Volume 30 Mental 2020
We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Traditional Owners of the lands on which the University of Melbourne campuses are situated; the Wurundjeri, Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta peoples. We pass our respects on to their Elders, past, present and emerging, and acknowledge that the land we are on was never ceded.
Antithesis School of Culture and Communication The University of Melbourne Victoria 3010 email@example.com www.antithesisjournal.com.au Antithesis is an interdisciplinary humanities journal run and edited by graduate students and published in association with the School of Culture and Communication and the Graduate Student Association at the University of Melbourne. It is the longest-running journal produced by graduate students in Australia. The views expressed in any of the works published in Antithesis do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Editorial Committee, Advisory Board, the School of Culture and Communication, the Graduate Student Association, the University of Melbourne or external organisations affiliated with the production of this edition. Collection © 2020 Antithesis Cover art © Arthur Kwon Lee Cover and text design © Monique O’Rafferty Copyright for the material published in Antithesis remains with the individual artists and writers. Apart from usage under the Copyright Act, no part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the author or artist. Antithesis would appreciate acknowledgement on subsequent publications of works from this edition. Printed in Australia by IngramSpark. $4 from the sale of each hard copy of Antithesis: Mental in 2020 is being donated between SANE Australia and The Dax Centre. SANE Australia is the national charity dedicated to improving the lives of people living with complex mental health issues. Amongst SANE’s key activities is a help centre service, forums and the Anne Deveson Research Centre. Antithesis are proud to have utilised the lived experience expertise of SANE peer ambassadors in reviewing the creative work of Antithesis: Mental. Find out more at: https://www.sane.org The Dax Centre is an art gallery located in the Kenneth Myer building at the University of Melbourne, specialising in the curation and exhibition of artwork created by people living with mental health challenges. Antithesis are honoured to be publishing three artworks from The Cunningham Dax Collection, selected from over 16,000 pieces. They are Untitled by Graeme Doyle, Sophie and Bella by Isabella Duncan and terrible depth/beautiful surface by Emma McEvoy. Find out more at: https://www.daxcentre.org
Editor-In-Chief | Sophie Raphael Lead Editors | Siana Einfeld, Lori Franklin, Eloïse Mignon Editorial Committee | Brendan Casey, James Cummings, Rebecca Fletcher, Issie Hallwright, Thirangie Jayatilake, Amy Midanik-Blum, Karl Sagrabb Online Editors | Olivia Campbell, Mariah Papadopoulos, Greer Sutherland, Sophie Wallace Antithesis Blog Writers | Kiall Camden, Olivia Hides, Hannah Kammerhofer, Freia Lily, Maddison Moore Publication Design, Typesetting and Social Media Manager | Monique O’Rafferty Acknowledgements and special thanks: Antithesis would like to thank the University of Melbourne School of Culture and Communication and Graduate Student Association for their continued financial support. We would also like to especially thank Professor Ken Gelder and Dr Elizabeth MacFarlane for offering their time, expertise and professional support to the journal. To Charmaine Smith, Tiffany Chimirri, Bec Knaggs and Julia Young at The Dax Centre, thank you for your everenthusiastic support of this project and for welcoming our wish to publish artwork from The Cunningham Dax Collection. Extra special thanks to Julia for her time and effort in assisting our selection of art from over 15,000 pieces. To SANE Australia, including Jack Heath, Dr Michelle Blanchard and Lisa Sweeney, thank you for the opportunity to utilise the lived experience expertise of peer ambassadors in the sensitivity reading process. To the sensitivity readership panel and to every SANE Australia peer ambassador, I, Sophie, am honoured to advocate alongside you. To the family, friends and extended networks of our contributors and team, my own included, thank you for supporting your loved ones. To every team member and contributor of Antithesis: Mental, words cannot suffice to express my thanks and gratitude for your resilience and determination. Never has the journal been produced with such an extreme degree of global insecurity and instability challenging every domain of life. The result of your persisting passion, skill and strength is evident in every page of this journal. Dr Lauren Bliss, Associate Professor Justin Clemens, Dr Laura Henderson School of Culture and Communication, The University of Melbourne Elise Carrotte Anne Deveson Research Centre, SANE Australia Dr Aaron Humphrey School of Humanities, University of Adelaide Dr Claudia Sandberg Melbourne School of Engineering, The University of Melbourne SANE Australia Lived Experience Sensitivity Readership Panel Evan Bichara, Aaron Fornarino, Saria Green, Harry Jordan Editorial Advisory Board Associate Professor Mark Davis, Professor Ken Gelder, Dr Elizabeth MacFarlane, Dr Radha O’Meara
CONTENTS ACADEMIC 44
Hysterical Fantasies of Bodily Collapse in The Fits by Nonie May
Picturing Therapy: Original Metaphors in Therapeutic Comics by Penni Russon
Human Infancy and the Language of Beginnings: The Wild Child & The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
by Cristรณbal Escobar
In Passing by Stephanie Monteith
Unexpected Inconveniences by Soren Tae Smith
That Time of the Year by Psyman Ocean
Writing Motherhood by Brooke Maddison
Two Heads by Breallyn Wesley
The Evidence by Sam Elkin
Naming Rights by Elise Hearst
FICTION 6 Oblivious by Niamh Bagnell 22
The Orange Couch by Kirstyn McDermott
Loving Myself Sick by Maja Amanita
Consuming Julian by Jennifer Barry
Tower Viewer At The Overlook by Jini Maxwell
Man Grow Magick by Sean West
32 Morning by Rosalee Kiely 42
Dehiscence (wound separation) by Ruby Porter
The Happiness Index by Bel Schenk
95 Illusio by Alex Creece 110 Accident by Jordan Barling
vii / Art by Esther Le Couteur
CONTENTS ART vii
1 example by Esther Le Couteur
viii Subversive by Michael Chew 2
Lockdown 1.0 by Ilsa Harun
16 lockdown by Ruby Perryman 23
5 bad1 by Esther Le Couteur
28 Armor/Love by Kariel A. Díaz Maisonet 30
Black Lives Matter; Nurture Yourself by Chenai Mupotsa-Russell
Ash, Waves, Love by Alexandra Burns
Sophie and Bella by Isabella Duncan
Out of the Ordinary by Hui Wang
54 Untitled by Graeme Doyle 60 SOMA by Helena Barbagelata 65
terrible depth/beautiful surface by Emma McEvoy
I stopped going to therapy by Carolyn Huane
Anxiety Cat by Marc Pearson
After The Fire, With Rain by Elena Larkin
Pools of Darkness, Pools of Light by Michael Chew
2 annoying by Esther Le Couteur
Untitled or Lining; Help From Heaven by Piotr Szymon Mańczak
Lockdown 2.0 by Ilsa Harun
EDITORIAL Antithesis: Mental was born from the desire to explore psychological and emotional experience within the platform of a dedicated edition. The word ‘mental’ conjures a multitude of interpretations, uses and potential implications. It is used in reference to illness, place and biological function. And while it can be used as a fleeting reference to seemingly innocent occurrences, it can also be applied hurtfully, dismissively, in the stigmatisation of another. It is a provocative word, a powerful word, a shapeshifter embodying a myriad of forms in lives as diverse as the word itself. In dedicating the 30th volume of Antithesis to this theme, the editorial committee have curated a range of emotive, raw and intelligent voices speaking to the universal experience of adversity. Together, reader and creator traverse the landscape of mental health, mental illness and the roles we adopt throughout life. The psychological experiences of parenthood and childhood manifested in this edition as naturally as the ties that bind them. Many voices of Antithesis: Mental express struggle and fear but also the love and commitment of parenting troubled children, challenged children, children who may not share one’s genetic code but for whom one is undeniably, unequivocally a parent. These pieces speak to a parallel thread of childhood struggle and triumph, from ‘hysterical’ emancipation from the Symbolic Order to the infancy of human language to the partnership of the health sciences and humanities in enhancing youth mental health. Many pieces speak directly to the lived experience of mental illness, injury and memory. Our collection navigates the effects of chemotherapy on mental function, facing past trauma with the aid of one’s inner child and the dilemma of choosing between professional and lived experience capacity in testifying to the 2019 Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. We dedicate space to the discussion of mental health vernacular itself, to the power of labelled human beings taking back ownership of the language that has stigmatised them. There is often a pressure on stories of trial to offer hope, as though an unmentioned duty to society is owed from treacherous experience. Our central aim was to offer a body of work that testified to realities of experience, including the frequently unglamorous realities for where there is no neat bow to be found. For in speaking to the real, the relatable and the accessible, this anthology shines a light into the nooks, crannies and corners where one may have felt they stood alone. Sometimes, things are awful. But we are not alone in the awfulness. This project was embarked upon with a goal of drawing attention to the ever-critical matter of mental health, to further develop avenues for its discussion in the literary sphere and to provide a platform for oft-marginalised voices to be heard and valued. Yet neither our team, contributors or anyone could have predicted that the critical nature of this theme would escalate to unprecedented heights this year. This production of Antithesis took place entirely via distance, in lockdown, as the world was ravaged by COVID19. To this day, we are living through a global health crisis like no other, with uncertainty and insecurity infiltrating every facet of life. Human function and society as we know it has been completely transformed. The mental health implications of COVID-19 are undeniable, with loss of employment, income, housing, isolation and a genuine threat to physical health placing countless people at risk. These ramifications will last long after the physical health danger of the virus has passed. The impact of COVID-19 has emphasised that the need for mental health discussion and supportive action could not be of greater importance, from governments, from the mental health profession, from creatives, from us to each other. The Antithesis team hope, that in some small way, we have contributed to that discussion. An initial aim of this production was to offer a platform for the expression of living through challenge. It is testament to the immediate relevance of this theme that we, the editorial team, would be living through an unfolding adversity ourselves throughout the entirety of production. Yet the fact we have triumphed, that we have brought this journal into the world this year, speaks just as strongly as the voices within in it that it is possible, with strength and determination, to live through adversity. And perhaps, some beautiful things can be made.
— Sophie Raphael, Editor-In-Chief, Antithesis: Mental
Art by Michael Chew
Lockdown 1.0 Novel—that’s how I would describe the first lockdown in March. I had been stood down and decided to escape Melbourne by heading to Launceston to stay with my partner and his parents. Our days were filled with jigsaw puzzles, hours on the couch playing Animal Crossing and daily walks through the suburban streets—rain or shine. We watched the news every day at 7PM while case numbers rose around the world. I video chatted to my parents home in Malaysia every night. We were all in it together in the ‘unprecedented times’. —Ilsa Harun
OBLIVIOUS By Niamh Bagnell
Sunday A nurse comes around the ward to close the windows. All fresh air gusts out before she does, replaced by muggy, sleep-smelling breath. Another nurse fills the bins and puts dirty dishes on our trays for supper. At least in hospital I don’t have to join in with the undoing of work. I never liked doing laundry, even in the correct order. But repeatedly taking clean clothes from the wardrobe to put them in the hot press until damp, meticulously unfolding and hanging them out until they’re soaked, then putting them in the washing machine so they can get smelly and stained—it brings new futility to the grind. At home, I’d remove dirty things one by one and examine the stains, a preview of the days to come. Mostly, I’d plunge them into the hamper without thought, mixing them up in chaos, before bringing the full container to the top of the stairs. In truth, I have no choice in how I approach my undoings. Each thing happens exactly as before, only backwards—the rut already worn into time, and I well and truly stuck in it.
Saturday I’d heard about this possibility. Some scientists believe the universe will reach its outer limit, expand to its
maximum and snap back, shrinking to the beginning. The thing is, time would have to reverse alongside it, undoing everything, to make room for the compression. I thought it was far-fetched but interesting, and I wondered, If time bounced back like that, would it also bounce forwards again? A repeating elasticated world. The second time I heard about it, a small regret flowered in me. I couldn’t tell the scientists they were right. I never got to mention it to Daniel either. The initial months of our un-divorce were a trauma, coming back from sad but relieved separation to the hopeless last days of our togetherness. We started by waking into an exhausted fight between pillows, dragging ourselves out of bed to snipe at each other, guardedly getting dressed. We drunkenly went to a friend’s house, where we tried to be civil to each other. Daniel insisted I was paranoid, and I asked if he wanted to go talk to them, the women he’d been eyeing up all evening. Sober, we went home for silent, tense preparation. There was a sharp-edged remark from one of us about not being reminded that the party was on. I rushed back to my work and he returned to his. We grew gradually sweeter towards each other. Stepping around each other’s faults. We laughed together, and worried less. We got unmarried. Daniel
Fiction miraculously stopped picking his toenails in front of me, and I ceased complaining about clutter and abandoned empty tomato trays in the fridge. Bunches of withered flowers revived, and at the height of their grandeur, Daniel wrapped them and took them from me with a flourish. I spent hours making raw and bland the ingredients of a delicious dinner, unsticking rosemary from joints of meat and popping out studs of garlic. One day, after some joyous lovemaking (which I believe feels much the same in either direction at its height, but is very different at either end), I packed up my books, clothes, candles, music and cooking things, and excitedly moved out. Daniel came over and helped me load it all into the flat I shared with Kelly, who sadly hugged me home. He stayed over every second night, and I went to his just as often. Months passed and I was back to not being sure whether our next holiday would be together. I got to where I wasn’t sure we were official. There were the dizzying days, when all I could see were his eyes, his delicious smile—when I could feel his kisses tingle all over me, and I ached to see him again. Waiting for hours after he’d called around and set me alight.
But it isn’t fully reliable. My injury has left a crack in the wall of my brain’s attic, a secret space to stash things. There I’ve stowed these few future memories, down behind the fissure. Now that I’m nearing the time where the damage first occurred, the memories are pushing out, perhaps to make space for the mend. I wonder if I’ll recognise a younger Daniel if we cross paths earlier, earlier than the accident even. Now that I’m back so far before the point we met, I only have a vague idea, really, of what it was like to be married. Though I recall the milestones, I no longer feel the heaviness of the responsibilities. I’m too immature now to take it seriously. This could all be a drug-induced dream. They said I might experience hallucinations. This may be a lucid memory of a future that never happens. The feeling of moving backwards through time, all a silly imagining. They’ll have a pill to unscramble me, so I can start going forwards again. It’ll be clear what I need from my writings. I look out the window and across the road where building work is underway. A bricklayer is removing bricks from a wall and carefully scraping mortar onto a
‘I thought it was far-fetched but interesting, and I
wondered, If time bounced back like that, would it also bounce forwards again?’ At a gig in town, we wrote down phone numbers, madly kissed, then talked rubbish, and eyed each other playfully. Finally, I was out with my friends, sort of excited to see the band and not even thinking about boys.
Friday The sun rises on another evening. I’m still thinking of him and remembering how Kelly got tickets to the gig where we met. She’d gotten sick of me moping around the place. In a bit of a funk, I was, for no good reason; except now that I think of it, maybe my backwards-travelling self was missing him. Memories are laid down in a network, the doctors have explained. Information arrives, and you have to label it, categorise it. I’m busy doing the opposite, parting with each memory in the same non-intuitive way that laundry is done: it shouldn’t make sense—it just happens.
board. I watch him for hours and see how he’s getting more energetic, perkier as the day goes on. The unmaking confirms it. This is real. I’m growing young. My life’s energy will return to plants and animals, and from them to the sun. My heat will be sucked up in the form of yellow light till it’s all back among the stars, celestial. In the early morning I’m moved to another room, without a view. Some tubes are gently inserted into my arms.
Thursday I fall asleep with a shout, into a nightmare. Blinding light falls away from me. I find my way to calmer dreams but waken haltingly. I lie awake then, thoughts racing, before sitting up late in the night and staring at the curtain. I have to be careful not to jump in my sleep, with needles stuck into me at all angles. When I was a kid, my mother told me to jump if I was in a bad dream.
Oblivious ‘Jumping shakes your body awake,’ she said. But sometimes you jump and simply drop. Now when things drop, I think, Here’s where I’ll catch someone else, someone on my side of the event. A metallic bowl rushes up into an intern’s hands with a clatter that drills into my aching head, and I check around for anyone else grimacing with me. But there’s never anyone. No one with whom to share the experience of time spooling backwards, of seeing ripples rushing together on a pond’s surface and a bone-dry stone flying up and out, impossibly landing in your outstretched hand. How sad it is to think of all this wonder, wasted on me alone.
Wednesday The day is imminent; I can count the hours. As I remember, I anticipate. My stitches will be gently pulled
lift more words up from the page. Once I finish, back at the start, there’ll be no record, the shaking words abandoned to the future. I’ll doubt whether any of it happened at all.
Tuesday My brain hurts at the edges, a fibrous tingling pain. I contemplate the bright room and an ache pulls away at me. I’ve been here before, but I was someone different last time. I wonder, can I cling to the new awareness? On my way back to the beginning, if I could somehow adjust my injury, change the angle slightly to cheat the mend, would the knowledge remain? It could be that it’s better not to know which way time is really running, especially when, travelling backwards, I can’t even kid myself that I leave a mark anymore. You can’t influence the past. Nothing of you can
‘The unmaking confirms it. This is real. I’m growing young. My life’s energy will return to plants and animals, and from them to the sun. My heat will be sucked up in the form of yellow light till it’s all back among the stars, celestial.’ out, and I’ll be sent to the waiting room bleeding. With Kelly, I’ll take a taxi to the club. I’ll rush in the front door, up the stairs, and strangers will lower me to the broken-glass-strewn floor. I’ll groggily lose wakefulness before rushing diagonally up. My aching head will be immediately healed by a searing knock against a table corner on the way, and I’ll be left dancing ecstatically, on high and perfect. Oblivious, with no tomorrow. My mother interrupts my thoughts with an early-morning visit. She says she was in yesterday and the day before. I don’t remember seeing her. I check the notebook but it doesn’t say much—just a bunch of philosophical, nonsensical junk. She encourages me to write more, every time I can. It’s supposed to be therapeutic. My handwriting sprawls, a doubtful scrawling stretch that would be laughable if it wasn’t so pitiful. It’s an exhausting effort. These notes are the only time I’ve managed to put it down, what has actually happened. It’s the closest I’ve come to telling myself. But every time I write, I
actually be there before the point of your existence. You are nothing to it. Once we happen at all, we’re forever fixed at that point, immortally there inside that moment. Perhaps that should be enough.
Monday I can’t put my finger on it, the cause of my unease. But I’m safe in hospital, so it makes no sense. The danger has obviously passed. This little notebook I’ve been given, with a pretty blossom-patterned cover and postcard-sized white pages: it’d be a shame to ruin it. My head feels heavy, and my hands are a bit loose. I’m compelled to lift the pen and write. •
Tower Viewer At The Overlook By Jini Maxwell
for Rachel The light shifts as we stand, parallaxing the park with one eye each pressed at the viewfinder: first a runner, then a picnic, a man failing to fire up a grill it’s in the nature of perspective to make things seem obvious: from afar, figures pantomime life as a series of certainties like how, viewed from some angles, it’s clear we could be touching— hands on hands, on heated machinery; smell of jasmine; smell of vinyl. how you are right there, with that flannel on, ready to take a spanner to my works with alacrity you, on the balls of your feet tensed like a hunter, never saying what it is you’re looking for.
IN PASSING By Stephanie Monteith
Mention in passing The town where your grandmother was born And I remember it forever. Fragments of your anecdote like little scars, The first time I made you laugh, How your sister feels about her housemates; Your stories are mine, And I will hold the side-light of your face in my mind Until the moment of my death. But I will never know your name Or the things you tried to teach me (Or your name Or the things you tried to teach me); And everything either side falls apart, Leaving the aftertaste of words I have already forgotten. I collect fragments, in passing, And it makes you furious.
UnMemoriam We’ve been over this, I think: My brain is garbage. Losing the power of memory at the end of the world is a terrible twist of fate. Everything that exists is behind us, and ahead is only the dark. New memories arrive already tattered at the edges, slipping between fingers too numb to hold them. My thoughts are detritus caught and pulled away by the wind. It happens. After chemotherapy, sometimes the head isn’t the same. They call it ‘chemo-related cognitive impairment’, ‘chemo brain’. When I sacrificed my memory in exchange for survival, my time became fractured and unfocused, untethered from the narrative threads that carried me seamlessly from one moment to the next. Now there is a landscape of lost things and blank spaces that I happen upon in the midst of a normal day; and then I am alone in the fog, and all I can hear is my breath, and you’re waiting for an answer. I’m sorry. What was that?
Nonfiction Without the knots that keep my thoughts together, I move with unsure footing across out of place fragments and broken parts, half-finished words—head spaces like the skips on a disc, the blue error screen of a PC. My thoughts, when interrupted, are suddenly gone forever. In a haematology waiting room, I read about Terry Pratchett’s dementia in Shaking Hands with Death: ‘the disease makes me believe that I am constantly being followed by an invisible moron who moves things, steals things, hides things that I have put down a second before’. Sometimes it’s objects being hidden, or forgetting where my shoes are the minute I put them down, or being unable to conceptualise the placement of things in a room touched by someone else. As soon as I can no longer see something, it can be lost beyond recall. But I know the difference between this and dementia. I watched my grandmother lose everything in a slow, furious erasure: the full and terrible destruction of self and time. My fragmentation is bearable, even benign, compared to what it could be. Still, I itch with hidden recollections, the anxieties of things no longer known, and the certainty that new memories will try to arrive, only to miscarry, and end. Thoughts are paths in shadow—tangled, wasted time—but now it’s night again. And yet, the twisted new shape of my mind grasps the miracles you miss. It’s the way the light changes, I think. I am a captive audience to beauty, to small, joyful things, and I blame the light. My head cracks and leaks without warning, becomes empty and useless, and suddenly is filled with beautiful things. The tide of thought rushes out, and in its place is a ficus gently quivering in a window breeze, voices below in joy, a sky I wouldn’t notice with a mind that stays on track. Time is lost in the light. And when it is not empty, when it is full of flickering ideas and every thought is a leap over broken stones, I can find marvellous answers. I will think through a corkscrew; I will travel through the treacherous faerie country of my mind and bring you little wonders and wild suggestions. I will surprise and delight even myself. And I see myself smiling, while the world begins to break and fall, with no memory of how I came to be here. But it passes.
Prosthesis I wonder if writing has degraded the power of memory. Literacy allows us to capture the world in words, and we no longer need to remember. Words hold thoughts and images in amber instead: abstracted, elsewhere. But I cannot remember words either. I searched for a word, my mouth opening and closing in fish-silence, and it seemed the hardest thing. And when I found that it was only ‘contrasted’, I started to cry because finding parts of speech had always been so easy for me before this. My deep storage items, left for years beneath Glasgow, have finally arrived in Melbourne. Looking through journals from when I was young and whole, I marvel at all the words I could use then, as though I am seeing them for the first time. Vocabulary rot has set in; I live a life with the labels torn off. I was able, and now I am disabled. This change pushes me to the margins of where I used to be, even though most days I can pass as normal. My still-new brain curtails how I live, demands new strategies—and hiding places.
In Passing Writing becomes prosthesis. In a fixed, lifeless memory of words, I write to pin down thoughts I would otherwise lose to the wasteland. Libraries of notes, step-by-step instructions, fragments of you, reminders. The digital space becomes prosthesis. The repository of information works like an extension of myself. With a flick of the fingers, I have your answer. I stall and quick-search our correspondence. It’s like I have remembered and am whole, and you would never know the difference. Fifty tabs and a hundred bookmarks, alarms and nudges: tools to account for the disparate and threadless parts of my attention. You ask me what I am thinking about because I am quiet, and I say, ‘Nothing,’ or ‘You,’ or ‘The sound of your breath, the smell of you, anything here and now.’ I speak to you only in the present, in nonsense and sudden non sequiturs. This is a life apropos of nothing, of waiting only for the next moment to arrive. I live best in the brief and shining moment. When we huddled inside against the virus, I found a world that worked a little easier. Time became mine again: I could balance my wild bursts of productivity with those flatlines and chasms of un-function, those lost spaces. Quieter. No faces to read or tones to guess at. No headphones and dead zones, no sudden jump when someone taps my shoulder and we both draw back in alarm. We were sitting at a cafe, and I said, ‘It’s fine, just as long as people say what they mean. I just have to be told what people mean.’ He looked at me with his gentle, sharp eyes, and said, ‘Have you ever been tested for autism?’ For a while, it worked. I could hide my gaps and wrong edges. You smiled on the screen, as though I could get away with it at last. But I am afraid of the day you finally see me: the day I can’t hide my broken head, and struggle and fumble. When I am hated for it but cannot speak. Will not disclose.
Disclosure Disclosure: Most times, I can pass. Even to myself. When I find ways of coping—tactics and self-wrangling techniques—I can forget I am not whole. Disclosure: I have never officially told this to an employer. I have never been a box to tick on a diversity survey. Disclosure: You have already told me what you think of people like me, without even knowing who I am. I am a silent audience to the conversations where you think it is safe to say detritus/malformed/incomplete/broken/ crippled/unfortunate-side-effects-of-human-life/leftovers/remains-of-the-day. It finds its way under the skin and burrows in. It comes up most often in workplaces. Like when you, my co-workers, used ‘retarded’ as both an insult and a joke. That office where you resented the guy on mental health leave and I fearfully hid my crippled brain—and God, how you hated me for my ineptitude but I was tongueless—the job where I watched as you slowly fired someone like me.
Nonfiction ‘She’s making mistakes. Maybe it was the chemo; she hasn’t been the same. Maybe she can’t do it anymore. Is it wrong to say that?’ And you looked at me with pleading eyes and a little smile, to be absolved, to be comforted. ‘It can take years,’ I said. ‘Sometimes people just work differently afterwards.’ Then you let her go. I suppose that means you already had your absolution. It was always within you. People can point to the most finely worded diversity and inclusion statements, hang them etched in shining brass above their desks. But why should I trust you when I have heard everything and have seen what my broken parts mean to you in practice? No disclosure, except this: I have contingencies, tools and nets to catch the things that fall. I can stitch myself into a shape that holds, and I can carry on. Shapeshifter, deceiver, the flim-flam man who distracts with flashing teeth so you won’t notice that it isn’t magic after all, and something is very, very wrong.
The Fall 1. Trip. It begins when I trip. A deadline missed. A task forgotten. A mistake in the HTML. I drop things. Little things. Tiny errors, mild failures. The misstep is small, and explicable, and forgiven. You smile, and say, ‘Well now you know.’ In that moment, a small terror squeezes my guts, and I am poised in the air. That familiar jolt of adrenaline, as I realise I may fall down the stairs. Time slows. Blood pounds in my skull. Yes, you have shown me, but I forget. I knew this as soon as you made the motions, spoke the words, finished the lesson—as each of these things passed from the grasping fingers of my mind and I could do nothing to save them. I’m sorry. I will ask you again tomorrow. I try desperately to catch myself, to make up the distance, to grab a rail. But now the metaphors are mixed up in a thought stew, and I’m sorry for the mess. I’m sorry.
2. Stumble. As I fail to hold on, error by error, I see myself falling, see everything falling past me and crashing on the staircase that twists and winds into darkness below. I will break my neck and crack and smash and lose everything— At this point, new disability tangles with the Other parts I carry: dark, belligerent passengers, their grip so familiar we might as well be lovers. The way the roar of a passing truck or motorcycle makes me want to howl back, my heart in my ears, my head filled with wasps of noise. The way I shut the sound out with headphones, even when they are playing nothing. The way my head sputters in the crisis of choice, for the smallest, simplest things—the moment pressure is applied and my mind goes blank and I just want to leave. I can’t be here now. I have to go please I am leaving now I can’t be in here we need to go please. The way the shadow rises behind me, within me, falls over me like a sigh and folds me into its arms as I cry.
In Passing I’m sorry. When I start fragmenting, when my head cracks in two, the old ghosts emerge. Strangling anxiety. The sudden stomach-drop into darkness, the tumbling depression-plunge and feeling like I’ve been swallowed alive. Fear rings like a klaxon. The broken gears that usually skip and tumble—which might be the family mania, and might be ADHD, but the doctor said it was not worth finding out—whirr frantically. Captive in a cold flat, crying at my uselessness, like my first winter of neuropathy where I couldn’t turn a key and couldn’t hold a glass with ruined hands and sobbed on the kitchen floor as the spill pooled on the linoleum around me like a toddler pissing itself. Just tell me what you want. Just tell me.
3. Down. It was _____, I think. I mean _____. I mean yesterday. We were talking, by the ____, or the ____ room. About that new project, about the ____. There’s a deadline for ______, and it was something like ____ or June. You said we had to get started on that new ____, you would show me how to ____ analytics, or set up ____. Or ____ the results? I’m sorry, I didn’t have my laptop. My notes are empty; I can’t quite remember. Were we talking? I know I can do it. I knew I could. I remember knowing, and then And then I And then I woke up. I’m sorry. When you tell me everything is wrong, how could you, why did you, again, I told I said I SAID you should KNOW this is the MOST SIMPLE THING IN THE WORLD, the whispers of your words spoken to others come back to me. I am defenceless. I lose the power of speech. I can barely hold my parts together. Gasping and crying. [NullReferenceException: object reference not set to an instance of an object] Object points to nothing No meaningful value. Null. Object. Other. Object unperson null critical error. Tongue = null Brain = null Self = null
Nonfiction An object that is nothing cannot object. Crash again.
Assault assault a salty blood-flooded tongue tangled mouth tear-choked torn
Sorry guys, had to turn off mic and camera, wifi is being weird, keep going, still here for stand-up :) Keep going. Still here. Keep going. Still here.
It’s the way the light changes, I think.
A landscape of lost things.
I’m sorry, what was that?
Just tell me. I I I– I– I’m
I’m not stupid not not stupid stpd I m
s tup id idididid not
Sorry. I am made to loathe these fractured parts, and all I want to do is love them. •
Art by Ruby Perryman
UNEXPECTED INCONVENIENCES By Soren Tae Smith
CW: This piece contains graphic depictions of youth suicide and self-harm. Reader discretion advised.
ou cut the cord yourself. It was midnight and he was twenty-five minutes old. The only pain relief you’d had was sucking ice cubes and warming your back by the fire. He didn’t cry when he came out—neither did you. A timeless moment looking at each other, he from the floor and you down upon one knee. Then you waited for the cord to stop pulsing and you cut it. You were careful. Everything was fine. I wish I’d never been born that would have been so perfect I just wish I wish. I wake up every day wishing I had died in my sleep— In the 1950s, when your own mother was born, not many of us knew what an exploding car looked like. Mainly soldiers and gangsters knew what a shooting looked like. You consider the stream of traumatic images and words he has been exposed to since he was a child. You realise he’s still a child, in the 2010s, when depression is a thousand-mile stare into a screen. Are we still eating dinner watching the Vietnam War live? What time is it? Fuses blown. We forgot to turn it off. Now how to reach him? I’m sorry, the person you are— Going to sleep wondering if he’s breathing and getting up to check (you used to do that when he was an infant). Going to sleep wondering again. Checking in your dreams. Buttering toast with a spoon. Finding blood on sheets even though he is a boy. The dark circles are back and he doesn’t talk. Where is it? Was it a tin lid? Was it the edge of the broken ruler? What was it? I can’t look after you anymore if— Well you’re not doing a very good job anyway, he says from his dirty sheet. The brown blood has sprinkled
upon his bed in the night like emotional rain and neither of you know where the leaks are. Many mornings looking at each other, bewildered, as you stand in his doorway. He can’t get up. Losing your hair even though you’re a woman. The disappearance of tomorrows. Cooking meals without a knife. Lost keys. Washing out blood. Trying to work but I can stay home if you need me. Lunchtime staff rooms. Men in shorts talk sport. I’m sorry. The person you are calling is unavailable— Trouble with trains. To be caught between the metal jaws of two minutes’ delay at the station because the train has been delayed, because the announcement you can’t hear said something about a person on the tracks; to feel blood rush to your face because you think this is it, this is finally it, it’s happening— For the train to approach, inspected by you for traces of your child on the front metal, and to realise that you have become a train inspector for child-traces, and to find none, and to inhale and not smell death. Once you smelt it and you knew what it was, the train has been delayed, it was forty degrees and Footscray station reeked of roadkill, but it was trainkill and no-one talked about it, but you knew what it was. As the train arrives and slows, you see your face in the frame-by-frame of the windows, a face among other faces in the world. You hear laughter, plans, and you feel everything moving slowly in a soup of delays. You are calculating how many seconds it will take to reach his door and to what degree this delay has INCREASED RISK. To know or not to know? To be pulled apart by find out and look away. For the first time, after all these years, to come dangerously close to wanting to escape—and at the last second to have this thought swerve out of your way as you stare blindly into it.
