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30 May

I am contemplating my tough life

Before, it was the bitter and dry Victorian set doing the John Bracks shuffle wrapped in navy blue and grey; the inevitable black stylists (me included). The lonely crowd pushing Despair to the side as a matter of the habit of slaves starting another grim week of duty. Duty to the almighty Grand March forward to a world with a dollar sign on everything.

And because of that grand march, dig it, the buildings behind me. The docklands development of Melbourne is part of a global phenomena. Brisbane got its back in the 80s (at last a cultural first). Excellent place to imbibe of lysergic acid dyethlemide #25.

Sydney had theirs built in the halcyon 90s decade. It might still be there, you never know with Sydney. I’ve been there, stayed there. Out on the town there. It reminds me of the lives of battery hens if you let ’em go to the pub in the mall on Friday night.

Barcelona has its as well, haven’t been there.

The conversion of old, environmentally-dangerous, inner-city docking facilities, infamously awash with junkie bars and criminal networks, to new Jetsons-type living where once again the river is the star attraction the architecture serves and not just a place to spew our filth into – is grand. It makes (maybe) that whole crazy dance worth it. Here, in this beautiful and peaceful place where the Monday morning racket is a far away drone, we have a glimpse of the long-promised Brave New World.

People will complain that this is only something the rich can afford. And naturally it is. Will waterside views always be the privilege of those higher up in the chain? Will the chain always be based on money and education? What of it when those things are freely available to entire populations? How will we feed our need for command and obedience and hierarchy then?

No matter, inhale deep and pause…. enjoy the Sun. You won’t see it for a while, doesn’t matter how much money you got.



7 Dec


I enter this palace for the public and the cool stones greet me; solemn welcome. Outside: human gorillas, their shirts off revealing a legacy of bad tattoo technique and liver damage, stalk about the lawn looking for nice middle-class kids to intimidate into handing over their spare change. Hell! Why not? Why should they be the ones to enjoy the joys of intoxication wearing their clean textiles designed to make ’em look ‘cool’ while busy getting shitfaced? Well they wait ’til post meridian for one. The human gorillas have been here since 7am. They have a cask or two. These days it’s commonplace to bear witness to squalid wasted lives right on the doorstep of this country’s finest library.

Inside and I’m tap-tap-tapping away at keys provided me at public expense. Walk along the rows of computers and you’ll see a lot of FaceBook pages; lots of backpacker accommodation, emails, video clips of car racing, of rap gods, of interfaces with various financial institutions. None of it has anything to do with the life of the mind.


Up the stairs, a vertical diagonal that zig-zags its way up three floors of public space. At the top there’s a domed room. Ah! domed rooms… this library is one of those colonial neo-classical jobbies that went up everywhere within European empires of the 19th century. Them’s were the times if you had any money. It’s in its original condition mostly, old desks, green lamps. The walls are surrounded by the meager canon of Australia. Many books about obscure figures, much polemic on minor episodes. We are a young country.

The dome is a high one and walls that lead up to it are verandas for the ‘museum’ part. The main feature: Ned Kelly’s armour. I wonder what Kelly’d think of his armour being used for tourism purposes by the State that killed him?

I hadn’t been up there for years, not interested. But I went up to get a view of the Dome Room and realized I’d forgotten its wonders. There’s a lot more to Australia than bloody Ned Kelly. Some of us have good taste even. There’s a delicious leatherbound 1946 edition of Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal with a Kandinsky-esque design by Jean Landau. There’s prints by Hokusai and Watanabe. There’s an enormous volume from the 1820s and 30s – drawings of birds by John James Audubon. Delicious, even if you don’t like the stuff generally and I don’t much. Worth a bit apparently. Won’t say how much, wouldn’t want to tempt anybody. 🙂

On one of the walls an enormous lecture by Gertrude Stein. It’s concrete poetry, not designed to actually be read. Properly anyway. But in the Dome Room a curve band runs about the diameter with various quotes that are, from various writers viz libraries: what they are, what they mean. My favourite is Jorge Luis Borges whose idea of Heaven is a library. Another states:

Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy, neither warm nor cold, light nor dark. The pleasure they give is steady, unorgastic, reliable, deep and long-lasting. In any library in the world, I am at home, unselfconscious, still and absorbed.

