Friday, 8 January 2010
Friday, 18 December 2009
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
Overheard recently on the bus: “And I was like, I like you so, like, I want to know whether you, like, like me too.” The constant use of “like” has become a cliché of “youth speak,” a kind of white noise getting in the way of clear and concise communication. Thinking about the way the word is used, it’s noticeable that it establishes a distance between the speaker and the scenario they describe – allowing the speaker to pose as observer of themselves – regardless of whether we are in the past tense (“And I was like…”) or what we can call the remembered present (“So I’m like…”). Expressing the most personal of responses, the speaker becomes a second observing self, undercutting their own narrative authority by introducing approximation – “I’m like…” implying “I said something a bit like / similar to / along these lines/ with roughly this attitude.” It’s a way of standing outside one’s interactions, a constant narrativisation process that turns each scenario into story fodder, a strange instant remediation of human experience. While usually read as simply a linguistic fashion that replaces pause words or sounds such as “umm” or “err,” “like” seems to me to be a product of a cultural mindset in which we are all encouraged to view ourselves again, the perpetual stars of our own reality shows.
In recent times, on this blog and far beyond, questions of the stories of our changing climate, and of the “narrative of climate change” have been raised. Coherent human narratives are now seen as the way to make an often abstract and incomprehensible scientific discourse into something that might be understood and (it is hoped) acted upon by the wider public. Narrative, in this sense, is seen as inherently positive – a means to understanding, a catalyst for action and an immediate and affective intervention. Yet the remediation inherent in the ubiquitous use of “like” lets us know that narrative can be treacherous – creating distance between ourselves and our actions. How can we make sure that narratives of our changing climate are not those from which we can step back, those that we view from an external position? These stories must be entirely owned, expressing a personal commitment and belief that must be transmitted to others. Because climate change is so, like, the biggest challenge that has ever, like, confronted humanity.
Update: Shortly after writing the above notes, I saw that Sam Wollaston has suggested (with tongue only partially in cheek) that a reality show version of the COP15 negotiations might be the way to engage the public in climate change discourse. Perhaps he’s on to something – maybe we can only take our narratives remediated these days?
Thursday, 12 November 2009
A major new exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society’s Kensington headquarters seeks to shed light on those who made vital contributions to the expeditions of the past, but whose names have been overshadowed by the glorification of lead explorers. The AHRC-funded “Hidden Histories of Exploration,” curated by Felix Driver and Lowri Jones of Royal Holloway, University of London, uses the extensive archives of the RGS (with IBG) to bring advisers, guides, porters, Sherpas and artists back into our accounts of famous historical explorations. If the names Mohammed Jen Jamain, Nain Singh and Juan Tepano mean nothing to you, this exhibition will help to explain why this is a grave oversight, but also how such an oversight is produced by our cultural reception of (white, male) hero explorers - an example of Adichie's single story problem. The effort to move these other, crucial participants in expeditions from the footnotes of the historical record to centre stage is ambitious and important. The exhibition is running until 10 December 2009, and an online version is available for those who can’t make the expedition to Kensington.
Image: Tenzing Norgay (Nepal), Edmund Hillary (NZ), Everest 1953. After their successful ascent, debate raged in the press as to who had first stood on the summit, and which country could therefore make the “first ascent” claim. In this case notes about feet threatened to assign one man to the historical footnotes, an outcome that Hillary resisted by claiming that they had completed the challenge as a team.