Editorial Note: Disguise and Revelation

Shawn Graham
Written 2020-11-30

Citation: Graham, Shawn. 2020. “Editorial Note: Disguise and Revelation” Epoiesen http://dx.doi.org/10.22215/epoiesen/2020.7
Creative Commons License

Shawn Graham is a Full Professor in the Department of History at Carleton University (shawn.graham@carleton.ca). ORCID: 0000-0002-2887-3554.

Volume 4

I imagine you sitting in your comfortable chair, looking at your tablet, reading this year’s pieces from Epoiesen. We’re talking. I mention Terry Pratchett - again. “I find there’s a connection, here.” You give me the benefit of the doubt.

The thing I want you to understand, the thing that I’m trying to say, is what makes the work of Terry Pratchett important - one of the things, at any rate - is that in his satire, Pratchett reveals more about ourselves than we are perhaps comfortable in knowing. That it is wrapped in humour makes it easy to discount and ignore, but it’s still there. I will make no apologies for drawing on and reflecting on his work as I try to be the best damned archaeologist I can be. In particular, I am drawn to certain of his characters- certainly, Sam Vimes, the drunk who finds himself pushed to be better than he was, and who wrestles with his demons every day; but also Granny Weatherwax, who has some pretty serious demons of her own. Consider Granny on autobiography:

‘I had to learn. All my life. The hard way. And the hard way’s pretty hard, but not so hard as the easy way.’ (Lords and Ladies)


and:

‘Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.’ (A Hat Full of Sky)


This year, this year of crisis, we are all learning the hard way. In this year’s Epoiesen, we are fortunate to share the work of three scholars unafraid to tell their story of learning the hard way, of disguise and revelation. And of how they changed the story.

When I set myself the goal of becoming a classicist, I wanted to be entirely my disguise. I wanted to leave behind the parts of myself I was concealing. I thought that I would not make better friends than with the dead whose books I read. I showed only those parts of myself that fit the role I was playing. I thought that the other parts of me – my childhood, my desires, my frivolities, my strangenesses – would repeal anyone who caught a glimpse of them - Erin L. Thompson


Erin L. Thompson tells her story in relationship to that of Richard Burton, who went in disguise to Medina and Mecca. “Perhaps, like me, what he feared would happen if he went undisguised was not death, but the far more frightening prospect of being seen.” Thompson’s piece prompted a Response from Lee Skallerup Bessette, who recounts her own story of being in disguise, of being an anglophone student at a francophone university in Quebec, and in relationship to the work of the author Dany Laferrière. “Those parts of me I tried to erase are crying, now, to be seen […] To be seen, they are saying, is to be all of yourself. Those disguises were never really disguises, but attempts to wrest control of the narrative.” Quinn Dombrowski in her Response reminds us, “Identities are forged and reinforced through retelling one’s story, and through interaction with others.” She later adds, “I hope you can spend your time in the company of real people, without giving any thought to the number of feet separating you or how well your mask fits. And I hope you can take a risk, as Thompson put it, on the frightening prospect of being seen.”

Disguises, and revelations. In this year of pandemic, what disguises are we struggling to maintain? What do we reveal, inadvertently, as we try to maintain the fictions? And when our defences are finally breached… can we be as brave as these three scholars? Can we change the story? The hard way is pretty hard…

The cover art for this year’s Annual is courtesy Marcelo Vitores. Called ‘repair‘, it perhaps encourages us to think through the pieces of our bodies, our experience, to put together new stories, new pasts, in the struggle to understand; to respond to the destruction of pandemic to build something more truthful, to repair ourselves everyday.

Sensibility

Michael Given has gifted us this year with a revelation of landscape that occurs through movement. The landscape pushes back, when we walk it. There is a conversation that happens; the landscape is forged and reforged through our movement, and that movement tells the land what it is. In his walk from Dunning to the Common of Dunning, Given comes to know the landscape where he has conducted seasons of field work anew

“[…] But these memories were linked together by my route in a way that I had never experienced before: they made me attend to the areas where we had worked from a whole series of different perspectives and angles. Wisdom, then, does not just sit in places: it is acquired and passed on by walking trails attentively”.


In her Response, Rose Ferraby writes,

We walk to think, to connect, to give our minds that freedom to roam. On this journey though, I’m intrigued by the question of how we walk as archaeologists – is the journey about the material past landscape, or about understanding people and the past through reflecting on the self? As archaeologists how does our walking permeate temporal boundaries, reflections reverberating across time and communities? How do our particular forms of attentiveness as we travel allow us to understand the land in different ways?


Like Granny Weatherwax said, ‘Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.’

“But what’s the connection with the last piece?” you say. “Well, it changes the story, too. It changes the archaeological story away from dots-on-a-map to something else. It changes the world to expand how we might know it.”

The piece by the trio Graham, Reinhard, and Kansa invites us to know the landscape, the deep history of place, through music and dance; to take the materials we create as archaeologists and express them not through words, not through dots-on-a-screen, but through a thumping beat that compels us to move and hear the percussive data with our bodies. It disguises the data in sound; because we are not used to this, it forces us to attend to patterns that might otherwise never be revealed. Granny Weatherwax again: “There’s a kind of magic in masks. Masks conceal one face, but they reveal another.” (Maskerade).

Disguises and revelations; this was 2020 at Epoiesen.

~

You nod, satisfied, returning to your tablet. As the snow falls outside, I can hear in my head the echoes of the song, my foot tapping to the beat…