Photograph by Deepak Tolange
Maya Angelou wrote a collection of essays titled "Letter to my Daughter." In the opening essay, 'Home,' she writes,
"...that no one can ever leave home...
...that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears, and the dragons of home under one's skin...
...that we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we ever really do." (p.67)
Home is a place of foreverness. Home is a setting, a scene.
Family, the characters. Family in whatever forms and apparitions they occupy. Family as mom and dad asleep with the TV on; family as your younger brother that you can rewind and replay that single line from Friends with, and laugh and laugh and laugh and say nothing but "again," and laugh; family as the nonsense, as the understood; family as the lessons taught, and the lessons learned.
What makes family different from friends, acquaintances, lovers, co-workers, the barista you see every morning, the grocer that makes friendly conversation while your 'AUTHORIZATION' is 'IN PROGRESS', the football player, the ticket taker, the preacher at church and the devil on the corner what makes family different is nothing.
Importantly, it is the nothing. It is no need for words on the 12-hour car drive. It is no need to say sorry that you couldn't afford Christmas presents this year (even though all your friends, cousins, and ex-boyfriend got one). It is not seeing one another and knowing they are there. It is not speaking for months and knowing exactly what they will say. It is life; it is having nothing if not for your family. It is death; it is having everything even without them there.
Like home, family is something that is built from within. It is an empty space that we fill with interactions, and as these interactions are nurtured, with relationships. Family is that 'nothing' connection that turns out to be everything we are made of, just like home is that 'nowhere' place that turns out to be everywhere we go.
Maya Angelou never had a daughter. She gave the world her shadows, her dreams, her fears and her dragons. My mother had me. She gave me a book by Maya Angelou.
Photograph by Reelika Ramot
You always wanted us to be well dressed on big occasions. And we were, Sandra and I, as we came rushing to the hospital to see you. We had been celebrating my birthday in town with friends that evening when the call came from Mum. She was sobbing. Hurry, be quick, she gasped… Something about Dad not being well…
Sandra drove as fast as she could. Although she did stop to buy some crisps at a petrol station. ‘I’m hungry,’ she said very matter-of fact like. We ate them in silence on the way to the hospital, driving through all the red lights. The air was thick with apprehension.
We arrived at the hospital. Our heels reverberated as we hastened through the tedious corridors. We were out of breath by the time we got to the right floor. A nurse with a kind face and rehearsed look of apology greeted us. She wanted to fill us in on what had happened before showing us to your room. She murmured something about giving you oxygen, about you trying to get up from your wheelchair but then…. Her voice sank, became inaudible and the world ground to a halt as she opened the door to your room.
There you were, in your hospital bed. You looked like you always did when you were asleep and I would come and say goodnight to you in the evenings. I took your hand- it was still warm from whatever residue of life lingered on inside of you.
It was hard to imagine you would never open your eyes again. I stared and stared at you. As if my staring might bring you back to life. Your head was tilted to one side and they had put a ridiculous bandage around it. I was hoping you might open your eyes like you used to and give me one of your reassuring side glances - a sign you were still alive. But this time you did not. It was you. But it was not you. I was angry. You cannot go, Dad. Not now. Not now! There is still so much I want to talk to you about. I need your advice more than ever. You cannot go! That was all I could think of then.
Mum was sitting by your side, sobbing uncontrollably. Her grief had transported her to another world. She hadn’t notice us arrive, even as we squeezed her in our arms. She was like a ghost, grasping your right hand, stroking your face, and telling you the most beautiful things about your forty years of love together, wishing no doubt that you would take her with you- wherever you were.
Everyone comes to an end. But nothing prepares us for that end. If we knew our expiry date perhaps we would be better prepared for Death? Before it choked our loved ones and took them away. Before it choked those left behind with brutal grief.
The truth is, I had begun to mourn you five years ago. When that old devil Dementia took control of you, slowly severing you from the old you, robbing us of the strict fatherly figure we were accustomed to. In some ways, you softened up. You even became more playful, surprising us from behind doors or unexpectedly breaking into song during meal times. You were fond of Sinatra’s ‘Young at heart’ or Pavarotti’s ‘Nessun Dorma’. Even your skin became softer. Like a peach.
Sometimes you liked to wander off in the middle of the day, leaving Mum in a state of panic every time you disappeared. Once you invited yourself round to the new neighbours. I think you told them there were ‘bad people’ coming to get you and would they terribly mind hiding you- just for a short while? They were very polite about it. You were drinking coffee, chatting away to them when I came to find you. When you saw me, your face lit up. ‘Ah, this is my daughter! She’s an actress!’ That was the first time you had ever introduced me so. It made me happy. I smiled politely at them. Thanked them. They smiled back politely. We all nodded politely in awkward silence. And I took you back home.
