Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sorell Council Sesquicentennial

On one of those cloud slate coming the end of winter mornings when the sun seems to be a feeble flame shining with a false light I trotted down the road to the Sorell Memorial Hall to partake in the festivities of 150 year anniversary of the foundation of Sorell City Council.

Being an old school history geek this sort of this always captures my interest. Indeed when I move to a new town or suburb I like to find out as much as possible about the history of the area. This knowledge helps to put things in perspective and helps one to learn the lay of the land. History is honesty, or at least it should be. History (from the Greek istoria, meaning enquiry) should be, like science, based in the first instance on observation. Then a hypothesis can be created, which of course must then be tested by more observation and etc. History must be seen as an iterative process. A process of continual criticism and self criticism. In this way can the science of history develop and advance.

The Memorial Hall has the numerous, obligatory monuments to the war dead that one sees in all the small towns dotted across the landscape. The saddest one being a small reminder for two local lads who drowned on the return trip from South Africa after the Second Boer War. A war which was a harbinger of the terrors of twentieth century total war. A war that gave us commandos, free fire zones, scorched earth, guerilla warfare and concentration camps. A war eagerly (and to my mind surprisingly) supported by a recently sobered up Algernon Charles Swinburne. It was passing sad to see the two names and the forlorn words buried at sea.

I arrived and was greeted by local school kids dressed in period costume, playing period games. Once in the hall I made myself a cup of tea, and had a quick look at the various artefacts on display in the room used by the local historical society. I found a place and was able to sit down and hear one of my favourite tunes, The Wild Colonial Boy played as a sound check.

Sorell pivot of the Black Line, surrounded by shallow rapidly changing ever flowing ocean waters. Home of one of the oldest continually operating schools in Australia. Mooted as a potential capital of Tasmania. Sorell once a stockyard centre of boat building, busy with ferries full of bags of wheat destined to support the struggling colony of New South Wales. Now the ferry-men are no more, the bullock drivers the wheat farmers the original inhabitants all gone into the dust of the past, moved along by the rapid changes of history. Henry Reynolds tells us how the wind carries the cries of the betrayed and the dispossessed and the murdered through the trees of windy Tasmania.

Being a great fan of folk music, it was with particular interest that I listened to the Greenhill Two. Local Peter MacFie scoured the archives to unearth the long silent tunes of Alexander Laing. Sent to Van Diemen's Land due to his getting drunk and spending the money entrusted him to help recruit for the 92nd Gordon Highlanders Regiment. Like the droogs of Alex DeLarge he worked his way from convict criminal to become police officer, to being the jailer of Sorell Gaol.

The duo played on fiddle and guitar a set of seven songs. All songs by Laing and all based around the local area. Starting with Sorell Wind Mill, with the fiddle creating the impression of the whirling arms of the wind mill. Gordon Street, Sorell, a much more rollicking number which may have been formed from the the impressions Laing had looking out the window of his 'office' in the old gaol. Miss E. E. P. Reardons' Quadrille was written to commemorate the birth of his grand daughter. Mrs Champ's Reel in honour of his second wife. Brady's Lookout 1825. Brady being a famous bush ranger who held up the town of Sorell. The duo played one more piece the name of which I did not catch.

As Pilate asked, in John 18:38, of Christ 'Ti estin aletheia'. What is truth? This question is most important in any historical reckoning. Even when the music of Laing is written down and note for note played, one is still left with the lingering doubt, is this what Laing meant? Does this sound like the tune he wrote, what he heard in his secret lonely head? 'Truth is', Kierkegaard witheringly answered, in a manner that still haunts modern thinkers, 'an objective uncertainty passionately held in an inward appropriation process.' This is even more clearly
seen in the quest for historical truth, in grand sweeping histories of countries and nations and peoples. How can any historic narrative be said to be true when talking over masses of people over many years. This can be seen most pointedly in our modern dissections of the history of race relations in Australia. Some talk of black armbands while others talk of genocide, and there seems to be no grounds of agreement between
such opposing views.

This question was again raised when the local theatre group Sorell On Stage reenacted the first meeting of the Sorell Council. On July 1 1862 the Sorell Council had their first meeting. The same day as the Battle of Malvern Hill in the American Civil War, and the marriage of one of Queens Victoria's daughters Princess. Even with the reading out of minutes of the meeting, one has to ask how much left out? Minutes are not always complete, as things may be missed, words misquoted etc. Also with the bare minutes there was no context given, no idea of body language, no ability to understand the dynamics of the relations between the various members of the committee. This is of course not a fault of the theatre group, in fact it is not a criticism at all, but rather a problem that all historical research must face.

As an aside it is worth noting with some pride that in 1862 all of the councillors where all men, but in 2012 we have a woman, Carmel Torenius, as the mayor of Sorell, Laura Giddings as the Premier of Tasmania and Julia Gillard as Prime Minister of Australia. As they used to say (in a patronising way) when advertising cigarettes way back in the 1970s, you've come a long way baby.

