Saturday, 8 May 2010
South and north
Politics of hope
Thursday, 22 April 2010
Waking up again
Saturday, 27 March 2010
Give the orangutan a break
Monday, 8 March 2010
Fontainebleau in March
Curiously shaped rocks attract boulderers, and we saw some working across the sandstone, or hunting between the trees for challenges, with their mattresses strapped to their backs so that they could cushion the ground beneath their climbs.
Wednesday, 3 March 2010
A thin city
You can barely walk down a street in this area without encountering a memorial, especially to people killed during the German occupation of 1940-44. On my way to our post office yesterday, for example, I passed a primary school with a plaque above the main door dedicated to the Jewish children taken from that school to the camps. The long unknown history of the house we live in troubles me in a way that of the Victorian house I grew up in never did. I remember that this city has endured revolutions and invasions, that it tests its sirens because of real experience.
Last year I blogged about Mircea Cantor’s Monument for the end of the world, a sculpture that tries to ‘commemorate’ a future event. I asked whether cities should build monuments not just to events in their past, but to think about lives to come. In a very dark way, the Paris sirens do this.
France is currently recovering from a natural disaster – the weekend’s storm killed over 50 people in France and swollen tides flooded towns along the Atlantic coast.
La-Faute-sur-Mer on Monday
In the capital we woke to strong winds but no damage. Today the sun is shining brightly, it’s March, spring does finally feel close, and the siren has come and gone. The alarm might be a signal of time’s continuity, its regularity, or perhaps it signals time’s rips, traumas and tears.
Sunday, 28 February 2010
A place of safety
I’ve been considering what children hear and think about climate change while reading Kate Thompson’s The White Horse Trick, a young adult novel set at the end of this century in Ireland crippled and dying in the ravaged climate. Dystopia has a strong presence in children’s fiction, and young readers deal with those stories in a similar way to adults: they help us to work through the terror of imagining all the logical consequences of the way we live, from the relative security of a safer present. I was impressed by Thompson’s handling of the issue. She respects her readers’ intelligence and resilience enough to confront us with the full horror of what climate change might mean. Warlords exploit and brutalise the valleys and coasts around the Burren, and the future appears so hopeless that there’s no arguing when one character declares, ‘It’s all over for the human race.’ Yet Thompson also provides a place of safety for the reader. Ireland is paralleled by Tir na n’Óg, a timeless kingdom inhabited by fairies. Just as various bedraggled human refugees cross over to this land, Tir na n’Óg also balances the reader’s experience of ecological and social collapse. The White Horse Trick is the third in a trilogy and Tir na n’Óg is well known from Irish folklore, so Thompson did not invent the land for this purpose, but she uses it deftly.
I did wonder if a refuge like this could be cheating, letting us off the hook. In particular, it allows Thompson to juxtapose human time with geological time, the millennia over which the earth’s ecosystems might recover from what we’ve done to them. This recalls arguments made by people who have run out of ways to deny climate change’s reality, so declare that the earth will survive even if humans don’t, as though the suffering in between doesn’t matter. But in Thompson’s book the suffering does matter, so the effect of her reassurance is different. I found that having access to a place of safety while reading about climate change allowed me to experience a greater range of emotions than I usually have when reading about this subject. It was a surprise. Perhaps I’d come to feel that anger, sorrow and despair are the only legitimate emotions for the subject to provoke, but in a children’s book that wouldn’t feel right. As an adult, it was oddly refreshing to face the collapse of human society from this novel’s fantastical perspective.