Monday, December 29, 2008

Snake encounters

By Tracy; photos by John

The hooded gwarder was back yesterday, right near the house this time.
It slid into the outside edge of the (snake-proofed) playground fence...

...and along the tiles under the window at which I'm now typing.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wheatbelt Gothic — an aside

By John

At the Wheatbelt Cultural Festival held at Northam recently, I was asked by the brilliant and much censored artist Tim Burns, who works out of York (and with whom I hope to work with in the future), what are the origins of my wheatbelt gothic. He wondered about American writers ranging from Poe through Tennessee Williams to Carson McCullers? I wondered about recent American films like The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) or No Country for Old Men (2007), which came many years after I first used the expression “Wheatbelt Gothic”, but are now certainly at the back of my mind when talking about the potential for (American) film “influence” on a an Australian wheatbelt gothic, as much as say Bunuel’s and Dali’s Un Chien Andalou (1929) imagined on a wheat and sheep farm near the Meckering faultline...

While Poe is a definitive influence on my idea of a wheatbelt gothic, and certainly Poe via Baudelaire, both Tracy and I responded (Tracy had just read aloud to the audience a Dorothy Hewett poem, at my request), that it surely sources in the work of Dorothy Hewett. This was no doubt originally subconscious in me, but as I have spent my life (from the time I was a small boy — my Mum was taught by Dorothy at university) woven through Dorothy’s work, I think this is true.

Certainly from the problematics of “Legend of The Green Country” through to “Summer Idyll” (which was the poem Tracy read our at the Festival). But when I originally wrote “Wheatbelt Gothic or Discovering a Wyeth” back in 1992 (it appeared in my 1993 book Full Fathom Five), it came out of being on the farm, walking in paddocks distant from the house, during the evening, following the fenceline back as darkness fell, and literally hallucinating galleries of “Western Art” — from Wyeth through to Hopper through to Gothic and even Gothic revival architecture. In the Wyeth original, "Christina" has a longing for the house she is struggling to reach, but inevitably will reach, in its barren field. In writing my poem, I was more concerned about the denuded landscape and the intrusion of the coloniser — house in the painting, "property" and the materials of farming in my poem (fences, sheeprun etc) — than about the willpower of the individuated "figure in the landscape" (the woman in the Wyeth, and also in my poem). It’s a poem lamenting and critiquing dispossession rather than the passions and drives of "possession". Thus "ubi sunt motif"...

This sounds odd, but back then I was still suffering heavy bouts of flashbacks, and had learnt to control the cascading colours by using an aesthetic framework — poems, paintings, films, whatever. The tension between a haunting (as style, as reality) and an almost perverse spiritual affirmation, was unresolvable. The people in my life formed part of the images, as did the reality of wheatbelt farming methods, land damage (and attempts to restore land), the conflict between condemning the colonised and being part of the colonisation, and an overwhelming consciousness that the land was marked in ways I couldn’t see or determine but intuitively or maybe intellectually knew.

Wheatbelt Gothic is style built out of damage and theft, a struggle to keep “good order” when the “natural” rebels and resists one’s presence with all possible means and contradictions. Wheatbelt Gothic is a restoration of agency within the lies of text. It is an attempt to awaken from a nightmare of Western colonisation and destructiveness that is part of who the/an observer might be. It can only be written out of a resistance to colonial heritage. A poem is a piece of propaganda — it is not a reality. It is made lifeless through its own style. Wheatbelt Gothic is a recognition of this, an attempt to restore vibrancy through recognising and participating in decay.

The wheatbelt is a large region and yet it is specific and varied in so many ways. The moment one uses a catch-all expression, it diminishes the micro. Wheatbelt Gothic is an ironising of its own generalities and thus the poems concentrate so much on specifics. Types of, precise points in time and space. The generative force behind it is, however, phantasmagorical. Sense is in superstition and fear, not the confidence of feeling good when the crops are glowing green. Real people are nowhere to be seen but they make it what it is, and receive its bounty and desiccations. The sheep are drenched and intestines cleansed.

So much poetry does this and convinces us it’s best for our health. It’s not so much that I can’t celebrate, it’s just that I want to know what the implications of such a celebration are. Yes, Tim, as Proudhon noted, "Property is theft". And so much poetry, art, and music are theft as well. The most ‘original’ work is often the most property-like. We can only be custodians, and it is incumbent on all to recognise larger, more concentrated, and more defined custodianships. Wheatbelt Gothic is a style that allows for an observation of these considerations — it has no materiality, no claim.

Another view from Jam Tree Gully

By Tracy

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A View from Jam Tree Gully

By Tracy and John

Place filled with jam trees and York gums, though still needing much replanting, especially of undergrowth, and particularly in the deep gully area... (For more on wheatbelt trees, see here.)

There are also granite boulders, and extensive areas of fractured and fragmented granite, and kangaroos pass through from the neighbouring reserve.

Here is a brief excerpt from a work-in-progress of John's. It is "based" on the 1829 text of Thomas Lovell Beddoes's Death's Jest-Book, edited by Michael Bradshaw.

John says: Readers of Beddoes's original "drama" will note much interleaving and reworking of Beddoes's original lines, but often with an antithetical application and outcome in terms of poetics and meaning. In many ways, this section of the original has been inverted with regard to the multiple and variegated death motifs. Irony, though busy elsewhere in my work, as it is throughout Beddoes, is relatively absent in the following extract. (Though not entirely!)

An extract from Death’s Jest-Book Intertext (1829 text): a de-dramatisation (out of Beddoes)
Act III, Scene III

...I am guided
into a second gully, Jam Tree Gully,
where divinely beautiful pyrite-
riven soil spills eventful
as unexpected night
falling on us — a cloud covering the sun:
the land shone tense with shining.
They called it Sleepy Hollow
and horses made paths on the hill.
First thing, down with the electric fences,
away with the steer and ram skulls
on the gate, and a declaration to the valley
that we are alive, my wife,
and the gully will fill with prayer
and roots and change the colour
of the sky. The beasts pass by.
The colour of night
is the colour of our day,
and never again will I say,
abandon this ungrateful country,
its relics of wasp nests
its fracturings of granite
its sepulchral radiance
its shadows and requitals.
The lichen blazons.
The moss soothes.
The rough ground is a place
of growth and we joyfully
oversoul creation. No desolate souls,
no trackless expressions. Dust
clings and reshapes
with unrestrained passion.
The valley is full of eyes,
desiring eyes bargaining dreams.
Nature comes back.

John Kinsella

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Vegan "Pirate" Party, Part Two

By Tracy

Sequel to previous post, showing Vegan Gingerbread Pirates

and Vegan Choc-Vanilla Pirate Ship, no weapons on board, port and starboard view...

Getting it down to the school was interesting, especially on a hot day, but we made it.

(The cake is not only vegan but free of artificial colourings.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Vegan "Pirate" Party, Part One

By Tracy

Tim's pre-primary class has got their end-of-term party tomorrow, and the theme (which has been their theme all term) is "Pirates".

I've made some vegan sausage rolls, courtesy of this vegetarian blog which carries some vegan recipes, and am in the process of decorating a vegan pirate cake and gingerbread pirates -- more photos to follow...

We've been very lucky with open-minded and sympathetic teachers for both our kids, in terms of respecting the choice not to eat meat or animal products, visit zoos, etc. Nonetheless, mainstream schooling has its challenges for the anarchist pacifist vegan -- I think ours might turn out to be the only pirate ship cake with no guns, cutlasses or cannons...