Is that not beautiful? I won’t say who wrote it. Google it, someone will be surprised.

This place has changed as the curator of a school tour will tell her audience. Once upon a time there was no leeway for anything but the strictest observance of miserable discipline as exported by havens of sadism like Harrow. You couldn’t do anything. Now the pendulum’s swung the other way. It’s not so much that the library has become run-down and mediocre, quite the contrary – the library itself, the librarians – are excellent. This place runs very well and has a lifetime’s study in it. But now what can you not do here. And so it’s a free internet cafe…. etc.

And it’s a place that is host to many students particularly from Asia whose customs do not require, for example, the observance of silence standard in Western libraries. That problem is not addressed by those who notice it for fear of accusations of bigotry. Another reason we are incompetent to assert our customs in out own country: they have eroded. The British bootstrap has given way to our famously casual ways and the former strictness with which children were raised has become taboo in English speaking countries, replaced by something as yet vague. We are forgetting the custom that a library is a certain kind of place much like a church or a museum. How are visitors s’posed to understand our customs when we ourselves are oblivious?

Meantime the Market enters the building. A new line has been drawn and the foyers of the building are now retail zones. One annex, dedicated to electronic media, is regularly used for swank corporate do’s (public and private). Mmm smells good. Nothing wrong with that, per se. However, tho’ the integrity of the library is still maintained, its territory has shrunk. And the people within it display diminishing respect. Sadly, the more people thru the door, the more funding, hence the internet cafe. But if the place is crowded out with backpackers on holiday who smirk when you tell them you’re finding it hard to read because they make too much noise and if that becomes routine, something you just have to put up with…


Oh I’m having a Grand Whinge today aren’t I? Truly things aren’t so catastrophic as I make out. In general people do know how to act. Still the disrespect I’ve described is in evidence and often.

Behind it I sense the erosion of our traditional sense of these places and what they do and how? They are democratic institutions, anyone may enter. But few do, at least for the purposes of reading, writing; the study of art, the study of music, of genealogy, of technological communications, of Japanese flower arrangement, of the history of the Australian Open. What’s forgotten is that that doesn’t matter. What matters is that, tho’ such spaces for the life of the mind may be something only the few are interested in, there are thus fruits born that benefit everyone. Such spaces needs must be places where one can think, unselfconscious, still and absorbed.

This is such a space, still. But somewhere there’s a puncture from which the peaceful ether that makes it what it is, is leaking.


9 Nov

There’s a blogger somewhere in America, Emily. She writes:

When I was eight years old, Twin Towers were attacked. This tragedy shattered my young mind to pieces. I was a little girl who did not understand why the same bad men who killed so many people in New York wouldn’t come to my town in Texas and hurt me too. I began to suffer from severe anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. I wouldn’t eat or drink without being forced. I wouldn’t go outside and play with my friends. I couldn’t bring myself to cross the street to get the mail in the good neighborhood where I lived. I couldn’t sleep at night.

Emily grew up in a Christian home she tells us. I wonder how she feels about Muslims. There’s no loud references to coming Jihad on her site. She tells us that she turned away from God and despite this she found herself doing the Lord’s work. God was using her, she said. She goes to Africa to help out somehow. She has trouble sleeping still. But she’s reconciled, regained her faith. She has no doubt; she knows that God works with her and thru her.

Somewhere else, another American also knows there is a God. He supports the Park51 project. This is the infamous ‘ground zero mosque’ which is actually nothing of the kind. The site is near but not on the site of the collapsed World Trade centre towers. This is significant. Actually on the site would be an unbearable slap-in-the-face, obviously. Regardless the attitudes of Muslims world-wide to the ideology and activities of Usama bin Laden and his followers, to build a mosque on the site of so many deaths perpetrated in the name of Islam is a symbol of victory. A mosque near the site could be a symbol of tolerance. What better response by a great pluralist democracy to Jihadist intolerance than to have a large mosque where American muslims pray?


It’s not only a mosque; the proposal is for a community centre which includes a large mosque. Its supporters maintain that it’s intended to facilitate peaceful co-existence among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Originally it was to be called “Cordoba House” after the relatively tolerant Islamic Iberian caliphate. Naturally there’s controversy. The inevitable Jihadwatch-watch rebuttal takes the ‘liberal’ point of view, as I have, telling us that the Taliban want the project scrapped because of opposition. The argument is that banning the mosque helps the enemy.

