One of the amazing things about children is that for a while you think they are copies of yourself and your partner, equally burdened by flaws and weaknesses, and usually failing to realise the skills and abilities we think they have because we have them.
Then there’s a point where that kind of projection belittles them because they are not copies. Gradually and then suddenly they are real people, sovereign individuals and demarcated from all others.
This has been something I’ve been reflecting on lately. It brings to mind a concept I learned as an undergraduate and discussed extensively with my dear friend Victoria Ward. It’s called autochthony.
(One of my quiet joys regarding this friendship is that I haven’t discussed autochthony with anyone else because, like Victoria, I couldn’t pronounce it and so I’ve never deployed it in conversation.)
In political science in has specific application to constitutional arrangements where the authority of everything sovereignly national is derived from home and hearth, from nativity. Authority is indigenous, for want of a better word, though in Australia and a number of other countries that has obvious ironies, cruel ironies in constitutional terms.
Generally it means “of the place it is found,” and it’s usually applied to rocks. The root Greek word (which I think looks like this αὐτόχθων) is translated as “springing from the land.” This is a marvellous image and it connotes the very conditions and materials for the origins of everything, including people. It is possible to endlessly examine what has sprung from the land and what has not.
Since Victoria died, whenever I listen to so and so describing their new research project, I find myself thinking that every project in the humanities is another attempt to separate out the autochthonous from the non- autochthonous, what we brought with us and what we made ourselves since we got here.
And looking at my kids it is clear they have sprung from the land. They are in the process of making themselves. As are we all.