Thursday, 18 September 2008

Strangers All - 'Duende ... in this place' Webb, P. Wilson`s Bowl

Come what may, sooner or later under the influence of our 'becoming' Massumi, B and Bergson, H , rather than 'being', eventually we are removed from known others and places. Traversing time and space ensures that we become strangers in a strange land where we must encounter others assuming the same mantle. I assert this deliberately, while simultaneously something deep within me seeks to dodge the notion. Even so, if you have read my earlier posts you will know that I do not intend for this direction of thought to imply that the human condition as it articulates and finds a voice, either in each of us or in the collective sense, necessarily possesses by nature the truncated vision of a depressed soul. Rather, I am suggesting that 'Leaving' is as it should be - a necessary element within the wider scheme of what it means to be human.

I maintain then, that the manifestation of 'Leaving' as an action, ostensibly subsumed into the norm of any given day of activity becomes essentially, an occurrence of significance. An ongoing event in itself. Rather than happenstance, 'Leaving' emerges as a force to be reckoned with, possessing the quiet and largely unnoticed capability to modify our behaviours with others and to impinge occasionally on our perception of the dynamics inherent in arriving, residing and departing both people and places.

'Leaving' will make strangers of us all. It is easy for the spirit to rebel at such an assertion. I am aware myself, since I have lived a somewhat diasporic existence through my childhood and then moving to the other side of the world to 'make a life', that despite this upheaval (the process is no small thing) I have people 'back home'; family and friends, who I like to think will never make of me a stranger, (The old adage holds true: 'Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in'), the kinds of people who you may not physically see for literally, years and years and yet when you do meet again, a core of recognition, of acknowledgement, an empathy emerges to celebrate that connection that between us we possess, but which has lain dormant for a time. I have written on the Notecard Dispenser outside my simulacrum of Wellington Railway Station in Second Life; ‘The Duende for me, speaks of ‘Le Petit Mort’ – the Little Death which resides in many a parting. The demise of connection, the fear of intimacy and recognition failing to outlast time and distance’.

We talk of friendships made in our formative years, which will always exist for us come what may and frequently, so they do. So we continually invest in our own makeup in the way that we conduct our lives, an energy and concentrated intent which ensures that some at least, of our connections with others are not entirely ephemeral. We derive strength from this knowledge to enable us to continue on and most of us know the feeling when we are leaving on a journey, that no matter how far we may go, even if we travel without the expectation of being welcomed on our arrival, if we have someone who awaits our return or at least, is conscious that we are gone, this may in itself assist us in the process of leaving.

'... in this place'. We are inexorably drawn away from both, places which have meaning for us and also one another and although we are also drawn back, the involuntary shove in some form or another, is away again.
'... in this place'. Belonging. This post title is taken from a poem by P Webb in the collection, 'Wilson`s Bowl. It denotes for me, the subtle unspoken paradox that although we may find ourselves at times, attached to a given place, the span of occupation is not timeless - it will come to an end and the knowledge of this makes for us the time we do have in-situ all the more poignant. We tend to gather to us and harbour those qualities which combine to shore-up those spaces with a sense of place; emotions, objects and connections with people which assist us in sustaining the feeling that we are grounded in one situation, that we belong, together with a certain sub-set of humanity which has been arrived at to some extent, through our own choices - we like to think that we choose our friends ... and this is the case, whether in real life or apparently virtual world extentions like Second Life.com. With Clare Atkins` (aka Arwenna Stardust) permission I quote here from her Second Life blog: It was the first time that I had felt a different sense of community in Second Life. I have long felt at home in the virtual community of educators both on Koru and in other educational sims but here were 5 RL individuals, most of whom would never have met even in SL if not for being virtual neighbours ... it was surprisingly reassuring to know that we have a neighborhood in which we belong ... It reminded me of the PhD research that a NZ student, Archmunster Toll, is doing into how far the concept of nationhood extends into Second Life. His survey questions including several that ask after your sense of ‘belonging’ to the region that you have as your SL home ... I have finally begun to realise that I DO feel a sense of neighbourly community with other land owners in my home regions and that I have developed some pride that the sim and its surrounds are developing in a way that I find not only friendly but aesthetically tasteful too. These comments by Clare reflect the sentiments of many residents in Second Life. When I first arrived in-life a year ago I was investigating SL as a potential 'non-place', anticipating a lack of sensed 'belonging' after the French-Algerian anthropologist, Marc Augé`s theories of 'Non-lieux'. (non-places, Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, Verso, London, NY) To my surprise, I discovered that many avatars I spoke to in-life insisted that Second Life held all the empathetic qualities we would associate with Real Life locations and people. A sense of belonging for residents was very much alive and well, in-life.