Likewise for the superhero thing that seems to grab the imagination of pre-primary kids, certainly the boys if not the girls. Too many of these toys and related items promote aggression -- not only in theme but sometimes in actuality, e.g. superhero toys that shoot real little projectiles (I wonder how these pass safety standards, anyway?).

Tim likes Superman and Spiderman because "they don't have weapons" (at least in the versions he knows of them -- he is too young to watch the movies!).

In any case, at the moment, they are taking a back seat to his real current obsession: ACDC.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

On Anarchism: Part One

Tracy Ryan interviews John Kinsella on Anarchism

Transcript of talk given in 2004 at the State Library of WA, originally with introductions by Professor Bill Louden (formerly ECU), and anarchist activist Mar Bucknell.

There are many different historical aspects of anarchism, some of which you would probably define yourself against. And I’m thinking particularly of the aspect of violence. So I’m going to start with a quote that I will run by John, that I read recently in a post-graduate French course studying Sartre’s play Les Mains sales, in which a lecturer gave the following definition for the benefit of students.

“An anarchist is a person (this is a very dated definition) who seeks to overturn by violent means all constituted forms and institutions of government and society, with no aim of establishing any other system of order in place of that destroyed.”

So, what I’m going to ask John is, Would you comment on that definition and perhaps contrast it with your own understanding of what an anarchist or anarchism might be?

Today I don’t want to get into an historical discussion of anarchism. I don’t want to regurgitate nineteenth-century anarchists, but Malatesta made a great point about anarchism being the abolition of government and not the abolition of society, and I kind of concur with that. The replacement of governing institutions and hierarchical bodies of control with co-operative, with mutual aid organisations, people interacting to support each other. It’s a very viable and practical alternative to me, if not the only alternative. So from the start what I’m talking about is a world without government, and not a world without social institutions or interactions. Institutions is the wrong word – social interactions. I think that’s extremely important.

Obviously I would say (agree with others) that such a definition was absurd. A dictionary definition that’s very convenient, immediately isolates, and removes any debate about anarchist issues. Anarchism isn’t, and from the most aggressive anarchists I’ve never heard it put as, simply a violent overthrow of the state with nothing in its place; that’s nihilism and not anarchism. I’m a pacifist above and beyond everything else, and veganism, the kind of non-use and non-abuse of animals, is the basis of my anarchist thought. I start from there and move out. So an anarchist’s world is one in which animals are equal, if you like, as much as humans.

The very starting point of a violent overthrow is not possible from my point of view. I don’t believe in “revolution as such”; I believe in change by example. And I’m going to be referring, as I know Tracy will as well, to a guy named Colin Ward. This is a book of his just come out called Talking Anarchy. Colin Ward is an interesting British anarchist, who is very much involved in architectural solutions to housing for people. And his anarchism is a very pragmatic and a very practical anarchism that works within the context of the existing state. He believes that the state can be best changed by good example. So if you behave in a way that’s better than the government is behaving, then people will gradually see that as a viable alternative to living, living communally. There is a lot I disagree with in Ward, but that basic principle I really do agree with. So, just as a starting point for this, I totally reject any kind of violent overthrow of anything – it seems a contradiction in terms to me.

We are working towards a better world of egalitarianism and equality especially in terms of what people have or don’t have. Then the moment you introduce violence, you are introducing a hierarchy already. Violence is the ultimate form of hierarchy. It’s the most controlling form of hierarchy. I would argue that many actual actions, ethically, cancell out any positive results. And I think that is a very personal view, as I said, that comes out of pacifism and veganism. That’s where I start.

Thinking about that better world you mentioned and looking at the quote that we have there which is from God and the State, where Bakunin says “the liberty of man consists solely in this, that he (and he says ‘he’ because he is using the word ‘man’) obeys natural laws because he has himself recognised them as such, not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic world whatever, divine or human, collective or individual”.

Now what I’m going to ask you about that is the following: Many people find it hard to believe that a human being can or would follow what Bakunin calls “natural laws” without the existence of the whole paraphernalia that polices, punishes, regulates them and so on.

So this is linked to the popular beliefs that anarchism means “chaos”, that if we didn’t have those things we wouldn’t do the right thing.

There are a few questions coming up here that are kind of related. What do you make of the common complaint that anarchism as an idea is too optimistic or utopian? Does it rely too much on the concept of human goodwill and altruism? Is it naive, vis-à-vis the selfishness and the violence we see enacted around us daily, I mean in the world that is, rather than the better world? A similar accusation is often made regarding pacifism, you know, people say: if we try it, will all the pacifists be wiped out straight away? So I’m kind of playing devil’s advocate here, and asking John – is it too optimistic to think this way?

Well, no, you see, I don’t see anarchism as utopia. I see it as something incredibly realisable. Speaking of Malatesta again, he also made the point – you can’t expect us all to know what will happen after changes come. He said after revolution – as I’ve already indicated, it’s a term I have a lot of problems with for all sorts of reasons, which might become evident as we go on. But certainly the point is that people and things find their own level of interaction. The basic principle of mutual aid, which is fundamental for understanding anarchist thought, is that people naturally help each other because it is in their best interest to help each other, and when Kropotkin wrote about mutual aid, he looked at the false nature of the Darwinian model in which people compete to beat each other, which is the system capitalism is based on, and basically, eventually, some of the strongest will survive and conquer. The other way of looking at it, he makes the point, is that animals have always had to work together to survive in their communities, and he gives interesting examples of that.

This kind of mutual aid is fundamental not only to the existence of animals, but to the existence of humans. We don’t have a policeman sitting watching over us – we might have in the audience! – we don’t have someone policing in this room, and we are sitting here listening to an argument we may not agree with. However, basic mutual aid is there in the sense of co-operating together to actually hear something, and maybe express ourselves at the end... People can interact, people can respond in a responsible way towards each other without being told to do so, and the idea is that without governing bodies, without the judiciary, without the different constabulary, without the kind of legislature and these kind of things, we can actually do this anyway. So there is a very practical side, certainly, to the anarchist thought that I’m interested in.

The other thing is that, apart from these “what will happen” scenarios, the idea that we are fundamentally good and not bad drives my thought. Many people say that a lot of the stuff I write about seems very negative. Well, negative in the sense that I criticise things I see as wrong. I see the treatment, the locking-up of refugees as wrong, I see the war in Iraq as wrong – I can list the whole series of wrongs I feel. My subjective take on it is one thing, but fundamentally what is being talked about here is an ethical way of living. Now, you may have very different ethical views, but at the same time you have some form of ethical system where you denote good and bad, and I think intrinsically people have that ability, and I don’t think it’s a class ability, and I don’t think it’s something you are taught. I think it’s very inherent. I think that in the same way that an animal is neither good nor bad, they are – I think that humans are neither good nor bad, they are inherently good because of that – if you know what I mean. You can have both because both exist in you; goodness exists in you as well.

So my kind of take on it comes from an ethical standpoint, and Bakunin is a problem for me in a variety of ways. I strongly believe that many ills of the world have come about because of the abuses of science. I have no problem with the accumulation of knowledge and the use of knowledge; I do have a problem with the systematising of knowledge, when knowledge is used to create a hierarchy, and science more than anything else has created hierarchy. You know the addiction of discovery isn’t always to benefit human kind; it’s to benefit the ‘discoverer’ or the ‘culture’ of discovery – the actual pleasuring of discovery – to ‘enlighten’ becomes to fetishise... in a marketed sense to add value to science. Now Bakunin recognised the irony of science but he still, like many anarchists in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, and indeed some people I would consider having very similar views who were involved with Freedom Press in Britain, strongly support/ed the kind of scientific approach to an anarchist solution.

