Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Belonging


King Henry V: I wear it for a memorable honour; For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.
Fluellen: All the water in Wye cannot wash your majesty's Welsh plood out of your pody, I can tell you that: God pless it and preserve it, as long as it please his grace, and his majesty too!
-Henry V, Shakespeare

In Branagh’s memorable film Henry’s line isn’t tossed away with an ironic grin as it usually was; rather it is delivered with conviction and tears of affection coming as it does at the end of the battle of Agincourt. Henry’s parentage was almost entirely Norman English but he was born in Monmouth, Wales. Did that make him Welsh or was it that he was distantly related to Llewelyn the Great through his mother making him 1/128thWelsh? My guess is that Shakespeare meant the former. Branagh’s original dramatic insight to use the line as a cue for emotional release(which is perfect for the dramatic shape of play) may also reveal Shakespeare’s vision of the character and possibly even reflect the personality of the historical Henry. Who knows? Was Henry Welsh? Does it matter?

What I find of greater interest is the audience’s response to that reading of the line. We accept it. No one takes umbrage, no one suggests it’s pretense.

Here’s a different context. I was born in the American Southwest but am of northern European decent. If I were to say to a member of the Acoma tribe of New Mexico, “I am Anasazi, you know, good countryman,” he or she would be offended, have a good laugh and perhaps even wonder if I was in need of a professional psychologist.

The thorny issue, of course, is cultural membership and ownership. When does someone have the right to claim membership in a culture. And what rights appertain to a cultural group? The problem is international and diverse. It dramatically affects how Archaeology is done in the southwestern US and politics in the Middle East to name just two examples. And it is far from sufficient to allow cultural groups to make decisions alone because of cultural conflict. Governments and global organizations are forced to arbitrate and we need them to do so.

This week I’m attending a fencing camp my club is holding. I’m looking forward to it in furtherance of my challenging goal of avoiding complete embarrassment at Nationals. The thoughts above derived from realizing that a fencing club is a kind of culture, too, with particular rules and values that differ, sometimes dramatically, from club to club. I’m particularly fond of the culture my club expresses.

And yet, isn’t every sense of belonging also haunted by a ghost of pretense? And is that such a bad thing? Pretense is sometimes the beginning of transformation, just as standing in front of a mirror with an epee repeating the same parries over and over is a kind of pretending, too.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Reason for Time

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once,” according to Albert Einstein. My spring has been like that, more and more everything seems to be happening at once. Also, the proportional acceleration of time due to age, (a simple lemma proceeding from the fact that one of the ways we perceive time is in proportion to the amount of time we’ve lived) contributes to that sense. Or maybe it’s just that didn’t ski enough this winter as a result of severity of the weather, especially the wind and cold.

Even so, we managed to find the single best week in May for an excursion to Chaco and Mesa Verde with Robert and Tyler. It deserves an entry of its own, obviously. What I will say now is that as a result I’m rereading Lekson’s History of the Southwest as well Marietta Wetherhill’s memoir. Both give me the sense that in spite of southwestern archaeology’s extraordinary best efforts, my view of what can be known of that time is veiled and skewed and a careful look at first sources is required to center myself again.

And, in that connection, a wicked cool video of Dr. Patricia Brown’s lecture at the Archaeology CafĂ© of the Center for Desert Archaeology is available online and well worth watching. Dr. Brown discusses the curious route that led to her discovery that a particular kind of pot found in Chaco was used for chocolate, Science and Serendipity: the Recovery of Cacao in Chaco Canyon. Warning: the tragic fate of fluffy, cute macaws also imported into the ancient southwest from Mesoamerica is also discussed in graphic detail ;-)

As of late, we’ve been fencing a lot. Besides our daily training regimen, we have three classes per week as well as two, sometimes three open fencing sessions. And, yet it’s clear from my bouts that it isn’t enough.