What Holds Us Together: The Parallel Crafts of Darning, Medicine and Literary Criticism

Sarah Stewart | December 4, 2017
Scrolling through Instagram a few months ago, I came across a video about Celia Pym, a textile artist and finalist in this year’s Women’s Hour Crafting Prize who has been spending time at the V&A darning people’s clothes. In the last 10 years, Pym has been interested in invisible but mostly visible mending – that is, rebuilding damaged fabric in a garment, restoring the warp and weft to exactly match the surrounding fabric for invisible mending, or, in the case of visible mending, choosing different colours, materials and weaves to fill the hole, making visible where the damage occurred. A kind of kintsugi for clothes. Pym notes that repair is not actually the aim, but more of a byproduct: ‘my interest is really in the opportunity, through mending, to talk to that person. I find if I ask someone if they have holes in their clothes and could we talk about them, something real gets said that really interests me about grief, or maybe about loss, or maybe just about love’ (Victoria and Albert Museum).

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Sick Women and Living a Good Life in 2017

Sarah Stewart | 6 February 2017

At the closing of what my Facebook feed has collectively termed the ‘garbage fire of 2016’ and the consequent mass proffering of narratives to get through and beyond it, Achille Mbembe offered grave discomfort. Perhaps this is hardly surprising coming from the first person to think through the term necropolitics, the idea that, in modernity, ultimate sovereignty rests ‘in the power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die’ (Necropolitics). The concept does seem in keeping with the now-crashing visibility of the damage systemic racism, ableism, homophobia and sexism enable (brought to you by the 2016 Brexit Leave campaign and the POTUS-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, to list but a few).

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Authors, Readers and the Ethics of Imagination

May 16, 2016 | Sarah Stewart.

Roland Barthes’ influential essay ‘The Death of the Author’ presents a compelling argument against prevailing attitudes about literature that Barthes sees as ‘tyrannically centred on the author’ (260). Instead of attributing definitive meaning to what the author intended, Barthes advocates for the unity of a text being what any given reader makes of it. This reader brings their own experience and identity (whatever that might be) to author their own interpretation of the words on the page. Barthes’ liberation of text and reader by locating the ‘true place of writing’ (262) solely in the latter opens up the possibilities of meaning in texts which, he argues, should not be fixedly possessed by the person of the author.

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Refuge and Asylum: A Gardener’s Guide

February 15, 2016 | Sarah Stewart.

Gardens are a cultural staple the world over. You would be hard put to find a major world religion in which gardens do not feature; the sheer multitude of garden-related metaphors you hear everyday are testament to our language’s continuing reliance on concepts born in gardens, not to mention the prevalence of the garden in literary and artistic traditions. For millennia, gardens have been reflections of divine order on earth; spaces to display status, but, fundamentally, they are places where people negotiate with the land, and other people, in order to thrive. Given their global relevance, what potential do gardens and gardening have to bridge barriers between cultures and people of vast differences in background and experience? Between, say, established British citizens and asylum seekers and refugees?

[tw: discussions of torture]

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