Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pre Post-Net Declaration

By John

Well, it’s a long time between blog entries for me. I’ve got to get a number of poems up on the blog to link with a Niall Lucy essay that references them, and that is just appearing in the journal Derrida Today, published by Edinburgh University Press, so I might as well say a few words at the same time. I have been doing a lot of rethinking lately — not, as some neocon critics would like to see, to reform myself into a trudging maker of poem-artefacts that echo with creative-writing-encoded purity, but rather as extension of my views on environment and textual responsibility.

Some time early next year, I will be going off-line pretty well. I will have to maintain some computer access through my university research fellowship, and to communicate with students, but otherwise I am reverting to snailmail and a much diminished use of computer technology. I have been writing poetry in pen and on a manual typewriter since I was a kid, and once wrote entirely in pen and on a manual typewriter. I started using computers at a very young age and, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, used the first computer installed in a school in Western Australia (during the school holidays while it was being set up — in fact, I helped set it up), and started using computers for word processing back in the eighties. Anyway, it’s time to step off the techno bandwagon and revert.

A post-Luddite reaction? No, I am not advocating the smashing of computers (or anything), but ignoring them — the new weaving machines will simply vanish through neglect. I recently discovered, through Tracy’s genealogical researching, that my great-great-great-great-grandfather, and his father before him, and so on, back on my mother’s side, seem to have been frame-makers for weavers. The French heritage in the family comes via the frame-makers. Or maybe it was Flemish?

So, offline (largely), I guess I will tap Tracy for news of web goings-on as she will be remaining online. Next year, we hope to convert entirely to solar electricity for all household functions, and will likely have our own water supply. I will have a second manual typewriter and hope to start making my own paper of a reasonable enough quality to type on (and to last). I made paper with a mate back in the late eighties, but haven’t attempted to do so since then. As it’s law to keep the firebreaks done, I intend to mow them fairly wide and use the extensive cuttings from that as fibre for the paper-making. This shift in my relationship with the broader world will make a difference in my ‘literary life’ as well.

Some friends see it as a new form of eremitism, especially when combined with my abandonment of air travel (I will only now travel by car, bus, train or freighter — whichever is feasible and the less environmentally exacting), and reduction of travel in general. Tracy and I have even made steps toward reducing car usage in moving between country home and university (a long drive), but that’s another story. Maybe Tracy will talk about that on here next year. We’re adapting a different approach to movement, let’s say. There’s a long way to go, and it’s fraught with contradictions, but steps have to be made. It’s all very well writing about an ecology of place and of text (for that matter), but for me it’s essential to carry through to the pragmatics of day-to-day living.

A few asides. Just read Stendhal’s Lamiel, which despite its draft and unfinished status, is one of the strongest portraits by a male fictionalist of a female character ever written. (For Stendhal is a fictionalist — he NEVER wrote "novels" that were novels alone, and NEVER wrote pure non-fiction to my mind: his plagiarisms are a glorious extension of this ambivalence and textual undoing... and allowing myself to live in-parenthesis for a while longer, I will say that this post-modernist before modernism had taken hold, this engager with technology [the telegraph], this de-subjectifier of subjectivity, would necessarily have enjoyed the publication of his works in their incompleteness) I celebrate Lamiel!

Next year I am going to work on my new novel, Protest. Both Post-colonial and Morpheus will finally be appearing in 2009 with Papertiger Media with introductions by Nic Birns. Morpheus was written when I was seventeen-to-nineteen and resurrected (the word?) from manuscript archives by Paul Hardacre at Papertiger, and Post-colonial was originally drafted back in the mid-nineties after my time living on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, but reworked many times since then.

The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry is out in January 2009 — took most of this year and half of last year to sort. An exhausting but fascinating project.

The poet I am spending most time with at the moment is George Herbert. I returned to his work via ‘The Starre’.

Oh, and finally, I am going to post a couple of long poems I wrote four or so years ago when in Ohio. These poems are diatribes and are more about content than function, but nonetheless, I stand by what they’re attempting to do. And given the title of this blog, I thought the ‘mutual aid’ aspect of them pertinent!

