Sunday, March 6, 2016

Psychogeography of a Temporary Locality 1

Note: What follows is my first contribution to a collaborative book of micro-essays I am doing with Russell West-Pavlov. 

I have been here before. That was in 1999. I wrote a sequence of poems on the war in the Balkans. Those poems claimed Hölderlin was not mad. I am here now. Writing this. This visit is less temporary than the last, which was for a conference and only lasted a week. This one is around eleven weeks. Eleven times longer, at least. Duration and exposure. And this time I am with Tracy, and Tim who is thirteen, and so when I was here last time not part of the ‘messages home’ I sent every day. That home then was Cambridge, but Cambridge inflected through the Western Australian wheatbelt. Two different environments. And by environments I do not mean that which Lefebvre mocks as an ambiguous and non-defined space. What did he know about space, caught up in his urban ‘second nature’? Environment in the way I meant it, and mean it, is agency of the non-human as much as the human. The fens, caught, managed, made, turned into the vegetable garden of Britain, were and are still environment. I watched birds; I walked through the fens. I saw reclamation projects taking place, the growing of Wicken Fen again, beyond tourist curio to hard-core nature reserve. And what potlatch is still disinterred from the peaty ground of the fens. And now, as I build a multi-dimensional model of a damaged place, a place where Nazism is still close to the surface, where the polymorphous perversity of a Romantic god-poet, and forest reserves where the great crested newt struggles to breed, and the memorials of loss and butchery sit alongside the naming of the fuchsia and the spirit of a pastor who spoke for years against Nazism and was killed by it, where Cemetery X holds the body-parts of those experimented on, where bats move from attic to cellar to evade wood-preservative poison, where outdoor theatres can only open after a specific summer date and then only show silent movies to help protect that very bat, where deer antlers over doorways are warped cathode and anode to an organic-vegan alternative movement in which all nature is nature and environment is clear and definable. And now, writing in ambiguity, I search for the concrete. And that, and this, is inflected through where we came from by road and ferry and road and ferry and road — West Cork in Ireland via Cambridge. And always the mental space, the spatial configuration and underpinnings of Jam Tree Gully. Where late storms will stir fire memories, the absolute fear of excoriation and conflagration, the easterly and northerly driven firestorms of the Australian wheatbelt summer. The place where temporariness is our absence, and where we’re always expected back, whether we belong or don’t. Here, now, attempting to collate vocabulary, parse sentences in a language Celan broke into fragments, which others have reconstituted, I listen to Tim gather it to him with critical consciousness like rainwater off our Jam Tree Gully roof. It’s not a romantic image – that rainwater gathers the dust and the bird-droppings and all else deposited across the corrugated roof-planes, gathers the pristine and the contaminated from its functional open and occupied space, made invisible as it collects in the great 90 000-litre tank, is pumped into the house, issues forth visible again from the taps. As is language. No Bauhaus moment. And Tracy, shifting from language to language with ease. ‘Flies through the air with the greatest of ease.’ I cannot use anyone else’s words here to support my argument. I offer no quote, no external authority. But I know that enough days have passed for the sound of the Great Tits singing on the bare trees, and the sight of the Schloss with its collection of antiquities, with its animals carved from animal, a lost animal, a great animal, are familiar enough to place a lacuna in temporary. It’s there I will go, and it’s there I will retreat.

           John Kinsella

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