Above Mang'ula, Udzungwa

18 December 2010

Friday 28 August 2020   07:58:11

It's quite warm in the room, you think. Sun has fallen on the buildings. The sky behind is grey, matte and thick as greyboard. It is not a translucent medium suggesting you can pass up through it. A plane comes over. You hear it; you don't see it. You imagine it stuck on a grey wall. The windows are closed and you are not listening to the stream from the back yard at cambria road. You see the green parakeets in the green lime leaves, sunlight now passing off the buildings and the conversion of the scene into a colder mode, a colder consciousness. You hear the parakeets feintly, like a sketch of their raucous beings. Their turbulence is barely felt and their flights: in with a slight rise at the end as they hit the branches - is stripped of energy. sense of being on a ward or in the room of a hotel. when you walk in a hotel, you go straight to the window and open it as far as possible. you always sleep with the window open. Insects come in and land on your pages and around your eyes, following the light.

You think of that time with moths at Udzungwa. you think of that. you're thinking of that now. what is that about, you think. why does that moving image captivate you, so you want to make that piece. you want to return to that piece, instead of other pieces, and to bring it in and not let it get away. why is that, you are thinking, as you are sitting on a chair on friday morning in london among muted calls. the ecstasy of moths (Jonas Mekas) in Udzungwa in the hot night air. the intensity of countless insects (lukuki) in the air, coming out of the forest of Udzungwa. elephants also came out of that forest, at night, you think, you could hear them, much more agile and thin than you once thought, pushing over a tree - you found the forest edge in the morning around where you had been sleeping in a tent and you tried to recollect if this tree was pushed over, or not, if that tree was leaning or standing, when you went to sleep. the heat of Udzungwa in the Eastern Arc Mountains caused you to slip between states of waking and sleeping fluidly. you could not remember exactly when you fell asleep and the details of the terrain were also unstable in your mind. work was going on, as work is always going on. you try to fix in your mind what the situation is. In reality the situation of changing - what you need to fix on is a line of movement - the forest edge - a contested, unstable zone where your tents were pitched - so that, on one side you could walk down to where the camp was well established and you can say: colonial enactments were continuing. in the other direction the forest started. first there was an uneasy area which might be an area of untidy clearance, with the red soil exposed, as if some small scale development was under way - perhaps more tents were being planned - there was no fence. after that the forest thickened so fast you hesitated to go on in there. there was no track leading in. elephants, monkeys and perhaps snakes came out from that direction at night. this is the area that Andrew Alan Johnson talks about as Pa Theuan [pron. pa t:wan] - wild forest, you think, which in fact, as Andrew Alan Johnson says, has elements that radically escape imaginative enclosure. this is where the moths arrive from, you think.

there is a well known scene in Austerlitz when they go up onto heathland - some eccentric uncle takes Austerlitz, you think, you forget, as you can tell, and sets up a lighted sheet. utterly invisible beyond the lighted area, the moths come to the sheet in great numbers, 'as if from nowhere' - of course it is not from nowhere. whether you set up the sheet at udzungwa thinking of that scene, or whether you were thinking of moth surveys with David Perkins and Paul Waring and the moth trapping and releases you all were doing with the LWT in the Sydenham woods (and painting moth food / bait made of wine, sugar and bananas on the trees in campsites in Catalunya).

forgetful as a state, even a title. thinking as forgetting. to think a thing, is to forget everything else, partially, momentarily, at least, allowing thoughts to come, at the expense of others. the moths arrive like thoughts, you think, in their unknown multitude (lukuki) - not a mass (Graeber). they are not a known quantity, you want to say, trying to avoid saying what they are, trying to open a space for them, in the way Alphonso Lingis writes: it's not this or that or quite that - this thing you're trying to make space for, Lingis writes - as if the name Alphonso Lingis itself is such a thing, an unknown space surrounded by a sketch, partly forgotten, of unknown trees and under storey.

