memes or bodies?

Some will not even get to this first sentence because they think memes are a crock of shit.  I disagree but would argue that one needs both to make something happen. An either or question is the wrong perspective. But that doesn’t imply lack of preference, such indeed is the cognitive make-up of us all, other than the Phineas Gage‘s and Ramana Maharshi‘s. And memes hold most of the floor space in my room of understanding. We individual specimens of the wise species are but conduits for the vast majority of what clouds our consciousness. Active ones, certainly, playing with the marbles, we make plenty connections, mostly silly,  sometimes amazing, some tinkering here,  some bricolage there, an endless chatterbox of horror, discovery, fun, and nonsense. But foremost conduits, not wells of creation. Given that predilection, our need for personal attribution is weird. That’s the portent of the title. I am the first to admit that seeing bodies feels much better than seeing memes. But truth is much more at the memes side. Sure, you still don’t know what I’m talking about, now how’s that for ignoring any writing advice ever given? But you made it this far, so have probably nothing better to do.

This is Lizzy Hawker‘s itinerary of her amazing 125 mile run around the Kathmandu Valley Rim (something over 200km and 15000m ascent, time taken: 35:39:22 hrs.). Read all about it in Sarah Barker’s interview with Lizzy, or listen to her talk about it on Ian Corless’ Talkultra podcast. When she posted about the achievement on her facebook page she credited me with planting the seed sometime in 2011. Now that’s some ego-boosting attribution. I’m even sure she’s right. We talked often during her various visits to Kathmandu that year and I was fantasizing about a Valley Rim Round at that time. But that Lizzy’s mention  feels like a compliment to me, tells you more about my emotional make-up than about the importance of planting a seed. And don’t smirk, my emotional make-up is very much that of the boring, sad majority of our species, which most likely includes you too.

It doesn’t make much sense to be proud about something as quotidian as channeling an idea. Looking backward: I had been living and running Kathmandu  valley and parts of its rim since 2009, but only started thinking about a Round when getting to know Moire O’Sullivan and listen to her amazing  Wicklow Round stories, and later reading the book she published about it. And the Wicklow Round is in turn only one among others, like the Bob Graham Round, with a history of successive inspiration that goes back down an intractable memory lane.

And looking forward: there is Seth Wolpin who set the stage by doing a first  FKT on the valley rim in 2015. In between, lots has happened, Lizzy has talked with others, Lizzy and Seth have talked, Seth brought the Round to life by example, lots of watering of a seed (that wasn’t mine in the first place), without which she may or may not have done it. Who is to say? But singling out my knot – as the ‘seed’ – in a dense web of influences is credit I don’t deserve,  although I really enjoy it.

Even with the above, the work of Richard ‘trailrunningnepal‘ Bull, to which I have some legitimate input claim, a bodily one, cause my hand held the gps logging some of the tracks, the meme is not mine, not his, but collective. My traces go back to a Jesuit father, Bill Robbins, teaching at Patan’s St. Xaviers college who showed me some trails when I managed I a trekking agency in the early 90s, and on it goes, and that’s just my thread in a huge web.

The downside of the emotional attachment to what is not really yours (nothing is, but lets not get pompous here) is that when others don’t pay tribute to an idea that triggers some figmentary sense of entitlement, one feels slighted.

When I managed a trekking agency I saw a couple of Everest climbing movies made. However different they all were, they shared the basic story line of heroic foreign climbers triumphing over body, mountain and  assorted other adversaries, with some saucy homage to Buddhism, locals and country, but always in support roles. Anyone with my kind of quasi-anthropology education would have remarked upon the same. Also, our company worked mostly with Sherpa’s from one particular valley, Rolwaling (that’s how patrimonial recruitment networks operate), and I had direct access to their lives and families and perspective on tourists scrambling about their himals, as well as the plentiful ethnographic writing on how Sherpa lives had changed over the last couple of decades because of the steep decline of trade across the Tibetan border and the arrival of tourism. I left Nepal late 1993 with the framework of a script for a documentary and contact with a Dutch filmmaker, Margriet Jansen.

The seed of that idea eventually, ten years later, resulted in Nima Temba Sherpa. But that was all Margriet’s work, I had not been involved after the very initial stages. Even in 2003, this perspective was an outsider among climbing movies. Then others followed, with the tragedy of the 2014 avalanche that killed 16 Sherpa’s making it – for a while at least – the mainstream perspective (some examples: here, here, and here). Now, why should I be rattled by some folks making a visually stunning documentary, with gripping  storytelling, that markets itself as telling it from the Sherpa’s point of view. Be sad because that apparently is still ‘innovative’? Fine. But, feel slighted, disregarded? C’mon, if ever something was a meme rather than an ‘original’ thought, this must be it.

But bodies don’t like memes to take center stage so they either claim or they blame, isn’t it lame. With which we are right back at the level of writing of the first paragraph. Which is a shame but makes for a nice circular structure which is pleasing to the pattern-seeking wise species, at least to the specific specimen that is me.

To make it up to you, enjoy a short video by Jo Nafis and friends. When looking for some befitting imagery and sound for evoking the intimate but twisted relationship of a first-person body with all the other meme channeling bodies in its environment, this one stood out. That it is about Shanghai is an unexpected bonus.

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2 Responses to memes or bodies?

  1. John says:

    Ha ha your effort to compensate for all that torturous meme stuff has left me indignant…… I went to school with this guy, who 20 years ago made a short film of himself walking backwards, while passing others going about their daily lives. The short film is possibly his meme, but I am feeling as if there should be some recognition for this meme even though it is not even my meme. I think the Shanghai version was more effective than the Perth version as there were more bodies.

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