That evening Mum held your hand and wouldn’t let go. They were coming to get me, you told her, like a teenager who’s just been caught trying to sneak out in the middle of the night. No-one is coming to get you, my love. This is your house- this is the house you had built for us, remember? We have had some happy years in here. And you are safe in it. I want to go home, you told her. But this is your home, Mum would remind you, relentlessly. This is where we brought up our children. Do you remember your children? Look, here are pictures; this is your eldest daughter, Sandra, then Deborah, then Robert, here is Lavinia and look, here is Wilfred…Ah yes, you said, and smiled. We have beautiful children, don’t we? Yes, my love, said Mum, as she leafed through the family album with you.
Then Parkinsons made his way in too, like some unwanted guest feeling too much at home too soon, causing you to tremble, interrupting your speech patterns and driving Mum up the wall. For a while, she was in denial. We all grudgingly learnt to accommodate the intruder, as it tightened its stranglehold on you. We had no other choice. Nurses came and went, mornings and evenings. You feared them. To a certain extent, they feared you too- especially when you battled with them. You just wanted them to leave you alone.
I think you often pretended to recognize us when we came to see you. ‘Ah, good afternoon!’ you would greet us formally, with a twinkle in your eye which suggested you weren’t too sure who we were but were eager to uphold social graces nevertheless. Over time, that twinkle vanished and you became sadder. You no longer lifted your eyes to greet us. A cloudy film settled over your gaze and you spent whole afternoons staring into Nothingness- when you weren’t sleeping. Your skeletal frame sunk deeper and deeper into your armchair which eventually became an extended part of you.
In such moments I desperately wanted to hear you recount – just one last time!- the stories of your childhood in India where you fled to from Salonica, just before the Nazis invaded Greece. I wanted to hear about that time you cut the beard off that priest who was taking his afternoon nap under a tree or that time you sprayed a policeman with water, from behind a wall. I wanted to hear about your Cambridge days, what you got up to during the Cold War years- you were always so secretive about it…The umbilical cord of memories had atrophied over time, leaving me – leaving us - temporarily suspended in a No-Man’s land of Selfhood.
When the day came for us to choose the outfit you would wear for your burial, we made sure you were well dressed. We settled for your favourite outfit- the one you always wore on big occasions. Like Christmas and birthdays. The red checkered jacket, black trousers and your black bow-tie, with your polished shoes that still looked like new because you always took such good care of your things.
I retrieved the jacket from your cupboard, checked the pockets –just in case- and found a little note, neatly folded. ‘Dear Love,’ it began. It was a draft of a Valentine’s note to Mum; the hand-writing was shaky, the sentences incomplete. Till the very end, you maintained your need for perfection and had wanted to practice your hand writing before penning down your thoughts in a Valentine’s card- a tradition you upheld religiously during your forty years of marriage. It was the 14th of February that day. Mum has kept it in her purse ever since.
Born in London, Lavinia grew up in the UK, Switzerland, Germany and France. After obtaining her Bachelor's degree in German and Politics from Nottingham University, she went to drama school in Paris, then New York. She has acted in several plays and is the author of 'Célébrité: Mode d'Emploi', which was performed at the Théâtre de la Cité Bleu, in Geneva, 2008 and 'The Saint Factory', performed at the English Theatre in Berlin, in 2013. She recently wrote and directed her first short movie 'What Happened to Manfred', which is part of the official 2016 selection at the Stone Fair International Film festival, Romania.
Photographs by Nicola Tams
I had just returned from a four-day trip to Istanbul when I saw that a small cinema in Moabit, called Filmrauschpalast, was showing a Ben Hopkins film called “Hasret – Sehnsucht”. It was a film on the questions of the ghosts, cats and melancholy of Istanbul.
Afterwards I started to think about writing about this place using the memories which keep the form of fragments in my mind. All of these left-over memories are stockpiled, and exist without structure. I wonder whether I should write about Istanbul, whether it would be wise to write about something that I cannot grasp so well.
I wonder how to say something about a place that seems to have different layers underlining the visible? How to write about a place that I have only visited twice, a picture which has not yet taken shape in my mind? Yet I feel it writing in me anyway, something travels back and forth, looking for truths in the in-between space– where Hopkins locates his cats.
