Landmarkings, vol. 8.2
Annotations on how we make sense of the world and tell its stories.
Friends and readers,
The first part of this dispatch is here. And this, the second, is more of a raconteur’s handbook, with a spotlight on one of our little community and what they’ve been working on—with their minds, their hands.
Writers on the road
Is the Digital Age Costing Us Our Ability to Wander? by Alejandro Chacoff, in reviewing Antonio Muñoz Molina’s novel, To Walk Alone in the Crowd:
Whatever the source of his malaise, the flâneur’s classic gesture of unearthing leads, here, not to imagined human stories or a contemplation of the city’s haunted past but to a catalogue of used-up products, a few marked by multinational brand names, none pointing to anything beyond itself. Throughout the book, it is difficult to tell which city the wandering narrator is in unless he explicitly names it. There may be a tacit critique in this approach: have big cities across the globe become products, too, soulless and interchangeable? Still, there is something self-defeating in an homage to flânerie that offers little sense of place.
What is really missing, though, is humanity—or specific, ordinary instances of it. Muñoz Molina’s narrator embodies the detachment of the flâneur but not his capacity for empathy. He tries to be “all eyes and ears.” This is a different goal than, as Woolf has it, briefly inhabiting “the bodies and minds of others.” Such imaginative habitation is why Woolf went walking, and how she escaped the self.
On the Logistics of Memory; Or, Writing While Uprooted, by Anjanette Delgado:
For the uprooted, a room of their own is not enough to write; her most important tool is not paper and pen or pencil, not even place or space. It’s memory. But from the moment she leaves, she is halved; her memories are tainted by sadness, by guilt, by relief cooked in regret. Who did she leave behind? If she was forced to leave, her sadness is unbearable. If she chose to, the guilt murders her daily. She doesn’t yet belong in the new place, but the old place is already dissolving, never to exist again. Not exactly. Plus, forget identity. Who is she, really? Her new environment knows nothing about her—just that she is a person who leaves.
I think you have to feel free to go down roads that don’t lead anywhere immediately. I was essentially going for a wander, and collecting something and stick it on the back shelf in hopes that I would someday use it. And I did. And if you do enough of those little wanderings, then you have a shelf that’s packed with all kinds of really cool things. But doing something just because you can perceive in the moment that it might be useful is a really good way of not gathering anything at all. Because you can’t know in the moment. The pressure’s too high. Who knows, you know, what will come of some stray fact? You just have to be patient.
You’re reading a newsletter by Emily Ding about how we seek and tell stories to make sense of a changing world and our personal and collective place in it.
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How we make sense of the world & tell its stories
Apophenia: How the Internet Transforms the Individual into a Conspiracy of One, by Edward Snowden:
when you do live at the center of a private world, reverse-engineered from your own search history, you begin to notice patterns that others can’t. Believe me when I say I know what it feels like to be told that you’re the only one who sees the connection—a pattern of injustice, say—and that you’re downright crazy for noticing anything at all. To manufacture meaning from mere coincidence is the essence of paranoia, the gateway to world-building your own private conspiracies—or else to an epiphany that allows you to see the world as it actually is.
The Sticky Issue of Consent in Street Photography by Dina Litovsky:
Requiring consent pretty much eliminates street and most documentary photography as a genre. For some people that would be an absolutely fair price to pay. For many others, myself included, that would be a very unfortunate world to live in. I fell in love with street photography because of its vital place in our culture, reflecting our fragile reality back to ourselves.
I’ve always shied away from the story that is about a woman performing something that is not normally associated with women, because that had become a kind of tired trope in magazines—you know, the first woman arc welder, or whatever. So I think that I’ve avoided those stories. There was something about going, “Oh my God, oh my God, there’s a woman doing a man’s job” that really offended me, because you think, Well, wait a minute, this shouldn’t be treated as a crazy freak show; we should accept it as that’s the way things should be, so let’s not turn it into a big deal. But the bottom line is, I didn’t write the story with that as the point. I just thought, This is an interesting thing to observe, and I don’t have to feel burdened by this idea that, oh, the big point of the story is girls doing a man’s sport, but instead let’s go past that and write about the experience that these girls have doing this sport.
Great article by James Hansen on this debacle you’ve surely heard of: London Chef Elizabeth Haigh’s Cookbook Withdrawn After Plagiarism Allegations, with particularly egregious filching—personal history anecdotes even, though this also brings up the question of what happens when personal memory overlaps with collective memory?—from Singaporean writer Sharon Wee:
Haigh and Wee alike are enmeshed in a cookbook industry that—particularly when publishing books that aren’t in Eurocentric culinary traditions—frequently reduces people’s credentials to lived experiences. It uses these credentials to turn cookbook authors and chefs into monolithic avatars for representation, even if the avatar goes beyond their knowledge of a given cuisine, tradition, or place. It, as in the restaurant industry, limits these avatars to one or two per cuisine, creating scarcity, and then judges their continued suitability for the role. Either on the purported authenticity of their stories, or, worse, what they look like.
Rethinking Reporting on the Place Where You Live by Sari Botton:
I still felt compelled to be the foremost chronicler of my area. I see now that I didn’t necessarily have the healthiest of motivations, nor sufficient perspective on an area I was fairly new to, nor my role as a newcomer from the city. I got a rush each time I sensed there was a story and then managed to persuade my editors to let me cover it. It felt like a conquest, and stoked my ego. […] I went on to write and co-write some really dumb shit I now regret (nope, not linking) without much self-awareness, or the realization that even articles framing gentrification as a scourge tend to inspire speculators to start buying up property and driving up housing prices, which eventually leads to displacement.
As more of you join in here, I thought it would be nice to share what you’ve been tending to, professionally or personally. This week, let me draw your attention to the pottery work of one of my favorite people, Li Sia Tan, who is a Malaysian digital designer based in London.
Some words from Sia:
“I learned hand-building with clay in my foundation year at university, and made clay figures for people’s birthdays, like for my gong gong. When I moved to London about five years ago I did a taster pottery class with the wheel, and then started a weekly routine. But after some months, I began to feel frustrated: I wasn’t progressing, and I found myself disliking pottery more than I loved it. So I took a hiatus. After a year away, though, I started to miss it and decided to go back. I’ve kept at it ever since. I find it calming. It’s a way to switch off from the world, using my hands to make something. I’ve sold a few pieces to friends—sets of plates, jugs and bowls, a vase. Otherwise, I make what I need, or what I think could be fun to make. I like simplicity, and I like colors—bright or pastel hues, speckles. I just want to keep making more, improving and having fun, and hopefully I’ll be able to have my own little store one day.”
You can follow her on Instagram @lisia.ceramics
Before you go, don’t forget the first part of this letter.
Until the next,