Saturday, December 6, 2014

Nothing never happens - The conflict of knowledge

Maybe I didn`t look at areas, regions and places the same way other people do. Maybe it is my small town-upbringing. Maybe I`m just paid attention to something entirely different while other people concentrated on their spatial bearings. Irrespective of the reason(s) behind it, I spent a certain percentage of my life blissfully or anxiously ignorant of where I am. 

Amsterdam, with its relatively small, interconnected but unique neighbourhoods and the combination of century old grachten and the more modern city layout on the periphery really punishes the navigational happy-go-luckies of this world. This has frustrating consequences and one particular early-morning-two-hour-drenched-in-rain-only-to-figure-out-that-I-was-in-the-wrong-side-of-the-city bike ride comes to mind. 

I didn`t need a life coach or self-help book to figure out that this was a major point of self-improvement. The first step in this approach was putting a name to the region I was in. The place that gives you the quintessential Amsterdam feeling (gezellige pubs and old houses with high ceilings on the grachts) is the Jordaan. The area were people put a concerted effort into distinguishing themselves from each other but end-up looking remarkably similar is called De Pijp. Eventually I developed a type of affective shorthand for all the areas I would frequent. 

The problem was that I would know the name of the place I was but that didn`t help me get to the place where I wanted to be. To be able to navigate independently I would need to understand the interconnected nature of the districts of Amsterdam. I needed to figure out that from Vondelpark if you went East you will pass through the Museumkwartier, then Nieuwe Pijp and going over the Amstel you would be in a peculiar part of the city called Transvaalbuurt.   

Apart from being named after a province of apartheid South Africa one will also notice the names of Afrikaner leaders and battles fought by the Afrikaner in the 1800s. For instance Tugelaweg (in reference to The Battle of Tugela Heights) runs parallel to Retiefstraat (in reference to the Great Trek leader Piet Retief). The streets were named this way by the Dutch to show camaraderie and support of the Afrikaner after losing the Second Anglo-Boer War against the British. A war in which the British used inhumane tactics to counter the recently invented guerillawarfare of the Afrikaners. 

A lesser known fact is that some Dutch families took the sentiment further and immigrated to South Africa in support of the Afrikaner. One of these families being the Verwoerds and their son Hendrik. Hendrik would grow up to become the so-called Architect of Apartheid.   

The way we classify historic events gives an episodic feel to it but there is no start or end to the doings of mice and men - one event has many causal linkages to what happened before it in the same way that one area of a city is interconnected to the next. 

This brings me to the central conflict of knowledge. We need classification to understand and analyse but the very mainstay of knowledge also misleads us into a superficial understanding or less useful knowledge by taking our attention away from where events/places overlap as time/space changes.       

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