Nonfiction Step into the train. There is no danger to you. Insomnia obviously— It’s just one little son, forgive me Make it happen to someone else (will I be punished for saying that? will the badness of saying that make it happen?) oh my god— let this cup passeth— Nights remembering the mother of the little boy in a wheelchair in the 1980s—her pinched face, her lanky hair, glimpsed as she unloaded her child from the car. He had started out on crutches but his body was turning incrementally to jelly. Our token friend when we were champions of the underdog as cynical eleven-year-old girls. She’s a bitch, his mum, we agreed. Childhood’s glimpse at adult stress. Did you know she said why don’t you hurry up and die already! To her own child! And remember when you weaned him he never got a chance to cry? He had a sensitive face that quivered and changed with the mind, his face was a still pool—such a quiet well-behaved boy—and by reading his expression just after the impulse but before the demand, you were able to deflect him with small distractions. Is that your brother coming home? Look, your toy truck wants to go for a drive. Is that a mosquito on your leg? Less crying that way. No crying. He never even formed the question, never raised his palms. You tricked him. Something he loved and depended on was taken away by trickery, while he was powerless and unable to grasp that it was happening. How many times did you do that? Saving him from pain? After he moved schools he said, I was too young to know what was happening. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my friend. Now he wants to do the same to you, for you to feel that worse pain of silent loss, the shock and betrayal. That’s nothing to do with it, he says, and that’s almost a laugh. It’s nothing to do with you. Dhal spills out from teeth-torn bags again. Realising why your knives started going missing years ago. Wondering what else you don’t realise. Not having scissors for the cereal bag. Not having sewing scissors. Not having stationery scissors. Ripping seaweed along with its plastic cover. Trouble with zip ties. Tearing tags off clothing, hurting your teeth. Not knowing if you are being one hundred per cent gaslighted. (Hoping so.) I love you too, he says, but you don’t get it, and here come the statistics again. Globally, boys are more likely— Is being suicidal a sign of masculinity to him in the absence of a living father, in the absence of any vision of a man? A too-early grasp at adult power? Of course it’s boys! You tell him, fingernails bleeding.
How could I ever do it? As a woman, as your mother, as this? You’d have to be, you’d have to really be, and maybe you are, but I don’t know, I’m not, kill what self? Kill what self? Anyway, I’m too busy can we talk about this later— Interrupt yourself and write. You write about trivial things. About not having kitchen scissors. Locked filing cabinet in the kitchen now. This is to inform you— File items in descending order of menace. You believe it buys you time. If found unlocked, he will check the top drawer first, finding the spoons, the egg-flip, a spatula for cakes; then the second, plates and other things that become dangerous only if you modify them (spokes pulled out of whisks, smashed cup handles, crockery shards); and lastly, he will find instruments of self-slaughter. You never know when an extra second may count. You never knew that it would mean so much counting. The world is quantified as quality drains away. 10% more males … 1 in 4 suffer from … 14 to 25 years of age … Between calculations you critique his nihilism, his blindness to mysteries; you question his acumen, his judgement, you remember he is a child. Sometimes you realise that while you are remembering he is a child you have forgotten (maybe?) to lock the filing cabinet where the knives and pills are in regard to your son’s absence but you’re already at Flinders Street. Fear simplifies, inverts the filing cabinet. Subconscious (ladle), Preconscious (can-opener), Conscious (cleaver). Once, you both just lived and breathed. Your child has been marked— School avoidance (both him and you), though it’s not unexpected. Text messages: Your son has been marked absent today. Please— Automated attendance registry. Time management becomes satanically difficult. It is impossible to calculate how much extra time to allow for the inconveniences. Your son has been marked late— Login to Compass to explain looking for keys listing ways in which it is your fault calculating probabilities: What will INCREASE RISK? Skipping breakfast? Refined sugars? Hours’ sleep? Stress headaches, frozen necks, Panadol slips, a lot of lost keys. You slap your arse checking your back pocket for the key to the filing cabinet, the key to the shed, the key to the drawer. And you wonder if people can see it in your face, the skeleton of fear poking through. Wanting to fall apart. Wondering which thing to fuck up first. Making lists.
Unexpected Inconveniences This is a reminder for all parents— This is a reminder— Please— Running probability calculations in between flashbacks of what you forgot to lock calculating how many times you can afford to slip to calculating the probability that your slip will coincide with his urge to die, which waxes and wanes just as your memory does. Login to Compass— Missing days and weeks your son— not making it to his school for terms and years; not meeting his teachers; Interview: requested— forgetting how to dress. Attending awards night somehow. Other people’s high-schoolers win awards for one hour, while he watches from the back of the stage and you watch from the back of the audience. Then he’s within the throng and they sing. Camera pans for close-ups. Everyone else’s child’s face is the same, the face of a young woman or man already more grown-up than you feel. Than you will ever feel. Only one face is thumbscrews tormented— Your son— Your son has been marked— Life is draining away instead of building. What did he do to deserve it? No-one else looks like that. Why is there no outcry? Remember him saying, I wish I’d never been born that would have been so perfect I just wish I wish, I wake up every day wishing I had died in my sleep, I just want to cut someone in half, I would never do it but if I wasn’t a good person I’d just cut cut— Later he says, No I didn’t feel nervous out there, why do you ask? A few drops of blood on the toilet floor. Where is it? Was it the compass? The broken glass? What? It’s not your problem. A pin. Under his bed. Of course. Cat and mouse. Can you kill yourself with a pin, can you kill yourself with a cat? Always two steps behind and when you catch up to one step behind you can’t— you can’t— Anyway, I’m going out with friends later— Okay, me too I’ve got my critique group— Have a good time— You too— Hugs. Trouble with last words. Avoid the word goodbye, always see you soon—
Appointments seem to guarantee a future son. You just have to find the right doctor—you will know him with his pen and mask, a plague doctor entering— Yes. I understand, you say. That’s okay. You’re right. He’s fifteen now, so … I’m not against it no, you say. Well ... But the suicide risk, the black box warning, the school shootings and David Foster Wallace— Do you have any questions? (The doctor puts his whole hand over his face concealing it from you, leaving only his glinting glasses showing.) Are you still there? Oh well, whatever, never mind. No, that’s a joke. (But the doctor doesn’t know the song. Suddenly you realise he has never heard of David Foster Wallace either.) Sorry to cut the appointment short today—just convert this piece of paper into chemicals to make the air in the mine, I mean the mind, smell fresher, even though it’s toxic, it’s your fault, and all the best, if there are no questions I must be going— Would he not feel anymore? Would the sun go up and down like a yo-yo? If you have any problems over the weekend you can always give the after-hours number a ring— These problems are common— NOT TO BE PRESCRIBED FOR CHILDREN UNDER 18 YEARS OF AGE Wait! Would you take it doctor? Are you taking it? INCREASES SUICIDAL IDEATION IN CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS It’s perfectly natural for you to be concerned, and yes, you’re absolutely right but it’s a matter of weighing up the risks— INCREASED RISK it’s on the box— The risk of doing something or not doing something. Calculations that no-one can ever do but you must endlessly try to do, like a Kafkaesque mathematician at a desk made of waves. Hurting your back lifting his mattress. Suspicion of ropes, suspicion of school ties (a strange and insensitive ritual, to expect all male adolescents to put their heads into these nooses every morning for six years). Razors obviously, but what about the vegetable peeler? What about the grater? Your son has been marked absent login to Compass— Hide the compass. Hide the stapler. (Hole punch OK.) Could he overdose on vitamins? Valerian? Is he punishing me for giving birth to him? For the botched and late weaning? Hairy because you threw your razor too far behind the bookcase. The person you are calling is unavailable— Trying to calculate how many years it has been
Nonfiction going on for and how many years it’s going to take off your lives. 0-4-6-4 … is unavailable— The person you are— Horror of the silent night. Horror of the blank day. Getting on with your life. Horror at getting on with your life. It’s nothing to do with you. He’s rarely home now. Facebook status tells you when he was last breathing. 49m. 25m. 4m. Or a comforting green light. Imagine collaboration. Would you want to write about all this ever? I was working on something but it only tells my side. Would you ever want to add to it? Tell your side? No reply. 9h. Then he comes home happy with black nail polish. They have a lot of cats, four I think. Chatty. You imagine he might stay like this and he does. For days on end. A labyrinth of card-houses is held in the air. Don’t breathe. He whistles. But you remember you have felt like this before, as if the whole thing might thaw and recede. It always comes back worse. Descent into the maelstrom. You will see it coming like distant storms, black under the eyes, and he’ll be slow-moving again, bumping into doorways and mumbling. But after five calm days the inconveniences become memories you can hardly believe. You become ridiculous from excessive hope. It’s just one little son— Oh thank you thank you. The card-house is knocked down by a phone call while you are on your way to— Hi there it’s josh the counsellor expert youth person at such and such an institution for your son’s very important schooling not like your home-life which is probably the main cause of his problems, how are we doing today? That’s good to hear now I just want to talk to you about your son no everything is fine but because he tried to fall in front of a train yesterday—what’s that? oh you didn’t know that, okay, well due to this concern I have spoken with the other counsellor and we would like it if you could— You won’t say: does the phrase I have something difficult to talk about would now be a good time mean anything to you? Arsehole? No. Whatever you think is best. You must have more experience of these things, you say, with twenty years’ dirt under your adult nails, with fifteen years of your son’s skin cells stuck between your skin cells and being one blood and kin and not even him knowing that, not
really, not anymore. Neither of them knowing that, never having been mothers. Seeing his bloodless face. His stumbling walk. He does not speak every day. Hiding rope, hiding fuel tin, hiding belts. Mess. More than you can ever clean. He is a toddler again, bumps into doorways. Hurts himself. Cannot remember an instruction. Tested by now on seven different meds for the study they’re doing at the youth clinic. What was it you wanted me to do again? Too many steps. Infinite regression to start to find the start to find the start to start from. Just breathe. Are you still there? Trying to reach him, to guarantee a future. Talk to him about the draft of ‘Unexpected Inconveniences’. Read the piece together. Beyond nervous. He sits on the couch and you read over his shoulder. Hear each other breathing. Hear each other swallowing. It’s lit. He wants to collaborate. I’ve got a bunch of notes for it on my phone already. But already it’s been months, added to years now of our troubles with time, with trains, with going out, showing up, getting anything done. I didn’t get a chance to send much yet. I lost my phone. The world doesn’t stop. Maybe just leave me some spaces in it?
Space is part of it. I left as much as I could. So you can add to it more later if you want, or other people who went through the same thing can write or draw in it, or use it for target practice or toilet paper, I don’t know. Or people who lost someone can share a moment of silence with everyone, I don’t know. What do you think? … … Fresh. •
THE ORANGE COUCH ‘And maybe … maybe you bought the orange couch because, secretly, you want to be the type of woman who buys an orange couch. The type of woman whose vibrant, colourful hair clashes— in a delightfully quirky way—with her equally colourful nails.’
ow that it’s here, delivered into your living room all bold and bright, you honestly don’t know why you bought the orange couch. You don’t even like the colour orange, and this couch is so very orange. It’s the sugary fizz of Sunkist soda, the safety-conscious blare of a highvis vest, the hand-carved leer of Halloween pumpkins. A teal throw rug might calm it down. Wait—teal? Where did that idea come from? If there’s a colour you like less than orange, it’s teal. Not really blue, not quite green, a colour that can’t make up its mind what it wants to be—or maybe it refuses to choose. And maybe … maybe you bought the orange couch because, secretly, you want to be the type of woman who buys an orange couch. The type of woman whose vibrant, colourful hair clashes—in a delightfully quirky way—with her equally colourful nails. The type of woman who wears ballet flats or else goes barefoot, heels smooth and soft and pink as the day she was born. That woman wouldn’t be sitting here in her old grey armchair, swallowing regret like dry bread; that woman would be curled up on her new orange couch, feet tucked beneath her as she reads a book on mindfulness, or tiny houses, or why whimsy is as vital as hydration for the sophisticated 21st-century Homo sapien.
Perched on your grey armchair, you check the post again: three likes; no comments. Refresh. Refresh. You both do and don’t recognise the woman in the selfie. As you both do and don’t recognise the woman now materialised before you, reaching out her hand. She smiles and presses purple-nailed fingers against your breastbone. Hard. Swipes. You feel dizzy. Flat. Captured. Captioned. #notyou #myturn Left to watch on mute as she slips off her ballet flats and walks—breezily, nonchalantly as women with tealdyed hair often do—over to the orange couch where she sits, one leg drawn up beneath the other, comfortably, perfectly at home.
# Your hairdresser was over the moon. After all these years of just-a-trim-please, today you gave her carte blanche with not only the scissors but the permanent dye. Whatever you think will suit, you told her. It was, you suspected, the sort of thing that a woman who buys an orange couch should say. What suits, it turns out, is teal. It takes thirty-eight attempts to snap just the right angle, just the right exposure, just the right frame. Lying back on your new orange couch with your new teal curls fanned out, chin tilted to stretch the skin away from doubling, eyes focused off to the side and a half-smile as close to whimsical as you can manage while tapping the button. You can’t decide on the filter. Juno is too bright, Ludwig not bright enough. You give up. Load it to Instagram anyway. #newcouch #newhair #newme—you want to add a question mark to that last one but the hashtag refuses it. Hashtags are declarative, confident, admitting neither doubt nor insecurity. Hashtags are the orange couches of the digital world. # The problem is, you don’t fit. With the couch. With the hair. The problem is, you are not a hashtag. #
Art by Esther Le Couteur
THAT TIME OF THE YEAR By Psyman Ocean
CW: This piece reflects on warfare and post-traumatic stress. Reader discretion advised.
hould we go see the fireworks?’ Rony, my wife, asked on the eve of the 2019–20 New Year. I cringed at the thought of repetitive explosions and the involuntary time travelling journey it sends me on. She took my hands in hers. ‘Look at me.’ I did. ‘I’m here for you.’
Earlier in the year, leading up to ANZAC Day, Rony noticed I had become impatient, snappy and moody. Remembrance days remind us of human tragedies and lives lost because of governments’ inability to use non-violent communication. Families affected have to relive the day they heard a loved one was not coming back. Or if they did return, they came back broken, empty shells of their former selves. In past relationships I’ve had to outline the whole history of the Middle East in order to explain why I was a soldier and why I get triggered by various things like firework displays, strobe lighting, large crowds, the backfire of a passing vehicle, a door slamming, a tyre popping ... Why I won’t partake in paintball games or play video games like Call of Duty and avoid realistic war films. With Rony being Israeli, I don’t need to provide a backstory. ANZAC Day is just the kick-off. In the days leading up to 25th April, a constant tingling commutes up and down my spine. A sadness engulfs me. I become withdrawn, invisible. I feel burdened, weighed down. Guilty. April–May is a plethora of public holidays in Israel. It starts with Passover celebrated for seven days followed by the Holocaust Memorial Day. A week later it’s the Day of Remembrance—Yom HaZikaron—immediately followed by Independence Day. My mind wanders, replays scenes. If I did this instead of that, maybe my brethren hunters would not have become the hunted. It’s what the army does: it teaches how to hunt humans. Every Yom HaZikaron at 10:00, air sirens bring the entire country to a standstill. All manner of traffic halts
and for two minutes the able-bodied stand in mournful silence. And whether sitting or standing, all they can do is remember their own horrific experiences. For some it may be when military officers had knocked softly on the family door to break the news that a loved one was killed or missing in action. For others, it may be remembering the very moment of staring Death in the face, only for Death to reach out and grab the soldier next to them. That time of the year. Naïve I was four years old when we migrated from Israel to Australia in 1986. A year later, in 1987, the First Intifada erupted with violent protests against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories which led to riots and the throwing of Molotov cocktails and rocks at Israeli security forces. It ended with the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993. In 1994 my mother and I returned to Israel. We lived in Karmiel, then a small northern town in the Lower Galilee region. Since 1949 military service has been mandatory in Israel: a year after the establishment of the state. If you refused the draft, you’d be arrested and thrown in the stockade until you ‘came to your senses’ or managed to get out on a ‘psychologically unfit for service’ plea. But then there’s the social aspect of not serving. If you don’t serve, employment opportunities would be lost. The label of sarvan (‘refuser’) is applied like the scarlet letter. I distanced myself socially from those who refused to serve. Not only did I not want the dark social stigma stain if I refused the draft, but I was also highly patriotic and motivated at the time. In 2001 I turned eighteen, finished high school and was drafted into the IDF—the Israeli Defence Forces. Fuelled by the propaganda of the government’s machines—education and the media constantly putting the combat soldier at the top of a pedestal—I passed the extreme physical and mental endurance tests of the paratrooper’s special forces. I wanted to fight,
Nonfiction to serve my country heroically. I wanted to protect and defend my people and the land they call home. I was fearless, ready to be all that I can be ... blah, blah, blah. The Middle East is loud. Except on the Sabbath, every day is full of military presence: aircraft patrolling the air; navy boats patrolling the waters; soldiers on the streets, on buses and trains; weapons everywhere. Six months after surviving the Second Lebanon War, I returned to Melbourne, like the prodigal son. It had been thirteen years since I last stepped into this city that to me, always feels like a Zen garden. Until I get triggered. When It’s Least Expected I was showing Southbank to my then-partner, Dafna. We were leaving Crown Casino, its entry directly in front of a large, stand-alone rectangular structure that seemed to have no purpose. Another seven of these were spread equally along the waterfront. As we stepped out of the entrance at exactly 17:59 a loud ‘whoosh’ erupted above my head and an immense orange glow blazed around me. My brain translated the ‘whoosh’ as ‘MISSILE! TAKE COVER!’ Instinctively, I hit the ground, covering my head. A ball of fire erupted above. A stricken Sikorsky CH-53 Stallion helicopter, flying overhead to
itself as pavement. It took several moments to realise I had just experienced my first flashback. And it wasn’t acid-based. The Nomadic Diaries On 13th May 2013, I set off on a walkabout. I felt lost in life at the age of thirty-one, so I travelled from Melbourne to Jerusalem without a time limit nor much of a plan, without flying and without using money. I survived on barter trade. I’d hitchhike overland and sea to get to where I needed to go. On 13th May 2016, I stood at the Egypt–Israel border. My last visit to Israel was in 2011. The week leading up to this moment had grown in tension. I was short on patience with my surroundings, becoming snappy at people I had just met. Seeing the razor-wire fence, multiple flags of Israel and soldiers manning the guard towers stirred me with waves of mixed emotions. ‘Happy Independence Day’ signs reminding us that the previous day was Yom HaZikaron—Remembrance Day. My walkabout done, I made my way north to Karmiel, to stay with my mother. I was tense, on high alert and could feel incredible pressure building in my chest. After a few days home, an air siren sounded. I froze, breath suspended. I simply could not move. My brain
‘Instinctively, I hit the ground, covering my head. A ball of fire erupted above. A stricken Sikorsky CH-53 Stallion helicopter, flying overhead to crash in the valley behind me…’ crash in the valley behind me, its rotors playing a familiar ‘thud-thud-thud’. The concrete footpath I hugged became the dry earth I had clawed at. Every muscle clenched for impact. Breath was short and panicked. I felt a hand rubbing my back. Looking up, Dafna’s lips moved. I couldn’t hear her. I was focused on the fireballs shooting up in sync out of the top of the large, standalone rectangular structures whose purpose was now very clear. While the people around me saw the world’s largest fireball display (called Gas Brigades) and a weird guy lying on the ground, I was reliving the night of 12th August 2006 in the hilltops of Southern Lebanon, all over again. I sat up, dazed, disorientated, trying to breathe. Slowly, Melbourne’s skyline returned. The fiery valley morphed back into the Yarra River. The earth cemented
commanded me to head for the bomb shelter but my limbs refused to cooperate. I heard rockets and artillery whistle all around. I wanted to scream. Breathing was short and a struggle. Once the sirens ceased, I buckled at the knees and collapsed into a kitchen chair. I was shaking all over. I called my mother at work. She explained it was a public drill that had been announced on the radio. A few weeks later I went to visit a friend on her kibbutz. As I came around the bend, a CH-53 hovered in the air just above a cornfield—right by the entry gate. I froze. The car didn’t. I almost crashed into the gate before my feet found the brakes. The same montage of every experience I’ve had with this particular helicopter flashed through my head. I recall hearing someone screaming. It took a moment to realise that someone was me, trying to block out the rotors’ familiar ‘thud-thud-thud’. I was clenched
That Time of the Year and disorientated. I recognised that I was in my car but did not know where I was. I called my friend in a panicked state. She patiently guided me to hers and rolled me a joint. Only after a few deep tokes was I able to calm down. It wouldn’t be the first time cannabis would play a significant role in relieving my PTSD symptoms. On 21st July 2004, the day I was discharged, I picked up smoking the herb. I moved to a kibbutz for work, operating heavy farm machinery. The kibbutz sat snug right up against the Gaza Strip so some of the tractors were armoured. Some fields could only be ploughed with military escort. For the six months I was there, I fell asleep or woke up in the middle of the night to gunfire, helicopters, artillery fire and explosions occurring just
differentiate between the various military aircrafts by the sound they made as they cut the sky a new one. The next morning the red helicopter flew by. I stood on the balcony. I needed to remember when I was that kid fascinated by the power of human flight. I pushed my memory past the hilltops of Southern Lebanon and landed in my childhood bedroom where the little boy looked up and joined me on the balcony. We both stared in awe at the mechanical red bird flying above, wondering, How does it fly? I felt relief. The hefty weight crushing my chest suddenly released, evaporated. I felt something I hadn’t felt for twenty years—freedom. For the rest of 2018, every time I saw a helicopter I simply invited the little boy I had been to join me in
‘I pushed my memory past the hilltops of Southern Lebanon and landed in my childhood bedroom where the little boy looked up and joined me on the balcony. We both stared in awe at the mechanical red bird flying above, wondering, How does it fly?’ over the fence. Back then, fresh out of three years of combat, it was the only soundtrack I could sleep to. The Return to Oz In early 2018, I returned to Australia after all my travels. I house-sat a cliff-hugging home in Aireys Inlet, a small coastal town on Victoria’s rugged surf coast. Twice a day, Monday to Friday, for six months, a red helicopter would fly by. For the first few months, I relived the horrors endured in Southern Lebanon. Perched on a hilltop, witnessing the firing of Hezbollah’s missile, watching it lock on to an Israeli Air Force Sikorsky CH-53 Stallion, watching its main rotor explode, then watch it fly towards our position, over our heads, so low I could see the pilots. They crashed into a fiery ball in the valley behind us. There were no survivors. Corresponding via email with NATAL, an Israeli volunteer organisation that helps veterans and survivors of combat and terror attacks, I was guided to realise that only I can control my reaction to the helicopter. I remembered that as a child I was fascinated by aircraft. I knew what made them fly and about the history of flight. I had model planes and books about flight explaining all the makes and models of helicopters and planes. Growing up in Israel, I could
appreciating the wonder of mechanical flight. My self-esteem was back. I felt lighter, no longer dragged down. By the end of the year, I had met Rony. Whenever we’d go out, I had to remind her that I needed to sit facing the entrance in public spaces. In March 2019 we were married. Three months later we flew to Israel to meet the families. I warned her that after thirty days in Israel, my sanity expired. We stayed for four months. I worked as a surf instructor in Tel Aviv. Being in the water balances my sanity. As I taught kids and adults how to connect to the water, military helicopters would constantly fly along the shoreline: Blackhawks, Cobras and Apache gunships flew at low altitude north to south and back—all day. Navy boats patrolled just past the wave breakers. Each time they flew above us I invited the little boy I was to view them. I believed I had healed myself as we watched in wonderment. One day, teaching a group of kids, we sat on our boards in the water waiting for a set to come in. It was a standard summer’s day, about twenty-six degrees with blue skies and clear waters. The beach was packed with tanning bodies, the hustle ‘n’ bustle of Tel Aviv just beyond the sand. Suddenly an all-too-familiar ‘thudthud-thud’ thumped through the air. In the past I’d turn away from the sound, try and escape it. Since my inner
Nonfiction child joined me to view these mechanical birds, I felt safe in turning towards the sound. As I turned, that little boy was nowhere to be found. I froze, my breath escaping as a CH-53 Stallion flew south along the shoreline. Before I could blink, the water morphed into September bushes, the wave breakers a hilltop from where a missile launched. The helicopter became a fireball. A faint voice in the back of my head whispered, ‘Dive’. I threw myself off the board and dived, hitting the bottom at about six feet and screamed. The images ceased and I was back in the present—in water. I could hear a muffled ‘thud-thud-thud’. I resurfaced minutes later, the helicopter now a distant silhouette. The longer we stayed in Israel, the more my anxiety intensified. I became extremely short-tempered, snappy, hot-headed and my patience was non-existent. My chest felt as though it had had a run-in with a sledgehammer. It became unbearable. When I snapped in the car one evening while Rony was driving, I raged. A demon erupted. I screamed and punched the inside of my door. I don’t really remember what triggered it. We were on the highway, late evening, and I don’t know how she didn’t lose control of the vehicle. I felt so alone and lost and just wanted to open the door and fall onto the road—at ninety kilometres an hour. I collapsed in the passenger seat and broke down crying. She remained silent and held the space for me to release. She pulled over, hugged me and caressed me with empathy and love. It’s what Israelis do every day for the ex-combat soldiers they marry. Suicidal thoughts that had accompanied me for the past fifteen years intensified. Every time I waited for the bus to take me home after a day of teaching and surfing, I’d watch the heavy vehicle barrel towards the stop at far too great a speed. And I’d think, How easy would it be to rid myself of this burden in my chest if I just stepped off the curb … Them Why did I survive? Why do I get to live? What if I had done this or that instead? I constantly feel guilty. Actions that I took part in led to deaths on both sides. Even now, almost twenty years after the events, it leads me to think of Them—the Government-defined ‘Enemy’. Palestinians experienced us showing up in the middle of the night with war painted on our faces, snatching fathers or older brothers from the house—right before their kids and wives. We pointed weapons at grandparents, parents, at innocent children. A whole unit would occupy their home for an indefinite time. Sometimes we’d tear a house apart searching for weapon caches and hiding places based on intel. They’d witness tanks and armoured vehicles patrolling their streets. Curfew, blockades, roadblocks, checkpoints. Then there’s the
extremists on their side. Brainwashing young kids: sixteen and older being the perfect drafting age. Making these kids believe that using their body as a detonating weapon is the only way to achieve entrance into Heaven. To die while killing twenty, thirty or more innocent lives and maiming the rest is tied to the belief that one will be a ‘Shahid’—a Muslim martyr, a holy soldier. Without employment opportunities, extremist groups like Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and even Hezbollah provide payments to families whose child dies a ‘Shahid’. Mostly, the families are unaware of what their child is up to. And even though they are financially rewarded by terrorist organisations, they are punished by the Israeli government who sends the military to destroy their home. For Palestinians, who have one of the highest global rates of mental illness, it’s a daily battle with Present-Trauma. I’m privileged. I get to go home or to Australia and escape the physical presence of it. In the past I’d drink and smoke it away. Now I just smoke it away. When I’m not under the influence of cannabis, the smallest things set me off: someone cutting me off in traffic; a loud noise in the night; sudden, unexpected strobe lighting at a gig; a minor argument with Rony. But once I smoke, I can let things go. Pressure in my chest is eased. And if I suffer an attack and smoke after, it fogs it out. I’ve never taken psychiatric drugs. If I were offered, I’d refuse them. I’ve experimented with many forms of therapy: psychology, constellation, sound healing, breathwork, meditation, couple’s therapy, kinesiology, Ayurveda and psychotherapy. The result is usually the same advice administered: ‘Let it go, don’t hold on to the past. It doesn’t serve you in the present.’ No shit. Easy to say and prescribe. When you have a trauma episode, it’s near impossible to command your brain to avoid the rabbit hole and just ‘Let it go.’ I’m grateful to be alive in a time where PTSD is no longer taboo. For too long it has been misunderstood and ignored by all governments that have a military. And I’m grateful that I have access to various therapeutic methods that work for me, unlike many Palestinians. And I’m blessed to have an understanding wife who isn’t shaken by what I endure. ‘So? Should we go see the fireworks?’ she asked, wrapping an arm around me. I took a breath and slowly nodded. ‘Okay,’ I agreed. We joined our friends at St Kilda beach for the 2019–20 New Year’s Eve fireworks display set to be shot from the distant city centre. I was anxious and on high alert. She held me close and tight. At midnight the fireworks fired. Due to the distance, no sounds of explosions were heard. Anxiety slowly evaporated as I felt safe; Rony hugged me the whole time. ‘Happy New Year!’ she smiled, and we kissed. I was present, in the moment—like diving underwater. •
Man Grow Magick By Sean West
I struggle to levitate out across these horizonless mud flats —try, try again but my legs gravitate thigh-deep. Aerial roots prick like gnarled fingernails and lodge between my toes. Bog witches are alive and kicking beneath these rank banks; a spoonbill is snagged beak-first in search of a bellyful of crayfish or slippery molluscs. I’m after something much greater: a man with a heart the size of a coral reef, whose laughter I’ve heard scamper like Moreton Bay bugs against the wings of swamped aircrafts. His eyes dart away faster than any guppy alive. Maybe if his bones were magicked into a toadfish or a cupped handful of tadpoles, I might find better luck, could watch him sprout slimy new arms and legs in a blue ice cream bucket like wounded starfish who relearn how to count to five: pensively, patiently. Until then I’m just a boy fishing for a man —fingernails failing to find grip.
Art by Kariel A. Díaz Maisonet
Art by Chenai Mupotsa-Russell
Morning By Rosalee Kiely
I sit under the coverlet. Beside the highway I took the gloves off. I cried on the left side when you went to work. The sign Executive Suites made the blush. Down went the coffee. What did I want? I held the hand. Nothing.
32 / Art by Alexandra Burns
‘I snatch at writing time during the day or hunch over my laptop in bed when he has fallen asleep next to me, his hot breath brushing against my arm.’
Art by Isabella Duncan
Writing Motherhood For M, my lovely boy
he first time I saw my son was when I visited the hospital on the day he was born. My partner and I took a tube line which snaked its way under the Thames before spitting us out in South London. The hospital looked like a giant confection of white frosting atop a small green mound. We caught the lift to the maternity ward in silence. My teenage sister-in-law struggled to breastfeed her son in the corner of the room. I did my best to help her by propping up his tiny head with the palm of my hand. I was the interloper. I hadn’t been there to witness those first flickering ultrasound images, his heartbeat as delicate as a feather. I hadn’t carried him within my body for months on end, waiting patiently for his arrival. Through the window I could see the rest of London stretching into the distance, far away and out of reach. I was on the edge of something but didn’t quite know what it was. The other babies screamed and gurgled and mewed. He was silent, his bright eyes a beacon of calm amongst the chaos. Even the nurses commented. He’s been here before, hasn’t he? I’ve told him about this moment many times and it has become part of his origin story. How in the beginning he was the quiet, placid baby and I was his aunt cradling him in the hospital.
