In 1916 a somewhat agitated Henry Ford famously declared history “bunk”. As 21st century kid, I won’t pretend I have or at least had a clue what bunk meant. However, after a number of failed search attempts, I discovered that the word bunk is actually an abbreviation of Bunkum. Meaning nonsense or insincere talk, bunkum became part of the American lexicon in 1819 when a little-known congressman, F. Walker, began making long-winded speeches in the name of his home district of Buncombe.
Too often, I think, we have learned to view the past, present and future as three separate spheres; containers stacked side by side that are ultimately unrelated. And yet, the point of the above anecdote is to show just how socially constructed and fluid such time frames really are. Henry Ford didn’t mean to reference the 16th Congress but he did, inadvertently proving just how inescapable the past is.
Whether made visible in the the words we use, the company we keep or the standards we set, our collective memory and the consciousness with which this memory has imbued us, shapes the way in which we see and interact with the world (hell my mother never saw the first world war and she still hordes margarine tubs and jam jars for when there’s a shortage).
In future blog posts my aim will be to unpack the South African consciousness, by exploring the historical events, norms and confrontations which have made it what it is. While I plan to run series specific to certain topics and time periods (the first will be on the Sophiatown Mystique), don’t be surprised to find these posts interspersed with some more personal thoughts and anecdotes.