So they say that when the government is gone, what we will have is a kind of knowledge, science will continue and the hospitals will be hospitals, and so on. And I have a more agrarian view of the world, and I think that society would naturally break down into smaller component parts. They are talking about a decentralised world, obviously, but I’m talking more literally about a very small component part, a very agrarian kind of anarchism.

I believe in direct contact and preservation of the land, and I think the only way you can do that is by actually understanding what the land physically is. Bakunin makes this very interesting point, and I strongly disagree with it. He says “What I preach then is, to a certain extent, the revolt of life against science, or rather against the government of science, not to destroy science – that would be high treason to humanity – but to remand it to its place so that it can never leave it again.” On one level he is talking about the fact that governance isn’t just literally the bodies that govern us; it’s the way systems operate, and science becoming a system, the kind of move towards cloning a human being isn’t about the survival of the human species, it’s about a kind of value-adding to humanity, which is a very big problem for me. Bakunin is challenging that, as he would if he was standing here, I imagine, challenge the art of cloning and these sort of things. But he is still reserving a place for science as rational. Science for him is rationality; it’s an Enlightenment thing, and he believes very much in a kind of logic. Anarchism for Bakunin was a very logical thing. His logic extended to violent revolution – mine doesn’t, and that’s where we strongly part; but it’s an interesting point.

Science, rational science, as we see it practised, has a lot of problems of course for the vegan, in ways that are perhaps obvious; and also, thinking of mutual aid, there is a kind of implicit recognition there, even if it’s not followed all the way through, of the relation between animals and humans, because he’s arguing that it’s not only in the competitive sense that we draw on our animal origin, but also in a sense of mutual aid.

Thinking about veganism: in my experience, many people, if they have heard of veganism and know what it is, believe it to be a dogmatic and authoritarian type of outlook. This may be partly a fear of difference, because it is potentially threatening to meet someone whose lifestyle implicitly rejects your own, and especially when it comes to food, because eating together is such a communal activity, some feel very rejected by someone who doesn’t eat the same.

But it’s also true that some vegans are very loudly critical of non-vegans and may appear to be rigid and fanatical. Could you comment on this image – how it squares with your own personal outlook, and also with your anarchist beliefs, because that kind of rigid authoritarian stance would be directly in opposition to anarchism.

One of the things that has always disturbed me in talking to fellow anarchists is that as soon as you mention that you are a vegan, most anarchists I’ve known haven’t been vegans or vegetarians – some have, but most haven’t – the objection has been that you’re imposing just another authority, another kind of hierarchy. But if you see an equality between animals and humans as a starting point, it’s not possible to have a hierarchy of imposition or declaration in that ‘equation’, and that’s the way I see it.

One of the scariest moments of my life when I was at Cambridge, where I lived part of the year, was when I met my first vegan straight-edge. He was a young guy and he had engraved in his arm a statement – it wasn’t “meat is murder” but it was something very similar – he did have some line from the Smiths on his arm, and I got talking to him. He went through his list of absolute ‘don’ts’, including no sexual activity – basically it was no pleasure on any level, and intellectually I can appreciate where he was coming from, I could see there was a kind of abstaining that was almost the ultimate control, and I can respect that even if I don’t subscribe to it.

But where I don’t agree is that he said basically: those of my friends who have betrayed us have been branded, physically with a branding iron, and I said to him, “That’s not a vegan activity. Vegan activity is not to damage or utilise or abuse any animals, humans included, for your benefit or for any other purpose.” And he said, “No, we don’t see it that way. We see the only way of creating a revolution against the damaging and hurting of animals is to be really strict and rigid in our thinking.” I could see where he was coming from, but it immediately defeated the ethics of his veganism, for me.

Near Cambridge there is something called Huntingdon Life Sciences, which is the main place for animal vivisection and animal research, and straight-edgers have been very prominent in direct action against this, literally breaking into it and damaging it and so on. Now I can understand, and in my younger years I was involved in direct action against property, but I learned that this can develop its own hierarchies of behaviour and overwhelm itself with contradictions. I have felt over the years that violent direct action – even against property – delays but doesn’t solve... I was prepared to try anything to resist and challenge what I considered to be state-imposed oppressions. I thought, well, maybe it’s worth trying. Mostly it was yelling and screaming at the tools of state and corporate capitalism, which I was very inclined to doing, certainly around the time I met my anarchist friend, Mar Bucknell. When I met with Mar and ‘his’ group in Fremantle, it was a really amazing experience. I had all this intellectual stuff, I had read all this stuff and I thought – this is where I’m at, this is what I think. But what struck me with these people and what deeply interested me in them – even though my behaviour was reprehensible and I apologise to them for my nihilism at the time – was their dedication to idea and action operating in tandem. Everything had to be discussed and worked through as a group of individuals. A consensus operated, as opposed to my individualised martyrdom for what I believed to be right.

This is going back how many years?

This is twenty or twenty-one years ago, it would be 1983/84; and as Mar told me at the time I was a nihilist, not an anarchist. I just wanted to basically remove everything that was a problem very rapidly. What interested me about this group was that they actually had practical solutions. They had this wonderful newsletter (and this is how I discovered them, when someone gave me a newsletter, New from Nowhere) where I saw this thing about someone who was in academic life, who was an anarchist, who’d drawn up this plan for a possible agrarian commune – with practical outcomes like ‘that’s where the water-tank should be’ – the kind of background information needed, and it made sense and it was very practical and I loved that practical side to it. These guys were very practical – direct action to them was something that was mediated by a kind of a longer view of things and that impressed me. Although I didn’t fit in, because I wasn’t capable of fitting in with anyone, pretty well, at that stage, I have thought about it over the last ten years and tried to put a lot of those things into effect.

Go to Part Two

On Anarchism: Part Two

Continuing John Kinsella interviewed by Tracy Ryan (State Library WA, 2004)

I want to pick up on that idea you just mentioned – at that phase of your wanting everything to be sort of gone, destroyed, whatever. The anarchist writer, Colin Ward, whose book you have already mentioned, suggests that the people who most readily attack the ideology of non-violence are those with little experience of the ugliness, squalor, and arbitrary nature of violence, so he’s saying those who say that non-violence doesn’t work are the ones who really haven’t had much to do with violence. Could you comment on how your witnessing or experiencing of violence may have influenced your vegan, anarchist, pacifist beliefs? I’m thinking of poems of yours like “Shootings”, in which you write about early experiences with animal death on farms, but also of any other experiences that you felt were crucial.

I was pretty aggressive. I had a major substance and alcohol problem for a long time and I was an aggressive person, and I tried to deal with things very directly, and very ineffectually, in the long run – I certainly learnt that. I suppose having a sense of aggression about you makes you think about it generally, but more than that, I grew up shooting everything. I had guns, and on the farm – when I sent and spent time there – it was considered to be what you did; you literally went out and collected trophies, and that kind of trophyism was a very big part of my life up to age sixteen. I shot everything that walked, crawled and flew – that’s what I was. I shot the things I liked the most, I loved “twenty-eight” parrots, they were beautiful; I shot them because they were there, and what was disturbing about this was that I actually understood what I was doing. I wasn’t some kid who was conditioned to this; I pursued it as an art form because it struck me that it was a kind of masculine thing that someone who was very directly non-masculine as a kid could do.

