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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.

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UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

30 Mar

It seems to me the snake was telling the truth; God was lying. The woman says to the snake: we may eat of the fruit of any tree in the garden but that one. The one that lies in the centre of the garden. God tells us it’s bad for us, that it will kill us.

AdamandEve
“Adam and Eve”, 1528
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553)

And the snake says, “Oh sister, that’s horseshit. You eat the fruit from that tree and you’ll know things. You’ll be able to understand stuff. You’ll know the difference between right and wrong. That’s why the Old Bastard tells you not to eat it. He knows, you eat that and you’ll be like Him.

And so she eats it. And she gives it to the man and he eats it. He always does what she wants him to.

And they begin to understand. And what do they understand of themselves, man and woman? What do they do? They see each other naked and are ashamed of that. Of the poo and the goo and the in-out squishing noises; the feasting on each other’s flesh that never troubled them before. More than that she realizes she’s always spreading her legs even tho’ it doesn’t seem to feel half as good for as it does for him. They didn’t understand before, they just did it. And now the man understands he’s always doing what she wants and now she’s really gone and done it! How he longs to get back to his nice comfortable rut when he was happy and stupid. Well no more of this obedience shite, now he has to face brutal existential reality. From now on he’ll be picking much more the fruit of the hemp tree. And he better invent beer.

And now they have to work. (Or did they really always have to work they just didn’t understand what that means?) Now they feel pain (or did they always feel pain?) Now they understand: death is waiting for them.

Did God lie? Sure. Don’t we tell our children hyperbolous stories in order to prevent them from doing stupid stuff? How useful to how many parents over the aeons has the Boogie Man been? And sure the snake was telling the truth. I’m sure there are pedophiles skilled in the art of appraising children of the truth of parents’ white fibs in order to win their trust and lure them toward perdition.

In an older version of the story Eve is given a choice between the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. One brings immortality, the other understanding. She chooses, feminists like to say, because her man cannot. Did she make the right choice? Would she? Had she known she would be ashamed. And shamed?

It’s a story.

I’m amused and moved almost to pity when I see people fight for the literal interpretation of scripture. I understand. It makes things nice and simple, clear and easy to understand. How many times has the law fallen to disrepair because of the excessive deployment of interpretive metaphor?

It can be made to say anything! Thus cries the priest in Jesus of Montreal when confronted by a Passion play that deploys the actual facts (and lack thereof) concerning the actual life and death of one Joshua from the Sticks. That this Passion also expresses most beautifully the gift that Jesus bore is immaterial to the priest. It contravenes doctrine and therefore his cushy job in the Cathedral is threatened.

It’s a story. The truth is not the story, the truth is in the story. The story is simply a vessel for it. And like a child that’s been taught not to go wandering in the bushes for fear of the Boogie Man the story will morph and elaborate as s/he grows and ages. S/he’ll know that it was a lie yes, but one that fundamentally told the truth. Does that not make sense? What truth now in the Book of Genesis, second episode.

Modern people reading it will know better, if they wish. We have always known that the human female, unlike other animals, feels excruciating pain and is in actual mortal danger during child-birth. But we now know (if we wish) that this is the dual result of our relatively recent evolution to a bipedal mammal and the subsequent increase in brain size requiring of course larger skulls. Because of our large brains women suffer pain. The little brats, their heads are too big! It’s another story but it says the same thing: the pain in childbirth is consequence of our capacity for understanding. Different story, same basic truth.

Still the stories are different. They are composed in different times and told in different ways. In these differences there is also a truth, perhaps one that sits on a larger scale of existence.

What is the difference?

Well obviously we can forget all that palava about ‘shame’ (can we? should we?). Sex is natural, necessary and should be fun. We have thousands of years of contemplation of the subject (mostly by males). We have thousands of books, documentaries, internet soundbytes, magazine articles, newspaper items coming out every year (mostly by females). We have understanding. What we don’t have are the rituals and beliefs that create from all that a new idea of ‘the good life’ in this brave new world.

