Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Scream

My new medication, of which I'm a mere five weeks into - for depression and severe anxiety (it's been my Achille's for 4.5 years) - is kicking in just in time for a new year: I'm motivated and passionate again, desire to write is revived, also to photograph and to generally just do things; I'm especially grateful that I'm less fearful of answering my phone and anxiously procrastinate less about replying to emails, texts, and Whatsapp messages.

How it's possible for a minute chemical imbalance in a brain has the capacity to severely disable a life never ceases to astonish me. My heart especially goes out to those who have no access to medical insurance and thus to psychiatric help, especially those doomed to live on the streets as 'mad'. And hungry. And cold. And often subject to hate, violence.

It's dusk and, below me, the comforting orange lights have gone on in the close-knit streets of Woodstock. Behind the suburb, moody and severe, Devil's Peak is reminiscent of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings.

The South-Easter has been raping, shredding, tearing at my apartment block for three days now. It's partly to blame for me having not left my space the entire day: naked, with a book in my hand I've moved between my bedroom, the living room, the bathroom; an empty blue tea mug, a favourite, is on the floor next to the couch.

It's there that I was reading New York-based Teju Cole's 'Known and Strange Things' (2016). I bought his highly recommended essay compilation on the advice (yes, I trust him implicitly) of Mervyn Sloman, the Book Lounge's owner. I'm reading a travel piece in it - 'Far away from here' (p. 227) - about a six-month sojourn he once spent in Switzerland. For me, the awesomeness of the piece is how he combines writing about travel and place with his passion for photography.

Because back home now I've avoided the City and most of the scenic parts of the Cape Peninsula, due to the summer crowds, the tourists. Which is why this piece of his triggered me, also because through it, he held up a mirror to me so that I could again see what I've deemed non-negotiable principles for me to live by. He writes:

'[The first] Baedeker was already able to state, in that early guide to Switzerland, that places like the Rigi, the Brunig, and the Scheideck were on "beaten tracks." By the 1880s Switzerland was estimated to be receiving a million visitors a year. Travelers tend to go where other travelers have gone, and perhaps this is part of the reason travel photography remains in thrall to the typical. When you do visit Zurich or Cape Town or Bangkok, they are very much alike: the amusement parks have striking similarities, the cafes all play the same Brazilian music, the malls are interchangeable, kids on the school buses resemble one another, and the interiors of middle-class homes conform to the same parameters.'

It's the worldwide suburban attitude, the commercialisation, the globalisation of the (in my eyes) failed neoliberal capitalistic system of our world, and the insatiable acquisition of things, that literally freaks me out and (most likely) plays a big part in reliance on antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. The image that sums that for me sums up the response to this is Edvard Munch's 'The Scream.'

Cole, however, highlights that despite all the similarity this doesn't mean the world is uninteresting. 'It only means that the world is more uniform than most photo essays acknowledge, and that a lot of travel photography relies on an essentialism.' 

He likes Italo Calvino's idea of "continuous cities," as described in the novel 'Invisible Cities.' "[Calvo suggests that there is actually just one big, continuous city that does not begin or end: "Only the name of the airport changes."

Cole insists that 'what is then interesting is to find, in that continuity, the less obvious differences of texture: the signs, the markings, the assemblages, the things hiding in plain sight in each cityscape or landscape.' This, he says, is what outstanding photographers are able to do. 'And it is the target the rest of us chase.' Which is how I attempt, on every level, to live my life... fully, deeply, passionately seeking for that which is outstanding amidst the dreariness of the sameness: I choose not to live the 'fast food drive-thru route.  I don't often get it right of course, especially not without my meds.

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