And then the local school kids in period dress played the games kids would have played in the 1860s. Cake was eaten, tea was drunk and the locals had a lovely forenoon taking and chatting among themselves.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The shitty shadow play

A friend whom I have never met, but only through the inernet, Ian Milliss wrote this article for the 250th anniversary issue of Art Monthly. Our digital dialogue has allowed me to develop respect and some sort of affection for his views and opinions. This article made me think about stuff, and I was at first going to reply with a witty internet sized one liner, but the more I thought the more words and ideas were vomited forth. So I guess you should read his article first, to get some context. Or not.

The shitty shadow play of a shitty world, so a pal of mine in Canberra called the art scene and the local artists. This is caused by the global fordism of art, as Ian so clearly points out. The idea that Disney will buy out the museyrooms is a dystopian fantasy that sadly can become true, if we do not keep on guard. (One only has to look over the history of the cinema, and the banal state of publishing in the Anglosphere, to see the danger will are facing.) Indeed David Walsh refers to MONA as a subversive adult Disneyland, and much as I admire and appreciate the gallery one has to ask the question, how subversive a can a Disneyland, adult or otherwise, become. Is the goal of art to titillate and 'shock' with walls of vaginas, and smears of poo? Or is the goal of art to, in simplistic terms, try to make us better people, to try to make us see the world though the eyes of pure childhood playfulness anew? We have only a tenuous grasp on life, and we should not settle on facile blandness.

The mass production of art combined with, not a lack of talent, but rather a lack of ideology. Indeed ideology seems to be a dirty word these days, but to me it is nothing more than an attempt to bring things together, and attempt to make sense of the contradictions of internal world versus external world. A gathering together of threads, going way way back to the PIE *weid- meaning to see.

Too many people, schooled as they are in the vapid world of witty one liners and the constant fear of any authentic activity take ideology to mean little more than impractical thinking about things. Not really understanding that there is more to life than the constant one sided pragmatic jumping from one crisis to the next with not understanding as to how all things are interconnected and come together. Art is seen as apart from politics, apart from our interpersonal relationships, apart from the choices we make as consumer. Of course like all things human ideology can become perverted, and can become a hindrance to thinking and activity, but this is why the critical activity must also be turned inward, one must constantly question oneself. So when new experiences, new ways of seeing arise they must be integrated into one's ideology.

We can see this negative understanding of ideology clearly in recent critiques of the green party, who are constantly assailed for having principles and a policy they are not willing to throw overboard at the first opportunity. This can be summed up with a quote from Michael Danby, the federal member for Melbourne Ports, reported in the cesspit of pretend pragmatism vexnews

'The Greens have discredited themselves with many inner-city voters I talk with every day by voting with the Liberals on asylum seekers. Frankly I’ve been struck by the magnitude of the criticism I hear of their self-indulgent and viciously ideological position on asylum seekers, that is costing lives.'

While I do not like to see the Greens on the side of the LNP, it is wrong and a misunderstanding to say the Green Party voted with the liberals. They voted as they saw fit, in a way that they felt was true to their positions and policies. On the other hand the liberals in a choreographed display of populist vengeance (who can forget the staged spectacle of Joe Hockey and his histrionic welling up at the idea of  sending unaccompanied children to Malaysia, while at the same time cynically supporting the idea of turning back boats) voted in a way that would bring maximum disruption to the government, regardless of any ideology the LNP may have.

But I digress, for it is late and I am tired and a bit tipsy.

Art should be part of this trying to make sense of the world, and while I do not disagree with the idea that the world is in many ways unknowable and in constant flux,  one has to also admit that the world is repeatable and in many ways can be known. This can be seen in the simple act of cooking dinner, I apply heat the water boils, I apply a knife to the carrot and it cuts, I add yeast to flour and the dough rises.

One day art in the future will dissolve, and this process is beginning,. This can be readily seen with our street art, as well as the space created by the internet. When this day comes art will be simply a part of everyday life, and there will no longer be a need for the priestly caste of critics to mediate and tell us what is pure and what is impure. Conversation will become inclusive. The conversation will no longer be the purposeful obfuscation using silver dollar words. The conversation will no longer spew forth from one sided two faced confusers with a weak grasp of the ideas of thinkers such as Derrida. The weakness and shallowness of these types of posers support their ideas with a firm grasp on the language and tropes of the arts bureaucracy and ways to job the system. Everyone will be an artist precisely because there will be no artists in a festive echo of Lenin's idea that one day the lowest clerk will be able to run the affairs of the state. Art and humanity will be free and human activity will be seen for what it can be, a type of play, a thing of joy, and not a hammer with which to batter the other in vain attempts to gain control and dominance. Art will be enjoyed for it's 'spiritual value', not it's exchange value. Art will become integrated into life, and indeed ones life itself will become art. To me this should be the aspiration of all artists. 

With usura hath no man a house of good stone
each block cut smooth and well fitting that design might cover their face,
with usura
hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall

Gallifrey Falls!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Children of the Void

"We, peopling the void air, make gods to whom we impute the ills we
ought to bear."

