Well, being now here in Cairns again is surely also a little bit about dealing with my own history – having been here some time ago, working as fellow at the Cairns Institute …, one of the stations of what one may call unsettled life, unsettling life or living global(ity).
But arriving the one day around lunch time and having one free day before the conference brings me also to something we may call life at the verge of general history. And perhaps having lived on that verge, being merged into it without fully reflecting it in every day, requires this current personal catharsis (well, modern and in particularly social-work language speaks of debriefing though that is always difficult if we are required to be our own debriefer). – And living in history doesn’t allow debriefing as it would suggest an end to history (or at least its personal recognition).
Step by step.
Some reading during the flight – to be correct: re-reading. It is Wilhelm von Humbold’s The Limits of State Action. In the Editor’s Introduction of the Liberty Fund-Edition, John Wyon Borrow writes on page XXXVI f.
If this is true, if a sense of history is an aspect of possible emancipation from the given standards of one’s immediate situation, the relation between historiography and discrimination is, or has been, a reciprocal one. For the growing sensitivity, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, to the nuances of distinct historical periods and the possible value they embodied, was intimately connected with the criticism of contemporary society. … The sense of the relevance of the past and its record, not merely of the crimes and follies of mankind but of its experiments in various styles of life and social organizations, involved in a reappraisal and a criticism of a particular image of contemporary society and of the notion of what constituted modernity.
Well, it is surely this need of knowing about history in order to be able to shape the presence and future. But let me be a little bit clearer – not only because I see this one of these days in Jill Chism’s piece of art The Inner Circle
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom would probably not suggest what we see so frequently, so naively as convulsive search for a smart society as complementing a smart economy: we need a new foundation of society rather than the hope for pure moral reason. Humanist liberalism and its inherent individualism, consequently applied and not distorted, already erected this monumental system of injustice, this Leviathan of a single world market that eradicates systematically any notion of justice simply by defining injustice as natural order, leaving us with free exchange as guideline of the suggested ultimate freedom, of course not able to see it: an eye for an eye …, makes everybody blind (as we can learn from the same piece by Jill).
Surely something to memorise, the victims of the terrible war, started from German soil, emerging as global war and thus showing that it had been not at all a conflict between nations but a fight for global hegemony, for the distribution of the world between the powerful.
It is a monument that makes us aware of “great history”, men fighting against men under the leadership of “great men”, the chiefs, guiding their tribes in a global fight against the enemy – of course, women didn’t play a role though ….
… I hesitate a little later, after I had been enjoying with my new Chinese friends a really great espresso (before preparing it, Ah Lam asked me “short and strong” – I nod and get what I wanted – even Italian espresso can hardly compete) and paying …, I hold the five Dollar note in my hand, the smallest note, depicting Queen Elisabeth II.
And it may well be a good thing that the ladies are not on the battle ground – we know sufficiently from Brecht’s Mutter Courage about their suffering. And we know from his novel on the Good Person of Sezuan that too close involvement into these male battlegrounds may easily crunch her goodness.
A little later – after much laughing (not to say giggling), much talk and a few recaptured Chinese words that had been dormant in my little skull, anew giggling and a bow when we say good-bye – my way brings me back: again along The Esplanade, now looking across the harbour with the yachts – a surely posh place – in the distance the mountains emerging as aloof, marks of a different world – the rainforest overshadowed by a dark cloud, and overshadowing affluence. Overshadowing … – a paradox as this is the shadow of the past: not celebrated but genocided: massive and manifest at first an entire people of whom the rights even to exist had been infringed; later being “psychologically genocided”, standing in the shadow of the immigrants, themselves not even being allowed to do the same and instead banished for life and with their lifes. The yachts of the rich – owned by “New Australians” of whom the forefathers came on vessels: galleys that brought those who had been evicted from there own countries, loosing their indigenous rights and now claiming the rights over the indigenous people in the country to which they had been brought. And the yachts of the rich – now also owned by the Tourist-Australians. And still, it is the rainforest, the part of the country to where many of the traditional owners, custodians and ancestors of this land had been dispelled, now overshadowing this part of the country, giving the affluent present non-owners, the self-legalised proprietors a bitter spice: wealth established on the shoulders of displacement, and wealth – in the form of a shipyard and yachts – as border, building a kind of fortress.
Hope though … – between the strand and the boats a piece of art sticks out. Barely visible, lanceolate, colourful. A piece of art – “without title”, “Ohne Titel”, “sans titre” …. – I am not sure if it is indigenous or not. A piece of art that sticks out, barely visible, lanceolate, colourful, made by an unknown artist. A piece of art, barely visible, lanceolate, colourful and possibly marking the future – a future where title, authorship, property doesn’t matter.
Is it by chance that I see Bungan one of these days? The artist of whom I have one most beautiful piece of indigenous art – I nearly wrote peace of art which may well be a Freudian slip as it is a painting that expresses harmony in an amazing way. We meet on The Esplanade, actually in the shop where I purchased the painting. Seeing her and recognising her is a matter of the same second, I am immediately banned by a strange, somewhat magical power this woman exudes. I look …, well, yes, it is not herself, it is another paining and I am caught by it. A sober, black and white painting that stands out in the middle of all the colourful pieces. It is the history she expresses in the painting. The history that expresses more than
We had been right, and you took our land!
Instead, it is
We had been right, and we now claim our right. We should do it together as we have only this one world. But if we do not have another choice we will do it against you!
I would like to pay my respects to the traditional, present and future owners, custodians and ancestors of this land and acknowledge the spiritual relationship of all Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people with their country and their cultural values and beliefs.
This is the statement – though in slightly different forms – used often in this region on the occasion of opening ceremonies. And it is also in some form used on the occasion of the conference Racisms in the New World Order, which actually brought me back to Australia. Jackie Huggins who addressed the participants on the occasion of the opening reception also uses these words. Yes,
the traditional, present and future
And she emphasises future. As we will only have a future if we recognise it as future of this one world, the future of this one race: human beings striving for harmony within themselves and among themselves and with the environment we live in.
As said in the beginning, this visit is a bit of personal catharsis – not just as matter of remembering having lived and worked here for some time, but a reminder of “personal relationality”, the fact of being part history: the nightmare of all dead generations weighing also on my brain – in every day’s life and the responsibility arising from there. Too often a burden … – the burden of walking too close along the verge.
 Alluding to Marx, Karl: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 1852