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Monday 16 September 2019
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Culture wars…yet again

A memory comes up. It’s at least 20 years old.

Contemplating culture this week following some complaints about Carifesta’s non-inclusiveness, window-dressing accusations, etcetera etcetera. Inbox has been drizzled on by unsolicited mails but they are useful in keeping me in the loop. The remote memory places itself in the fore. It’s a little girl. The memory is clear for I had found it humorous at the time. The humour is now accompanied by contemplation. I am still in the process of threading out my culture views but I shall place a bit before the reader.

My family had visitors, a Turkish couple and their little daughter who was perhaps about four years old at the time. They had been living and travelling around the world on their yacht. The little girl’s father was a sitarist who had found his way to my father to get his sitar repaired.

My parents had invited the family to lunch and the four-year-old, finding herself in a large living room (as her mother described the space in comparison to their yacht) kept running around in circles. She would stop her running for a few seconds at intervals, spread her arms like a tight-rope walker balancing on the precarious surface, and then resume her running. This went on for the most part of their stay until she threw up on the floor. I suppose, it may have been dizziness, but for the purposes of my story I’ll call it land sickness.

The memory places itself to the forefront on my memory now as I contemplate culture. I am looking at this little girl now with my adult self. She had come in on land, from a bobbing, rocking vessel, thrown here and there by waves, to a place where the ground beneath her feet was firm. Yet, habit kicks in. This four-year-old must stop from time to time to ensure that she is indeed not in need of balancing herself. She spreads her arms open as she is accustomed to doing on their yacht. The stationary nature of the space established, she continues happily playing by herself.

I imagine this must have been a drastic shift for her. I feel it myself as I place myself in her little shoes. The shift feels almost real in my own head, the unsteady to steady, natural to unnatural. My natural is not hers and she throws up eventually, a sort of land sickness just as some of us get sea sick.

As my mind pulls together strands, I am thinking culture in relation to this story. But more specifically, space places itself as a main focal point. This little girl essentially had been navigating the space, a space not totally unfamiliar, but unfamiliar enough to cause her to remember that she should be balancing even when she didn’t need to. And the recognition that this action of spreading her arms out to balance was uselessness in this situation allows her to get back to her land activities. I can present yet another version of the balancing act. Perhaps this little girl’s running around was causing her to feel dizzy and so, the familiarity of that unsteady feeling, albeit this time created by herself, made her stop to catch her bearings, re-balance and begin again. Her mother had explained that it was the former but I am the storyteller here and my creative licence allows me to chart another storyline.

I have, out of one story and the same scenario created two possibilities. There may be other possibilities as well but these two should suffice as examples of how the same story can be interpreted in two different ways. The audience is one interpreter but the storyteller is responsible for the inflections, for the emphasis, for which version he or she privileges. The story I prefer is the one that gets told. It’s much the way that history and politics tells us our stories.

As human beings we define, as a way of neatly boxing concepts, in order to make better sense of the world. So as far as culture, that elusive entity, goes, how do we even begin to define a national culture in this varied culture space?

Cultural activism is a useful act in this respect. It calls out the storytellers on the one-sidedness of their stories bringing them to the recognition at some point that there is one story being told amidst the multiple ones that exist.

What it should do too is make those concerned more aware. But there are two possibilities for the very slow change (for now): is it that we deliberately ignore the importance of the others or is it that our habitual way of seeing is so ingrained that we cannot break the lens?

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