Matthew Arnold.

It is all in Lucretius, Matthew Arnold said when he encountered
Darwin's Theory of Evolution.  More completely he said, in a letter 'I
cannot understand why you scientific people make such a fuss about
Darwin. Why, it's all in Lucretius!' Atheism and philosophical
materialism have a long and proud history. A legacy, which Zizek
reminds us, we must defend and celebrate.

I am not sure if Zizek quoted Hume correctly in his article published in the New York Times,
as I was not able to find the exact quote, but I must admit I did not look very hard nor for
 very long. Regardless of the accuracy as to who said what in what context and the provenance
of the quote it is a good one. "David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way,
when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to actmorally while ignoring God's existence." As an atheist and a materialist I not only ignore the existence of any God, although this
is a good default position, I actively reject the existence of God.

This simple skeptical quote from Hume, who is considered the greatest
of English philosophers, and like many great Englishmen, he was
actually not English, made me think. And it shows how atheists are
better than Christians. Atheists are often accused of having a bleak
and soulless world view, and living in a lonely and dying universe,
full of darkness and the cold wind of outer space, I do not deny this
for a minute. The universe is dark and lonely, and we live a tiny
sliver of a small fraction for a fabulously brief time, on a tiny mote
circling a mediocre sun. Nature is immense and we are so very very
small. Puny even.

But let us, as a thought experiment, turn this idea around. For to me
this idea of a dark soulless universe should be the basis for a
atheist morality. The universe is some 14 billion years old, and is
expanding at a furious rate. There is no god, and we are all
alone. The children of the void.  The chances of any one of us even
being born are fantastic. And we only get one trip, and when it ends
we go back into the void, at best our bits are recycled and without a
faint gasp the universe carries on with it's serene disinterest.

What does this mean, each of us a unique fantastic accident? To me,
and I am but one small thin voice beneath pleasing city towers, amid
the busy hum of men, this means only one thing. To me this leads to a
moral position that requires no god, no fear of punishment or
reward. It is simply that we must not harm other people. All people
are unique and equal, and each life is a miracle never to be repeated
again even if the universe turns and cools for another 14 billion

How often do we hear the belligerent non-combatants spew out
nauseating cliches such as 'Shoot them all, let God sort 'em out.' This
would not be a possible option for a through going materialist
position, as there is neither an after life, nor is there a sublime
all forgiving god to sort out any mistakes. There is no justice after

Morality is then based on the idea that each human is unique and there
is no recovery from a mistaken death. In more traditional words this
means simply the golden rule, 'do unto others, as you would have them
do unto you.'

This seems to be no more than a petty truism, and it very well may be,
but it is as close to a universal ideal that you are likely to come

"Zi Gong asked, saying, 'Is there one word that may serve as a rule of
practice for all one's life?' The Master said, 'Is not RECIPROCITY
such a word?'" The Master being Confucius

"Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing." Thales

"Regard your neighbour's gain as your own gain, and your neighbour's
loss as your own loss." T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien

From Christians to Confucians to ancient Greek natural philosophers to
Buddhist monks to atheists, this idea cuts across cultures and time.
As simple and seemingly straight forward as this idea may be, it
raises as many questions as it solves. What of the convicted criminal?
If the judge would not like to go to jail, how could she send the law breaker
to jail? Interesting as this dilemma is, this is an argument we should
hold off for another time.

This rule of performing every act as if you wish it to be a universal
truth, does not require any higher power, it does not require a system
of reward and punishment. Most importantly, as Confucius pointed out
it has the value of reciprocity.

Many commentators have pointed out various aspects of human life that
set us apart from animals, some include language, other tool making,
still others our control of fire, our ability to laugh or alternately
our ability to feel shame. All of these are true, and as one sided
views are both correct and incorrect. For as far as reciprocity is
defined as an aspect of human life, we can say that reciprocity is an
aspect that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Even
though other creatures are social humans seem to have deeper and more
complex mutual relations. Again this will open up another theatre of
argument, we should leave such arguments for another day.

The rule of being excellent to one another lies at the heart of all
things human, the fact that we are social animals, the fact that to
survive in this hostile, cold, dark, lonely universe we are compelled
to come together and work together. This can be seen in the world we
have built and more intimately in our building of families and the
raising of children, the next generation. It seems as a truism to me
that if we maintained a mutually hostile and suspicious attitude to
one another we would still be living in caves and eating grubs and raw
meat. There would be too much for any one person, or family to cope
with, and life would be nasty, brutish and short.

