Summer 2015 Editorial
Wales, Patagonia and the cultures of the imagination
This issue arises from a fascination with a two-way gaze: the ways in which Patagonia imagines Wales and in turn how Wales imagines Patagonia. At its extremes, one place may be imagined as ‘the end of the earth’, as an empty wild west ripe for a white saviour-style takeover. The other as a kitsch reconstruction of the Land of My Fathers with its tea, cake, chapels and male voice choirs. These instances of mismatch, where diaspora and post-colonial myths are expounded may result in the inauthentic, in sham ideals of origin and destiny and even neo-colonial or liberal propaganda for land and culture grab (see: clothing companies that have bought up huge swathes of Patagonia, evicted people living on the land and in one case even opened a museum dedicated ‘to narrating the culture and history of a mythical land’).
Civilisation bites your _______ stomach
Civilisation bites your _______ lungs
Civilisation bites your _______ memory
But emerging from these conflicting and juxtaposing images there may be certain stories to be found that can help us understand what culture actually is.
When? ______I was born ______When? ___ ___I was born ___ ___When?
Cultures – our own and others – may be constructs of the imagination, narratives that can be continually rewritten in the foreground of a remembered (or ill-remembered) past.
In the same way as the Rio Chubut or Rio Percy, during one of their frequent floods, lays down layers of silt and sand, we can also create a literary stratigraphy for our places in the world.
But the urge to construct cultures from a basis of origins can be a shaky path. Steven Hitchins writes of the mythic obsessions of the Druids of Pontypridd:
In forging a past they highlight the spectrality of origins.
Like the extinct Patagonian languages that haunt Luna Montenegro’s poems, lost language-cultures are lost, they cannot come back except in the ghostly.
Ouarouch __________________ ( tree / arbol)
Loimushka __________________ ( flower / flor)
Narratives about what Wales and Patagonia is, or was, are being retold even now: what is Wales’s place within Britain? Was the y Wladfa settlement a colonial project? Should nationalism be used as a force to unite people? Anniversaries – what exactly are we celebrating?
These [centenary and sesquicentenary] celebrations are a part of the process of taking bearings, of dropping anchor in the turbulent present. As the creaky Mimosa was a vessel chartered to carry hopes and aspirations as well as men, women and children, so too is recollecting its voyage an investment in ideas, a means of staying afloat. If this is the case, then important questions follow. In the act of remembering, which ideas stay on board? Which do we jettison?
Both the cultures of Wales and the Welsh Patagonian settlement whether wilfully or through compulsion and despite efforts to speak out against exploitation and genocide, have played their parts in the larger projects of British, Argentinian and global colonialisation. Projects of civilisation and even utopia can easily become projects of appropriation and dominance. This is why utopia needs to be rooted in empathy and be constantly subject to reinvention.
The contemporary speaks…of the necessity of reinvention and a re-imagining of the social order, for an epistemological break from the tried and tested economic and political ideologies.
The works in the first part of this issue by writers and translators from Wales, Argentina, Chile and beyond have been brought together on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the landing of the Mimosa and because they explore the imagined constructs and frontiers of culture, language and memory.
it’s at a hundred and eighty degrees
that you conjugate yourself
Language and poetry are tools for invention and for survival.
And if Welsh Patagonia teaches anything it is that not only is economic survival possible but that re-invention at the edge of the possible is too.
‘The precarious but resistant position of poetry’, as Ben Bollig describes poet Christian Aliaga’s Patagonian concerns, gives us a place from which to reinvent ‘at the edge of the possible’, to invert and re-make the narratives and ideas that we need to live.
this is how you advance in the sea
there is also calm
why then to invent the storm
to invent fear and also invent
adventure, invent the wind