In the old stories the woman chooses, from willful wickedness or courageous determination (mostly willful wickedness). She knows not the consequences but more than anything she wants to know. It’s the artifact of a culture asserting the political rule of men, no more soap operas. It is the artifact of a culture that radically chooses to assert the primacy of monogamy and sobriety in sexual matters. No more bouncing from girl to girl. But the woman chooses. Within the old story an older story leaves an essential, now submerged, thread.

The story of the Fall of Man was originally a rebellion. Rebellion against the then dominant culture with its god-kings, its bedazzling religious spectacles, its rituals of blood and sex. In these scary creeds there is also an Original Couple. But they are gods. Human were not then worth remembering except if they were great kings who won a war. The Book of Genesis was a Book of Revolution. It declared that we were cosmically important. That our… what we moderns would call – ‘sexuality’, is not a giant force that drives us writhing into the maelstrom but the site of a virtue that the One True God commands.

Naturally we know that the pagan tale corresponds more with the facts as ascertained by science. But we are modern people, three thousand years after Moses, and we no longer feel the need for human sacrifice or blood soaked ritualistic orgies. Perchance our war with sex, waged over millennia has something to do with this? We understand. And understanding has cultivated our hearts, some of us. What is the literary difference between the Book of Genesis and the Theory of Evolution? In the old story the woman chose and we blame her: Eve the temptress! scowls St Augustine, Woman is defective and misbegotten shouts! St Acquinas. Let them die in childbirth! scoffs Martin Luther.

Is this perhaps more, perhaps a denial by the male animal in furtherance of controlling the sex instinct so wild in humanity? His sex instinct. For who is it that thinks most of the consequences on the brink of coitus? Who’s the one more likely to ask: is this a good idea? Defective? Misbegotten?

Canova
“Three Graces”, 1817
Antonio Canova (1757-1822)

Methinks they speak in denial. The early Christian women tried hard to accommodate the image. They dressed in bags and rags and had to mutilate themselves because sometimes the drab threads didn’t do much good. In CE 585 the bishops at the Council of M√Ęcon decided that , yes, women do have souls after all. The motion was carried by one vote.

What difference between the stories? We now know we did not choose. We know that that doesn’t matter – things are as they are regardless. We know we can’t blame women, that blaming women is surfeit of the bully instinct in the human animal, the result of the prime bleak fact of violence, and consequence finally of the male tendency to use their penises for thinking with. All this is to modern people banal, matter-of-fact. We know that that’s the way of it and what can you do? And we know, if we can face it, that we don’t know. We are like children who have grown up.

What has our tough adolescence made of us?

Lucasfriedeggs

Sarah Lucas, b. 1962
“Self-portrait With Fried Eggs”, 1996

COMIC BOOK

27 Mar

NewGodsKirby

New Gods cover, 1971
Jack Kirby (1917-1994)
America

VERITE’

3 Mar

nightsky

Reality, someone writes somewhere, is not made of atoms, it is made of stories. This is a double edged idea.

It can be a very terrible thing, a reality made of human words, where only the Word is real and anything incompatible with it is branded heretical, cause for the death of whomsoever casts doubts. But the doubts must be cast into words and so, for this terrible reality of words to manifest, such words must be restricted to something canonical and narrow. Some prescripted orthodoxy must be enforced by authority: these words here hold the sole key to reality but those words there, adversaries for a counter view, are the enemy of the one true righteous orthodoxy.

An enemy of righteous orthodoxy must use words. And those words can only come by reference to the world of atoms.

On the other hand, a world made of atoms, only atoms, is also a terrible thing. We are all reduced to nakedness. We are deprived of meaning; our thoughts, our actions, our ways of going about things – all will be regarded as the activities of a natural machine programmed to its destiny along certain fixed lines.

A dog, the scientists appraise us, does not feel love. We read love into its behaviour actually surfeit of no more than its instinct to run with the pack. Furthermore our lofty notions of this thing love are likewise pernicious superstition. Not only do we mistake animal behaviour for love because we assume that the dog is like us; we also harbour illusions about our real natures by sugarcoating them with notions like love. We assume we are not like the dog.