So the atheist is more moral than the theist as she wants to do the
right thing, because she knows it to be the right thing to do, and
seeks not to go to heaven, nor to avoid hell, nor to please a powerful
supernatural force. And this arises from the understanding the
universe is a cold uncaring place, that we live in an absurd world
with death as the only and universal prize given to all of us,
regardless of how successful or beautiful or wonderful a person may
be. The president and the pope and the poorest, most marginalised all
come into the world naked and all die frightened and alone. But in
that one bright shining moment with the sun and the wind upon your
cheek the materialist will see the world as a rich interaction of
relations, and will see all things as one, and she will live
intoxicated at the joyful accident of life, performing all actions as
if she wished them to be a universal law, with no fear of god or
death. This is a true morality.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

You Burn Me

The tea-rose, tea-gown, etc.
Supplants the mousseline of Cos,
The pianola "replaces"
Sappho's barbitos.
Ezra Pound - Hugh Selwyn Mauberly

Fragment 38:
You burn me.

What are we to make of such a fragment? A fragment with so little information. We know very little about Sappho. We do not even write her name in her dialect. Psappha would be more correct. Even her name is mediated by years of eroding and mutating tradition. All that we accurately know about her life could easily fit into a single tweet.

She was born on the island of Lesbos, but was she a lesbian? Or was she, as the Victorians affirmed, a teacher, the head mistress of a finsishing school? We do not know. A priest in a cult of Adonis? A sacred prostitute at the temple of Aphrodite? How much does it matter? So much of what we think we know is just guesswork based on scattered ashes of the body of her works.

She seems to have been born as early as 630BC, and may have died in 570BC. One of the entries in a Byzantine encyclopaedia, the Suda, dates her to the 42nd Olympiad (612-608BC). Even this simple date is ambiguous,  tantalizing. Was she born in 612 or is this date her floruit, her time of flourishing?

Even straight forward and to our minds basic facts are open to argument. Did she marry and have children? An entry in the Suda suggests she married the wealthy Kerkylas from Andros, but this may be bawdy Attic punning propaganda, as the name could be taken to mean the she married 'Dick Allcock from the island of Man'. Possibly this came from one of the many Athenian comedies which used Sappho as a figure of ridicule. As the political climate in Athens became less tolerant of the noisy, boisterous democracy of the rowers, of the assembly, and the theatre; and as those who had been lampooned turned more and more to the law courts for compensation, the Middle Comedy period arose. In this style of comedy stock characters were used as cover for political critique, until the characters took on a life of their own, and became an end in themselves controlling the poets more than being controlled. Apparently Sappho was one of these characters, sexually promiscuous and often portrayed as a lesbian, and so fiction and biography became intertwined. 

As an aside it is interesting to note that Athens, the cradle of democracy for the modern West, was one of the more sexist communities in Ancient Greece. Women could not own property, and if the husband died the wife was often married off to her uncle. She was described as being 'of the land'. Marry the widow to get the farm. In our modern contract of falsehood Sparta represents a militarised Socialism similar to the collective of the Borg or the unfeeling Cybermen of Doctor Who. In reality compared to Athens Spartan women were accorded greater freedoms. This may have been because of the practical problems caused by the men spending most of their time in the regimental mess. In Laconia the young women exercised naked, as only Spartan women could give birth to Spartan warriors.

In the barbarous eastern frontier, where Sappho was from, women had various rights. This goes a long way to explaining the misunderstandings between Troy and the Achaeans, which led to the long cruel war. In the mind of Paris if Helen wanted to leave her husband she was free to do so, and was also free to take her dowry with her when she left. In the mind of Menalaus Alexander had violated an oath, had committed sacrilege

It is probably too much to assert that this middle comedy characterisation of Sappho as promiscuous and a lesbian was the deciding factor in Pope Gregory ordering the burning of her books. We do not know what was in the nine lost books. But we can assume that the lies generated about Sappho some two centuries after her death and the legend of insatiable sexual hunger that was created around her tempered the views of the Pope. In 1072 the Papacy ordered her books burnt. These perfect songs had survived some 1500 years of natural and man made disasters, the numerous wars and upheavals of the lived history of the Mediterranean. Did not Plato suggest that the comedies of Aristophanes played no vain part in bringing into being the mood of hostility towards Socrates? And that these distortions of the thoughts of Socrates acted upon the minds of the Athenian jurymen. In the Republic Plato suggests banning comics such as Aristophanes. The ones who earn their dinner ridiculing actual persons. For as we know only too well from our daily going about our business that the spreading of falsehood and rumour in the public culture takes on a life of it's own and that these lies confront us as an alien force. If, as is said in the old proverb, ‘a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on’ how many times will the lie circle our networked globe? Will it race round the world even to the extent that, like Superman flying so fast and so often around the world, time stops and then moves backwards. And so the electron fast lie is able to rewrite history, our shared artificial narrative.

Was Sappho a lesbian, or was she married? Again the poems seem to point to both of these possibilities. Of course one can be married and have children and at the same time be a lesbian. They are not mutually
exclusive. Indeed we all have different modes of existing at different times of our lives. As it seems fairly certain that she was an aristocrat, it could be that she entered into an arranged marriage. Nobles have had arranged marriages for as long as they have wanted power.