'... in this place' then for me, is both relative and diverse. I support and applaud the sentiments which allow us to remain optimistic about the apparent stability of our existence and our conviction that we can belong across a broad range of contexts, whether they be perceptual, philosophical or physical. Yet pathos can also be a constituent of our belonging, the poignancy of change through becoming, the bittersweet draught which at times inescapably juxtaposes the centredness of ‘being’ at home.

In my Second Life Wellington Railway Station I have placed a bilboard requesting written responses to my concepts of ‘Leaving’ and the Duende (the great sense of longing for the Portuguese surfaces here too, in the Saudade) and the build itself. What follows is a Second Life Notecard response written in-life after visits to the Station by Johnnie Wendt. (I quote him here with his kind permission). He told me that he needed to sit on the Station bench in the Concourse for a while and reflect, before the words would come:

There is a certain sadness in the smell of newly mown grass on a late afternoon, morning dew glistening like teardrops on a pasture and the scent of summer in a brownskinned girl`s hair. They exist for the moment in a time and place but only for that moment although the memories may return for the flicker of an eyelid, sparked by a perfume or a trick of light. The ineffable sadness contained in all beauty is engendered by the fact that time moves on inexorably. Nothing ever stays the same. Inevitably everything moves towards death and decay. Summer will always end no matter how long one wants to hold onto the golden days or feel again the warmth of the girl`s skin, or see the sunlight sparkle in the golden down on her arms.

Old-fashioned railway stations, with their Gothic grandeur, bring back all those memories: Fleeting memories of the people who have moved through our lives – have entered or left or who are leaving as everyone must do eventually: The sadness of limited mortality contained in all our encounters. Even the sadness amid the laughter and the precious laughter of the precious solace from loneliness which can grow from the smile of recognition across a crowded hall.

In this station, with the sounds of unloading and loading trains, the pavement clatter of many feet, the birdlike chatter of the throngs, that sense of duende can become overwhelming. The loneliness in a crowd – the inevitable alienation of the human condition – and yet at times the companionship or welcome and touch of close friends and then again the pain of their departure: the memory of companions who you left behind for no good reason or because of words that should have been left unsaid; and the memory of words that should not have been left unsaid in that meeting with the girl with the smell of summer in her hair who has now gone, departing on another train at another station.

This railway station is my heart, my memory, my life; like everyone, I cannot stay here with my memories and my happiness. From one entrance or the other I too must depart, always leaving some of me behind in the memories of the station and the people who pass through it.

Perhaps in the moment I die I will understand.

Johnnie Wendt
Sept 2008

I am humbled, moved and indebted to Johnnie (Second Life name) for this response. It strikes at a part of the heart of my own sense of Duende - first real love at the age of eighteen after having found one another in our final year at school, seeing off on a train from Oxford Railway Station in England the girl of my then dreams, after a few days of sharing Shakespearean theatre in rose-laden walled gardens, punting on the river Cherwell, with the summer weather perfect. Standing there on the platform in agony, on what should have been another perfect day with the train receding in the distance, it seemed that we would both surely die. She left for a home in Alberta, Canada; I stayed, to go on to Art College in Devon. We wrote to each other for a year, but I was never to see her again.

Those remembered summer perfumes, almost synesthaesiast in the richness and orchestration of their overlap ... a world of memories embedded and brought forth instantly with the scent of a daffodil thirty-six years later - or a mixed-reality Railway Station build redolent with history and countless stories in the contemporary artifice which is Second Life.

The pathos of leaving. Will 'Leaving' make strangers of us all?

In my next post I will be posting two more video clips from the last dance sessions in the real-life Station, together with a critical commentary on the work. This will include an update of the commuter crowd in the SL Station in the form of images. After this I will re-visit what it may mean to be a stranger within the context of 'Leaving' as catalyst.

3 comments:

skellis said...

Mike
You might be interested in work of fictional dogshelf theatre company. particularly in relation place/no place.
http://www.dogshelf.com/
ske

nomads.hat said...

Hi Simon, Great to hear from you again. Thanks for this heads-up. I have had a look and the work appears to be very interesting. Always fascinating to see what 'takes' and diverse interpretations people have on the same concepts/theories. I have also written to the company to see if we can share some perspectives. A really useful reference. Thanks again!

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