It struck me as a way of kind of identifying with that part of the culture I was invited into, so it was that kind of violence, and I stopped this because of two incidents – one when I saw an animal chew off its forepaw because it was entrapped and it chewed off its entire limb trying to escape; and the second was when I hit a ram driving past a ute on this gravel road near the farm. I was actually eighteen when that happened – I was farm-minding at the time. I shouldn’t have been driving, but that’s another issue – I hit a ram that ran out and fell over a fence and ran just in front of the vehicle, and it had a broken neck, and I was terribly distraught, as I didn’t know what to do with this animal, and I shot it in the head and killed it, and pretty well everything changed for me from that period on. It took a while before I became a vegan, but that kind of event really stood out.

Also as someone involved in that kind of lifestyle of drugs and alcohol, I saw a lot of violence, a lot of serious violence, and it used to repulse me. So my activity against violence, my pacifism has come from experience rather than from just a concept. I have experienced a lot of violence as an addict, but also since cleaning up my act — as a pacifist being physically challenged for being a pacifist. Being tested. People are so affronted by non-violence, it’s even a far more effective device than violence anyway, and if you want to bring change, you can bring it most effectively by not biting back. So my non-violence is something that’s come through a kind of fire if you like, and there are many other things I’ve seen over the years that confirm that, especially in other countries – that I won’t go into, but I’ve been involved in the middle of things on a number of occasions where people have been literally fighting with guns and stuff. I found myself in the middle of battle in the mid-‘80s and saw people shot. It changes you.

Your veganism connects you in other ways to the environment. We heard Mar [Bucknell] say earlier (in an introduction to this interview) how anarchists recently have been involved with the tuarts at Ludlow (actions to protest against the sand-mining of an area of rare and endangered tuart forest near Busselton in south-west Australia); we also heard, in a previous lecture in this series, about your concerns for the environment, in the forest lecture. Is an anarchist necessarily an environmentalist, and what forms of action then, or attitude, might that take?

I’ve not met any anarchist who is not an environmentalist, but as Colin Ward points out, they are most often environmentalists of the urban. Certainly in the London anarchist groups, as you would expect, in the British anarchist groups, they are very urban-centred, big populations in urban places, and Colin Ward talks about the urban environment as someone who is concerned about how people are housed; it’s a very important thing to him. I have an interest in that, but I am very much what you would call a ecological environmentalist. After I gave the forest lecture I went down to the tuart forest, and it’s the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen; this is a set-up, it’s not even owned incidentally by Cable Sands, it’s owned by a different mob altogether, manipulation of legalities, the crossing of boundaries and the violation of measurement; it makes it actually illegal within Australian government terms as well.

We’ve got the anarchist activists in the forest, and we need them, and that’s good, but my argument to them, when I was talking to them, people I feel deeply akin to who are pacifists as well, but they were doing a lot of locking-on to machinery and I said that’s a very pacifist resistance, but it’s a very finite effectiveness once you’re locked up. You’ve been locked up a few times, you are disempowered, the state will get you, believe you me, it does. And then the defence is gone, then the trees get knocked over, and as I was talking a tree was going down. I think the solution to a lot of these problems is one in which we use our mutual aid and work together. We live in a world that is not anarchist, unfortunately, and we must work with people who aren’t anarchists and may have very different views, and I don’t have a problem with that. I’m very pragmatic in that way: I’m quite happy to work with people for a cause and work together and have a number of different approaches to a situation, because I think if we get very monolithic in the way we view a problem, then we are really serving our own interests, and our own emotions, rather than the actual cause of say, saving the forest. I’m not suggesting these people are serving anything but the cause of the forest, I’m saying there has to be a more interactive approach to preservation of environment because you can save something for six months, but then six months later…

We went up to the Avon Valley National Park, not far from Perth, a beautiful park where the Avon River runs through. You only get to see it basically when the Avon Descent is on and people go and watch them going down the rapids, but Boral, the large mining conglomerate that mines stone, their mining operations are based on the edge of the park, possibly going into the park, that’s an issue, as well, I’d like to find out about. The government doesn’t survey its own wrong; it surveys your wrong according to itself, and that’s a truism. It strikes me that one of the most effective pacifist ways of dealing with governments is to kind of legally dismantle them from within, as with defending the tuart forest, get a few really good lawyers down there and get those boundary lines checked out where they have violated the lease and get them, and gradually the process of decomposition takes place. So I’m into very practical solutions.

You more or less absorbed my next question there, which is good, but I’ll just add one aspect of it. It was to do with Maletesta having said that “we have to find ways of living among non-anarchists as anarchistically as possible, because history is always a result of all the forces acting in society”. So is it really feasible? You’ve just been talking about ways in which we might live as anarchistically as possible under that umbrella, even when we differ from it. Is it really feasible; are we inevitably going to get drawn into complicity with the State?

I actually have such a negative view of the State, that it’s so oppressive I don’t think we could ever be complicit with it, because it’s always going to get us in some way or another. The welfare state is obviously set up in a paternalistic way to protect people, theoretically, but the further you move away from who is actually doing the governing, the process of representation, the less you are going to be represented. Democracy for me is not a free society; it’s the opposite because you’re abdicating your responsibility and your right to have a say in how you live. My local government member for York for the region – he doesn’t know me and I don’t know him – we might meet socially, but the point is I’ve abdicated the responsibility to him.

Democracy is not about giving you your rights and freedom. It’s about working through a totally delayed and distracted and deferred system of response to needs, where responsibility is in essence entirely removed. The more welfare-state it is, the more paternalistic it becomes, of course. On the other hand, thinking about Ward... Thatcherite individualism, for example, yields right-wing selfishness. Ward notes certain things that were in some senses more anarchistic than the Labour government that followed, and that’s not to say he supported Thatcher – he loathed Thatcher and his whole life was campaigning against Thatcher, but the idea for example, the example he gives is when council houses were sold at very cheap rates to the occupants because basically the Thatcher government did not want to spend any money on the upgrade and the upkeep of these houses, so the houses were sold for £30,000 – half their price – to the occupants. So suddenly a group of relatively underprivileged people had property, and unwittingly what the government did was empower “working class people” through property ownership which they normally wouldn’t achieve under the rigours of wealth-marginalisation, for want of a better expression. Ward picks up on the point that governments actually don’t understand what they are doing when they are working in other directions and the Thatcher point is a very good one, there, in every way.

As regards individualism in America, of course, historically, there is a whole thread of right-wing anarchism, individualist and liberal anarchism that is very much packed into the “what’s good for me is best, and bugger everyone else” school of thought. But it’s a lot more complex than this. The American dream of doing pretty well what you want without government strictures, at least from the “Feds”, or without interference, is so much tied up with property – a kind of liberty through the rights of property accumulation.

Umbrella anarchism is a co-existence but not an approval of the state. Anarchism on a “micro-level” can bring change in quite dramatic ways. “Umbrella” both protects and deflects (literally, from rain). The anarchist is protected from the physical abuses of the state’s legal and military apparatus by “co-existence” on the least directly compromising levels (purchasing food, use of water and hospitals, and so on), but is also deflecting its intrusions by making use of facilities and means outside the state’s control (and corporate-state capitalist control) as much as possible (not banking, exchanging and bartering where possible, growing one’s own food, capturing one’s own water, refusing to vote, being involved in public and private protest, deschooling – I am thinking of Ivan Illich here – and so on).

I’ve got a couple of things which relate to what you are saying. Malatesta again: “The real being is man, the individual... in the age-long struggle between liberty and authority, or in other words between socialism and a class state, the question is not really one of changing the relationships between society and the individual; nor is it a question of increasing the independence of the individual at the expense of social interference or vice versa. But rather is it a question of preventing some individuals from oppressing others; of giving all individuals the same rights and the same means of action; and of replacing the initiative of the few, which inevitably results in the oppression of everybody else.”