What follows is the by now wearily familiar rhetorical war where facts are merely optional instruments in the service of some higher truth defined as unquestioned loyalty to God and the armies blessed by same. These blend seemlessly with the egos of whomsoever casts an opinion. JihadWatch, for example, likes to repeatedly post a photograph of Park51’s owner Sharif El-Gamal that casts him in the dodgiest light possible without being blatantly Berian. There’s guilt by association, a Muslim blogger name of Aziz Poonawalla is, apparently, “the kind of man who posts obscene photoshops about his ideological opponents”. They’re both Muslim right? What else do you need?

I tried one of the links which apparently substantiates this claim. It doesn’t. And it’s just more blogwar. If Poonawalla engages in such slander or unreason I wouldn’t know. Seems pretty civilized to me. It’s not that I’m taking one side against the other. I’m inclined to duck out the door in the event of a barroom brawl. If people wanna punch each other’s heads in fine. But leave me out of it. Unless I’m in it.

What God is he, writes laws of peace and clothes them in a tempest? Jews, Christians and Muslims all tell me that their faith is about peace and love and here I am in a 21st century city writing on 21st century technology for a 21st century publication medium and I find I’m worried about, of all things, a religious war!! The secular West lumps these troublemakers under the heading ‘monotheism’ and we see the rise of the anti-theist movement led by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens who should know better, but don’t, I’d say because their ability to reasonhas been blitzed by their anger at the obstinate hostility of the agents of religious faith. Abrahamic religious faith in particular. Of course, elsewhere, the view that the world would’ve been better off without monotheism has been expressed with much less heat.

The traditional alternative, in the West, to the Abrahamic ethos has been that of the Greco-Roman world in particular Stoicism as articulated by Epictitus, Aurelius and Seneca; the ethics of Aristotle. From Machiavelli to Nietzsche, the proto-modern world is stuffed with philosophers who have fetishized Athens and Rome. This counter-tradition, as adherents know, has certain advantages over the Judeo-Christian tradition. Principle among this, as Nietzsche’s Geneology of Morals argues, is the difference in moral architecture.

In the Abrahamic faiths the universe is the site of a battleground between the forces of good and evil. History is a process of conflict between these forces that leads to an inevitable final battle which lays waste to the whole shebang. In Athens and Rome good was a path of moderation between extremes. In the former virtue is held to be the opposite of the nefarious: we are good because we are not them. Virtue comes by virtue of being and believing. The latter holds that virtue is an accomplishment. Its aim is to cultivate a self capable of enjoying life without over-indulging in its pleasure or giving in to depravity: emotions are mastered by reason.

I, myself, conceive of morality in this fashion. God writes laws of peace and the followers of God slaughter each other over the fine print. It’s crazy man. The pictures on this post are of the Great Mosque of Córdoba, now the Mezquita Cathedral. When the Catholics took back Spain they converted the infidel’s blasphemy into a house of God. And before that the Moors built a house of God on the site of the infidel’s blasphemy: the Visigoth St Vincent’s. Before that it was a pagan temple to what god I wouldn’t know. But you get the picture.

Over time you see it. As we change, our ideas of God or gods change. In pagan times God didn’t cause wars your god’s worth was adjudged by your success or failure in war. Then came the one true God and the laws of peace and people started using it as an excuse to bust skulls big time! Well, they tell me, it’s written. It’s written in the Talmud an eye for an eye. It’s been written ever since. Hitchens and Dawkins write it too. We are good. They are bad. Why? Because of what they believe. It’s written.

Personally I’ve never felt the touch of God in the words. I guess I’m a pagan throwback, Catholic naturally, I always found the images spoke more clearly. But still they were simply images as the Bible is simply stories. There’s nothing spiritually profound necessarily especially as they’ve been in the service of so much hatred. (And always it’s they that hate). But in a mosque, in a cathedral, in a Buddhist temple, a synagogue, on land held sacred by Aboriginal people – yeah. A temple has no hatred.



14 Oct

For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!


In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!


Whose stem impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!


God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!


Pueblo Adobe Apartments, Taos, New Mexico.
As painted by Arline Wagner