Page 1


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 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 or the University of Melbourne. Collection © 2019 Antithesis Cover art © Winnie Jiao 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.

C o n t e n t s ACADEMIC 36 62 80

‘No Longer Any Distance Between Us’: Technology, Climate Change and Narrative Empathy in Briohny Doyle’s The Island Will Sink by Rachel Fetherston ‘Things that Quicken the Heart’: Intimacy in the Foreign Metropolis in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. by David Fenderson ‘Everyone assumes you want to fuck them’: Bisexuality and the Queer Art of Failure in the Poetry of Hera Lindsay Bird by Marina Scott

NONFICTION 12 32 57 96

A Foot in the Door by Grayce Arlov Resting Transparently by Sam Flynn Devotion to a Symptom by Eloïse Mignon Swan Song by W. C. Scott

FICTION 4 17 22 28 46 100

Last Days in the Garden by Hannah Aroni Tall Girl by Ellen van Neerven Bones in the Sky by Tyson Yunkaporta Cultural Capital by Anna Kate Blair Rascal & Snapper by Joel Mak We All Know Frogs Go La Di Da Di Da by Matthew Wojczys

POETRY 8 15 21 26 55 76 95

Votive by Issie Hallwright half-wink by Thuy On warm smoothie by Christy Tan Without Intention of Recovery or Reuse by Madeleine Dale Love in Aphasia by Nicole Melanson the question of an ethical shot by Shastra Deo Milk & Honey: Textual Analysis by Madeleine Dale

ART 2 10 16 27 37 50 54 56 74 79 86 94 103

Lady Brain; I Glide Along and No Matter What, I Keep Going by Laura Kay Keeling Through the window Winter by Alexandra Burns #815 by Matt Gold Three Sisters by Sonia Jude Each of Us Embody the History of Our Own Making by Emma Magnusson-Reid Wahdat al-Wajud by Safdar Ahmed Wilsons Promontory by Ilsa Harun #179 by Matt Gold Ladies See Red; And Yet, I Continue to Bloom in the Shadows by Laura Kay Keeling Michel Jean...Le rêveur égaré by Dali Lenoir Looking Up by Ilsa Harun gum tree by Alexandra Burns blue leaves by Alexandra Burns

Managing editor | Clarissa Lancaster Production editor | Gladys Qin Lead editors | Ellie Atack, Sophie Raphael, Coral Huckstep Editorial committee | Siana Einfeld, Tara Hellwege, Marilla Marshall Sloan, Tom Stephenson, Brendan Casey, Kimberley Crabtree, Natasha Seymour Submissions editor | Stephanie McClelland Online editors | Larisa Coffey-Wong, Elena Kissel, Hal Parker Langley, Alison Tealby Creative director | Kyra Agathos Publication design and typesetting | Monique O’Rafferty Events, marketing and sales | Jasmine McManus, Roshni Banerjee, Lexi Herbert, Kaavya Jha Acknowledgement and special thanks: Antithesis would like to thank the School of Cultural and Communication and the University of Melbourne Graduate Student Association for their continued financial support. In particular, Antithesis would like to thank Professor Ken Gelder, Associate Professor Mark Davis, Dr Elizabeth McFarlane and MS Alexandra Dane for their time and advice on matters relating to Antithesis. We would like to especially acknowledge the contribution of Dr Jeanine Leane, Wiradjuri writer and academic at the University of Melbourne, for providing editorial guidance on Tyson Yunkaporta’s ‘Bones in the Sky’. Professor Ken Gelder, Dr Joe Hughes, Dr Elizabeth MacFarlane School of Culture and Communication, The University of Melbourne Associate Professor Jacqueline Dutton, Dr Andrew McGregor School of Languages and Linguistics, The University of Melbourne Associate Professor Anna Jackson School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies, Victoria University of Wellington Dr Deborah Jordan School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, Monash University Professor Emeritus Olga Pugliese Department of Italian Studies, University of Toronto Dr Brigid Rooney Department of English, The University of Sydney Dr Katie Sutton School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, Australian National University Dr Ryan Walter School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland

E d i t o r i a l The idea of ‘Devotion’ was first suggested as a theme for this year’s journal by the previous committee. We all shared all shared a chuckle thinking of the countless hours and painstaking efforts expended to produce the 2018 edition and passed it off as a joke, the saccharine lyrics of the pop song ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ thrumming through our minds. Yet, as the year continued, we found ourselves repeatedly returning to the concept. As we discussed it, the complexities, incongruencies and diversity of human devotion increasingly began to take shape and intrigue us. First published in 1987, Antithesis represents thirty-two years of labour from graduate students at the University of Melbourne—dedication to producing a publication that contributes to both academic enquiry and cultural exploration. It soon became a question of how could we not choose such a fitting theme. The term ‘devotion’ evokes vastly difference responses for each of us, as evidenced by the broad-ranging and diverse collection of poems, essays, fiction and artwork contained in this publication. The pieces selected for this edition of Antithesis all offer uniquely critical, celebratory or questioning approaches to the theme. Far from our initial trite response, this collection of works reaches across gender theory, art, politics, psychoanalysis, Sufi philosophy, climate change, trauma, wage theft, religious experience and devotion to home and to Country, with each work reaffirming the complexity of devotion and its intrinsic relation to the human experience. The full extent of Volume 29 sees our theme stretched and pulled into vastly different directions. We see the complexities and ambiguities of everyday obsessions and fandom played out in ‘Rascal & Snapper’ and ‘Swan Song’. David Fenderson examines how Chris Marker’s film Sans Soleil exhibits Marker’s devotion to the act of representing others and otherness against the backdrop of the foreign metropolis. Rachel Fetherston critically considers the relationship between film and truth, investigating the potential for storytelling as a solution for instigating action on climate change. Marina Scott appraises the nebulousness of bisexuality’s representation in queer theory through a discussion on the poetry of Hera Lindsay Bird. In Christy Tan’s poetry we encounter the ignoble aspects of devotion and its potential for harm in relationships. We are led to question the limits of our devotion in Grayce Arlov’s ‘A Foot in the Door’, in which she endures exploitation and wage theft working in an industry she loves. The theme speaks to something enigmatic, tenacious and intangibly human in the age-old drive to seek out objects of devotion; something that lies at the heart of our interaction with the metaphysical, with each other, and with the world around us. Our hope is that the gathered essays, stories, photographs, illustrations and poems resonate with the diverse rhythms and postures we encounter in our everyday devotions—whether they be a cause, a symptom, a place, career, artistic endeavour, a loved one, religious praxis, or conversely, in resisting our devotions. Through these narratives, the writers and artists of Antithesis have become Pygmalians—crafting objects of devotion in the pursuit of bringing characters, scenes, images and ideas to life in the mind of the reader and viewer. We, the editors, have been privileged to be a part of this process. We would like to take this opportunity to thank each of the contributors and the supporters who have helped along the way in producing this edition. We are pleased to be able to share this physical representation of our own devotion with you. — Antithesis Volume 29 Editorial Team

2 / Art by Laura Kay Keeling

Last Days in the Garden By Hannah Aroni ‘They’re difficult to find, obviously,’ I tell Sophia, as our feet sink, over and over, into the sand, and the sunscreen she’s insisted that we wear melts down my neck. Sophia, lately, has turned into a person who wouldn’t waste her time with any easy task, and given how badly the search is going, I want her to remember that this is A Challenge, and not some childish, meandering thing. Sometimes I worry that Sophia will run out of difficult things to prove to herself that she can do. She’ll wake up at the ungodly age of twenty-seven or something, having won an Olympic medal in swimming and a Nobel Peace Prize and the affections of people who could never really love before they met her—every impossible thing—and she won’t know what to do next. She’s here because we have a challenge. Hopefully for other reasons, too, but the challenge was the lure that I used to reel her away from her bedroom cocoon of blankets and spiral notebooks and highlighter pens drained of their vital fluids and gasping through their final hours. She’s here because we have a challenge; I’m here because we have a quest. We are going to find an object of power. ‘OK, question,’ Sophia demands, and I am amenable to demands from her. ‘Would it work just as well if we drilled a hole in a regular stone?’ An adder stone, or hag stone, or holey stone, or witch’s egg, is known to be a magical object of great worth and utility. It’s also called Glain Neidr, which I cannot say aloud without sounding like the old scientist from Futurama (I know because I tried, when I was explaining all this to Sophia, and she couldn’t stop laughing, and we made stupid noises with our throats, gargling and swooping consonants, and then she tried to say it like Sean Connery and that wasn’t any better, and it took a long time to get to explain what she needed to know). Unlike rings and swords, which must be forged with will and care, adder stones occur naturally and can be found by those who have a keen eye and live sufficiently near a coast, or are willing to travel. Unlike rings and swords, they are un-grand and un-beautiful.