I think a lot of people who aren’t anarchists have problems with the individual and how it’s balanced against society. Do you want to comment a little more on that, on your notion of what individualism is, for you?

...You have two functional notions of the individual, we have the individual that we know, where what we think and what we feel are very much connected to this physical body we have, and that’s a very observable state. It is also the individualism that comes in how we interact with other people, within a social situation – say five or six of us might get together and watch a television, and we have very individual views regarding what we should watch – regarding the matter of ‘choice’... all arguing what is good for us is good for others because... and so on. Struggling towards consensus, creating a comparatively egalitarian and acceptable pattern of watching. So there are two issues there – one of consensus where we have agreed to actually do something together, and one of actually having an individual view within that consensus (and a desire to have our own way).

In a non-centralised world, it seems essential that property is held in common, and pretty well most anarchists would agree on that – there is not individual ownership to the point where people can have actually more than someone else, because we are sharing in a distribution of wealth. But it is a kind of wrong thinking for me, an illogical thinking, in that property as such, as a definition, shouldn’t exist at all, as far as I’m concerned. The problem is in the emotion of ownership. The desire to fetishise the object and exclude others having a right to it. To invest it with a personal spirit that makes it exclusive. The existence of property would be contingent on rights of access: to have access to the things that are required/needed at a particular time; so I might have this book, but you have access to it if you need it, only if it becomes “relevant” on a basis of need. I might have made this book, I might have sat down and made my own paper, written it up and have it in my own possession, but it is something anyone can have. Same applies to a shovel or bedding or any other “possession”. Some “property” would need to be used constantly, and this is factored in: clothing, eating utensils, health items...

It’s a kind of public moment, you are not hiding it away and keeping it for your personal edification alone; there are different levels of possession and materiality depending on need. I think that there are very literal and very obvious and pragmatic solutions to these issues of ownership or not. Things are not only in common – obviously they are in common – but I think we have access. So if someone’s got a rake, then I will use it and then so on. It is a very feasible thing. For me it’s not a matter of what you own; it’s a matter of what you share.

I’m thinking in terms of how that’s organised in a wider context, with your ideas about international regionalism, which you’ve talked about in relation to poetry and landscape – you’ve written about it as well. This is the sort of wide picture rather than person to person, because the world, so we say, is very global now... Would you just like to talk about the idea of international regionalism, how it relates to anarchism for you and to your views of environment and pacifism as well?

International regionalism, in a nutshell, is basically interacting with communities outside one’s own, respecting others’ regional integrity, and confirming your own identity. So it might be applied to a social group, it might be a geographical region. Obviously the integrity of tribal or nomadic social groups that have a differing “definition” of region, that cross lines of other community identities, is respected. Respecting that, and at the same time opening communication between those groups where communication might be desirable, or allowing communications. Or silences.

So in this regional philosophy the possibility of lines of communication (visual, verbal, exchange – a variety of modes of interaction) is key. I developed this idea in dealing with poetry, in writing a very physical, a very regional poetry – I write a very specific area – and being very involved in international discussion on how things might change or what we might do. So this kind of theory evolved out of a necessity.

Within this philosophy, people sometimes ask, what about identity groups, indigenous identity groups or migrant identity groups, and so on?

Well, this isn’t an issue of identity-as-hierarchy, but identity-as-choice against state hegemony. “Identity” is completely respected and surely it is logical that ethnicity and social groupings or beliefs connected to land are enough to generate a kind of social structure, rather than having a government tell you what to do? And that is a very interesting differentiation. Bakunin thought that everything problematical began with the concept of God, that we immediately start with the hierarchy. The point is being made that there is a hierarchy for relationship in the way we worship. Now, I am not suggesting that people should suddenly not worship, but what it means is that the power structure dictates how one worships or how one believes or how one has faith. I’m not serving anyone, they are serving themselves – it’s a matter of allowing people to recognize that the “church”, for example, whatever religion we are talking about, is dictating to you how you will believe. You are quite capable of discovering how to believe yourself. Through your experience socially and otherwise, there are a lot of other directions available to you. I think it’s a good point.

Go to Part Three

On Anarchism: Part Three

Continuing: John Kinsella interviewed by Tracy Ryan (State Library WA, 2004)

...Colin Ward, when asked about religion, said that rather than being the opiate of the people, in that famous saying, he said, it’s rather the stimulant of the people. Exactly like nationalism, it stimulates hostility and aggression towards others. Many have observed that people who are kind and considerate in their personal life can become mass-murderers under the banner of God and the State, and we are seeing a lot of religious strife, daily, or things that are connected to it. Would you agree that it is a stimulant of aggression and hostility, and why? Can veganism, just as a matter of interest, be a form of religion or equivalent to religion, and does it thereby risk similar problems?

I think straight-edge is a religion; I think there is a kind of hierarchy within the group that commands people to do something. Veganism is a personal choice to me. I don’t tell you that you should be a vegan. I became a vegan for the reasons I’ve described very clearly. I realised I was certainly not better than the things I was killing and it came about in a very literal kind of process. I believe very much in people finding their own way – and that’s what an anarchist world is, people finding their own kind of place in their own way in a social context. But the idea of being called or forced into any activity, for our own benefit especially – that deeply bothers me. So yes, I do see organised religion as being part of – as much of the state part of a controlling liberty. Free will is a slogan as much as freedom of the vote! Propaganda of souls.

Responses to a question (unrecorded) from the audience:

The media is the construct of the state anyway, the media exists because the government exists. The media applies and works through government boards, what’s shown on television even if it sometimes pushes the boundaries I mean, all the ills of the media can be traced to the ills of the State which can be traced to the ills, in my argument, of any controlling system (religion etc). Authority and power are the things that bring abuse on every level. I mean the embedded forces in the Iraq war, what fun and games we have in terms of televisual entertainment. Remember John Forbes’s brilliant “Love Poem” — its all “being staged for me”. The absurdity!

Media as a concept is actually a problem. We are talking about communications; there are other ways of communicating, the “media” is a self-serving entity. You’ve got the judiciary and you’ve got the legislature, and the constabulary being parts of the state, and then there’s the media. Clergy, nobles, commoners, and ‘the press’. Media is an extension of the state. It uses the power, the facilities, the permission of the state. Pirate radio plugged into the grid, or pirate radio using the mechanisms of corporate capitalism or relying on those who receive its signal having access to the grid: it’s hard to get away from media being media. Whichever state it might be, this state or a state elsewhere, it’s still an extensive arm of the state.

So can I narrow that down then to kind of come full-circle, to some kind of closure, to what Bill [Louden] was saying about the connection with poetry and poetry as a medium – what’s poetry got to do with all this?

Poetry for me is the most direct form of communication – the one that goes in deepest. There was an Australian anarchist – Harry Hooton – who wrote his poetry mainly during the late 30s to the late 50s. He said something like “Language is not eternal. It will be replaced. We are not going to talk forever” and he said, there will be some kind of action in the end, and he said the words, once they left your mouth, were dead.

For me, poetry is, in the structural sense, neither speech nor writing but something between, and it’s a way of keeping words alive. Not killing them. Poetry is an act of non-violence, even if the content is violent, or invokes violence. Poetry is a very impacted and compacted way of expressing things. I don’t believe in writing didactic, polemical poetry to tell you what to think, but I believe in writing a poetry that evokes the mood, and it might bring an alternative to a response. Poetry is not dialectical by default. Maybe what I’ll do to wrap up my contribution is read the poem “Shootings” from my book The Silo: A Pastoral Symphony (1995). In this poem I wrote literally a crisis of killing, of hunting, and the fetishisation of this on the familial and private level... set against the backdrop of gun-making and social and gender expectation. The public and the private melding and conspiring in conflict. I wrote this poem as a way of moving on from what I was. Poetry became a way of considering something, of prompting action within the subjective self, and from there, hopefully, community.



