Archive | April, 2011

HAVEN’T SQUANDERED MY RESISTANCE

11 Apr

I was born with much luck, early sufferings – actually surfeit of said luck – had convinced me otherwise, so much so that I squandered many an opportunity to advance higher in the socio-economic pyramid. You have to start at the bottom of the ladder.

My grandfather’s people came here in the nineteenth century when Australia was, as Eric Hobsbawm put it, a paradise of labour. They prospered and became part of that most Corinthian of columns in the Sydney Establishment: the prosperous Irish, products of the excellence of Catholic education. They were dead set in the middle of that column; modestly well-off.

The family business was a small to medium sized firm attached to the construction industry. An Australian institution: the Blue Collar Enterprise. The son and heir always had to start of at the bottom and work his way up. Of course, promotion was assured. 🙂

But what wisdom in such a monarchy? By the time the Son became the Boss he knew the business from the ground up. He’d see what needed changing and what didn’t. How it all worked. What it was like to work here and there. Trouble was the limited pool from which to draw labour. It was, of course, explicitly sexist (girl had babies, boys had jobs). And the son might be guided by tradition but the chances are, sooner or later, you’d get a right berk or downright nasty bastard. It’s difficult for the rich to not spoil their children. Another rub. Thing is sometimes, fellas (quite often really) it’s the girls who’d make a better boss. The Spartans were miserable old sods, but they had wisdom when is came to their women.

It occurs to me that, in my own weird way, I’ve pretty much done the same thing. For what end I don’t know. I do not own the future, but, it is still open. I have relinquished opportunities yes: for prosperity, for advancement, for sex. But I have not relinquished my capacity to choose the many paths available to me in this Our Year of the Almighty Whatever – two-oh-one-one. I have a wide experience, I know what it’s like night shift in a factory. I know what it’s like 7am right thru to the early hours of the next morning. Paper cup coffee swallowed in gulps on the run while answering the relentless call of an electronic master. It never stops long enough for you to quietly view the beauty of the city skyline from high up behind a glass and steel window.

Ferris Bueller said life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around every once in a while you might miss it. If you work the skyscraper high-life; if you get all the way to helicopter level where you only ever need touch the ground to switch to the Gulfstream en route to allover; the higher you go… The more you need to remember what Ferris said. I like the view from high up but it ain’t worth the palava.

Other people I’ve known are heading for that apex of the democratic monoliths that mark the architectural symbol of early Technological Civilization. And, if they’re well-grounded in a spiritual tradition, it doesn’t drive them crazy. If not, well I’ve seen these people – drink.

Dry-cleaning everything is a bitch, forget about it. But I could’ve chosen that life. If I had, I wouldn’t be me tho’, I’d be someone else. And, if it was me personally, I don’t think that someone else would be very nice. It’s moot now because that life is a path closed to me. That sort’ve thing you have to commit when you’re at what Americans call Junior High. I have options but also many burnt bridges.

I am privileged and fortunate. Others are not, they have been chosen for a difficult path. Hard, hard, hard! From the time they’re born. Last night I made another friend (weird: Sunday nights!) and he’s Jewish and Muslim and Christian. We met and spent hours talking, so different and yet connected. He’s struggling, he has a kid, chancy employment opportuities. The migrant experience. The refugee experience. I saw a fragment of his world. Interesting, this city’s third-world underground.

Born on the roof of a Saudi jail, this guy. Truly. Brought up an ultra-orthodox Muslim and now converted to Christianity. Still he’s a son of Beta Israel, believed by many to be famed lost tribe of the ancient Hebrews. He believes Jesus was black. My friend has changed his name to that of a very popular saint (not Francesco d’Assisi). We ate dinner in a restaurant run by Hindus. Lots of Ohm signs about. But also a painting of the Buddha and a newsclipping of Mary MacKillop’s canonization.

Amongst the Faithful, these days, there are those that crave war and there are those instinctively moving toward other creeds – including Atheism – in a spirit of catallaxy. My friend is a mystic and it’s hard to follow him sometimes but he is amongst the latter, he moves toward convergence in a spirit of peace. All the while knowing that outside in the cold distance, a wild cat growls. He knows a lot more about religion then I ever will. I am lucky, I have have been born lucky consequence of war-torn centuries and persistent wilfulness. Of conquest, plunder, slavery, lies: and glory too. What a piece of work is Man:

Jeffersonuniversity

My friend has it tough because his ancestors were on the other side of all that business. I am lucky to meet him. He thinks I am his guide perhaps, but he is mine. I am lost, I think I’m found, I realize I’m still lost and then I find one also lost. But he has read the map. He will show me the way on the other side of the wall erected ‘twixt Reason and Dream in the Western World. What will I show him? How should I know, I don’t own the future. No-one does.