One poem refers to Cleis, her 'kala pais', but does this mean beautiful daughter, or beautiful slave? The Greeks used the word pais to mean child. In the same way that rednecks in southern states of America would call black men boy, pais can also mean slave. This idea of the slave as childlike can be seen in French which still uses Garcon to mean boy, servant or even waiter. Obviously the language of domination. Most commentators seem to agree that it was her daughter, and I am not in a position to argue, but after almost 3000 years of time, writing as she did in an obscure dialect, how can we be sure what we know.

We can be pretty sure that she had to flee Lesbos and spent some time in Sicily, then a Greek colony. We know this as Cicero tells us a statue was erected in her honour in Syracuse. She may have been exiled for political activity, or the activity of her family. We do know she came back to Lesbos.

The one thing that we do know, and the only thing I feel we can truly focus on, is the fact that she was greatly admired as a poet. We know that she invented new forms of metre, notably the aptly named Sapphic stanza. Three lines of eleven syllables, with a fourth line of only five syllables. The Greeks, like the Latins based a line of poetry on alternating vowel sounds; not as in English poetry on stresses. In the following model:
- is a short vowel sound,
u is a long vowel,
x means the author could use either long of short.
The line would look like this:

- x -  x  - u u -  u - -  

An example in English by Alan Ginsberg

    Red cheeked boyfriends tenderly kiss me sweet mouthed
    under Boulder coverlets winter springtime
    hug me naked laughing & telling girl friends
        gossip til autumn

We also know that her poems were meant to be sung, accompanied by the lyre. The barbitos that Pound mentioned in our opening quote. Plato, among others, spoke of her as the tenth muse. Many poets including the Roman Ovid and Catullus greatly admired her work, even if they had muddle headed views about the woman herself. In another confusion of history we do not know if Sappho invented the plectrum, what we would call the pick for playing the lyre or if she invented the pectis, another type of stringed instrument. Both, neither? The truth does not really matter. For these legends show the esteem the ancients felt for her as a lyric poet. If alive today would Sappho be an example of what we would call a singer songwriter?

How much can we deduce of her character from the poems that have come down to us? I do not think we can place too much value on the remaining  fragments in giving us a clear answer. Often the poet will write a work from a specific point of view, will try on different voices and personas, which may or may not agree with the inner-held views and feelings of the maker. This is even more true in any analysis of Sappho, as we have many fragments but only a few completed poems. I do not think we can view her poetry as confessional in the same way that we can with the works of Sylvia Plath. As we can be no more that transitory confused visitors into her world, obscured as it is, as we are, by the fog and shadows of the past. We can only admire her work. We must refrain from using as a reinforcing mortar our bias and feelings in an attempt to support and add form to the crumbling walls of her often very sparse words.

The Middle Comedy Athenian playwrights, Victor Frankenstein like tried to reanimate Sappho, but with no understanding of electricity it seems they were left with the frail expedient of rubbing amber over her dried bones. Our modern artists attempt to energise Sappho. As so little is known, Sappho is one of those compelling figures of history who seem to work like a magnet on the razor sharp minds of our poets. Over the generations she has been stripped of her actuality. The dry brittle turning into dust bones of Sappho have been dug up and fashioned into a type of skeleton for both ancient and modern critics to try to reanimate. Attempts have been made by these thinkers of thoughts to bring her back to life in their own zombie image. Cutting and pasting great slabs of fleshy meat lies and transplanting the bloody vital organs of ideological contradiction; emotional, political and psycho-sexual.

As we have no real basis for raising Sappho from the dead, it is my feeling that we should let the poems stand, as best we can, on their own and admire their diamond sharp neatness.

Maybe she was 'looking small and dark, and exactly like a nightingale with misshapen wings enfolding a tiny body' as a scholiast to Lucian said, or maybe she was violet-haired and honey smiling, as a contemporary said.

Did she threw herself into the sea from the cliff of Leukates for love of Phaon of Mytilene, as some attest? Did she die at home in her bed, surrounded by loved ones and family?

So little actual knowledge so much ink spilled.

Sadly the ravages of time, the hostility of those who opposed paganism, the hostility of generations of misogynists, have left us only torn faint smouldering embers dug from out long buried garbage heaps. These embers are still bright, and are still able to burn under the skin of the reader after over 2500 years.

I have translated, in no particular order, some bits and pieces below. I have not even tried to reproduce the metre of her work, as the gap between modern English and the obscure inflected Aeolian tonal dialect is too great for us to safely jump over.

Fragment 16 - Is this a critique of Homer's hymn to violence?

Some they say the prancing cavalry
Others an army with banners
Still others the ships under sail
Are the most beautiful
Upon this black dismal earth.

But I say it is the loved one...

Fragment 31 - Something is happening here. This piece is full of sexual tension and energy. Is she lusting after the man or the woman? Is she behind the bushes spying on young lovers and bringing herself to orgasm. It seems that way to me. As green as grass could also mean as fresh as grass. Which makes me wonder; could Sappho be thought of as an Ancient Madonna?
Like a virgin? This fragment falls apart at the end, and we are not sure if the last line is meant for this poem.

