This book is a conversation.
It is a conversation between an island, its people, Scotland and Australia, a poet and an artist. It is a collaboration by us, Tasmanian artist Fiona Lee and poet Liz Niven from Dumfries. It happened on the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland in 2010.
The book is also a conversation with the reader— by creating a space for ideas to grow—it asks you to answer questions and leaves spaces for a reply. It is a book that doesn’t just want you to read it, it wants you to contribute too.
Conversations are an important method of learning and, despite having them every day, are not often recognised as complex and nuanced. In a space of ten minutes a lot of information can be exchanged and knowledge gained, so the way we conduct them makes a difference as to how well that information is transferred.
Many writers, philosophers and thinkers have tried to explore their social and political workings. German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer believed that the subtleties of etiquette and respect for the other as a way to gain the most from a conversation—a good conversation is the reflection of two horizons coming together. But, he warns, strong opinion in a conversation is something that can cause it to falter and stop altogether.
In ‘The Infinite Conversation’, French author Maurice Blanchot reminds us about the subtle differences in conversation, like interruption and pauses. He believes that within pauses for instance, we make sense of the conversation, gather our thoughts and summon up a reply. Gaps in conversations are vital for full understanding. Conversely, when one interrupts the other in the conversation it can founder and the truth in conversation may never be had.
It is not hard to see a conversation happening between the people and the weather, the small island of Kisimul and its mother Barra, the land and the sea, the tourist and the local. It was this idea of going back and forth that happens in conversation, that could be applied to anything—and so it was, with this in mind, that this commonplace book came about.