HORSEMEN HAVE LEFT OUR PRECINCTS

7 Apr

Aurelius

In Joseph Brodsky’s “Homage to Marcus Aurelius”, he writes:

He wasn’t a great philosopher, nor was he a visionary; not even a sage; his Meditations is at once a melancholy and repetitive book.

True, all of it. Aurelius never introduced a new concept like Descartes, he never codified a tradition like Aristotle, he didn’t announce the problems of an age like Nietzsche. There is nothing new or especially penetrating in Meditations, so why is it my favourite book of philosophy?

I’m not widely read enough to qualify to teach the stuff but I’ve read some and retained that that appears to apply to actual life as I know it. Aristotle’s Politics, for example, is a healthy anchor for a dream-prone mind that may be tempted to believe Shepard Fairey’s contribution to the last presidential election. It’s in Aristotle’s run-down of the history of Greek polities, in Machiavelli’s similar musings that you’ll find at least one facet of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return well polished and gleaming in its depressing lucidation. But Meditations, this book that is “no match for Epictitus”, is the book I cling to in times of trouble. It is for me what the Gospels are for Christians. And I suspect, despite his disinterested qualifications, Brodsky felt the same.

How would Aurelius feel among us barbarians, Brodsky asks? “For we are barbarians to you, if only because we speak neither Greek nor Latin. We are also afraid death far more than you ever were, and our herd instinct is stronger than the one for self-preservation.” Perhaps therein lies one clue for the Meditations is stuffed with the contemplation of death, of its coming and of its ultimate desirability. It is, after all, in concordance with nature. Is there fear at the heart of this interest in the subject? But in his words is there not also comfort in the continuity?

Aurelius was probably the closest thing to the Platonic ideal of the ruler we’re ever likely to get. Democracy, that guards so well against tyranny, won’t permit of the likes of Aurelius consequence of the same constitution and statutes therefrom. He was a reluctant ruler. His ambition had been to follow his ancient Greek masters to the Agora and the Academy. When he accepted the highest office he left that behind. Meditations is therefore not really a book of philosophy. The man had no time to write such. It is a kind of moral diary:

Meditations is thus a patchy book, nurtured by interference. It is a disjointed, rambling internal monologue, with occasional flashes of pedantry as well as of genius.

We live in the democratic age of the car. And we fear death perhaps because “we can’t conceive of dwindling into particles again”. That “after hoarding so many goods [it’s] unpalatable”. The fact that Aurelius was a virtuous and powerful may have something to do with the aura of his work tho’ I doubt it much. My reasoning is grounded in my capacity to visualize without much trouble someone coming upon the small volume, drawing inspiration from its contents without ever knowing who Aurelius actually was.

But still I can’t entirely discount the fascination with the Equestrian Age – of which High Rome was the high point – extant amongst the wistful and nostalgic. Indeed, Nietzsche’s problem of rank may manifest in small part in a longing for the definitive hierarchies of the eras of sword and sandal; of toga and marble. What’s the fascination? The straight up metaphysics of a dead civilization whose glory has never been quite surpassed, even by the Americans? Perhaps the spiritual cure for those of us, acutely aware of the soul but unable to bear with the rigid absolutes of Christianity that appear to deny the complexity beloved to some of us: the universe is change, life is opinion. Aurelius was aware, as an adherent of the Greeks, of what we do not know. Many advocates of Abrahamic Monotheism appear to believe that that, that is not in the Book is not worth knowing. They certainly believe that the Book cannot be questioned. Aurelius asks questions. His convictions are based on them. I think (and feel) that it’s as it should be.

Perhaps it’s the lofty aspiration to Virtue expressed in the book. The Christian God is one with which “you trade in virtue to obtain eternal favours”. But to Aurelius and myself this renders virtue a mere commodity. Something one does out of fear and desire. The value of Aurelian virtue, Brodsky writes, lies “precisely in its being a gamble, not an investment”. There is no pay-off.

