jctv (J):HOME







Architectural description is the medium of effect, which is lost because of time (see esp. Donaldson, Prelim. Disc.)

To describe and thus to re-create Jamaica in my own mind. Description is an act of re-creation, of creation in the mind. Walter Benjamin pointed out that language does not represent things, it is itself a world. The connection between it and the real world is nebulous and difficult. Language codifies one of an infinite possible conditions, which through the ambiguity and uncertainty of communication, of reading will create itself a further infinite number of possible conditions. There, what I describe is merely the world I have created for myself. This re-created world is not really suitable for human beings, it would be better for Martians, fabulous beings of a future who can look at the mess of this world and laugh heartily at the awful sadness which the bullying banality of aesthetic notions such as racial hierarchy has caused. Perhaps the ghosts of Swift and Erasmus, of Sterne and Voltaire of Gogol, Kafka and Gontsjarov of C.L.R James, of Cervantes and Marquez of Walcott, Democritus and Diogenes, will laugh when the great assembly is complete.

The description of Jamaica has an illustrious tradition starting with Columbus himself of course, who was discovered by the people whom his discovery would soon annihilate. Then Hans Sloane of Sloane Square in London...and the British Museum. Then there is William Beckford (the not quite so wealthy cousin of the famous William Beckford) in 1790 and Monk Lewis in 1816 both of them dab hands at the art of Gothic Horror and the curious amoral disinterestedness of the picturesque point of view. Then there is Lady Nugent and yet more ladies. Everyone touching Jamaica is filled with the urge to describe it. All these descriptions contain promises of continuing relevance, of understanding of the immense dislocations which dictate daily life here.

Everytime Jamaica is described it is with the astonishment of the new. Why is this? Not only the description of properties by the countless surveyors as documented by Barry Higman, but the owners and governor’s wives and diarists who have come and described what they saw. Jamaica is a country in which the urge to describe what one sees becomes urgent. And that urgency has something to do with the astonishment of realizing that one is the first to see things that have always been around: the astonishment on discovering that you are seeing for the first time.

This urge to describe is a function of memory. The historical landscape of Jamaica, is constantly being erased. And the agents of erasure are manifold. Destruction by fire, hurricane, earthquake, humidity, insect, neglect and growth, by forgetfulness and the wish to forget. The change of memory: the reconfiguration of memory into myth for purposes of political strategy, expediency and greed. Even what is remembered is in Jamaica especially coloured by the agent of description, the person who is actively remembering. Objectivity is a vain hope. That is the reason why I have dissected myself so obscenely for the purposes of this description. In Jamaica the describer is a particularly active ingredient in the object of his description.



Contact me at: jacob@voorthuis.net

copyright © jacob voorthuis 1994-2011

All written material on this page is copyrighted.

Please cite Jacob Voorthuis as the author and Voorthuis.net as the publisher.