Friday, December 12, 2008

Han længes også efter grønland igen (he also is longing for Greenland again)

'Modern memory is, above all, archival. It relies entirely on the materiality of the trace, the immediacy of the recordings, the visibility of the image.' - Pierra Nora

'Lieux de memoire originates with the sense that there is no spontaneous memory, that we must deliberately create archives, maintain anniversaries, organize celebrations,... because such activities no longer occur naturally' -Pierre Nora

It has been a while since I last wrote. Since it is now coming towards the end of December, I have begun to wrap up my project. This has been very hard since I think I could spend another year going through the Arctic Institute's archive and not be bored.

The following writing is a fiction piece I am working on for my show in mid January at the Institute. I have attached a few of the photographs, too. I hope to have about 6 essays, both fiction and nonfiction, dealing with aspects of the Arctic Institute's collections and Archives.

To give you background on the writing and to briefly familiarize you on who Hinrich Rink was: He was a Danish scientist who lived in Grønland for over 25 years. He soon became Inspector of South Grønland. He was a prolific writer and researcher and was quite the humanitarian- he was very aware of the intricacies of the Greenlanders' relationship to the Danes. My writing is based on a fictional version of him, after he has died and is living as a ghost in the attic of the Arctic Institute....

Hinrich Rink resides on the 4th floor of a building in Christianshavn. He has always been a letter writer and wonders if his hair needs to be cut, beard trimmed. While diagramming East Greenlandic archaeological sites from memory he worries if he is becoming too similar to his drawings. Hinrich observes the meticulous spiders waiting for a random bit of food to penetrate through the archive’s airtight barricade. In the evening he paces back and forth for sheer enjoyment, when all is silent and the janitor has gone home.

Thumbing through boxes with folders and documents and drawers with drawings and maps, Rink purges his delight by counting how often his name occurs. This originated a few years ago while going through cases from 1840’s through 1880’s. So many letters and drafts and edits of his musings and good tidings and studies. But soon the practice became too easy for it was either he authoring the documents or his colleagues. The 1900’s would be a suitable jump, he thought. It became a challenge: to see if his work, his drawings and words lived beyond his departure from Greenland. Who mentioned him? What purpose were they using his insight from the 1800’s? Was he or his studies the topic of conversation? Despite his humbleness he had always considered his work of the utmost importance. Critical. He celebrated with a drink of schnapps when his name occurred, though it was seldom.

One day he came across a document that had slipped off the ledge of his memory and into the fjord. Waterlogged and dirty, he wondered what had caused its grave deterioration. Opening the folded brittle pages, he peered into his own handwriting, perfect penmanship of a middle aged man and not the nervous handling from an old, old man. Danish writing on one side and Greenlandic on the other - the lists and lists of words congregated into topics such as kajaking and land. The Greenlandic words swirled with the earth and its relationship to humans and to himself, as community, as individual, as wanderer, as hunter, as woman, as child, as dog, as storm and ice floe. Alive on the page Rink observed himself deciphering grammar and structure from Danish to Greenlandic and back again. The Danish words burned quickly away, offering no contoured landscape to ponder, no animal to bait. He quickly closed the pages, becoming self-conscious of himself spying on himself from 150 years ago. The pages shuddered back into their manila folder, back into their black archival box, back onto their metal shelf. And back he went to his nightly pacing.

This incident left him agitated over what else he may have misplaced. What else had gone missing? Old lovers and favourite dogs? Sunny hillsides and drafty houses? What else had disappeared into the brash waters of the fjord? Were they still traceable, leaving fishing line tails to catch? Did these things leave thank-you or ransom notes behind? The sacred pages that had opened this forgotten realm again lay dormant. He continued his usual shuffling of papers, journaling, diagramming, and sweeping cobwebs from his hair when he didn’t keep up with the lady spiders spinning.

Shyly, he began to play a game, though he would deny it. In his shuffling, journaling and diagramming he would open the black archival box and then proclaim how silly he was, for it was not the box he needed. This flirtation continued for a week. By the following week it had developed past opening the box. Now he took out the manila folder only to laugh and quickly repack it back onto the shelf. How long would this game continue, he finally proclaimed in exasperation as the spiders darted away at the commotion!

