Archive | February, 2011


28 Feb

It was… what was it, miserable? No that’s the word that Englishmen use, the old ones that had their imaginations surgically removed at school. Desolate? Bleak? Too strong; it wasn’t that bad…


It was a discontented Monday that grew greyer and more greasy: the day went on. On and.. on! It ground the hours and minutes out like broken factory machinery at some farm tools plant converted to artillery production. It was a day that seemed like sometime in the early ’40s when it looked like Hitler would win the war. It was a Monday that brought back that era. The era of greys and brown. Blue for the upper crust. Maybe an eldery amulet in honour of a wartime ancestor’s courage in an archaic battle. Antique jewelery perhaps. The type of Monday the resolutely Anglo-Saxon part of Melbourne actually prefers. That first Monday when the end of Summer is officially announced and the Wog City that was, that Mediterranean pleasure dome, reverts back to the grid-locked form of perfect civilization that once made this place an icon of joyless desolation. Somewhere so boring it was funny.

Autumn arrived early this year. Grrrrr!

Don’t get me wrong, I love Autumn in Melbourne. Soon the weather will improve and the sky will be a markedly paler shade of blue. There will be very well-dressed people attending the festivals. And the European trees transplanted here and maintained with an unsustainable quantity of scarce water will do their cultural duty and fade to oranges, yellows and browns providing a little corner of England. Or the Netherlands. Scotland, Ireland, Wales. Germany. Russia. The Azkanatzum.

Italy, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Serbia – they don’t count. Too close to the middle of the world, y’see. France? Borderline, they’ve been getting the Italian breezes far too long. But Germany’s okay, they drink beer. 🙂

East Asia, the sub-continetal sphere, the Africans, Latin Americans; do they care if elms and oaks line the parks in this city? I’ve never asked. But I get the feeling it’s fundamentally an English thing. A harking back to an old country we obviously no longer resemble.

But I love Autumn in Melbourne. Scots/Irish: close enough. Still I’m pissed – another short fizzer of a summer. I’ve learned to appreciate hot weather whilst living down here. Scarcity, y’see. Up in Brizvegas, Sydney even, it’s too hot and sticky far too long. I liked Melbourne summers because they were hot and dry. And short. They were hot and dry. Now, they’re wet and sticky too, and even shorter.

Still I’m in the spirit of things. Gettin’ serious, reverting to form. Concerned again with things like ‘professionalism’. So I go back to the papers and Andrew Bolt’s blasting Tim Flannery and for good reason. Flannery predicted a few years back that the drought would never end, that the reservoirs would run out. Hah!

You can’t predict the weather much further than a few days and even then you’re wrong. (And right now they’re sooo wrong and always in a bad way.) You can only mark the climatic trends. It’s the same old fandango. Flannery doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Neither does Bolt.

The fundamental global warming forecast is for steeper climatic waves. We are to see a tendency for the regular occurrence of what’s normally considered extreme weather. The weather will, as always, fluctuate. There have always been summers that are wet. But if every summer is wet and sticky or dry as an Arizona bone (and on fire everywhere) well, ladies and gentlemen, the climate has changed.

When that penny drops, and it will take a few years at least, then Bolt, Flannery and everyone else who craps on in ignorance and with power viz AGW should get on a boat and go live on a submerging island in the South Pacific. The people living there should get their houses (I suggest a lottery for allocation purposes). Whoever scores Al Gore’s place wins.




27 Feb


“The Hunters in the Snow”, 1565
Pieter Breugel the Elder (1525-1569)
The Netherlands


27 Feb

Go down now I’ll show you where your children play.


27 Feb


The worst thing we can say about a work of art is that it is insincere. And this is even truer of criticism than it is of creative literature, in which a certain amount of posing and mannerism and even a certain amount of downright humbug doesn’t matter as long as the writer has a certain fundamental sincerity. Modern literature is essentially an individual thing. It is is either the truth expression of what one man thinks and feels or it is nothing.