I collected makers’ names
like stamps – Winchester, Browning, Sportco,
the more exotic Finnish and German brands.

Death was a fantasy
made real
in the bush enclaves
of my uncle’s farm.

was the password
before touching
a gun.


My oldest cousin’s heart
is not in it – shooting
parrots that is.

He’s taking me
because I’m up
for the holidays
and hungry
for trophies.

We march out
past the dams,
past Sand Springs
and Hathaways,
and close in
on a stand
of York gums.
I take aim
at a pair
of 28s
and drop one.
Its partner sits
twisting its head,
picking at a branch
and glancing
towards the ground.
I reload and take aim.
My cousin grips my arm
and points to the corpse
splayed on the ground,
tail cocked heavenward.
Something twists
in my stomach.
I am too young
to put a name to it.
I lower the gun
and turn for home.


When I was twelve
I walked all day
without water –
rifle slung
over my shoulder,
sun obscuring
those wicked crows
my targets
(too smart
to be shot
by a kid
who measures death
by the number
of bullets
left in a packet)
and nearly died
of sunstroke.


I’ve seen photographs
in a biscuit tin
that show young men
sitting on mounds
of rabbit carcasses.
Mounds as tall
as the young men
they support.


The last thing I shot
was a ram with a broken
neck. It had been hit
by a car. Through
the open sight
I measured its breath
and for once
looked death
straight in the eye.


Rabbits frustrate
large men
with high-powered

The lack of more
exotic game
leads them to vent
their frustrations.

Rabbits aren’t just shot.
And full moons
do induce madness.


Harvest time, and
between shifts
workers corner
a pair
of screaming
in a forty-four
gallon drum

a shotgun wedding
in a forty-four

the sun skylarking
as the bouquet of lead
rips the steel
with a fizz

the gossip columnists
decked out
in army fatigues.


My uncle once killed
sheep with a knife.
Then he turned to the gun.
Regardless, city children
waited for the bladder
to be sprung.
The dogs frantic
below the carcass.


I placed the barrel
of a gun with a hair-trigger
against my tongue
as an experiment.
Tea-tree scraped at the windows
and all hell broke loose
in the chicken run.
The fox I sought
dropped from the roof of the coop
and sat at my feet –
too close to shoot
it ran
straight through me.


Did it a favour –
it was a mangy specimen


Wending your way through.
Like dropping a parrot
Downwind you approach
your upwind life.
Smell yourself.
Fear stinks.


I empty the breech and drain the powder.
I break the sights and seal the barrel.
I renounce the hunt, the flesh, the kill.
I embrace the sting of a cold morning,
the flight of the parrot, the bark
of the fox, the utility of the rabbit.

John Kinsella

Responses to a series of unrecorded questions from audience

It’s interesting we raise children, obviously, in that environment. I’ve argued for an anarchism that exists within a state as well as a grand vision of some world in which is not governed in that way. People say “you let your kids do what they want”; we don’t let our kids do what they want. We let them do what they want unless they are going to hurt themselves or others, and pretty well that’s the law we live by. If it’s not going to bring harm or distress to others or to the person themselves, then they find their own way.

The process of deciding what is good for others and good for yourself is obviously a subjective one and there is a form of authority in that. But what I’m arguing for is that social interactions bring their own authority without someone telling you how those social interactions should take place. Natural law as Bakunin says. I lived in two ‘communes’ in my life apart from the family commune. I consider the family unit a commune when it works fairly. And we’ve lived with extended families as well at times, and so on. But I’ve lived in two communes with groups of people who were very dissimilar, yet held one view, and that was that you could live mutually, supportively, without time being in control or someone being higher up than others. And one of them was incredibly interesting and successful in the sense that we pretty well functioned and got things done, and another one was incredibly ineffective.

The ineffective one was because there was a single relationship involved in it between a man and a woman – it didn’t have to be heterosexual relationship but it happened to be in this particular case – and single people around us, and there was a friction between the relationship and people being single, especially people so deeply connected to each other, and that brought its own hierarchy as you’d expect, but that didn’t last long enough to get any fair judgment on how these thing might evolve. But my experience has been that people, even people who deeply disagree, in time either learn to live with each other, or there is a disaster of some sort. I think the disasters are less rather than more.

And Ward talks about many solutions, for example, he says, what happens is you’ve got a group where someone turns around and says about killing people, and the answer is that someone will obviously stop that person if they can, even the pacifist will react. I get this question: If a lion was going to eat your daughter, what would you do? I would stop the bloody lion eating my daughter. It’s a silly question. That’s putting the logic of pacifism to the point of absurdity. On the other hand, if someone was attacking me, I would choose not to respond. I wouldn’t choose it if it was my own daughter, or a child on any level. Because the responsibility is a social responsibility.

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be social responsibility. I’m saying an anarchist society is all social responsibility, and in a sense, those kinds of paternalistic relationships we are talking about are going to exist with interaction with people, that’s human nature. You are going to work it out with yourself because no one is going to say, Okay, this person has the authority, and then is going to back them up. They are in it on their own. I’m anti-technological, I’m not anti-knowledge, I’m not anti-people knowing things and doing things.

Now I’m the most plugged-in person when it comes to the net, as you can imagine, but I deeply deplore it, and wish I weren’t. And in many ways, seriously, what I work against is what I’m actually doing myself in utilising that technology. I think it is an effective technology in disseminating ideas, and getting knowledge – and often false knowledge at that, mind you, which is a different argument.

(Another audience question)

I’m actually saying that there should be no adversarial system. I’m saying that natural, adversarial dialogue takes place between humans anyway. We don’t need people backing up those natural adversarial dialogues with court systems. For example, if I deeply disagree with the fact that you are putting pesticides on your lawn and I go and dispose of your pesticide drums when you are not looking, by law I can actually be fined or jailed if it goes through court. That backing up of your right, as it seems to do, wouldn’t exist, because the common right is that pesticide is bad for all of us. And it’s a kind of commonsense approach to all of this that I deeply value.

(Another audience question)

... I’m arguing – this is the umbrella argument for anarchism – that justice is the primary issue, that we are saying what is beneficial to individuals and the social group at the same time. As I said, I don’t believe in violent revolution. I believe in gradual change, and that is why I do a lot of the kind of things I do. For example, I have worked with people who function in schools, courts, universities, you name it – they are all part of the governing system. That doesn’t invalidate their efforts. I am talking about a co-existence with the state, but a co-existence in which gradually change will come, and I want to see an anarchist society, with natural law and natural justice.

End of interview

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hardy & animals again

Posted by Tracy. This poem speaks for itself, defamiliarising through point of view.

The Puzzled Game-Birds
Thomas Hardy

They are not those who used to feed us
When we were young - they cannot be -
These shapes that now bereave and bleed us?
They are not those who used to feed us, -
For would they not fair terms concede us?
- If hearts can house such treachery
They are not those who used to feed us
When we were young - they cannot be!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thomas Hardy and animals

By Tracy and John

We both love Thomas Hardy's poetry (as well as his other writings). Hardy cared greatly about animals and could make succinct poetic arguments for their rights. The following poem is that and more... very acute on class and gender too, and yet he brings them together effortlessly. John notes too the kind of de-signifying of the pastoral at the poem's very end.

(NB Every second line of this poem should be indented -- I [TR] will soon find out how to make the indents work on Blogger...!)