An adder stone is a stone with a hole through the middle, that’s all. We are going to find one. ‘A machine-drilled hole? I wouldn’t trust it myself, not mythic enough.’ I tell her, mostly joking. I’m a little surprised she hasn’t asked before now. We are both resistant to short cuts, but being the painfully sensible person she is, I have to believe this DIY version of the myth occurred to her well before we even arrived at the beach. She probably thought of it when I first explained the quest, and that’s a pretty thrilling idea; it means she went along with the whole thing even while believing it was all sort of pointless in light of the existence of power drills. Possibly, she was distracted in the study cocoon, and her usual powers of extrapolation were dulled. Maybe she is only thinking of this now. I have misestimated her before, believing the corridors inside our heads will always lead to the same places, that the same doors have bricks behind them, and that any clear hallway I find is one that she rollerskated down fifteen minutes before I noticed it was open to me. Possibly she thought of it immediately and she’s just humouring me. Probably. ‘It might still work if you drilled a hole using a steady stream of water,’ I allow, ‘but we don’t have time for a steady stream of water. It would take years.’ ‘We could use a concentrated jet. Would there be some kind of reduced spiritual significance to a concentrated jet of water?’ ‘Surely it only counts if it took a long time to make.’ ‘Well, if this is about patience, then we’re definitely out of luck,’ Sophia says, grinning. ‘All I can see are shells and seaweed. I don’t think we’re going to find one.’ ‘Don’t give up until we’ve at least tried the rock pools, OK?’ Adder stones have two primary functions: they are supposed to provide protection from harm, and they are supposed to grant ‘true sight’. Look through the hole, it is said, and you will see the essence of the world, fine and sharp and clear, and no fae folk will be able to fool you into believing false things using glamours or


enchantments. These are the things I learned during the second hour of a three-and-a-half-hour diversion from study, methodically ploughing through every Wikipedia page I could find about folklore of the British Isles until my eyes ached and I could admit that I had slaughtered the evening and could no longer be expected to do anything about it. When I explained all this to Sophia, she was not as dubious as I expected her to be, and I do not know what to make of that. I expected her to laugh at me—I had prepared for it and was looking forward to it a little. I was going to make a joke of this entire situation. I don’t properly believe in most of the things that I want to believe in, so her laughter could not have hurt me. Sophia and I are no longer the children who hunted unicorns in the cool fluorescence of abandoned school stairwells at lunchtime. Everything we do is real, now; it has Important Consequences for Our Futures, and most of it is graded on a curve. I think that’s why she’s going along with this. When I explained adder stones to Sophia, she asked one of the only two sensible questions you can ask about adder stones. We were in her room, and I was sitting on the wicker armchair that lives next to her bed, textbook technically open on my lap. I was opening and closing and opening and closing one of her pens, pressing the smoothness of its plastic casing against the pads of my fingertips until there was more of me in my fingers than in the rest of my body, and I could look up at her without flinching from the brightness of her face. ‘What do they protect you from, exactly?’ is what she asked. ‘From what I can tell,’ I told her, ‘it’s mostly things that ancient people wanted to be protected from. Fire, floods, earthquakes.’ ‘Acts of God,’ she summarised neatly. ‘Malaria.’ ‘Basically. Failing crops.’ ‘Lost left shoes,’ she offered. ‘Bird poo dropping on you.’ ‘Ticket inspectors, definitely.’ ‘So, they protect you from other people, too?’ she asked. ‘Things other people can do to you?’

She was at the centre of the cocoon, the swirl of blankets arrayed around her as if she had just burst forth from them with a great effort of will, as if she had torn through and poked her head out into the garden of her bedroom, still brand new from her transformation into Sophia. She hadn’t washed her hair in days. It hung heavy and slick around her face, and unfortunately this did not make it easier to look at her without blinking or shielding my eyes. She’s developed a new habit of picking at her skin during this year of endless study, this last year in which we prove ourselves and pursue our Futures, and the shadows under her eyes aren’t just purple but grey. One day, I fear, she’ll catch me looking at her, trying to sneak a glance at the sun without going blind, and she’ll blame it on these changes, and I won’t be able to tell her the truth. I have not undergone these same transformations. I am protected by the great magic of not caring about my Future. ‘I think they do,’ I decided, after some deliberation. ‘I think they protect against acts of man as well as acts of God.’ That idea had appealed enough to convince her to pursue the quest. Or she had just wanted a day near the ocean and a purposeful reason to allow herself to have it. • We have been searching for most of the day. We have walked nearly the length of the beach’s full curve, and although there have been almost no dangers untold, Sophia nearly trod on a lion’s mane jellyfish an hour ago and had to stumble out of the way at the last second, tripping over her own toes and landing hard on the sand. The sting of even a dead jellyfish, I tell myself, is not nothing. We have eaten the fruits plied by the stallholders of a goblin market, which is to say that the talented Mr. Whippy himself has had the pleasure of our custom and we have had towering soft serve cones drenched


Last Days in the Garden

in chocolate and scattered with nuts. I have planned our path along the arc of all the most classical quests. There must be a long journey through an unforgiving landscape before the heroes find their way to the heart of the world, to the oracle’s citadel or the centre of the maze where the horned beast prowls. I want everything about this to be the right shape, so the rock pools are the last place we try. We reach the pools as our shadows stretch behind us, taller and more self-assured than we’ve been in months, and we kneel and set to work sifting through the pebbles at the bottom of the water. Sometimes there are creatures moving through these pools, which is something I know because Sophia and I used to come here with our parents back when the world was new. I wanted there to be jewel-bright fish grazing against our skin as we searched, but today there’s nothing, only the floating ribbons of seaweed and the bubbles of Neptune’s necklace that bob up toward the surface. The sun, getting lower, is still insistent and firm enough that I know already the sunscreen won’t do everything it’s meant to do, and we’ll arrive at school tomorrow looking boiled alive. A quest, I know, is supposed to mark you, and this scorching will have to be enough. The silence seems comfortable, but I have known Sophia for a long time, and I can feel a question coming. ‘Have you decided what you’re applying for yet?’ ‘Do you remember these pools being more lively a few years ago?’ It has begun to bother me, this disruption in my vision of the day, this absence where presence should be. ‘Do you think it’s a climate change thing?’ ‘Rachel.’ ‘Starfish and things seem like they should be hardier than this.’ I am frightened that I only imagined that anything real ever lived in these pools. Maybe they’ve been barren all along, or everything is dying already, everything is too late. ‘Rachel.’ ‘No, not yet.’ ‘Do you have a top three list?’

‘I don’t have a top one list. Coming up with three is three times the work. Why would I have a top three list?’ ‘I’m worried about you.’ ‘I’ll think of something. I’ll do the fabled Arts degree until a good idea turns up.’ ‘You know you could do anything you wanted to do.’ ‘That’s a horrible thing to say to a friend.’ Sophia is going to do a law degree and she is going to use it to save the world. She is going to become a human rights lawyer or a politician. People will shake her hand and thank her with tears in their eyes every day, and the things she does will matter. This would sound grandiose and naive if someone other than Sophia had planned it. She doesn’t say it exactly the way I say it in my head, but you can see she believes it when other people say it about her, which they do, all the time. It makes her tired and proud, and I think it’s the only thing keeping her going. When people talk about the two of us to our faces they use words like ‘gifted’ and ‘potential’, but I know the truth, which is that some landmines seem as if they will explode but never do, and of the two of us, only Sophia will explode. I let the silence stretch out between us, watch her concentrating on the mound of pebbles she has gathered in her hands, watch her willing herself not to look up and ask me anything else. When we stand, there will be patterns of rippled stone etched into me, little scrapes from places where no algae softens the rock and where I have been careless. ‘Hey,’ I say to her, and I pull my hand out of the water, watch the slick skin of my arm emerge, fine black hairs clinging. I hold out the thing in my palm and I grin, triumphant. Sophia and I are too old and too proud of our own brains to say the thing that should be said right now, which is probably just, ‘Gosh!’ The stone is sand brown and rougher than you would expect it to be from the way the descriptions talk about them online, and I know they’re supposed to

‘Sophia and I are no longer the children who hunted unicorns in the cool fluorescence of abandoned school stairwells at lunchtime.’



look humble but it really looks humble, and the hole is only just there, small and new, bigger than a pinprick but far smaller than even a five-cent coin. The hole barely makes it all the way through, and this is why I ask Sophia for a verdict. ‘Of course it counts,’ she says. She reaches out toward my hand, both of us still leaning over the edge of the rock pool as if everything isn’t already over, and I feign closing my fingers over the stone, a jealous dragon queen guarding her hoard, Sméagol’s first step into the world of caves and raw fish and long nights alone in the dark, but of course I can’t keep that up for even two seconds, of course I can’t, and Sophia’s nails graze against my palm as she takes the stone. ‘True sight and protection,’ she says. She turns it over, examining. Then, in a silence that could be the reverence of a true believer or could be the anticipatory hush of a scientist readying their microscope, she looks through it.

stirring in the dresser drawer in my room at home, beating its papery little telltale heart. Sophia lowers her head and lowers the stone to her lap, her gaze following it down. ‘What’s true sight like?’ I ask. ‘I’m not sure yet,’ she says. ‘You try.’ She offers me the stone, and I push the offered hand back toward her. ‘It only works for one person,’ I say, which is a lie, or at least a part of the mythology that I invented instead of a part that someone else invented. ‘They’re like genie’s lamps. They have true owners.’ ‘Shit! Why did you give it to me to look through? You found it.’ Sophia is fair to a fault. ‘I don’t want it. I figure you’re going to need it when you’re hanging around politicians and journalists and barristers all the time.’ ‘You found it though.’ But she doesn’t give it back. She looks down at it in her hand and a small smile spreads across her face.

