Sunday, 13 November 2016

Week 6: (7th November to 13th November 2016) or 'Words about prints; prints about words'

I’m sitting and writing this at the exit shoot of a shoe distribution plant. It’s a formidable operation. One by one, giant receptacles of shoes are dispatched before me and discharged across the country. The shoes themselves are never parcelled and seldom are they pristine. They display the grazes of intensive wear; ensconced in the tread are the sediments from faraway lands. The shoes, suppressed by the eternal clouting from their owners, are discoloured by bruises and abrasions. The teeth of relentless use gnaw their way through the sole. They are far from purchasable quality and yet they are dispatched all the same.

I watch as a little figure in a reflective jacket checks each pair off on a clipboard before they are conveyed to the shoot. There are so many species of shoe; so much multiplicity in material, colour, shape, size, design. The shoes are brandished by diversity in stitching, in tread structure, even in knot type. There is diversity, too, in their biographies. If only the tongues could speak, I thought, they would narrate a fascinating history.

You may or may not have guessed that I am not a shoe distribution plant, in the traditional sense. I'm actually in the departure lounge at London Victoria Coach Station watching shoes, hearing shoes, pass by; each dragged by their owners towards queues to be funnelled into coaches and delivered to promised destinations. With every footstep, the ground is pounded, carved, moulded by the tread. Earth crumbs are plucked, abducted and whisked away to be later dumped as immigrant material on foreign soil. As time passes, these footprints- the signature of the shoe - begin to wane and smudge. They are shaved by winds, blotted by raindrops and sliced and diced by the marks of further prints. The journey's legacy is now but a memory.

As I write, the time is ticking and tocking towards midnight and Sunday 13th November: a day we remember the footsteps left by many millions who gave their lives so that we may continue to craft our own footprints. For many, the war effort casts greater legacy not in the mud of the battlefield but on our souls and we honour their brave marches for world peace and prosperity. It is on this day, perhaps more than any other, that one salient point becomes clear. A shoe can shape the ground, but it is the bearer of the shoe that shapes the world. Lest we forget that.

I have spent most of the week shaping, not the world I hasten to say, but my essay on soil life-spans. "You like language", my supervisor remarked, in this week's meeting. I make no apology nor admit shame for this; words are our greatest currency. They have agency to promote and deter; to inform and deceive; to drive change and hamper it. Consider, for instance, another significant event from the week: the US election. For anyone engaged in a campaign, cultivating support and sustaining such endorsement requires words; the correct ones, the ones that prick the conscience and invoke the emotions. The ones that capture and prolong attention; the ones that can be trusted. And perhaps, most of all, the ones which inspire hope. To mobilize a country, o inspire a population in walking with you, fashioning footprints by your example, you need the right words.

This election was charged with unprecedented literary energy. Some words offended, appalled and disengaged the electorate. Others unfastened and lacerated the binding forces of unity and harmony. The political poetry of a motivational speech was partly sacrificed in favour of a less appetising string of accusations and threats. I will not confess to be an expert in exactly why the election concluded the way it did, nor do I need to assert my own political views. What I hear and read (more words!) indicates that Donald Trump won precisely because of the words he employed; the ones that the disaffected desperately desired to hear. Now the election is over, it will be the actions in this presidency that define the next. Indeed, I'm reminded that actions often speak louder than words. However, I maintain that to acquire the power to deliver these actions, to yield support from the people on election day, one requires a strong and unwavering grasp on the handles of language.
For academics, no theory or concept would yield value and respect were it not for this great instrument of language. And so another week passes, another week churning the cement of my essay; churning the words and nothing less. For me, the pleasure from this arduous task arises not necessarily from laying down a string a words or a paragraph or even a whole draft. I relish the churning of words. Excavating the possibilities; burrowing deep into the heart of the language and selecting that best word. It's like delving into a canister of sugar for the sweetest grain.

My shoes (and I) have been dispatched, yet again. I'm scratching these remarks on the way to Oxford where I'm about to spend a week at a PhD workshop.  It will mark the first event of this nature since I started and I'm wholly looking forward to it. And of course, I'll have many words to lay down about this, next week.

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