But naturally one needs words to cast such a view. We need them to organize the activities that lead to such discoveries of science. We require them when formulating and expressing the resultant ideology. The truth is the world is made both of atoms and words. Matter and spirit. And between them energy.

What has become of the human species two-hundred thousand years along the rope from ape to superman? Here we are at the dawn of a brave new world that is hollow at the centre. We lurk on a dangerous precipice tho’ we argue about what precipice that actually is. For some it’s the impending complete loss of freedom. Amongst those for whom that’s true there an ongoing bar-room brawl as to what freedom is, and what actually guarantees it. Others think the Earth is in danger of dying or killing us. No-one mentions war.

There’s other themes that weave thru this narrative. Cracked families, weird, predatory sex, drunkeness, drugs – the usual apocalypse-friendly material of streetside preachers quoting random scary bits of the Old Testament. At the heart of this is a desperate search for meaning in the endeavor to take part in an imagined struggle between good and evil, however conceived. To be good might compel some to move to the country and form communities autonomous of the modern economy. For others virtue requires a staunch adherence to traditional principles and so socialism, atheism and hedonism are rejected and stern attempts are made to re-assert the values of family, hard work and national pride. Many more, I’d wager, ignore the big questions but struggle for virtue as a family attempting to live in marital harmony as wise parents amidst a swamp of constant and unbelievable distractive temptation.

Some combine all the above and seek to reimpose on the world a culture which adheres strictly to the Word. In aid of this they wage a propaganda war on the theory and fact of evolution. They live in restricted communities and forbid their children Hollywood movies and sexual exploration. They take the Bible literally and violate the Golden Rule unconsciously. They have seen the great abyss implied by modern human knowledge of the cosmos and, in fear, back away instinctively.

Most of us don’t. Many of us reject traditional religion simply because it fails to cushion our souls the way myths have always done. Traditional religious mythology – mythology in the sense of ideas that hold us together, that form a belief system – doesn’t work for modern people. At the dawn of monotheism, I suspect many people saw the old pagan cults and their stories in the same way. They no longer made sense. Discovery in the world of atoms had rendered old stories obsolete.

Our hunter/collector ancestors knew by long empirical observation where certain animals were headed, what plain inedible-looking plants cured illness. Their religion did not give them that information. Instead said information and the consequent results became the foundation of a mythology that cushioned their souls. And underneath all this was the feeling; the instinct for the Infinite universal in the human animal.

Consider, what insights into the spirit world obtained when we first began to use fire regularly? At night under the intense starlight of the pre-urban landscape around a fire. How did it change the view of the Dark which had shrouded everything before? What changes in dreams manifested? A campfire illuminates your surrounds but blots out the night sky as well. Their stories changed. And beliefs. How long did it take?

To cast dreams into words is to make up the stories that make up the world. To create the Myth. To look at the world wide awake, ask questions and submit whatever answers that occur to you subject to the rigours of relentless doubt, that is science. When writing stories you explain the whole. When obtaining reliable knowledge about the way things are, you assume your own ignorance.

In one you must be careful not to let your imagination run wild. In the other you must be careful when running wild with your imagination. Religion does not replace science, it is born of dreams. Science is born in experience of the waking world. But only, here’s the rub, only as experienced after dreams have shown you something that isn’t real. To consider the material causes and effects you must be aware of alternative possibilities. Dreams make this possible.

Science is the light that the campfire casts into the night illuminating a circle. Now our light’s a bit stronger, that’s all. It penetrates a little further up into outer space. And even more of the night sky is invisible to us. We’ve hardly noticed, distracted in our towering electronica. Materially, it’s a brave new world. But spiritually, we are back in the days when fire was new and like then we have no real idea how this will affect our dreams and what stories will come of it.