‘One day, I fear, she’ll catch me looking at her, trying to sneak a glance at the sun without going blind, and she’ll blame it on these changes, and I won’t be able to tell her the truth.’ She looks at the rock pool, at the beach, out at the sky and the vast sea. She looks over toward the fish and chip shop that I know will be closed by the time we try to get there later, a hall of kings where we will not dine. Finally, she looks at me. She has been squinting her other eye like a sailor looking through a spyglass, a submariner through a periscope, but without scrunching up her face into the pirate’s leer that would show she’s joking about it all. Now, looking at me through the hole that barely counts, one eye obscured by the stone, she relaxes the squint and her face smooths out entirely and she becomes impossible to read. Under her gaze I feel every seam of my clothes pressing against my skin, Eve ashamed of her nakedness. I would swear that I can feel the crumpled receipt from Moonbright Wiccan and Occult Supplies Pty Ltd, $7.55 plus interstate shipping from New South Wales,

I imagine the roughness of the stone being worn away by the years it could spend being tumbled in her hands as she worries through university, imagine it burning bright in the pocket of a well-cut blazer on the way to her first job interview, and a sweet electricity pours through my chest and down through my limbs and fills me right up to the edges. ‘Thank you,’ is what Sophia says in the end. We dunk our legs into the water of the rock pool and talk, pretending not to notice the air cooling as the sun goes down, stealing time. This once, I know, I have not mis-plotted the corridors of her brain; I have understood the differences between us just right. Sophia never asks the second of the two obvious questions that anyone, other than a person like her, should ask about adder stones: why would anyone with any sense in their head ever want to be able to see the world as it really is? •


Votive By Issie Hallwright

All these coffin-shaped key chains in the hands of my friends say to live and die in LA but when I see shots of bright blue skies and palm trees all I can think is what’s out of frame how the cracks in the concrete make my teeth hurt or the time we were driving to In-N-Out and we spent forty-five minutes refreshing the local Reddit thread to find out why we couldn’t take Sunset before we read that someone went on a stabbing rampage animal style My favourite place in LA is the intersection of Hollywood and Normandie on the side of a liquor store, or maybe a 7-Eleven where the bus pulls in beneath a warped, disjointed painting of Obama and Putin fencing a dove flying where the foils meet, Putin on his knee I imagine the artist was hired for the signage tarjetas telefónicas and giros de dinero above the fight in perfect block writing probably cropped out and captioned on my grind



If I split my lip with my teeth to talk about how I feel, they talk over me to tell me there’s green space in LA when I was at school they said that if the fires reached us we should go out onto the field and sit down and wait because grass stops fire the night the Getty nearly burned down we drove miles to try and see it but there were too many cars on the road and all we saw were brake lights smearing through smoke and scorch marks on the hills from when the hills were giant coals They left all the art in the Getty they made it fireproof you want me to stay self-immolate Someone dropped an ice cream at the bus stop I watched it go through changes a puddle spreading, borders hardening before it congealed in the sun, and the hot wind coated it in ash, dust and tire rubber glitter and powdered leaves until nothing stuck anymore it stayed there for months I used to get attached to the stains I’d see every day until it rained and everything was sloughed away When I got to New York someone told me somebody famous once said it’s the only city that makes its own gravy in the heat a fire hydrant on Hart bubbled over for three days straight in summer before the city stopped it My favourite place in LA was your bed.

Art by Alexandra Burns / 9

A Foot in the Door By Grayce Arlov ‘It will be good résumé material’ is a mantra that I used to take at face value. Back then, I believed that any opportunity to flesh out my CV—neatly arranged in 11-point Garamond—was worth pursuing if it brought me even a step closer to my dream of working in the publishing industry. When the idea of becoming an editor was first planted in my head several years ago, it immediately took root. An exhilarating future appeared before me in which my love of words and books could be converted into a meaningful career. I knew that it wouldn’t be an easy path; as in many creative industries, the demand for jobs in publishing is high and the number of positions low. There is a seemingly endless pool of students, each desperate for the chance to prove themself brighter than the next to sit in the intern’s chair. Any opportunity to rub shoulders with the right people and be part of the exclusive world around the production of books and journals—sacred in our collective imagination—is coveted. My dime-a-dozen English degree wouldn’t be enough to kick-start my career, that much was clear to me. I’d have to get a postgraduate qualification under my belt if I wanted to be taken seriously. The substantial increase to my HECS debt seemed a fair exchange for an exciting course in which I was surrounded by talented and inspiring peers. Still, I knew that to stand out from the rest, I needed to do more. So I volunteered at writers’ festivals and publishing conferences, attended proofreading sessions for literary magazines and kept an eye out for anything that might move me closer to the world beyond the classroom. When I came across an advertisement for an entrylevel editorial position, I leapt to apply. The opportunity to work in the industry while I was studying seemed almost too good to be true. I longed to put those amusing proofreading squiggles that I’d fallen in love with to good use. In the interview, the senior editors apologised that the money wouldn’t be great, that it was out of their control. I smiled and brushed it aside. I remember,

12 /

shamefully, thinking that I would gladly do the job for free. The experience in itself seemed priceless. When they called to offer me the job, I gushed with gratitude. Here was the confirmation I needed that my efforts were paying off, that I’d got my foot—or at least a toe—in the door. That summer, I spent my weekends making coffees and my weekdays proofreading. The charms of a city job and the opportunity to put what I was learning into practice were enough to keep me from noticing anything amiss. When I told my friends and family about the new job, I self-consciously breezed over the low pay rate. There were three of us working in the role, all young publishing students, and the others hadn’t mentioned any misgivings about what we were paid. It was probably normal, I thought. It was an entry-level position; I didn’t expect the pay to be impressive. I soon dropped my hospitality job to make way for the proofreading role and my final semester of university, as well as an internship with a book publisher and two editorial positions on student publishing projects. I was veering dangerously close to burnout territory, but it all seemed worth it—necessary, even. I needed to prove that I was trying. I needed to prove to myself that I could handle it. One day, about six months into my new job, a colleague and I sat outside eating lunch together in the dreary autumn chill and we started talking about money. She’d started at the same time as me, and she told me that her dad had recently asked her about our pay rate. It was a low, round figure. That immediately rang an alarm bell to him. My colleague had done some digging on the Fair Work Ombudsman website and discovered that, according to the duties of our role, our pay should have been significantly higher. Once she spoke those words, a nagging doubt that had sat with me for months with no distinguishable form suddenly solidified into something real. I thought back to the editors’ apology about the low pay, to the round, non-indexed figure. I felt sick. Stupid.


In a flurry of research over the following weeks, my two colleagues and I schooled ourselves on Australian workplace laws. Despite having been in the workforce for nearly ten years, I was embarrassingly uninformed about my rights. I hadn’t even made a copy of my contract. I calculated the potential underpayment. It was galling—thousands of dollars. I had no idea how to even begin recouping it. I made several calls to the Fair Work Ombudsman, who confirmed my suspicions and encouraged me and my colleagues to meet with ­company management to try to resolve the issue. This corroboration should have been vindicating, but as soon as each call ended, its power dissolved. Everything was confirmed, but nothing was resolved. Despite the hard facts on our side, I yo-yoed between energised outrage and helpless despair. I knew that my concerns were valid and I had a right to voice them, but I was riddled with self-doubt. I obsessively re-checked facts and clauses in the Award, seeking constant reaffirmation. Thoughts of my underpayment began to intrude upon my everyday life. I’d lie awake at night thinking about it and wake up feeling anxious. I could barely get two sentences into writing an assignment before winding up on the Fair Work website yet again. Gradually, information started pulling together to reveal a story that was larger than just me and my colleagues. We got in contact with ex-employees, who expressed similar concerns of underpayment within the company. It felt both comforting and sickening to know that we weren’t the only ones. Finally, we raised the issue directly with company management. My colleagues and I calmly explained our position: we believed we should be covered under a specific Award, and that our current rate of pay did not reflect the minimum rate set out therein. Our senior manager listened to our concerns but explained that he didn’t believe an Award applied to us—that we slipped through the cracks of the Award system altogether. I sat rigid in my chair and maintained eye contact, ignoring my sweaty palms and shaky voice. I was deeply dubious. It was only when we called a second meeting a week later, to highlight another clause in the Award that we thought proved our point quite clearly, that management agreed to investigate the issue further. We hoped and waited. After a couple of weeks, our senior manager called us back into his office. He had concluded, again, that

we did not meet the criteria of the Award. We could discuss pay rises individually, but there would be no overall change to our rate. It was exasperating to hear. I didn’t want to discuss a pay rise. All I wanted, desperately, was to put an end to the creeping sense that my work was not valued. Gutted, the three of us walked back to our desks in silence. We were paralysed. We couldn’t un-rock the boat, but we also had no idea of what to do next. I was left with two options: accept that I was not considered valuable enough to the company for them to pay me fairly, or leave. But it’s not easy to resign from your only job when there’s rent to pay. Over the next two months, work became a source of dread. I was constantly running almost-late; I would forget to bring lunch. Sometimes I would linger in the bathroom and feel like never emerging. I felt used, as if some obvious joke had been played on me and it had taken me six months to figure it out. Sometimes, classmates would say how they wished for an opportunity like mine. I would smile, offer a non-committal answer. But it was all good résumé material, right? As much as I tried to keep my simmering resentment hidden, the negative energy grew. Under the fluorescent office lights, I felt exposed and scrutinised. I suspected the entire middle and upper management knew about our agitations. Things came to a head one Friday when I received an email from my senior manager, summoning me to a meeting on the following Monday to discuss some errors in my work. The errors had already been addressed with my editor, so I was confused as to why it had been escalated. It seemed disproportionate. I stewed over it the entire weekend. I knew Monday would bring nothing good—nor would another week, another month. This job had ceased to be an adventure in gaining experience—it had become toxic. It occurred to me, somewhat belatedly, that I had the power to remove myself from the situation. Over those forty-eight hours, the fantasy of quitting morphed into a reality I needed to enact. I could take control. By the Monday morning, my decision was made. The senior manager seemed unsurprised. A few short words—a cool, professional handshake. It was over in a matter of minutes. I left his office buzzing on the sort of high that only comes with making such an irrevocable decision. I packed up my desk with shaky hands, said

