Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Anthony Lock: Life in post-quake Christchurch

Anthony Lock: Life in post-quake Christchurch

by Anthony Lock

I live in Christchurch. As I write, the city awaits decisions on which parts of our city are going to be “abandoned” You never know quite what the next quake will be like, and your cranium still records the former city, the one that the earth has, in a way, reclaimed. The expression “no worries” now seems somewhat oxymoronic or even ironically nostalgic.

It is because of this, and being a citizen of Christchurch, that I have fallen in love again. With Orwell.

Lionel Trilling remarked that an importance of Orwell’s body of work is his obsession with survival. His style is characterized by simply expressing how a thing is, and limiting any abstractions in such an expression, aside from any the reader might wish to make. In Keep the Aspidistra Flying, “Orwell’s sad young man”, according to Trilling, “learns to cherish the small personal gear of life, his own bed and chairs…his own aspidistra, the ugly, stubborn, organic emblem of survival”. In being reduced to some form of survival, one begins to cherish the simplest things, because without them, one would not be here.

And so Orwell could have written Christchurch if he had had some godly powers. Reading Orwell again after the February quake and its lesser impersonators who visit us daily, is like reading a distorted roman à clef of current life. Those who have stayed in Christchurch, even those who live in the “lesser affected areas”, to use Christchurch newspeak, have come to appreciate three meals, a roof, a cell phone, the escape in a good book, family, and friendships. In more abstract words, safety and security.

I live in a lesser affected area, but every time there’s a substantial quake you worry about the other parts of the city and those you care about who live there. In those suburbs the people don’t jump like you do to a quake when you’re over there because they become hardier to those “smaller ones”. In a way, people on these sides of town learn to cherish that was one of the smaller ones. Just like you learn to cherish if you live in a certain part of the city, still have a job, even if it’s not what you want or is part of your intended or actual career, or, above all, still have all your loved ones with you. You cherish what remains in Christchurch and what has re-opened or begun again, even if you now dislike Christchurch after what has happened.

And in a similarly paradoxical way, in Christchurch you learn to appreciate your simplest material possessions and survival needs like food, water that does not need to be boiled and walls that can be lived within. But you also learn that these don’t matter. What you really appreciate is if your loved ones are safe. Friends and family are also part of your survival. In Nineteen-Eighty-Four, without Julia, Winston’s survival is in many ways jejune, but after meeting her, he can face every day with a kind of energy unknown before, and even enjoy it. You are, in many ways, the bonds you form with other people and those dearest to you, and you can’t be “okay” in Christchurch unless your loved ones are safe as well.

Like Orwell, I’m not attempting any major abstraction, just simply laying facts bare. But if there’s one abstraction to be made, it’s that the rebuilding of Christchurch is constituted of the need for this Orwellian strength to keep surviving, but also the need to evolve from it. Christchurch won’t be “back to normal” until we aren’t worrying about things we used to largely take for granted, and we’ve regained the things many other cities have.

So if you’re in Christchurch, and you can, read some Orwell. And if you’re not, come and see in person how the aspidistra is kept flying. We need people to come here, and for those in the rest of New Zealand, it is a rare opportunity to see something that you could read about in an Orwell, but could also only appreciate, in certain ways, in an Orwell if you’ve seen it first-hand. There are many paradoxical things in Christchurch, but that’s why you must visit. You may have fallen in love in the old Christchurch, but you can again in the new Christchurch. You can experience something here at the moment that you can’t get in many other places, and can last you a lifetime. Despite earthquakes, Christchurch still provides something unique. This, if anything, is the key to its rejuvenation.

*************

Anthony Lock is a freelance writer who is currently based in Christchurch; he has recently completed first-class honours at the University of Canterbury, and has since been writing for US publications. He is currently working on a piece for NZ Geographic, and his first non-fiction book.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Suzan Mazur: Stuart Newman: The Virosphere And Non-Linear Evolution

It was Stuart Newman who was the first of the Altenberg 16 scientists I discussed developments with following the Extended Synthesis symposium in 2008 at Konrad Lorenz Institute, a meeting I was barred from attending for having gotten out in front of ... More>>

Werewolf: Artificial Intelligence: Real Anxieties?

The movie Ex Machina feels so current there are powerful moments of recognition – despite the seemingly unlikely scenario of a walking, talking artificial intelligence (AI). Right now Google is enlisting its massive databases, drawing on the contents of every email and Internet search ever made, in the service of what has been called ‘the Manhattan Project of AI’. More>>

ALSO:

Open Source, Open Society: More Than Just Transparency

Bill Bennett: “Share and share alike” is the message parents drum into children. But once they grow up and move out into the wider world, the shutters start to come down. We’re trained to be closed. Dave Lane, president of the New Zealand Open Source Society, says that explains the discomfort people find when they first encounter the open world. More>>

ALSO:

Werewolf: Journalism, History And Forgetting

Compare that [the saturation coverage of WWI] not just with the thinly reported anniversaries last year of key battles in the New Zealand Wars, but with the coverage of the very consequential present-day efforts to remedy the damage those wars wrought, and the picture is pretty dismal. More>>

ALSO:

Werewolf: Climate Of Fear

New Zealand, promoting itself as an efficient producer, has been operating as a factory farm for overseas markets with increasing intensity ever since the introduction of refrigerated shipping in 1882. The costs to native forests and to bio-diversity have been outlandish. The discussion of impacts has been minimal... More>>

ALSO:

Greek Riddles: Gordon Campbell On The Recent Smackdown Over Greece

There had been a fortnight of fevered buildup. Yet here we are in the aftermath of the February 28 showdown between the new Syriza government in Greece and the European Union “troika” and… no-one seems entirely sure what happened. Did the asteroid miss Earth? More>>

ALSO:

Keith Rankin: Contribution Through Innovation

The economic contribution of businesses and people is often quite unrelated to their taxable incomes. EHome, as a relatively new company, may have never earned any taxable income. Its successors almost certainly will earn income and pay tax. Yet it was eHome itself who made the biggest contribution by starting the venture in the first place. More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news