NOTES ON A LIAR

10 Feb

I was in some marble Art Deco palace of an expiring railway station with a grubby ticket to somewhere in my pocket trying to keep my concentration whilst in company with F Scott Fitzgerald’s winding account of his falling apart when I looked up and saw him. Always fashionable in the way of a sleeping seaside resort during the last weeks of summer after the tourists have gone back to their work and their schools, before the Autumn brings the cold wind from the south. Fashionable, in that sense, in that place and time and never any other. His appearance, his crumpled but otherwise immaculate white shirt, his rubber sandals with a design bearing the unmistakable stamp of this fresh and ominous century. His hand-crafted New Age jewelry, the eagle pendant and the bracelet s’posed to evoke some Ancient Egyptian religious ceremony.

He was reading a large volume about births and death in France such as those who’ve turned to genealogical inquiry use when they’ve finally given up searching for what talent they imagined they possessed. I turned back to my book, unable to move as to do so would attract him and render a rendezvous unavoidable. Genealogy? France. Mmmph!

I could imagine what conversation would precipitate when our eyes finally met. He would inflict on me some story. Some Hugenaut ancestry perhaps? A Nevarrian nobleman who’d fled Paris with a serious wound after the betrayal following the betrothal of Margueritte de Valois to King Henry of Navarre. Obviously some hermetic fortune would be involved and my companion in his crumpled white shirt and batiq silk pants would grab my arm and tell me in all earnestness that he was the sole heir.

He didn’t look much older tho’ it’d been years since. How many? I’m not sure but I remembered meeting him on a fishing scow in the water west of Freemantle where he’d told me other stories. The one in which he’d discovered a Chagall at the Camberwell marketplace on Sunday morning. And tho’ it was preposterous that some flotsam in a rubber coat out here scraping fish off the deck was about to earn some eight figure sum at Sotheby’s I believed him at the time, for a time. His eyes were bright with sincerity. He looked a picture of virtue even if he did complain when told to get back to work. But then he told me about the Picasso discovered in a bookstore in Moe, the Leger sculpture spotted in a Collingwood junk store. About the lawyer that was holding it all. About how he was hiding out here and who he was hiding from. And, inevitably, his secret powers of healing, his second sight.

It required some effort to humour him and in the end I gave up and froze him out. There was a woman involved I remember. She and he had known each other some time before. The acquaintance was an unpleasant memory to both of them tho’ I never discovered the details. He warned me against her. The usual nips and pricks of the jilted. She couldn’t be trusted, he said, manipulative and a liar. Oh so rich coming from him. He said repeatedly she would cheat me. I can’t remember whether I broke with him before or after that brief and bitter encounter. Did I reject him out of hostility to what I imagined were lies told? Or was I angry because his lies obfuscated this time when he was finally telling the truth?

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF WOLVES

8 Feb

Sigismundo

This is Sigimundo de Malesta. He was Lord of Rimini, a small town up north of Rome on the eastern Italian coastline. Rimini’s current claim to fame is that it’s the place where Federico Fellini grew up. Sigismundo was born four-hundred and twenty-two years before Fellini. He wasn’t nice. They called him the Wolf of Rimini

He got that name much as the Mafiosi gets their handles. At the time he was what we would call a mercenary. The Italian sounds much nicer, as it would. Amongst his other exploits he’s said to’ve raped a 15 year-old boy in the view of those he commanded in battle. They cheered. The boy in question was a bishop and I s’pose this atrocity had something to do with Vatican intrigues. The Wolf was not, at first, part of the landed gentry, he was a professional soldier. And the Church was his main client. They called him The Wolf because he was good at what he did.

In Pulp Fiction there’s also a wolf: he solves problems. He doesn’t lose his temper, he’s considerate and urbane. He has character. He also knows how to cover up a corpse so that it’s undetected and never avenged. He’s not the only wolf. Little Red Riding Hood is eaten by a wolf. A wolf will blow your house down.

We apes have converted wolves into dogs and’ve almost wiped the original out. We can view them in zoos. We live our lives mostly never experiencing the instantaneous, irrepressable fear that comes of coming within the sweep of those yellow laser eyes. But should it happen to you one night, say, camping in some northern forest, you might not know right away why, but your body will remember its millions of years of evolution. Your heart will turn into an engine ready to do zero to whatever in about five seconds. And you will be lucky to get away without some technology to save you.