He appears to me, this man,
As lucky as the gods. The one
Sitting cheek to cheek close to you.
You sweetly speak, he answers, obeys.

And your laughter excites desire.
In my breast my heart quivers.
The merest glance on you
And my voice fails.
My words break into pieces.
Fire burns under my delicate skin.
My eyes blind, a roaring fills my ears.

And sweat pours down, a trembling
Takes hold of me, as green as grass
I am. And a little death appears to me. 

But all can be dared.

Fragment 36, - in love in life, in all things this should be our motto.

I yearn after, I strive for...

Fragment 38 - simple, opens the door to the room of many questions.

optais ammi.
You burn me.

Fragment 47 - universal and timeless, who of us has not felt this?

As the winds shakes and bends the mountain oaks,
So love has disturbed my purpose...

Fragment 52 - simple, clear, almost Zen like. Also a fine example of the very literal style of the Ancient Greeks noted by Robert Browning.

The moon is setting
The Pleiades as well.
In the middle of the night
The hours pass.
Alone I sleep.

Fragment 54 - no context here, have no idea what she meant, but it
sounds nice. I think it could be Adonis again.

Down out of heaven he came,
All dressed in purple.

Fragment 82 - the Kleis fragment mentioned above

I have a lovely daughter
Formed like golden flowers.
Beloved Kleis.
Not the wealth of Lydia
Nor lovely...

Fragment 138 - A lovely image, note that Sappho uses the masculine
form of my love, filos, as opposed to feminine file.

Stand before me love, face to face
Let your beauty pour into my eyes

Fragment 140 - Adonis, the beloved of Aphrodite was a complex
character in Greek mythology. When the spring rains come and the snow
melts the rivers of Lebanon run red (with the rusty red earth) and the
ancients used to say that this was the blood of the dieing Adonis. The
cult of Adonis seems to have been secret women's business, and during
his yearly festival women would plant seeds in a small thin bowl of
dirt, the plants would grown quickly, and as quickly they would die
off. Adonis is one of the models of Frazer's ideal of the dieing
God. I tried to capture the alliteration of this verse. Kuthera being
another name for Aphrodite.

He is dieing, O Kuthera,
Your darling Adonis
What is to be done?
Beat your breasts daughters,
Rend your dresses.

If I was to reanimate Sappho I would imagine her running her own symposium. Vast drinking and dinner parties with gorgeous young things as sharp as they were beautiful lounging languid on pillows stuffed with rose flowers, and hurling copper eyed ladles across the room, trying to make the most satisfying clatter as the ladle hit the wine jug. A delicate wine splatter following. The room would be abuzz with conversation and bon mots and perfumes and flirtations and the sound of the lyre would announce a new song from the Divine hostess Psappha of Mytilene.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Penna Mona Penna

The three girls were sick, that left us boys to go to see Theatre of the World at MONA by ourselves. Nothing too bad, just colds and general sleepy day dreamy lethargy.

I had no reason to set the GPS. I did it, more than anything, out of habit, and a childish love of all things geek. When I glanced at the clock for the first time it was 12:34. Adding to ten this is my favourite time of the day. A cheery wizard omen. The theatre of clearing and forgetting. The second part of The Beatles White Album looms exactly to fit into the ride from Penna to MONA. From Birthday to Good Night.

And the divine divide is almost as beautiful as the study and the seat of the Muse is in some ways more beautiful, less beautiful, more disturbed by human hand, lest disrobed. Clear and disturbing obscure as uncensored night time visions. Coal Valley. Duck Hole Rivulet. Grasstree Hill Road. Sad jet faced microbe slow eating constant chewing fat black daughters of Hathor. On the side of the road they strand watching dozy dreamy wise the cars slowly fade into the past. The valley rich in sheep . Dull brown native hens greedy scratch at new sown fields green. And the valley rich in grape vines opens out from the crest of the ridge bright yellow and belligerent green new and fertile sweet and rich in abounding mechanic fields of industrial onion and lettuce and potato and the shiny green glade of fresh shown newly rained rapidly will to power to the sun loving grasping striving unto the sun and the former and shaper of life one earth and we are but interlopers and the wind through the trees and Henry Reynolds tells us the cries of dead rattle the trees. Without integrity...not a nation , but a community of thieves to listen to Xavier Herbert.

Mountains rise dreamy sheer a curtain wall of fear of multistoried green multihued mystery winding gear grinding curves of wide sweeping turns from the bend of the cutting. Deep dark gullies of eternal winter cold and damp and moss and the hilltops open to the warmth and the hilltops are drier. Round and round slow and lazy like time to observe and reveal all things hawks gliding to the swerve of the rising warm air and helical. And she missiles down from out of the sun talons extended and flashing bright and shinysharp and uncaring to kill the rabbit. For the weak must die. She has her own fingerlings to consider.

The factions and parties and elements are slipping apart and some called for civil union but equality like the call of accretion must be universal and absolute, or it shall not be at all. There can be no second rate no back of the bus no separate but equal and some brag of more or better morals the antiother.

