Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Need For Roots

Why Dig up a Heritage? Finding a way out of Rootlessness

In 1995 I went on an performance arts tour and pilgrimage of part of Aboriginal Australia in the Tanami, Northern Territory, and The Kimberley of Western Australia.

There, I encountered a view that while Aborigines had their 'totem maps', or land-written 'dreamings' or stories, the modern 'kardiya' (the white man) was often seen to have lost his story, his family heritage> He was said to have no dreaming. (*"White Man Got No Dreaming by W.E.H Stanner a Sydney academic who did much research in the Northern Territory)

But I already knew some of my own heritage, for my mother (Laurel Knoll -nee Jackel), had been working with my cousin Lindsay to uncover much of the lineage. I then realised that what I wanted to do, was to put flesh on these bones, and to relate the personal lineage into any of the patterns, collective movements, or tides, of wider history, and to relocate them in real local and general events.

I had already been very influenced by Simone Weil, (a Jewish convert to Christianty and a then member of the French Resistance) in her book " The NEED FOR ROOTS" which was written at the request of Charles de Gaulle when he was a leader of the Resistance, to analyze what had gone wrong with France - and be a guide for its reconstruction when the Nazis were defeated.
[My copy of her book has a commendationary, yet cautionary forward by T.S. Eliot.]

Weil was no small thinker, and she would not just write her book for France. She subtitled her thesis "Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Toward Mankind." The upshot of her argument seems to lead to the conclusion that rootlessness (deracinement) is at the heart of our world problem.

Simone Weil puts a case that what is wrong with us, the deep problem, is that we are lost from our moorings, lost from the values and ties in the heighth, depth and breadth of our own story.

She finds that much of the anomie and brokenness of modern life that gave rise to the French capitulation to the Nazi's in WW1, came out of the relativity of values and failure of love of place and people. This anomie and fragmentation has largely grown worse in the sixty years since, at least, especially in the New World, if I can take Australia as my example.

This rootlessness now shows itself in widespread apathy, as in the 'who cares?" [this is now " Whatever!?') attitude that is rampant as weeds in a deserted market garden.

The boredom, violence and vandalism of a culture in breakdown is the fruit of deracination, the outgrowth of the loss of continuity with place and a past, a tragedy come of the shipwreck of our personal heritage.

Finding our ancestors, and what the story has been, might give us a heavier anchor with which to sail out into these wayward seas.