“No, they were not human. Well, you know, that was the worst of it- this suspicion of their not being inhuman.” — Achille Mbembe (2001).
“When it breaks my heart, I know it is my country & I cannot unlove it — when it kills me, I won’t know.” — Henneh Kyereh Kwaku (2020)
Home is the intersection of two lines- the vertical and the horizontal; meaning bound up with spaces and landscapes to create the joint line — the place, particular locations given meaning by people, either through lived experiences and realities or through conceptual representations. The terms of demarcation such as fields, boundaries, borders, margins, territories, states, network’ and other constructed spatial metaphors that project meaning to an area, and informed identities such as nationhood or statehood connecting representation of local and global relationships of power to geography. This informs discussions in mobility and movement in topographies of culture, that meanings and cultural forms are not only created in places, but also the relationship between places, one in relation, or, in binary opposition to one another in a practice of othering the other.
Leaving home can only happen because there is a home to leave. And the leaving is never just a geographical or spatial or geopolitical separation; it is an emotional separation- wanted or unwanted. Steady or ambivalent. Social and political conflicts can be played out as cultural conflicts, i.e., religious identities competing over spaces and the definitions of these spaces. It is then of the essence to question who, or what, is influential and powerful enough to make meaning of these abstract plots of lands that we term home, and to craft their own spaces and places through which to define identities, and consequently, non-identities. An identity formation on the basis of binary opposition terms in a hierarchical social structure/model. Carl Saver theorized that there is a strictly geographical way of thinking of culture, money as in the impress works of man upon the area. Peter Jackson thought that Saver’s ideas that appraisals of natural resources were part of a set of cultural meanings, and not simply a matter of economic rationalities, offered as a way of understanding the importance of culture in life.
Jim Duncan argued that shared meanings are based on representations of the world. They not only reflect reality, but they also help to constitute reality. People make sense of the world through their worlds and are positioned within their own relative social worlds, mediated through representations. Some representations are imposed on them, from external factors, but these are also contested by representations generated from within the cultural domain. If identity is defined as a sense of self that encompasses who and what people think they are and how other people regard them as being, then there is a similar relationship between self-definition and imposed definition from others.
As is, in the discourse of representation, identities are always social constructions, rather than simply being matters of and for the individual. It also means that contestations over different versions of identities are power struggles. Benedict Anderson articulates that the notion of nations are mere ‘cultural artifacts’ that we create in our collective imagination. This does not mean that they are simply illusions. Rather, they have huge power and identity implications as deep attachments of which people are willing to fight and die. Anderson’s definition of the nation is that of a political community that is imaged as both inherently limited and sovereign. Nationalism is therefore always a matter of cultural studies. As evident in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” novel when the naming of things all begins with a proclamation of ‘Victory,’ namely: ‘Victory Square’ and ‘Victory Tower”, to name but a few, all to capture the pseudo spirit of being victorious, to generate a performative belief in optimism. The symbolic struggle over space becomes of the essence because naming becomes a way to inscribe theory, ideas, ideologies of the world into the landscape. This was done during the imperial conquest era; colonization and those names remain in the neocolonial epoch of today. As decolonization begins to re-name names.
Nations may imagine themselves as communities, but like all communities they are full of differences which work their way through varied ideas of what the nation should be and who should define it. Michael Foucault said he did not believe in any ultimate truth but argued that there are systems of knowledge (discourse) by multiple authors, which organize, rather than respond to what is out there in the world. Foucault argued that the relationship between power and knowledge was a very close one and often used the non-hyphenated joint term ‘powerknowlegde’ to show just how inseparable they are. One needs knowledge to exert power, whether good or bad. Totalitarian or liberal. And with power comes knowledge.
Home was problematic for me. It did not represent order anymore, and it did not stand for safety in material reality, as it once did, or in the imagined reality, as we once hoped — idealistically. The center of one’s gravity displaced, tunnelling to itself. No true north, no compass point. A destruction never reconstructed. Bulldozed but never built up again. Ruins hum silence, ruminating Lazarus’ rising, Home is elsewhere, but not here. Not anymore. Home is present elsewhere. — END
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[878 words] a creative-critical essay by nublaccsoul | new-black-soul (2021)