/ 13

A Foot in the Door

goodbye to my colleagues and walked out the door for the last time. There were plenty of reasons to feel pessimistic about my situation; I was unemployed and I’d just cut ties with my first entry-point to the industry. But instead, I felt elated. I was living on my own terms again. • When I first began my publishing degree, I would sit in lectures, dizzy from the thrill of new information and ideas. Not once did I consider that my enthusiasm might be a vulnerability to be weaponised against me. Building a career in the creative industries demands a certain level of sacrifice; I understood this from the beginning. What I hadn’t anticipated, though, was the constant anxiety that I wasn’t sacrificing enough. With every unpaid opportunity I neglected to apply for, I worried I was falling behind my equally talented and motivated peers. The fact that I had rent and bills to pay never felt like suitable justification for not giving my time away for free. In an interview last year, a potential employer looked over my résumé and asked why I hadn’t done more internships. I was tempted to point out that I was, at that very moment, interviewing for an internship, so what more could I be doing? Here, again, was the same message being communicated to me as in those tense meetings with my former boss: you are not as valuable as you think you are. This is dangerously easy for me to believe when I’m battling a tendency to tell myself the same thing. I can try to be a warrior, but mostly, I’m a worrier. I worry that by writing this piece, I’ll be seen as whiny: that people will think I’m averse to hard work or that I should get over my petty traumas. But I’ve come to realise that in not talking about our experiences, our pay, our concerns, we erase the idea of what is ‘normal’ and there becomes no benchmark. So we must speak out. It is telling that it was my colleague’s dad who first alerted us to our underpayment. We were so conditioned to be grateful for our experience that we couldn’t see that we were being taken advantage of. For a while after I resigned, my future in publishing seemed uncertain. I couldn’t help but feel disenchanted with the industry. However, since making the pivotal decision to leave that job, I have been offered

14 /

opportunities to work in publishing that are real, fulfilling and financially legitimate. These opportunities are more than just validation of the hard work I’ve put into forging a career path for myself—they are proof that I don’t have to devalue myself in order to do so. I am truly grateful for the people who have taken a chance on me. I look forward to carving out a career in an industry that I love with employers who value my work and my time. Above all, I am proud that I managed to remove myself from a demoralising and unfair situation. It horrifies me to know that other aspiring publishing and communications professionals continue to be lured into job traps that rely on fresh blood and enthusiasm—jobs that undervalue and underpay to varying levels of legality. Everyone has to start somewhere: that’s what entry-level jobs are for. But there’s nothing acceptable about being paid unfairly in the pursuit of experience. • In early 2019, I found myself on the hunt again for a steady job. I landed an administrative role with an arts-related business, which would involve assisting them with a publishing project—a seemingly perfect opportunity. It was advertised as part-time, though after they’d offered me the job, the manager mentioned that it would be a casual position. When I got home, I politely emailed to confirm whether the position would be part-time or casual. After feigning ignorance about the difference between the two, she confirmed there would be no holiday or sick leave entitlements. Casual, then. Which meant that the rate they were offering would be below minimum wage. Was I having second thoughts? she asked in her email. There were a ‘good handful of people who would happily jump in and who are more local’. I read the email out to my partner. We shared a look. I couldn’t help but laugh. Armed with my past experience and with a sense of incredulous outrage, I composed my reply, fingers flying. I explained the difference between part-time and casual work. I linked her to information on the Fair Work website. I explained that I could not afford to live off an illegal rate, nor did I feel comfortable doing so. I let this person know that I saw what she was trying to do, and I was not going to have a bar of it. These days, my devotion is a little less blind. •


half-wink By Thuy On you had me when I saw that semicolon gentle half-wink a pause, but then that finger curl cheekiness and intent anyone can place a comma, a little trip a crease in the smooth but that mark right there such even weight a levelling—a balance speaks of the measure of us you had me; you really did

/ 15

Tall Girl Ellen van Neerven

‘Bet got the next goanna, and the fear was released as she moved on it. As soon as she begun there was nothing to hold back on. She stabbed it in the head a few more times and then Mark told her to pick it up, and she hitched it by the tail and smashed it into the ground. To kill an animal you feared, to smother it. To see it on his back now was so pleasing, still, like the leaves and sticks were still (nothing was still, she found out later).’

Art by Matt Gold / 17

Tall Girl

Sometimes I get into other people’s heads. Tonight, I am Aunty Bet, driving the roads home to Country, doing a few pick-ups on the way. Aunt and a mate started a ride-sharing service just for women they called Not Home Alone. She turns on the signal and then, only minutes after, she’s switching it off and getting back straight on the highway, eyes stinging. She’d be thinking how I never looked like this. Thinking: She used to be such a tall girl, she don’t walk so tall anymore … And I just can’t fucking stand her not being on her feet. And you know, I love her so much it hurts. It drives me mad the thought of that person who did it to her. And it hurts, I’d rather see her dead than unhappy. I wish I could do something about it. It squeezes my heart. I wish I could say I didn’t have a child, but Shan always has been my child, since she was born, and I was there with my sister. There’s no curtain I can put on this view, I know, it’s there. No more playing that CD on the stereo that my ex-husband bought for me. No more watery fruit. No more horses. They remind me too much of him. I’m an old woman now, and I can’t be driving all around the city anymore. But I am. And I like it. And you know what I like, I like a bit of sugar in my cocoa when I get home. I like the sound of silence. • Aunty Bet tell me the day I was born, she remembered folding the five packets of Maccas chips she’d eaten as she waited, sometimes in, sometimes out of the room, sometimes in the dark of the car park. Then her sister’s first child, me, was so there, so ready, so blood-filled and ready, and tied into this story. Aunty saw the day I been left for dead, how she’d found me there in the courtyard, there hadn’t been anything worse she had seen in her life, had wanted to see. How it all had changed. Then of course it was her ex-husband, and the group of men who had pushed her off the Todd Bridge. But when it happened to your own. Aunty said it would kill her sis to know. I told her not to tell my parents. She became my carer after I came out of hospital. She told everyone I was away, she made excuses. • Aunty Bet was five when Nana had picked her up from the orphanage. She had slot in between John and Mark

18 /

in age. My mum, Susie, was the youngest. She said there were things that scared her, the bush scared her, she hadn’t grown up with it. She had kept inside. Knew when she looked at me tonight she just saw pain. Saw the scars in my eyes and the lattice on my arms. She was thinking I hadn’t come out to Country with her for a while. How I’d stopped taking those meds for my legs. How I wouldn’t go to the dentist despite complaining about a toothache. That girl, she don’t walk tall anymore. When she was young, and had just moved into Nana’s, Mark and John came back with a big lizard to eat, and she had begged to go back in Susie’s room. Nana had made them eat all the lizard. There was one thing she didn’t want to do with Mark, hunting goanna. Mark taking her this way and that across the state forest but somehow knowing what he was doing. ‘Get down,’ he said, and he pointed to the head which she barely saw in the overgrowth before he brought his stick down. The animal rapidly curled, like a sheet jumping towards you by a strong stroke of wind. It was fatter and shorter than she thought it would be, up close. Mark pulled out the knife from his pocket and he cut the head off first, and then the tail. Bet got the next goanna, and the fear was released as she moved on it. As soon as she begun there was nothing to hold back on. She stabbed it in the head a few more times and then Mark told her to pick it up, and she hitched it by the tail and smashed it into the ground. To kill an animal you feared, to smother it. To see it on his back now was so pleasing, still, like the leaves and sticks were still (nothing was still, she found out later). Aunty Bet doesn’t remember the girl’s real name, but she remembers her face. Plump, pale eyes, almost transparent. Her hair was the colour of her mouth. She was walking slow on the path behind them, they’d named her Lump on the spot. She was fat and could barely walk and her and Mark started giggling straight away. She had a hearing aid and didn’t hear them when they called out to her. In fact, she never did say anything. She was eight or nine. She did what they said. There were other things from that age, eleven, twelve, that wasn’t hard to remember. The time at a r­ellie’s place in Caboolture. One of Bet’s first memories of Daniel, who was introduced to her as her brother. The three of them were sitting on the steps, drinking ginger


beer, Mark saying that their cousin’s baby was sleeping upstairs, and that they should probably go up and play a fun game he and Daniel had tried earlier, to see what it might take to wake up the baby. Bet followed the boys up the steps. The baby was a few weeks old, a girl. Mark gently poked the tip of the bottle opener into the baby’s foot. Daniel practiced farting close to the baby’s face. Mark tickled her neck. Daniel, giggling, took off her socks. Mark had reached out and touched the baby on its stomach, and then pressed, as if squeezing the air out of a blow-up mattress. And then Daniel had done it. Bet didn’t. There was nowhere else she wanted to be, really. Downstairs with the oldies, talking, drinking cups of

have survived. So after forty, she was too busy with all her good deeds to think about that morally confused childhood, and Mark and Harry, and what they had done, or what they had done together. When you try hard to be good sometimes you can be bad. Very bad. But there was really no time to think about that. No time to think that her name didn’t even belong to her, it had belonged to the men in her family who saw her as a wager, their entertainment, not a man. • I’m here, I text Aunty Bet.

