“Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one” John Berger
I was saddened to hear the recent death of artist, art critic, and thinker John Berger (But what a life he led and what rich cultural contributions he made!) Once again I turn to this quote as I think it’s applicable to place and how we make sense of place*. Singular narratives are too simplistic; what is a “whole story” anyway? Places are not neat little packages all tied up with a satin bow. Trails, exhibitions, museums, statues tell excerpts of a story from certain points of view, but places are more complex meaning different things to different people.
Currently, I’m writing/making stories/poems/art inspired by Rochdale, responding to Rochdale’s literature, cartographic representations, landscape, ecologies, and from my own notes taken over the last couple of years. I don’t purport to tell a whole story – I’m just adding to the complicated notion of what a place is and can be. With my own practice I find that writing, and making, is a messy process – fragmentary, never complete, open to interpretation, to changes of mind, to be edited-reedited-rereedited. Even after publishing, after the elation, I still think that there are ways to improve/progress a piece: to develop, to rewrite, to contrast**. The Rochdale pieces, and reflections upon them, will form the next two chapters of my thesis – here’s a snippet of one below (work-in-progress).
I’m a bit of an ideas generator – I have loads of them (luckily), however, I’ve reached the point where I just have to pin down the ideas I have now and perhaps develop once I’ve finished the PhD (arrgh, less than ten months to go!). I’ve had the absolute honour of a scholarship to support this work, however, I do find it hard at times***. This year I’m going to be honest about the writing process, the blocks, the research techniques (and research cul-de-sacs) and I’ll blog when I can during these next few busy months.
In 2017 I’m looking forward to not only finishing this project but also hearing more stories from Rochdale and beyond. (OK, I will challenge things that I believe problematic! I’ll try to blog any of these if they occur****…)
* Here I want to note that I recognise that this statement privileges a human-perspective. I don’t think that an anthropocentric approach is the only approach that “makes sense of place”. I’ll write about this argument at another time as I’m concentrating on writing stories 😉
** A recent poem I had published was experimental, drawing upon personal and cultural mythologies. Upon re-reading it I think it possibly belongs in a wider sequence or perhaps a longer collection. This would be a much longer term project than the PhD and subsequent work post-PhD. And it may never be complete.
*** Including: the inability to say “no” to interesting things, impostor syndrome, holding many conflicting ideas in my head and sifting through these, trying to adopt an “academic register” when writing, the constant fear of failing. etc etc. etc.
**** Had an incident on the tram last year near Rochdale Train Station where a few of us tried to intervene with a couple fighting. It was getting increasingly violent and vocal, when he grabbed her around the neck, I shouted “stop hurting her” and she told me to “fuck off, it’s none of your business”. They got off the tram holding hands. I still wonder how the rest of their story ended/will end.