lunedì, luglio 12, 2010

Time and forgetting

Oh argh. Had a lovely fortnight of vacation with a niece and nephew, who had never seen Europe before and needed to while I was still here, and now I'm back - missing them, working, facing the mountains of tasks involved in leaving Brussels, and apparently coming down with a cold despite the two-week heatwave. Oh well. I still feel better for it. And have discovered something I didn't know or understand at all in the past: time works differently for children. I should have known that because I can actually remember time working differently for me back in the day. But it was not something I understood on a practical level until now. Two weeks would have been a ridiculously short time for them to do all the stuff we'd done even if they'd been adults . . . at their age I'm shocked we survived. Luckily they're good kids.

Whilst whizzing around the continents on trains, managed to read two books: Middlemarch and King Leopold's Ghost, both awfully good in their very different ways. Middlemarch was a hell of a tasty treat. I don't think I could have read it when I was any younger though . . . back to conceptions of time. It would have defeated me at the first chapter. George Eliot takes a special kind of patience, or a special kind of conception of time, which is basically the same thing as patience - not one that is encouraged by modern patterns of entertainment. It invites you in, and then she talks to you - George Eliot's narrative voice discusses the state of her characters, which could seem long-winded to the impatient, but to the patient, it's the smartest and most understanding person ever having an awesome conversation with you. And this is the case in Middlemarch like in no other book of hers that I've read, though I still consider Adam Bede as the finest piece of ass in literature.

King Leopold's Ghost was wonderfully well-written and interesting, though shocking how the blurb on the back had so little to do with the contents, somebody should tell the author. I recommend it absolutely, even if you know or care nothing about the Congo; it's a good way to start, and it's a fine piece of journalistic writing. What is staying with me the most about it this morning, though, is how it seems - while discussing a hideous episode and worldwide humanitarian movement that rolled out just over a century ago - like it's already a work of semi-archaeological history. I can't remember when I first heard about Leopold II and the Congo, but I think it was well after I should have - probably when I was at school for my masters in IR. And I can't remember when I realized the Congo was having a brutal, never-ending war - I think a couple of years before that, or maybe even around the same time.

How could someone like me - a reasonably informed person who read the papers and who minored in history in the undergrad, etc., have no fucking idea for so long? How is it possible that in cultural terms, Europeans and North Americans are better informed about the abuses of the Chinese government in Tibet than of past colonial abuses, present post-colonial economic dealings, and the jaw-droppingly brutal wars they feed and finance in Africa, where so much of our population has came from by hook or by crook? Why has Africa made our collective eyes glaze over? I really don't know the answer to these questions.

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