Thursday, 25 May 2017

Reflections on last week's 1:1 tutorial with Dr Juliet MacDonald (19th May)

I opened the discussion by explaining that I had experienced some exciting moments during my research which were particularly unusual! In constantly looking for connections (what I believe to be an essential component of making and finding understandings in creative art). My book review of Helen Macdonald (2006) "Falcon" had already given me connections to Huddersfield through a picture of the late Harold Wilson, and a photograph of him holding a dead Peregrine in the early 1970s.

Imagine my complete surprise when continuing reading Macdonald's book, and on the very last page, there seems to be a picture of a commuter walking through a London underpass, in 2005, with some graffiti on the wall to his left on the wall to his left. Now the fact that I was working in London (with Sun Microsystems) in 2005 is a small coincidence, but the underpass in the photograph is at the London Bridge railway station, which was some 150 yards away from my office. On closer scrutiny, the commuter in McDonald's picture is indeed me! I must've used that railway underpass very regularly on my way to the London office, multiple times a day in fact while commuting from the city centre to my customers at Canary Wharf (Barclays Wealth, Barclays Capital, Barclays Retail, HSBC and others). So while the photograph in itself is a more than incredible likeness to me, there is indeed plenty of evidence to suggest that it truly is me.
Photograph of a hooded Gyrfalcon and Me!, 2005 at London Bridge. (MacDonald, H. (2006), p198.)
Photograph by James Macdonald. 

Quite astounding!

Juliet asked me if I could remember the artwork in the underpass, and while it is evident from the photograph. (I recall at the time I was under a lot of pressure with two massive projects, hence my rather downtrodden demeanour, again providing some corroborative evidence). There is only a very vague sense of identification with the scene in my mind now, which when passed every day, might have been taken for granted at the time. Nevertheless, it is highly possible that some kind of subliminal message through the image may have been planted in my mind. Now, some 12 years later, it seems that my quest for falcon's and the Peregrine, in particular, have led me into some temporal twist of fate.

Perhaps if anything, (as Juliet pointed out) there may have been a repressed wish going on in my head at the time to simply fly away from the circumstances that I was in.

I'm a little ambivalent in my thoughts about contacting Dr Helen Macdonald to try and establish irrefutable proof that the commuter in her book is indeed me. There is every likelihood that it is, but equally, there is worry that I have already created possibilities. These possibilities are something that I'm already interested in and reflect the work of photographer Daan Paans and writer Iain Sinclair around the concepts of myths. The myth in itself is incredibly powerful, and sometimes when they exist or emerge, they are best left to develop through their own germination.

Juliet explained to me that she had very kindly bought Helen Macdonald's "H is for Hawk" (2014) and had also placed an order for the book "The Peregrine" by JA Baker (1967). I am delighted that Juliet is clearly engaging with my project far beyond the level that I would expect to have done. I'm already rather humbled and immensely grateful.

I explained to Juliet that Helen Macdonald's "Falcon" was written some eight years earlier than "H is for Hawk" and published in 2006. This first book is much more of a history of the relationships between falcon's and humans, and I was prompted to purchase it on the back of reading Macdonald's more recent Samuel Johnson prize winner.

While the book "Falcon" is clearly a reflection on Helen Macdonald's absolute love of falconry and the birds themselves, I pointed out that my own engagement with the book "the Peregrine" was not because of any pre-habituated obsession with falconry myself. Indeed, before my commencement of my Master's degree I had very little knowledge about the subject except for a modicum of general knowledge. The reason why I chose the literature was more through serendipity while researching the topic of digital media, and coming across the Hertzog's masterclass. This has already been explained in earlier blogs.

Then went on to explain even more serendipitous connections and lucky circumstance, initially triggered by my module tutor Richard Mulhearn. He suggested that I looked at the work of philosopher and writer John Gray. One of Gray's more recent books of the last few years that was recommended to me by Richard was The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Myths (2016).

The first few chapters are absorbing reflections on the development of 20th-century culture, especially concerning the progress of "civilisation" over the last few thousand years. With various discourses and enquiries into looking at the world events and the changes in attitude before the First World War, during the interwar period, and post-Second World War. This is an exploration of how myths develop. The idea of how (and this is mentioned in Gray's text), with sufficient persuasion, people can believe that two and two make five. The first two chapters, with an initial discourse on Aristotle and Plato which then leads on to civilisation emerging, and then ideas about politics and idealism, concerning various writers including Walter Benjamin during the interwar period, and various others in that circle. In particular, there is a reference to more obscure philosopher by the name of Fritz Mauthner (1849 to 1923), who it seems was a reference for much of the work by the more great Ludwig Wittgenstein. Indeed, Wittgenstein probably used the thoughts of Fritz Mauthner for much of his own Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

In Mauthner's analysis of language "Contributions to the Critique of Language" Gray explains the Irish poet Samuel Beckett, having read much of his work, identifies that humans, through language, believe in "facts" that are no more than coincidental reason, becoming truth. In fact according to Gray, "the last sentence of Mauthner's  book reads 'pure critique is but an articulated laughter'". Gray, J. (2014).

But coming back to my conversation with Juliet, the reason for mentioning John Gray's book is because the next section, (chapter 3, Another Sunlight) starts off with a passage from none other than JA Baker's "The Peregrine" (1967). It continues on a discourse about Baker's goal, the illusion of freedom, and the author's deep subconscious desire to escape his own world, and enjoy the freedom of flight et cetera.

I recognise that all of this work through my own research activities continually narrowing down to those peculiar temporal and existential ties that I keep finding are no more than coincidental. Yet there is an underlying feeling of tremendous relief and wonderment that I'm able to make these cohesive links. There is a lovely, almost magical quality in the way that things seem to be coming together. The progress provides me with great motivation to continue.

Having explained my difficulty in attempting to read some of Donna Haraway's "When Species Meet" (2008), it was suggested that rather than try to read this full book, it may be useful to read Haraway's "Companion Species Manifesto". This is a much shorter explanation of Haraway's ideas and co-evolving relationships.

We discussed the ideas that I have around rapport and mutual respect and my notions of stripping away all of the superfluous human attributes, sensations and perceptions that we experience, back to just black-and-white images that are interested in just edges and lines as a kind of halfway, mediated communication with hawks. The ideas of rapport and mutual respect are particularly of interest and importance because this is not about a shared vision, but there may be areas of overlap.

My intended output for this project is to submit my edited research blog, but also to provide a more academic research essay explaining my journey. The critical reflective summary contained in the previous model was a good vehicle for articulating my research and conclusions in a reasonably concise way. I recognise that it's unlikely that the whole project will be entirely resolved by mid-July for the first hand in period.  My feelings at the moment are that my work is likely to be an open-ended discussion and exploration that can lead other people (as well as myself) to form and draw their own conclusions or further motivations. A reflective essay supported by research can be written as a sort of narrative, almost chronological in a way particularly with these curious coincidences that seem to triangulate my thoughts as I'm working forward.

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