The Lady in the Furs
(Thomas Hardy)

"I'm a lofty lovely woman,"
Says the lady in the furs,
In the glance she throws around her
On the poorer dames and sirs:
"This robe, that cost three figures,
Yes, is mine," her nod avers.

"True, my money did not buy it,
But my husband's, from the trade;
And they, they only got it
From things feeble and afraid
By murdering them in ambush
With a cunning engine's aid.

"True, my hands, too, did not shape it
To the pretty cut you see,
But the hands of midnight workers
Who are strangers quite to me:
It was fitted, too, by dressers
Ranged around me toilsomely.

"But I am a lovely lady,
Though sneerers say I shine
By robbing Nature's children
Of apparel not mine,
And that I am but a broom-stick,
Like a scarecrow's wooden spine."

Dorothy Porter

We are both sad at the news that the poet and fiction writer Dorothy Porter died yesterday. It is hard to imagine Australian literature without her.

John: Dorothy once wrote that poetry was her “response to the delight and dilemma of awareness”. She was a poet always searching for the spark in language, and cared deeply about keeping her readers entertained and interested. She was a remarkably generous and energetic writer, and a very liked and respected person. I’ve read in public with Dorothy over the years and always found it an enthusiastic and mutually supportive experience. She believed that poetry and poets mattered. I first had contact with Dorothy after my book Night Parrots came out in the late eighties, when she wrote to say she had published a book entitled, The Night Parrot. For some years, she addressed and signed her letters to me, The Night Parrot. She had an incredibly strong and wry sense of humour, and was overwhelmingly good-natured. We also shared an interest in animal rights and conversed on issues important to the vegetarian (her) and the vegan (me). As a poet, she is unique in Australia for energising the verse novel form and writing a poetry of both immediacy and mythological depth, and also reinventing “genre” in a poetic context. She was one of Australia’s greats.

Tracy: I can’t come to terms with speaking of Dorothy in the past tense, such is her force and presence as a poet and woman. Here in Western Australia, as elsewhere, she made a huge impact with her dynamic performance and her memorable books. I’ve taught her poems to students everywhere we’ve lived, and they were immediately popular. Always down-to-earth regardless of her huge success and talent, always passionate about poetry and keen to revitalise it, bring it to new audiences – she will really be missed.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Quick vegan cooking

By Tracy

Here's tonight's vegan apple pie, sweetened with sultanas and little flecks of dried apricot, and eagerly sampled by Tim just before he went to bed.:

And below is the last remaining piece of the vegan lasagne we had for dinner:

Tim was excited because for once he ate exactly the same as us (rather than a simplified, bland child's version based on the same ingredients!). He adores lasagne and in fact all the Italian-style vegan dishes he knows.

I wouldn't usually make a lasagne and a pastry dessert in one evening, but the lasagne was very light (just tomato and mushroom filling, with a vegan bechamel sauce which is made using nutritional yeast, one of my favourite ingredients).

I'm no food photographer, but at least it gives some idea...

For those wanting more detail and more regular postings on vegan food and recipes, there are some blogs dedicated to this, e.g. Notes from the Vegan Feast Kitchen, or The Vegan Lunchbox, and doubtlessly many others.

Mostly I don't use recipe books -- I'm a very informal cook. But some of our staples have come from books like How It All Vegan and The Vegan Cookbook.

Every recipe I have tried from How It All Vegan actually works -- this is not always the case with cookbooks!

And the second book, a UK title by Wakeman and Baskerville, is a kind of standard that tells you how to make everything basic (including vegan cream, vegan custard, vegan yoghurt etc -- parts of it are almost a Golden Wattle for vegans). It doesn't have any pictures other than on the cover, but it's very practical and my copy is much stained, especially from making a vegan chocolate-cream tart which I based on their chocolate custard, and will have to photograph next time I make it...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Seven useful things I need to learn to do

By Tracy

In no particular order:

1. Sewing. I was hopeless at this at school, and have resisted returning to it in any way at all since then. I tell myself it's the spatial aspect I can't handle ("I'll end up stitching the wrong bits together") but I've never had that problem when making up knitted garments, so it's just self-deluding. Plus, I was hopeless at cooking in my schooldays, and have no problems with it now... so the schooldays excuse doesn't wash. Why this resistance to such a useful skill?

2. Preserving fruits and vegetables. I used to make a lot of jam (easy) but I have never learned how to bottle or to dry. Resistance comes in the form of a paranoia about poisoning ("What if I didn't seal the jars properly?") but there is really no reason to be so afraid of it. Plenty of people manage (and always used to manage) this without poisoning anyone; why not me? The very old Golden Wattle Cookbook in my kitchen drawer, despite needing much adaptation for a vegan cook, is full of practical information about this. (I did blanch and freeze several litres of our abundant broad beans recently, and tentatively used the first batch in dinner two days ago -- not without paranoia about the quantity of ice crystals they had gathered, despite my best efforts to pat them dry and freeze them quickly. But I would prefer to learn ways of preserving that aren't reliant on electricity as freezing is.)

3. Making vegan soap. Without palm oil. There are many vegan soaps around but almost all of them use palm oil (in place of animal fat). There was a company called Desert River (in Brookton, I believe) making soap that was animal- and palm-oil-free, but they don't seem to be on the net anymore. According to the Cruelty-Free Shop, Rambilldeene Farm soap uses "sustainable palm oil", so that may be the best option when buying from the supermarket, but I recently read an article that raised issues about the whole Round Table on sustainable palm oil thing... Best of all would be to make it oneself. I started humming and ha-ing about this more than five years ago... why have I not done it?

4. Ditto for making vegan candles. Then I'd have to worry about the provenance of the soy wax...

5. Do a permaculture course. I've been humming and ha-ing about this one for ages too. Hard to fit in when you've got a little kid, unless it's part-time and spread over several weeks. And needs adapting for vegans, since we don't import animals into the picture. (Though animals may come of their own accord and do what they do best -- as they already do on this block... but vegans don't eat them, eat from them, or keep them for use of any kind.) We already have a veganic veggie garden, and John has been a veganic gardener on and off for more than twenty years, but I would like to learn more about the principles of permaculture that could be useful to vegans.

6. Make paper, as John mentioned in an earlier post. It would make sense to recycle the paper we've already got, and some months ago I started to look into paper-making kits online and even bookmarked this site, but again, haven't "got around to it"...

7. This is last (for now) but not least. Do a first-aid course, a proper one with St John Ambulance, because I've been saying it for about seven or more years and I never actually take the step. I really loathe their t.v. ad, the one where they talk about the typical mother who did this and this and that but never made time to learn life-saving skills and so couldn't save her kid's life... I loathe it because it plays on a specifically feminine guilt, especially about having time for oneself, a career, whatever, as if that has to be at the expense of your kids. (If they showed a dad pursuing all his work and leisure activities and then said, "but he never made time to learn how to save a life", I might buy it.)

Nonetheless, guilt aside, it makes obvious sense to acquire these skills.

There are so, so many more. I will probably extend the list in a later post.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bird life on the block

By Tracy

Just after we saw the second gwarder, Tim called out that there was a magnificent bird on the bank in front of the house.

It was this white-faced heron:

John Kinsella -- poems to accompany Niall Lucy's essay in Derrida Today

John Kinsella -- Five Derrida Poems

Fourth Essay on Linguistic Disobedience

“A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the laws of its composition and the rules of its game.”

“Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member of any society which I have not joined.”

