"I was at Home!" The Dream of Representation in the Representation of a Dream
Unfamiliar: An Anthropological Journal
This photo of the wing looks like the photo of a road. As I watch it, I feel like it's telling me something: "Don't be afraid, even if this jump to the other side of the world makes your head whirl. Stay focused. It is your destiny! You just need to keep going." This creative essay uses a dream the author had during fieldwork as the starting point for a discussion of the conundrums of representation. The dream epitomises the alterations that observation causes on the portions of reality that
... ethnographer selects and concentrates upon. The rest of the essay tells of how the author attempted to find his own personal solution to the problem of representation thanks to inspiration found in a photo exhibition and the letter of a friend and mentor. Such interpenetration of oneiric, photographic, and epistolary materials works as a pretext to discuss the importance of remaining faithful to the anthropological mission of making people visible and not being hindered by the methodological impossibility of representation. _____________ When I leaf through my diaries, trying to revive the memories of my fieldwork, there is a page that always reminds me of how easily we are fooled by our way of representing human life. It is the narration of a dream I had about three months after my arrival in Solomon Islands. That early morning, I suddenly woke up like a soldier after the reveille, and mechanically searched for a pen and my notebook. The air was thin, and cool, very rare in the South Pacific. I scribbled frantically. The marks of my pen look as if they were left by a minuscule hurricane. I wanted to mark all I could recall from that dream before it was too late, before the sirens of hindsight self-narration could turn that oneiric experience into yet another fable. I had the feeling that there was something important that that dream was trying to tell me. Field diary Honiara, January 11, 2012 This morning I woke up in the middle of a very special dream. I was in the company of Gordon and Helen, in their timber cabin. The woman was sticking coloured cards against the walls of the room. On each of those coloured cards I could clearly read the names of some relatives. In particular, I remember the name of Reubenson Ramonia, which is one of Clement's brothers. Reubenson is not a blood relative of Gordon and Helen. Indeed, the card on which his name was written had been stuck on the area of the wall that bore the inscription "Affines". On the adjacent wall, more coloured pages had been posted, with names on them, but also with sums due, and with specifications such as 'gift', 'debt', 'offer', and so on. Seeing such a curious composition, I was amazed. I thought, "Just watch how funny accounting is in this country! I can really see that a household is held up by a network of mutual dependencies, as affective as economic!" And as I was meditating on that, I searched my camera to document what I was observing. But in framing the scene, I realised that taking the photo presented some complications: the light through the window was too strong on the wall, whereas not enough light shed on the coloured cards. Also, only some of them would fit into the photo, because the area over which they were fixed was too broad. So, I decided to rearrange them, in order to include them all in one picture. As I believed I understood the logic underpinning their arrangement, I grouped those relating to collateral relatives in a corner, and those concerning blood relatives in the corner of the adjoining wall. But the problem of light was still unresolved, and so I pulled a curtain to cover the brightest side of the window. But, in so doing, I noticed that the room had changed shape. I froze, and looked at the tissue. Its texture seemed somehow familiar. Suddenly, I realised that what I had in my hand was in fact the thick, brown curtain in my grandparents' bedroom, in Milan, Italy. I looked around, and found myself in that very same room. I was at Home! On the walls, however, the coloured cards were still there, with the names, with the amounts due, arranged as I had reordered them. At that point, since everything looked ideal for taking the perfect picture, I adjusted the camera and framed. But then I stopped, for a thought crossed my mind. What was the point of taking a photograph of those cards for research purposes, if in the meantime I had changed the whole context of their use? And in conceiving this last thought, I woke up.