‘Spent her whole twenties and thirties with guilt-shaped holes in her head, a spiky heart that drove away the people she loved.’ tea—nah. With her little sister Susie, drawing on fish paper so painfully still—no. With those other kids out­ side this house, you know, who looked too hard at her, at her arms, and she felt heavy and she didn’t feel like a girl or what a woman will be—no. Bet wanted to be with the boys. They got older, but nothing changed, really. It was Harry and his mates now that pushed the boundaries. One day during the school holidays an old Uncle came over and flogged Harry—he and his mates had set his daughter’s hair on fire. Bet and Mark never spoke about it, but she couldn’t ever get Lump out of her mind. Spent her whole twenties and thirties with guilt-shaped holes in her head, a spiky heart that drove away the people she loved. • So somewhere along the track before she turned forty Bet decided she would be a good person. She would dedicate herself to all the Causes. Veganism, environmentalism and Aboriginalism (her word). Abolish prisons and fight hard for gay and trans rights and let women decide what they wanted to do with their bodies. Her latest cause, the women ride-sharing service, Not Home Alone, took almost five years and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of fundraising to start up with Lou, her IT buddy. It has tested their friendship, but they

Sirens still piercing the air, seven fire engines, two ambulances. A line of tape crossed over the road and street, buffering around the bus. Aunty Bet and I share the same feeling. We want to stay here, in West End, but we want to leave. She takes me to the cafe. Greek owners, one of the only places you can get coffee at night. The tree we sit next to has been written on since I was last here. ‘Hot chokkie,’ Aunty Bet says, placing it in front of me. ‘Good for shock, as you know. Warm your bones.’ Something’s all too familiar about sitting next to her with a warm drink. ‘Yeah, thanks.’ Aunty turns her head back to see if anyone is talking to us on the street. Sometimes they aren’t. But a lot of mob stop by to ask about the driver, what happened. I am grateful that Aunty answers their questions. I don’t feel like I can talk about what I have seen. Already the details are becoming unreliable. ‘How’s it going at your place?’ ‘Yeah,’ I shift in my seat. ‘Going for that walk every day. Seeing the gulls. Hey, you know how they get their food? It’s by waiting for the birds, bigger birds, to get theirs. They feed in association with other animals. See, they’re klepto, they’re opportunistic, they steal from those who have food, from those who have worked for food, and they take what they get and they eat it.’

/ 19

Tall Girl

Aunty Bet nods. I return to my phone. ‘Any news?’ ‘They still haven’t released a name.’ ‘Are you going to drink your drink?’ ‘Oh, Aunt, you know I’m not really doing the sugar thing.’ ‘You’re trembling. You haven’t eaten all day, have you?’ ‘No.’ ‘Didn’t fucking think so. Now you get stuck into this drink and at least it will make a difference. You can control that.’ ‘Her family?’ ‘Think she was a Kalkadoon woman who moved here not too long ago from up Mount Isa way.’ ‘What are they doing?’ I see, across the street, two young black men in dark t-shirts, holding beers. ‘Hey fellas, you just gotta be careful,’ Aunty Bet calls out. ‘Yeah, we’re not doing nothing, Aunt,’ they say. ‘I know. They don’t.’ She gestures to the street. They nod, scuff their shoes and moved on, falling into silent fury that the colour of their dark skin could affect their access to this street: historically a barrier for blackfellas that normalised violence to them and their sovereign spirits and that of their beloved ancestors. They’re not thinking about walking while black, they’re thinking about being black while walking. Aunty turns to me. ‘Let’s drive you home, hey?’ We drive past the pub. The place is closed, as are the businesses around it. The bus is gone. A few of the mob are hanging out. ‘This place feels weird to me now,’ I say. Surveillance: coppa cars move up and down the streets of South Brisbane and West End. They are scared we’ll be angry. • I am home, quiet and alone. I go for a walk by the river. Why are there more people some nights than others? The seagulls are filling my consciousness. When did I walk tall? When I won track races at school, when my hamstrings were stretchy like ‘lastic bands, when I could touch the back of my legs and not flinch? What does my walk look like to other people who see me and observe my stride?

20 /

Now I am the couple walking a bit ahead, who have no thoughts on the terrorist attack just south of the river. She is thinking about the show they have just watched on the ABC, on their flat screen TV, in their lounge room that overlooks the river: I didn’t know Japan haven’t changed their sexual assault laws in over a hundred years. That’s pretty bad. And we really enjoyed going there last summer. The women seemed normal. They didn’t look oppressed or like they had something to say. I always thought Japan was an advanced country, socially. The men are so polite. The woman on the show was very pretty. She must make a lot of sacrifices to look the way that she does. Where did I put my razor? He is thinking: what happened that night at Keelo’s place with Courtney? Why had my instinct been to not talk to her again after that, and it’s been so long since I’ve thought about her but I still can remember her smell, like a hint of vanilla bean, and the vague feeling of getting away with something I shouldn’t, I should try to think of something else, try to get whatever this is together before my wife asks me another question, says another thing about the people at her work. I pull away from them by bringing up an image I have been using in meditation, of a padded tree on Country near Aunty’s place. I use it when I walk past the bridge with graffiti scrawled words we need to talk about consent. I use it when the feelings of the courtyard catch on my teeth. I look out across the river to the flight path, where planes are still landing in the port. This city, like all cities, holds a million thoughts and a million intentions. Stories of suffering are like lights that never go out. I cannot hear them all, but I am glad for my condition because it reminds me that we are full of questions, not answers. I get into others’ heads because others are not tall too, and we can all name a list of things that have changed us. My list starts with this day, when a bus burned outside the pub in West End, it ends with five packets of folded Maccas chips and an Aunty who will always love me. In the middle of the list there is the day I got my wisdom teeth out, the day I first watched the film Moonlight, the ancestor that walked forty-five kilometres into the mountains to escape a genocidal disease, and the sound of a gull cry. •


warm smoothie By Christy Tan you call my poetry cute which makes my toes wet we drink soup in 38-degree heat i speak something out of nothing it gives birth to distance betwe



the mould grows us into broken stubble you ask how much sunday morning costs leaving the smell of sacrifice open time widens into a bowl we have not moved in three days i wake up to the taste of leftover sleep warm smoothie it scares me what your mouth is capable of crawling out of paper laugh our exchange exceeds the maximum weight in the elevator i fell asleep inside a clock last night waiting for time to reach


/ 21

Bones in the Sky Tyson Yunkaporta

‘His heart’s home sang in every cell and fibre, ancestral sites storied and patterned into his reason for breathing, choked out by weeds of arbitrary criteria and alien tales of exclusion. Home was his higher love compressed into conjugal visits, redacted rituals and sanitised funeral rites. Home was where the new mission managers peered through surveillance cameras, and native police drove LandCruisers.’

Bones in the Sky

Mostly Caucasian, the optometrist called the boy, dismissing diabetes as a factor of vision impairment reserved for ‘full-bloods’ with otherwise naturally excellent colour vision. She smugly referred to the colour blindness test cards as ‘dot paintings’ and asked him what percentage Aboriginal he was. He kicked over her chair and slammed through the front entrance while she shrieked about equality and unsafe workspaces, only managing to dial two zeroes before he slipped away into the white noise of the streetscape. The boy chanted things he didn’t recognise as curses as he stormed along the cracked grey footpath, rain clouds rumbling and looming above the powerlines, roiling with purple hues he could never imagine. I’m a devotee of things I can’t see, bound to things that can’t see me. He felt it again, that sense of being a ghost walking in another world, a veiled reality he couldn’t quite perceive. His rage stagnated into a familiar cold-burn of lethargy as the first raindrops hit his face, and he wondered if he would be caught dodging the train fare again. Those outstanding fines would see him tracked down yet, any day now, but still he needed to get home. Home? That crowded flat with despair etched microbial into every surface, leaking out of every midden heap of cans and cigarette packets, clouding every barred window, seeping into the air along the pheromone scent-trails of cockroaches—that place was a long way from home. His heart’s home sang in every cell and fibre, ancestral sites storied and patterned into his reason for breathing, choked out by weeds of arbitrary criteria and alien tales of exclusion. Home was his higher love compressed into conjugal visits, redacted rituals and sanitised funeral rites. Home was where the new mission managers peered through surveillance cameras, and native police drove LandCruisers. Home was a swimming pool built on initiation grounds. A sacred rock chipped for samples and a spirit bird dying in his belly. Home was where Uncle sat under the milkwood tree, three-and-a-half thousand kilometres to the north, spotting the emergent red blooms on that tree and reminding the family that those flowers show ­everyone it is time to go for oysters. The boy knew he wasn’t really angry at the optometrist and her casual erasure of his being. Crueller