Taking the fifth, he avoided the traffic. The organism
wasn’t feeling comfortable, though the sun bright and everything blue.
In the canyons, prayers are trapped halfway; cooling,
eventually dropping — churned up by pedestrians and cars. Advocacy
redecorates, brings in old fireplaces, pronounces
death-again sentences on leather chairs.
I have no clubs and no belonging, though the marks — amatory, elegiac, territorial,
arbitrary — left by beak of ladder-backed woodpecker, or the claws
of the twenty-eight parrot, on the bark of differing geographies,
erase none of my loyalties. This is not romanticism.
Continuation of lines of branches and twigs in the leafless woods
takes us back, imploded to fractals, hesitant at the solid point
of interruption: soundless. In the rock-garden
skinks move out of the tepid, a willy-willy
weaves garlands out of the crop: gamenya,
tall and high on protein. This house is stranded in that field,
the roof is giving way and red brick crumbling.
There’s a well nearby fed by a spring. Salt-rings
mark decline. Birds here are shunned
and strings of fragments come undone.
What’s of me here? he asks, memory
faster than time, the whole lot imploding.
His Auntie will not visit the farmhouse she raised
children in; her new place is decorated with photos
of the old place, a curatorial space. Recently he went out
to take a look, preparing a report then abandoning it to a carmine sunset —
insects thick on the windscreen. The twenty-eights tracked the car
as always, white cockatoos abandoned mallee trees.
At the cross-roads a shearer or young driver
cut sick: figure-eights and ‘doughnuts’ engraved deep.
On the sign at the corner of Mackey and Cold Harbour Roads,
a fox was impaled — its tail bristled like headgear.
Bounty hunters call it ‘poling’, or ‘shishkebabing’.
It’s what you do with ‘foreign muck’. A sharp taste
in their food brings it on. The Needlings burnt without
touching the paddocks — it doesn’t happen like this anywhere else,
as far as we know. Sheep spread out evenly,
as if placed to make something happen.
Belonging to this is not desirable.
Unbelonging, I make conversation
with like-minded people. A wedge-tailed eagle is seen
on a fence-post and none of the party wants to shoot it. I select
this society. The guns will overwhelm you! a sceptic declares, safe
in the anonymity of the world wide web. We will absorb
consequences. Sun burns even in winter here,
skin mutating. Its despotic face is passionate and unrelenting,
making language form. A spoonbill sifts units of water,
silt-heavy and charged with mosquito larvae,
in the gulch, creek, ravine, stream, gulley…
solubility, intactness… not a technical piece in a legal sense,
an ‘impressionistic’ account as a means of redress,
just ice concurrent with heat.

[From Peripheral Light: Selected and New Poems, WW Norton, 2003]


That's the best place to look — today,
this morning, at this time of year:
it's bright and hot around there.
Two absences — the echidna

and meaning. Proof is here,
as told. Durable trees that hold
their leaves: hooves
breaking ground like Sensurround

and axe-blows ringing settlement.
Scratchings, markings that work
when working's almost done:
scant evidence of termites,

though phonic libraries resound.
In listening, close to ground.
Plosive catch and guttural plough.
Mother tongues and history.

You can't refer, an English critic
says: Saussure apocryphal and sporting
with locals — shooting signs
in road holes. Shout down,

public audit, echidna in parenthesis —
keeping low within perimeters
country town not promoted
within its written prejudices.

Heidegger and Poetry (Istrice 2)

for Niall Lucy

The logic
of the damaged
outside the zoo —
a rarity —
as Greece,
of crows in twin dead trees
near the glue works: chain
lettering, so many;
so many of them.

So, opposition
in the open,
on the roadside
slightly out of view:
so low so slow
in abstaining
tall trees — just white gums
and red gums — people
passing knowing
only colour
generally —
you know, verticals,
the higher ups
the stretches
over the lower dead.

How do you timeframe fire
burning down
to prevent fire
in summer:

like heart
of lines:
crow clusters
picking remnants:
third party

I take the rollover,
quilled ball of tale,
give ground.

What do we give
on the up and up?
It’s the Southern Highway
I drive home. Honest,
that’s the route
of the errant.
waiting to happen,
even where lanes
double — briefly

Echidna Elegy: IMM Jacques Derrida

Gross diagnosis is signed by the roadside;
or what a roadside might be if they wreck the trees,
take up access, if in scanning we take our spoken
presence; those diggings acclaimed and celebrated
prove to be rabbit testings, and not the echidna
we’d hoped for; does it make a difference?

I sense an echidna nearby and take pleasure
in this desire I might have as photograph
taken in shadow — a risk, an actual distance,
a narration wished out of hiding, though it’s too bright
for an echidna, blazoned affirmative to roll as cylinder,
coil in the tree-base hollow, bristle out of the cinders.

In everything the word echidna is echidna
where population is depleting, where a short
burst of termite activity — intense — brings
the liveness of monsters to propensity; where
are the anomalies? Where the historicity
of domestication and trauma? After the show

you sat with us and translated echidnas —
no language you’d have yourself recognise,
no language you’d have as event: the claw
clasped over our hands is the hand that digs,
its marks a transmission of shocked awakening,
diverting us from trails of proper meaning.

Canto of Abandoned Hope (Derrida and Dante, Inferno 3)

This is back-engineering. I have passed through the gate
and been through the bowels of the earth, passed out
into lambency. Today I took the children to Gwambygine,

to the bird lookout over one of the few permanent pools
left to the river. We stood quiet and then in the splay
of a dead tree a pair of Splendid Fairy Wrens

appeared, the bright male a gift out of death,
all tropes shed and risen over the riparian foliage.
Though its colour was muted and mutable,

the twitching of its tail diced bathos, calling
the female to the tine of the fork opposite. Intense.
Though vulnerable and breaking down,

swamp she-oak, paperbark, and even needle trees,
meliorated the floodfringe, bone-white with salt. The kids
were quiet but ecstatic, and said that though a sad window,

a precipice into a shadow place, the lookout becomes
a warning sign that passers-by just don’t get: it’s better
going there than avoiding the damaged remnants.

The light wasn’t strong though it was hot, an overcast
valley that compelled you to breathe slightly short, the end result
a semi-neutrality that was deceptive. We read on a metal sign:

possums might feed at night, hiding at day in a paperbark hollows
along the river, but foxes have probably caught them out,
on nights where dark translates the lambent less and less.

[From The Divine Comedy: Journeys Through A Regional Geography, WW Norton, 2008]


By Tracy

There's a family of bungarras living on our block... or, if you like, a family of humans living on the bungarras' block.

The bungarras are large, beautiful, and unafraid. A few days ago while I was here in the library/study, one of them approached the window, raised its neck, and looked directly at me through the glass.

Here's a photo of one of these bungarras:

PS John and Tim just saw a huge hooded gwarder under a fig tree near the house. Tim immediately ran to get his reptile identification book (we are outside the "Perth region", but many of the creatures are here in the wheatbelt too), and then drew a big colourful picture of what he'd seen.

(If you click on the link to the reptile identification book, the one they saw is in the bottom left-hand corner of the cover: the orange/yellow snake with a black head.)

PPS I saw a gwarder too! John called me into the study this afternoon and there was another, the same kind but smaller, right in front of the window, running along the outside of Tim's (snakeproof) playground fence. It moved quickly up to the embankment and slid through the grass like something poured out: I thought of the snake drawings in Le Petit Prince and of Emily Dickinson's "A narrow fellow in the grass" -- Zero at the bone all right... and yet so beautiful. When I began to click the camera, the snake was in the sunlight; by the time I'd snapped, it was already in the shade and longer grass, so you can barely see it here. It's the orangeish curve among the orange gravel and rocks, toward the top left.

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.