Down down downity. Down shifting the hill glistening of the engine car ear aware of the sounds of human hand and mind made solidreal. The latest and the greatest. Down to Risdon Cove flat spongy sword beach of genocide invasion landing place. Flat past the sea historic ghost storey whipping post Richmond captive fictional Ikey Fagin named Artful Oliver oil twist and my baby girl not five years old was too scared to visit the gaol winding roads whaling rows windy ways sky sea sandy land matrix free hand mountain line steam smoke nickel smelter steam snow mountain cloud gathering oaken river wide and windy white capped waves  medieval tortured winter mandatory grapes cut down to silent size put in their prayerplace Mt Wellington gloomy table top overseeing Father cape town stern block head wooden top Pertrloo hero fire and smoke and soft spreading bullets tearing. And as we climb down the hill helter skelter the thin smelter yellowing mould wound in the corner of the we got trouble river city. The glue turns dry and brittle and the wall paper comes away from the wall and extends slow slowly. It lives. A nightmare of history. Unable to awake.

All for one and one for all for we are the mighty talon mighty  extending sweeping eagle eyed from silent down the sky unseen unheard hawks. And it all went off down urine one sixty pint of glumness rock on and bright orange vomit sort of an evening now a night of the book and a book of the night. Of dreams and absurd history culture 20 000 years and more and we are now fine again awake. The heartening of dreams and forgetting of horseshoe crab nightmares and turtles and stuffed open mouthed talon flashing fury of idioms messaging owls and glassy eyed Whiteley stare starting out opium calendar bay blue laden whirly surrealist shapes and pig cashable Normandy battle brash smooth stones loved. Hunks of hacked hair felt and simulated. Conversing with a stranger passion and the bluest cobalt blue excitement.

The Beatles White Album, the watusi second half from Birthday to Good Night almost the twist exact equity the time my house to old and new. Walking running playing dafter and son giggling imaging extending the iron work cement truck and here is where the rockets go. They make the truck go fast. Waiting Ticketing. High ceiling entrance. Down dark circle cycle stairs descending Dantesque subversive divine adult Disneyland comedy the walls hewn from bedrock the sewage tunnel hallway. Dystrophic future exoplanet factory setting. Addams family Gomez Cara Mia Crimea love house of rooms and arsenic and old lace old timey duchess and cabinets milk and ice cream mixed merchant seaman ti jean would scrapyard understand garage sale helter skelter football pell mell bob tail and tag rag and bone man Steptoe Sanford salvage and sons big fat timey wimey wibbly wobbly of next to next of side by side contrast and compare kaleidoscope that got away from me...

Radical harkening back to old stool timey museums set commode of the muses receding the circles of hell deep and deep dark dank past Tantalus...dug the ell-square pitkin. Poured we libations unto each the dead. Ply upon ply. Speaking to the shades shaking afore the shadows of what once was shades of long gone languages and spirits and gods and spirits and nymphs and each one alive and with a soul the river the tree the rock the prey the corn plundered gold rush the rubber terror or the sheep's back land grab given away not legal and the sealers mad the whalers and sooners and guano diggers and the carpet bagging money grubbers seizers of power and diverters of language. And now no more, so much no more. Never again. No more stories nor dreams. At the heart of this terror of smallpox gonorrhoea the bible bile and the boozy beggar bottle cheater of the ruse flag of the crafty one. No one despondent of Calypso pour libations and for the great king of the world of the world of protective mother and wavy cephalopod love unto fiery death no more and the pope sits in the frozen circle plug of icy cold hell as the mutinous angel Lucifer squats and farts for all time. No more. Gone for all time. Theatre of forgetting and bringing back to life with blood and wine to dialogue and which hand held this and painted this and concerned this. What maker?

Old skool nauseam and sacred silent place of dreamy wavy gravy chaired learners with pinned horseshoe crabs from boyhood home and crucified butterflies and great busted open shingle crystalline random slabs of geology and taxonomy on mortified branches well practiced taxidermy twittering birds of shimmering garish colour. The ordered shiny bugs the squatting ghouls and luck bringing fetish. Next to the this very afternoon up to date.  The cataloguing of the rapidly changing diving world the voice stifled the songs no longer sung. The craft left to gather dust of disuse. Lonely in drying drawers of humidity contoured basements. The counting and cataloguing of bumps and blemishes and gall shaped wounds to separate the ocean from the insane. The moving forward.

Dark and sharp labyrinth. Dedalus crafty artificer. The beast born of god ordained insane bestial coupling. Dedalus built wide shining apparatus Pasiphae Hathor white armed fine ankled cow eyed Hera. Kandinsky abreast side by side by Sondheim. Limestone CO2 hieroglyphics magic writing who carved and penned and concealed sanctified symbols and independent totem colour. Here Picasso and his mistress Dora Maar are the unwobling pivot. The masques of differing volume and intent and the modern up to date.  Rootless? Nihil tradition bebound to Beefheart repeat or to Stardust shock or simply to bore Joe six pack. Glad dark not glade gas candle optic illusion. Illusory sphere of light to passion and to touch to put out ones mind hand. Cretan octopus sarcophagus motif wide brawny curvy lines likes the roads that curve and wonder and switchblade jack knife through low hanging fruit mountain cutting hills.