The vista of the new baby and proud family in the hospital room is normal, palatable. But the reality is more fragmented than that. A baby boy was born to a young
beyond his reach? Where can we look to see our family reflected back to us? There are films, books and television shows about families made through adoption. But overwhelmingly they carry a shallow arc of redemption that romanticises the adopted child. Popular culture is so filled with adoption that it ceases to be part of the story: Spider-Man, Superman, Dorothy, Harry Potter, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker were all adopted. The narrative of adoption is one of benevolence and neat endings, of the saviour and the saved. That doesn’t reflect our story. The only neat endings in life occur when something is pushed out of sight. My baby sleeps, cocooned in the cot that sits snug in the corner of the room. Soft curls corkscrew from his skull. One sock has been playfully pulled off and stuffed down between the wall and the bedding, a habit he will have for years to come. I watch over him. How is it possible that I know so little about my own child? One day his dreams, quirks and fears will be as familiar to me as the sureness of my breath. But in this moment, I don’t know any of this, can’t quite grasp it clearly. Those stories live only in the landscape of my imagination. What was lost feels enormous. It has no borders. With the baby came a red book of medical records, a single page of typed notes and a small photo album. The medical records are blank in some areas, so I don’t know when he took his first step or got his first tooth. The typed notes are sparse, telling us to give him an extra bottle at midnight and that his favourite TV show
‘The narrative of adoption is one of benevolence and neat endings, of the saviour and the saved. That doesn’t reflect our story.’ mother in London and placed in foster care seven months later. Family members were assessed for their suitability as carers: maternal grandparents, an uncle and his Australian wife—me. For over a year the baby waited in limbo as decisions about his life played out in the family court. Our son finally came to live with us almost two years after that morning in the hospital. I’m aware that we tell ourselves stories in an attempt to make sense of life and its messiness, fraught with so many variables. This is the power of a story. But if the narrative is this fractured in my mind, how confusing must it be for my son? Does it stab at his memory, all shards and sharp edges; or is it out of focus, forever
is Peppa Pig. But so many things are left out, including that he didn’t like to be held when he went to sleep. The photographs span the time he spent in foster care: his first birthday, first Christmas, picnics in the park and visits to playgroup. I don’t know who many of the people in the photographs are, so I can’t tell him who he spent his first birthday with. He has a favourite teddy and a blanket, but I don’t know who gave them to him. Looking at these photographs, I see that my son’s eyes are haunted. Last year I attended a literary festival panel on writing and motherhood. The panel was composed of white,
Nonfiction heterosexual, able-bodied, cisgender, married, successful women. I can’t really have a go at the fact that they were successful—I was at a writers’ festival, a juggernaut designed to sell tickets, books and gleaming stories of achievement. But as I sat and listened, I became more and more uncomfortable. How had there been such an oversight in putting together a panel on writing mothers? The panel flatlined. Yes, it is hard to be a parent— especially a mother—and to work. Yes, it is hard if the work you do is to write or be creative (if we forget for a moment the inherent privilege in being able to do so in the first place). But to listen to a dialogue on writing motherhood framed around having a supportive and high-earning partner leaves so many out of the conversation. Where was the discussion on access for anyone who exists outside of our narrow societal representations of motherhood? Where was the space to talk about queer mothers, disabled mothers, Indigenous, immigrant, trans or single mothers? Adoptive and foster
I can understand the reasoning behind that panel at the writer’s festival. What I can’t understand is the lack of foresight. By only giving a voice to ‘typical’ experiences of motherhood, access becomes even harder for those who are continually shut out of the conversation. That panel seemed like a relic from twenty years ago. It was there on the festival program as recognition of inequality but lacked intersectionality. The panel and discussions recognised that mothers still needed a platform to talk about writing. But they didn’t really know why. Not long after I became a mother, I spent a night out at an East London pub with friends from work. I hadn’t been out with them since the adoption. The banter around the rickety table was awkward. It was obvious I’d changed. I didn’t have a tiny baby who had entered my world largely unencumbered. I arrived at the pub with extra baggage and found it hard to make small talk. It was May and we sat outside, so that the smokers could light up freely. Even though summer was fast
‘… to listen to a dialogue on writing mothers framed around having a supportive and high-earning partner leaves so many out of the conversation.’ mothers? Stepmothers? Mothers who are non-binary or genderqueer? Grieving and traumatised mothers? Mothers who are depressed, flailing, failing? I didn’t see myself or many of the parents I know represented on that panel. Seeing our experience represented is important. Parenthood can be an overwhelming and isolating experience, amplified even more so by trauma. A more nuanced representation of diverse families can bridge the gap that trauma cleaves into people’s lives. Having our stories and identities reflected is crucial if we are to understand each other. This leads to the issue of access, a discussion that will continue until the doors have been fully smashed down. A huge shift, to the extent that parents can work more flexibly, seems far away. The ability to take children into work, as they do in some countries, will probably never happen here. Because children are, in our patriarchal Western society, essentially still seen and not heard, almost an inconvenience to be shut away. I feel the tenuity of that balance in my own life, as I attempt to weigh up my writing life with being a single parent to a traumatised adopted child.
approaching, we huddled close together with our coats on. A friend’s new boyfriend came back from the bar and tried to join our conversation. So, you had a child the easy way? A wave of something hot passed through me: a mixture of anger and shame. My friends didn’t say anything. It was all new territory for them. This is a conversation that has been mirrored over the years—at dinner parties, school pick-up and shopping centres. By friends, other parents and strangers. For some people, the questions never get old. Didn’t I want a child who looked just like me? Didn’t I want my own child? Could I even have my own children? This concept, the very idea of owning a child, was dangled in front of me like the pinnacle of authentic motherhood. Part of the identity tied to motherhood is the narrative that carrying and giving birth to a child is the experience that sets you up for life as a mother. I can’t say what it is like to give birth to my own child, and it is an experience that I may never know. The conversations also made me question whether I was good enough to be the saint that adoptive mothers are meant to be. Could I recognise and understand the trauma behind the attachment disorders, language
Writing Motherhood delays, night terrors and possible learning difficulties? When people told me I was doing a good job (which happens even to this day: you are so good with him) I questioned their intentions. Would they say this if I was his biological mother? Would they say this to the other parents at the school gate? I think back to the beginning of us, me and him. We are waiting for a bus, trying to go somewhere, to get out of the house. I have no idea how to get his clunky pram onto a heaving London bus, no idea where I should take an almost two-year-old or what exactly I should be doing to fill the seemingly endless expanse of time. My child looks nothing like me, so I get a lot of attention. Especially from people who think they have it figured out: I am his nanny, his foster carer, his father’s new girlfriend—never his mother. I ignore the curious glances and comments and wait for the bus. He places his hand in mine, and the loss beats heavy in my chest. At night I wake from dreams that sweat with horrible anticipation. I see my son falling over the edge of a cliff or running in front of a car. How quickly I could lose grip of his tiny hand. I found myself still thinking about the panel on writing mothers when I went to see Zadie Smith speak at Broadside. Several years ago, Smith was involved in a dialogue over the number of children female writers ‘should’ have. She pointed out the obvious—does anyone ever question how many children male writers ‘should’ have? Or ask how they manage to find time or space to write? It’s just assumed that there is a woman
and public childcare services. It’s an issue of time, rather than a lack of that ever-elusive and undefinable creativity. Yet there is firm assertion that a supportive partner is essential. I write at my cramped kitchen table, my work punctuated by the laughter of my son in the next room. I snatch at writing time during the day or hunch over my laptop in bed when he has fallen asleep beside me, his hot breath brushing against my arm. I think about my relationship to creativity, and how it might be similar to a parent’s capacity for unconditional love or sacrifice. Something shifted when I became a mother. The little time I had was filled with a sense of urgency. The all-encompassing nature of motherhood helped me to recognise both the smallness of my world as well as the universality of the human experience. Once my son started school, I overhauled my life: I quit teaching, started working part-time from home and enrolled in a master of writing. As a newly single parent, I had choices to make about the direction of my life. It was creatively liberating. The greatest thing we lose by leaving people out of the dialogue on motherhood isn’t just that a diversity box hasn’t been ticked or a quota hasn’t been met. What we lose lies in the denial of the creativity and vitality that diversity of story brings. These are voices that press against the fabric of cultural expectation and add to the richness of story. The barriers we face as outsiders both hinder and enhance our creativity. Writing, storytelling and the arts are perfect vehicles for representing a multiplicity of voices and for creating empathy and understanding. There are new stories waiting for us, if we make space for them.
‘A friend’s new boyfriend came back from the bar and tried to join our conversation. So, you had a child the easy way? A wave of something hot passed through me: a mixture of anger and shame. My friends didn’t say anything. It was all new territory for them.’ somewhere behind the scenes, looking after ‘his’ children. The narrative of a mother who writes still follows Smith. I wonder if her husband, also a writer, is ever asked the same questions. It doesn’t matter how many children you have, say some, Smith included. What matters is decent support
To this day, the story of my son’s early years still overwhelms him. Trauma has left its sticky imprint on his brain and hidden itself deep in his stomach. During the medical checks necessary to migrate to Australia he endured rounds of testing, hooked up to cardiograms and overnight heart monitors. The diagnosis: an
Nonfiction irregular heart rhythm, most likely caused by anxiety. He was four years old at the time. He is now eight and struggles to read and write. The narrative thread that should run through his neural pathways has been disrupted. Teachers remark on the stark disparity between his vocabulary, vivid imagination and the jumble of letters that he manages to write down. I take him to be screened for dyslexia, and it seems to be all bound by trauma. We attend my best friend’s wedding in Melbourne. After the ceremony I huddled in the smoker’s area with my friend’s mum, a hardened Queensland teacher. ‘He does a lot of cover up, your boy.’ I stared at her over my cigarette. Most people can’t read him so easily.
vision-dreams of clifftop falls and crashing cars with a sense of relief. In those moments it feels so powerful that we have found each other, our stories entwined not by biology but through choice. When my son stays at his Dad’s house, he tells me that he creeps into the kitchen at night to get an extra glass of water. He holds the water in his mouth, imagining the droplets turning into bubbles that then escape from his mouth. He places himself in these bubbles, urging them to be lifted by the breeze. My lovely boy sends the bubbles to me, the bubbles that hold him. He watches me, as I sleep in bed or stand at the sink looking out the back window. Even when we are apart he has found a way for us to be together, and I find myself pausing and thinking
‘For a second he inhabited the world with ease, forgetting to cover up his distrust of others.’ ‘But that’s okay, he’s just working out how to survive. We adults do it all the time. He’s just had to get there quicker than most of us.’ At the airport on our way home I watched as he played with his toys and lost himself in a game. For a second he inhabited the world with ease, forgetting to cover up his distrust of others. A swell of pride and sadness bloomed in my chest. I did what I do best: I wrote the scene down on the back of my boarding pass. Months later I look back over my scrawled notes, and the intricate web that they form—the boarding pass, notebooks, the reports given over by social workers. And I do my best to piece it together into a story that makes some kind of sense. Almost three years after the adoption we move to Australia as a family of three. I let the process of applying for migration visas for my son and my partner consume me and I spend a whole summer scanning statutory declarations, photographs, bills and tenancy agreements as my son naps. Picking up our lives and moving them to Australia is more difficult than we imagined. My marriage falters and dies in a sudden explosion. It is over quickly but the shame of failure remains. Shame that I couldn’t hold my family together for the sake of my son. The night my son finds out that his dad is leaving, I hold him as sobs wrack his little body with deep noiseless spasms. Once I have processed the grief of the separation, I find my way back to an almost unbearable place of gratitude. How lucky I am to have my son. I wake from those fevered
of him watching over me, our roles subverted. To this day he sleeps in my bed, and even though he has never liked overbearing touch, he sleeps with one foot reaching out to my leg, always maintaining the connection. I know now that we will always carry his trauma with us: it is stuck to our bones, nestled between our organs and concealed in our veins. Adoption is a kind of exile, a loss so deep that it reverberates through families forever. The loss my son feels folds in on itself in layers—he has lost his birth parents, extended family, foster carers and the links to his cultural heritage and language. The strongest link I have with my son will always be based on narrative, not genetics. Friends and strangers remark on our subtle similarities, that we have the same eyes or smile. What they really see is that we have the same expressions and mannerisms. We have been so shaped by story and memory that we mirror each other. We are a family because it was written so. Because of child protection reports, the issuing of a new birth certificate and a chain of emails that crisscrossed between a network of social workers. I even wrote my name into his by interweaving my surname into his birth name. Writing this story is a kind of alchemy: it carries with it the power to transform. I write my way back to when I first held my son in that hospital room overlooking London. With my words I map our memories and wrap him in them, so he will never forget. I remember it all, and I write it down. Until here we are: I am at the centre of his story and he is at the centre of mine. •
40 / Art by Hui Wang
Dehiscence (wound separation) By Ruby Porter When you are inside the wound your lover is razor bumps a side hug outside the Newtown supermarket shadowless foyer fluorescent words (by which you mean your lover is thin as light.)
When you are
your lover will say do you want to talk about it? and is there anything I can do? (by which he means I’m in a meeting right now please can you stop ringing.)
Your lover is vocal chords stretched across four hundred miles and a bad connection he can’t hear you right now because he’s catching the seven.
Poetry Tear wide your regular opening hours. Your lover, the contusion will close the windows and choke on his own words
(like baby it’s been hard you know you only call me that in poetry
na baby you weren’t listening I only call you that when I’m angry.)
When you are the wound your lover is the wet he breathes past your scattered edges they no longer meet fumbling to feel for themselves without their tongues on the grooved wood of St Anne’s stairs. Take your shoes off
line up single file see the school bag hooks hang your head he says you’re just too sad he says I don’t know what to do.
HYSTERICAL FANTASIES OF BODILY COLLAPSE IN THE FITS By Nonie May
ressed in grey sweats, her hair in two tight braids, eleven-year-old Toni (Royalty Hightower) manoeuvres a heavy water container out from under a pile of larger bottles and begins rolling it up a ramp. She is collecting the replacement water for her brother, Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor), and the other boxers training at the Lincoln Community Centre. As she hauls the water container up the ramp, Toni encounters a group of girls who stop dancing to consider her. A drum sounds from offscreen and the girls dash towards the source—one of them commenting, ‘Shit, we back in.’ Toni follows them, hauling the twenty-litre bottle of water along with her. The camera tracks Toni closely, foregrounding the child within the frame. Now she is positioned against the white gym doors. Next to her, a poster with the words ‘LIONESSES DRILL TEAM’ written in golden glitter, denotes the source of the rambunctious music and girlish chatter. Toni presses her hand against the door and lifts her head to peer through the small window. The camera cuts to a tight close-up of Toni’s curious gaze from the other side of the door. Her face is stony and still. The camera shifts back to Toni’s side of the door, the shot framed through the window, so that the spectator can peer, like Toni, at a sliver of the gymnasium in which the Lionesses are gathered. Two of the older girls, Legs (Makyla Burnam) and Karisma (Inayah Rodgers), are engaged in a dance battle. They throw vibratory and percussive movements at one another with a playful aggression. The rest of the drill team are gathered around them: clapping, jeering, and shouting. The camera cuts to a mid shot of Toni, pressed against the door, peering through the window, still silent. As the sequence progresses the camera cuts from a close-up of Toni’s face—her eyes growing wider, her mouth open—to a close-up of Legs’ powerful movement, the motion slowed down, the score muted. The only audible sounds are of the movement of her
body and the jeering calls of the other girls. Finally, the camera cuts back to a close-up of Toni’s face, but her attention has shifted to the sticky substance on her hand, now covered in the gold glitter from the Lionesses’ poster. She rubs the tips of her fingers together, the glitter-glue spreading over her fingernails, and she considers the substance with caution. This sequence, from the beginning of Anna Rose Holmer’s directorial debut The Fits (2015), captures many of the themes that are threaded throughout the film. 1 First, it foregrounds Toni’s persistent sense of isolation, allowing the spectator to dwell in the solitude of her long silences. The scene is guided by Toni’s watchful gaze, framing the world through point-of-view shots that are explicitly linked to the perspective of this African American child. In the same way, the film’s narrative is driven by her look, and this sense of Toni’s perspective is enhanced by the film’s emphasis on her touch and her sensory perspective. We are given haptic direction by the movement of her body through the film’s spaces. As her fingers consider the texture of that gold glitter glue, the spectator is given a sense of the sticky substance, foreshadowing the bodily contagion of seizures that spreads one-by-one to each of the girls on the drill team. Within the film, the drill team’s dance routines and Toni’s new teammates enact a kind of mimesis: a bodily mirror against which Toni confronts the gestalt of her own body and the continual oscillation between fantasies of its unification and its fragmentation. This paper will consider how these fits connote a hysterical fragmentation of self and a collapse of the cohesive boundaries of the rigidly mastered body. In the final sequence of the film, Toni is embraced by a climactic, emancipatory fantasy. It is an ‘Aha-Erlebnis’ moment: simultaneously the point at which Toni loses all control over her body but is also unified bodily with her teammates; the girls’ bodies are used
Anna Rose Holmer, The Fits (Venice and USA: Oscilloscope Laboratories, 2015). Many thanks must go to Professor Barbara Creed’s generous feedback on drafted versions of this paper, which has been adapted from research for the PhD dissertation “Sight, Sound, Touch: The Sensory Child of Contemporary Cinema” (The University of Melbourne, 2019).
Academic to represent both bodily cohesion and collapse. They share in a collective hysteria expressive of the fantasy of ‘le corps morcelé,’ the body in pieces. This, according to Jacques Lacan’s seminar on ‘the mirror stage,’ is the retroactive fantasy that the infant conjures in response to the disjunction between their real body and the perceived cohesion of their ideal body in the mirror image.2 Jane Gallop argues that the anticipatory disruptions and retroactive violations to chronology that are at work in the infant’s mirror-stage fantasy are mechanisms that continue to disrupt and restore the adult subject’s fantasies of self.3 These anticipatory and retroactive mechanisms, disrupting and restoring the fantasy of a whole and complete self, are at work in the bodily evocations of hysteria central to The Fits. This paper will argue that hysteria disrupts social cohesion; it disrupts the mechanisms of identity that are predicated on an acceptance into the Symbolic Order. The hysteric destabilises normative codes and, via the undoing of bodily markers of stability, represents the impossibility of whole and complete signification. The hysteria that overwhelms the predominantly African American teens and pre-teens of The Fits is fundamentally a radical upheaval of the oppressive structures inherent to the Symbolic Order. By drawing on Catherine Clément and Hélène Cixous’ arguments about the political power of the hysterical woman, I will argue that Toni’s seizure, framed as hysterical bodily collapse, can be understood as an emancipatory moment in which the rigid constraints of the Symbolic Order are broken so that she might simultaneously lose and re-find herself. This is in keeping with bell hooks’ call for representations of radical black female subjectivity; a subjectivity that—like the hysterical fits experienced by the young girls—is inherently disruptive to systems of oppression.4
In her essay, ‘Revolutionary Black Women: Making Ourselves Subject,’ hooks calls for literary representations (and by extension cinematic representations) of black female experiences that are not only an authentic account of the diversity of experiences of women of colour, but that also assert the radical potentiality of the politicised black female subject.5 HYSTERIA Within the film’s diegesis, we are never explicitly told what causes these fits nor what they are supposed to mean—though in several interviews Holmer links the seizures to hysteria.6 She states that she was interested in the mysterious spread of hysteria across Europe in the Middle Ages, and the peculiarities of the ‘Dancing Disease’ in particular.7 This mystery is central to The Fits, in which Holmer endeavours to explore hysterical outbreaks as unconscious choreography.8 The film foregrounds hysteria as a bodily experience, giving a physical language to something that is, by definition, beyond language. Freud began his project of delineating the unconscious through a consideration of somatic neurotic symptoms. Indeed, Freud’s early work with subjects experiencing hysteria (a bodily expression of an unconscious symptom) are at the origin of his theories of unconscious fantasies.9 Lacan in turn theorises that hysteria is symptomatic of the subject’s oscillation among the (rigid) markers of sex, gender, sexuality, and, I will argue, racial identity. He postulates that the hysteric resists adopting (or embodying) the signifiers of either masculinity or femininity, exposing the gap between the artificially constructed binary of male and female, that is, the gap between signifiers of language, identity, culture.10 Ellie Ragland-Sullivan writes:
2 Psychoanalysis is a method that has been problematised by psychoanalysts and their critics alike. However, this paper adopts the hermeneutic approach that developed in the 1960s, which suggests that psychoanalytic interpretations can be thought of as ‘meaningful relations’ rather than absolutisms. (See: Adolf Grünbaum, The Foundations of Psychoanalysis (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).) The work of psychoanalysis is in elucidating the otherwise obscure languages of the body and of the unconscious mind. In cinema, I argue, this is no different. I am interested in the processes of meaning-making that analysis can uncover, in relation to both mind and body and their inter-relationship. In adopting this approach, this paper seeks to uncover some of the specificity of experiences of black girlhood, while also considering how these dream-like encounters with the hysterical black female subject might work upon a spectator. Robert Lapsley’s article is a compelling account for the contemporary psychoanalytic methodology: “Cinema, the Impossible, and a Psychoanalysis to Come,” Screen 50, no.1 (March 20, 2009): 14-24. 3 Jane Gallop, “Lacan’s ‘Mirror Stage’: Where to Begin,” SubStance 11/12 (1982), 120. 4 bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1992). 5 hooks, Black Looks, 41-60. 6 See Matthew Eng, “Get in Formation”; Teo Bugbee, “Q&A: The Fits Director Anna Rose Holmer On Making A Movie About ‘The Dancing Disease’,” MTV News, 6/2/2016. http://www.mtv.com/news/2888010/qa-the-fits-director-anna-rose-holmer-on-making-a-movie-about-the-dancing-disease/; Julia Felsenthal, “Anna Rose Holmer on Directing The Fits and the Power of Contagion,” Vogue Online, 3/6/2016. http://www.vogue.com/article/the-fitsanna-rose-holmer-interview 7 Sporadic, mass outbreaks of hysterical dancing—given the medical term choreomania—were recorded in various parts of Europe from as early as the thirteenth century for nearly three centuries. For a thorough and lively account of these historical outbreaks of hysteria, see John Waller, The Dancing Plague: The Strange, True Story of an Extraordinary Illness (Illinois: Sourcebooks, 2009). 8 David Fear, “How ‘The Fits’ Became the Girl Power Movie of 2016,” Rolling Stone Online, 10/6/2016. http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/howthe-fits-became-the-girl-power-movie-of-2016-20160610 9 In addition to Freud’s early work with Josef Breuer in Studies on Hysteria, (New York: Basic Books, 2000), see also Freud’s case study Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997). For feminist perspectives on hysteria: Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahane, In Dora’s Case: Freud—Hysteria—Feminism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990). 10 See Jacques Lacan, “The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of Its Power,” Ecrits: A Selection (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002).
Hysterical Fantasies of Bodily Collapse in The Fits [The hysteric embodies] the quintessence of the human subject because she speaks, as an agent, from the lack and gaps in knowledge, language and being. In her ‘being’ she reveals the incapacity of any human to satisfy the ideals of symbolic identifications.11 Hysteria is a disruption to the rigidity of identity given to the subject through the external mirror image (as we will come to discuss in more detail shortly). Hélène Cixous describes the hysterical woman as ‘the unorganisable feminine construct … she is given images that don’t belong to her, and she forces herself, as we’ve all done, to resemble them.’12 But these images are inadequate, and inevitably she collapses into pieces of a puzzle that do not fit together, she collapses into fragmentation. Cixous writes, ‘the woman pushed to hysteria is the woman who disturbs and is nothing but disturbance.’13 Hysteria disrupts social cohesion; it disrupts the identity that is predicated on an acceptance into the Symbolic Order. In The Fits, the hysteria experienced by the girls on the drill team can be read as a disruption of identity, and an assertion of radical black female subjectivity. In the film, these fits of uncontrolled wildness, of impropriety, of bodily collapse, are metaphors for the subject liberated from the structures that oppress them. As hooks writes: Wild is the metaphoric expression of that inner will to rebel, to move against the grain, to be out of one’s place. It is the expression of radical black female subjectivity.14 Quoting from Law Professor Regina Austin, hooks asserts ‘the time has come for us to get truly hysterical.’15 Rizvana Bradley foregrounds the centrality of race in interpreting the allegorical hysteria at work in The Fits. Bradley argues that Holmer’s film ‘explores the complex erasure and reproduction of black girlhood in American life,’ and ‘insists on reserving space for and making public the concerns of young, black teenage girls who have been silenced or neglected through the
wilful political dispensation of their lives.’16 This is not to suggest that the film indulges in depictions of black suffering. Rather, as hooks advocates, the film offers spectators a narrative of a young black female subject emancipated from the ‘internalised pain’ of systemic racism, and it does so by offering her ‘the mirror image—other black women’ who are radically given over to fits of hysteria.17 THE MIRROR IMAGE In her discussion of the function of hysteria in The Fits, Patricia White notes that the opening shot of the film is given to us through a mirror.18 Toni sits in the centre of the frame, and pulls her body up toward the camera, counting her sit-ups. Behind her, in soft focus, is a boxing ring. She continues to fold her body forward, touching her chest to her knees, counting—three-fourfive—her breath escapes her lungs and runs ragged through her speech. Only later is it revealed that the camera has taken up the position of a full-length mirror. This, White states, ‘allows the viewer to become (Toni’s) reflection.’19 Though White makes this point in passing, it is significant that the mirror image is evoked from the very first frame of the film. The mirror is of course a cinematic motif with a rich history.20 It is utilised here to invite a kind of identification with this child, perhaps also suggesting that she reflects our own image back to us in turn. Importantly, before we are given this image, we hear Toni’s voice, and we hear the physical effort she is exerting as she counts her sit-ups. Just as the image invites us to identify with Toni, the soundscape invites us into a sensory alignment with this character. By amplifying the sounds of her body, her breath and movement and voice, we are invited to feel part of her world. We are invited to sit in empathy with her. Indeed, throughout the film, Holmer utilises classic cinematic iconography, positioning Toni in contemplative moments doubled by her reflection. In addition to the opening shot described above, Toni watches herself in the mirror when she pierces her ears, and later when she practices her dance routines. These instances call to mind
Ellie Ragland-Sullivan, “Hysteria,” Feminism and Psychoanalysis: A Critical Dictionary, ed. Elizabeth Wright (Oxford: Blackwell 1992), 164. Hélène Cixous, “Castration or Decapitation?” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 7, no. 1 (1981): 47, [original emphasis]. Cixous, “Castration or Decapitation?” 49. 14 hooks, Black Looks, 49. 15 hooks, Black Looks, 50 16 Rizvana Bradley, “Black Cinematic Gesture and the Aesthetics of Contagion” TDR: The Drama Review, 62, no.1 (Spring, 2018), 15,16. 17 hooks, Black Looks, 42. 18 Patricia White, “Bodies That Matter: Black Girlhood in The Fits” Film Quarterly 70, no.3 (2017): 23. 19 White, “Bodies That Matter,” 23. 20 This is a common motif in cinema, often used to demarcate a point of identity crisis for the protagonist. To name only a few examples: Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) declares his imminent suicide attempt to his mirror image in The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2002); Nina (Natalie Portman) is haunted by her sinister mirror image in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010); Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) threatens his mirror image in Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976); at the climax of 2001: A Space Odyssey astronaut David Bowman (Keir Dullea) sees his much older face reflected back by a mirror image. 11
Academic the fraught moment in subject formation that Lacan first discussed in his early seminar, ‘The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function.’21 Lacan postulates that somewhere between the ages of six and eighteen months, the infant first recognises her own image. She derives pleasure (a ‘jubilant assumption [assomption]’) from this image of her body as a total, whole and complete form.22 But, of course, this perceived unification is incongruent with the infant’s actual body, not yet fully mastered, and ‘still trapped in [her] motor impotence and nursling dependence.’23 This discord between the perceived bodily image and the actual bodily form is a key moment in the formation of
seizures. These seizures, as I will come to argue, suggest a cyclicality to the interplay of unification and dis-unification at work in Lacan’s mirror stage that is re-enacted by the child when older. Jane Gallop (via Catherine Clément) reads Lacan’s mirror stage as a retroactive fantasy around the formation of a whole and complete body that simultaneously creates and alienates the disunified, uncontrollable body. In her article, ‘Lacan’s ‘Mirror Stage’: Where to Begin,’ Gallop emphasises the temporal dialectic of the mirror moment that is at once anticipatory and retroactive. Gallops writes:
the subject. The body here is the focal point of an internal dialectic that oscillates between an image of the body as whole and an experience of the body as fragmentary (neither of which is quite the whole truth of the matter). Lacan argues that the infant senses in that mirror image a cohesion-to-be, and anticipates an eventual mastery over her whole form, rendering abject the perception of a body that is uncooperative. The Fits interrogates a relation to the body that rests upon this anticipation of mastery. Though the film plays with Toni’s mirror image, it is her reflection in the bodies of the slightly older girls in the drill team that begin to inform an understanding of her own identity. The girls work so that their discrete bodies might synchronise into a unified and collective whole. From the moment Toni joins the team, she becomes primarily concerned with aligning her body to those mirrored back to her. With constant practice, the girls begin to master rhythm, the steps, and their bodies. They are told by their captains to ‘stop thinking like an individual and start thinking like a team.’ However, this is almost immediately superseded by the girls’ inability to master their bodies, which are overthrown by inexplicable
[The infant] thus finds ‘already there’ in the mirror image a mastery that she will actually only learn later. The jubilation, the enthusiasm, is tied to the temporal dialectic by which she appears already to be what she will only later become.24 The fantasy is both anticipatory and retroactive: the infant anticipates a future totality of the body as it is perceived in the mirror image, but this in turn results in the retroactive fantasy of the self that existed prior to this formulation of the ‘I’—the fragmented, uncontrolled, unmastered body. In this way, the infant’s ‘jubilant assumption’ actively collapses both the future and the past—the future fantasy of a whole self, with the past fantasy of what Lacan calls ‘le corps morcelé,’ the body-in-bits-and-pieces.25 Gallop argues that the mirror stage can be understood as a turning point in the constitution of the ‘I’: the subject’s sense of self is given to her via the ideal, albeit external, image offered by the mirror.26 As Gallop puts it: The mirror image becomes a totalising ideal which organises and orients the self. But since the ‘self’ is
21 Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function, as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience,” Ecrits: A Selection (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002). 22 Lacan, “The Mirror Stage,” 4. 23 Lacan, “The Mirror Stage,” 4. 24 Gallop, “Lacan’s ‘Mirror Stage’,” 120. 25 Lacan, “The Mirror Stage,” 4. 26 Gallop, “Lacan’s ‘Mirror Stage’,” 120.
Hysterical Fantasies of Bodily Collapse in The Fits necessarily a totalised, unified concept—a division between an inside and an outside—there is no ‘self’ before the mirror stage. The mirror stage is thus a turning point, but between what and what?27 Gallop contends that this is a false division. It creates a before and an after of the self: the body as a unified whole connotes a past in which the body was not unified. The mirror stage sets up a false chronology of the self, one in which retroactive fantasies around origins are collapsed into anticipatory fantasies of the future self. To quote Lacan in full here: This development is experienced as a temporal dialectic that decisively projects the individual’s formation into history: the mirror stage is a drama whose internal pressure pushes precipitously from insufficiency to anticipation—and, for the subject caught up in the lure of spatial identification, turns out fantasies that proceed from a fragmented image of the body to what I will call an “orthopedic” form of its totality—and to the finally donned armor of an alienating identity that will mark his entire mental development with its rigid structure.28
The subject, Gallop contends, is thus ‘projected, thrown forward, in an anticipation which makes her progress no longer a natural development but a ‘history,’ a movement doubly twisted by anticipation and retroaction.’29 This suggests that the mirror stage becomes an organisational fantasy through which the subject constructs their idealised self in the image of the unified body that was given to them by the external world. As a compensatory consequence of this anticipatory fantasy, the body in bits-and-pieces becomes an abject concept— the subject is supposed to cast off this past disunity; the horror of the body not unified in cohesion with the self disrupts the orthopaedic form—as Lacan puts it—of the Gallop, “Lacan’s ‘Mirror Stage’,” 121 [my emphasis]. Lacan, “The Mirror Stage,” 6 [my emphasis]. 29 Gallop, “Lacan’s ‘Mirror Stage’,” 122. 27 28
body as whole and mastered. Moreover, the fragmented or disunified body is indicative of a subversion of the rigid demarcation of identity: it is a radical subjectivity. The Fits evokes this cinematically through the collective cohesion of the drill team and the hysterical disruptions of their seizures. The physicality of these moments evokes a kind of anxiety and pleasure in fantasies of the body-in-bitsand-pieces, as allegorical for radical subjectivity. In the film, hysteria operates allegorically as a radical disruption to the markers of identity as delineated by the Symbolic Order. The fantasy of the body-in-bits-and-pieces evokes a dismantling of the internalised racism and sexism that might otherwise inform constructions of African American girlhood. LE CORPS MORCELÉ The bodily contagion that spreads from girl to girl within the Lionesses drill team (not, it should be noted, to any of the boys on the boxing team) connotes hysteria: a collapse of the cohesive boundaries of the rigidly mastered body. The first of these lapses occurs during a drill team practice when the girls are repeatedly running through the steps of the ‘clap back stand’ until they fall into unison with one another. Legs, who looks tired and
sickly, is calling out: ‘Do it again. Five, six, seven, GO.’ As the girls enact the movements the camera pans across the room, foregrounding Toni who is not yet in sync with the others. The fifth repetition of the movement is interrupted by the sound of retching. The camera pans to reveal Legs’ body doubled over itself, as she retches before collapsing to the floor. The score accelerates to a panicked rhythm. Toni watches this seizure through the gaps made by her teammates huddling around Legs. They throw water on her, and hold her, but her seizure continues. The camera closes in tightly on Toni’s distressed gaze. The sound of Legs’ gasping continues until the scene cuts to black.