Mutual Aid: a counter-epic (Parts 1 & 2)

by John Kinsella

'...[A] lecture "On the Law of Mutual Aid," which was delivered at a Russian Congress of Naturalists, in January 1880, by the well-known zoologist, Professor Kessler, the then Dean of the St. Petersburg University, struck me as throwing a new light on the whole subject. Kessler's idea was, that besides the law of Mutual Struggle there is in Nature the law of Mutual Aid, which, for the success of the struggle for life, and especially for the progressive evolution of the species, is far more important than the law of mutual contest. This suggestion -- which was, in reality, nothing but a further development of the ideas expressed by Darwin himself in The Descent of Man – seemed to me so correct and of so great an importance, that since I became acquainted with it (in 1883) I began to collect materials for further developing the idea, which Kessler had only cursorily sketched in his lecture, but had not lived to develop. He died in 1881.'

and later in the introduction:

'The importance of the Mutual Aid factor -- "if its generality could only be demonstrated" -- did not escape the naturalist's genius so manifest in Goethe. When Eckermann told once to Goethe -- it was in 1827 -- that two little wren-fledglings, which had run away from him, were found by him next day in the nest of robin redbreasts (Rothkehlchen), which fed the little ones, together with their own youngsters, Goethe grew quite excited about this fact. He saw in it a confirmation of his pantheistic views, and said: -- "If it be true that this feeding of a stranger goes through all Nature as something having the character of a general law -- then many an enigma would be solved.'

from Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution — Peter Kropotkin, 1902


The suggestion is modernist aesthetics — in part —
with pre-modernist technology. Hand-made paper,
enough wood to build a dwelling,
food grown communally.
To compose on the computer
would become vestigial memory,
an archetype separated from its separated
signifier. Science would be abandoned
in favour of science: local, specific,
healing. Curiosity would be tethered
instead of the beast, though a sunset
or a flower in its short display
would provoke endless contemplation,
even discussion. Dandies on the pavements
would take the tracks between fields,
paths through forests no longer felled
by machines and men who claim
there’s no other way to make a living.
The tofu-maker, the soap-maker, the broccoli
and sugar snap pea grower, the paper-maker,
the storm-fallen wood collector, the composter,
the recycler, the forge for small works of iron,
people pulling their own ploughs on shared lands
where no one is master or mistress,
where belief is without power
to make others believe,
where the smoke of fires
for cooking and warmth
won’t finish off the atmosphere
because no factories no cars
are pumping out their crap, and only
the odd train or ambulance makes use of tracks
and roads kept up like gold, once worshipped
as just a glimmer that fuelled false economies
that could never add up. In letting the edges
of things grow out into the waste spaces,
and the cow and sheep become the cow and sheep again,
occupying their respective spaces and not vast
areas of land that should never have been cleared,
where an animal is an animal and not a pharmaceutical
laboratory that prolongs human life so it can collectively
witness the collapse of the entire biosphere,
living long enough to enjoy the apocalypse
whichever prophecy you live by, deny, or ignore.
Try walking the plough lines without fences,
try gender liberation without General Electric
who did much more than all of French theory
or American liberationists who only existed
because of General Electric, try sharing out time
and work and thinking space without power sources:
liberation will be genuine and not exploitation
dressed up as something better. Try any form
of social progress without the “contribution
to the modern nation” which never holds up anyway
and is quickly and not-so-quietly rebuffed
or repressed or even consumed
by a moral majority: another lie of democracy
that represents only those doing the representing.
The majority’s false majority making degrees
of separation a perversity, an irony
when it’s the majority who hate perversity
so much. Try it without armies and police forces
and yes, even traffic lights. Try it without weapons.
Flights of birds are worth noticing. As are anemones
on reefs close to shore, as you walk onto the kelpy
wash, just leaving things be. The light is revelatory
here at any time of day in any kind of weather.
Light is pure physics and the distance
from the sun, the play of other cosmic forces,
is an active part of our day, our looking.
If the scrub and dune growth are left untouched
the sandhills won’t drift inland in the same way.
There is something to be said for a co-existence
where natural barriers protect you from the worst
of things, often. The body predicts the weather
if you listen closely. Rings around the moon
are common knowledge in the small community.
Etymology is the growth of the word
on the fringes of communities,
an exchange of languages.
The song is carried across
lines of distance like red sap
down the craggy bark of eucalypts.
Observations taken from high ground resonate
through a district, and field trials
don’t glow more than the sky around the hills.
Bats hacking air around the caves
rise up like prayers without conversion,
and neighbours are not tamed by them.
Slippage of snow and desert sand
is anecdotal and tough in air-conditioned
modernity: people are still, and moving,
and both pass by each other
as weather and conditions
change. Erosion on the tree-line
that seems so bound when clearing ends
and salinity is in retreat, is noticed
by the child visiting day after day into old age.
Lacrimae rerum is music
in leaves mapped to this place:
roots adjusting, at their own pace?


