“The importance of the fire is more than something that brings us warmth in such a hostile place,” Victor Vargas Filgueira, a Yaghan guide at the Museo del Fin del Mundo (End of the World Museum) in Ushuaia told me. “It served as an inspiration for many things.”
That inspiration can be seen in a word that has garnered rapturous admirers and inspired many flights of the imagination. Mamihlapinatapai comes from the near-extinct Yaghan language. According to Vargas’ own interpretation, “It is the moment of meditation around the pusakí [fire in Yaghan] when the grandparents transmit their stories to the young people. It’s that instant in which everyone is quiet.”
But since the 19th Century, the word has held a different meaning – one to which people all over the world relate.
I did a bit of yoga for a short while, and one of the things that has stayed with me since – and continues to echo as I encounter the days – is the notion of ‘being present’. You know, the typical yoga speak of, ‘Bring yourself into the moment. Be present in it. Let everything else just fall away.’ What puzzled me initially was the question of, well, when had we started being absent from the moment? When did we go missing?
We live in a world of distractions and abandonments now – memes, phones, the tele and so on – so I guess that’s one answer: we got lost in hypermodernity. Our presence in the moment fell away in the white noise of it. And this notion had been knocking around my head for a while when a friend sent me a snippet from an interview he did with Yuval Noah Harari on the evolution of writing as an act. Harari says that writing ‘habituated people to think in terms of the written word, and not in terms of what they had experienced in the world.’ If it was true that the written word had begun to define reality, alienating us from presence in the process, what might this mean for literature?
“I suspect that cooking with love is an inversion of a different principle: cooking to be loved,” Bill Buford says in Heat. Perhaps that’s why eating a restricted diet feels so lonely: cooks — whether they are homespun or professional chefs — are deeply annoyed by being confined or regulated. If you are on the receiving end of this annoyance, it feels personal, especially if your finicky-ness is a result of necessity rather than preference. But for the person preparing the food, even a simple request can create a major upheaval, undermining both flavor and technique. Food designed for specialized diets tends to expel puffs of uncertainty and sometimes disdain. (If you don’t believe me, just go to your favorite pizza joint and order a gluten-free crust. If they have one, it will almost certainly be served either nearly raw or burnt, and although it may have the same sauce topping and cheese as your usual order, it will exude none of the decadent coziness of your typical slice.)
Studies show that comfort food is comforting because of association: It soothes by reminding us of one who once calmed us, but this only works for the emotionally healthy, those with a “secure attachment style,” people who have generally positive associations with and trust in relationships. For those raised in a supportive environment, eating the foods of their childhood provides a link to memories of emotional support, making them feel less alone. But for those of us whose early relationships were troubled, familiar food does not alleviate isolation. We cannot imagine away loneliness. When what’s familiar is painful, seeking comfort requires us to do the uncomfortable work of trying something new. Paradoxically, to be soothed, we must seek out the unfamiliar, leaving what is deceptively called our comfort zone.
Kerrigan takes us beyond Shakespeare’s primary sources into the deeper texture of his allusions and passages of imitation. His originality, by this account, was largely a gift for the alchemical transformation of what he had read, heard recited, or remembered from his days on a hard bench at Stratford grammar school.
Maybe every town is a shell waiting to be furnished; every fiction a fake until we consent to meet it halfway. Overland was jerry-rigged over an existing structure. The fields are felt and the taps don’t work and the perfect little cabin commands a view of tarpaulin. The place is an illusion, but that doesn’t mean it’s not home.