they are not moths, only or even mainly, you think, as you think of them. especially as you think of those rough videos, of those days. the videos of those warm nights in Udzungwa when the children were small, moths came out of the dark air and forest in multitudes (lukuki), they entereed, you want to say: your consciousness, you want to say: forever, for good. you want to say how, the way Anna Karenina is in some way present to you, or Mrs Dalloway, as objects of thinking, objects that, when opened, can come to mind, those moths also entered: an anonymous plenitude.

situated learning, you think, could be exemplified by taking out some sheet, asking for a sheet and a borrowing a light and holding it up in the night, to the night, together with the others and somehow, in some way, creating an exposure to what will come. being ignorant of the insects, the locale and the seasons, you have no idea what will appear. being from another place, you are amazed - that to say: you are captivated - the light disrupts the night, quite crassly, perhaps, spoiling the darkness, the warm darkness, dark so warm and thick as to feel furry, velvety, membranous, with swirls of cooler air from time to time in places, as if you were swimming in warm water. you came all the way up from dar es salaam by the sea, travelling for days, you think, on that train - that creaking train with some bushes, you imagine, that had worn down to metal, so the train screeched and whined and the suspension, you imagine, caused the cars to bounce and come down with a loud shock. you all sat in that rending machine, which passed through the Selous, in and out of sleep, the way you do on trains, hot, gritty with sleep and oily skin, drinking warm water, going to the dining car for a rest, where you could sit at a yellow oilcloth and suddenly, out of the window, big animals could be seen running or standing with long necks or twisted, sinewy haunches. those animals were not still - they were half turning, breaking into a different gait. you pointed to them. everybody in the dining car with the yellow oilcloths would see and immediately point at them: those legendary animals.

moths collect, you are thinking, sitting here, insects of every description come to the sheet. the dark night is roughly disrupted and from the forest and the warm dark air: countless insects (wadudu lukuki) come. their wings buzz and hum and their legs and wings contact your skin. other things are forgotten for the time being. in order for this to occur, you think, you need to be on the edge of the Easternor Arc Moutains, one of the most biodiverse places anywhere on earth. you could be on the edge of a small woodland in South London. in similar ways, on these different edges, the forest, in its wildness that is not strictly wild, but, in some residual ways: actually wild - so it shows its wildness at these moments, at these edges, the way the Wild Things, in The Wild Things, show their teeth and their claws, showing their residual, innate wildness, to Max. insects come out of the forest which is a reservoir of biodiversity that escapes description - you can only skirt around it (but it is there - Garcia)

you learn these contradictions and incapacities of thinking at the same time as you learn, in situ, something about indeterminacy and diversity - something elating and multitudinous that eludes comprehension - that is something, you think, these are really somethings - ecstasies - Jonas Mekas could say - phases of flight, of assembling, of ephemeral collection - those of you who are there together

'Recognizing that text is intertext is one thing. Seeing that text is social space is another.. To say that it's a social space is to say that stuff is going on: people, things, are meeting there..' (Fred Moten)

species as event
phylla as multitudes
learning as performance
family as collective
forgetfulness as thinking
an area that not be entered but can be sensed
an area that can still be delineated and intuited in some ways
exhaustion of travelling
ecstasy of camping in the forest with small children


Video by Sam Baraitser Smith.
Andrew Alan Johnson: 'Pa Theuan' in An ecotopian lexicon by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Brent Ryan Bellamy, University of Minnesota Press 2019, p187.
W G Sebald: Austerlitz.
Paul Waring and Martin Townsend: Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Europe, 3rd edition, London, Bloomsbury.
Paul Graeber: Direct Action: An ethnography, AK Press 2009, p372.
Alphonso Lingis: The Imperative, Indiana University Press 1998.
Tristan Garcia: Form and Object: A Treatise on Things, trans. Mark Allan Ohm and Jon Cogburn, Edinburgh University Press 2014.
Stefano Harney and Fred Moten: The Undercommons: Fugitive planning and black study, Minor Compositions 2013, p108.