Academic This use of sound effects makes Legs’ breath visceral for the spectator, foregrounding the body aurally as well as visually. Holmer’s intention was for each seizure to be a unique, bodily manifestation of something unspoken or unconscious. In an interview with reviewer Matthew Eng, she states: We also worked with a modern dancer, Celia Rowlson-Hall, to design the fits with the girls. We gave them no visual reference for what a fit was or should look like. We gave them some keywords in the script. We talked about triggers, where in the body they were coming from. But each girl designed her fit with Celia in isolation. That’s why they look so different. They are very individual moments.30 Intentionally emanating from different bodily triggers, the collapses evoke various body parts and sensations. In the chaos of these collapses the hysterical girls become bodies-in-bits-and-pieces. The tension here is between the hysterical body, which willingly loses control of itself, and the fragmented body, which uncontrollably falls to pieces. Toni’s climactic seizure, it seems, is caught somewhere between these two modes, giving expression to the sensation of total bodily collapse. As the film progresses, each seizure shifts in form. Legs’ retching collapse is followed by the clutching, choking movement of Karisma’s slow fall to the floor. Different again is the vibratory and pulsating movement of Diamond (Mangel Moore) folding her body backwards, arms spread in an exultant gesture to the sky. Toni learns, by eavesdropping, that each girl experiences her seizure differently. Legs says hers felt like the moment before performing at a dance competition, when nerves take over the mind but the choreography is remembered muscularly, retained within the body. She says, ‘It’s like you almost just stop thinking. It’s like time stops and you’re just floating.’ Beezy (Alexis Neblett) describes her fit as ‘crazy,’ saying, ‘It was like I was watching it from above, like I had two sets of eyes.’ Maia’s (Lauren Gibson) was serene, peaceful—even though to Beezy, ‘It didn’t look peaceful. It looked scary.’ Toni listens to a group of girls talk excitedly in the corridor: ‘It was,’ one girl imitates a pop-pop sound, ‘like pop rocks.’ ‘Really? Mine was terrifying. Like I never want to go through that again.’ ‘Mine must’ve happened in my room. When my mom came in, my teddy bears were
everywhere.’ Each seizure is individual, outwardly as well as inwardly—quite rightly too, as the experiences of women of colour are not homogenous—but the seizures also, in their differences, share in a disruptive property. Read allegorically, these fits are an attack on the Symbolic Order, that is, the apparatus that gives structure to society: language, culture and systems of patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy. Each seizure interrupts, breaks through, overwhelms—is a bodily experience of excess. They are filmed as such; the girls’ states of panic—or serenity—are represented via tactile and haptic coding (by foregrounding the sound of their breath and through closeups of the body) so that for the spectator, their experiences register bodily. Elena Benthaus notes this, arguing that spectators are drawn into experiencing the film by the ‘constant negotiation of movement’ which situates the spectator at ‘the border of consciousness’ via the simultaneous ‘orientation and disorientation’ of the hysterical bodies on screen.31 This elicits an empathetic response from the spectator, positioning them to identify with these radical Black female subjects. Toni, who has not yet had a seizure—and who does not want one—becomes increasingly ostracised from the group. She is scared to be contaminated, but she watches them compulsively, eavesdropping on the girls when they talk about their fits and witnessing their experiences from a distance. The camera’s alignment with Toni’s sensory perspective allows spectators to insert themselves into her experience, and share in her compulsion to understand these seizures. Then, at the climax of the film, Holmer depicts Toni’s seizure by intercutting shots of the physical seizure with shots of her existential experience; she represents how Toni lives the seizure in her mind as well as through her body. It is a moment in which fantasy and reality blur into one another, where the distinction between Toni’s body and her ideal image of it cannot be distinguished. Toni’s seizure is indicative of the bodily collapse experienced in ‘jouissance,’ in the little death, in losing sight of the self entirely.32 But the final sequence of the film is also an invitation to the spectator to seek out the radical potentiality of her own subjectivity. This is the argument that Catherine Clément takes up in her book Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture. Here, Clément describes the syncope as a moment of bodily collapse, when time falters, the head spins and breath is
Matthew Eng, “Get in Formation: Anna Rose Holmer Revitalizes the Dance Film in The Fits,” Tribeca Film (1/6/2016). https://tribecafilm.com/stories/ get-in-formation-anna-rose-holmer-revitalizes-the-dance-film-in-the-fits-royalty-hightower-indie 31 Elena Benthaus, “Dis/Orientation: Rhythmic Bodies and Corporeal Orature in The Fits,” The International Journal of Screendance 9 (2018), 30. 32 For Lacan, jouissance is the impossible enjoyment that is perceived in the Other, which is the root-cause of the subject’s desire. (See: Jacques Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959-1960 (New York: Routledge, 2008), 183-4.) Catherine Clément interprets jouissance as the “enigma of female ecstasy,” something Lacan could not transcribe into words when analysing madness in his female patients. Clément links this to the syncope experienced during hysterical climax, conflating orgasm with a momentary collapse of the rigid markers of identity, like a brief death of the self. See: Catherine Clément, The Lives and Legends of Jacques Lacan, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 100. 30
Hysterical Fantasies of Bodily Collapse in The Fits held, when vertigo takes over and the earth seems to give way beneath you.33 Syncopes are brief moments of hysteria in which consciousness is lost and the self elided by the physicality of collapse. Fainting, seizing, orgasming, Clément suggests, are all moments of ‘jouissance’ in which the body is suspended in time and the mind goes blank, and in which the subject is all but lost. The syncope is ‘an absence of the self.’34 She continues: Human jouissance requires that one lose one’s head; that is the foundation. That is the only way to attain the simulacrum, the moment when nature’s harbor is reached, where the mooring ropes that hold fast the subject—consciousness, its cogito, its history, and through that everyone’s history—are cast off at last.35 The syncope is reminiscent of the seizures that the drill team girls experience in The Fits. In these moments, each girl loses herself to the collapse; her body is seized by something outside of her control. The imago of her body as whole and complete, the ideal-self, are both shattered and reconstructed in the hysterical moment. Clément sees the syncope as a loss of control and a potentially radical action that is brought about by female agency; in her collapse, woman goes somewhere, to return forever changed. Syncope is, as Clément puts it, ‘an un-governing of the world: to undo, untie, liberate.’36 In the climax of The Fits, Toni’s seizure is a marker of her agency, suggesting her potential for radical disruption. Clément writes that the mirror stage contains ‘the primordial syncope of the subject in childhood.’37 Lacan describes it as the infant’s ‘jubilant assumption,’ an outburst of laughter in which the child is captivated by her mirror image. Clément writes: ‘Nothing else happens except for this image in the mirror, this pause, and this sudden rapture. It is a fleeting and precise moment.’38 Contained within this pause, for Clément, is the anticipatory mechanisms of fantasy that simultaneously establish the imago as whole, complete, and able, based on a retroactive fantasy of the body as fragmented, disunified, and deficient. With her outburst of laughter at her reflection, these anticipatory and retroactive mechanisms of the mirror stage fantasy take hold. And it is to this syncope-moment that the hysteric returns: caught between signifiers, the body dissolves itself against the imago’s gestalt. In this sensorial collapse, the hysterical woman abandons the totality of her form, abandons the
rigid markers of language given to her by the mirror— abandons herself, if only briefly, in a little death from which she will return, born anew. HYSTERICAL COLLAPSE Toni’s hysterical seizure at the climax of the film represents the undoing of the mirror-stage fantasy. It disrupts the orthopaedically formed identity of the individual, instead offering up an inversion of the fantasy. As I will detail, Toni’s seizure represents the anticipatory and retroactive mechanisms of fantasy that continue to both concretise and disrupt the individual’s identity. Her collapse is a moment outside of time, where she defies the laws of gravity, is lost to herself, and disrupts the rigidity of her pre-formed image. Contained in this moment is all of her potentiality for being otherwise. The cinematography of the final sequence disrupts the pattern established earlier in the film. The camera, which previously tracked Toni’s eyeline so closely, is now disembodied. However, it is still a sensory and haptic representation of the sequence that seems to oscillate between Toni’s interior and exterior worlds. The camera tracks Toni’s bare feet as she walks down the corridor towards the gymnasium. The white linoleum floor beneath her is hazy and out of focus. Without any effort at all, her slow march is lifted into the air, until she is walking ‘free of gravity’ (as the lyrics in the soundtrack indicate). This sequence not only breaks with the film’s verisimilitude (a film grounded in realism) but is also at odds with the cinematic language that it so painstakingly constructed. These kinds of closeups have until now been linked in a syntax of shots that construct Toni’s point of view. But here, Toni cannot possibly be watching her feet from this angle. If this is still Toni’s perspective, it must be a fantasy similar to the kind of disembodiment that Beezy described of her seizure. Or perhaps, as the soundtrack tells us, she really is ‘free from gravity.’ The camera continues to track behind Toni’s levitating feet until a crowd of girls come into shot. The camera cuts them in half so their bodies are fragmented: we see only their legs, moving frenetically until in unison they stop to watch Toni. This shot cuts to a mid shot from behind Toni. The girls are out of focus, gathered around her, watching horrified as her arms spread wide like a crucifix. She begins to convulse, throwing her body around with a measured, almost performative, abandon. Here, Toni’s body moves so quickly that it morphs and
Catherine Clément, Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), 1. Clément, Syncope, 1. Clément, Syncope, 15. 36 Clément, Syncope, 274. 37 Clément, Syncope, 121 38 Clément, Syncope, 119. 33 34 35
Academic distorts within the frame—it is impossible to tell where her body begins and ends, its boundaries slip out of their rigid form. This distortion constitutes a moment of what Laura U Marks would call ‘haptic visuality’: a cinematic language which ‘[invites] a look that moves on the surface plane of the screen for some time before the viewer realizes what she or he is beholding.’ 39 These shots make it difficult to distinguish between foreground and background or to discern where Toni ends and the gathered crowd begins. The camera shifts to a mid shot of Toni from the front. Her convulsions are in slow motion now, and we can see that her eyes are closed, her face is pained, her mouth clenched in a grimace. Holmer intercuts this sequence with a montage of haptically-charged shots of the Lionesses in full, glittery costumes, dancing in unison, toothy smiles painted across their faces. Both bodily cohesion and bodily fragmentation are at work in their choreography. They dance on the footbridge. They dance in their gymnasium. They dance in the boxing ring. They dance in the empty pool.
The sound of Toni’s breath is repeatedly foregrounded in the film’s soundscape, drawing the spectator into a close alignment with her body. In the climactic sequence Toni’s breath exists as a haunting reminder of the physicality of her syncope, while highlighting, as Quinlivan argues, a slippage between the visible and the invisible, and the real and the imagined. Her breath amplifies the images of Toni convulsing, her eyes still closed, arms flailing above her head. As her movement slows to a stop, the lyrics of Kiah Victoria’s song ‘Aurora’ poignantly remind us: ‘We choose to be slaves to gravity.’ Toni falls, the girls hurriedly gather around her. The camera returns to a tight closeup of Toni’s face. Her eyes stare back at the camera and a smile creeps into the corner of her mouth. The scene fades to black and the credits roll. This sensorially-charged sequence is indicative of the perpetual slippage between mind and body, reality and fantasy, fragmentation and unification. It disrupts and distorts whilst simultaneously creating a sense of
In rows they perform contrasting choreography. Each girl moves with authority: they are half synchronised, half out of sync, their gestures fluid, their performance both cohesive and disruptive. Toni dances in the front row, her face slathered in a performance grin. The effort of this movement is tracked audibly: Toni’s breathing can be heard over the soundtrack. As the camera cuts back to Toni’s seizure, the sound of her breath continues.
cohesion. To borrow from Clément, the identity that is formed by the subject so as to enter into the Symbolic Order is ‘a mere outer skin that constantly distorts one’s relation to others.’41 That skin, which Clément likens to a Kafkaesque castle (so rigid and alienating are its incarcerating walls), makes socialisation possible. Without the skin of identity there could be no language, no speech, no way of relating to one other. And yet, as Clément writes:
This brings to mind Davina Quinlivan’s discussion of the breath in cinema: This narrative occurs between bodies both real and imagined—something which strikes beyond our psychical perception and hooks into the very heart of visceral being. Such a filmic encounter begins with one single sound: a murmur of breath.40
The whole thing comes apart at the seams. The fragmented body is not merely a figment of the infant’s imagination. … Let anxiety penetrate even a little below the surface, let aggression penetrate the armor even slightly, and the whole thing explodes. The subject disintegrates. Membra disjecta: scattered limbs.42
Laura U Marks, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999), 162-3. Davina Quinlivan, The Place of Breath in Cinema, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 4. 41 Clément, The Lives and Legends, 91. 42 Clément, Lives and Legends, 92. 39 40
Hysterical Fantasies of Bodily Collapse in The Fits Evocative of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, these ‘scattered limbs,’ the fragmentation of the subject, the rupture to the rigid skin of identity, recast our ‘imaginary anatomy’ as a hellish (con)figuration.43 The mirror stage is not a linear narrative from fragmentation to cohesion—the fragmented body does not simply give way to the rigidly definitive armour of identity. One fantasy does not supersede the other—they are instead engaged in a cyclicality, both retroactive and anticipatory. The skin is punctured, the skin heals, the skin is punctured again. Always, the freshly acquired unity of identity is, as Clément puts it, ‘beleaguered by aggressiveness,’ it is infringed upon, it is disrupted, ‘and the child’s laughter [at their mirror image], like the philosopher’s, is remembered as but a momentary outburst.’44 The interplay of fantasies of cohesion and disruption to identity is evident in the climatic sequence of The Fits. Toni experiences a bodily manifestation of ‘Aha-Erlebnis’: her seizure reads as the culmination of her inquisitive watchfulness, her attempts to mirror the bodies of the girls around her, and her longing to belong. It is a bodily enactment of a sudden insight, a sudden solution to an unarticulated problem that previously plagued her. Significantly, the sequence itself is both disruptive and disrupted. The visual language of the film shifts from a subjective, childlike camera, to an almost out-of-body perspective. Such a disruption to the visual syntax might read as discordant with the film’s logic. Certainly, it places the child character’s experiential world as secondary to the spectator’s position as primary witness to the events of the narrative. It makes it impossible for the spectator to watch from a safe distance. The sequence disrupts the films chronology: Toni’s seizure is intercut with scenes of her dancing outside with the rest of the troupe. This disruption of time is evocative of the temporal dialectic of the mirror stage that is often present in representations of childhood. This moment triggers all that is unknowable about the self and uncontrollable in the body. In this moment of hysterical disruption, Toni’s spectacular image is indicative of the radical potentiality of Black female subjectivity. In this process of becoming, Toni represents a disruption to the rigid demarcation of identity that is forged upon entry into the Symbolic Order. But these systems, these markers of identity, are undone by the hysteric. As hooks writes: ‘Opposition is not enough. In that vacant space after one has resisted there is still the necessity to become—to make oneself anew.’45
Toni’s seizure is evocative of the potential within every individual to disrupt, to cast off, to wilfully abandon the normative codes that externally concretise identity. The song that plays over the sequence says ‘we chose to be slaves to gravity.’ This has many implications, not least because Toni and most of the girls on the drill team are African American. It immediately evokes North America’s history of slavery, and of the traumas that are still endured by the Black community. The suggestion here is that gravity is a governing force, an oppressive force that binds us to the ground. In Toni’s fantasy, she is free from these chains, uplifted by her own power, a power that has come from letting go of the bonds that hold her together, that has come from allowing herself to be lost in the collapse of her body. Toni, as the hysterical girl, as a body contaminated and uncontrollable, expresses the power of embodying these impossibilities of self. In this, Toni possesses a radical freedom that cannot be taken away because it is a freedom from, and of, the self. ***** Holmer’s use of choreography, moving the girls’ bodies in and out of sync, translates the mimesis learned in the mirror stage into a bodily language. This is a film form that is central to the representations of childhood. It emulates the child’s sensory way of being in the world, and it invites the spectator to not only look as the child might look, but also to collapse the distance between the body of the spectator and the body of the child. Lacan famously argued that the subject is born through a definitive moment, a primary fantasy of self, in which the body is cast as whole and complete. This fantasy is predicated on both the jubilant anticipation of future bodily cohesion, and a retroactive assumption of past bodily dysfunction. The individual’s maturation is marked by disruptions to this chronology, returning throughout her lifetime to the formative moment of perceived unity and/or disunity. On this temporal dialectic, Gallop expounds: ‘(The subject) is projected, thrown forward, in an anticipation which makes her progress no longer a natural development but a ‘history,’ a movement doubly twisted by anticipation and retroaction.’46 This twisting is at work in The Fits, a film that foregrounds the contradictions of the subject through her fantasies of self as inscribed upon, and enacted through, her body.
Clément, Lives and Legends, 92. Clément, Lives and Legends, 95. The laughter Clément is referring to here is of the infant who laughs at her image in the mirror, which Lacan describes as a “jubilant assumption”. 45 hooks, Black Looks, 51. 46 Gallop, “Lacan’s ‘Mirror Stage’,” 122 43 44
Academic Toni twists—she twists her body to learn the rhythms of the drill team, aligning her movements and training her body to keep in time with the girls who dance around her. She twists until her body, through psychical mimesis, knows the language of the choreography. She twists until she is in sync with the drill team, unified in movement with them. And then she twists into collapse, her body out of sync, beyond her control, dysfunctional and distorted. She twists into a bodily hysteria, infected by the contagion that spread, one by one, to the other girls on the team. Toni twists, free from gravity, in a moment disconnected from time, from space, in a fantasy where her body oscillates between rigid control and total abandon. She twists between the retroactive and anticipatory fantasies of a rigid identity given to her upon entry into the Symbolic Order. Central to the construction of childhood in this film is an understanding of the significance of a child’s formative fantasies of the self, and the rigidity with which she might adopt the identity given to her upon entering the Symbolic Order. But in this film, as indeed is intimated within Lacan’s seminar, is an understanding that this formation is always precarious at best. Holmer’s film is indicative of the potential for this cohesive armour to collapse, and for the subject to be exposed to the potentiality of the real, to the radical potentiality of a self: hysterical and free. • References Benthaus, Elena. “Dis/Orientation: Rhythmic Bodies and Corporeal Orature in The Fits.” The International Journal of Screendance 9 (2018): 29-49. Bernheimer, Charles and Claire Kahane. In Dora’s Case: Freud—Hysteria—Feminism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990. Bradley, Rizvana. “Black Cinematic Gesture and the Aesthetics of Contagion.” TDR: The Drama Review 62, no.1 (Spring, 2018): 14-30. Breuer, Josef and Sigmund Freud. Studies on Hysteria. New York: Basic Books, 2000. Bugbee, Teo. “Q&A: The Fits Director Anna Rose Holmer on Making a Movie About ‘the Dancing Disease.” MTV News. (6/2/2016). http://www.mtv. com/news/2888010/qathefitsdirectorannaroseholmeronmakingamovieaboutthedancingdisease/. Cixous, Hélène “Castration or Decapitation?” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 7, no. 1 (1981): 41-55. Clément, Catherine. The Lives and Legends of Jacques Lacan. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.
Clément, Catherine. Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994. Eng, Matthew. “Get in Formation: Anna Rose Holmer Revitalizes the Dance Film in The Fits.” Tribeca Film. (1/6/2016). https://tribecafilm.com/stories/getinformationannaroseholmerrevitaliesthedancefilminthefitsroyaltyhightowerindie. Fear, David. “How ‘The Fits’ Became the Girl Power Movie of 2016.” Rolling Stone Online. (10/6/2016). http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/howthefitsbecamethegirlpowermovieof201620160610. Felsenthal, Julia. “Anna Rose Holmer on Directing The Fits and the Power of Contagion.” Vogue Online. (3/6/2016). http://www.vogue.com/article/thefitsannaroseholmerinterview. Freud, Sigmund. Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Gallop, Jane. “Lacan’s ‘Mirror Stage’: Where to Begin.” SubStance 11/12 (1982): 118-28. Grosz, Elizabeth. “Histories of a Feminist Future.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 25, no. 4 (2000): 1017-21. Grünbaum, Adolf. The Foundations of Psychoanalysis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Hooks, bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1992. Holmer, Anna Rose. The Fits. Venice and USA: Oscilloscope Laboratories, 2015. Lacan, Jacques. “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function, as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience,” and “The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of Its Power.” Translated by Bruce Fink. In Ecrits: A Selection. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002. Lacan, Jacques. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959-1960. New York: Routledge, 2008. Lapsley, Robert. “Cinema, the Impossible, and a Psychoanalysis to Come.” Screen 50, no. 1 (March 20, 2009): 14-24. Marks, Laura U. The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Durham: Duke University Press, 1999. Quinlivan, Davina. The Place of Breath in Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012. Ragland-Sullivan, Ellie. “Hysteria.” In Feminism and Psychoanalysis: A Critical Dictionary, edited by Elizabeth Wright. Oxford: Blackwell 1992. Waller, John. The Dancing Plague: The Strange, True Story of an Extraordinary Illness. Illinois: Sourcebooks, 2009. White, Patricia “Bodies That Matter: Black Girlhood in The Fits.” Film Quarterly 70, no.3 (2017): 23-31.
Art by Graeme Doyle
TWO HEADS By Breallyn Wesley
he calls and emails fall like soft rain as the pandemic spreads. The message in each is the same; doors are now closed. I hear them, a gentle click. Always the promise to reopen when regulations allow: it’s for safety, flatten the curve, we will be in touch, there’s Zoom, here’s a list of helpful websites. Tenderly, easily, the supports for my high-needs daughter slip away. Speech pathology, behavioural therapy, occupational therapy, the weekly cleaner, therapy assistants and support workers, and the entire dedicated and skilled workforce of the special developmental school she attends. Who can replace these specialists? I look around the foyer of our home, the click of the door still echoing. There’s nobody here. Nobody but me and my daughter, my fragile bird. And so, I close my own doors. I take a leave of absence from study, pack away writing and editing projects. My home office becomes Birdie’s school room, my computer used only for her school resources and therapies. I don’t pay bills or answer emails. I ignore the growing pile of paperwork and its accompanying layers of dust. I forget to message a friend on his birthday, but manage to keep the houseplants alive—sort of. Our family of six becomes its own solar system, and we orbit around Birdie. She leans into each of us, needing us to bear the weight of the supports she has lost. Some days we manage, some we just survive. The rest of the universe pulses out there, somewhere.
We live close to the Woodlands Historic Park. I drive Birdie there after a morning of home learning in which I have mislaid the aided language displays and Birdie has spilt coloured rice on the carpet. I’ll be vacuuming it out for months. My skin is still drying under my T-shirt from a hasty shower, and Birdie has put her shoes on the wrong feet. I fix her shoes, and we roam the 700-hectare park together. Tussocky grasses rise from sandy soil. Thick-trunked river red gums spread beneath the sky. The colour palette is muted and calming here: yellow-greens and the silver of fallen tree limbs. We come again the next day. It’s overcast. And the next. We spot two rabbits disappearing into a hole in the side of the creek bed. The creek is dry now, a remnant of summer. We find half-a-dozen kangaroos in the hollow below the hill. Tomorrow. Bright and sunny with a brisk wind, and Birdie drags me until we spot more kangaroos. She runs to them. Before they jump away, I see some long feet poking out of a mother’s pouch. I wince as she jumps after the others, but she doesn’t look uncomfortable to be carrying a joey almost too large to fit anymore. Another tomorrow. Something’s off, and I don’t know what it is. Birdie woke up in the early hours of the night. We spent the rest of it huddled in her bed, our ponytails and legs twisted together. She woke again and again in fright, to check I was still there. For the last couple of hours before I gave up and rose to a dark sky, Birdie lay
Nonfiction with her head on top of mine, our ears and cheekbones pressed tight. At Woodlands now, Birdie bolts as soon as her feet hit the ground. I follow her, soothed slightly by the space, the trees. My arms tingle with pinches and slaps. My ears ring. Birdie has a honed and pointed scream. All morning she’s used it to spell out frustration. Its intensity sits at a point just above intolerable and just below me clapping hands to my ears and dropping to my knees. She runs toward the summit of the hill, eyes alive for kangaroos. She isn’t screaming now, but her screams are still bouncing off the walls of my skull, carving grooves into the bone as they echo back and forth. What does it cost her to make my head split? I picture her throat in ragged ribbons. She has traversed a mountain range of anxiety today.
I’ve left unwritten since then, unrecorded and gradually lost like autumn leaves tramped back into the earth. I draw in a ragged breath and hope Woodlands calms Birdie’s spirit, because I am all out of ideas. Down in Back Paddock, Birdie comes across a huge mob of kangaroos. Hundreds of eyes from narrow grey faces, all looking at her. She’s delighted and runs straight for them. The kangaroos closest, some nimble juveniles, bound helter-skelter away from her, while others freeze. Birdie veers straight toward the biggest male I have ever seen. His shoulders are huge, bulging with muscle and sinew. He rises slightly on powerful legs, and I read the movement as challenging. Is he going to rear forward? Kick his feet out at Birdie in defence of his mob? I’m sprinting before I know it, flying to get to Birdie first, but he sees me and turns away, bounding after the others.
‘A pool of unhappiness swells in the bottom of my heart and becomes a subterranean lake. It submerges me in Birdie’s world, a world without language. What is it really like for her, framing the world without words to describe it?’ Through all the noise and the grappling arms, I problem-solved. Hungry? thirsty? sore tummy? want to call Dad? play on the trampoline? cuddle a rabbit? need deep-pressure stimulation? the perfect blend of movement and calm? a reset of the visual schedule? essential oils? a daytime bath? YouTube? A pool of unhappiness swells in the bottom of my heart and becomes a subterranean lake. It submerges me in Birdie’s world, a world without language. What is it really like for her, framing the world without words to describe it? I’m exhausted from my failed efforts to aid her emotional regulation. What about my emotional regulation? a voice whispers. I need a coffee and a pee. I need unbruised arms and some silence. Maybe I need a day binging Netflix, or baking gingerbread and conversing with my sons, or lounging in bed with my husband. Or writing. How long has it been? A couple of weeks back I was jotting ideas into my phone when I lost sight of Birdie through the trees for a moment. Only a moment. It was the distance between one heartbeat and another, but my heart instantly tripled its speed and I pushed the phone into my pocket, note unsaved, and ran to Birdie’s side. I think of all the words
Birdie and I pause, watching hundreds of grey backs jumping like wind through wheat. Then Birdie runs after them, but they are too fast and she’s soon running alone, panting with effort. I jog along beside, waiting until her energy is spent, then gradually turn her toward home. Another day at Woodlands. We have found our rhythm. Our days have begun to blend and blur more predictably as we get better at using her communication aids. She takes my hand now, climbing the hill and stamping on tufts of grass which spring back under her feet. She chatters to me, a singsong not unlike the magpies and wattle birds calling from the trees. We wander to the old homestead, where retired racehorses live. One ambles over to nibble grass from our outstretched hands. He’s a gentleman and leans to bestow a kiss of thanks on Birdie’s forehead. She reaches up to meet his huge face, and licks him back, right on his chin. They stay close, communicating something in a frequency I can’t hear, until eventually he throws back his head and walks away. Birdie sighs deeply and turns to go. She takes my hand once again. I treasure the closeness we have forged. It is both strong and fragile. Like a pure tungsten cable there is no
Two Heads risk of it breaking. But when outside things encroach, our cable can ring out of tune. I think uneasily of what it has cost me to strike this balance during the pandemic. I have nothing else in balance. And another tomorrow. Weeks have passed. It’s too cold to be here today, but there’s nowhere else big enough. I have read the early reports of Ann Marie Smith’s death. My heart warned me not to. You’ll incinerate, it said. But I am a moth, and the flame burned too hot to ignore. Ann was neglected to death. She was left to sit in the same cane chair for over a year, her home full of filth and decay. She was malnourished. There was no fridge and no food in the house. She was supposed to receive six hours of care each day to assist her with the challenges of living with cerebral palsy and intellectual disability. Those hours could have been spent in aiding Ann with her cooking and cleaning. In organising visits to the doctor and dentist, social events and the shops. They could have helped Ann pursue her interests and hobbies, interact with her
The creek is flowing today, a tamarind tea collecting diamond drops from the reeds that lower them like alms to the flow. I think of how I will take Birdie home and warm her up in a bath scented with mandarin and softened with magnesium salts, of how I won’t be able to get enough of her cuddles, no matter how many she gives me. I think of how she won’t notice my tears, but my sons will. Birdie’s school has reopened; the first of many supports that will slowly return to her schedule and into our home as we cautiously open the door again. I am relieved that she will have their input again, but a part of me already misses the days when Birdie and I wandered Woodlands with nothing else demanding our attention. News reports continue on the circumstances of Ann Marie Smith’s death. They are joined by the story of Willow Dunn, a fouryear-old with Down syndrome who was neglected and starved to death in her cot, and of two autistic teenage boys, discovered naked and starving, locked in a room.
‘How could it have been different? How can you build a fortress of protection that lasts well beyond your own death? How do you make love stretch that far?’ community and live her life in the way she chose. Instead the lack of care turned to neglect, abuse and inhumane living conditions. In her death I see what I fear: my daughter’s vulnerability being abused. And then I am ashamed for making it about me. I grieve for a woman I never knew. I grieve for her parents, long dead, that their daughter should live and then die in such circumstances. How could it have been different? How can you build a fortress of protection that lasts well beyond your own death? How do you make love stretch that far? Cockatoos scream across the sky. Birdie runs ahead. Her coat, zippered tightly against the weather, is a blue blur swimming in my eyes. I changed her socks twice this morning to make sure no little folds or lumps would rub against her toes. The rain starts to pelt, brittle and bruising. I should take Birdie home, but we both want to stay. We wander through the grasses until our jeans are soaked and our fingers and lips tinged blue. I see kangaroos through the dripping trees, a group of mothers and joeys, and try to steer Birdie away, but she spots them. I watch her running toward them and as she takes several leaps and arcs around the tree line after them it suddenly strikes me: she isn’t chasing them; she’s just running with them.
As the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability continues, many such stories are coming to light. For individuals and families affected by disability the line between being supported and being neglected is all too thin. It doesn’t take much to move from one side of that line to the other. Many times in the last weeks I have felt inadequate and unequal to the task of caring for Birdie, but I have also been in the privileged position of having resources to draw on: my health, my years of experience parenting and coordinating Birdie’s therapies. When I have been exhausted, my husband and sons have provided care, safety and fun for her. We have had check-ins from therapists and school. Friends and family calling. I know that each of these supports can slip away, drift off, or have the door closed suddenly on them. I know that each is a layer of safety for Birdie, and she needs all of them, like a nest to keep her safe. Maybe this is something we can collectively build in response to the royal commission, in respect for the lives of Ann Marie Smith and Willow Dunn and others like them. Layers of safety, layers of care. •
The Happiness Index By Bel Schenk
I scored my happiness on a graph in cool ocean blue instead of anxiety red. I wasn’t as honest as I might have been. Could have taken my own advice. Put down the phone, explored my gaudy side. It disappointed me to learn that the cricket was on the tv and on the radio. It was the same day we ran out of milk. Funny how when the milk runs out it touches that place in my brain, like when I couldn’t find anything in his search history so I didn’t know what song to play at his funeral. I asked around, what I recalled was— Oboe. Sad. Orchestra. Strings. As if these words would explode in someone. I found one song but not the song. The road narrows. My life continues. You scored higher than me. Any quiz show host would congratulate you, hand you the prize. Any quiz show host would send me off stage, bang on about ‘just a game’ and ‘consolation.’ Crazy how it matters. Wild that I didn’t think to change my answers when the ink in my pen faded to a scratchy graze. Mad that I believed your answers while I questioned my own.
Art by Helena Barbagelata
LOVING MYSELF SICK ‘It takes a lot of practice to work toxicity out of your system, to come home clean and ready to start the evening with yourself as the hero again. That’s when you know that words have no power over you.’