24 /

iniquities had spilled from his own Uncle’s lips like blood, triggering this recent exile in the south. Uncle’s brown eyes saw green, while the boy’s green eyes saw brown. The reds and greens of the tree were indistinguishable to him, seasonal signs invisible and unknowable. This joke delighted Uncle and shamed the boy on a regular basis. Rainbow over that telephone pole? Nah! I look it going half behind there. Really, how many stripes you see? Cheey, it’s more than that, boy. I can’t tell you that story, that rainbow snake, ‘coz you can’t see him, only his bones there in the sky. How you gunna listen if you can’t look him rainbow? You can’t know. There west, Darwin them old people been like monkey looking, jungle and grass all greens there, they gotta look it lion, maybe dinosaur hiding. We survive boy, like that, from look that colours. Evolution, true God. Jesus too, he been there where that green Eden, but you can’t see that story from God’s chosen people. You can’t see that serpent and feel sad for original sin. How you gunna feel blue if you can’t see it? The boy’s mouth had got him in trouble then, as he quipped that some people can read just enough to make them stupid. So now he shivered here in the south, banished to stay with distant cousins who chased neon dreams of southern lights like moths with broken wings. A living ghost. He walked like a restless spirit onto the train and slumped into a seat that might have been blue or maybe maroon, with self-doubt squirming like a limbless vertebrate inside of him, gnawing at his guts. If he couldn’t see the world right, then how could he see himself? Maybe the way others saw him was the truth, and his own self-image was a lie. A sweating soccer mum squeezed in beside him, and he dreaded the thought of her starting a conversation with him. He was still seething from an encounter on the same train the day before. You have lovely brown skin, what nationality are you? Aboriginal? Oh, you don’t look very Aboriginal, you look white to me! This was a conversation he was forced to endure at least once a week in this city. If this blanched, flabby white lady tried to speak to him, he would move. Where you from bruz? He flushed with guilt and shock as this Koori woman identified herself, recognising him while he had failed to recognise her. He stammered through the usual


protocols and yarns while that wretched worm wriggled in his guts. He squirmed out of his seat at the next stop and walked the rest of the way to the flat. Fuck this place. Out front, Sistergirl’s van was packed with tents and blankets and beer and seven rowdy twenty–somethings. A camping trip then. He welcomed the chance to escape all the dank concrete and fumes and white noise hum of traffic for a while, and scored a seat next to a fella he’d never seen before, some hanger-on with a failed blond beard and no front teeth to speak of. As the van rattled out onto the highway, he grabbed a beer and tried to ignore the hanger-on’s monologue. Yeah brudda, see all that infrastructure projects everywhere, all this mad grey building all over now, they just trying to keep the economy up, see? It’s all falling down and it’s that interest rate see, and unemployment so they put all this construction, put fellas in high-vis vests all over holding stop signs for roads that don’t go nowhere. All that sand in that building, they take it from the sea and make holes down deep, the land all crashing down into saltwater soon brudda, all that grey concrete going back to the bottom. But me, I like it. I walk here before and you can’t spot the blackfellas coz we mostly all pale now, but on that construction you see them coz they got that red vest on, come from blackfella employment agency. They all grey in that concrete like white­ fellas, but that red vest you can see it, you can say hey cuz, I see you there. Yeah, that infrastructure he won’t last but we all here yet, see, be here after too. The boy fell into a deep slumber as those rumbling tones droned on through one convoluted theory after another. In his dreaming he saw the world as others see it, in vibrant colour. He floated through swirling landscapes reflected in migrating constellations, following cosmic paths scored through deep time, deep place. He saw that southern serpent, skin pale as bone but a spine refracting opalescent, head the size of a car, sniffing at him then sailing over the horizon and disappearing into sudden explosions of lightning and fire and water in the sky. Sleep remained the only safe space for his devotions. And that woman she was a white owl, changed herself human and became Gubbiwarlga for my people, virgin she was and that kept her power, couldn’t go with a man, but still that no good Karna in secret

watched her there shining, she was like quartz in the sun… What, we pulling up here now? This where we stopping tonight? The maybe-green-maybe-yellow van jolted to a halt, waking the boy to a scene of grey rocks and dry grasses at the foot of a granite range. The boy knew this place, a men’s ceremony place, and Sistergirl should have known better than to stop here. But stop she did, and they spilled out of the crowded van, four men and four women together throwing blankets and cans and tents out onto the dirt. It wasn’t their casual desecration that extinguished the last shred of his devotion in that moment, but his own silence on the matter. He wandered away from the camp with the toothless monologuer and two brothers, one short and stocky and the other tall, muscular and handsome. The two brothers talked about a massive cod they had caught last year as the four of them ranged through the rough, grey grasses, gathering firewood. And that other time there saltwater up north we got a sawfish, proper big one. Old Unc there got angry from us fighting for that meat, cut him in half and give me that tail, split us up made us go north and south with that fish. Stop! The boy halted them at the base of a kangaroo apple tree with his hand raised in a gesture of stillness. The two brothers frowned but stood unmoving, while the monologuer fidgeted in the background, rolling his eyes and sighing. The boy pointed at the dry grass in front of them at the edge of a spotted circle, patterned with bright fallen fruit around the tree. His companions stared at the patch of ground in puzzlement and annoyance for a few moments, then drew back with a col­lective gasp. Cuz! We nearly been step on that! Fuckin’ biggest brown snake there, same colour like the grass. We can’t hardly see that, him sleeping there. He would have ripped us. True god! How you been seen that camouflage one? Proper magic cuz! Nobody could see that, I only seen that red fruit, think I might pick up some and take it back for the girls, then bam! That snake there. Cuz. Them eyes you got. Them eyes! That gift! Something. A something with textures re-patterning his lost love, a binding, blinding longing that rippled out of him in waves. And he sang. And he watched. And he waited. •

/ 25

Without Intention of Recovery or Reuse By Madeleine Dale The votives he lit in me burned all night—but now it is morning and candles have gone cold. Last night, the hollows of our church were full of sweet smoke. Curled like a fist in the confessional, my skin soaked with pine resin and sweat, I was full of sweet smoke, too. Now, I am a calcified thing of prayer, joints stuck with paraffin and regret. I fold in two before the train station bench, my bowed back and aching shoulders, my knees frozen to the tile. My arched feet and cracking ankles. My palms, crossed with silver and pressed together to hide their colour. Like all such offerings, he left me to burn; as all such feasts, he made me sacred. Charred body given up gratefully without intention of recovery or reuse. I retch up the smell of cloves and

26 /


frankincense, empty the pulpit scene from my chest. I cough my lungs, wet and pink, onto the track. Convulsing it through my narrow throat, I regurgitate my liver. My kidneys and pancreas spat out like bitter fruit. He told me what each candle was for, as he struck the match up against my ribs and lit the wick. Thank you for this sunset skin, blood safe under the surface, a clean floor. My blood lit up from inside, glowing payment for a promise fulfilled. Thank you and take this bright body, which I have loved. My cold sweetbreads scattered across the station floor, firm with fat and frost. In my hollow abdomen, ash sits in soft piles. I could be remade from this: burned bricks rebuilt. But my body is abandoned, like the rebel’s church; the bridge that falls into the river; a cold chimney full of swallows.

Art by Sonia Jude / 27

Cultural Capital By Anna Kate Blair My father preferred artists who were dead to those who were alive, because a dead artist couldn’t request an honorarium. I disagreed, preferring to support artists than to save somebody else’s money, but I stayed quiet at the dinner table. I’d moved back into his apartment, above the museum, when I returned to New York, but I was determined to be different from him. I had overheard one of my colleagues, two weeks earlier, reading an interview with my father. ‘We want to do the best that we can for artists who have entrusted us with their work,’ she quoted from the computer screen. ‘Do you think he actually means that?’ ‘Shsh,’ said her neighbour, tilting her head in my direction. I didn’t think he meant it. He was always feigning earnestness in public and complaining to my mother, over dinner, about how much employee health insurance was costing the institution. I heard my colleagues, who saw through him, complain to one another about my father’s allegiances to the Trustees, about the administration’s preoccupation with cutting budgets, and about the museum-owned apartment in which my parents and I lived for free. I supposed that they assumed that I was on his side. They asked about my weekends but didn’t include me when they whispered. They didn’t ask my thoughts on the budget cuts or the firing of the education team, and I didn’t volunteer them. I’d cared, years ago, about what people thought of me, but now I just shrugged internally, turned back to my computer and worked harder. They all spent so much time gossiping, criticising the administration, but none of them ever tried to change anything. • I had spent more than ten years working in museums and studying art history, which was more than any other curatorial assistant, and yet I was written off as the director’s daughter: half-competent and ethically bankrupt. I had started in the cloakroom, here, at fifteen. At school, kids with jobs in fast food outlets told me that I was lucky, and I told them about all the things that visitors tried to leave in cloakrooms: unreasonably large suitcases, grocery bags full of deli meats, rain-sodden socks—still dripping—and, once, a stray cat. ‘It’s just like any job,’ I said.

28 /

This wasn’t quite true, because it was a job that facilitated my promotion, one year later, to the visitor information desk, where I smiled and handed out brochures and gave directions to the Medieval Wing or the Monet Water Lilies, basking in my own helpfulness. In my last year of high school I was chosen for an internship program at another museum across town. I did more internships at college, spending each summer in a different city, and then I asked if I could curate a show at the university gallery, and they agreed, glad to have a student working for free. The grad students alongside me complained about sleep deprivation, about the latenight shifts at nearby bars that allowed them to work for free during the day. I stayed quiet, knowing that the monthly allowance my father deposited in my account wouldn’t endear me to anybody. I was too young to work in a bar, anyway, and I was tired, too: from measuring mats and frames, from calling artists to demand shipping paperwork, from staying late most nights to enter data into computer systems. I turned twenty-one and, after graduating, won a Fulbright, so I spent a year in Switzerland, improving my German while I researched the work of Harald Szeemann. Afterwards, an archivist at the Kunsthalle suggested I assist her on a show for the Venice Biennale. My payment was a line on my resume. Back in New York, I had applied for my current job in the usual way. I wrote in my application that I paid attention to detail, had strong research abilities and communication skills and that my professional experience and education meant that I understood all aspects of how the museum functioned. I was qualified to be a Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Twentieth Century Art. I had assumed that the staff turnover in Human Resources was quick enough that nobody would remember me, but my name must have been obvious enough to raise suspicion. It was my father who called to tell me I had an interview, but that I shouldn’t worry about that at all. • My interview was with Antoine, the Head of Twentieth Century Art and an expert on Fluxus, whom I hadn’t met previously; he had been appointed while I was in Switzerland. I admired the book that had made him famous, which looked at how post-war Happenings lost their potency when dealers figured out how to

