Colleagues of mine recently asked me to ‘teach’ them how to write first-person narratives using interview transcripts. What method did I use? What were the steps I followed? How long should they be? Did I edit out stutters and conversational fillers? Did I correct grammar?
They knew I had written first-person narratives before and knew that I advocated it as a honest and accessible form of sociological writing. That is true, so I was happy to comply. However, what happened next surprised me. I found it incredibly difficult to describe how I edited a transcript or why I made the editorial decisions I did. Instead of a series of techniques to be learnt, I found myself coming back to the form of relation I was in when undertaking the editing. What follows is one of many attempts to describe how and why I work with interview transcripts. Continue reading Working with a Transcript→
They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
A few years ago I read the Gospel of Mark with some friends. We moved slowly and carefully through the text, often spending a whole evening on just a few lines. One passage that struck me was the ‘feeding of the 5000’. In that story Mark describes the miracle of the fishes and loaves in which Jesus turns a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish into food for 5,000. At the end of the story Mark says, ‘They ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up the twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over’.
Those twelve basketfuls of leftover bread troubled me. I recall badgering my fellow readers about it. Why the excess? God knows the hairs numbered on your head, why not stop with food sufficient to feed the 5,000? Why create more than was needed? What would happen to those extra pieces of bread? Would they be eaten the next day or would they go to waste? What could this excess mean? Was it a symbol of luxury, a Gallilean potlatch?
My naive questions, generously accommodated by my friends, bellied a genuine concern about wasteful excess. But what I didn’t realise then was that the feeding of the multitudes isn’t a story about consumption. It is a story about what is given. It is a story about the abundance of a love sufficient to cover us all, a love that isn’t limited by number, a love available to any who might come.
I didn’t know what I was going to say to you today. Only on the train, on the way in here, did it become clear. I realised that I’d been given the very thing that had to be said.
Absent-mindedly driving to work yesterday, I stopped at traffic lights. Waiting to cross the road were a mother with a toddler in a stroller. The child was turning around to engage the mother and something about the intensity of their moment shook me from my half-life. I saw them: I saw how alive they were. For them, everything in the world was unfolding from this moment together, whereas for me it was only the empty time between leaving home and arriving at work. At the corner of Darley and King Streets, Newtown, at 11.10am on Thursday 2/11/17, two worlds touched, one a half-world of befores and laters and the other a vital moment of here and now.
What came to mind, unsought, was Pieter Bruegels’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, and Auden’s poem about it, Musée des Beaux-Arts. These two have been constant reference points in my adult life. When I got my first academic job, at Macquarie University in 1984, the first and almost only decoration in my office was a print of the painting, with Auden’s poem glued to its back. Somewhat pompously, perhaps, it was to remind me of the role of sociologists: to witness the suffering that would otherwise go unnoticed. In 1989, the picture came with me to my office at UNSW, and it stayed for decades, until the foxing became too embarrassing.
While I was staying in Anghiari at Christmas time, 2016-17, I began conducting interviews with people who live in the town. Some were conducted in Italian, some in English. They will all be posted in both languages. Here is the first of these.
Il senso di appartenenza ad Anghiari: Carlo Rossi
Carlo, 54 anni, è un artista. L’ho intervistato nel suo studio nel centro medievale di Anghiari, in una gelida giornata di gennaio. L’intervista, condotta in italiano, è stata poi trascritta e tradotta in inglese da Mirella Alessio e questa ne è una versione editata.
Praticamente…vivo nella casa dove sono nato, ancora vivo lì, dormo nel letto dove sono nato. Praticamente, dopo aver viaggiato tanto, sono tornato a casa ad abitare con i miei e quindi sono rimasto sempre con loro e ora ci sono io in quella casa e ci vivrò fino a quando non morirò.
‘They ran in that resonance which is the world itself and which cannot be spoken but only praised’ (Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses).
I rode home last night through a bracing wind. It was coming up from the harbour when I crossed the bridge. The sun had just set behind the city buildings and the water was dark. Deep and blue, but only just.
The road leading up to Observatory Hill was dark too and the lights on passing bikes were bright in that darkness. It was hard to see and I was frightened, a little. Or tentative. The coming night held an animal grace that I did not. Elemental. And yet, there I was, riding in that alien beauty.
Simona, from the tutto shop, arrives punctually at 9.40 to take us to Il Carmine for Christmas mass. In the car with her are her mother-in-law, and her daughter, Irene, who tells me that she is attending the music secondary school at the top of the old town of Anghiari. She is learning the flute, the piano, and also conducting, for the school has an orchestra.
It is Vigilia, Christmas eve, and, in every shop and bar, people are exchanging ‘tanti auguri’. At the panificio, there is a plate of pastries on offer for customers waiting for the next batch of bread to come out of the oven, and for cakes to be wrapped. The butcher prepares a capon for me – a Christmas day speciality around here. The Christmas eve meal, on the other hand, is ‘di magro’, without meat, and with sweets consisting of dried fruit and nuts. For this meal, he has a vegetarian lasagna on offer. Continue reading Christmas in Anghiari→
My Italian blogs tend to focus on meetings with other people. This makes sense given the wonder of communicating in another language. But, in fact, my daily routines here typically involve walking in these hills, the foothills of the Apennines. And so here is a blog on my first walk on this visit. Continue reading A walk in the Sovara valley→
We belong to the world and are of the world because our formative experience was one of relation and involvement – with the maternal body, and through it, with the world. It is from that primary relation that we derive our ability to love, to feel loved and to be with. But we don’t remember it. We don’t remember the oneness of the womb or our infantile intertwinning with our mother’s bodies because memories belong to subjects and this foundational love was laid down before we became identifiable subjects [bounded subjects before an objective world].
Memory is about parts, separated and put back together. Member, dismember, remember. It is the job of the subject to undertake that ‘recollection’ of discrete events and experiences and forge them into a coherent narrative. But the primary experience I am describing happens to a self that doesn’t have parts, in a world that is without separations. Continue reading unremembered love→
The film Smoke centres on everyday mysteries and on the friendship between Paul Benjamin, a novelist with writer’s block, and Auggie Wren, the manager of a Brooklyn cigarette shop. One day Paul is surprised to discover that Auggie doesn’t just sell cigarettes. He also has a vocation. He takes photographs. More specifically, he has taken a series of four thousand pictures, each of them shot at the same time of day and of the same place: the corner of Third Street and Seventh Avenue, where his shop stands. He cannot explain why he does this. “It just came to me”, he says. “It’s my corner, after all. It’s just one little part of the world, but things happen there, too, just like everywhere else. It’s a record of my little spot.” Continue reading Everyday Mystery→