Hopkins says that the cats are one of the ways to start a voyage from the outer to the inner world, from what is most obvious – Bosporus – to what is most hidden – ghosts, pain and love. Cats are supposed to have several lives and they live all over, even in the most forgotten corners of Istanbul streets. They permit a way to access hidden layers of meaning. Who are these ghosts that Hopkins speaks of? And why does it sound so true when he speaks of melancholy?
So let us follow the unordinary paths of the cats, to see where we can find these sort of truths.
I saw cushion covers hanging from a clothesline in Beyoglu. It was as if they were expecting attention from passers-by. They waited and waited, but no one took them away. How long could they stare with their black, dull faces without eyes? What do they ask, if they don't want to know? Everything. They are lazy objects, but what if they demanded: "Come here, take a seat, and talk about your experience." How to make them speak?
I then walked into the "Museum of Innocence" where Orhan Pamuk tried to give life to literary "objects": Masumiyet Müzesi. In the museum he places all of the objects he gathered in his fictional book on Istanbul. For instance, he provided an envelope with a letter which, according to his voice on the audio guide, is so private that he would be ashamed to death if someone were to read it. But the statement stays untrue because we cannot read it. No account to be given here, either.
Why open the letter, when the secret is so much more inspiring? Why formulate things rather than letting them stay in the wind, covering the streets with the sounds of their heavy laughter? Can we fictionalize our lives? Is Pamuk diminishing the difference between a book and a lived life, real violence and violent language? How can we judge or grasp the thin line between one and the other and say: "This is not important." Or: "This is."
And how can we forget? Is it fiction, if someone tells me his or her story? Is it fiction if they lock objects into museum shelves? If it is, then I would like to see only what I want to see and write only what I want to read.
A friend of a friend once surprised me with the remark that she had once been blind. We both shared the sensation of having been watched, people staring at our bodies, especially as women. One day she decided that she had wanted to turn away from this. It would be easier not to be seen if we could just shut down our own vision. Like hundreds of cats that just close their eyes and sleep on a warm metal car or rolled over two chairs in a café. She was surprised to discover that when she was blind, she saw some things even better. I wish I were less afraid of the experiment she proposed to me and I could walk a couple of days through the streets keeping my eyes closed, blindfolded.
I have a picture of Istanbul in my mind. A woman's eyes look at the street, there is work to be done. A little girl's eyes follow the movement of a cat, a street cat, an Istanbul street cat. I watch the little girl who is watching the cat, she is holding her hand towards the cat, it needs to be seduced to stay.
The cat stays for a while.
There is something going on. The cat of my friend is in awe of the printer giving out sheets at an impossible speed, it follows the sheets with its eyes. My friend says that's because cats don't have a sense of machines, but I think the cat had an intuition. It stared at the working printer, amazed. Just like the two of us being surprised that we could find the correct printing driver and make it work.
Another cat walks over a broken mirror and does not seem to be struck by the fact that it is an object which can no longer be used. Nor does it seem to be struck by its brokenness or even by the light. So why do I write? To not forget? To not forget the few things I have and haven't seen, when there is still only intuition?
Hopkins begins and ends his film on depression, at the same time on a lost love for the city he had wished to be drawn into. He really seems to have captured some of its emotional truths – as fluid and vague as a dream, or a piece of music. Like those old Istanbul tango songs, street music was able to make people smile even in a rather melancholic moment. And yet I haven't taken part in that pain. Some façades, some lights that cut the lines, drew the city into a postcard, made it representable, effable, to be sent to someone else in the form of light, in the lights of storytelling. Is a witness full of lies? Yet Istanbul is itself a play of different greys which tries to escape the sun that puts people into shape, that gives them a clear identity.
I return home from the cinema. As I am walking through Berlin Wedding, there is a gloomy moon hiding behind a cold German winter night and I wonder what is different. Nothing is left on the streets, just a couple of cars passing by and something is missing. The cats. There is no one to keep me company. I should be like one myself and cling on to someone’s footsteps as a jealous company. But I prefer to walk on. My hard shoes make an odd sound which reverberates in the empty street. A ghostly car whizzes by and it is as if I were in a different place. No cats, no pain but no happiness either. Just the explosion of some artificial lights, the street covered in black nothingness, and some publicity urging me to read it. I feel a nostalgic need for a chair to hold on to, but nowhere, nothing is to be seen.