FICTION sell performance art to collectors. He’d written, more recently, a scathing article about the Instagram trend of taking selfies in Yayoi Kusama mirror rooms, about millennials misunderstanding the work and turning the obliteration of the self into a decorative backdrop. I’d cited Antoine’s work in my undergraduate thesis and was excited by the possibility of working with him. He asked the us­ual questions about resolving difficult situations and managing multiple tasks, and then, glancing at my thesis title on my résumé, asked me how I thought museums ought to approach displaying artworks that take the form of instructions. ‘It’s a difficult balance,’ I said. ‘It depends on the instructions. Lawrence Weiner’s Statements, for example, can be displayed as artwork in themselves, just as words on walls, but Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings, if shown without context, end up reinforcing the same ideas of authorship that they’re trying to critique. I think the trick is providing the visitor with enough information so that they don’t mistake the aesthetic for the idea.’ I couldn’t tell if my answer satisfied him. ‘Some people have said that museums are like mausoleums,’ he said. He seemed to expect a response. ‘Yes,’ I said. There are always questions that I keep going over after interviews, editing and polishing the answers in my mind in the same way that I might edit the text to be silkscreened on a gallery wall. The question he had asked about instructions had been one that I’d researched and written my thesis on, but I was frustrated to realise that I’d been so focused on dismantling other approaches that I hadn’t constructed any of my own. I felt a rare flare of shame in my stomach. I didn’t know what the Department Head meant about mausoleums, either. I didn’t know if he believed it, and I didn’t know if I agreed. • I wasn’t naive enough to think that my merits could be separated from my surname, from my upbringing. I knew what I needed to do to get a curatorial position because I’d grown up at the museum. I remembered attending openings as a child, pulling at the back of my father’s jacket to try to trip him as he spoke to Trustees. I longed, then, to see him slip on the marble floor and fall into a water feature or knock over a statue. ‘We’re definitely thinking about expansion,’ he’d say, brushing me away with his hand. ‘Caroline will take you for ice cream,’ an assistant would whisper, guiding me away and introducing me to a different intern each season.

I became more independent at openings as a teenager, perching on the staircase and watching the crowd mill around the open bar in the foyer, or wandering upstairs to see the new exhibitions, comparatively empty, where the artists posed for photographs with social climbers. It was easy for me to talk about art because I’d always eavesdropped. I knew, from sixteen, that it was not enough to have a degree in art history, and a job as a camp counsellor over summer. I only realised at university that my peers did not know these things, were overwhelmed by what I found obvious. I couldn’t undermine myself for the sake of equality, though; it was counterproductive. I knew that those whose applications were shortlisted alongside mine were the children of dealers and directors, too. I’d met them at parties in Venice, where they talked about the prints they’d acquired for their own collections as if spending money were itself an achievement. These kids, I knew, would sign sponsorship deals with oil companies without a moment’s thought. I could imagine them, slightly older and clad in blazers, sending security to disperse protestors so that they didn’t have to feign concern as they left their offices in the evenings. I, too, had been born with cultural capital, given a wealth of education and opportunity from birth, but at least I wanted to make the museum a better place. I thought of Kynaston McShine, one of my heroes, who had snuck a Hans Haacke piece questioning Governor Rockefeller past the Trustees and into the Museum of Modern Art in 1979. I would go further. I didn’t believe in nepotism, but I did believe in myself. • It had seemed to me, from an early age, as if everybody working in the museum were spineless and amoral. Each evening, as my father undid his tie and my mother finished preparing dinner, my parents laughed at critics who didn’t understand that museums needed money, as if complicity with capitalism was a necessary evil. ‘I’d like to see how these journalists balance a budget,’ my father would say, shaking his head and setting down the press clippings he brought home each night. ‘It sells newspapers,’ my mother said, usually. ‘That’s the job.’ I wanted to say that to dismiss critics like this was a failure of imagination, that the role of an art critic was to push a museum to be better, to look beyond the established modes. As an adolescent, though, I didn’t know how to argue with my father, who tended to chuckle condescendingly at his detractors. Instead, I stayed silent and vowed that I wouldn’t let the institution corrupt me as it had them.

/ 29

Cultural Capital Now, though, I was perplexed to find myself straying from my moral code. I had vowed that I would always pay artists and interns, but when an exhausted PhD candidate appeared, assigned to me by HR, I found the museum didn’t give me a budget with which to pay her. I wanted all our exhibitions to be international and inclusive, but we didn’t always have time to arrange shipping and, if we were working with places where documentation was scarce, it was hard to complete all the necessary indemnity paperwork. Antoine told me that he was impressed by my work, but I felt I could do better, that I was failing the artists and myself. • I’d succeeded, at least, in getting some of my favourite pieces out of storage and into the galleries. One of these was Ben Vautier’s Total Art Match-Box, a box of matches modified with a set of instructions. USE THESE MATCHS TO DESTROY ALL ART, they began. Both the Registrar and Conservation Departments had insisted this piece sit under a plexiglass vitrine, protected from visitors who might squash the small box, accidentally, or secrete it into a pocket. I glanced at the piece, looking powerless under the glass, each morning. This was part of my job; I walked through the modern galleries to check if anything was out of place or damaged. I spent less time, each day, looking at the art itself and more time examining plexiglass for smudges or wooden frames for splintered corners. The visitors thought that the artworks were touched rarely, but the truth was that hands, elbows and bags came too close too often. There was little that changed in the galleries, each day; damage, once reported, was quickly touched up by Conservation. If I went a little later, just before the museum opened to the public, I’d find instead the security guards taking their places after their morning briefing. My father was proud that most of these suited men were artists, daydreaming in the galleries to pay their bills. ‘They see things in these artworks that none of us could even imagine,’ he said, often. I squinted, trying to imagine a different way of seeing the museum, one that might spark some emerging artistic movement and change the future, but my vision went blurry and the muscles in my forehead ached. I supposed that, for once, he was right – I couldn’t imagine it. ‘What do you think of the new hang?’ I’d ask the guards. ‘Oh, it’s real good,’ they’d reply, nodding their heads. ‘Better than ever.’ It couldn’t always be better, though. I wondered what these artists actually thought of the museum and

30 /

its administration, but I knew that they would never tell me. We smiled and greeted one another each morning, but I sensed that they, too, knew that I was the director’s daughter and held back accordingly. • I was beginning to think, looking back on the things I’d studied at university, that perhaps I had been wrong to believe that a museum, particularly this museum, was the right place for me. I had said, in class, that I thought displaying critique inside the institution could force it to change, directing the audience’s attention to shortcomings and making it harder for museums to justify their omissions. I wondered, now, if it actually just stopped visitors from realising how little had changed. The modern galleries were still dominated by the work of dead white men, even with a Guerrilla Girls poster by the elevator. I remembered reading that an institution’s power was such that it co-opted everything that sought to challenge it. I thought of art’s potential, of everything that I believed in, and I wondered if it was the museum itself—all bureaucracy and protective plexiglass—that had halted this rush toward revolution, transforming utopia into a decorative scheme. • It doesn’t take much planning to get into the museum in the middle of the night; it just requires a staff ID. The guard at the front desk didn’t think anything of it when I came in after midnight. I waved and he nodded. Curatorial assistants were, after all, often in the offices very late, especially in the weeks before an exhibition opened. I didn’t go to my office, though. I went to the modern galleries, empty and lit dimly by the signs for the fire exits, glowing red. I skipped to the post-war period, entering a room dominated by a Jackson Pollock painting, which looked rougher and angrier in the semi-­ darkness than the morning light in which I usually saw it. On another wall, deeper in shadow, Mark Rothko’s vertical canvas stung like a crime scene red with blood, and an Agnes Martin shivered, ghostly white and silver, as if ashamed to bear witness. In the corner, Nam June Paik’s television, switched off and silent, filled the space with memories of static electricity. I walked into the next room, where Vautier’s matchbox sat under its glass vitrine. This work, once live and dangerous, was now trapped with no air. This object wasn’t the artwork, and yet we treated it so preciously. I thought of a corpse after death, of the way in which the soul was said to have left the body. The artwork was the

FICTION idea, alluded to yet absent, and the matchbox was just a token of something unrealised. I thought of the visitors who giggled and took pictures of the matchbox as if it were a joke, not a threat. I looked at the object label I’d written, stuck on the pedestal beside the matchbox. Vautier’s piece creates a hypothetical scenario in which total commitment to art results in its destruction, it read. I didn’t know why I’d used the word hypothetical. I always hated my object labels once they were in place. I lifted the vitrine and set it on the floor. I pried the label from the pedestal and slipped it into my pocket. We could always print another. The room was filled primarily with work from the 1960s. There was a late painting by Mark Rothko and an early one by Cy Twombly. There was a Daniel Buren painting with neat, measured black stripes painted on untreated canvas and a white stripe at each side. There were some other items from Flux Year Box 2, in which the matchbox had been included, and a black and white photograph of Yayoi Kusama holding the bridle of a horse, both covered in dots. There was an early drawing by Lawrence Weiner, blocks of red and yellow on graph paper. I wondered what the Rothko would look like once it caught flame: whether the colours would flake to dashes of ash or melt into hot pools of liquid. I imagined that the stretchers supporting the canvas would burn first, leaving the painting to slouch and fold into the fire. I didn’t want any of these works destroyed; I didn’t want any artworks destroyed. I glanced again at the Weiner drawing, which I knew would disappear quickly; it was a slip of paper protected only by a thin sheet of glass and a cedar frame. Lawrence Weiner had written, later, in a statement reproduced on a t-shirt sold in the gift shop, art ain’t about you. It was one of his less cryptic pronouncements. I repeated the phrase to myself—art ain’t about you—as I pulled out one of the matches and pushed it along the strip on the edge of the box to produce the first flame. • KEEP LAST MATCH FOR THIS MATCHBOX, the box read. I was, at this point, supposed to burn the matchbox itself. I felt overwhelmed by what I was doing, dizzied by the smoke and the smell of varnish troubled by flames. I struggled to make out the white walls a few feet away, blackening and cracking like campfire marshmallows, as my eyes stung with dehydration. I kicked at the flames with my shoe; I tried to stay steady, to breathe. I shivered in the heat. I lit the match and held it between my right thumb and index finger, but I couldn’t bring myself to move it toward the paper box.