So finally it’s the metaphysics being aesthetically agreeable perhaps. Or perhaps, like Epictitus and unlike so many others, this is a book of philosophy that serves you in times and places when you are made acutely aware of your limitations – your lack of liberty. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps – in this limited life with its fear and its addlepated herd – perhaps I read it because it was written to no-one but its author.

I’m sure Aurelius would be surprised, perhaps delighted/perhaps dismayed, to see the Penguin Classics edition in all the bookstores. The thoughts, the aphorisms, open up any page and read a chunk. It’s good. Maybe Aurelius is, far from the face of antiquity, the ideal philosophy for the Modern Era. Short, to the point, practical and honest advice in easy to digest bite-sized pieces.

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6 Apr

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BETTER LIVING THRU CHEMISTRY

5 Apr

Here we are, the beginning of the third millennium and what have we done? We’ve been places, we’ve eradicated the Pox, the Plague, the Scourge, almost. We have not done away with the Curse, tho’ the tampon ads get slicker every year.

tampexad

I remember some ad from the late 70s. Lots of David Hamilton photography; a beautiful mother with her blossoming teenage’d daughter walking thru the forest in springtime. The reassuring maternal voice-over in the compulsory diction of the private-school educated Sydneysider hard-nosed career bitch: navy suits, pearls, Oil of Ulan. Fundraiser committees associated with the Liberal Party. What euphemism did she use? Heavy days. Heavy days seem a bit of concern. Heavy days may ruin a sun-blessed walk in the bush.

Some time ago, trashy historical novels tell me, working class women referred to their periods matter-of-factly while those women that did no housework kept it strictly discreet. The hard-boiled 19th century with its frenetic sexual morals, it’s cold lit analysis, its silent anxieties. Menstruation? Unmentionable save in medical circles where puritanical men got together and tried to solve this bit of biological madness called Woman. Now it’s the basis for specialization in the spreading apparatus of information processing: symbols, sounds, colour and form pitting you up against impossible dreams, all in aid of moving the merchandise. And still there’s the need to use euphemism about something as basic as a placental mammal’s menstrual cycle and the blood that comes forth from it.

We’ve gone to the moon but still can’t face that? White pants? Well at least the ad doesn’t refer to heavy days. Sometime later there was an ad where a slick young supermodel type uses a maxi-pad to clean blood from the floor before the men in the trenchcoats arrive. Can we see a story that evolves from the days when advertising tampons and pads was a clinical euphemism. Internal protection? That’s a bit saucy? Kids might ask questions. Internal, what’s inside?

If there’s continuity in these ads it’s in the stress on privacy, comfort and non-interference with work. The 50s ad says to the housewife that she can rely on tampons not to have her menstrual cycle interfere with her work; the 90s ad says to the young career bitches that the threatening masculine pack will be held at bay; the current ad says we know this is stupid, we know that we’re being manipulated but hey, at least they’re honest and… cool pack! The thread that runs thru the ads is that this is the solution to a problem: mass manufactured and wrapped in clean fresh plastic.

“Are you sure I’ll still be a virgin?” There was a time not so long ago that that was an actual concern. These days the world agrees with Clint Eastwood, what’s so great about virgins? Well that’s the mainstream position. Coming up the rear, religion returns and girls in certain circles pledge to their father they’ll remain pure until their wedding night. A revival of tradition? Ah.. but these are 21st century girls so of course there’s promise of a material pay-off.

I have my doubts that satisfaction is guaranteed.

Time was when the Moon Cycle was a mystic thing, then it was a symbol of degradation – a basis for disgust. And now it’s a problem that must be solved rationally in a mode consistent with Modern Civilization’s requirements that everything have a smooth pristine clinical and colour-co-ordinated surface. People say, well at least it’s not a big deal anymore. And I say: exactly! It isn’t. Shouldn’t it be? I’m sure there are families for which it is still, bewildering as it might seem, a moment of profound shame and embarrassment.

Are there families out there that celebrate?

ANY JOBBER GOT THE SACK

4 Apr

Sunday afternoon, still early enough in Autumn for the sun to break out late and make a difference. You can tell the season by looking at the lawn, if the sun’s shining and people are on it, it’s not summer.

