Monday, May 08, 2006

The Location of Culture

Once upon a time, there were a young woman called Ms Milsum. She was of the age when the desire is keenest to know everything there is to know about the world. With this in mind, she made the acquaintance of Ms Malsi, who knew everything worth knowing about Ms Milsum’s people and their ancestors, and their relationship to the cosmos. The way this knowledge was structured and imparted is impossible to describe. All that can be said is that the knowledge was known as nid and everyone knew that you obtained this knowledge by hanging around people like Ms Malsi.

Near the end of her time with Ms Malsi, Ms Milsum met a stranger on the road, who introduced himself as Mr. Eripme. He came from a place far away but somehow he knew Ms Milsum’s language. When he spoke, he sounded rather like Ms Malsi, except that the things he was saying didn’t seem quite right. Indeed, a few things he said horrified Ms Milsum to such an extent that she tried to interrupt him. But he refused to be silent.

Eventually, when Mr Eripme had finished speaking, Ms Milsum responded that she already had a good friend in Ms Malsi and her nid and she had no need of Mr Eripme’s clever words. Best thing was that he went on his way in peace. But all of a sudden, Mr Eripme smiled the most charming smile and asked Ms Milsum to explain what nid meant. This stumped her. She had never explained nid to anyone – you see, nid was not learned by explaining.

Then as if by magic, Mr Eripme produced a book from his pocket. Amazingly, it was called Ms Malsi, and at once he began to read from it. The words sounded oddly familiar, but it was as if Mr Eripme had met Ms Malsi but learned absolutely nothing from her. In fact, it even suggested she was really a prostitute. Heartbroken at such insults, Ms Milsum ran weeping to Ms Malsi, where she recalled the events that had just taken place on the road.

Ms Milsum's friends overheard her talking and mentioned that they too had met Mr Eripme. They had learned he was from a place far away, but he had come with an army who had killed the Queen. They had sent a man who was not of royal descent to rule in her place. “They may rule instead of our Queen,” proclaimed Ms Milsum, “But these people will not mock Ms Malsi and nid. I will write a book like the one Mr Eripme carried with him in their defense.”

Having said this, Ms Milsum set off for the Queen’s old city in order to study at the greatest seat of learning in the world. But the task she had set herself turned out to me more complex than she thought. To begin with, the nid taught at the great seat of learning was different from Ms Malsi’s nid. Yet her teachers – many of whom were of the same mind with regards to Mr Eripme – had declared their nid the one true nid. This, they argued, would convince their people to ignore Mr Eripme’s book of lies.

Just to make matters more confusing, some teachers were writing books as if they were actually addressing Mr Eripme, and not Ms Milsum’s people. Some even included ideas from Mr Eripme’s book in order to ‘improve’ nid, which – they claimed – had always changed with the times, anyway. Nid was indeed something that had always changed with the times, but Ms Milsum wondered exactly whose times they were changing it for now.

In the end, Ms Malsi realised she would have to learn all about Mr Eripme’s people in order to properly oppose his ideas. To help her in her studies, she decided to spend some time living in Mr Eripme’s land. Once there, she learned to speak the language, made a few good friends, and discovered a great many new ideas. But she was never content. She was troubled at the way Mr Eripme’s people were so obsessed with power and wealth, even though a small number of rebels argued for a different way of life.

Ms Milsum was sympathetic with the rebels and tried to teach the people about Ms Malsi’s nid, since it seemed to promise many of the things the rebels, and indeed all the people of Mr Eripme’s land, yearned for. But few were interested. It was then she discovered the people of Mr Eripme’s land had once had their own nid, but most people had rejected it. Oddly enough, many of the remaining teachers of the local nid talked about the ‘one true nid’ in the same way as teachers had in her own land.

Eventually, Ms Milsum returned to her house and to Ms Malsi. But it wasn’t long before she realised it was no longer her home. Even though she could assume the habits and ways of her people with ease, having grown up there, she was astonished to find that Ms Malsi and her friends had grown rather strange. Whenever Mr Eripme was mentioned, they pretended he didn’t exist and the Queen was still alive. Yet Mr Eripme’s army, who now ruled the world, had created terrible problems that needed new ideas and solutions to solve them.

Many years later, after Ms Masli had grown so old she could no longer speak for herself, a small group of people came to visit Ms Milsum. Some of them were from Mr Eripme’s land, and some were from places even further away. They had many skills, and wanted to use them to make the world a better place. But they realised that no lasting change could ever be possible, unless they had nid. With this in mind, they wanted to spend some time around Ms Milsum…

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