Of course the wolves have learned also in their bodies the consequences of our own deadly ways: this technology. They stay out of our way. But only now, two-hundred thousand years at least, after the first members of our species passed away, is the shadow the wolf casts upon our souls fading. Wolves are another word for evil.

Evil?

Boy-wolves don’t run out on their girls when they knock ’em up. They mate for life. They respect their elders, they love their kids. Within the pack they are true Christians. They almost never kill unless to survive. And then quickly, they are ruthless and thereby merciful killers. All without the need for what we call Culture.

We have feared wolves, but we have learned much from them. We have made them into our best friends and from thence into a myriad of noble and ridiculous forms. And we, after the 20th century, have learned disquieting things about our own natures; also about the natures of wolves and of chimpanzees and gorillas. We’ve discovered the bonobos, our closest relatives. (Sex maniacs!) We have observed and recorded and learned much. We have conducted experiments on them and on ourselves with the cruelest dispassion and our knowledge has expanded a million fold.

And of the private lives of wolves, to which we only recently gained access, we have discovered an exemplary idyll towards which we apes still struggle.

wolves

THE BASS PLAYER

27 Oct

bass

He thought he was the star, totally obnoxious. I guess he saw me as competition ’cause he’d have a go at me on a regular basis. He was basically witless and so it was easy to get him to pull his head in. Besides, he was shite! Totally. He started as a guitarist. He could do some chords, three of them. He switched to bass but he fucked that up too. I’m talking Sex Pistols songs! Didn’t matter. After finishing a few songs we’d stop and he’d start.

His legs splayed akimbo, thrusting his groin at everyone like he was Steve Tyler. He’d throw his hands out to an imaginary crowd and: “Yes! Yes the girls are all going wild for me!” He was serious. He’d run down his image for each of us. I always came last as ‘the ugly one everyone loves to hate’. That was when he was being charming. Once he was over, up in my bedroom and I’m trying to teach him the bassline to “Anarchy in the UK”. He just can’t get it. He’s wearing Dunlop Volleys without socks, it’s not a good smell. He decides to take them off. This is not a good smell either. That’s why he did it. Disgusting people was one of his favourite things.

You can guess the ‘friendship’ didn’t last long. The band didn’t last long either. The drummer, the keyboards. They were good guys. We were friends. But no-one could tolerate this Brian Jones arsehole. Well that’s not nice. Brian Jones could play. The band was doomed. Two heavy metal fans, one typical arty Bowie/Velvets fanatic and a dude who couldn’t play. Alone of all of us it was he who belonged at Phil Collins High. Still we went to the Bowie concert together. I wasn’t rated highly in the social marketplace.

A few years after all this the keyboard guy ran into me on the street. Let’s call him Mick. He was driving a battered white van down Boundary St and saw me. He’d dropped out of a science degree, worked a supermarket night shift for two years and then ended up an apprentice electrician for the council. He had funny stories mostly about guys that, via acts of the purest idiocy, became as one with the city’s power mains leaving a pair of smoking boots. He drove me back thru the old neighborhood. All the forest was gone replaced by cul-de-sacs and predesigned houses: Tudor, Tara, Roman villa and plain brick. From the place I’d lived (sold since) you’d have to walk an hour to get to the wilderness. I would’ve gone nuts.

He spent the evening at my place, the kind of Art Deco apartment ubiquitous in New Farm. Students could actually rent ’em then. A river view even, now they’d ask a million dollars. We got talking about so and so and so. We got around to the bass player. Dead. Overdose of anti-psychotic medicine. Seems all his obnoxious behaviour was the mixed result of a damaged psyche and the damage done by modern pharmacy to fix it. He’d been switching schools for years escaping from the social fallout of losing it. But the obnoxious mania wasn’t his fault. Had something to do with his father. Inside all that baffling egotism was a scarred heart trying, like a ‘drunk in a midnight choir’ to be loved.