This year’s visit to New Caledonia got me musing whether I should change the name of my blog – to signal a broadening of scope that would justify my writing here about my travels. ‘Deep Time, Exotic Excursions’ is what I came up with.
My preoccupations as a writer do seem to revolve around those two themes. The novel Deep Time could be considered the ultimate in exotic excursions; three of the stories in my collection Exotic Excursions involve prehistoric creatures; while my work in progress is certainly – from the perspective of two major characters – an experience of the exotic but also involves prehistoric life, albeit on a more modest scale than in Deep Time.
I’m well aware that the word ‘exotic’ is like a red rag to a bull when it comes into the sights of postcolonialist critics. It’s a concept symbolic of obsolete colonialist attitudes that it’s routine to judge harshly. In the introduction to Exotic Excursions I defended the continuing appeal of the exotic when handled in a mindful way that exposes the vulnerabilities of the Western observer and is cognizant that perceptions of the other as exotic work both ways. Underneath this ethical mindfulness, for me, sits a fascination with difference – not only in people and culture, but in landscape and natural history as well. A fascination that is not motivated, à la Edward Said, by the wish to dominate and exploit, but is intrinsic to itself and can motivate a love of the other, a wish for their well-being, a desire for connection – so that, for example, one votes to stay in the European Union rather than abandon it, or one treats immigrants kindly rather than framing them as a threat.
They say that the past is another country, and the past of one’s own culture can seem as exotically other as distant countries. If you happen to be English, like me, listen to some medieval English music and you’ll see what I mean. The same applies to the future as imagined by science fiction.
As the term ‘deep time’ becomes ever more in vogue, it’s sometimes being used to refer to the antiquity of human civilisation. I think this is a misuse of the term – unless you’re talking about Homo habilis. ‘Deep time’ refers to the past not thousands but millions of years ago. But here again the appeal of imagining such distant epochs bespeaks the exotic. I remember well my first book about prehistoric mammals: how fascinating it was to learn about animals that had some relation with those you could see in the zoo but yet were different in sometimes subtle and sometimes startling ways.
For now, I think I’ll keep the name of my blog as it is. For one thing, changing it would probably bugger up the metadata in horrifying ways beyond my comprehension. For another, if I named my blog after my two existing books of contemporary fiction, what would I do when the next one comes out?