© 2010 jaco. All rights reserved. arc of time at #GR4

Edinburgh: arc of time

arc of time at #GR4

Andrew F. Giles
Edinburgh: arc of time

The other country, is it anticipated or half-remembered?…
You know people there. Their faces are photographs
on the wrong side of your eyes…
from In Your Mind, Carol Ann Duffy
Edinburgh has a long-playing past, reels and reels of kings and queens dug out of volcanic rock, disease and muck, the metallic sheen of the Enlightenment, the Hollywood sheen of Irvine Welsh and his running men. Unsurprisingly, there are many men and women who have recorded words about Edinburgh. Scotland has a plethora of great modern poets: Don Paterson, Iain Crichton Smith, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Liz Lochhead… The man who “means poetry” most, according to Irish poet Seamus Heaney, was modern Scottish poet Norman MacCaig, and he had a sound idea of the ephemeral nature of Edinburgh the city: “There craggy windows blink, mad buildings toss,/ Dishevelled roofs, and dangerous shadows lean/ Heavy with centuries…”. Edinburgh is, at least physically, a ship tossed in a storm, an unstable and shallow-rooted entity that nonetheless commands our attention. If Edinburgh city won’t last forever, we are the short-lived dragonflies that crawl out of our chrysalises, fly into the sky, fuck and die. We are momentary souls in a momentary landscape. That is not to say that our flit across the heavens need not be glorious, but we exist in what Liz Lochhead describes as a “land of unreadable signs and ambiguous symbols”. We are strangers in a strange land, beset by the unfamiliar and hard-pressed to attach ourselves to the familiar.
Home is familiar. Edinburgh is familiar – the castle, Arthur’s Seat, the Royal Mile, a crumpled map of a city laid down over the prospect of a ticking clock, something Antony Hegerty would call “a photograph of time”. In this image of the temporal, we construct and create a kind of template for our own existence, in a space that has existed for millions of years. Look behind the image and you’ll see Princes Street Gardens was once a stinking marsh. Look again, a diluvian swamp. Edinburgh’s bedrock is steel-hard magma that once oozed and bubbled under the future dream of Edinburgh, and it is a space filled with potential and charged with remembrances.
There is another Edinburgh. Not the parchment-thin physical representation scattered about us now, but the arc of past, present and future memory that shimmers just above (or below, or around) it. We made this. Our subconscious acceptance of history, distant and not so, is not Edinburgh per se, but it is the fabric by which we interpret and construct the place we call home, or Edinburgh. As MacCaig suggests, “Old history greets you with a Bedlam stare”, but we’re good for it. It is our responsibility to pick up and run with this skein of words, phrases, images and sounds and carry it to the future. Best not to see the future as an unfamiliar land; it is easy to exist in the past, tied to images of buildings and people “on the wrong side of your eyes”:
For years I watched the blossom fall.
It didn’t. I rose through it all.
XX, Don Paterson
It is this sense of forward motion and impetus that go-reborn brings to its latest creation. Although we are bound by word and type to a magazine, we are also nimbly selecting and cataloguing images of the Edinburgh we want to be, and helping add a future-head sheen to this limited space in time. Yesterday we were selling cows in the Grassmarket, tomorrow we will be fried to ash in a nuclear wasteland. In between times, we want to rise through it all, like the good Mr Paterson suggests, and before we are taken by the Void, scintillate our environment with something bright, fresh and clean.
This is not a voyeuristic take on Scottish pride, nor a lumpen call to support your city. It is an attempt to thread ourselves into the wispy memory of an Edinburgh that perhaps never was and never will be – the collective memory of a city deepened by twilight – the Edinburgh that throbs at night and shines by day, the Edinburgh that welcomes friends and lazes on Sunday afternoons, the Edinburgh that smiles wantonly in the bright light of the future. Historical and present images of Edinburgh, the bad and the good, are the scaffolding to hang our future dreams and desires on, the architecture we can use to project Edinburgh into the next short era. It is no good relying on nostalgia to forge a new path; instead, it is necessary to summon the past and hold it, dangling, in the light. Reforge it, reconstruct it, remember it, re-understand it. It’s a kind of love, and there is no better Scottish writer on love than current poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, a woman who understands the nature of fatefulness, and who would appreciate the necessity of a tangible, physical Edinburgh but appreciate even more the abstract Edinburgh that exists alongside it. As I said, it’s like love, and at go reborn we grab it with both hands, trying for identity in a glaring open space:
…When we rearrange
the rooms we end up living in, we are looking
for first light, the arrangement of light,
that time, before we knew to call it light…
What country do we come from? This one?
The one where the sun burns
when we have night? The one
the moon chills; elsewhere, possible?
from Homesick, Carol Ann Duffy
Extracts from:
Edinburgh Spring, Norman MacCaig, 1950
Fistful of Love, Antony and the Johnsons/ Lou Reed, 2004
High Street, Edinburgh, Norman MacCaig, 1950
Homesick, Carol Ann Duffy, 1987
In Your Mind, Carol Ann Duffy, 1990
Renku: My Last 35 Deaths (XX), Don Paterson, 2009
The Unknown Citizen, Liz Lochhead, 2003

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jaco Justice, Go Reborn. Go Reborn said: http://www.go-reborn.co.uk/2010/11/23/edinburgh-arc-of-time/ #GoReborn […]

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