The next day, in his feigned confidence, Hinrich Rink approached the shelf and purposely took out the sacred folder that cradled the Danish to Greenlandic words. It was lovelier than he had remembered. He seated himself at his desk with its small lamp casting a glow upon the yellow stains. Again he steadily turned each page, willing himself to recall the strokes of his hand once placing the symbols so thoughtfully onto the paper. So many I’s and P’s and Q’s in this language, he observed. The longer he gazed at the two languages the more both wavered between towers and highways, golden grass prairies and vicious tornadoes, a fleet of schooners and a couple on a Sunday stroll. He glided through the lists of words, intertwining his fingers and toes through them, pulling on them to see if they would move and rearrange. But they held fast to their page, their order and lines.

That evening marked a homecoming. Hinrich Rink returned again and again to the archived folder that contained his own handwriting from 150 years before. In it was a letter from an American written in English. The letter explained Alaskan native populations’ dialects and stated the hope of answering all of Hinrich’s questions. Who was to say now? They may have been his questions then but many scholars had come since to ask and answer them over and over again. Hinrich scripted a response to the cordial letter to see how the fellow was getting along. But perhaps he was too late.

‘A’ to ‘B’ to ‘D’, Hinrich Rink tiptoed into the river of his Greenland memory. It was true that many had already flowed so far out into the fjord that he, in his old age, would never retrieve them. He came to feel ’nalusuunerup taarsuanit’ (out of the great darkness of ignorant people). Yet, now, not people but history’s vastness, and he would never find the point where the edges of light came together.

He remembered a time when Atuagagdliutit was young and infant in its circulation. How far it finally travelled along the Western Greenlandic coast by sledge, by boat, by word of mouth! How wonderful its hunting and trading news and stories flowed, filling the night air with the Greenlandic written word, other than the Bible, spoken out loud. He remembered the printing press crammed into his Godthåb home and its urgent thumping voice sometimes saying faster, faster! There is not enough time! Volume by volume the newspaper grew.

He remembered his friend Aron of Kangeq and the gift of color and line that flowed from the paper. The illustrations he imagined through Hinrich’s descriptions of war and fighting. Hinrich remembered the teacher training college built in Godthåb, 1845, and the Greenlanders who fulfilled curious destinies in contrast to their parents. Strange puddles began to appear on the floor and dew settled on the spiders’ webs. Heinrich recalled reading his paper ‘The Results of the Recent Danish Explorations in Greenland, with regards to the Inland Ice’ at the Edinburgh Geological Society’s meeting on 1886 and other papers he presented to this geological society and that historical society. Water began to cause his socks to remain wet all day. And soon the cuffs of his pants. He remembered………….. and ……………………. Soon his nightly pacing became replaced with nightly wading through knee-height floating text and typographies, folders and photos. Still he remembered …………….. and …………………… Soon he kept a towel close by so that his wet hands would not damage the filmy paper documents. Still he remembered …………… and ………………… Hinrich finally realized he could float on his back in the water. The flood was irreversible. It contained no foundation, no levy and no damn. No tree to push up against its banks, its shorelines. All were washed away.

Memory lifted Hinrich’s feet off the wooden floor. He caught hold of cardboard boxes spewing out personal correspondences from Danes celebrating Jule, caught hold of metal shelves releasing index cards of Inuit language dialects, caught hold of drawings and paintings from artists that he did not recognize. He dove to retrieve glass plate negatives already sinking into the papery sludge on the floor. But there was nowhere to keep them safe, unharmed, catalogued! The water, oh, the water of memory! And the memory of water! Cold, Arctic water, shading seal and whale, unlucky hunter and kajak! Memory’s fjord on the move as Spring turns to summer and its solid icebergs clef and birth! Rumbling and melting down and up over him! How Hinrich wanted to forget! Oh, Greenland! There is no way to forget! Jeg længes efter grønland igen!


Matt said...

sign me up for the first copy of your book

Thea said...

ha ha ha..thanks...

Teck said...

Thea your writting just soars. I can visualize the ghost of Hinrich going thru the boxes and finding things he had forgotten. I remember a year ago when you went thru a box of items, drawings, etc. that we had saved thru the years. You laughed and kept saying did I do or I remember doing this.
Yes we all have archives in our mind and in boxes of saved items

Lindsay said...

One day when you are famous I can say I knew you long ago... and then if I actually have a job I can curate you into some hot exhibition:)