Loving Myself Sick
hey’re taking all the best words. Aren’t they? Pretty soon we won’t be able to use ‘barmy’ or ‘mental’ even. It’s such a pity. They’re wonderful words. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I still get to use them. I have a certificate of authenticity that lets me get away with all the shades of ‘crazy’ you can dream of. But normies? You can’t say ‘shit’ in a bunker under lock and key without a terse word from your superiors about ‘being inappropriate’. We just can’t have nice things, can we? Words? ‘That was bloody bonkers.’ Do you remember a time when we could use this to describe a business meeting that went too long? One of those meetings that could have been put into a couple of carefully worded emails? No? I once used it myself to describe a meeting I’d being dragged through. Left standing with everyone in the room staring at me. Keenly aware that I’d recently been outed as mentally ill. They all knew. They were sweating, thinking of which words they needed to avoid. Which ones they’d used before. ‘Nut job’, ‘spaz’, ‘unstable’. ‘Are we still allowed to use that one?’ They shuffled their patent high heels and acetate soles on a carpet that smelled of burning plastic. No one was looking directly at me. Soon after, it descended into anarchy. Truthfully—that’s how I like it. Raw, honest and exposed. Live wires fizzing in a corner bitching about some useless office gossip. Smoke coming from the allmale brigade at the top of the table who never seem to extend me the same time in a pay review as my male colleague. If I smell gas now—I want to light a match and see the source. Use the real words and show me your true intentions. Don’t disguise them under PC subterfuge.
the knees by words that leave no bruising now—people like me who are word-hardened steel. Let me keep the words. Use them for my own purpose. We don’t want to leach the black out of the spectrum. We’re just papering over cracks. They had a word for this once: Kristallnacht. * * * How do I love me now? Let me count the ways. ‘Crazy. Nuts. Bananas. Throw enough at a wall and some is bound to stick, like: Two bobs short. A Jatz cracker. Loopy. Loony … I love you in all your ways, if you’ll let me.’ My own voice spoke from inside my brain at the height of one of my psychoses. I forget which one. By then, I was already feeling myself differently. I was drumming my fingers across fenceposts for a reality check and simultaneously feeling the endless depths of wormholes. At the end of that episode, I decided: this is OK. I’m OK. I’m better than OK. I was gaining power and control over my condition, learning to accept and love my new self. A skill that my mental illness has given me is rat cunning. I’d never had it before. It was powerful medicine to guide me through toxic environments. To help me keep a straight face when the colleague with the linty suit and laddered stockings came at me screaming ‘You’re crazy! You’re a mental case!’ Did I bait her? No. She wanted to use the words. They were waiting at the tip of her tongue. She’d been nursing them for months and there in front of everyone she unleashed a tirade. When people like her use obvious triggers— words like ‘psychopath!’, ‘lunatic!’, ‘insane!’ When they
‘If I smell gas now—I want to light a match and see the source. Use the real words and show me your true intentions. Don’t disguise them under PC subterfuge.’ ‘Bad words’. Barmy, Bonkers, Crazy, Manic, Psycho, Psychotic, Loony, Mental, Unstable … I consider these words medicine to a sterile world where all the freedoms are being drained. These words these words these words that perfectly express a mood. Can’t be trusted in an office environment in case they betray the true sentiments of the ruling aristocracy to keep people like me out of the boardroom. People like me. Strong people. Beautiful people. People with a vision beyond the next month’s sandwich filling. People who have been belted so many times at
try to get a rise out of me? What they want is for me to start yelling, screaming obscenities and calling names. (Wouldn’t they just love it if I did) I don’t. That’s my cunning now. My presence of mind. I am completely dispassionate. It’s important but not as important as letting it all wash out at the end of the day and to carry none of it home. It takes a lot of practice to work toxicity out of your system, to come home clean and ready to start the evening with yourself as the hero again. That’s when you know that words have no power over you.
Fiction Perhaps it’s not really the words that are the problem. It’s the people, the perceived threat you pose to their security. If you take away the words of currency for the mental illness spectrum, arseholes will find new ways to punish minorities. Then you’d have a real problem. A whitewashed office. A darker devil. HR. So, let the words come. Let me use them. Let all the people who have suffered their violence silently or used them in retraction keep them in their pocket. The mentally ill are not afforded many weapons in hostile workplaces. I’m happy to let the ‘sane’ people speak their mind because it offers ‘us’ such scant opportunity. The new and notable ‘absence’ of accepted vernacular does not cure arseholes. It just hides them and sharpens the sword of HR to cut heads who speak more freely. People like me. Apparently ‘we’ are the liability.
gaslighting. In old Greek it’s black magic. The worst betrayals by gaslight come from friends, family and strangers entrusted to look after your mental health. You won’t anticipate them. When I came home from hospital after my first psychosis, I was eager to get back to normal life. A lot of the usual phone calls dried up. Friends enquired about my health via text message. A moderated ‘How are you going?’ How do you respond to that? My marriage, my business, my health had fallen apart. I’d been stuck in a mental hospital for a week. But you always think your best friend will stand by you. Your girlfriend of ten years plus. Your matron of honour. You never anticipate she’s going to say ‘Hey, listen. Bipolar is a serious illness and I’m not sure I’m ready to have that in my life.’ Sister, don’t I know! This is after you’ve unfurled your
‘I was a walking mess of undiluted honesty with none of the protective tissue to keep me from creating a target of myself. When I said I was ‘a bit off’ to my boss or I’d ‘been in the loony bin for a spell’, it was with all the guileless charm of a young woman still coming down.’ * * * Taking back the swords and repurposing them into ploughshares is an act of the most positive empowerment. But it’s not for the faint-hearted. My companion to my first psychosis, an elderly Greek gentleman, gave me good advice back then. He said, ‘You don’t have to tell anyone you were here. With me. That you were sick. You don’t have to tell anyone anything’. It was evidently lived experience for him. I recall him saying clearly, ‘You don’t have to tell anyone that you’re sick.’ Now, I am strong enough to talk about my mental illness openly. Back then? I was a nerve ending stripped of surrounding muscle. I was a walking mess of undiluted honesty with none of the protective tissue to keep me from creating a target of myself. When I said I was ‘a bit off’ to my boss or I’d ‘been in the loony bin for a spell’, it was with all the guileless charm of a young woman still coming down. Words are easy weapons to a person’s self-belief. To their faith in their reality. In modern parlance it’s called
secrets to her over text messages. ‘Jesus! Sarah, I kissed a homeless man!’ What do you do with a woman like that? You can’t feel betrayed. She had been nothing but stiffly honest. Perfectly upright like an over-starched prig. There’s no need to second guess her intention. It’s just one woman, telling another woman that she doesn’t want to be friends anymore. It was just the timing. That hurt. It hurt because after seeing her through so many heartbreaks I was shocked to be confronted with the gnawing truth so clinically. And no matter how we pretended over a few snatched coffees or how I tried to sugarcoat it, it was the most effective dent to my self-confidence. A friend of ten years trained in social work could toss me aside before I’d even spent two months cooling my heels out of hospital. She didn’t even visit. * * *
Loving Myself Sick My scariest experience of gaslighting was in a mental hospital. These were early days for me. But nothing could have prepared me to hear a nurse say, ‘So maybe you really are Jesus?’ He was a nurse. A minority with the tags and dangling clock that come with the uniform. It must have emboldened him. I’d been lobbed in by the CATT team who my worried parents called in a tizz. They were both ugly crying as the attending psychiatrist threatened to call an ambulance, a taxi, the police. My father stood up with tears in his eyes and looked at me. He said, ‘I’m sorry I did this to you.’ He turned to them and said ‘We will drive her in. You can follow us if you don’t trust us.’ They did. My father visited every night. We did laps around the concrete half court. It was so small and his long legs so fast it made me dizzy. The olanzapine used to sedate you is like walking in concrete. I could barely keep from
* * * You cannot punish words for bad people. Stupid people. Bad intentions and actions manifest with truthful honesty. They happen with greed, insecurity and laziness too. They happen with fear, control and a dark malevolent evil for no reason. Any institution trying to control the evolution of language need only look to recent history to know it doesn’t make people better. Frankly? I wouldn’t trust any institution to do it. So, you can come at me any day of the week darling and call me bat shit. You can say I’m mentally retarded. You can try and convince me I’m crazy. All it does is betray your bad taste. We do deserve words. More people can be trusted to protect them, uphold them and let them evolve than not. To use them thoughtfully. To call out bad business
‘You need to know that through my illness I’ve evolved. I’m word-hardened steel. Got a nuance for every day of the week. I speak your cold language. I’ve got a good intention to pick you apart with my trident. With my skewer.’ tripping. I stayed in there five days desperately trying to present as ‘well’ so I could get out and access my private health benefits. Basket weaving was beginning to sound particularly good after almost being belted by an inmate with teeth so decayed they were sharpened into points like stalagmites. She was wielding gym equipment, an already broken exercise bike, around her head. Did I say ‘five days’? Did I say ‘sane’? ‘Well’? Will you accept ‘not a danger to herself or anyone else?’ Did someone say ‘basket weaving’? Bring it on. Please. Urgently. The assessment was walking a tight rope drunk. He stood there. The dirty nurse. In front of me. I squatted low in a seat made for kids. I didn’t know why a nurse in a mental facility would need to wear scrubs but so much had gone over my head by then. His crotch was right in front of my eyes. He looked down. Slowly, as he watched my pupils dilate, he said, ‘Maybe you are Jesus?’ Jesus. Did he really say that? I stared back at him, unflinching. Didn’t say a word. Just got up, asked to be released and waited for my parents to come and collect me. Take me to Surry Hills. To the private clinic.
64 / Art by Emma McEvoy
uprooting good people with false levers like ‘inappropriate language’ as opposed to ‘vilification’. You can come at me with crazy, loony, unstable, aggressive. But just so you know, if you’re looking at me with a hard on and you want to take something real from me? Like my ability to work and support my home? You need to know that through my illness I’ve evolved. I’m word-hardened steel. Got a nuance for every day of the week. I speak your cold language. I’ve got a good intention to pick you apart with my trident. With my skewer. ‘Can’t see a thing you’re doing? What’s wrong? Are you using a chopstick to eat rice? No one does that anymore. Don’t you go pulling faces at me. Are you mad, darling? Are you feeling OK? Here, have a lie down. I’ll call someone. They’ll come collect you. No. You just relax. You won’t feel a thing.’ Clink. Their words may have no power over me, but I have power over words. And the best words remain—I love myself imperfectly. Completely. *Fictionalised account •
While suffering from an eating disorder for many years, I found comfort in making art. When I was nineteen, I finally sought help, was diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa and entered recovery. In the six long but rewarding years since, art has become so much more than â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;making pretty thingsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;. Photography, my medium of choice, has become my truest love. It is the key that unlocks the secret doors inside of me, making my innermost thoughts, feelings, beliefs, fears and dreams visible. It has been a pathway to healing the wounds Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d been carrying for so long and has provided me with a way to reconnect with myself. I photograph from the inside out. Many people think eating disorders are all about food, weight and unusual behaviours. But not many people understand that this is how the disorder distracts you from what is really going on deep inside. I want to show you that, I want to take you inside. No matter what curve ball life throws at me, I will always believe that 100% recovery is possible and that is what I will continue to strive for. I hope others who are on the same road will strive for that too. My art has a voice. If you listen quietly you will hear it speak.
PICTURING THERAPY: ORIGINAL METAPHORS IN THERAPEUTIC COMICS By Penni Russon
espite longstanding use of comics in health care, ‘there continues to be a lack of empirical studies investigating how or why comics are being used in the domain of health care, social care and their subdomains’ which may relate to ‘wider cultural stigma attached to them as being devoid of academic or intellectual value’.1 Further compounding stigma, the comics format in health communication is generally applied to marginalised populations ‘to make information accessible for low literacy patients as well as for young people or non-native speakers’.2 This paper redresses some of this stigma, legitimising in academic discourse a stigmatised medium (comics) for a stigmatised audience (youth) about a stigmatised subject area (mental illness). Creative methodologies may also carry stigma. In a defense of research through practice, Camilla Nelson suggests: ‘Being master of no recognizable body of knowledge, creative writing is construed as the awkward or airy part of the humanities faculty’. She further claims that as a discipline ‘we have not articulated or debated our methodologies extensively enough or formed a very clear idea of what constitutes “research” for us’.3 In this paper, I bring to light the processes and practices of a creative writer working in collaboration with the health sciences, engaging closely with the creative objects that emerged from this act of collaboration. My purpose is to present metaphors created through this interdisciplinary collaboration that would not have come into existence through the knowledge of one discipline alone.
A secondary aim of this paper is, to repurpose creative writing scholar Anna Gibb’s words, ‘to think writing beyond individual expression and beyond representation: as a way of doing, of realizing, of research and invention’.4 In turn, creative writers can offer other disciplines—such as the health sciences—ways of effectively communicating complex and specialised knowledge to new audiences, using the affordances of literature to create meaningful, relevant and engaging texts. My research emerges from a highly interdisciplinary project in which psychologists, developers, young people, artists and writers collaboratively produced comics for a suite of online therapeutic platforms, designed for 15–25 year olds living with a range of mental health challenges. I have taken a poetics approach, examining how stylistic choices can signal the reader to attend to ‘gaps’ in the telling, prompting them to use personal experience and feelings to generate meaning. This paper presents the original metaphors we created for the project and the rationale behind them. Research Context MOST—Moderated Online Social Therapy—is an online therapy platform designed for use by young people aged 15–25 across the diagnostic and severity spectrum.5 MOST is an initiative of Orygen Youth Health, University of Melbourne’s Centre for Youth Mental Health, healthomatic researchers in Computer Information
Farthing, Anthony and Ernesto Priego. Data from ‘Graphic Medicine’ as a Mental Health Information Resource: Insights from Comics Producers. Open Health Data 4 (2016): 2-3 https://doi: 10.5334/ohd.25 2 McNicol, Sarah. “Humanising illness: presenting health information in educational comics.” Medical Humanities 40, no. 1 (2014): 49. https://doi: 10.1136/medhum-2013-010469 3 Nelson, Camilla. “Research through practice: a reply to Paul Dawson.” Text 12, no. 2 (2008) http://www.textjournal.com.au/oct08/nelson.htm 4 Gibbs, Anna. “Writers, writing and writing programs in the information age: Code, collaboration and interdisciplinary connection.” Text 15, no. 2 (2011) http://www.textjournal.com.au/oct11/gibbs.htm 5 Rice, Simon et al . “Implementation of the Enhanced Moderated Online Social Therapy (MOST+) Model Within a National Youth E-Mental Health Service (eheadspace): Protocol for a Single Group Pilot Study for Help-Seeking Young People.” JMIR Research Protocols 7, no. 2: 48 (2018) https://doi: 10.2196/resprot.8813; McEnery, Carla et al. “Social anxiety in young people with first-episode psychosis: Pilot study of the EMBRACE moderated online social intervention.” Early Intervention In Psychiatry. (2019) https://doi: 10.1111/eip.12912; Bailey, Eleanor et al., “An Enhanced Social Networking Intervention for Young People with Active Suicidal Ideation: Safety, Feasibility and Acceptability Outcomes.” International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health 17, no. 7 (2020): 2435. https://doi: 10.3390/ijerph17072435; Valentine, Lee et al.. “Young People’s Experience of a LongTerm Social Media–Based Intervention for First-Episode Psychosis: Qualitative Analysis.” Journal Of Medical Internet Research 22, no. 6: e17570 (2020) https://doi: 10.2196/17570 1
Academic Systems at the University of Melbourne, and the School of Psychology at Australian Catholic University. The software that powers MOST has been designed, developed, implemented and continues to be refined by a team of psychologists, programmers, web developers, designers, creative writers, artists and young people with lived experience of mental illness. MOST works as such: young people in the research trials are granted access to a closed system encompassing a social network similar to the Facebook ‘wall’; a private messaging service to contact clinicians and peer moderators, and to receive therapy as organised into discrete modules. These modules include behavioural activities (things to do in the real world), reflective activities (a journaling tool to record their thoughts and experiences), talking points where they can share stories with other users, and mindfulness audio tracks. Some of these discrete modules are comics. This paper concerns itself with one aspect of the authoring and creation of these comics— the development of a series of original visual-verbal metaphors for use in therapy. To date, MOST has operated as discrete research trials for particular populations, however, with recent funding from the Victorian Government and the Telstra Foundation as a response to the current global pandemic, lockdowns and restricted movement, the platform is rolling out across Victoria to headspace centres and state-run youth services. Why comics? Comics are not a new phenomenon in health communication.6 They are perceived as non-threatening, youth friendly, low literacy, and effective in portraying actions and feelings.7 It was crucial that our therapeutic content on MOST would be simple enough for low literacy users, users whose cognition was impaired by their illness, and users who may be encountering these topics for the first time, while also accommodating users with a high level of literacy and extensive experience of therapy. We chose comics as a medium because they combine minimal text, conversational language and visual aids, and because comics invite approach. They are attractive to look at and are associated with fun and playfulness. In comics theory, comics reading is regularly acknowledged to be an accessible ‘participatory, even sloweddown practice of consumption’.8
In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud defines the form as ‘juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the reader’.9 In ‘Comics as Literature’, Hillary Chute distributes her emphasis more evenly between words and image: ‘Comics might be defined as a hybrid word-and-image form in which two narrative tracks, one verbal and one visual, register temporality spatially’.10 Both McCloud and Chute recognize the reader as an active participant in the meaning-making of comics. McCloud refers to the ‘silent, secret contract between creator and audience’11 in filling in the spaces, or gutters, between the panels, supplying extra information neither shown nor told: ‘the gutter plays host to much of the magic and mystery at the very heart of comics. Here in the limbo of the gutter, human imagination takes two separate images and transforms them into a single idea.12 Hillary Chute writes, ‘a reader of comics not only fills in the gaps between panels but also works with the often disjunctive back-and-forth of reading and looking for meaning’.13 Thus, comics reading may be experienced as an embodied practice in which meaning is felt as much as it is understood. Metaphor Writers striving for precision in describing inner experience have long developed intricate and elaborate metaphors. In her poem ‘Habitation’, Margaret Atwood describes marriage as ‘not/a house or even a tent’ but ‘before that and colder’ where ‘we are learning to make fire’,14 suggesting marriage as a primal rather than civilised state. In Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson contend that metaphors generate not just new understandings but new realities.15 The metaphor of marriage as a house primes us to approach and even live marriage differently from the metaphor that marriage is not a house. In comics, metaphors can be visual, verbal or both, or as Perry Nodelman writes of art in picture books, ‘the way things look is highly evocative of what they mean’. Comics, like picture books, ‘express our assumption of the metaphorical relationships between appearance and meaning’.16 However, as with verbal metaphors, interpretations of the image can be subtle, nuanced, and highly personal, drawing values, cultural referents, and autobiographical memory.
See American Cancer Society 1965; Putnam and Yanagisako 1982; Gillies, Stork and Bretman 1990; Delp and Jones 1996. McNichol, 49-55, 2014. 8 Chute, 2017: Reading Comics, para 10. 9 McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994, 9. 10 Chute, Hilary. “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative.” PMLA 123 no. 2 (2008): 452-465. https://doi: 10.1632/pmla.2008.123.2.452 11 McCloud, Understanding Comics, 69. 12 McCloud, Understanding Comics, 66. 13 Chute, Comics as Literature, 452.’ 14 Atwood, Margaret. Poems 1965–1975. London: Virago, 1991, 133. 15 Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. 16 Nodelman, Perry. Words about pictures. The narrative art of children’s picture books. Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1988, 49. 6 7
Picturing Therapy: Original Metaphors in Therapeutic Comics While metaphor is central to literary writing, it also informs the basis of everyday communication. It ‘literally allows us to see what is being talked about’.17 Metaphor often emerges from the felt gaps—absences and silences—between things and is ‘one of our most important tools for trying to comprehend partially what cannot be comprehended totally: our feelings, aesthetic experiences, moral practices, and spiritual awareness’,18 or as Wallace Stevens puts it in poetic form, ‘the half colors of quarter-things’.19 In the field of psychology, metaphor is central to several therapeutic approaches including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT): Metaphors and exercises are verbal, but they are not literal, evaluative, or analytical. Their messages are inherently softer, more subtle, and more individualistic than logical syllogisms or strict rules of performance. Metaphors and exercises are stories and experiences that link the richness of what you already know to domains in which you are unsure what to do.20 In therapy, metaphor can be used to explain difficult concepts or as an aspect of the intervention itself, for example, the use of traffic lights to explain the transition from one state to another may be used with even very small children to help them understand and regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviour.21 Metaphor can also be used to describe therapy itself, and in fact on our website we use the terms ‘steps’ and ‘pathways’ to organise the content, reproducing the common metaphoric construct that therapy is a journey. While this paper recognises metaphor as an interdisciplinary phenomenon, I write from the perspective of a creative writer. Usually, creative writers generate metaphors spontaneously for poetic or literary purposes, or as a rhetorical strategy, in order to convey an abstract idea [a target domain] in terms of a concrete image [a source domain]:22 for example depression [target domain] is a black dog [source domain]. In the case of our collaborative research, the target domain was supplied by psychologists, while the source domain was generated by the creative
writer. Throughout this process, psychologists instructed the writers on core therapeutic principles they wanted to convey, providing examples of how they might approach them in therapy with a young person. In response, the writers created scripts and worked closely with the illustrator, often generating a metaphoric approach to communicate therapeutic messages effectively and imaginatively. While I briefly explore the underlying theoretical and scientific constructs informing this work, it is imperative to reiterate that extrapolating on the robust evidence base for the therapy behind each comic is beyond the purview of this paper and my expertise as a creative researcher. In comics, metaphors can be image dominant, text dominant or double coded, conveyed using both the visual and verbal elements of the comic.23 (See examples of different strategies below.) Double coding (where the visual and the verbal elements serve a single metaphor) have proven best for very direct communication or explanatory comics, such as in the first example ‘The Blue Umbrella of Self-Compassion’, so this is a strategy we often use. The technique of using a visual metaphor without reinforcing it in the verbal elements, or a verbal metaphor that is not reinforced in the visual, can create a sense of ambiguity, thereby appealing to the creative resources of the reader to reimagine and reconstruct meanings. For example, in ‘Behavioural Activation’ the character’s inactivity and lack of motivation is demonstrated visually by the character actually becoming the chair she is sitting on, which is not commented on by other characters in the comic. Discussion of Comics The blue umbrella of self-compassion Therapeutic rationale: Research suggests that self-compassion is linked to ‘many of the benefits typically attributed to high self-esteem in terms of positive emotions’ and provides ‘protection against the ego-defensive drawbacks sometimes associated with the pursuit and maintenance of high self-esteem’.24 This introductory comic illustrates the basic principles of self-compassion. Description of the comic: Over several panels the narration unfolds, with images of blue people carrying
Danesi, Marcel. “The Iconicity of Metaphor”, ed. Marge Landesburg Syntactic Iconicity and Linguistic Freezes: The Human Dimension. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1995, 26 18 Lakoff, and Johnson. Metaphors We Live By, 193. 19 Donaghue, Denis. “The Motive for Metaphor”. The Hudson Review 65, no. 4 (2013): 185. 20 Stoddard, Jill A. and Niloofar Afari. The Big Book of ACT Metaphors. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, 2014. 21 Killick, Steve, Vicki Curry, and Pamela Myles. “The mighty metaphor: a collection of therapists’ favourite metaphors and analogies.” The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist 9 (2016) https://doi: 10.1017/s1754470x16000210 22 Hiraga, Masako K. Metaphor and iconicity: A cognitive approach to analyzing texts. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 23 Tasić, Milas and Dušan Stamenković. “The Interplay of Words and Images in Expressing Multimodal Metaphors in Comics.” Procedia - Social And Behavioral Sciences 212: (2015) 117-122. https://doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.11.308 24 Neff, Kristin D. and Vonk, Roos.. “Self-Compassion Versus Global Self-Esteem: Two Different Ways of Relating to Oneself.” Journal Of Personality 77, no. 1 (2009): 23-50. https://doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00537.x, 44. 17
Academic balloons in various states of inflation and deflation representing self-esteem. The narration begins: ‘Our society puts a lot of weight in self-esteem. Self-esteem is our sense of self-worth. How important we think we are…’ The blue figures walk along a pathway, each with a balloon tied around their waist. For the figure in front, the balloon is large and buoyant and this figure walks upright, head held high. Behind the first figure stoops a figure with a slightly smaller balloon. Behind this figure, another even more dejected blue figure carries a deflated balloon. In the next panel we see three figures on a medal podium, their balloons at various states of inflation, their bodies perfectly reflecting the level of droopiness. The narration continues: ‘Often in western society, self-esteem comes from standing out. Being the best at something. Being recognised as special or different or gifted.’ The comic goes on, illustrating the narration in surreal colours with the strange looking figures: ‘In a society that measures success this way, low self-esteem can cause problems, no doubt about it. BUT
‘Actually, self-compassion and compassion are the same. Think of it this way, we’re friends, right?’ Coach says. ‘Yeah, of course we are.’ ‘And when you feel bad, I’m kind to you. I offer comfort, a place to crash for a while. I say, “Dude, you’re—”’ ‘“—only human,”’ finishes Jack. Coach goes on to explain self-compassion. ‘Self-compassion is really just doing the exact same thing, but with yourself. It works like this: 1. Use mindfulness to tune into the present moment. Be with painful thoughts and feelings, without getting swept away by them. 2. Common humanity. You don’t feel like this because you’re weird or different from other people. You feel like this because you’re human, and suffering is something we all share. 3. Be kind to yourself. Comfort yourself as you would a friend; “Hey, this is tough. You’ll be okay. It’s going to be fine. I’m here to look after you.”’ ‘Does that feel weird?’ Raj asks.
‘In therapy, metaphor can be used to explain difficult concepts or as an aspect of the intervention itself, for example, the use of traffic lights to explain the transition from one state to another may be used with even very small children to help them understand and regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviour.’ self-esteem can be weird. For example, sometimes bullies can have VERY high self-esteem. Some people with high self-esteem don’t respect others. Some successful people have very low self-esteem.’ The comic style then switches to our characters, Jack, Ava, Raj and Coach. Jack, looking up at his own tiny balloon, asks, ‘So what’s the alternative?’ Coach fiddles with a blue umbrella. ‘What’s that?’ Ava asks. Coach starts to open it. ‘This is the blue umbrella of self-compassion,’ Coach tells them. ‘Nice,’ says Raj. ‘You can get under it if you want,’ Coach offers, holding it aloft. ‘There’s enough space for everyone.’ ‘I thought it was “self” compassion,’ Jack says. 25
‘At first it feels REALLY weird and hard. But the thing I love about self-compassion, once you get the hang of it, is that there’s always more of it. Self-esteem seems kind of fragile in comparison.’ In the penultimate panel, a balloon drifts into the sky. The last panel is an image of the blue umbrella, seen from above. Discussion: The concept of self-compassion might be a hard sell, the project psychologists thought, because self-criticism is prevalent in our society (and in the young people they treat). Furthermore, many people associate self-criticism with motivation, emotional self-regulation or self-control. Kirsten Neff writes ‘Without constant self-criticism to spur myself on, people worry, won’t I just
Neff, Kristin D. “The Motivational Power of Self-Compassion.” Retrieved 31 May 2020, from https://self-compassion.org/the-motivational-power-of-self-compassion/
Picturing Therapy: Original Metaphors in Therapeutic Comics skip work, eat three tubs of ice cream and watch Oprah reruns all day?’.25 In fact, Neff suggests that people who engage in self-criticism fear failure, have poor self-efficacy, and are prone to depression and anxiety. In creating the metaphor, we needed a simple way to convey that self-compassion is a more stable relationship with the self, less contingent on maintaining a possibly unrealistic perception of one’s self-worth based on particular outcomes. The umbrella and the balloons offer different expressions through their contrasting associations with utility. The balloon is all form with no function—nice to have but impossible to maintain. The umbrella serves a purpose, offering shelter for the self and generous enough to encompass others in its circle of protection. A Thought is a Thought Therapeutic rationale: A key to mindfulness-based and cognitive therapies is the ability to observe our own thinking. The purpose of this comic was to picture thoughts as observable phenomena, and to lay the groundwork for the skill of cognitive distancing: practicing non-judgemental acceptance of thoughts. Description of the comic: In the opening panel, Raj and Ava stand waist deep in the river. Ava cradles stones gathered in her T-shirt. In the next panel she holds one up and studies it closely. ‘Why do you do that?’ Raj asks Ava. ‘What?’ Ava replies. ‘Collect stones? I’ve seen you do it before.’ ‘Oh, it’s a thing someone said to me once, about thoughts.’ ‘Yeah?’ ‘Well,’ says Ava, ‘I used to think my thoughts were what made me who I am. You know, all of them buzzing around in my head.’ She examines another stone. ‘I thought they were, sort of, my personality I guess. My “true” self.’ Raj dangles the tips of his fingers in the running water. ‘Yeah, I guess I sort of think that too.’ ‘Yeah, but then some thoughts aren’t very nice or welcome,’ Ava points out. ‘I don’t want to have them, but I have them anyway. You know what I mean?’ ‘Yeah,’ says Raj, and he looks smaller, ashamed, as though some of those thoughts are with him now. ‘Well one day, someone said my thoughts aren’t me,’ Ava goes on. ‘She told me to picture the clouds in the sky, drifting overhead, changing all the time. Thoughts come and go and don’t make me me.’ ‘So,’ says Raj, holding a stone. ‘The stones are your thoughts?’ ‘I collect them to remind me.’ ‘Clouds are light,’ Raj says. ‘Stones are heavy and weighty.’
‘Some thoughts are heavy too.’ Ava looks down at a round flat stone in her hand. ‘My thoughts are with me but they are not who I am. I can accept them, and be with them, and then…’ The comic ends with Ava skipping a stone across the surface of the river. Over a series of panels, the skipping stone disappears, and the disturbance of the river’s surface resettles. Discussion: This comic presents a simile of thoughts being like stones, playing with the idea that stones and thoughts can be both weighty and light. In many of our comics, water represents the flow of feeling and sensation, and in this comic, stones are seen as arising from, disrupting and merging with the river. In the last, textless panels, the simile transforms into a metaphor, as the meaning of the stones skipping and submerging is left up to the reader. This comic demonstrates the way a metaphor can be repurposed or refashioned as a creative resource. Ava explains how she was told that thoughts were like clouds, and some readers might identify with this image too, clouds racing across the sky, forming and dissolving, sometimes light and fluffy, sometimes low and foreboding. Ava adapted the concept into her own metaphor that works for the way she experiences her thoughts. The comic focuses on the experience of thinking rather than the content of the thoughts. Readers can consider their own thoughts in terms of heaviness and lightness (thoughts, being abstract and invisible, are nearly always discussed in metaphoric ways). As Ava and Raj discuss the experience of unwanted thoughts, the reader may momentarily find themselves considering their own unwanted thoughts. The images of the lightly skipping stones glancing off the river’s surface, the swirl of disruption and the resettling of the river, is designed to provide release, or relief, at the end. The Incredible Anxious Man (original script and concept by Sarojini Maxwell) Therapeutic Rationale: In Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), ‘What if’ questions fuel anxiety. People with GAD feel anxious and worried most of the time, not just in stressful situations, and these worries interfere with everyday life. This comic was designed to take a lighthearted approach, acknowledging the cycle of ‘what if’ questions and how compelling it can be to slide into a ‘what if’ spiral. The more you answer ‘what if’ questions, the more they multiply. Description of comic: The first panel establishes place. We’re at a fairground, in front of a stripey tent: The Incredible Anxious Man! Leaps to conclusions! Fortunes told! Jack and his girlfriend, Astra, stand outside.
Academic ‘Let’s get our fortune told!’ Astra says, grabbing Jack’s hand. Inside the tent, Incredibly Anxious Man sits on the floor with a coffee and a laptop, holding his head and sweating. ‘Uh, hey…’ says Jack. ‘Ah! You could have given me a heart attack!’ Incredibly Anxious Man doesn’t look well. ‘We wanted a fortune,’ says Astra. ‘Is this a bad time?’ ‘Not worse than any other time. Don’t trip on the carpet. You’ll break your neck.’ ‘Uh, so, I’ve been hanging out with this girl,’ Jack says, making gooey eyes at Astra. ‘I feel like there’s this spark. Should I go for it?’ ‘Jeez man, I don’t know what to say,’ says Incredibly Anxious Man, clutching his head in one hand and his coffee in the other. ‘What if she’s not into it?’ ‘Well, I kinda think the signs are there,’ says Jack, smiling at Astra, who smiles back. Incredibly Anxious Man is having none of it. ‘What if she totally freaks out?’ ‘She’s pretty cool. I don’t think she’d freak out,’ Jack says. Astra’s still smiling, and the words ‘double blush’ hover in pink next to her face, but Jack’s looking less sure of himself. ‘What if she’s just acting cool because she’s not interested?’ ‘Well, we have heaps in common…’ ‘That doesn’t mean she likes you—what if it ruins the friendship?’ Jack looks worried now. ‘I mean isn’t it better to be honest about your feelings?’ ‘You think of it as honesty, but what if she thinks of it as being pushy?’ ‘I guess I’ll be subtle about it.’ ‘What if she doesn’t take the hint?’ ‘Um, hello,’ says Astra. ‘I’m right here.’ Jack ignores her, he’s too caught up in Incredibly Anxious Man’s questions. ‘Wait, maybe I’ll keep it simple: I’ll just ask her on a date.’ ‘What if she thinks it’s just friends hanging out?’ ‘Well then, I’ll talk to her about my feelings when we’re hanging out.’ ‘What if she feels like you’ve tricked her?’ Astra says, ‘What if I just leave?’ ‘Yeah,’ says Incredibly Anxious Man. ‘What if she just leaves?’ Astra walks out of the tent, looking back over her shoulder as Jack says, ‘Well, I’ll send her a text explaining that I didn’t mean to freak her out.’ ‘What if she thinks you’re trying to “convince” her?’ Astra stands outside the tent, waiting with Raj and his date, Lasagne. Speech bubbles emerge from the tent. ‘What if she thinks you’re being weird?’ ‘What if?’ ‘What if?’ ‘That got weird fast,’ Astra says.