People can belong where they are. They
can belong in more than one place. Place
need not be damaged by their belonging;
nor people in that place displaced.
None of this is mutually exclusive.
Culture is the contrivance of marginalisation.
Democracy makes culture of other peoples’ spaces.
Nocturnal animals in the forest
are hard to track — they mostly keep to the branches.
The researchers out with their spotlights
give themselves employment. Research
is consumerism and the sci-fi “urge” that excuses
all investigation. Rumour has it,
they defined their humanity
by differing versions of colonisation.
You’ll listen if you want to hear it,
unless the language persuades
that language is enough,
against personal preference.
What moment in childhood
made you go like this?
Stamp collecting? Buying
your first weapon — a Norica air-rifle?
The smell of soldering flux
like cold teeth and accidents;
the intense itch of buffalo grass
and the wondering why
next door had softer grass;
jagged splinters from climbing
the grey wooden picket fences;
unearthing tiny potatoes
from a vegetable patch
left for years; smoking
rolled up newspaper;
crushing cans in a vice;
the work-in work-out
motivation of a pedal car
grinding across blue metal
hacked out of the hills
leaving a massive wound
that will never be healed;
the chemical structure
of glow-in-the-dark ghosts
when they first hit the market;
doing bob-a-jobs for cub scouts
and wondering why you’d want to worship
your Auntie Jackie as head of the pack;
turning your bookshelves
into a library and getting entangled
in the Dewey Decimal system;
being fascinated by lichens,
toadstools, mushrooms, and puff balls;
unravelling the wirework
of those corner bush generators,
the magneto flowers of the banksia,
apposition of gnarled bark and sublimely
intricate stamens; the possibilities
of test tube, florence flask,
conical flask, u-tube, eye-melt
of magnesium ribbon,
the dissolution of flowers;
the dynamics of a Coke bottle
with possible prize printed in crimped lid
exploding in the freezer;
indelible pencils and fountain pens
with swirls of plastic representing shell
and books of Malay written in these
in the bottom drawer of the kitchen
built-in cabinet; the Mettler stove;
the Wonderheat; the slabs of glass
slices of heat blackening
in the jarrah burn-off,
the bite then split
along the seams of the forest —
pit saws, water-spray backpack
with canvas webbing;
records of the growth rates of trees;
Sidchrome spanners; grease guns;
jacks for trucks; an oil pit;
a well without a pump: so deep
you remember it being dug;
sheep killed and frozen.
a kangaroo eating the phosphated grass;
a guinea pig bitten by a redback
with hair against the grain
no matter which way you rubbed;
quails in aviaries with their perfect
grounded eggs; parrots
caged from the northern wheatbelt;
shell grit, cuttlefish, squid jags;
the smell of the visiting Craven A
cigarette salesman who didn’t smoke
himself; Airfix glue and Humbrol paint
cocktailing biorythmically,
making the heart faster
in the dark: spitfires, mustangs,
stukas in the ethical mosh-pit;
Sly and the Family Stone,
Elton John’s Crocodile Rock,
Nana Mouskouri and black and white rags,
Für Elise and Moonlight Sonata,
Elvis Presley, poster-boy;
Das Kapital; God and the State;
back door-handles turning
at night; a boarder’s easy skankin
Bob Marley; gun-cotton and the colours
of burning; whale-oil-soaked burley;
spear-fishing? Sex on the roof of a Simcar?
Combat and war movies watched religiously,
and Charlton Heston as large as life — later —
around Columbine. He is aware that the Hawks
want to go into Iran, might already be in Iran
according to the article about to appear in the New Yorker,
who laments... almost wistfully, his Moses
off-side for a split second... that the civil rights
battles of the 50s had to be endured at all.
Age is no deterrent. Michael Moore
is also a victim of his own patriotism.
The growing of feed is an aid to futurity.

1 comment:

Nathan Hobby said...

A fascinating post, jk. I was hoping to find more posts here, not less. I think principled withdrawals, refusals to co-operate with the system like yours are the sort of thing that could change the world. Unsurprisingly, some people in the anabaptist sphere have taken similar stances. (Perhaps taking the cue from our amish cousins.)