Saturday, April 18, 2009

Klingon Archaeology in Holland By London Archaeologist

Was in Holland last week for paid work.

Something happened that I believe might shed light on, well, what it is - whatever it is - I believe I'm tracking. Really, this blog deals with London, hence the monica. But something kept coming to me there: so much of Holland looks just enough like London to offer a doubled take on it. The impression is a replica of that distancing effect in certain dreams, where you know it, but it's not as you know it. Much there is familiar: the terraced street, the tightly packed medievally planned centre, the suburbs salubriously detached and verdant, aspiringly semi, or municipally blocked, posts in a story still transparent to the stranger – in the Hague the spread to Scheveningen, developing ribbons from the centre to the sea, for instance, each house clear as a tick on lab tape, exhibiting stages in the rise of beach culture, the decline of small-scale industry, the development of individualism, improvements in transport, the control of disease. The rain, the quality of the sun, the contrasted skies. Dockland reuse office developments along a river - so much bigger, much more densely trafficked - but brown, arterial, central much like ours.

But familiarity itself has become a strange thing, and frequently, wandering around, I was bombarded with recollections of long-forgotten dreams, that had apparently proleptically been set on a street corner I  was now for the first time seeing awake, a café for the first time visiting. Indeed, prompted not only by the sense of recollection, doubtless, but also of desire, regret, opportunity, that sense pervading dreams of essential but often vague life importance, of preoccupations made concrete, I'd been seeing even an individual person from the past for some while, but always in the distance, or the view somehow compromised by intervening details, so perhaps only a leg, a wave of hair, a gesture reached me, and the message I got I already knew: the person I call Jessica has been much on my mind again recently, something related to my losing the bulk of my work or starting these blogs bringing thoughts of her to resurface, perhaps, externalised.

If much of this goes unrecorded photographically here, that is because, until I came upon what I came upon, it never occurred to me to include it. Which makes me think: I've been doing a lot of photographing recently, and, indeed, on sites had always done a fair amount. I wonder why I have never attempted to take a photograph in a dream.

One picture I did take. An extraordinary relic in the Hague is the Panorama. There is, in the Museum of London's Docklands site, an extremely interesting, though very rudimentary installation in the round of a last surviving London one. Just near Regent's Park is the only surviving rotunda building – now a church, as I remember. I shall see what I can do about pictures of these at some time. In the Hague, though, you have one of only a score such internationally in which not only is the picture in tact, but it is still displayed as originally in its purpose-built location. 

My visit was in large part, then, an investigation into the sensation that ought to grip the Docklands Museum visitor – of a dark tunnel cutting one off from the world, disorientating, creating suspense before spiralling up into the light where the world reappears in its reproduction. So, on climbing the stairs, to be met with a replica not only of the Hague, but also, from the angle that met me, of what, for once, I can call without inaccuracy, thanks to the effect it had on me, since it nearly winded me, that blast from the past was at the same time quite extraordinary and thoroughly appropriate, in this environment both familiar and strange. Surreptitiously, then, and attempting the manner of any tourist on location, I reached for my camera and snapped an angle I hoped would include this visitor while appearing to aim only at the display. This somehow failing, I went to try again, but was pre-empted by an instruction from behind in near perfect English displaced only faintly by just enough of that rather chewy or perhaps rubbery sound that makes even communicating in one's language in Holland, as one so disconcertingly always can, itself an unfamiliar experience: photography without special dispensation is disallowed, sir. Perhaps that is indifferent as far as the blog goes: I would not have risked posting even the likeness of her likeness had I had one.

The encounter came soon after. It was on a Canal – in itself, of course, not so surprising. Indeed, that is only another instance of how a familiar London detail becomes, there, as though reflected in an estranging medium, in this instance one of the multiplication of parallel mirrors, suggesting a vertiginous denial of sense, or rather a dream-like hidden one – why could there possibly be need of so many? 

Facing the canal, some sort of exhibition space, but I don't understand the language. I had time on my hands. There's an excitement I was discovering in the failure to understand, in rifling through clues reflecting those in the urbanism – a familiar set of habits in the people slightly altered, words, gestures, phrases needing to be read in the same way as relics, but here living, gesturing, able to be addressed.

'Do you know what the Klingons are, can you place them?' was the address I was met with in this instance, the accent so good I was not sure whether the rubbery tones this time were even there, or were my own projection. I did, could, I said, preserving my archaeogical kudos. This man, or team, I have not yet grasped which, had taken up the archaeological investigation of none other than they. The displays of his/ their findings were in a mixture of English, Dutch (I take it) and Klingon itself. From these, our conversation there, and my visits to their website ( I have been able to gather the following:

The Klingons are a people and a culture although not of the present, nor of the past, and yet their traces are discoverable to archaeological research; the culture of the Klingons must be discerned from what has already been discovered in order for discoveries to be made; the culture of the Klingons clearly belongs alongside those of the more studied human groups, with visual and musical arts, fashions, writing systems and myths, and yet, as there is nothing that is not disconcertingly alien, it cannot be classed among them.

As far as I understand it, since the Klingons' distance is neither spatial nor temporal, my own work and that of Floris and his team are close. It is perhaps for this reason that during the encounter I felt a strong sense of recognition, though of something I knew to be different from the thing I recognised it as.

I had the presence of mind to take two photographs of Floris. In one, he leans forward and inspects the musical scores he or his team have discovered carved in stone and are making use of in the production of Klingon operas. Their system appears to have interesting similarities with the graphic scores of the '50's American Avant Garde, though the principles seem to be very different. 

In the other, he stands beside scrolls of their myths, translated behind him into English on the wall. These photographs Floris granted me in exchange for two he took of myself for their own archaeological annals. 



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