That I’m an American is something I just realized while walking around Edinburgh. Specifically I realized that Disney Castle is a crock and real castles rock.
Slightly more generally I should point out that from the moment I went away to Japan I played with my nationality (just as I’d begun to play with my identity previously). Because of the (then) recent World Trade Center incident I remember reading and being told that Americans abroad should by evasive about their nationality in fear of repercussions against their selves. What this amounted to was a) don’t hang around the US embassy in Tokyo, and b) don’t broadcast that you’re American. For me, it had the added effect that because of my Portland (lack of) accent, being surrounded by an international and Japanese crowd and predominately speaking Japanese I was able to hide my nationality quite well. My accent in Japanese was completely unrecognizable and my English accent was relatively unplaceable, but most guessed somewhere in Europe (also because of my appearance).
So, I have generally thought about nationality and my ‘Americanness’ as something that is easily hide-able, unimportant and generally malleable. Of course, this is a rather obnoxious assumption as my Americanness is, of course, marked in various ways from mannerisms to specific words to those who look, but more importantly, it’s highly related to my understanding of particular terms, concepts and ideas.
I understand theory from a particular cultural perspective. Which is to say that I understand the world as an American. And one of the things that Americans don’t understand is History with a capital H that goes back into the architecture and ground. Sure, some cities on the east coast go back a few hundred years now and places have been around for a hundred plus years, but there certainly aren’t any castles or five hundred year old under layers of the city that have been built over.
So if Baudrillard and every other continental theorist must make the trip to California to see Disneyland and find simulacra, America, late capitalism, or whatnot, perhaps it is just as ‘necessary’ for Americans to go and see castles, cobbled roads, and old skinny streets to understand history and the real.
Everything is relative. This much is known. So maybe the relative understanding of the present depends on your knowledge of the past, real or simulation (or representation), etc.
Such were my thoughts before going to Edinburgh Castle, but having seen it from various vantage points around the city. Having done the castle visit I’m not quite as enlightened as I might have been, but it was interesting for a number of reasons.
Primarily, the castle was interesting because it was a glorified museum. Things were blocked off, things were accessible, people were funneled through the different sections to get pumped up info about topics from the history of Scotland and war (the predominant aspect of the information), the history of the crown jewels, the castle’s renovation as a prison, the rooms where Mary Queen of Scots was born, etc. The strange part to me is that the castle becomes the site of a museum for various things at the same time that it embodies (minimally) history.
However, the building as history did not happen like I somehow thought would be. Part of this is that the process of history entails building over the old things. Placards that announce any give piece of information are new. The books that announce the war dead from years past in one area were from 2008. The cobbled street, which one may guess is rather old is half paved over in some spots and who knows when it was actually cobbled.
There are no placards informing the visitor of when history took place, when it was imagined and altered. Instead, there is simply what ‘happened.’
Second, because the rooms present certain themes they exist outside of their original purpose. Even the birth of the queen of scots etc and the great hall are semi outside of history as it is presented as her birthplace but also some other’s birthplace and they are separated by numerous years. And the great hall seems to host various weapons, but its original purpose is outside of representation. The rooms are a smashup of time. However, the honours are possibly the best example as they are a long, almost Disneylike progression from start to end going through various rooms. The castle goer travels from room to room getting the history of the Honours, the sword, scepter, crown and jewels of Scotland including their making, the hiding for 111 years and finally in the last room one sees the actual objects. Two points of interest are that one sees replicas of the artifacts in almost every room before the final room (perhaps most interesting are the bronze replicas with lots of braille information surrounding them, and a half size sword, right before the final room). The second is that one is walking through rooms of the castle that have been completely reappropriated from whatever their original purpose might have been. You have no idea what the rooms might have been at any given point.
The result of this decontextualization of the space the castle becomes a vantage point to see the city and a place of (military) history, but it is taken out of time.
The ground and place itself, which I immediately thought of as history were turned no more into history than 100 and 200 year old buildings on the east coast of the United States. Which, I guess points to my innocence that there is actually some sort of feeling of time in places that is not history, which is the same whether it’s a day, a decade, a century or a millennia old.