Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
But by the time the words are read they would be the mundane colour of rust, dried out and flaking off. Crawling creatures in need of such vital sustenance will have consumed the more substantial clots, only a sour smell and something metaphorically insidious and intangible would remain.
I cannot feel whether it would be a relief to be rid it (how can it be qualified) or whether my internal organs would grow back in the night, excruciating and raw, ready to be torn out and mounted once again for display.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
The courtyard was swarming with people: couples, students, solitary people trying not to look awkward in the throng, pensioners, married people holding hands as if the kids just left home and me, staring wide-eyed at the long queue in front of the registration table.
The course has been completely worth it. I have learnt about constellations, planets, eclipses (bookmark the 15 June, 2011. There is a total lunar eclipse and it is happening between 8pm and midnight), an idea of how big the universe is and how to find out when satellites will be crossing the sky. We also get to see fun little snippets NASA videos. There was one of a man trying to explain what zero gravity does to playing basketball (he could do five spins in the air before getting the ball into the basket. Which is actually quite tough in space as the ball just floats upwards out of the basket). There is another video about the different areas they could land their next Mars explorer: a robot called Curiosity. My favourite fact was that the wake-up call for astronauts on the space station is the Star Trek theme song. Life imitating art?
Sometimes, Astronomy even makes me think about other things that the stars and planets could teach us about life in general. What completely blew my mind last night was a little lesson on perspective and how two people can have a totally right, totally different answer, depending on the different places they are standing. If a person stands in the Southern Hemisphere, "looking up" (so to speak), the earth is spinning in a clockwise direction. If another person stands in the Northern Hemisphere, "looking down", the earth is spinning in an anti-clockwise direction. In other words, which way the entire earth is spinning depends on which part of the earth you are standing on. Learning this is - for me - one of the best examples to explain how the world is full of vastly differing yet almost all valid opinions: they are right from the perspective one has according to where one comes from. How can two people have different answers about which way the earth (the huge (compared to us) planet we live on) is spinning and both have the right answer? It is mind-boggling.
One has to say "almost" though. Every society or cultural group always has one or more (metaphorical) equivalents of the flat earth society. Some things can't be right no matter where you stand because the place where you think you are standing doesn't exist.
"Introduction to Astronomy": Learn about everything. No, really. Everything...
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
A little while ago I got such a list on facebook. Apart from the annoying way they made "(36)The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" and "(33)The Chronicles of Narnia" and "(14) Complete Works of Shakespeare" and then "(98) Hamlet" like they were mutually exclusive; it is the assumption that those books are the measure of a person's intelligence or erudition.
In some way, they (yes, "they" and "them": like the hegemonic publicity team of Exclusive Books who publish a must-have list at the end of the year that you have to pay to be on) are trying to tell me what to read. If I just followed those must-read lists, I would miss out on SO much. So I am going to write about some of the books that aren't on this list that are really worth reading (in my opinion. Not telling you what to read, I promise. Except for Country of my Skull. Hypocrisy can be worth it to say you have to read this book).
1.) Beloved - Toni Morrison
I picked up this novel one afternoon at about 3pm as I had bought it second hand at a flea-market I went to with my friend Marijke. I put the book down again at 11pm after having devoured every word. I was shaking with the powerful emotion and raw beauty that this novel of slave-era USA communicates. It is phenomenal because it describes the events in a way that left me deeply moved (I could say it rocked my foundations) and brought me to an awareness of the legacy of suffering that forms part of America's present.
2.) Poetry. by almost anyone. 'cause there is nothing on the list.
I am more of a prose girl myself. One of my biggest problems studying Wordsworth's The Prelude was that I kept falling asleep over it. I would - however - never cut out the poetry I have studied. Byron's Don Juan is a comic and satirical work of genius. Admittedly you have to know the background before you can appreciate it, but it is bawdy, sophisticated and beautifully written all at once. I am also sure Dr. Margot Beard had no small part in making it so wonderful for anyone who studied it.
Then there is the madness of William Blake; the quiet sublimity of William Carlos Williams and Sydney Clouts and the infinite sweetness of e.e cummings. Tennyson's "Maud" was a recent find for me: melancholic and densely evocative. Then there are those sticky Shakespearean sonnets and the holy trinity of metaphysical poets: John Donne, George Herbert and Andrew Marvell.
I'm sure you get the point: how can one leave out the poets???
3.) Country of My Skull - Antjie Krog
As I read it (for the second time) this past week, I couldn't help thinking that every white person should read this book, and possibly every other person in South Africa too. Krog weaves fictions about her own life and research and philosophical musings (at times agonised questionings) around the facts and stories of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in order for the telling of this story to be true, and the result is that each piece of narrative is like a beautifully wrapped parcel. I learnt so much about our country. Like the wages of black workers didn't change at all between 1911 and 1970. In fact, wages for black miners were less in 1972 than they were in 1911. The terms "minimum wage" takes on a whole new meaning after that. And when some black, female farm workers came to register to vote for the first time in 1994, they had no fingerprints because their hands had been worked smooth. It also shed some light on the sad state of the Eastern Cape:
1.) Queenstown had the highest number of necklace killings.
2.) Mdantsane is the second-biggest township in the country (bigger than the city it feeds, East London) and yet it has no library (that wasn't from the book. That was a scary fact from my old opera coach, Mkhululi, resident of Mdantsane).
3.) All the crazily-violent ex-army men (black and white) who came back to the country from service in Africa were hidden away in the Eastern Cape to work there. As a result, some of the most senseless torture and killing occurred in this area.
The book is a heady mix of violence and depression; anger and futility; hopefulness for the future and a complex exploration of everything surrounding guilt, complicity, reconciliation, compassion and fear. Most of all, what is a common thread is the importance in the healing proess of people being given a voice to tell their stories. I will leave you with the closing words of Lucas Baba Sikwepere from the Eastern Cape. He was shot many times for approaching the white van of a policeman and asking what was going on. He still has bullets lodged in his neck and face: some of them visible. He was a big man before he was shot, but now he has numerous ailments including excruciating headaches and has "lost all [his] body". He does not really know what he looks like now though, because he is blind.
"I feel what - what has brought my eyesight back is to come back here and tell the story. But I feel what has been making me sick all the time is the fact that I couldn't tell my story. But now I - it feels like I got my sight back by coming here and telling you the story".