‘Man,’ says Raj. ‘Doesn’t he know there’s always one more “what if?”’ Discussion: There is a carnivalesque aspect to this comic—absurd, funny, thinking beyond the logical conclusion, blending sweetness and sentiment with anxiety. The comic riffs off the idea that worrying and trying to mentally account for all possibilities is something that the human brain can’t do. There’s an incredibly anxious man—the worst fortune teller in the world— inside every one of us. It tugs at our shirt collars, drinks too much caffeine, spends too much time googling mysterious health symptoms, and convinces us that the worst-case-scenario will happen. The comic also hints at how worry and anxiety may become a form of self-sabotage but keeps the stakes in the narrative low; Astra doesn’t leave but waits patiently outside for Jack’s ‘what ifs’ to end. Behavioural Activation Therapeutic Rationale: Often, we’re inspired to do something before we do it. We find ourselves feeling energised or motivated to clean a room, write an essay, cook dinner or walk the dog. Depression saps motivation, often making even simple things seem pointless and hard. Getting up to boil the kettle can feel like running a marathon. But the less you do, the more depressed you feel, the more likely you are to isolate yourself, and the less opportunities there are for recovery. Instead of waiting to feel inspired to do things you usually love, you have to start doing things first, as the motivation kicks in later. The practice of scheduling activities and sticking to the plan, even if you don’t feel like it, is called behavioural activation. Description of the comic: In the first panel, Ava is sitting at home on a green armchair, watching TV. The interior light is a dim, dreary green. In the next panel, she is watching a shopping channel ad for knives: ‘It slices! It dices! It cuts cans!’ She shifts in the chair, sinking into the cushions. Over a few panels, Ava becomes the chair. Jack appears at the door. ‘Come on, it’s time.’ ‘Don’t wanna,’ the Ava chair grumbles. Jack leans on the door frame. ‘The point of this is you’re supposed to do it even if you don’t feel like it… What have you got to lose?’ ‘Grumble, grumble,’ says the Ava chair. The next panel shows Jack and Ava, walking down a suburban street. Ava is still the chair. They walk for a while, across a number of panels, and just as they draw towards home, a panel reveals the chair looking somewhat more like Ava.
Picturing Therapy: Original Metaphors in Therapeutic Comics They get home. ‘Peppermint tea?’ asks Ava. She is herself again. There’s a bullet journal laid out on the bench in the last panel, with Ava recording her mood before and after her walk (3 out of 10 before, 6 out of 10 after). Discussion: I was inspired by an image from Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me, the graphic memoir by Ellen Forney, where she depicts herself in a series of images lying on the couch, entirely wrapped in a blanket so she looks like a part of the furniture, her depression rendering her into an object. A final resonant caption reads ‘All I really wanted was to disappear’.26 I wanted to convey that behavioural activation is a massive effort, not a magical cure, and capture the heaviness and awkwardness of the body. This comic
us thrive and survive since cave times. It’s only when anxiety moves from moderate to severe levels that it interferes with our ability to think clearly and act effectively. Severe levels of anxiety can actually hinder our ability to problem solve, and one of the biggest problems for people with anxiety is being anxious about being anxious. The purpose of this comic is to depict how accepting the thoughts, feelings and sensations of anxiety can help us keep anxiety in check. Description of the comic: The first panel shows a picture of a cat with the words ‘This is anxiety.’ The next image shows the cat pushing open a door and the caption, ‘Here are four ways to deal with anxiety when it comes to call.’ This informs the structure of the comic, laying out four ways to deal with anxiety.
‘There’s an incredibly anxious man—the worst fortune teller in the world—inside every one of us. It tugs at our shirt collars, drinks too much caffeine, spends too much time googling mysterious health symptoms, and convinces us that the worst-casescenario will happen.’ combines the evidence-based understanding of the benefits of behavioural activation with the lived experience of how it feels to be inside a depressed body, moving through a world from which you might feel disconnected. However, it also emphasises the value of social connection and utilising social resources to help boost recovery. Jack doesn’t ‘save’ Ava, but he does intervene in a timely fashion and help Ava stick to her goals. Anxiety Cat Therapeutic Rationale: Normalising and destigmatising the symptoms of mental illness is a guiding principle of our therapy. This is a resonant note towards acceptance, rather than suppression, of anxiety, as suppressing or avoiding anxiety actually engenders more anxiety. Anxiety sharpens our senses and focuses our attention, keeping us alert and ready to spring into action, helping 26
Recognise it. Jack stands at the open door, looking down at the cat. He says, ‘Anxiety is here now.’ In the next panel, the cat has clambered up on to Coach’s head. Coach looks up and says, ‘Thanks for the heads up, anxiety. I’ll go slowly, but I think I’m going to be fine.’ Be curious. Ava and the cat look out the window together at the rain. ‘Is that thought true,’ Ava asks herself. ‘Or am I looking at the problem through an anxiety filter?’ ‘Oh, hi anxiety,’ Raj says, the cat at his heels as he walks along the street. ‘Are you trying to tell me something? Do I need more sleep, or something to eat?’ Jack is sitting on his veranda. Astra has pulled up on her motorbike and is waving hello. Jack strokes the cat, saying, ‘We’ll just treat this date as an experiment, okay? I know you’re trying to protect me, but let’s not cancel before we’ve even tried.’
Forney, Ellen. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir. New York: Avery, 2012.
Academic Have faith in your ability to cope. Jack sits on a train. ‘The thing is,’ he says to the cat, who is sitting beside him, wide-eyed, nervous, ‘I know I can cope because I always actually do make it through in the end.’ ‘This too shall pass,’ thinks Jack, staring across a table at an interview panel, consisting of two people and the cat. Ava’s in a car, clutching the steering wheel, an L plate on the windscreen. Her mum sits next to her, holding the cat on her lap. Mum and the cat look a bit stressed, but Ava looks determined. ‘How will I feel about this tomorrow?’ she thinks. ‘Next week? Next year?’ Be kind to yourself Ava washes herself in the bath. Sitting beside the bath is the cat, mirroring Ava’s stance, washing a paw. ‘Be kind to everyone, including yourself,’ affirms Ava. Jack jogs through the park, followed by the cat. ‘I’m learning to be more patient, to give myself time to work things out.’ Coach sits on the floor, leaning against a wall. ‘I’m tuned into my needs, making sure I get enough sleep, food and water. I figure everything else will work out from there.’ The cat eats from a purple bowl. Coach, Raj, Ava and Jack sit in the lounge room together, smiling, having a good time. ‘I treat myself as I would a good friend,’ thinks Raj. The cat sleeps on the arm of the couch. The final panel is a close up of the sleeping cat. Discussion: While Generalised Anxiety Disorder is debilitating, the goal isn’t to eradicate worry or anxiety, but rather to ameliorate its paralysing qualities. The greater risk with anxiety is avoiding the things that worry us, because we don’t have the opportunity to test ourselves and overcome the worry. Cycles of avoidance perpetuate anxiety. This comic shows that anxiety is a companion we can befriend. We can recognise the sensations of anxiety, acknowledge the worry or discomfort, weigh up the social, emotional or physical risk of the situation along with the risks of avoidance, and then act anyway. The wide-eyed cat conveys the twitchy tension of anxiety perfectly. A psychologist we worked with closely indicated that this comic demonstrates why the form works so well, because, reading the comic differently from the way I intended it, the character she identified with most was the cat, the hyper-vigilant anxious creature checking in on everyone. The Struggle Therapeutic Rationale: ‘The Struggle’ is a concept drawn from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, known as 27 28
ACT,27 a mindfulness-based psychotherapy that teaches psychological skills to effectively deal with painful thoughts or feelings. Russ Harris uses the metaphor of quicksand; in quicksand, the more you struggle the more you sink. So too when we struggle against our emotions, the struggle creates more distress. For example, feeling anxious about being anxious, or feeling guilty or angry about feeling anxious (or feeling guilty about feeling angry about feeling anxious about feeling anxious). If the struggle switch is off ‘our anxiety is free to rise and fall as the situation dictates’.28 This comic frames another way of viewing the struggle. Description of comic: The comic begins with two panels of narration: ‘Feelings can be like monsters, big, threatening, hard to control. When we struggle with our emotions, they get bigger, fiercer and more overwhelming.’ The doorbell rings. Ava answers the door. The comic employs first person narration. ‘It began this morning. I woke up feeling depressed.’ Filling the doorway is a morose looking blue fuzzy monster with horns. Ava’s narration continues: ‘The more I thought about how depressed I felt the more depressed I got. I was depressed about being depressed.’ Ava walks back down the hallway, followed by the first monster and a second smaller version of the same monster. ‘Then I got angry about being depressed about being depressed. I was like “Get over yourself, you loser.”’ Ava shoves the small monster while behind her a third, angry monster breaks through the window into the house. ‘Then I felt scared. Scared I was going to be depressed forever, that I’d never feel happy again.’ Another monster crouches in the corner. The monsters lean in, crowding into the confines of the panel. ‘Then I felt very guilty. There are people with real problems.’ A monster behind Ava mirrors her body language. Ava is looking more and more overwhelmed. Over a few panels she begins to sink into the bodies of monsters. She clutches her phone and FaceTimes Coach. ‘Hi.’ ‘In quicksand, the more you struggle, the more you sink,’ Coach tells her. ‘The same principle applies to difficult feelings.’ Coach holds up a flow chart, with a cyclical image of emotions feeding into each other. ‘Part of the reason for this is that we tend to judge our emotions as “good” or “bad.”’ Coach holds up a picture of another graphic explainer—a picture of a brain divided into good and bad. One of the monsters says to Ava, ‘Anxiety is a sign that you can’t cope with life.’ Another says, ‘You’re defective.’
Harris, Russ. The Happiness Trap. Wollombi: Exile Publishing, 2007 Harris, Russ. The Happiness Trap, 105
Picturing Therapy: Original Metaphors in Therapeutic Comics Coach intervenes. ‘When we struggle we see our own emotions as a threat. Then we freak out and unleash a whole lot of new emotions.’ ‘But what else can I do?’ Ava asks, squished in the centre of the panel as the monsters vie for space. A blank panel signals a shift. Then we return to the image of Ava on the couch, and the ringing of the doorbell. Ava answers the door and lets the first monster, ‘Depression’, in. They sit together on the couch, over a few panels, drinking a cup of tea, reading a book. The narration reads: ‘We can sit with the emotion without judgment… Breathe into the sensations. Make space for the emotion. Accept its presence for now.’ Ava and the depression monster are outside. Ava is feeding the chickens. ‘And then when the time comes,’ reads the narration on an otherwise blank panel, ‘we can let the feelings go.’ In the final panel, the depression monster quietly leaves the backyard and Ava watches it go. Discussion: The monsters in this panel look a little like Maurice Sendak’s creatures in Where the Wild Things Are. I had quite a strong visual image of what I wanted. The trick was to combine softness and cuteness with a sense of threat. The big, expressive bodies and faces manage to show emotional range while the oversized soft bodies also offer the possibility of softness, of yielding to the emotions. In the original script, and first drawn version of this comic, we included the struggle switch, so Ava flicked a switch on the wall to signal the transition from one way of dealing with the emotions to the other. However, the two metaphors (the feelings in the form of monsters and the mechanics of the switch) did not combine well. The switch seemed to belong to a different narrative world. The monsters, with their oversized glum bodies and expressive faces, encouraged kindness and curiosity, rather than the flicking of a switch. In fact, from a narrative point of view, the idea of flicking a switch to solve a complex problem stretches credibility. In the idea of accepting the monster as an aspect of the self, I was partly inspired by Anna Walker’s picture book, Mr Huff,29 which is a picture book that combines scale with softness to personify negative emotions. Mr Huff is large, soft and amorphous, embodying curiosity and compassion, thus provoking these emotions in the reader, rather than fear or anxiety. Conclusion Comics cultivate an intimate relationship between text and reader. They are both a physical and a 29
Walker, Anna. Mr Huff. Melbourne, VIC: Viking, 2015.
representational space in which readers can safely explore the images and structures of other people’s experiences while making sense of their own. Metaphors in comics can be visual, verbal or both. They can convey therapeutic concepts, while simultaneously contextualising abstract constructs in lived contexts. Mindfulness, self-compassion, depression, or lack of motivation are all physical states of being that can be drawn on the page and contained in the visual field of the eye, their abstractness tamed through the connection to a familiar domain. Ava’s transformation into the armchair might feel extremely relatable to some young readers, while the anxiety cat, the soft yielding monsters of the depression monsters in ‘The Struggle’ or the stones in ‘A Thought is a Thought’ offer objects of consolation, to think with and feel through. The rippling water of the stones as they touch the surface of the river also represents time, giving physical form to the notion that everything is temporary, including sensations of distress. While our raw data suggests the comics are highly appealing to young people, and they do facilitate mental health literacy by communicating messages clearly, the question that hasn’t been answered in our research so far is, do our comics improve health outcomes? And if so, how do they work? The answer may lie in the metaphors. If, as Lakoff and Johnson claim, metaphors can generate new realities, perhaps metaphors can actually create new understandings and new realities for our young readers, opening out new possibilities for them in terms of their relationship to symptoms of distress, their capacity to shift their self-concept, or their willingness to change behaviour. This has powerful implications for the comics, because it suggests that, beyond acts of communication about therapy, comics may be themselves therapeutic. Validating this hypothesis through empirical research is an area for further study. • References American Cancer Society. Where There’s Smoke There’s Danger. Washington: Commercial Comics Inc, 1965. Atwood, Margaret. Poems 1965–1975. London: Virago, 1991. Bailey, Eleanor, Mario Alvarez-Jimenez, Jo Robinson, Simon D’Alfonso, Maja Nedeljkovic, Christopher G. Davey, Sarah Bendall, Tamsyn Gilbertson, Jessica Phillips, and Lisa Bloom et al., “An Enhanced Social Networking Intervention for Young People with Active Suicidal Ideation: Safety, Feasibility and Acceptability Outcomes.” International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health 17, no. 7 (2020): 2435. https://doi: 10.3390/ijerph17072435
Academic Chute, Hilary. “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative.” PMLA 123 no. 2 (2008): 452-465. https:// doi: 10.1632/pmla.2008.123.2.452 Chute, Hilary. Why Comics. New York: Harper Collins. Danesi, Marcel. “The Iconicity of Metaphor”, ed. Marge Landesburg Syntactic Iconicity and Linguistic Freezes: The Human Dimension. (265-284). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1995. Delp, Chris and Jeffrey J. Jones. Communicating Information to Patients: The Use of Cartoon Illustrations to Improve Comprehension of Instructions”, Academic Emergency Medicine 3, no. 3 (1996): 264-270. https://doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.1996.tb03431.x Donaghue, Denis. “The Motive for Metaphor”. The Hudson Review 65, no. 4 (2013): 543–561. Farthing, Anthony and Ernesto Priego. Data from ‘Graphic Medicine’ as a Mental Health Information Resource: Insights from Comics Producers. Open Health Data 4 (2016) https://doi: 10.5334/ohd.25 Forney, Ellen. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir. New York: Avery, 2012. Gibbs, Anna. “Writers, writing and writing programs in the information age: Code, collaboration and interdisciplinary connection.” Text 15, no. 2 (2011) http:// www.textjournal.com.au/oct11/gibbs.htm Gillies, Pamela A., Ann Stork, and Mandy Bretman. “Streetwize UK: a controlled trial of an AIDS education comic.” Health Education Research 5, no.1 (1990): 27-33. https://doi: 10.1093/her/5.1.27 Harris, Russ. The Happiness Trap. Wollombi: Exile Publishing, 2007. Hiraga, Masako K. Metaphor and iconicity: A cognitive approach to analyzing texts. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Killick, Steve, Vicki Curry, and Pamela Myles. “The mighty metaphor: a collection of therapists’ favourite metaphors and analogies.” The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist 9 (2016) https://doi: 10.1017/ s1754470x16000210 Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994. McEnery, Carla, Michelle H. Lim, Ann Knowles, Simon Rice, John Gleeson, Simmone Howell, Penni Russon, Chris Miles, Simon D’Alfonso, and Mario Alvarex-Jimenez . “Social anxiety in young people with first-episode psychosis: Pilot study of the EMBRACE moderated online social intervention.” Early Intervention In Psychiatry. (2019) https://doi: 10.1111/ eip.12912
McNicol, Sarah. “Humanising illness: presenting health information in educational comics.” Medical Humanities 40, no. 1 (2014): 49-55. https://doi: 10.1136/ medhum-2013-010469 Neff, Kristin D. and Roos Vonk. “Self-Compassion Versus Global Self-Esteem: Two Different Ways of Relating to Oneself.” Journal Of Personality 77, no. 1 (2009): 23-50. https://doi: 10.1111/j.14676494.2008.00537.x Neff, Kristin D. “The Motivational Power of Self-Compassion.” Retrieved 31 May 2020, from https:// selfcompassion.org/themotivationalpowerofselfcompassion/ Nelson, Camilla. “Research through practice: a reply to Paul Dawson.” Text 12, no. 2 (2008) http://www.textjournal.com.au/oct08/nelson.htm Nodelman, Perry. Words about pictures. The narrative art of children’s picture books. Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1988. Putnam, George L. and Karen L. Yanagisako. “Skin cancer comic book: Evaluation of a public educational vehicle.” Journal Of Audiovisual Media In Medicine 8, no. 1 (1985): 22-25. https://doi: 10.3109/17453058509155960 Rice, Simon, John Gleeson, Steven Leicester, Sarah Bendall, Simon D’Alfonso, Tamyson Gilbertson, Eoin Killackey, Alexandra Parker, Reeva Lederman, and Grey Wadley et al. “Implementation of the Enhanced Moderated Online Social Therapy (MOST+) Model Within a National Youth E-Mental Health Service (eheadspace): Protocol for a Single Group Pilot Study for Help-Seeking Young People.” JMIR Research Protocols 7, no. 2: 48 (2018) https:// doi: 10.2196/resprot.8813 Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1963. Stoddard, Jill A. and Niloofar Afari. The Big Book of ACT Metaphors. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, 2014. Tasić, Milas and Dušan Stamenković. “The Interplay of Words and Images in Expressing Multimodal Metaphors in Comics.” Procedia - Social And Behavioral Sciences 212: (2015) 117-122. https://doi: 10.1016/j. sbspro.2015.11.308 Valentine, Lee, Carla McEnery, Shaunagh O’Sullivan, John Gleeson, Sarah Bendall, and Mario Alvarez-Jimenez,. “Young People’s Experience of a Long-Term Social Media–Based Intervention for First-Episode Psychosis: Qualitative Analysis.” Journal Of Medical Internet Research 22, no. 6 : e17570 (2020) https://doi: 10.2196/17570 Walker, Anna. Mr Huff. Melbourne, VIC: Viking, 2015.
Art by Marc Pearson
84 / Art by Elena Larkin
This painting was created on Bundjalung land, in Huonbrook, northern NSW, an area impacted by the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020. The country here was thick, dense rainforest. When the sky broke through a gap of trees, you could see the dusk blue mountains cradling the horizon. With the lush growth burned away, towering slabs of naked rock were revealed, strangely bald. Skeleton trees clung to their sides. Last December, my partner and I drove from Victoria to northern New South Wales to visit my family. With no air-con, our clothes turned slick against our skin. We passed endless scorched paddocks, flashing fire trucks and ravaged forests. The trees black stilts and the ground grey ash, still sizzling. In January, TV screens blazed with the devastation in other states. But the sky in northern NSW finally caved. And brought the rain. I painted this between showers, sitting by the road not far from where my Dad lives in Huonbrook. A narrow, winding track leads to Dad’s, climbing up the hills and carving through the rainforest. Both sides of the road charred where fire flew across the gravel. As I sat painting the trunks and the dry red soil, I thought about how it was before. I’d never known fire to touch this part of the earth. I thought about the people who experienced the wrench of loss, for the animals considered ‘livestock’ and for those who lost their homes and lives. The devastation of the bushfires is a sharp reminder to honour our home on earth. And to evaluate the impact of our everyday choices. Painting outside helps me pause, to slow down, observe, and to recognise the experience of sharing space with other beings. With my brush I found new shoots of green by the roots of the black trees.
‘I was almost relieved to be seen closer to who I truly was: a sad, troubled individual who was doing their best to find care, rather than a professional who didn’t have personal difficulties, but whose job it was to solve everyone else’s.’
The Evidence An email from my psychologist came in June 2019. Dear Sam, I hope you’re well. I have a quick request. I wanted to see if you might be interested in presenting to the Victorian Mental Health Royal Commission, as a transgender mental health consumer who has been a client with our service. Regards, Joseph I knew what Joseph was referring to, as I was working on my own organisation’s submission to the royal commission at the time. I minimised my email and went back to writing the submission: At the outset, while we acknowledge the significant resilience and strength of trans and gender-diverse communities, we emphasise that trans and gen der-diverse people continue to experience a very high level of disadvantage and discrimination. I read back over my words, written just moments earlier, before my role of objective legal expert had been complicated by the reminder that I too had experienced this impeded access to mental health care. My draft report went on to quote the high rates of poor mental health and suicide in my own trans and gender-diverse community, which I could pretty much recite from memory at this point, having been forced to write them over and over again in grant applications to seek funding for my own position at a specialist transgender legal service. I mulled over Joseph’s request. Am I to be the conduit of the community’s experiences by dispassionately explaining the structural problems my clients face, or should I accept being made the subject of the story? This wasn’t the first time I’d been faced with this kind of dilemma. When I was being interviewed for a radio show about the legal issues faced by the community, the interviewer decided to make me the focus of their inquiries: ‘So, what’s it like going to court after transitioning into a man? Do the judges do a double take when they see you in a suit?’, and ‘What do your clients think when they find out you are representing them?’ These questions were undermining, making me incredibly self-conscious about how I was being perceived by others. I was no longer an objective expert in my chosen area of expertise. Suddenly, my authenticity as a person who had just started a transgender legal service was tied to me being a transgender lawyer, as opposed to just a lawyer who happened to be transgender.
88 / Art by Michael Chew
Would I be undermining my credibility as an expert if I admitted that I too used mental health services? Or would I be deepening it? And did I really care what anyone thought anyway? Is it an act of disruptive advocacy in itself to resist the straitjacketed notions of the independent legal profession and just admit that no-one is a neutral party? Is it possible to play the dual role of the representative and the represented? While lawyers are generally privileged and relatively well-off, there are good reasons for lawyers’ stories to form part of an inquiry into mental health. According to some accounts, we are the profession with the highest rates of suicide in the country. Trans people also have some of the highest rates of suicide in the country, so if you think about it, I might just be in one of the highest-risk sub-groups: the twenty or so transgender and gender-diverse lawyers in the country. Royal commissions are a very particular kind of theatre called by governments to inquire into matters deemed to be of public importance. In the last few years, it has felt like there have been multiple going on simultaneously, and their import, form and value are as variable as their nebulous titles suggest. Some of them have felt monumental, like the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which provided survivors of sexual abuse in the churches with an opportunity to tell their truth to a powerful government appointee, and saw some of the most influential people in the world sit down for cross-examination. Some of them felt more forced, like the banking royal commission, which came about only after one too many rorts twisted the Federal Government’s arm. This inquiry into the Victorian mental health system was one that the State Government seemed genuinely committed to. Nonetheless, in all royal commissions, the government gets to decide the terms of reference (excluding any tricky questions they don’t want answered) and to frame the debate in a way that upholds its own interests. The government carefully chooses who gets appointed as commissioners too, so isn’t it almost a foregone conclusion that the recommendations of a commission will be exactly what the government wants them to be? To tell a story of my own mental health would leave me very vulnerable. My story is one of complex trauma stemming from family dysfunction, homophobia and gender dysphoria. So, was it worth me torpedoing my own professional reputation by parading my traumatic childhood and history of self-harm before a room full of lawyers so as to represent the transgender community’s long history of humiliating and denigrating interactions with the mental health system? Did these commissioners even read all of the submissions they
Nonfiction received, or did they just use a bunch of hastily hired casual policy officers (the kind of job I myself might aspire to) to summarise them all and highlight the useful quotes? It seemed a bad idea. The timing was terrible, as I was only six weeks away from chest surgery, and I had a number of deadlines and court hearings looming before I went on leave. I really had nothing to gain, except knowing what it would be like to be on that particular stage. Having said all that, I knew how broken the system was, how the people who were desperate to get mental health support couldn’t, and how the people who were desperate to be let out of psychiatric units and into the community often weren’t due to their ‘lack of insight’ into their mental health condition—a vague concept at best, and a frightening catch 22 scenario at worst. I knew that for many people, especially those in my community who were transitioning, ten Medicare-rebated psychology sessions a year are woefully inadequate, especially since we are forced to interact with psychologists in order to obtain legal approval to undergo gender-affirming surgery. Finally, I’d spent years taking down careful notes about other people’s life experiences and turning them into case studies for use in law reform papers. Why not use my own? If it was good enough for clients’ lives to be reduced into paper cutouts to represent How-thesystem-did-not-effectively-protect-us-from-harm, why not let it be done to myself?
So, despite my reservations, I pulled up Joseph’s email, dashed off a quick reply saying that I’d be happy to help, and returned to my work. Not everyone could give evidence at the inquiry. Indeed, given the sheer numbers of Victorians who interact with the mental health system, almost all of the people who have experienced the system would not have a voice. There are many barriers to giving evidence as a ‘lived experience’ witness. One of the main routes into this commission was to be nominated by an organisation providing mental health services, which would likely exclude people who’d complained about the organisation for the many wrongs committed against them. The organisation would surely also undertake a consideration of whether the individual would be able to ‘cope’ through such an experience, which would mean that the more marginal and distressed were likely to be excluded at this point. The suitable client would then have to respond to the email, which seems a small thing to me who sends about thirty emails on any given day, but it’s a huge challenge for some—particularly those of us who are the most marginalised. The next step was to attend a meeting in the city. I did that on a wet winter’s day, just a week away from chest surgery. I struggled to find the right office, which was in an outdated-looking office building next to a food court and a touristy chocolate shop in the middle of Collins Street.
‘Would I be undermining my credibility as an expert if I admitted that I too used mental health services? Or would I be deepening it?’ But more than anything, I felt guilty. I felt guilty that I now had the skills and confidence to speak to a room full of people, when so many of us in the trans and gender-diverse community are too anxious to even leave the house. This guilt existed alongside another: that I could afford to pay $10,000 for chest surgery, when many trans people can barely afford a first-hand binder; and that this money came from my job, which depended in many ways on the ongoing misery and dysfunction of my own community. These things made me feel that, in many ways, I was not the best person to speak. But all of that guilt was mixed with the overriding concern that no one else from the community would be asked, and the possibility that the commission might do something useful for the community.
I had to call a mobile number to be brought up to the office, clearly hastily assembled after the government surprised everyone by dropping the terms of reference for the royal commission months ahead of schedule. I was greeted by Debbie the mental health support worker, a kindly looking, slightly teary-eyed woman in a large knitted jumper; Richard, a personal injury lawyer with a short, trendy haircut; and Claudia, the QC who would be leading the evidence in court, an impressive woman in her forties with a high ponytail and expensive casual business attire. I knew exactly what they wanted: a sob story about how the mental health system had failed to provide me with care when I needed it most due to a lack of services, a lack of competent practitioners, long waiting
The Evidence lists and red tape. I knew I had those stories in abundance, so while Claudia went through her spiel about how they ‘take statements from many, many more people’ than they are able to use and that they’d ‘need to carefully consider’ whether they’d ask me to go on to give evidence in the hearings, I smiled, knowing full well that they would choose me to give evidence. I started telling my stories. A hospital admission to ED after punching my arm through a window that ended in a nurse telling me I was very silly and that sick people actually needed the bed I was in. Unanswered calls to mental health crisis lines. The lack of services available to discuss the breakdown of my seven-year queer relationship in the middle of my IVF treatment while living in a regional town in Victoria. As the words tumbled out, I knew they’d want me—a peculiar feeling for someone who has too often been rejected because of their gender. I saw Claudia shift to a more interested posture, and I saw her nod faintly at Richard, who doubled down on his efforts to create comprehensive notes on his Surface Pro.
the three lawyers, with me speaking in crisp sentences that Richard could easily put into chronological and thematic paragraphs. Debbie broke the legal bubble by entering the room after having gone on a ten-minute hunt to find a box of tissues that I hadn’t asked for. She seemed pleased with herself, having found this precious resource in this barren wasteland of an office. As I left via the food court, I wondered why the hell I did these things to myself. From there, Richard drafted the written version of my story. What followed was a different side of a familiar process. As the client, I had to email track-changed versions of my statement back and forth with Richard over the next couple of weeks to make sure my story had been boiled down into its essential components, while ‘capturing my distinct voice’. When I looked over it, my main thought was that mine was not the story that the inquiry needed to hear. As a lawyer with a full-time job, I do not struggle financially like many of my clients do. As someone who has transitioned to male, I quite quickly became able to ‘pass’,
‘Instead, I was consumed by the thought that I’d been complicit in legitimising a process I didn’t entirely agree with—or worse, that I was an Uncle Tom–type figure in these proceedings, providing a largely cisgender audience with a relatable figure who wasn’t so angry they couldn’t speak because of all the indignities they’d suffered.’ I felt uncomfortable telling an intelligent and accomplished QC about my personal difficulties, with one of my contemporaries writing it all down. Richard was doing the exact kind of job that I did; there was a not insignificant chance that we might sit next to each other waiting for the same job interview one day. Claudia had the kind of distinguished career that I could aspire to and probably never reach, especially not if I kept blurring the line between my professional mask and the murkier truths of my own interior life. But, I also felt the pleasure that comes from giving a person in authority the stories that they wanted. I peered over at Richard, who was typing away. It was uncanny watching him as a client rather than a colleague. We were in sync,
and therefore faced fewer risks out in the world than transgender people who are more visibly transgender. As someone with enough money to have surgery and to pay for medication, I have been able to medically transition. I also do not struggle for basic respect from the world every day of my life, like many of my clients do. The guilt that I had pushed aside months ago to justify my participation came rushing back. I thought of Esme, a transgender woman who I’d helped after she’d been sectioned under the Mental Health Act and placed in the men’s section of a ward in a country hospital, where she was ridiculed, spat at and sexually abused by a male patient. In comparison, my statement recounting my more humdrum experience of not being able to find
Nonfiction an appropriate service to talk about my family-related trauma in the context of transitioning seemed pointless and embarrassing. On the day of the hearing, I was still on leave from work after having undergone chest surgery three weeks before. My surgeon had only just taken out my chest drains, and I still had dressings over my scars that I needed to change daily. On my way into the hearing I was called ‘sir’ by one of the security guards and then ‘ma’am’ by another, which made me feel anxious and frustrated by my failure to pass. I sat in the waiting room for an hour, where Debbie found me and asked me if I wanted some tissues. I told her that I was okay, thanks; and then she asked me if I wanted some food. I wasn’t really hungry, but I felt I should allow Debbie the opportunity to perform her official role of helper. ‘That would be lovely, thanks,’ I said. She stepped out and came back five minutes later with some Greek salad and rice noodles on a paper plate, with a single disposable wooden knife. ‘I had to sneak into the commissioner’s area to get this for you. I’m so sorry, I couldn’t find a fork.’ I smiled, took the food, and ate my artfully crafted morsels by hand. After a couple of hours watching the live stream of hearings from the waiting room, Debbie finally came to collect me, as my name would be called out next. After hearing my bland pseudonymous name read out, I stood up and walked into the witness box. As I walked up past the audience, I felt everyone staring at me, likely wondering what such a boring-looking little man could possibly have to say. The lead commissioner explained to the audience that I had asked for the live feed to be cut, and that my identity was the subject of a suppression order. It would be a criminal offence for anyone in the public gallery to record or broadcast my statement. And then we were on. Claudia, who was in a full wig and gown, asked me to affirm the truth of my written statement, and to promise to tell the truth, which I did. I wasn’t sure if I was meant to look at Claudia or the commissioners, so I switched between them. The male commissioner on the right looked particularly uninterested, like he might nod off to sleep at any moment after a long, boozy day at the races. As it turned out, giving evidence was far easier than leading evidence from my clients. I even began to enjoy myself at times, finding that I had all the answers to Claudia’s very leading questions, since all I was required to do was recount my own experiences. The only real disadvantage of being in the witness box was that the day would leave an indelible mark on me while it would be just another day in court for the others. That, and the fact
that I was the only lawyer in the room who wasn’t being paid to be there. After the hearing was over, I saw Tobi, a gender non-conforming former colleague who had watched me give evidence. ‘Sorry,’ they said. ‘When I saw you, I assumed you were giving evidence on behalf of your work, not giving evidence about your own experiences. I wouldn’t have sat in if I had known.’ ‘Never mind,’ I replied. And I didn’t really mind. I was almost relieved to be seen closer to who I truly was: a sad, troubled individual who was doing their best to find care, rather than a professional who didn’t have personal difficulties, but whose job it was to solve everyone else’s. But the relief that I initially felt soon turned into toxic shame at having revealed too much of myself, of having been a show-off, a fraud, a fool. The feelings were enough to overwhelm any of the initial pride I had felt at having been brave in sharing my story and having come out the other side of a difficult experience. Instead, I was consumed by the thought that I’d been complicit in legitimising a process I didn’t entirely agree with—or worse, that I was an Uncle Tom–type figure in these proceedings, providing a largely cisgender audience with a relatable figure who wasn’t so angry they couldn’t speak because of all the indignities they’d suffered. I fumed at myself for disavowing my own feelings, for agreeing to participate in this farce when I was still wrapped in bandages and a post-surgical chest binder, deeply afraid of looking at the wounds that lay beneath. It seemed to me then that my participation in the proceedings was not in any way an example of my resilience, but a perfectionist streak arising from my own shame and self-loathing. It meant I would say yes to almost any task presented to me, no matter the personal cost. As I think back to the time when my life was sculpted into a neat summary to elucidate a particular policy point, I try and pinpoint what it took from me, and what it gave me. I still feel an immense shame at having exposed myself, as though I’d taken my clothes off in a courtroom and showed the room my slightly flabby but recognisably male body, juxtaposed with my absent penis. On the other hand, I do feel glad that I got to more fully experience the double-edged sword of having your voice heard in the highly orchestrated legal processes that I myself daily put my clients through. More than anything, I hope that next time someone asks me to do something like this, I can find the strength to measure the cost of saying no, and of saying yes, and to not let guilt answer for me. •
CONSUMING JULIAN® temporarius vicarius amans
What is in this leaflet This leaflet answers some common questions about JULIAN. It does not contain all the available information. It does not take the place of Wikipedia, Google, advice from friends and colleagues, or exchanges with strangers in chatrooms. All substitute lovers have risks and benefits. You have weighed the risks of consuming JULIAN against the benefits you expect to gain. If you have any concerns about taking JULIAN, ignore them. Keep this leaflet with you when taking JULIAN. You may need to read it again.
