preface \ 00

Jeff Malpas

Philosopher, Author

iris, irismagazine, iris magazine, Amanda Austin


We look at the world once in childhood, the rest is memory.

Louise Gluck 'Nostos'

Creation, whatever the physicists may say, is never truly from nothing.


It always begins somewhere, and where it ends is very often with a return to that beginning, whether as repetition, remembrance or repudiation.


IRIS has asked a select number of creative thinkers, makers and performers to talk about some aspect of their own beginnings, and the beginnings of their creative practice in the physical and cultural landscape of their early lives.


Not just beginning is at issue then, but also memory; and not just memory, but also place.

The Return
By Jeff Malpas

Our lives, no less than our bodies, depend for their very substance on the places in which we live. We breathe them in, drink from them, make them part of ourselves, so that a life, as well as the creativity expressed in it, may be said to be drawn from place and landscape – especially from the places and landscapes of our early lives.

Those places and landscapes enter into our lives in the forms of habits, dispositions, beliefs, desires, memories. Of these, the last is perhaps the most encompassing and important, for all of the others can be viewed as forms of memory (as elements of our past that remain active in our present) even if they are not always consciously recognised as such, if at all. Place and memory, memory and place; these are the very stuff of human lives, and each is bound irrevocably to the other.

Every place is imbued with memory, not just the immediate and mundane memory of body and environment that allows us to orient ourselves and so to act and to move, but the deeper forms of memory that give a place meaning for us and allow us to locate ourselves as well as the place. Every memory is also placed, so that genuinely to remember – not merely to recall some 'fact', but to remember something as part of our own experience of the world, as part of our own lives, part of ourselves – is always to find ourselves returned somewhere, to find ourselves back 'there', to 'see' things again from that particular perspective.

It isn't just that we remember where we were when important world events occurred, but that all genuine memories bring a place with them. They take us back to the place in which they begin and back to the places in which we ourselves begin.

To reflect on one's life and one's work, on the real origins of who and what we are, as well as the origins of what we create, is to reflect always on what is given in memory.

To reflect on the beginnings of one's life, on the sources of one's identity and creativity, always invokes those early remembered places, not always acknowledged, sometimes recalled only as fragments, that give a sense to our lives as our own.

Even when we talk of our lives in what may seem to be the generic terms of country, state, or city, what is at issue is the complex interweaving of memories and places that connect us as they also set us apart.

If it is indeed from memory and place that the fabric of a life is woven, then by what means are those memories and places, as the threads that make up that fabric, drawn together? We might equally ask: what makes a life the single life that it is? In the end – and so, of course, also in the beginning – it is in and through story that the multiple threads of a life, of an identity, of a practice, are woven into a single, if often frayed and fraying, text.

Story is itself a form of memory, the repository of memory as well as its creator (as such, it is a form of forgetting too,) but story has its own place in language.

We live our lives in places, but in one very important sense, our real home, the home of story and so of self, is found in the language we learnt when first we entered into the world as children and young adults.

Some might say that this idea of language as home involves the sort of claim that only a poet or philosopher would make (and isn't it a philosopher making it now?) Yet what is at issue here is not any one form of language, not even language as written nor language as spoken, but the language that itself lives in story, in the multiplicity of human lives, in speech and in silence, the language out of which creativity itself arises. 

It should thus be no surprise that, when asked to speak about the beginnings of their own life and work in the places of their early lives, it is indeed to story and to language that many thinkers, makers, and performers turn.

After all, how else do we tell where someone is from but from the stories they tell and the language in which they tell them?

How else do we know who they are?  How else do we remember?  How else do we create?  How else do we begin?

The rest, is memory...