Watching old videos about youth culture on YouTube can be illuminating, inspiring and let’s face it, entertaining. Seeing the old haircuts, clothing and seeing shapes not thrown in public for decades is a special piece of history that should be treasured. It was through watching these videos that I found Funk Music 20th Century Box (1980) which is a short documentary presented by a young Danny Baker. It was originally shown on terrestrial television in the UK to shine a spotlight on the particular youth culture at the time known as Jazz-Funk.
The Jazz-Funk scene was made up of lots of ‘tribes’ which were groups of young Jazz-Funk fans particular to a single geographical location, each tribe had its own name and uniform. The documentary focusses on a tribe called “The Brixton Frontline”, it follows a young man named Junior Fairweather who is a computer programmer from Brixton and part of this tribe. We follow Junior to get a sense of what belonging to one of these groups involves. He is seen trawling record shops such as Solar Records in Brixton London underground station with his fellow tribe members Eddie, Kevin and Phil and then in the pub with more friends discussing the latest records that they have bought or would like to buy. Later on we see Junior and friends dressed in military style clothing which is the tribe’s uniform on their way to a Jazz-Funk night. He describes his involvement with the Brixton Frontline as a “membership of a club, although there are, in fact, no members. It’s just a collective gathering.” He goes on to say “Whenever we go out, we don’t go out as individuals, we go out as The Frontline”. Although this military dress might seem quite a bold or provocative choice, they seem to fit in seamlessly with other tribes who have similarly random and obscure themes, as there is no reported rivalry between tribes. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to the names or the uniforms but there does seem to be a genuine unity among them.
DJ Chris Hill describes the coming together of tribes as the coming together of a family. He specifically refers to the nights and weekends that he DJs at as reunions, as in ‘family reunions’. This is supported by the location chosen for the weekend’s away, a holiday camp in Caistor, Great Yarmouth. The sort of caravan park that the majorty of these people would have stayed in in their school holidays with their own families.
What is interesting about this documentary is the idea of youth culture becoming an alternative family. There isn’t any mention of this group being alienated by mainstream culture or disaffected in any way, which can be typical of other youth cultures. There seems to be no political message and tribe members do not speak of feeling rejected by society or their own families. This, for me, makes their choice to stick together all the more powerful. They aren’t filling a gap where a biological family or support network should be and they aren’t uniting to change society or the status quo. They are choosing to come together as a family just because they want to.
David Grant of the band Linx describes the Jazz-Funk scene as united and multi-racial, which, in 1980s Britain was important, as race was a contentious topic. He explains this unity as a result of being united by music, rather than clothing or ideology.
There have of course been other subcultures that have been brought together by music in this way but the tribes in this documentary are fascinating because they are on the one hand so individual—each tribe is based in a different geographical area and has its own uniform and customs. But on the other, these individual groups regularly come together to create one large self-identified family.
This is demonstrated most clearly in the documentary’s closing scene. We see young people dressed in uniforms and costumes dancing together, lifting one another up in the air. This is a visual representation of the united, multi-racial group that Junior, Chris and David have been talking about. The most touching scene is the final one, a crammed nightclub moving as one unit singing and dancing along to the 1979 Billy Paul song “Bring the Family Back Together”.
You can watch the full documentary above. BLYNKT doesn’t own the video, but hopes that you enjoy this blast from the past!
Photograph by Deepak Tolange
Last week I was in the basement of my mother’s house going through my belongings when I noticed my copy of The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer in a crate. This book played an instrumental role in my understanding of gender in society. This was the book which taught me that the teenage magazines were wrong. If a boy was mean to me, it did not mean that he actually secretly liked me.
I devoured this book aged 16 and felt empowered after reading it. It was like having an older sister demystify the adult world and then gave me the confidence to boldly and unapologetically march into it.
Germaine Greer wrote this book in 1970 and it was so progressive that it resonated with the sixteen-year-old me in 2001, thirty-one years later. It was perhaps naivety on my part to assume that the author would continue to be progressive in her thought.
But now when I look at the book, I feel sad and disappointed because the woman who wrote it is now most famous for her transphobic views. This woman who I had held in such high esteem was the same woman who in 2015 argued that:
“Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress, doesn’t make you a fucking woman”.
This week Germaine Greer has once again been in the news for her controversial and transphobic comments on Q&A, an Australian TV show. This time she said that it isn’t fair
“that a man who has lived for 40 years as a man and had children with a woman and enjoyed the services – the unpaid services of a wife, which most women will never know ... then decides that the whole time he’s been a woman”.
She did not touch on what her views are of trans men, nor did she qualify what she thought of women who are married to women. Do both partners benefit from the unpaid services of their wives, or are they, as women, exempt? This view to me also seemed slightly archaic, it is now much more common for labour both in and outside the house to be divided between genders if there are mixed genders in that household.
