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The Enchantment of Beginnings

The enchantment of beginnings is as empty as the alchemist’s promise.

With all the different anniversaries—birthday, independence day, wedding anniversaries, etc.— it is clear that you have a thing for beginnings. But why?

Why do you always think that the question about how it all began is the most important question? You are familiar with the Bob Marley guide to history, right? The one that says something like: We have to know where we are coming from to know where we are going. Ponder over it, and you’ll realize it’s  not a very helpful piece of cultural advice. For one thing, it hinges our future on a Utopian search for a secret place of origin in our past.

One reason the past is so enticing is its claims of having talismanic powers. True, the past contains the moment of your beginning. But it also promises you that, in its garden of memories, this beginning can become a crystal ball that, if only it were found, can explain what you are and will become. But do you seriously think that origins are moments in time that bare the hidden truth of your being, that your origin can tell you not only the when and the how, but also the why of yourself and the world?

Do you honestly think that the moment of your birth is “the moment of [your] perfection, when [you] emerged dazzling from the hands of a creator in… the shadowless light of a first morning?” —Michel Foucault

I don’t care for the beginnings, you know, at least not in the sense that they possesses  divinatory powers. But can I then say that they are the least significant part of life? Maybe not. What I can say is that beginnings are morbid things to ponder over. Why? Because they remind me that my presence in the world is a chance or accidental event. Sometimes, in the rapture of self-love I entertain the belief that my birth and the birth my nation are the two most inevitable events in the world. But then I think that way only because I am seeing the past and its narration of my origin through the fiction of memory.

Learn from creations stories. They are beautiful because they are as diverse as they are ridiculous. They tell us that it matters little that the world came into being when a chicken landed on the moon with two coral beads. Or when a hard penis ruptured the earth. Or when a fire cracker magically exploded in the middle of a sizzling cosmic soup. Or when a bored and benevolent God decided he needed company.

The enchantment of beginnings is an emptiness that holds a promise.

If there is any value to origin, it lies in its Utopian nature. That’s because beginnings are meaningful more in the searching than in the finding. We will never find the true origin and even if we do, it will answer none of our questions. But the journey to through the past to the beginning, the journey simple as journey, freed from the tyranny of the destination is, perhaps, the only content of an otherwise precarious existence.

Photo Credit: Potipher’s Wife by Pauline Frederick

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

6 Responses to “The Enchantment of Beginnings” Subscribe

  1. Boye 2010/09/20 at 14:05 #

    If you had no beginning none of this would be. This began because you began. Perhaps one needs not find the origin to acknowledge its influence on the now. After all now is itself a beginning of sorts.

  2. admin 2010/09/21 at 18:15 #

    You are right. I was thinking more in terms of the divinatory values attached beginnings.

  3. Boye 2010/09/29 at 19:38 #

    I see your point. I find that those values stem from a 2 dimensional perspective where the beginning is the locus of a line, straight, crooked, curvy but nevertheless a line. In a 3 or multidimensional world, talk less of a world that embraces quantum mechanics the beginning, though important, does not have that predictive a power.

  4. Ainehi 2010/09/30 at 05:27 #

    Wow. You articulate this very nicely. You hit at the problem. As long as we keep thinking of events as linked in a line–like you said it doesn’t even have to be linear–we invariably endow the starting point with certain revelatory powers. A 3-D world+quantum mechanics. I would like to know more about how that changes the way we think of events and they are linked.

  5. Boye 2010/09/30 at 13:24 #

    You pose a great question. I would love to answer in some detail, but have to run now, so will be back to chew on this one.

  6. Boye 2010/09/30 at 20:20 #

    Quantum mechanics posits that one can not accurately locate a particle in space, because to do this requires knowing its velocity and position simultaneously. Any attempts to measure position affect its velocity and vice versa. This is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Subatomic particles for this reason can have an infinite number of positions simultaneously. Hence no beginning point can be ascribed to them.

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