As I say, we take this notion for granted, and yet as soon as one puts into words one realises how literature is menaced. For this is the age of the totalitarian state, which does not and probably cannot allow the individual any freedom whatever. When one mentions totalitarianism one immediately thinks of Russia, Germany, Italy, but I think one must face the risk that this phenomenon is going to be worldwide. It is obvious that the period of free capitalism is coming to an end and that one country after another is adopting a centralised economy that one can call Socialism or State Capitalism according as one prefers. With that the economic liberty of the individual, and to a great extent his liberty to do what he likes, to choose his own work, to move to and fro across the surface of the earth, comes to an end. Now, till recently the implications of this weren’t forseen.It was never fully realised that the disappearance of economic liberty would have any effect on intellectual liberty. Socialism was usually thought of as a sort of moralised Liberalism. The state would take charge of your economic life and set you free from poverty, unemployment and so forth, but it would have no need to interfere with your private intellectual life. Art could flourish just as it had done in the liberal-capitalist age, only a little more so, because the artist would no longer be under any economic compulsions.

Now, on the existing evidence, one must admit that these ideas have been falsified. Totalitarianism has abolished freedom of thought to an extent unheard of in any previous age. And it’s important to realise that its control of freedom of thought is not only negative, but positive. It not only forbids you to express – even to think – certain thought but it dictates what you shall think , it creates an ideology for you, it tries to govern your emotional life as well as setting up a code of conduct. And as far as possible it isolates you from the outside world, it shuts you up in an artificial universe in which you have no standards of comparison. The totalitarian state tries, at any rate, to control the thoughts and emotions of its subjects at least as completely as it controls their actions.

The question that is important for us is, can literature survive in such an atmosphere? I think one must answer shortly that it cannot. If totalitarianism becomes worldwide and permanent, what we have known as literature must come to an end.

George Orwell
“Literature and Totalitarianism”
Broadcast: 21 May, 1941


26 Feb

I’m meditating, have been every day about a month or two now. It’s much easier to get into the state then it was when I began and you know a new habit’s been formed when you start to anticipate the event physically. When you start to need it.

I guess I have a stormy soul. I know I have a temper. Known that since I was knee-high to nothing much in particular. Redheads. What can you do? But it’s been a long time since I cracked it royally. Still I find myself grinding my teeth sometimes. Impatient with fools and discourtesy, always have been. The hostility’s mostly just something that wastes my own time. It’s better to be gentle and I like it that way. It’s usually the needless, mindless, very rough congress of the daily urban fandango that gets my goat. It disrupts the music behind it all. It scrambles the signals God sends out to us.

To learn to meditate properly I consulted a course which turned out to be a religion. They don’t seem to call themselves that, they have no interest in ‘converting’ us (so far). There’s imagalogical trinkets on sale but no pressure. The theology’s gradually introduced between meditation sessions. Parts make sense, others that don’t. I’m not a joiner of cults much. I won’t be joining this one. The cosmology’s Dharmic of course: endless cycles of reincarnation. About the soul’s mortality I have no opinion but according to this lot we’re in a diamond age. These are the short lived alpha-omega points of spiritual history. God – the Supreme they call it (and other things) – is a seed which grows into a tree over a cycle of decadence and advancment thru the ages of gold, silver, iron and diamond that last thousands of years. I won’t elaborate further except to say that, whilst we advance materially thru these cycles, we decline spiritually. Ain’t that always the way. At the end of these cycles comes a diamond age wherein the Supreme spirit is reborn and we all return to the Golden Age. Considering that diamonds are the hard and beautiful results of immense amounts of crushing pressure I’d say that this cosmological model is not without its appeals in the early 21st century. Some kind of pinnacle, some apocalypse is well part of the instinct of the time.

