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And I never will. - J K Rowling

--written under the words 'J K Rowling Never Wrote Here' painted in white on a small sign hanging just inside a coffee shop in Edinburgh.


The creator of the Harry Potter series had the inspiration for the books while on a delayed train to that now iconic train platform at London's King's Cross Station. She planned out the series over the next five years, a couple of them in Portugal, and the remaining in Edinburgh, Scotland, as a single mother. Following the international success of the books, it was only natural for the cafés she frequented during that period to write would capitalize on that.

Most visibly, a café a few doors down from the City Library (the first Carnegie funded library built in Scotland), has its claim of being the 'birthplace' of Harry Potter prominently displayed on their frontage. The airquotes around the word birthplace are what the café has actually used. It excuses themselves legally from a false claime of being the birthplace, as the author herself has quite clearly stipulated the birthplace was on a train. It is not difficult to imagine that she did spend time there writing, especially looking out its back window over Greyfriars Cemetery and diagonally to the Grassmarket Square, allowing for inspiration of many elements to her books. A block away on Nicholson Street, an upstairs café located near where Rowling lived has a small plaque on the corner of the street below commemorating the author's time writing there in the mid-90's, well-documented by the author.

The airquoted claim on the first café brings to mind the semiotic conundrum visualized by
René Magritte's 1920s painting The Treason of Images (also translated as The Treachery of Images), which when I use the words 'This is not a pipe' you will immediately have in your head a picture of it: a smoking pipe with the phrase 'Ceci n’est pas une pipe' underneath it. Here's the conundrum: when you think of a smoking pipe you most likely think of Magritte's drawing of a pipe, because that drawing is what you most associate with what a smoking pipe is, although he most specifically did not intend this to be the definitive idea of what a pipe is. The artwork was specifically about how assigning a label to an image did not make the image that label. Treasonously, the image is now the label.

Asserting itself-- albeit not definitively-- as the birthplace of Harry Potter, puts a café into the mainstream's consciousness as the definitive location, despite the documented reality otherwise.


In the inevitable hipster/punk ethic tradition of being the first to not join the masses in adulation of pop culture, a coffeehouse established in 2007 in Edinburgh hung up a sign on a string of twine sardonically disclaiming any claim to Rowling's humble beginnings soon after they converted from just being a roastery to serving clientele. Five years later the place had hit the top spot of best coffeeshop in the UK despite its ramshackle hobbled-together décor. Around that time the words 'And I never will. --J K Rowling ' had been appended to the sign.

It is this addition that puts the spin on it: if Rowling never wrote there, but then wrote 'I never will write here.' then she had written there. And more specifically, 'here', physically on the very object of containing the putative claim.

In a dozen museums around the world you will encounter the sculptural artwork 'Fountain' by Marcel Duchamp: what appears to be a white porcelain urinal set on its back, with a signature and date 'R. Mutt 1917' along one rim. There's a lot that can be said about this work, but for our purposes: it's another fake yet not a fake. It and all others you will encounter are glazed earthenware reproductions of a common piece of plumbing from 100 years ago that was signed with a fake name to allow for an anonymous entry in an art exhibition. Just by being sculptured replicas make them not the 'ReadyMade' works they replicate. The 'Fountain' we view now is but an artist's plaque: 'Duchamp made an artwork that changed art forever and it looked like this'.

If you ever visit Edinburgh, and the coffeehouse the sign is placed in, you will discover --as you drink your tasty coffee or tea-- that it is very difficult to write while being there. The lighting is just not right. The music is just high enough to keep concentration at bay. The seating is either long benches in front of low tables, or high tables (each a bit lopsided) with stools around them either a bit too high or a bit too low to comfortably get into a writing position on.

A number of years on, someone finally asked J K Rowling if she'd written that addition, to which she confirmed. Soon after, the little sign on a string was affixed to the wall on two sides with screws. It is now not unlike that of a gallery picture which has suddenly been ascribed value, or a declarative plaque, imbuing the area with legitimacy.

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