Countless flies stuck to canvas thick and glittering bright in the light french polish of beetle wings cracking gold like the flowers like the darling daughter of Psapfo. Three photos put together a naked man lining down. Headless. A tiger on the prowl Flashman glaring at the Victorian viewer muggings ready to pounce. A group of world war soldiers shooting at an unseen enemy. The shoddier comrades all behind a quick thrown together barricade. Haystacks like the ones Monet painted, now lit by rifle shot and the angry flames jumping from seventy five millimetre hell mouth rapid fire cannon. A foot stool of a young woman crouched foetal ball disturbed the boy and resulted in a quick move to view the hand made Mercedes Benz  inspired coffin.

Cackle my unknown subscription to the redirection pleasures binary and cuneiform next to next face to face toe to toe heart to heart lumber up limbo down absorbing the beauty with my locked embrace stumble round eyes. Ancient some 4000 years ago what hand held and made what school boy held the stylus and when did she cut the shapes and words meaning numbers Krypteia secret codes of the precision caste. To dominate and monopolise knowledge of things that are and are not.

Tales of the ATO MONA send the messages atwitter and face book abuzz with abused bit and bytes and I let my small voice be heard in supporting the gallery.   And this. For the exhibit spoke to many of the things I hold close. The Greeks Joyce Hegel the helix the making of connections the tendrils of chemical interplay stretching and grasping one anointer skipping and sliding away and deforming in an instant and voices like my name being called in the wind. So the drunken liberal rush of drooling words and the droogy eruptions and wandering cul-de-sac rocks and the curves and the winding roads. This should not be viewed as criticism, I am not in a position to discuss the works from any sort of a mechanical point of view. However I can embellish the passage I made with my son through the gallery. I have tried to use words to dissemble the key features of the exhibit. This is a document of my impressions of the exhibit. The words are meant to convey the synaptic freeing of firing connections, to show the ramshackle exploration of making. Content and connection yet lacking in context notably a political narrative.

The grand knock 'em down fight to the finish no hold barred nature nurture. For we are, the philosopher wrote a species whose nature it is to be artificial. The great and melancholic Dane, sobbing into frigid Elsinore blasts. Down the generations down the centuries. if at the foundation of all there lay only a wildly seething power which writhing with obscure passions produced everything that is great and everything that is insignificant, if a bottomless void never satiated lay hidden beneath all -- what then would life be but despair? It is up to use to make the connections for ourselves, Theatre of the World invites us to, nay compels us to make connections.

The nine year old boy was able to pronounce the exhibit wizard.  As the mind of the child is still growing still plastic and striving after connection, how better to wander an exhibit of connections, but with a child.

My concerns are small and relate to context in the main. No political thread to allow us to return from the depth of the Minotaur born of sexual perversion and madness entombing labyrinth.

None to follow. The artists have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it. We are left wondering, what is to be done?

Back to home threading the narrow town streets helter skelter smelter and the bridge and the airport and the pitt water and the mountains reflecting the sunset lagoon pinks and blues and browns and greens blurring the marriage of heaven and hell.

Monday, July 2, 2012


On her own, on the small satellite
Orbiting around gas giant Jupiter.
Planet spinning, patterns swirling
Rusty red brown hydrocarbon colours.
Flashing glowing gathering lightning
Deep within the roiling endless clouds.
An accident on the mining site.
The others all dead, communications down.
All on her own, alone on the dusty
Frozen boulder. And Jupiter huge fills
Her vision, fills the dark radiating space
Sky, glowing a false light from the far off sun.

Colours of the planet. Echoing
Of children's over excited, uncensored
Direct from young brain to hand to paper.
Children's crayon drawing wild and free.
She thought of her loved daughter's drawings
Her son's bouncing bounding rolling walking.

Her husband, tell him I love him very much,
He knows. Echoing into the void of space.
Tears well up and blur her sight, smearing
Colours like the child's chalk drawing
On the pavement, after a rain storm.

She composed herself, stood herself up straight.
And said aloud, to no one, I shall go
On my own terms, at my own time. I will not
Allow random accident, liquid chance
To dictate to me. I shall decide myself.

She lifted the metallic UV blocking
Shield, unscrewed the holding screws.
Epamerai, she half recalled long
Ago Pindar verse, things of one day.
I stand for my own will, for my own self.

She lifted the helmet, letting the bitter
Cold thin cold emptiness enter her lungs,
She let the endless darkness smother her.

Some people may see this as an apology for suicide or euthanasia. I
suppose in a sense it is, but more importantly it is a paean for human
freedom. The other main theme was of course the still horrible
statistics concerning industrial accidents and deaths.

pic comes from