Germaine Greer’s attacks on the transgender seem particularly aimed at trans women which, for a feminist, seem particularly shocking. Her barbed comments appear to be ill-thought out. The use of phrases like ‘man in a dress’ seem spiteful and lazy.
I thought about this for a long time and something Marlon James, Booker Prize winner 2015, had posted on his Facebook page came to mind. It is what he describes as “The Liberal Limit”. This in essence is when people are liberal ‘to a point’, to the point where it is easy and convenient for them to adapt and evolve their liberal beliefs to stay inclusive. The liberal limit is not progressive, it is static. He goes on to address specific issues of racism and sexism as examples of when people can’t be bothered to update their beliefs and ideas in a constantly evolving world. When discussing trans people he says:
“You’re a progressive. You’re supposed to progress. You’re supposed to be more liberal today than you were yesterday…...My views on trans people are different in 2014 that they were in 2004. And you can bet your ass it will be even better in 2024 than it is now, because that's what makes me not conservative. The point to being a progressive is to fucking progress.”
This progress and evolution in thought is what I had expected from Germaine Greer. But instead she continues to stick to her beliefs in binary gender, with the occasional intersex exception. She believes men ‘decide’ to become women without considering that it is possible that the person making this decision was never a ‘man’ in the first place. Instead of updating her beliefs that these women are themselves victims of sexism and misogyny, she accuses them of being the perpetrators.
Marlon James’ comments seem to ring true for me in this instance. I believe that these transphobic comments stem from a place of insecurity. I am certainly not an apologist for Germaine Greer’s remarks, I wholeheartedly disagree with them but I believe that these spiteful comments are rooted in fear, which is the case with most bullies.
In 2015 she cancelled a talk she was due to give at Cardiff University after the initial backlash to her comments. She told Newsnight:
“I’m getting a bit old for all this. I’m 76, I don’t want to go down there and be screamed at and have things thrown at me. Bugger it.”
Her reference to her age, acknowledgement that she had angered people and her flippant use of ‘bugger it’, makes me think that her heart is no longer in it. She has realised that her feminism is now out of date and rather than trying to keep up with the times she has succumbed to a fear of change and progress. In short, she had reached her liberal limit.
It seems to me that she has decided that rather than progressing and evolving her brand of feminism, it is easier for her to say controversial things to gain publicity at the expense of transgender individuals. Whether this prejudice comes from a place of fear or not, it does not excuse what she is saying and my views on gender in 2016 don’t match Germaine Greer’s views on gender in 2016. It is a shame because she had such an influence on so many young feminists over the years, but the biggest shame is that she didn’t grow with us.
The book remains in a crate in the basement of my mother’s house and I wonder if I ever have a daughter will I pass it on to her? Or, is it best kept in the crate, obsolete and gathering dust?
Women in Zika affected countries have been advised by their health officials to ‘avoid pregnancy’ in order to minimise their risk of having a baby with birth defects associated with the disease. In El Salvador women are being asked to refrain from getting pregnant until 2018.
Zika is a virus spread through mosquito bites, which in adults causes symptoms such as fever, a rash, joint pain and bloodshot eyes. Most adults recover within 7 days and are free of the virus within around 20. Only 20% of adults who have the virus experience symptoms. Zika is not a new virus and has been prevalent in Africa and Asia in the past.
In late 2015 a Brazilian doctor noted the huge increase in the number of microcephaly cases in his region and linked this with the Zika virus. He believes that there is a link between being infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy, microcephaly and other birth defects.
At this time, the link between Zika and microcephaly has not been proven, but the evidence that there is a link is growing stronger. There is also evidence to suggest that the Zika virus can be transmitted sexually as well as through mosquito bites.
The Zika virus has been spreading rapidly through large parts of Latin America, the location of this outbreak has significance. The majority of countries infected by this most recent outbreak are predominately Roman Catholic countries where abortion is illegal and the population have poor access to family planning education.
The governments' responses to the outbreak have generally been to advise women not to get pregnant. This is little comfort to the thousands of women who are currently pregnant and have been exposed to the Zika virus. In nearly all countries which have been impacted by the recent Zika outbreak, abortion is completely illegal. In Brazil, abortion is only permitted in the case of rape or if the mother’s life is at risk. In El Salvador, where women have been asked not to get pregnant until 2018, it is not permitted under any circumstances and women face up to 40 years in prison if they seek an illegal termination. At present there is no indication that these governments are willing to change their policy in light of the growing epidemic. As a result, anxious mothers await to see whether their babies will have escaped harm or whether they will be born with long term, debilitating health complications which include visual and hearing problems, seizures, developmental delay, intellectual disability and mobility problems. These conditions are often lifelong.
