough to get it in the Middle Ages in France.  Education was tied to the church but was broad enough to include, beside theology, medicine, law and the arts.  It was worth giving over everything for; a consuming passion.  For the student, in a very real sense, knowledge became home.

the wandering student, passing from Laon to Chartres to Angers, or to some obscure monastery made temporarily famous by a new teacher, would come at last to the banks of the Seine … There he would seek out, or drift to one master or the other.  There, as often as not, he stayed.

-E. R. Chamberlain, quoted in A Traveller’s History of Paris, by Robert Cole.