A fraudulent philoxenist

‘Blog’ is such an ugly word isn’t it? – particularly for the elegance of thought that has been situated here in response to the event at Glasgow/Cove Park. Our Scottish ‘plateau’ (Bottoms via Deleuze) has been articulated and archived, represented and re-articulated, deconstructed and disseminated – and rather finely ‘cared for’ – on these pages. Performance work has been collated, addressed, prized, praised and enjoyed-again and there are thoughts to store, to cohere, to ponder, to admire, to envy.

What, then, to add? Has anyone else had blog-daunt, as I have?

But still … . This offering is highly selective and misses out much. (I am wistful for not mentioning owls/women, tree-dances, nissen hut action, ladles by beds, confluences of river-streams and addressed haggises.) The first part toys with something that’s been niggling away about hosting. The second part is a partial archive of ‘my bit’ and follows themes already started in these blogs. At Cove Park, I opted to focus on the small, to attend to a detail. Both Steve and Helen have articulated, beautifully, something of this move from the abstract to the very particular, to attentiveness and detail. I’m in that area too.

In working with Dee Heddon on the middle-if-North weekend of this network, I found myself in a curious role of partial hosting. I raised this at the weekend, some may remember, and it’s stayed with me in musing about the Glascove event, scoring my thinking.

Daniel Watt talks of a ‘philoxenist’ host as ‘one who loves strangers – or loves hospitality and hosting’ (2006: 26). I wouldn’t say I love strangers but I relish hosting (and do rather like strangers if I’m hosting them…). Helping create the event with Dee – inviting speakers, designing the focus and activities, chatting about fish’n’chip suppers, planning breakfast and lunch, cooking – was all a delight. I enjoyed, too certain moments: in seeing folk settled and exchanging ideas at the far end of the main room before Saturday’s dinner; watching people adapt quickly to Cove Park (getting the wood-burner to fire; Helen on excellent kitchen-work!). Like Dee, I was put out when there appeared to be criticism of the site. There was an investment in the site that was, I admit, host-like.

This was a faux-hosting though. Dee was welcoming me as co-organiser, generously, but it was her patch, if anybody’s. And Cove Park is a mighty fickle place to try to host anyway. It is, more, a ‘xenodochium’, a term Watt uses playfully when he asks, ‘aren’t all homes more like the xenodochium (a house of reception for strangers and pilgrims: a hostel, guest-house, esp. in a monastery): a chance refuge, a place for passing through?’ (26) This might well be an appropriate description for Cove Park: a welcoming environment that had qualities of a chance refuge or a temporary ‘hostel’ – that needed little hosting. We were in a place that was self-referentially for visitors (a ‘conversation park’ for passers-by) who used the place and left their cereals with egalitarian ease. We (Dee and I) were not the mistresses of that site; we did not own it or control it, which Derrida claimed as intrinsic to hospitality, of course. Yet I felt hostly. It was a curious, not unpleasant feeling, and it impacted on my response to the purpose of the weekend: reflecting on environmental change…

I had worried – as Steve says too – about whether we were engaging fully enough in matters of environmental change in our work and hoped this would emerge more fulsomely on our middle plateau. It was, I think now, part of the philoxenist tendency. A love of hosting an event for the facilitation of new ideas? A desire to help create a positive and constructive space for practical thought? A sense of responsibility for the focus of the network? There is caution and nervousness attached to creating an event – not least in asking eminent colleagues to create performance work on wet Scottish hillsides – but that, too, is a hostly response of course.

What was most interesting was to recognise that in being however equivocal a host, I went through a process of ‘giving away’. Derrida suggests noone can be altruistic enough to be truly hospitable; you can’t give away all that you own to your ‘guests’. What happened at the Glascove event for me was perhaps a form of fraudulent ‘giving away’ – fraudulent because I actually had little to give. Instead, perhaps, I passed on psychological responsibilities – paradoxically, a form of ‘un-hosting’? A result of the psychological ‘passing over’ was a savouring and delight in the new turns taken in our reflections on environmental change and no more concerns about the extent to which we were ‘meeting objectives’. The work meandered and wandered, finding its own practical ruminations. This was initiated at the Friday symposium, with its eclectic speakers, and extended through the weekend. So, with thanks to Dee and Steve, my co-hosting allowed me to feel wrapped (although not shrink-wrapped) into the weekend; the subsequent un-hosting or ‘giving away’ offered a form of liberation for experiment and an acceptance of ‘slow pedagogies’ or, maybe, ‘accruing attentions’? It was evident too in my own choices. Rather than concerns with the large-scale (which I had anticipated), I engaged with the small, perfectly satisfied with a homunculus of environmental concerns. (It was, too, additional fraudulent philoxenism as, together with a resident light-with-agency, I played host in a space a couple of metres square to passing visitors.)

Just musings.

2. The work: Living with Environmental Change.

The Upper Case:
• ‘Living with Environmental Change is a partnership of 22 major UK public sector funders and users of environmental research, including the research councils and central government departments. The 10-year programme aims to optimise the coherence and effectiveness of UK environmental research funding and ensure government, business and society have the foresight, knowledge and tools to mitigate, adapt to and capitalise on environmental change.’ (http://www.lwec.org.uk)
• Living with Environmental Change is the politics of inconvenient truths-and-lies and Planet Stupid (see David’s link to Guardian article).
• Living with Environmental Change is hearing of recent nuclear waste at Faslane and Coulport.
• Living with Environmental Change is a worry of not knowing how to Live with Environmental Change or how to communicate it or how to encourage the learning of it…

the lower case:
• living with environmental change is watching a mother change her environment happily leaving behind her life-belongings in moving to a home. (On the train to London, David Harradine tells of a colleague’s great-aunt who lived globally. By way of a house, flat and room, she spent her last two months in one chair.)
• living with environmental change is noticing a light in the day (or Dee’s not-yet-a-light) and tutting wryly.
• living with environmental change is feeling I should be supporting a mother in Monmouth and not dwelling so richly in the Scottish environment.
• living with environmental change is turning away from large scale space and the nuclear and Scottish grandeur to attend to detail – and surprising myself by doing so.

I chose to attend to the small, then, to comment on a fragment of energy waste amidst the overwhelming size of issue that we were grappling with at Glascove (the immense task of communicating, with effect and integrity, matters of environmental change through site-specific performance … the global and local complexity of living with nuclear warheads and their stealthy carriers …). Every five to ten minutes over a two hour period, I photographed a light that had been left on during the day, remaining in the space to experience ‘the Wastetime’ until dusk came. Whilst waiting I wrote, alternating between my mother’s environmental change (on one side of recycled tablecloth) and ‘things I had tried to learn’ about current environmental issues (on the other). A conversation between guilts, perhaps.

Light [click here to see the sequence of path light images]

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