Friday, 27 February 2009

The Goddess and Geography

by Alistair Livingston

If there is anything that radically distinguishes the imagination of anti-imperialism, it is the primacy of the geographical element. Imperialism after all is an act of geographical violence through which virtually every space in the world is explored, charted, and finally brought under control. For the native, the history of colonial servitude is inaugurated by loss of the locality to the outsider; its geographical identity must thereafter be searched for and somehow restored. Because of the presence of the colonising outsider, the land is recoverable at first only through the imagination.

Edward Said: Culture and Imperialism: 1994: 271

That historically patriarchy and imperialism were one and the same should be fairly obvious. That the persistence of the cultural structures of patriarchy implies the persistence of imperialism is less obvious. Ours is the era of globalisation rather imperialism. Yet as Said explains in 'Culture and Imperialism' [written against the background of the war against Iraq in 1991], empire is not yet ended.

With Iraq once again the subject of 'geographical violence', the spectre of empire continues to haunt us.

Of particular significance is one of the creation myths which emerged in ancient Iraq. This myth, which may refer to the conquest of Sumeria by Akkad [the empire of Babylon], is that of the slaying of the goddess Tiamat by the warrior-hero Marduk.

According to this geographical and cosmological creation myth, the world we live in is formed from the dismembered corpse of the goddess. Having killed the goddess, the empire of the patriarchs expanded to fill the void Marduk created -- or the world he destroyed.

To move beyond patriarchy and empire then, as Said suggests, the 'geographical identity' of the goddess must be searched for and somehow restored. Yet, as with the loss of locality to empire and its possession by 'outsiders', restoration is at first only through the imagination.

This is an important point. The imagination is often dismissed as 'wishful thinking', as a refuge from the 'hard facts' of the world. One hundred years ago, as Said points out, even a novelist like Joseph Conrad in 'Heart of Darkness', could not imagine beyond the 'hard fact' of a world divided between imperial powers.

And yet beginning first with the imagining of a world after imperialism, the native inhabitants of Europe's empires created such a world.

However, as we now realise, the ending of formal empires is insufficient. The process of globalisation is the continuation of imperialism by other means. We must imagine beyond the end of empire to the even more 'unimaginable' end of patriarchy.

We must imagine the negation of Marduk's mythical destructive 'creation' of the world from the dismembered corpse of a goddess. Thus we must re-member and re-imagine the geographical reality of a living world as 'natives' rather than as colonising 'outsiders'.

However, as Said shows, the possibility of such a transformation is incomprehensible and unimaginable to the colonisers and imperialists, to the patriarchs. Equally, as with the British in India, where 4000 civil servants, 16 000 army officers and 10 000 merchants and businessmen ruled 300 million people, the illusion of power and control is all. Once the cultural illusion of imperial dominance began to fail, independence for India became inevitable. That which had been 'unimaginable' became a reality in 1947.

Re-membering the geography of our world as that of a living planet and of ourselves as part of her body is the first, imaginary, part of an, as yet unimaginable, transformation of reality...

Alistair Livingston January 2004

Letter from Alistair:

Dear Stephanie,

you ask who I am...

I am 45. I live in a small town/village called Castle Douglas inthe far south-west of Scotland. I have three teenage children-two boys and a girl [or rather young woman since she is now 17]. My youngest is both blind and physically disabled.

Although I was born here, I lived in London for 20 years. Betwen 1984 and her death aged 33 in 1996, I lived with and later was married to Tanith. [ or Pinki as she was also known]

She left home at 16 to become a punk in London and then at 19 joined the Women's Peace Camp at Greenham Common. She lived there between 1981 and 1984 and has been described to me as 'inspirational'...

She combined political activism with academic study, including public international law. She was deeply fascinated by ancient Sumeria, especially the city of Uruk, home of the goddess Inanna.

We spent a lot of time discussing the origins of patriarchy - which she traced to the time when the Sumerian 'hero' Gilgamesh built a wall around the city of Uruk ...

Since moving back 'home', I have concentrated my non-childcare time on researching local history and helping local community projects.

Beneath the surface though , I am still carrying on a conversation[or argument!] with Tanith about the origins of patriarchy, or if the world really is a living goddess, or if scientific rationality is the 'one' true description of the world...

Then I find a bit of teenager free time [difficult, due to their nocturnal habits] and jot down some ideas... The Goddess and the Geography of Empire is one result.

Trouble is, there is no Tanith to argue through the points with, so I am never sure if I am challenging or reproducing patriarchy...


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