Tongues

*Please* click through to read my review of Tongues, edited by Taylor Le Melle and Rehana Zaman (PSS, 2018), published by SPAMZine.

It feels like one of the most important things I’ve read and written in a long time. It’s sobering that my post about it has had the lowest engagement on my instagram feed in over a year. Lots of reasons for that, I’m sure. Instagram is noisy and overwhelming right now, for good and ill. But it triggers worries — does the algorithm ‘know’ that my review is angry and polemical? Is it ‘hiding’ it from people? Do people not click through? Should I have done more to make it visible? Have I misunderstood all this all along? Did I post in the wrong way? How does this work? What should I be doing? What can I do to help? I only have about 20 minutes a day to engage with this, and that is in 3 minute bursts. [cry.]

All this draws my attention to the complexities of online writing, thinking, activism, art. To all the worries about credentials, worth, visibility… To the fact that political critique and collective action *cannot* be understood through an individual’s instagram feed. To all the weirdnesses of its simultaneity between total individualism and the spectre of community. I need to think carefully and calmly about how I live.

What I wanted to say is, this zine made clear to me that we, as in UK society, needs to reckon with working class identity. To be clear about what working in Britain looks like; to recognise that the working class is Black and Brown and migrant, is hidden, obscured, engaged in tactile labour, bodily and often caring. It is not groups of angry white men ‘defending’ statues. Distortion of the optics of working-class life by Tories (and other right-wing, populist movements across the world, they are all in the same alliance) is a violence we must recognise for what it is, cutting into the flesh of communities and perpetually shoring up power. Crap for most people of all races. Spat out by people who have *no idea* what it means to work hard for long days and nights.

Resistance is recognising labour for what it is, seeing where it happens and how, and gathering in solidarity as workers. Surprise, surprise: it’s a slog.

Gilbert White and everyday ecology

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I feel very fondly for this article since it was finally something that draw on my personal feeling for ecological observation and rhythm. I wrote it whilst pregnant and my (and my daughter’s) growing body exerted its influence on how it developed. I was completely absorbed by the eighteenth-century natural historian Gilbert White and his extensive journals of nature observations of (mainly) his garden and environs in Selborne, Hampshire and was intrigued by how this modelled a kind of profound commitment to seeing, feeling, and archiving the non-human world. I used the Marxist theorist Henri LeFebvre’s idea of ‘rhythmanalysis’ to think about how the body is engaged in rhythm that is critically observant, and represents both a manifestation of and a crucial resistance to capital commodification. I connected White in this way to the slightly later protesting journalist and ‘ranter’, William Cobbett — seeing the two men converge in the tree that they both used their bodies to measure. This is an essay that attempts to understand everyday habits as deeply ecological.

The research for this was funded by a small grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which I used to visit archives of eighteenth-century weather observations at the Meteorological Office library in Exeter, and in various places in London, and to see more of White’s archive in Hampshire.

Rhian Williams, ‘ Gilbert White’s eighteenth-century nature journals as “Everyday ecology”.Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment, 24(3), pp. 432-456

** Gilbert White’s diaries are kept at the British Library and have restricted access. This is an image of his brother Henry’s estate/farm ledger, also at the BL. Mss British Library ADD MS 43816