Pedagogies: Committed, Critical, In the Plural, Feral, Resistant, De-colonial, Adaptive, Tactical, Practiced, Engaged, Transformative, Listening, Situated, A Work in Process, Ecological, Embodied, Embracing, Whispering, Observant, Hidden…
Finding ourselves in quarantine, I made a digital scrapbook for my Critically Committed Pedagogy students reflecting on a January day we spent in my garden. In retrospect, it felt like a moment belonging to another timeline – the one before lockdown.
We began by talking about the origin of our names. Someone named you, and someone named the plants, the birds, the trees, and the sky. We spoke about the colonial desire to name and claim – those legacies reside in our cultural institutions and the nomenclature of the lush green that surrounded us. What is in a name? A short question, but one that holds many answers.
Walking down the small path to my garden house, you passed an Arum Maculatum, which according to Wikipedia, has numerous names: Snakes Head, Adder’s Root, Arum, Wild Arum, Arum Lily, Lords-And-Ladies, Devils And Angels, Cows And Bulls, Cuckoo-Pint, Soldiers Diddies, Priest’s Pintle, Adam And Eve, Bobbins, Naked Girls, Naked Boys, Starch-Root, Wake Robin, Friar’s Cowl, Sonsie-Give-Us-Your-Hand, Jack In The Pulpit, Cheese And Toast.
Names distinguish one thing from another. This is this, and that is that. In a wooded area, a swathe of green is both individuated and grouped through taxonomy. Here is an Arum Maculatum, and this one is an Acanthus. Oh, and look there is another Acanthus.
Do you remember the Metasequoia just by my porch? It’s the one that botanists call a living fossil.
In case you have forgotten, I filmed it for you as a souvenir.
While writing to you, out of curiosity, I looked at Derek Jarman’s journals to see some of the entries he made in January. One from 1989 reads:
I have several Sambucus plants of different varieties and sizes. Their flowers are made into sweet syrup for drinks and their berries are used in cold medicines because of their concentration of vitamin C.
I find consolation in knowing my elders surround me.
Hope, often a fracturing, even a traumatic thing to experience, is among the energies by which the reparatively positioned reader tries to organize the fragments and part-objects she encounters or creates. Because the reader has room to realize that the future may be different from the present, it is also possible for her to entertain such profoundly painful, profoundly relieving, ethically crucial possibilities as that the past, in turn, could have happened differently from the way it actually did.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Series Q) (p. 146). Duke University Press.
Trees look like roots when they lose their leaves.
The last time we spoke, after the virus and its imposed distance, I told you that I was reading, Ocean Vuong’s book, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. In it, he writes: “A name, thin as air, can also be a shield.” (*)
It made me think about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, where article 7 and 8 state that every child has the right to a name and nationality, and the name and nationality should be officially recorded. In our system dominated by archives, registration equals existence.
To be named, to come from a place and to be officially recorded, renders the individual visible amongst the swathe of flesh.
But isn’t there a degree of validity to Juliet’s observation: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”
At first, I found it a pity that everything appeared dormant when you visited my garden. It can be incredibly beautiful in Spring. But after you left, I started wondering about the flowers and when they really start to bloom. Is it when the buds appear, or does it begin when the bulb is planted, or the seed is sown? All I know is, when I look back on that day we spent together, this is how I remember our beginning.
Take care and see you soon on the other side of the quarantine,
(*) Vuong, Ocean. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (p. 18). Random House.