What JULIAN is used for JULIAN is used to treat: • sexual ataxia • aggravated abandonment • minor existential ennui Ask yourself if you have any questions about why you fuck JULIAN.
JULIAN belongs to a group of analgesics called temporary proxy lovers (TPLs). TPLs are thought to work by inflaming the mood of ex-partners. JULIAN is only available because you don’t want him.
Do not take JULIAN if you are taking another medicine called Rumination to treat disturbances in thinking, feelings and behavior. Taking Rumination together with JULIAN may alter the rhythm of your heart.
Before you take JULIAN
If JULIAN’s value has expired, stop consuming him immediately. Transitory withdrawal feelings have been reported in rare cases. If you experience any of the following emotions:
When you must not take him
• remorse • sentimentality
Do not take Julian if you are allergic to:
drink alcohol until symptoms subside.
• dissociation • faking orgasms • excessive alcohol consumption
How to take JULIAN
JULIAN is not recommended for use over an extended period.
Some of the symptoms of an allergic reaction may include a looming sensation of shame, shortness of artifice, heightened difficulty hiding your self-loathing, and a sudden need to tell the truth. Do not take JULIAN if you have used another TPL within the last 21 days. If you do take JULIAN while you are using another TPL you may experience confusion, disturbances in thinking, feelings and behavior, and rapid loss of control.
Follow all directions given to you by your ego carefully.
How much to take of him The usual dose of JULIAN is one hook-up every two days and twicedaily on weekends.
How to take him Swallow JULIAN whole with a glass of vodka before or after food. If you cannot swallow, fantasise. When to take him JULIAN is best taken in a single dose with the lights out.
By Jennifer Barry
How long to take him Continue taking JULIAN for as long as he’s useful. Most TPLs of this kind take time to work so don’t feel discouraged if things do not improve right away. If the situation hasn’t improved within four weeks, check in on Tinder.
If you forget to take him Do not take a double dose to make up for the session you missed. If you have trouble remembering to see JULIAN, remind yourself of his purpose.
While you are taking JULIAN Things you must do If you are about to start taking JULIAN, tell yourself that he is lucky to have you. Tell everyone JULIAN is the best lover you’ve ever had. Tell no one if you become pregnant while taking JULIAN. Do what you need to do.
Symptoms of human conditions may be experienced while taking JULIAN. These may include shame, regret, and delusional nostalgia. These symptoms may continue or get worse during the first four weeks of treatment until the full effect of JULIAN becomes apparent. If you are demonstrating any of the following warning signs, contact your clitoris right away: • persistent melancholia • dreams of violence or drowning All appearances of control should be taken with 1.0 µg of salt.
Things to be careful of
If you have taken too much of JULIAN you may feel sick in the stomach, vomit, feel restless, agitated or manipulative.
Side effects JULIAN may have unwanted sideeffects in some people. Do not be alarmed if you feel any of the following: • • • • •
sexual detachment sudden pangs of guilt hallucinations of happiness loss of self-respect trouble reconciling the gap between your inner and outer worlds overactive imagination irregular bouts of optimism swelling apprehension excessive self-judgement
If you experience rage, do not express it online, do not show it in front of others or do anything else that could be revealing.
• • • •
Do not let yourself run out of JULIAN over the weekend or on holidays.
If you experience these side-effects seek urgent understanding.
Things you must NOT do
After taking JULIAN
Do not give JULIAN to anyone else, even if they have the same condition as you.
Do not let yourself develop feelings for JULIAN.
Once you have finished with JULIAN, discard any unused portion. Repeated use of TPLs will reduce efficacy over time. Information correct at time of printing.
Illusio By Alex Creece
stuck in tenth grade bubblegum fingernails and pencils sharpened nouns that punctuate the latest puncture scraping across bubbled plastic leftover lunchtimes I tripped over myself on the texture of the sun swampy knee-pit years made you sick from kedgeree and blaspheme and if you are my refrigerator mother I spilled the milk
Art by Esther Le Couteur
NAMING RIGHTS By Elise Hearst
n our first session together, my therapist described me as a ‘non-Jew Jew’. I was on the cusp of marrying out and into the wilderness with my boyfriend, the gentile. ‘A ‘non-Jew Jew’?’ I asked, frowning. If I was one of those Jews who wore a Star of David necklace, I would have fondled it then. ‘You have a strong Jewish identity,’ she said, scribbling some notes on a white pad while maintaining eye contact with me. ‘But you don’t have to prove it to anybody. Not the clique, not the shtetl, not the ghetto.’ I once got into an argument with someone’s uncle at a bar mitzvah. It was October 1994, and the setting was heaving with glamour. All the boys were in boxy suits and the girls in dresses that poofed or sparkled. Mine did both. That year of my thirteenth birthday, bar mitzvahs were almost a weekly event. I can recall a few of them. I got my period the morning of Josh Goldman’s and I drank wine for the first time at Greg Ambramovich’s. At this bar mitzvah, a couple of white-shirted kids, who had slicked-back hair and wore too-large jackets, started teasing me, saying that a girl wasn’t meant to have a bat mitzvah. Bat mitzvahs for girls were more irregular at the time, the coming-of-age ceremony reserved only for those who attended progressive synagogues that permitted women to be in spitting distance of the holiest of holy objects—the Torah. My bat mitzvah was the following weekend. To say I was excited would be an understatement. To say I was preparing for something presidential, or an Oscars speech, was closer to it. So, when I saw one of the boys’ uncles approach us, I thought he would come to my defense—this balding man. ‘These boys are making fun of me having a bat mitzvah in my synagogue next weekend!’ I protested. ‘What?’ the uncle scoffed. ‘You call that a synagogue? More like a church!’ I was caught off-guard in the reflection of his thickrimmed glasses, so confused by this adult’s betrayal of me. I searched through the foggy frames for something—kindness or comfort—certain to make eye
contact, as I had been taught to do in Saturday morning drama school. This was, after all, how you were supposed to interact with grown-ups. I was, after all, on the verge of becoming a woman myself, at least in the eyes of God, or more specifically, my God—that was, if I believed in God, which didn’t really seem to matter. But his eyes revealed nothing. The man laughed and began to rub his nephew’s shoulders. The boys laughed with him, and they ignored me after that. I hated those boys and I hated their uncles. I took my bright-pink bolero jacket and cried in an unforgiving bathroom stall. The following week I stood in front of my synagogue congregation and delivered my bat mitzvah Torah portion. Its topic was on the covenant of circumcision—the holy bris—about Abraham, and Isaac, their foreskins, and the foreskins of Jewish men to follow. Twenty years later I would have a son, and in the eight days after his birth (we hadn’t known the gender prior), I found myself treading through a circumcision minefield on the internet, replaying conversations with well-meaning friends at ironic Chrismukkah parties (‘Oh God, don’t do it!’). I thought back to the sermon on circumcision I had spectacularly delivered at my bat mitzvah. I was certain I’d said something about it being a sacred act, a marker of survival, continuity, love, a way for Nazis to identify us. And yet in the haze of meeting our son, who we had not known would be a son, my husband and I were paralysed by the thought of cutting him. My husband had been circumcised as a baby, in a rural hospital in New Zealand. This was supposed to make it easier, but somehow, it only complicated our feelings further. We named our son Wolf. The mohel at the bris told everybody so as the bagels were halved and the cream cheese warmed to room temperature. My mother and I clutched each other and sobbed in a room off to the side. ‘Why do we do it?’ I asked her mournfully. ‘I don’t know, we just do,’ she replied, as if this were an answer. My non-Jewish brother-in-law almost fainted. Oh, these acts of barbarism are so unexpected to the outsider,
Nonfiction unlike for us, where grief and joy intermingled and spread like a common cold. Wolf. When the final push of labour came, he landed on my chest all gooey, clawing, hungry and wild. Only moments before, I had been the beast, full of grunt, the pain of bone, organs and skin being stretched beyond reason to achieve this most ordinary thing you can do. A month before the birth, we were sitting in the back of my parents’ car, having been their guests at a Mozart concert. We were letting the name roll off our tongues to see where it landed. ‘Wolf. Wolfie. Woooolfie,’ we called out, just like Constanza in the 1984 Mozart drama, Amadeus. My dad laughed, while my mother said something like, ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ Wolf kicked me from within. My mother continued to be sceptical about the name. Upon its announcement she said, ‘Are you sure?’ When she sent a group text to all her friends about the birth of her newest grandchild, she left off the name. When I completed the birth registration forms, she said to me, ‘It’s not too late to change it.’ Months before that I was sitting in my maternal grandmother’s lounge holding hands as we always did, while we imagined the child-to-be. I wanted some name suggestions, hoping something from the list on my phone would resonate with her. Something like Roma, Misha, Sascha, Halina, Zosia. But she didn’t like those names. When I was eighteen we travelled together to Poland. When I asked her if she felt at home, she had looked at me sternly and replied, ‘Australia is my home. Here, I am a tourist.’ She squinted at the phone, as if she might understand its contents. ‘What about Helen? Or Susan?’ she prompted. ‘Susan is Mum’s name,’ I said. ‘Susan’s a lovely name,’ she said, sucking her teeth. When I called him Wolf, she hated it. ‘But Babi,’ I said to her, ‘your grandfather was called Wolf.’ ‘Yes!’ she replied. ‘And I never liked it!’ After she died I found a photo of her grandfather, his moustache forcefully revealed in the black-andwhite shadows. He would never have imagined his great-great-great-grandson to be a red-haired Australian. But he died in the twenties in Kalisz, a quaint Polish town, where he rode in horse-drawn carts and had his granddaughters visit for the summer holidays. So there are many things he may never have imagined. There was no circumcision for our second born. She was a girl. We called her Ziggy. For the first few months my mum visibly winced when she heard the name. My father called her Zigmund. But my parents later discovered that my father’s Aunt, Sidonie, had coincidentally been nicknamed Ziggy as a little girl. Sidonie had made the ill-fated mistake of remaining in Vienna with her non-Jewish husband after the start of the Second World War. My grandfather, Hans,
had written to her, compelling her to leave. But she thought marrying out would protect her. It didn’t. She was deported from Vienna on 17th August 1942, transported to a forest in Minsk where she was shot and killed four days later. She was one of 10,000 Jews who were taken to that forest. She probably had to dig her own grave. My parents would return there for a memorial ceremony in 2018, and spend hours tying four hundred laminated cards to tree trunks with the names of the slaughtered, including Aunt Sidonie. Ziggy. A thought strikes me: Had Sidonie also been a ‘nonJew Jew’? What would she have named her children, had she been given the chance of a life? Why had she stayed, really? What had some people known that others hadn’t? Was there not a door she could hide behind? An attic? A floorboard? When I look around my house I see hiding places everywhere. When I was ten my Hungarian babysitter was studying the Holocaust and she told me some of the things she’d learnt about: pregnant women being shot in the stomach, babies heads being smashed against walls, as if these were things I already knew about. I suppose I did, though no-one had told me as much. My husband and I affectionately call the attic door the Nazi hiding cupboard. It is our little joke. A joke the children don’t yet know about. But our children are young. There are many things they don’t yet know about: how to mute the television, where we hide the chocolate, what happens when you stay too long at a party, etc. Not long after my ‘non-Jew Jew’ diagnosis, I sought a second opinion from my rabbi. I told him about my new relationship—our desire to be together above all else, for better or worse, till death do us part. I told him, ‘My partner constantly thinks he’s been caught on a live taping of Curb Your Enthusiasm.’ He looked at me, perplexed, and replied, ‘I haven’t seen it.’ He told me about the challenges of being a parent, how your children will inevitably make choices that you struggle with, how your children will be their own people, regardless. ‘You’re a Jew. In fact, you’re very Jewish. To be Jewish is to question. To ask more of oneself. To ask more of others.’ ‘I’m very Jewish?’ I was just fishing now. ‘You’re a Jew who is drawn to otherness,’ he told me. ‘And that’s okay.’ I walked away from our conversation elated. I rang my mother and told her I had been to see him. ‘That’s nice,’ she said, sounding pleased. When I told her what we’d discussed the silence returned. It took her a while to say something. ‘Don’t you think that’s interesting?’ I could hear her breathing, short and sharp. ‘Yes, my darling,’ she said, clearing her throat, making room for something. ‘Very interesting.’ •
HUMAN INFANCY AND THE LANGUAGE OF BEGINNINGS. The Wild Child (F. Truffaut, 1970) & The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (W. Herzog, 1974) By Cristóbal Escobar
Habit has not yet done its work. As we start to find our bearings, all of a sudden the landscape vanishes like the façade of a house as we cross the threshold. The façade has yet to achieve dominance as a result of repeated, ultimately habitual exploration. Once we have begun to feel right in a place, the original image can never be reconstituted. Walter Benjamin, One-way street.1
n September 1799, at the end of the French Revolution, a feral child of around twelve years of age was found naked in a southern forest of France. The boy, who had lived in the woods since the age of four or five, was believed to have been abandoned by his parents due to an irremediable malady of the brain. Unable to articulate a word or walk on two legs, the Savage of Aveyron, as he was known back then, was examined by medical experts and diagnosed as mute and suffering from mental idiocy. Doctor Philippe Pinel, the forerunner of French psychiatry and member of the Société des observateurs de l’homme, speculated that his illness, once examined in Paris, was innate and incurable (the reason why, he presumed, the boy was thrown to the forest in exile) so that any attempts at rehabilitation were doomed to failure. Younger members of the group, however, sceptical of Pinel’s medical hypothesis, suggested instead
that a child removed from all human contact since an early stage of life would shed new light on the workings of the human brain and provide relevant insights to unlock an old metaphysical dilemma: ‘to determine what would be the degree of intelligence and the nature of the ideas of an adolescent, who, deprived from his childhood of all education, had lived entirely separated from individuals of his own species.’2 Doctor Jean Marc Itard, the appointed physician at the Institute National des Jeunes Sourds, the public hospital in Paris where the boy resided, believed that the answer to this question, to a great degree, consisted in showing the capacity of the boy to understand rational ideas. A minister of state, hoping to secure an important scientific discovery for the burgeoning French Republic, decided to entrust the child to the young doctor Itard. First examined at the hospital and later on at his private house in the outskirts of Paris, Itard and housekeeper Madame Guérin gave the boy the name of Victor, in response to his ability to pronounce the letter ‘o’. A few years later, on the east side of the Rhine River in Germany, another strange boy of around seventeen years of age was found in the town of Nuremberg holding a letter in his left hand. The document was addressed to the Cavalry Captain of the Fourth Squadron, Sixth
Walter Benjamin, One-way Street and Other Writings (London: Penguin Books, 2009). Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, The Century Psychology Series: The Wild Boy of Aveyron, trans. George & Muriel Humphrey (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1932), 7.
Academic Schwolische Regiment, dated 1828, unknown destination. It reads as follows: I send to you a boy, who might, as he wishes, serve faithfully the King; the boy was left with me, 1812, the 7th of October … I have brought him up like a Christian; and have not, since 1812, let him go [out] from the house… I have already taught him to read and write…and when we ask him what he will become, he says he will be a light horseman as his father was.3 In an addendum from the same letter, the identity of the boy is ambiguously described: ‘[he] is already baptized … his name is Kaspar [but] you have to give him a name yourself.’4 To uncover Kaspar’s solitary past, just as in the case of Victor, naturalists and doctors from Germany tried to categorise his condition among the animal taxonomy to determine whether or not he could be classified under the rubric of the human genus. The public interest awakened by the lives of Victor and Kaspar has catalysed a sensible and intellectual curiosity through the arts, travelling from the Enlightenment period to our current postmodern times. Adapted many times in the form of novels (Jill Dawson’s Wild Boy; Jakob Wassermann’s Caspar Hauser or The Inertia of the Heart); poems (Mary Robinson’s The Savage of Aveyron; David Constantine’s Caspar Hauser: A Poem in Nine Cantos); non-fiction books (Harlan Lane’s The Wild Boy of Aveyron; Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s Lost Prince); opera librettos (Solomon Epstein’s The Wild Boy; Elizabeth Swados’ Kaspar Hauser); and theatrical performances (David Holmon’s The Wild Boy of Aveyron; Peter Handke’s Kaspar), Victor and Kaspar’s stories, along with those of other feral children found in eighteen and nineteenth century Europe,5 seem to never exhaust the enigma of what it means to be us, the animal who says ‘I’. The central question, however, taken up by the intellectual impetus of cinematic thinkers, remains largely the same: Where does the origin of human language reside? Can there be a human subject without the discursive destination of their rational voice? By examining two New Wave films: Francois Truffaut’s The Wild Child (1970) and Werner Herzog’s The
Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), this article explores the role of the child as a model for intensive thinking.6 It is suggested that the screen characters Victor of Aveyron and Kaspar Hauser demonstrate an intuitive capacity to shatter the perceptual habits of adult subjectivity by experimenting with the rational minds of their respective masters. Similar to how a poet reveals new dimensions of meaning by playing with the functioning of language in the symbolic, I claim that the gestures and movements of the child are capable of interrupting dominant ways of thinking about reality by presenting visions that break with habitual modes of engagement. Such vivid gesture, I conclude, is preserved from a perspective that both filmmakers derive from anthropological findings as much as cinematic innovations. To address this question—that is to say, to think about a certain infancy of human language through the lenses of the cinema—I look at Truffaut and Herzog’s films which interrogate and break with the rational conventions of the Enlightenment European mind. New Wave filmmakers both in France (La Nouvelle Vague) and in Germany (New German Cinema) represent here an important epistemic rupture with previous modes of thinking about the a priori of perception that, in his work on cinema, French philosopher Gilles Deleuze describes as the collapse of a Kantian image of adaequatio: ‘Characters no longer “know” how to react to situations that are beyond them, too awful, or too beautiful, or insoluble.’7 Following the basic outline of Itard’s memoir The Wild Boy of Aveyron (1801)8 and Hauser’s writings found in Feuerbach’s Kaspar Hauser: The Foundling of Nuremberg (1832), I look at each filmmakers’ page to screen adaptation to rethink—that is to say, to think again—the process of language acquisition, by mapping out the journey from the ‘wordless animal’ that the child represents to the rational speaking subject that we become in adulthood. To respond to the question: how to treat a young person who is living outside of speech? Both films propose, in my view, the possibility to reconsider the bare experience of an early animal language (languae) via a mode of expression that is other than rational or discursive. Because Victor (played by the non-professional actor Jean-Pierre Cargol) and Kaspar (played by the street-singer Bruno S.)
Paul Johann Anselm Feuerbach, Kaspar Hauser: The Foundling of Nuremberg (Cambridge: Harvard College Library, 1832), 12-13. Gerd Gedmünden “The Enigma of Hermeneutics: The Case of Kaspar Hauser”, Reading after Foucault: Institutions, Disciplines, and Technologies of the Self in Germany, 1750-1830, ed. R.S Leventhal (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994), 128. 5 An exhaustive list of wild European children can be found in Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae (1735), Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discours sur l’inegalité parmi les hommes (1755) and, more recently, in Lucien Malson’s Les enfants sauvages: mythe et réalité (1981). 6 The concept of intensity, which I examine under my PhD thesis on The Intensive-Image: Re-thinking Deleuze´s film-philosophy, is claimed to be an essential feature triggering forms of conceptual creation and sensation originating from both philosophy and cinema. In this article, intensity points more specifically to the differential character inhabited by Victor of Aveyron and Kaspar Hauser—two screen characters who problematise the classical (a priori) definition of humanity as “being in language” for a more processual understanding of the human agent as “becoming in a language being”. A model for intensive thinking, in this sense, represents an image of difference and of the different that responds to the variabilities of our human existence (in its process of becoming), rather than to the fixed, taxonomical definition of our being (in its transcendental form of identity). 7 Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations 1972-1990 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 59. 8 Itard’s memoir and subsequent report on Victor (1806) are found in the appendix of Lucien Malson’s book Les enfants sauvages: mythe et réalité (1981) from which Truffaut is said to have reconstructed the story. 3 4
Human Infancy and the Language of Beginnings are foreigners to these logics of speech, hence no different from other children who remain confined to their self-referential voice, both stories problematise the entry into the symbolic system of signification by posing, as Giorgio Agamben suggests, ‘an experiment with language’.9 As the character of Doctor Itard (Francois Truffaut) and Professor Daumer (Walter Ladengast) observe in each film, it seems that the only way for these adolescents to access the realm of reasoning, and thus humanity, is through the acquisition of the language of men. However, as stressed by Truffaut’s Itard, crossing this threshold constitutes Victor’s biggest despair: ‘Now, ready to renounce the task I had imposed upon myself … I condemned the curiosity of the men who had wrenched him away from his innocent and happy life.’ Kaspar also symbolises this lamentable position, a person who remains, as Herzog states, ‘without concepts…a yet to be studied kind of human.’10 The Undomesticated Mind of the Child: Vividness, Intensity, Animality … In the nineteenth century, the influence of Immanuel Kant’s epistemology was felt everywhere in European philosophy. In the examinations of Victor and Kaspar, this meant that the prerequisite for being recognised as human was their capacity to acquire language; the test of whether the wordless child can turn into a fully thinking agent. ‘Being in language’ was thus understood as the famous Kantian category of pure reason—what Kant had described as the ‘unitary form of consciousness’,11 which brings about an understanding of the environment by way of organising particular impressions into general concepts or categories. In Kant’s view, this is a transcendental form of consciousness, that presupposes and thus predetermines our relation to experience by conceiving of reason as an a priori conception. (‘A priori’ means, precisely, that which precedes, or does not depend on, experience. Kant’s transcendental form of consciousness is then equivalent to a universal attribute that is not dependent on sensible encounters.) Without language, the identity of the ‘I’ would be inevitably disjointed in a chaotic ‘rhapsody of perceptions’,12 like Kaspar’s intuitively lived life is (‘nothing lives in me except my life’) or Victor’s animal gratifications untouched by the instructions of formal education. So, to transcend sensible experience via language—and thus reasoning—constitutes, in Kant’s view, the primary locus of our ontological freedom. Hence Kant’s sapere
aude (dare to think for yourself) as the condition for which both adolescent characters must be ‘subjected’ to and be trained for on-screen: not actions subordinated to affective exteriors but actions determined by their internal—transcendental—mode of reasoning, made possible through formal education. As Kant notes on his Lectures on Pedagogy: Savagery is independence from [rational] laws. Through discipline the human being is submitted to the laws of humanity and is first made to feel their constrains … Thus, for example, children are sent to school initially not already with the intention that they should learn something there, but rather that they may grow accustomed to sitting still and observing punctually what they are told, so that in the future they may not put into practice actually and instantly each notion that strikes them. Now by nature the human being has such a powerful propensity towards freedom that when he has grown accustomed to it for a while, he will sacrifice everything for it … Therefore, the human being must be accustomed early [on] to subject himself to the percepts of reason.13 For Victor and Kaspar, however, such rational percepts are not necessarily linked to Kant’s experience of freedom. In fact, the more they adapt to civilisation, the more they seem to suffer. Victor, for example, who represents an entity devoid of discourse, is never able to master that principle of Kantian reasoning—that is, of decoding the world into words. He remains, as Itard’s original report observes, somewhere between ‘the precarious life [of an] animal [and] the moral superiority [of] man’.14 Such rigid demarcation between animal and human is nonetheless negotiated by Truffaut’s on-screen Itard, who is shown caressing Victor’s hair toward the end of the film, telling him: ‘You’re no longer a savage, even if you’re not yet a man…’ Something similar occurs to Kaspar, who, trying to retreat from his cultural assimilation, becomes an exotic subject for the film’s adult characters. Herzog’s epigraph at the beginning of the story anticipates this drama under Kaspar’s discursive rupture: ‘Don’t you hear that screaming all around us, that screaming men call silence?’ Neither Victor nor Kaspar are, in short, full participants of the symbolic field. But isn’t their failure an altogether different approach to the question of language and its
Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience (London: Verso, 2007), 1. Jonathan Romney, “The Man Who Fell to Earth (Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser)” Sight and Sound, 10 (2000), 25. Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Pure Reason. (London: Everyman’s Library, 1934), 236. 12 Kant, Critique, 236. 13 Immanuel Kant, “Lectures on Pedagogy”, Anthropology, History, and Education eds. G. Zoller and R.B. Louden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 438. 14 Itard, Wild Boy, 50 9
Academic relation to ‘human nature’? Wouldn’t it be appropriate to shift from Kant’s a priori conditioning, like his ‘being in language’, to a more processual understanding of the human agent, such as what Agamben refers to as the ‘becoming in a language being’?15 In what follows, and to keep a sense of the philosophical context in which the two real-life events unfolded, I wish to bring into discussion David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature (1738) and confront it with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781), two references that are imperative for Deleuze’s model of transcendental empiricism. The central question informing Deleuze’s reading of Hume in his Empiricism and Subjectivity is to determine how the subject is constituted inside ‘the given of experience’ without simultaneously being reduced to ‘the impressions and associations’ of that experience.16 Deleuze’s connection, in other words, is between the phenomenological multiplicity of the environment with which we all enter and engage, and the singularity of the self which arises from those relations—a self which cannot be entirely deduced from the accidents and material conditions of that experience. Echoing Aristotle, this would be to say, on the one hand, that the whole (self) is more than—and in fact, different from— the sum of its parts and, on the other hand, that Kant’s a priori reasoning is overturned by a particular—a posteriori—experience which Deleuze identifies as the empirico-transcendental principle. In Deleuze’s words: The mind is not subject; it is subjected. When the subject is constituted in the mind under the effect of principles, the mind apprehends itself as a self, for it has been qualified. But the problem is this: if the subject is constituted only inside the collection of ideas, how can the collection of ideas be apprehended as a self, how can I say ‘I’, under the influence of those same principles?17 Hume provides a response to this difficult question, proposing to think of reason (the mind) as: … nothing but a wonderful and intelligible instinct in our souls, which carries us along a certain train of ideas, and endows them with particular qualities, according to their particular situations and relations. This instinct, this true, arises from past observations and experience; but can anyone give the ultimate reason, why past experience and observations produces such an effect, any more than why
nature alone should produce it? Nature may certainly produce whatever can arise from habit: Nay, habit is nothing but one of the principles of nature, and derives all its force from that origin.18 For Hume then, the answer to how the subject transcends the given of experience is by way of habit—that is, the customary effects by which we start to arrange our mind into a daily network of associations and ideas. This behavioural pattern is what endows the early human subject with a unitary form of consciousness which, unlike Kant, is not presupposed outside of experience, but is rather immanent to experience. In other words, Hume’s claim, similar to Kant’s, is that knowledge can never be formed outside of sensible encounters, but unlike Kant, whose conditions for experience are always universal, Hume wants to demonstrate that the mind is rather singular and formed through our habits. Childhood, in this sense, is anything but habituation—anything but the schematisation of their sensible impressions into rational ideas. A similarly undomesticated grasp can be derived from Truffaut’s and Herzog’s films: neither Victor nor Kaspar can organise their worldviews clearly and coherently, for as long as they are not formed into a unitary ego, as their respective societies want them to be, they will remain in a pre-discursive, animal state. Infancy, in this sense, can either be read as the Freudian oceanic self or the Lacanian hommelette—two psychoanalytical forms of ‘perceptual rhapsody’, to employ Kant’s terms. For Hume, quite similarly, it is ‘vividness’, or what I call elsewhere ‘intensity’,19 that signifies the early state of a mind not yet qualified by the ego’s habitual associations. These latter terms specify that rather than as preconsciousness, infancy be read as a vital form of the imagination. Vividness, or intensity, is an active state of mind akin to Baudelaire’s poetic deliriums and Benjamin’s trips with hashish in Marseille—a conscious state in which the ego, yet not the mind, diminishes in front of the hallucinatory powers of the imagination. ‘Hashish is capable of persuading nature to set free in us,’ says Benjamin in describing his own psychedelic voyages, ‘Images and sequences of images, long-buried memories loom up, whole [new] scenes and situations enter [into] the mind’.20 So, to summarise: it is only under the effects of ‘habit’ that the imagination adopts the form of reason and the mind stabilises into a unitary form of consciousness to which we give the name ‘ego’. In Deleuze’s words:
Agamben, Infancy, 15-72. Gilles Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 105-121. 17 Deleuze, Empiricism, 31. 18 David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888), 179. 19 Ongoing PhD thesis. The Intensive-Image: Rethinking Deleuze´s Film-Philosophy. 20 Benjamin, One-Way Street, 132. 15 16
Human Infancy and the Language of Beginnings In itself, the mind has two fundamental characteristics: resonance and vividness. Recall the metaphor that likens the mind to an [string] instrument. When does it become subject? It becomes subject when its vividness [intensity] is mobilized in such a way that the part characterized by vividness (impression) communicates it to another part (idea), and also, when all the parts taken together resonate in the act of producing something new.21 The ego, in other words, appears as the contingent crystallisation of its relations, a kind of external territorialisation within the mind. With this in mind, the intensive field of early childhood should also account for its own process of maturity and actualisation, the aforementioned habit of saying ‘I’—the ground by which the wordless infant turns into a fully speaking character. However, as regards the cases of Victor and Kaspar as portrayed cinematically, a question immediately problematises this semiotic/ semantic split: How are we to equip the child whose qualities and relations are not exclusively derived from the human environment and its rational habituation? Again, if the subject (the mind) is what transcends the background of its identity relations, how can we define the phenomenological structuring of Victor, whose early life was influenced by animals other than humans? Or the enigmatic consciousness of Kaspar, whose language is still alien to his teachers? Are they potential creatures— yet to be human—agents? Or are they already human subjects that have been constituted outside of the realm of speech? It seems to me, at least from Deleuze’s reading of Hume, that the answer to these questions relies exclusively on Victor and Kaspar’s early field of relations having been a differential ground constituted outside of the human network; that is, a domain of existence that is not derived from the percepts of reason but from an undomesticated—foreign and animal—experience of the imagination. This means that if Victor and Kaspar are the product of a customary conjunction with nature, then the way to understand their identities—their self-formations—should be derived from the Hume principle of a mind that, while connected to its environment, remains autonomous in its operations. The question is thus not only to unveil how Victor and Kaspar interact with their immediate field of relations but also to show how a new type of consciousness (Victor and Kaspar) emerges from this non-human, or pre-human, network. Finally, I would also like to stress, as I hope to show in my analysis of the two films, that our id/entity formation cannot be located under the Kantian rubric
of an entity ‘possessing language’ but is rather of an entity that requires of other humans to be trained into language and thus become, from this ensemble, a rational speaking subject. Human language, as Agamben persuasively maintains, should then be read as a mixture of both our ‘endosomatic’ inheritance (that is, the genetic make-up that allows us to speak) and our ‘esosomatic’ experience (our environmental structuring). In the cases of Victor and Kaspar, there is no doubt that the two boys are well equipped with the first physiological element. The problem rests with the latter circuit, where the subject requires of other humans to encircle it with language so as to induce its becoming a fully discursive being. In Agamben’s words: Certainly, in contrast with what occurs in the majority of animal species … human language is not wholly written into the genetic code. [Hence], in the human individual, exposure to language is indispensable. It is a fact whose importance can never be overemphasized in understanding the structure of human language that if a child is not exposed to speech between the ages of two and twelve, his or her potential for language acquisition is definitively jeopardized. Contrary to ancient traditional beliefs, from this point of view man is not the ‘animal possessing language’, but instead the animal deprived of language and obliged, therefore, to receive it from outside of himself.22 Let us now begin to examine how Truffaut and Herzog’s films reflect upon this notion of human infancy by following feral children who are obliged to enter into civilisation. I will first claim that Truffaut’s The Wild Child introduces discontinuities to the possibility of a boy becoming-man. Then, as regards Herzog’s film, I will claim that Kaspar represents a vivid character of the imagination who never detaches from his beginning. What is to become? Itard’s memoirs on Victor are structured by four succeeding aims held for the mental and moral education of the child.23 These developmental stages are also employed by the filmmaker to map out Victor’s passage from his animal state in the forest to his more rational behaviour later in the doctor’s house. Patricia Pisters, in The Taming of the Wild Child, describes Victor’s passage as one of ‘becoming-human’.24 She focuses, on the one hand, on Deleuze’s ‘intensive proximity’ that Victor and all children seem to share with the animal world and,
Deleuze, Empiricism, 132. Agamben, Infancy, 65. 23 Itard, Wild Boy, 11-51. 24 Patricia Pisters, The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory (California: Stanford University Press, 2003), 156. 21 22
Academic on the other hand, on the potential room for becoming that doctor Itard, with his instructive and familial environment, provides to the child. In the first period, as described by Itard in his memoirs, Victor is a brute animal—a wolf-child. Drawing on the work of John Locke and Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, Itard declares that humankind is not free in a state of nature, and that in such a condition ‘the individual, deprived of all the characteristic faculties of his kind, drags on without intelligence or without feelings, a precarious life reduced to bare animal functions.’25 Human freedom is perceived as the outcome of a formal education, which makes of Itard’s ‘moral man’, like that of Kant’s rational being, the greatest achievements of civilisation. In The Wild Child, the mobilisation of such an image is put forward by the scene in which Doctor Pinel (Jean Dasté) examines the boy in the hospital and concludes that while the child’s sensory stimuli are able to satisfy bare animal functions, his intellectual capacity is insufficient to embrace the more sophisticated workings of the mind. Pinel, unlike Itard, refers to the boy quite derogatively as an ‘inferior being’ and a ‘naturally born idiot.’ Upon these words the film cuts to an image of Victor, swinging in an animal posture under the rain in the gardens of the clinic. Through the window the two doctors watch the child, who, since arriving in Paris, has been exhibited as a scientific curiosity, an ethnographic freak. However, it is also at this moment that Itard declares to Pinel, his superior, that he intends to educate the boy in his villa near Batignolles. (Unlike Pinel, Itard believes that the child’s abnormality is indeed treatable; that his condition is not the product of an incurable brain malady but the result of a long-isolated sojourn in the forest). The second period thus begins, as Itard states in his diaries, ‘[in] a more pleasant place to stay and learn … [with the love of] … a patient mother and the intelligence of an enlightened teacher.’26 The new task set by the doctor is to render the boy’s physical strength weaker in order to develop his other senses, especially that of hearing and seeing. Here, Truffaut’s page to screen adaptation follows almost to the letter the recommendations proposed by Itard in his report, from the physical stimulants he utilises to awaken Victor’s senses (Truffaut’s Itard gives Victor long hot showers and dresses him up to make his skin more sensitive to temperature; they play drums together with the boy’s eyes covered to develop his sense of hearing), to the more emotional stimulants he deploys (such as Victor’s experiences of pleasure and irritation through having or not having a glass of milk) in a bid to awaken his mental
functioning. Such methods prove to be effective in the taming of the wild child. As Pisters tells us, Itard and Guerin’s enclosure becomes ‘the parental site’ where the ‘human [boy] is born.’27 Indeed, it is here that Victor gets his name. The next step is to introduce the child to the domain of rational ideas. In the film, this passage is followed by Itard’s highest aim: to awaken the mental operations in Victor necessary to make him speak. To do so Truffaut’s Itard uses a strict system of rewards and punishments that make the boy, from time to time, go mad. He turns ‘his only pleasures’ as Madame Guerin says, ‘into exercises’: ‘His tantrums are your fault [Doctor Itard] … he works ten times more than a normal child.’ But the doctor ignores Guerin’s observations; he is blinded by the fact that Victor is not only capable of activating connections between words and things but is also developing a sense of justice by differentiating what is fair from what is not. Itard wants to induce in Victor the judgement of a moral man, and to do so, quite inevitably, his own instructional success relies on his pupil’s distress. As Itard’s voice-over commentary narrates towards the end of the film, after Victor has bitten his hand in an act of rebellion: I wish that my pupil could have understood me at this moment. I would have told him that his bite filled my soul with joy… I had evidence that what is just and unjust was no longer alien to Victor’s heart. By provoking the sentiment, I had elevated the savage man to the stature of a moral being by the most noble of his attributes. Itard’s ‘moral being’ is thus the becoming man of Victor. But what is it to become? According to Deleuze and Félix Guattari, ‘becomings’ are always minoritarian, molecular relations rather than molar formations. Becomings express collective singularities instead of individualised forms of being. Like an owls’ parliament or a children’s pack, they lack a central point of domination, such as that of man: ‘Why are there so many becomings of man, but no becoming-man?’ ask the authors of A Thousand Plateaus: ‘First [and foremost] because man is majoritarian par excellence, whereas becomings are [always] minoritarian.’28 In Truffaut’s film, a clear intersection is revealed between two characters or paths: there is Itard who follows the road of man, the educator-judge who draws straight lines on the board. Then there is Victor who takes the course of nature, the wild child who messily draws spirals. I believe that the only possible minoritarian encounter in Truffaut’s film is that of Itard becoming
Itard, Wild Boy, 47-8. Itard, Wild Boy, 20. 27 Pisters, Matrix, 157. 28 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 339. 25 26
Human Infancy and the Language of Beginnings Victor and not Victor becoming Itard. However, it is the boy who is forced to learn his teacher’s language and the teacher who realises that the boy won’t be able to live freely again in the woods. Already habituated to the human environment, Victor has to cope with Itard’s lessons in order to enter into society and the symbolic.