And the view, roughly, is widely shared. There are mystical Christians who say that we are entering the Age of the Holy Spirit. There are aspirants to paganism who still talk of the Age of Aquarius, etc. We are offered a cataclysm of change followed by an era usually presented as some kind of Utopia. A land of plenty where everyone is happy. I don’t know about that. I’m a little skeptical when religious people tell me my dreams will come true if only I wear the robe or don the pendent, stop cutting my hair, grow a beard etc. Anyway I don’t need it. I needed to learn to meditate and that’s what I got. There’s two more classes I’ll stick around out of curiosity.

I suspect that every religious movement in history has been a small seed of revelation inside a good few kilos of manure. Perhaps the manure helps the seed grow. But it’s still manure. That’s the difficulty. How do you know what’s horseshit and what ain’t. Well I reckon what’s true manifests because it starts to actually apply to life. Like the notion that it is desire which creates unhappiness. This is obviously true. Desire is knife-like. Neil Gaiman’s personification of this perfidious human aspect is described such and s/he walks ’round the world demonstrating how apt a description it is. S/he’s a bitch, an arsehole: a man and a woman. Always beautiful, always scary and vengeful, destructive, petty and mean. How many millions of poems’ve been writ by people broken by Desire. Purge desire, say the prophets, and you will be happy. Ah but you will also be…

What? What can be accomplished when you’ve done with longing? And what joy obtains in a life without it? The East has strived to purge desire in order to obtain liberty, the West has sought to obtain liberty in order to let us seek out our heart’s desires. And they’re both right. So stuck in this paradox what do you do? You meditate.


25 Feb

I picked up a sample of the student press yesterday. Very professional. The sad tendency of students to lay out their papers with serif typefaces for headlines and lots of useless white space isn’t in evidence here (tho’ the textboxes could be a little tighter). Neither’s the obligatory sociology lectures 101 viz the patriarchy, capitalism or some such. Pull quotes. Very professional.

Professional means competent, disciplined, effective; it also means conformist, bland, hollow and slick. Often the student press is dominated by campus pseudo-revolutionaries who have all the wit and humour of a bank loan application but without the socially useful purpose. Sometimes there’s the kind of anarchic humour of high adolescence that’s impossible to do any other time in life. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such and it’s not anywhere in evidence in Catalyst. It’s too professional.

Take “Travel With What You Know”, by-line: Kate O’Connell. This concerns the writer’s summer spent working as a volunteer in the much maligned failing Republic of Haiti. Interesting. I don’t remember any of my peers doing something so noble, read on.

Ten paragraphs, this short piece and what do we learn about Haiti? We learn, first sentence, that Ms O’Connell has stood in Port au Prince looking at the shattered downtown remains. We learn that a year ago they had an earthquake that killed 250 000 people and that a million Haitians are homeless as a result. We learn a cholera epidemic followed. And…

Well, nothing. Ten paragraphs and only one strays from the central theme: she’s a journalism student, she has skills, she travels to build her CV. She plans to get out, get anywhere, get all the way to the New York Times. If she ever actually met a Haitian or ate Haitian food or did anything else involving Haitians. I wouldn’t know. Still very professional. Committed. Traveling all that way to pad your CV with a piece that could’ve been written in South Yarra after five minutes with Google.

Not fair I s’pose to pick on Ms Connell. Actually no, actually horseshite! She’s a grown-up, just, and she’s published a bit of writing. Welcome to the Arena lassie. Writing – before it’s a career, a means to affluence and status, a profession (trade, actually) – is a vocation. There’s a duty attached to it. You are required at the very least to impart information and the most boneheaded pulpy bit of tripe at least requires something other than blatant self-promotion.

Or does it? Does it? What am I saying? Do I know what century I live in? Blatant self-promotion is the only reason to do anything anymore. It’s come to this where the undergrad press that once challenged illiberal laws now makes a backdrop of this:


For, explicitly, a career advancement strategem, absolutely sans irony. This ain’t the hippie jive man. Working on your student rag gets you brownie points in the marketplace nothin’ wrong with it. And I remember an editor of my student rag who was explicitly determined to use it as propaganda (her word). Who needs it. But the ethos of victory in the marketplace via promotional savvy and video blitz has become a monster. Surely there’s someone serious out there, or genuinely funny. Hello….

