Under The Sun

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Nelson Mandela's prison cell

This evening I saw the movie Derrida, a documentary about the philosopher and his thinking. It was well done, and is, I think, worth seeing. If you don't already know Derrida's basic ideas, it will raise more questions than it answers, but even so it's a good illustration of something that really can only be understood by illustration.

Furthermore, coincidentally, during the time he was being filmed, Derrida visited South Africa to speak, and as part of his visit he was taken on a tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela, among others, had been imprisoned. (The visit was in 1995, I think.) So I saw, on camera, the cell in which Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in confinement. It was smaller than my bed--now I understand why it's called 'queen-size'! The only amenity was that the chamber pot had a lid.

But what really struck me was that the man giving the tour (I don't know whether he was an official or a hosting philosophy professor) was black. What must he have felt the first time he walked down that corridor, looked into that cell?

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