Imagine a man born already equipped with language, a man who already possessed speech. For such a man without infancy, language would not be a pre-existing thing to be appropriated, and for him there would be neither any break between language [languae] and speech nor any historicity of
Figure 1: The figures of Victor and Itard in The Wild Child (F. Truffaut, 1970)
Put differently, like the language of an adult-child, Truffaut’s film collides the wordless, vivid gestures of Victor with the narrative cohesion of his mentor Itard. Such a split separating the two modes of existence is also quite helpful in illustrating the processual ontology of the human entity in its becoming a language being. As suggested before via Deleuze’s Hume as well as via Agamben, the human subject should not be understood in terms of the Kantian entity ‘possessing language’ but as the entity who requires of other humans to be trained in language; thus becoming, out of this network, a sovereign language being. Moreover, it is in crossing that bridge—one that separates the infant’s voice from the adult’s parole—that Agamben’s ‘historical being’ is born. After Aristotle, who endorses the capacity of languae to all animal species, the Italian philosopher indicates that the child is not an entity constituted outside of language (for we are all inside the Aristotelian animal languae) but someone who must break with their early voice in order to acquire speech. This is the moment when Agamben’s ‘(in)fancy of experience’,29 or Benjamin’s ‘original image’30 can never be reconstituted. Being habituated to mankind, in other words, is to announce the ‘I’ as an entity separate from our early animal life. ‘Man is a distant being’ says Nietzsche in a loud voice.31 Distant not only in relation to the rest of the living but also in relation to his own animal being. In essence, man is the animal who has lost contact with his own beginning. In Agamben’s words:
language. But such a man would thereby at once be united with his nature; his nature would always pre-exist, and nowhere in it would he find any discontinuity, any difference through which any kind of history could be produced. Like the animal, who Marx describes as ‘immediately at one with its life activity’, he would merge with it and would never be able to see it as an object distinct from himself.32 Herzog’s Kaspar: A man of beginnings Such a man—a man united with nature, a man who does not seem to exist—resembles Kaspar Hauser; a person who lives outside of history and who speaks outside of speech. In effect, if humanity begins with history— once the wordless experience of the child has been overcome—then Kaspar is like that infant who never detaches from his beginning, and remains, already in adult form, forever in that beginning: ‘I know a story about the desert’, he says to housekeeper Katy (Brigitte Mira), ‘… but only the beginning.’ What do we see at the film’s beginning? Is that the face of Kaspar’s mother leaving her baby in the river? Hard to tell really. The image is as blurry as the next shot where Kaspar seems to be arriving at his castle in Nuremberg. Now we see a labourer washing white clothes in the waters of the city. She stares at the camera for a moment, seemingly witnessing something odd, perhaps something miraculous (something like the arrival of Moses). The film certainly begins with
Agamben, Infancy, 13-72. Benjamin, One-Way Street, 84. Friedrich Nietzsche quoted in Philippe-Alain Michaud, Aby Warburg and the Image in Motion trans. Sophie Hawkes (Michigan: Zone Books, 2004), 35. 32 Agamben, Infancy, 60.
29 30 31
Figure 2: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser’s opening scene (W. Herzog, 1974)
an ambiguous as much as a sublime atmosphere—it imbues the image with the promise of a visionary character to come, like baby Kaspar floating in the river just before entering into the castle where he will remain trapped for many years. Herzog’s blurry overture also brings to mind Deleuze’s modern approach to filmmaking, which produces not only an encounter with images that are ‘too strange’ or ‘insoluble’ but also immersive viewing experiences in which time runs eternally in its present moment and space is lived without any horizons or constraints. In conversation with Paul Cronin, Herzog recalls a personal experience similarly un-delimited by contours. In describing his childhood days as a ski jumper, he comments that: When taking off from a ramp you would hold your head back when falling, but we would thrust our heads forward like when taking a dive … It is like someone who takes a suicidal jump from a great height, and then regrets his decision when he realizes, midway through empty space, that no one can help him. It is the same with filmmaking. Once you have started, there is no one to help you through.33
In the light of Herzog’s aerial vision—as a sort of filmmaking style suspended on air—the coming of Kaspar into the world represents, in his words, ‘a terrible hard fall’. The fall is, first of all, his own: like most children, Kaspar makes sense of things out of his own undomesticated imagination, not quite understanding the categories imposed by the mind of adults. He believes, for example, that apples are conscious entities, but Professor Daumer ‘reminds’ him that they don’t have lives of their own; he solves riddles by means that are not logically deductive, thus mathematicians cannot accept his reasoning; he thinks that to build a tall tower you need an equally tall builder, and that the room inside the tower must necessarily be bigger than the building itself, because ‘wherever I look in the room’, as he says, ‘there is only room. When I look at the tower, and I turn around, the tower is gone.’ Kaspar thus concludes, a la Borges, that the room is bigger than the tower itself.34 Unlike Victor, who is unable to talk, Kaspar already possesses speech. His language, however, does not constitute the ideal syntax imposed by his tutors but instead represents a poetic contestation to their commands. As Nietzsche states in regards to the romantic poet, Kaspar too ‘raises [his] voice from the bottom of the abyss of being; [his] subjectivity is the pure imagination [of the
Werner Herzog interview with Paul Cronin, Herzog on Herzog (London: Faber and Faber, 2002), 101. I’m thinking here of Jorge Luis Borges’s short stories ‘The Library of Babel’, which describes a vast library containing all possible books ever written as well as those yet to be written, and ‘On Exactitude in Science’, in which a quixotic cartographer sets off to construct the map of the Empire on a scale of 1 to 1 to that of the territory.
Human Infancy and the Language of Beginnings mind].’35 Indeed, in experimenting with this (in)fancy of the human intellect, Kaspar stands for the romantic lyricist who recovers his imagination from an original, vivid mind. He plays a childish game where language opens up spaces through phonetic actions, further complicating the grammar of his teachers’ discourse. For such reasons, as the spectator may presume, Kaspar is more compatible with those characters who are also foreigners to the official mode of reasoning in the film (Kaspar gets sick in the house of her highness and is easily disturbed by people ‘howling’ in church. His friends, on the contrary, are those living outside of patriarchy, like his young friend Julius, his wooden toy horse, the blind orphan Mozart, or housekeeper Katy). In short, Kaspar’s terrible hard fall into this world represents the inadequacy of a poet who, as expressed in the circus of Nuremberg, becomes ‘the greatest riddle of all.’ The second hard fall, however, is that of Herzog’s film descending into a solid narrative plot. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, as Kaja Silverman remarks, imposes a coherent formula—unusual in Herzog’s cinema otherwise—to tell a story that clearly ‘exceeds that coherence,’ thereby contradicting Herzog’s own
anti-narrative fantasies (in the character of Kaspar) with a film that partially follows a classical sensory-motor plot. In Silverman’s words: ‘[The film] does make some preliminary gestures in the direction of a non-narrative cinema,’ but for its most part, she continues, ‘it adopts the format of a chronicle, a format in which casual and linear values play an especially conspicuous role.’36 Herzog’s chronicle, like that of Truffaut’s The Wild Child, paradoxically tells the story of a boy without a chronicle; its protagonist is a person of becomings rather than a man of history. Such a portrayal of alterity, quite common among New Wave filmmakers, brings us an image of a child-poet who, in resisting the meanings imposed by his social situation, is nevertheless trapped in a chain of cohesive narrative events. The German director, like his French contemporary, not only chooses to impose a rational formula to portray a boy whose marginalised life emancipates him from the film as a whole, but at the same time Herzog identifies with this character, whose enigmatic visions have become his own: ‘What constitutes poetry, depth, vision, and illumination’ he says in regard to those films that ‘stunt’ him, ‘I cannot name.’37 This means, paradoxically, that
Figure 3: Kaspar’s final vision while lying in his death-bed (W. Herzog, 1974) 35 Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense (London: Continuum Press, 2015), 144. 36 Kaja Silverman, “Kasper Hauser’s ‘terrible Fall’ into Narrative”, New German Critique, 24 (1981), 92. 36 Kaja Silverman, “Kasper Hauser’s ‘terrible Fall’ into Narrative”, New German Critique, 24 (1981), 92. 37 Darren Ambrose, Film, Nihilism and the Restoration of Belief (London: Zero Books, 2003), 1. 38 Agamben, Infancy, 13-72.
Academic the role of the child in Herzog and Truffaut’s films might counter-actualise the aprioristic meanings of a classical—rational—image at the gates of a new mode of realism. But at the same time these depicted experiences of infancy are echoed by another beginning: that of the cinema, for it is in borrowing devices and conventions from the early grammar of film that each filmmaker puts forward their origin/al language and perspective. In the case of Truffaut, this is observed by his choice to shoot the film in black and white, which closely aligns the film’s style with early actualité documentaries, and his extensive employment of the iris device. In the case of Herzog, Kaspar’s flickering dreams and fading visions are reminiscent of 16mm pictures from the early days of cinema. So, whether it is in the form of a modern—new—image, or in its preceding sequence as a classical—old—image, the authenticity of the child relies exclusively in the two films on cinema’s capacity to manifest a reality devoid of normative customs, as for what matters in their ‘(in)fancy of experience’38 is to reconnect with the origin/ality of an early voice. * * * At the climax of Herzog’s chronicle, while on his deathbed, Kaspar is finally allowed to share one of his elapsed stories. It is a vision about the desert that takes us back to the beginning of his/story: ‘I see a large caravan coming through the desert, across the sands. This caravan is led by an old Berber tribesman, and this old man is blind.’ Through voice-over commentary, Kaspar concludes his prophetic tale accompanied by the hypnotic tunes of a flute:
The caravan stops; some of them believe that they are lost because of the mountain in front of them. They look at the compass but it’s broken. Then their blind leader picks up a handful of sand, turns his face towards the sun, and tastes it as if it were food. ‘My sons’, says the blind man, ‘you are wrong. Those are not mountains in front of you, it’s only your imagination. We must continue northward.’ And so they fol dissociation low the old man’s advice, and reach the city in the North. That’s where the story begins, but I don’t know the rest…
References Agamben, Giorgio. Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience. London: Verso,  2007. Ambrose, Darren. Film, Nihilism and the Restoration of Belief. London: Zero Books, 2003.
Benjamin, Walter. ‘Hashish in Marseille’. In Benjamin, Walter. One-way Street and Other Writings. London: Penguin Books.  2009. Cronin, Paul (ed.) Herzog on Herzog. London: Faber and Faber, 2002. Deleuze, Gilles. Empiricism and Subjectivity. An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. New York: Columbia University Press,  1991. Deleuze, Gilles. ‘On The Time-Image’ In Negotiations. 19721990. New York: Columbia University Press. (1995): 57-61. Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,  2005. Feuerbach, Paul Johann Anselm. Kaspar Hauser: The Foundling of Nuremberg. Cambridge: Harvard College Library, Class of 1814, (1832): 12-13. Gedmünden, Gerd. ‘The Enigma of Hermeneutics: The Case of Kaspar Hauser’. In Reading after Foucault: Institutions, Disciplines, and Technologies of the self in Germany, 1750-1830. Leventhal, R. S. (ed.) Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994. Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888. Itard, Jean-Marc-Gaspard. ‘First developments of the Young Savage of Aveyron’. In The Century psychology series: The wild boy of Aveyron. Humphrey, George & Humphrey, Muriel (trans.) The Century Co.  1932: 3-51. Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. J.M.D. London: Everyman’s Library, 1934. Kant, Immanuel. ‘Lectures on Pedagogy’. In Anthropology, History, and Education, G. Zoller and R.B. Louden (eds.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Linnaeus, Caroli. Systema naturae. Netherlands: B. de Graaf, 1735. Malson, Lucien. Les enfants sauvages: mythe et réalité. Paris, 1981: 10-18. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. New York: Random House,  1967. Pisters, Patricia. ‘The Taming of the Wild Child’. In The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory. California: Stanford University Press, 2003: 156-158. Romney, Jonathan. ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth (Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.)’ Sight and Sound 10 (2000): 24-26. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes. Marc-Michel Rey: Amsterdam, 1755. Silverman, Kaja. ‘Kaspar Hauser’s “Terrible Fall” into Narrative’. New German Critique. Duke University Press 24, (1981): 73-93.
Art by Piotr Szymon Mańczak
accident By Jordan Barling
if the act is incomplete we call it an accident you set yourself on fire but your wife came home early the blister cards you emptied in your hands were only enough to cause kidney damage it is not the same to jump and survive (miraculous as it is) as to slip, by some misadventure we cannot reckon, straight on, with your decisions, because this was unforeseen to us, a mistake one morning on my way to work i saw you getting on a train your cautious gait, of course i looked away, i know you understand why, we do not need to meet on the streets like this, you have already apologised in the doorway of the community meeting space where i used to work
your voice was whiny i just wanted to go home, i was pregnant and i thought i had already forgiven you anyway not for before, but for everything after what claims to compensation could i have against the injured, the convalescing, (this is my half-truth, because forgiveness requires the giving up of certain narratives) when the train inched off i walked against it, catwalk eyes fixed forward, i wonder if you saw me, if, when you see me, you think like i do of the colour of the walls of my apartment the pebbles you piffed at my window like tiny grenades, as you crouched behind your car door or the Sunday afternoon before your flight, how you left the imprint of your button-up fly in my thigh, and shrugged when i suggested you sing me I wanna be your boyfriend and so that, although you are the one with the injury i am the one who cannot bring up any other memories except these, that i pick through when iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m careless, let unrestrained, when my eyes stretch from the computer screen, reviewing a termination clause, to gaze from an eighth floor office window onto an overflowing storm water drain, while stacking the dishwasher, while holding open the leg holes of my childâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s underwear, while holding my husband as he drunkenly cries after the death of his teenage love and even though this must look like the curl of grief we are actually very happy
Lockdown 2.0 Quiet—the word to encapsulate my second Melbourne lockdown. Back in my city apartment and working remotely, there are no more daily walks, no more daily calls to family and friends, no endless days of playing video games. Melbourne feels quiet, sombre. Masked up and locked down, we have gone into a quiet, sleepy hibernation. I’m still waiting to spring to life as I quietly count the days to when this will finally come to an end. I hope I won’t be counting down much longer. —Ilsa Harun
CONTRIBUTORS Maja Amanita is an emerging spoken word artist, poet and lyrical writer who regularly publishes her writing on her popular Instagram page (this.fresh.hell). Maja has been published in Meanjin and was shortlisted for the Melbourne Spoken Word Prize in 2018. Niamh Bagnell is an Irish writer based in Cork. She has been previously published in The Stinging Fly, The Honest Ulsterman and Southword, and was twice a featured reader at Cork’s International Short Story Festival. She is almost the only Niamh Bagnell in the world, so is easily found online. Helena Barbagelata is a multidisciplinary artist, fashion model and researcher, whose artworks combine mixed media, acrylics, ink and watercolour techniques. She was the recipient of several fellowships from the Onassis Foundation and University of Barcelona, amongst others. Helena’s art has been exhibited in Europe, South America and the United States. Jordan Barling is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia with a major in creative writing from the University of Melbourne. She is a past winner of the St Martins Young Playwrights Award and studied as part of the Young Writers Programme at the Royal Court Theatre, London. Jennifer Barry began her writing practice while living in Seattle, where her work appeared in various publications. She recently completed a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne and is a regular contributor to ArtsHub. Alexandra Burns is a Melbourne-based artist. After completing her Bachelor of Arts (with Honours), Alexandra is currently undertaking a Master of Architecture at the University of Melbourne. Alexandra uses a mixture of gouache, watercolour and ink. Her paintings explore themes of introversion, vulnerability, anxiety, and finding strength and comfort in an interior dreamlike world. Michael Chew is a visual action researcher, environmental activist and community cultural development practitioner. He co-founded the NGOs Friends of Kolkata, and Friends of Bangladesh, and has run international volunteer programmes and participatory storytelling projects across Asia. Michael recently completed a PhD in participatory visual methods and environmental behaviour change through design at Monash University.
Alex Creece is a writer, poet, student and average kook living on Wadawurrung land (Geelong, Victoria). She was awarded a Write-ability Fellowship in 2019 and a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship in 2020. Alex’s work often draws from her experiences as a queer and autistic woman with mental health conditions. Graeme Doyle is an artist, poet, musician and performer with a great passion for artmaking. He has experienced schizophrenia and bipolar disorder since the age of eighteen and describes himself as a ‘grim survivor with extraordinary courage’, determined to live a full life despite his diagnoses. Graeme’s work is held by the National Gallery of Australia, The Cunningham Dax Collection and a number of private collections. Isabella Duncan is an Australian contemporary expressionist artist who has utilised artmaking as a vital tool for the healing of personal loss and illness. Her work focuses greatly on her inner world and her view of the external world, creating powerful images on large canvases. Her work Sophie and Bella is held by The Cunningham Dax Collection. Sam Elkin is a writer, community lawyer and host of the podcast series Transdemic: Trans and Gender Diverse Experiences of the Pandemic. Sam is a recipient of The Wheeler Centre’s The Next Chapter, and their essays have been published in Overland Journal, Archer Magazine and Baby Teeth Journal. Sam is currently working on a debut essay collection. Cristóbal Escobar is a teaching associate and PhD candidate in Screen and Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne, and currently works as a film programmer for the Santiago International Documentary Film Festival (FIDOCS). His writings have appeared in journals, film magazines and newspapers, and he has been a guest editor for the Yearbook of the Moving Image in Germany and laFuga Revista de Cine in Chile. Ilsa Harun is a lover of all things travel, photography and cats. She holds a Master of Marketing Communications and a Bachelor of Arts, and is currently working as a Marketing Assistant which involves far too many Zoom calls in a day.
CONTRIBUTORS Elise Esther Hearst is a Melbourne-based playwright, writer and storyteller. Elise is currently a resident playwright at the Melbourne Theatre Company as part of the Next Stage writers’ program. Carolyn Huane is a Melbourne-based artist who likes to make comics. She uses digital media to explore themes of anxiety, minor inconveniences and everyday moments. You can find more on her Instagram @carolynhuane. Carolyn has been published in Voiceworks and Farrago. Rosalee Kiely is a Master of Journalism graduate. Her first book of poetry, Creature, was published by Ginninderra Press in 2019. Arthur Kwon Lee is a Korean-American painter based in New York City, whose creations harmonise expressive colour palettes with world mythologies. Lee draws inspiration from a broad range of sources including Jungian psychoanalysis, local religious tradition, and his lifelong commitment to martial arts. His work has won awards from George Washington University, the Korean Artists Association and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. He was recently granted the inaugural title of ‘Artist of the Year’ by the Eileen Kaminsky Family Foundation. Elena Larkin is a current artist-in-residence at the Dunmoochin Foundation in Cottles Bridge. Painting from life, she finds inspiration in the sensorial experience of different environments. She aspires to create work that hangs as a reminder of humans’ ecological impact. Esther Le Couteur is a lifelong fan of student and community media who is currently studying postgraduate social work and law. Brooke Maddison is a writer and editor who has been published in Kill Your Darlings, Verity La and Jacaranda, where she was awarded the 2019 prize for non-fiction. She is currently completing a Master of Writing, Editing and Publishing at the University of Queensland and lives in Brisbane with her son. Kariel Argenis Díaz Maisonet is a multidisciplinary visual arts student at the University of Puerto Ricoand a professional dancer. He is a member of the drag performance and activism collective, Haus of Vanguardia. He is also pursuing a career as a fashion model.
Piotr Szymon Mańczak is a visual artist specialising in drawing, illustration and video art. Piotr is currently based in Gdansk, Poland, where he manages the UL art space, and works for Dyskurs Lokalny art journal as Editor-In-Chief. Piotr is proud to be publishing his art in Antithesis, marking his first publication in Australia. Jini Maxwell is a writer and creative producer based in Naarm. They are currently working on their first fulllength poetry collection. Nonie May has a PhD in Cinema Studies from the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne, and a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English from the University of Western Australia. Her research examines the aesthetics of childhood in contemporary cinema. Dr May currently works as a sessional tutor, lecturer and research assistant, for the University of Melbourne in Screen and Cultural Studies. Kirstyn McDermott is the author of two novels: Madigan Mine and Perfections, as well as a collection, Caution: Contains Small Parts, and many other pieces of short fiction. She has recently completed a PhD at Federation University, with a research focus on retold fairytales, female friendship and creative writing. Emma McEvoy is a Melbourne-based photographer whose work explores the duality of human nature, our relationship to the environment and the feminine condition. Emma’s early work was created whilst in treatment for an eating disorder. Her intention was to convey the turmoil and hope of recovery, providing insight into the inner experience. Emma’s piece terrible depth, beautiful surface is held by The Cunningham Dax Collection. Stephanie Monteith is a Melbourne-based copywriter and post-academic, whose words you can find in Overland Journal, Medium, Concrete Playground, GRAM Magazine, Daily Science Fiction and a few apps and websites you might’ve stumbled on. Chenai Mupotsa-Russell is an art therapist, mental health clinician and yoga therapist. She frequently utilises neon colour schemes in her art and is passionate about the role of play in the therapeutic process.
CONTRIBUTORS Psyman Ocean is ex-Special Forces. A man of the water, he surfs and freedives for therapy. He plays music but doesn’t write songs. He has moved house more than twenty times, worked in over forty-four jobs and studied at more than twelve educational institutions. His blog is thenomadicdiaries.wordpress.com. Marc Pearson is a cartoonist, printer & small press publisher. He was formerly an Art Editor at The Lifted Brow (issues 25-32) & founder/ former editor of cartoon advice column Advicecomics. He is currently drawing an ongoing comic series called ‘The Flamingo Diamond’, drawing comics for Orygen Youth Health & co-running Glom Press. Ruby Perryman is a writer and artist from the Kimberley, now based in Birraranga/Narrm/Melbourne. She has edited and designed several publications at the University of Melbourne, including Farrago and Above Water creative writing anthology in 2019. Her work spans many mediums and explores irony and interconnectivity in the everyday. Follow her @ratpalacetatts on Instagram. Ruby Porter is a prose-writer, poet and artist. She tutors creative writing at the University of Auckland and high schools. Ruby was the winner of the Wallace Foundation Short Fiction Award in 2017, and the inaugural winner of the Michael Gifkins Prize in 2018, with her debut novel Attraction. Attraction was written during her Master of Creative Writing at the University of Auckland under supervisor Paula Morris and published in 2019 by Melbourne-based Text Publishing. Penni Russon is the award-winning, critically acclaimed author of several novels for young adults. She has had a varied career in children’s and young adult literature as an author, editor and creative writing teacher. In 2012 she took a day job, writing online therapy for young people with Orygen Youth Health, which led to her recently completed PhD dissertation, titled ‘Seeing Feeling, Feeling Seen: A Poetics of Youth Mental Health in Graphic Literature’. She continues to work with Orygen Digital, as they roll out their online therapy platform, MOST, across the state of Victoria.
Bel Schenk is the author of three poetry collections: Urban Squeeze (Ginninderra Press, 2003), Ambulances & Dreamers (Wakefield Press, 2008) and Every Time You Close Your Eyes (Wakefield Press, 2014). Soren Tae Smith is a Melbourne-based writer. With help from the 2020 Felix Meyer Scholarship, she is completing a collection of stories that kind of try to mathematically prove empathy through written language, as others do. She is a doctoral researcher at the University of Melbourne. Hui Chuan Wang was born in Taiwan. Prior to shifting her focus to art, Hui received a PhD in architecture from The University of Melbourne in 2009. Hui’s paintings call upon ancient wisdom from both the East and West and interweaves modern elements. Hui’s work has won several prizes and her solo painting exhibitions tour internationally. Three books and several journal articles have been published on her architectural profession and paintings. Breallyn Wesley is studying a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing at The University of Melbourne. She writes about motherhood and disability, prompted by her four children, the youngest of whom has a rare genetic condition. Sean West is a Meanjin-based poet and workshop facilitator. He’s been shortlisted for the Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize in 2020 and 2019. His work has recently appeared in Bareknuckle Poet, TEXT Journal, and StylusLit. He is the founding editor of Blue Bottle Journal. Find more of him at callmemariah.com.
FIND SUPPORT Suicide Callback Service 1300 659 467 Offers free 24-hour crisis support for any Australian impacted by suicide. Lifeline 13 11 14 Offers free 24-hour crisis support for Australians experiencing emotional distress. BeyondBlue 1300 224 636 Offers free 24-hour crisis support for Australians experiencing anxiety and depression. SANE Help Centre 1800 187 263 https://www.sane.org/services/help-centre Mon-Fri 10AM-10PM (AEST) Providing free phone and online counselling, information and referrals for Australians living with or supporting someone with complex mental health challenges.
Orygen Youth Health https://oyh.org.au Offers a range of tailored outpatient and inpatient treatment programs for young Australians 15-25 years experiencing a range of mental health challenges. Headspace https://headspace.org.au Offers a range of support for young Australians aged 12-25 experiencing mental health, study/work and general life challenges. Thorne Harbour Health https://thorneharbour.org Offering clinical and peer support for Melbourneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s LGBTQIA+ community, including a range of services for people living with HIV/AIDS. Blue Knot Foundation 1300 657 380 Mon-Sun 9AM-5PM (AEDT) Supporting Australian adult survivors of childhood trauma.
1800RESPECT 1800 737 732 Offers free 24-hour support for any Australian impacted by sexual assault, domestic/family violence and abuse.
Mind Australia https://www.mindaustralia.org.au A major service provider for Australians living with mental illness (including NDIS programs).
The Butterfly Foundation 1800 334 673 Mon-Sun 8AM-midnight Offers support for Australians impacted by eating disorders and body image issues.
University of Melbourne Psychology Clinic https://psychologicalsciences.unimelb.edu.au/psychology-clinic/home Offers low-cost psychological services for adults experiencing depressive, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Services are largely provided by postgraduate psychology students, under the direct supervision of senior UoM psychology staff.
Minus18 https://www.minus18.org.au Supporting and advocating for LGBTQIA+ Australian youth.
Medicare offer Australians rebated psychology sessions under a Mental Health Care Plan. Please make a double appointment with a GP you trust to explore your options. Please note many of the above services have temporarily transitioned to solely online and phone services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The Antithesis editorial committee and the University of Melbourne cannot be held liable for the use of these services. Information accurate at time of printing, October 2020.
$21.99 #30 October 2020 www.antithesisjournal.com.au