Oh well. To the Fourth Estate send a dozen white lillies.


24 Feb

Charles Saatchi’s up to something. I don’t know what. I have speculated somewhere that his schtick is the PT Barnum shuffle, separating fools from cash. Background in advertising, figures. But I’ve been poking thru his I Am An Artaholic designer book and there’s more to him than that. What? I shouldn’t wonder. But there’s more than meets the eye.

He makes a point of telling us he had the opportunity to buy a Basquiat cheap when the dude was still alive. He declined. Derivative, he said. Decorative was another word he used. He decided that Basquiat was shite. What’s the strategy? He doesn’t mention Robert Hughes but does reconfirm that Damien Hirst is a great artist. On “For The Love of God” he condescends: My dear the money is the message.

The money is the message? Has it come to this? It has. Let’s go back to where it all began…


“Fountain”, 1917 (copy)
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)

This is the original ‘work’ of conceptual art. I put work in quotes because Duchamp didn’t actually make it, he found a urinal, signed it with a false name intended to evoke the barbarism with which modern art was at the time associated and plonked it in a gallery. Actually the above is not the original. So what? It doesn’t matter. With Con Art what matters is the idea.

Duchamp’s biographer, the art critic Calvin Tomkins has compared the ‘work’ to a Buddha sculpture and to Renaissance Madonnas. The annals of 20th century art criticism are stuffed full of comparisons of various bits of conceptual arrangement with Old Masters. And all of of this is entirely ‘valid’. The last time I did anything in a gallery it was video stuff in support of a pair of artists who’d been canned for the ugliness and banality of their installation at a Fed Sq NGV showcase of emerging talent. This happened on the ABC’s arts show and Channel 9’s two-cents-worth populist moralizing Breakfast spot. On the ABC, the host inevitably came to the artists defense with the inevitable ‘anything can be art schpiel.

This is what I think Duchamp was getting at when he plonked his pisspot down in the New York art scene. If the rules of the Academy and the religious tradition that formed its oeuvre are gone than anything can be art. Even a pot to piss in.

Maybe he was making fun of the Americans who fawned over it. Those art students who’d pursued the modernist path in the late 19th/early20th century remember their American colleagues as clueless and conservative: as in they wanted to paint properly. Perhaps Duchamp was having a go at these new fans of modern art. Americans who didn’t get it and could be fooled by anything. Perhaps he was also making a point in a new country that lacked ancient history. Anything will be priceless if it’s old enough. I don’t recall as I’ve seen many pre-Columbian urinals or ancient Egyptian chamber pots but if they existed they’d be in a museum someplace.

Still Duchamp’s urinal is much like ones we still find in unreconstructed public toilets all over the world. It has no ancient mystique. It’s banal and you piss on it. Hello?


Piero Manzoni is a name that lives in the history books because he famously canned his own feces in order to demonstrate something about the gullibility of the art market. The art market responded by shelling out for these tinned goods proving his point. Among the buyers we find the Tate Modern which, buying it, made it legitimate. It was art. Officially. Years later and someone shells out one hundred and twenty-thousand Euros for one of these items at Sotheby’s. Did the auctioneer have to repress laughter?

The original of “Fountain” is lost. It’s said that the gallery owner and photographer Joseph Stiegliz threw it out. He had good taste. His photograph of the original is the only trace left of it:


Still Duchamp ‘made’ copies. Or, rather, he authorized other urinals making them official. In the swamp of the dominant early 21st century trend some group ominously described as ‘British art world professionals’ has voted it the single most influential work of art of the 20th century. It severed the link between work and merit. Apparently.

I think not. In years to come it will be a curiosity. An item in the catalog of the world of lost souls that was the 20th century. Finer people than us will one day look at it and pity us.