To combat Zika, governments in Latin America are putting money into accelerating research and creating a vaccine. However, it is unclear how long it will take to create a vaccine and how long the threat of this epidemic will last. It is perhaps a consequence of the laws surrounding abortion that health officials have asked women to avoid pregnancy in the first place. In any country this advice is at best naïve, but in predominantly Roman Catholic Latin America, this advice may be completly unrealistic. The Catholic church’s recommendations for family planning are either to practice complete abstinence or by calculating when a woman is at her least fertile in her cycle.
Evidence shows that in the US nearly half of pregnancies are unplanned, this figure could rise to up to 56% in the Latin America where Catholicism is more widely practiced. The dominance of Catholicism means that access to family planning and sex education is not as widely available as it is in for example, the rest of the Americas.
In response to questions surrounding the Zika virus, Pope Francis has said that “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil”. He believes this advice to be preferable than the risk of babies being born with microcephaly. Some have read between the lines and believe that Pope Francis is hinting that in light of the outbreak, if devoutly Catholic couples in the region needed to use contraception while at risk of Zika, then that would be ok. But he did not say this explicitly, and the official position of the Church towards contraception and abortion remains unchanged.
With such minimal and impractical advice from the state what hope is there for millions of women who have been given such an impossible task? It seems as though while health officials and scientists hastily conduct research and try to make a vaccine, the responsibility for quelling this epidemic has been given to women of child-bearing age. It is unfair and unfeasible to ask women who have no access to abortion and limited access to contraception and family planning education to ‘avoid pregnancy’. While these governments are doing the best they can to find a vaccine and discover more about the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly a stronger temporary solution is urgently needed. Men and women in the area must be equipped adequately to keep themselves and their families safe, access to education and contraception is needed. Family planning is not only the responsibility of women.
How can we, in non-Zika affected areas help people access the resources that they need?
As a result of this lack of state involvement, more and more people in this region are turning to charities for advice and support. This is where the public can make a difference. If you would like to support people in countries affected by the Zika virus, you can do this by:
More detailed information on how you can make a difference can be found here.
Photograph by Stephen Jackson
When one encounters a story like Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” one cannot help but think to what extent our bond with our families which at times seems to be the most unconditional form of love in the world, is in fact conditioned by our physical being. “Metamorphosis” is essentially a story about the imprisonment of a human being within his animal physicality (isn’t it a universal truth?). It is a sad fact, but stories about sick family members, senior homes, among many sad family stories, tell us precisely that family is after all a worldly union. It comes with all the worldly constraints and conditions which challenge the unconditional love we feel within it. Especially when a family member is deprived of basic capacity of communication, due to illness or old age, it becomes difficult for the familial bond to endure.
We all want love to transcend. The difference of skin color, beauty and ugliness, old age, all those worldly things, to be overcome. But the brutal truth told by Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” is that Gregor was expelled out of his family because of his physical deformity. As he became an unrelatable monstrous bug, the family bond he took for granted deteriorated. When Gregor, propelled by an urge to respond to his family’s inquiry about his bodily conditions, heard only an incomprehensible squeak coming out of his mouth, there was no transcendent love available to him or to his family.
“Metamorphosis” does not so much explain to us what family is than asks: does what we call family (and familial love) always already conjure up definitive categories of humanity? More specifically, does becoming a family require family members to first of all be human? As in Gregor’s case, his new bug body, something that primarily changed nothing of his subjectivity, seems to have expelled him completely from the context of family, as well as from all other social contexts. The moment of despair resulting from miscommunication was robbed by an existential chaos—Gregor was unable to even affirm his own human nature in front of his family. He could not exonerate himself from the condemnation from his very own family of being less than human.
Maybe we should rethink the whole idea that we were born into our families. Maybe there is nothing that we were born into, apart from our bodies, which grant us part of our humanity. The other part consists in our becoming relatable social beings, establishing relationships with other human beings, and finally, becoming a family or a community. Then when old age or sickness seizes us, it will do nothing more than putting the precious feelings we reared to the test. Maybe love will win. Maybe it won’t. Then it will take us back to the examination of what constitutes human.
Carly Dee and Q Lei, Editors of BLYNKT magazine and hosts of BLYNKT podcast