Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Where Do I Go From Here?

Those regular readers who clicked through to the refugee-related blog I put over on How I Learned to Sing to protect the poeliacs* amongst you will have noticed the blog included extracts from an essay I wrote in 2001 for the publication accompany artist Geoff Broadway's piece Where Do I Go From Here? This work was based on Geoff's spell as Artist-in-Residence at Durham Cathedral, and connected interviews with people who had taken asylum in the North East to the 12th century knocker still to be found at the Cathedral. You could knock on the door and take sanctuary for 40 days, apparently, no questions asked, be it debt collectors, angry cuckolds or oligarchs who were after you.

I only included extracts I found online as I couldn't put my hand on my version of the full essay, either in digital or hard copy, and the page had fallen off Geoff's site. Anyway, I've now got a copy of the whole thing and have uploaded it here.

It was interesting and not a little depressing reading the piece after so many years, although I was pleased that I thought it was actually a good piece of work - albeit not as powerful as Geoff's own work of course. There is something a little terrifying about reading work old enough for me to have forgotten it, or exactly what I said and how. This was a better such experience than many I've had.

The depressing thing was that there were so many sentences that could have been written in the last fortnight, and all of the quotations I used in the piece could also still be dropped into certain kinds of conversations all too comfortably. It's weird that the essay includes a number of quotations from Brecht, about whom I wrote apropos of something completely different recently, although he was, of course, a refugee himself: 'I’m like the man who took a brick to show/ How beautiful his house used once to be.' 

The most challenging of the things I wrote may be these sentences, as they address anyone, including me, tempted to a virtue-signalling gesture that inadvertently suggests this 'crisis' is a temporary thing solvable simply by being kind, rather than an ongoing phenomenon that requires kindness perhaps above all, but not alone, if we are to change any government behaviour:

'It is simplistic to think asylum is simply  a matter of compassion or otherwise. It is ruled by political and economic priorities. Why else would Canada accept, for instance, 82 % of applicants from Sri Lanka as refugees according to UN definitions, whilst Britain considers only 0.2% of applicants from Sri Lanka eligible.'

Anyway, you can read the whole thing here, it has a killer quote from Zadie Smith, I'm withholding to tempt you...

*Verse-aversion or intolerance

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