The skanks hit the streets on Sunday afternoon, hungry. There’s the guy I don’t know what to call him. He’s short, compact, wiry. He has no lips, his mouth is like a faultline under pressure. He’ll sidle up to you, glares from the corners of his mean little eyes; says: ex-ccooose me… d’ya hava spare dollar? Translation: I hate you and want to tear your head off, pay me to go away. I never gave him shit, and I ain’t gonna. I don’t know what his story is but if you want to be free you must stand up to coercion with vigilance. And anyway, who owes him a fix.

Sunday morning I saw Ratwoman, you remember Ratwoman. I’d seen her Saturday morning and said hello. I’ve been meaning to a while now. She asked if I had 50 cents and I said maybe later. I had it, just didn’t know if I could spare it. Even tho’ I drink too much coffee.

So Sunday morning I give her a dollar. And there’s three early morning skanks. They have a bottle, some mixer. They’ve got a new pouch of tobacco. Must’ve scored some moolah. Big moolah to them, a trip to Woolworths and two plastic bags’ worth a goodies: 4 litres coloured sugar water and two types intoxicating substances with addictive qualities. Yeah they scored and big. I hope no-one was seriously hurt.

They have a new pouch still one of ’em asks me for a cigarette anyway. Habit I guess. I just shake my head firmly, no. Been doing it for years, stern, harsh, the stainless steel thick face you wear at street-level. Then they go over to Ratwoman.

I’m checking it out, what are they doing? Are they gonna hit her up for money? She’s a target for all of ’em. But she just leaves. Before, when I gave her the dollar, I saw her hand shaking. Parkinson’s? The cold? Such big blue eyes, wise and kind and forever glazed over. I gave her a dollar, so what? How does someone end up like this? I can guess I’ve seen the smudgy, artless home tats on her arms. Inept pictures of who knows what from early in the Collingwood 70s. The days of the Blue Collar Stampede to the heavy metal thunder and gunga vibe. They dropped acid and saw Ragnarok.

Ah she’s got the mullet and the very contemporary chemical creases from her eyes down the worn-leather flesh of her face, framing the mouth that still somehow resists the entropy that drags it down to the comfortable slackness of permanent bitterness. Goodbye Ratwoman, ’til we see each other again. Don’t ask for change next time. Let’s just talk.

Well I’m alright Jack, tho’ I don’t know it half the time. What a whingy white boy shit I am. But still stiff upper-lip’d, it all happens on the inside. Sunday was good, shit doesn’t get to me anymore. Sunday afternoon I go for a long walk and end up on a bench discussing politics with a young dude. Night has fallen.

Hiroshigemoon

He thinks over-population is The Problem. He advocates a strong state to handle the problem. But then he also sees that the solution to the energy problem is a free market (?). he doesn’t like labels, he likes Socialist Iconography. He believes in the re-assertion of tradition. He knows there’s a good chance a war is coming. He doesn’t understand how people can back Israel’s actions.

We click, we talk for quite a while. He’s writin’ stuff down, Michael Oakeshott’s “Rationalism in Politics”, Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road To Serfdom. But we talk Marx and Nietzsche. And Machiavelli. And how you can’t hold Israel’s actions against them but how it’s still fubar anyway. That’s what I think, I don’t think he agrees.

Then this guy approaches, in ordinary street-wear. Instinctively I harden my face. It’s Sunday night, and they hit the streets in the afternoon. Sometimes it takes ages to get what they want. This guy he doesn’t look like he’s on the streets but not all of ’em do. And he’s got hunger in his eyes.

Now when he rocks up my new friend and I’ve just got to the Subject. We’ve done that ‘click’ thing both realizing significant encounter, maybe. And this dude shows up, I think he’s intruding so I give him my thick face. But he’s known to my young companion and I do the cordial acceptance thing and turn back into the conversation. In this town, you wanna be included in the discussion you’ve gotta be a contender. You have to impress.

In other words we’re all stuck-up arseholes.

We were talking tradition. So I’ve got my art out, it’s about tradition after all. And my friend’s not all that impressed but the new dude… He flips out! He’s really into it. I haven’t had a fan for a while, not for my drawings. And some have seen it and aren’t much impressed. So I felt the warm buzz inside…

Oh but he needed help. This city’s harsh. The guy’s come all the way from the states to drink latte with Disappointment. I don’t know what. We didn’t get to that. He needed help and I couldn’t give. Yet.

PAINTING

3 Apr

Waterhousenymphs
“Hylas and the Nymphs”, 1896
John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)
England

PIECE

3 Apr

Chopinanime

ChopinAnime