Practice

3 February 2010

“…Many writers feel that the Reconquista in Spain in particular paved the way for expansion in the Americas by supplying tested institutions, practices, and techniques for conquest, control, and settlement. Cortes sometimes described Aztec temples as ’mosques.’ Much of the same has been said of British conquest and settlement in Ireland from the late sixteenth century. Some scholars feel that one can exaggerate the extent to which Ireland was a ’blueprint for America.’ But one cannot deny that the settlement of Ireland produced a particularly tough and re-settlement-prone subculture: the Scots-Irish. These people had by far the highest rates of overseas migration in the British Isles in the 18th century. The same is true of the Andalusians of Spain and the Cossacks of Russia. These groups were the shock troops of European far-settlement, and they had been produced by earlier, closer, settlements.”

— Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, James Belich, p42.

What I wouldn’t give to have known about this book a year & a half ago, so I could have looked at its bibliography before going to Andalucía. There are two or three Jaéns in South America for this very reason. Have I mentioned that I miss English-language libraries?

Via zunguzungu, whose archives I’ve been rifling through in my spare time. The Tanzanian material especially elicits, first, a shock of simple, self-centered recognition: You see someone has had a similar thought and rejoice that the private fastness of your mind has been mirrored outside of yourself, affirmed. (The pleasures & difficulties of teaching 7 & 8 yr. olds, or kids who may have already been given up on; or the mild affront of going to a different foreign country after you’ve just gotten used to living one where you know the language & get around . . . ) The second thing you notice is that he writes with uncommon humility coupled with insight — hey, you say, maybe I could stand to be more like that! This kind of close reading of the yearly output of a stranger writing in an intimate setting feels a little stalkerish, but then it’s kind of nice for me, at least, to see how someone else dealt with the broadly similar problem of chronicling via blog time spent in an unfamiliar culture. — Anyway, that was a couple years ago, & he’s writing about his dissertation & strings of stuff about cultural artifacts (The Wire! The Office!). You don’t need me to tell you to read him — I don’t have a readership, after all — but I wanted to do more than a bare sourcing & dragged myself into a whole expository paragraph, so here we are.

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2 Responses to “Practice”

  1. zunguzungu Says:

    Cheers, Jim! Tanzania seems so far away now… I like the idea that the blog elicits that shock of reflection, and that whatever I’m writing these days about Avatar or The Office can lead someone back to that. The blog came into being as a way to try to make sense of that experience, and I’d love to think that some element of that lovely disorientation — kizunguzungu — still might surface now and again in my more banal surroundings of the present.

    I see you’re also employing the Borgesian blogroll system, btw. I heartily approve!

  2. Jim Sligh Says:

    Thanks for stopping by!

    If there’s anything that living abroad teaches us — and I don’t think it makes us any better or smarter — it’s maybe the ‘lovely disorientation’ that verges on a kind of surrender, a facing up to not knowing anything about anything, & if it’s transferable so much the better. Kizunguzungu is a much prettier word than Verfremdungseffekt.

    For me coming back to the States feels a little like amnesia; I put on familiar habits like they were a pair of old shoes. It’s very difficult to remember the visceral feeling of being somewhere else.

    Between us & Bérubé, I’m sure the Borgesian blogroll will become the new standard.


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