I knew that fidelity to the work meant following the instructions, but I loved this matchbox as much as I loved anything. Art ain’t about you, I reminded myself, again. I moved toward the matchbox, gulping and coughing, feeling the flame edging closer to my fingers, running down the piece of wood, and as I took a final breath, committing to the final instruction, I heard a shout and my shoulder jerked back, twisting my body with it, the flame vanishing as the match fell from my hand. • They decided not to press charges. My father didn’t want any of this in the press. It would look very bad, the administration agreed, to hire the director’s daughter, only to find her in the galleries setting fire to the art. Silently, I wondered how the court case would have played out, whether the fact that I was doing what the artist asked of me might have mattered. Surprisingly, there had been no serious damage. I had remembered smoke, but I was told that most of the matches lay scattered on the floor at my feet. I had fumbled and fallen into delirium, imagining a larger fire: darts of neon flame and clouds of charcoal smoke; shimmering heat and constant crackling. The matches, after all, were fifty years old and had been treated by Conservation before they were displayed. I should have guessed that they kept embalming fluid. It was best to deal with this quietly, as a family matter, I was told. The Head of Twentieth Century Art wrote a reference to send me to graduate school at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. It was a respectable exile. There was a deeper hush than usual as I walked past my colleagues’ desks, and I felt, for once, that it was deserved. I had the sense, sitting in his office as he printed and signed my reference letter, that Antoine was proud of me. There was something about his upright, stern posture that suggested professional respect, as did his reluctance to make eye-contact, looking at the printer and then down at his desk, glancing at me only briefly. I didn’t feel any sense of achievement at all, though. I had proven my commitment to the art itself rather than the institution, but it meant I’d never work in a museum again, and that I’d never really be able to change anything here. I knew that rumours spread quickly in the art world, and I knew, too, that my father would call any institution that considered hiring me and stop them. He had his loyalties, just as I had mine. •

/ 31

Resting Transparently By Sam Flynn I. And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him … Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. As a child, my granny took me to Mass every Sunday. We lived in a small town in rural Victoria, and I would sit and kneel and stand at worn, waxy pews, the burring gas heaters overhead doing little against the cold of the bluestone walls. After the Eucharist, I would snatch looks at the sea of bowed heads and Granny’s lined, solemn face, Host dissolving in her mouth. I would watch closely for their secret. Her secret. Why couldn’t I believe? What had I missed? Granny lived by herself in a large, draughty house, and at night she would get scared. I was often sent to keep her company. I’d run across the dark, frozen paddocks from my house to hers. We’d watch a television with bunny ears and eat Arnott’s Assorted Biscuits. She’d set up a mattress for me on the floor. ‘Say your prayers, dear,’ she’d say. ‘In the morning, the fairies will come.’ Granny assumed my faith. We would kneel by her bed and press our hands together. At the end of each prayer, I’d ask God to say hello to the dead for me. In just a few short years, Granny would be on that list. The fairies lived in a cottonwood by the pond at the bottom of the garden, which meant they had to come through the front door to deliver my present. I would lie awake at night, staring through the lattice of the wrought– iron door, hoping for a glimpse. One night I thought I saw one: a blurry thistle seed floating past in the moonlight. In the morning, I’d rip away my pillow to find chocolates wrapped with brightly coloured paper or small plastic toys, quickly devoured or discarded.

II. When Granny was dying of blood cancer, I remember Mum (her daughter-in-law) telling a story to Dad over dinner one night. Mum was angry because Granny had said to her earlier that day, from her bed, ‘It would be terrible not to believe in anything.’ I don’t know why Mum was angry. Maybe she thought it was a slight against her, her being an atheist. Maybe it touched on some deeper mortal fear. Regardless, this story speaks to what has always fascinated me about faith, particularly as an anxious child. Granny knew that faith was an escape. In Ancient Greek tragedies, a deus ex machina—god from the machine— was a contraption that would lift actors playing gods onto the stage, usually to save a character from a hopeless situation. In the same way, Granny saw her God as an escape from the corporeal horrors of dying, and the looming oblivion of death. I can only assume that Granny’s faith worked for her. (One aunt said she smiled before she took her last breath; another said it was a grimace.) But despite my efforts, for me, faith never exceeded superstition. It was just a series of rituals designed to reap reward or ward off disaster. I couldn’t take the next step. I couldn’t believe. As I grew older and found other, more destructive, means of escape, I gave up on my pursuit of faith. But then, a few years ago, something happened that brought it all back.

III. I am twenty-seven years old and working as an associate to a judge. Court is in recess. I throw my robes and jabot over the back of the chair and run downstairs for a cigarette. I walk along the street towards my smoking alley, the large sandstone wall of the court on my left. It is a still, warm morning and the sunlight pierces the canopy of plane trees above, dappling the footpath. A woman, young and weak-chinned, walks towards me and smiles.

32 /

NONFICTION And then I have an Experience. It is an immense, overwhelming joy. And it isn’t mine. It comes from somewhere else, and washes over me. As in orgasm or terror, I lose my sense of time and space. I lose my sense of self. I see and feel an infinite number of things: the smiling woman, mountains and rivers, the sea, my family, nameless faces. I am connected to them, and I have the strongest sense that everything is just as it should be. I am grateful, and tears come to my eyes.

IV. The Experience lasted only for a moment. It felt familiar, but I don’t remember ever having had it before. Afterwards, I tried to brush it off: misfiring neurons, maybe. I met an old school friend that night at a bar in the city. We hadn’t seen each other for a while. After a few drinks, I asked him whether he was miserable. It was my favourite topic of conversation at the time, having recently discovered that dull misery of adulthood, a misery at its most poignant in those moments when you reach inside yourself, only to find that there is nothing there. My friend told me that he wasn’t miserable—he had found God. I wasn’t shocked by his confession; I went to a Catholic school, and this particular friend always gave the impression that he lived a different life to the one he shared with us, a life within himself. But I was unsteadied. This was, and remains, the only time in my adult life that a peer or friend has told me they believe in God. I found myself telling him about the Experience I had that morning. It seemed relevant. He listened attentively, and then told me that the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard called that Experience ‘resting transparently’. I was thrilled it had a name. Though my interest in faith was, by this stage, cold, academic and aesthetic, I decided in that moment that maybe this was the path to faith that had eluded me in childhood. Maybe it wasn’t beyond me. Maybe I could escape, too.

V. In the months that followed, I obsessively read everything I found that spoke to my Experience. I found not only that many others had felt something similar, but also that an entire field of psychology is dedicated to understanding these ‘mystical experiences’. The Pahnke–Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire—originally developed in the sixties and recently updated by William A. Richards, a psychologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, among others—is designed to determine whether a subject has had a mystical ­experience. The subject must rate, from zero to five, the degree to which they experienced a series of phenomena. I did the questionnaire at home. 4 Loss of feelings of difference between yourself and objects or persons in your surroundings. 5 Awareness of the life or living presence in all things. 4 Sense of being ‘outside of’ time, beyond past and future. 4 You ‘knew’ and ‘saw’ what was really real. 5 Feelings of universal or infinite love. I finished the questionnaire and tallied my answers: I had had a certified mystical experience. I felt as though I should have been excited, as though my Experience and subsequent obsession were somehow authorised. But, on seeing the results, I felt nothing of the kind. The psychologists who developed this questionnaire were inspired in part by nineteenth-century American philosopher William James. While the psychologists’ pursuits were clinical—they had hoped that hallucinogenic narcotics would alleviate certain psychological conditions—James’s was philosophical and theological.

/ 33

Resting Transparently In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, James described the benefits that religious belief can afford to the believer. The reason for his project, though, was rather more obtuse than that of the psychologists. James practised a strange form of philosophy called pragmatism. For him, the question of whether God exists is answered by the fact that it is useful to believe that God exists, as evidenced by the benefits he observed in those of faith. Those benefits included ‘purity’ and ‘charity’ and a ‘strength of soul’, or what he collectively described as saintliness. On reading this, I remembered the day that Granny died. I was sitting with my family and our local priest in her lounge room—religious iconography on the walls, floral fabric covering the delicately arranged couches and chairs—each taking turns to say something about her. She lay waxen in the room next to us, and when my turn came I said: ‘She was the closest thing to a saint I ever met.’ Some of my family laughed in response. I was embarrassed, and I buried my reddening face deep in my hands. I suppose, only having observed her as a child, I wasn’t able to fully know her adult life, how she interacted with the rest of the world. I suppose the saintliness I observed in her was situational; I suppose it wasn’t shared equally with others. Ultimately, James’s philosophy left my question unanswered. Many have since mocked his approach to truth. Bertrand Russell, for example, argued that by James’s line of reasoning, Santa Claus must also exist. So, I began to read more philosophy and theology on faith and the existence of God. I read about Anselm’s Ontological Argument. Anselm, an eleventh-century Italian priest, argued for the existence of God based on the fact that God is a being ‘than which nothing greater can be conceived’. Because an imagined God is not as great as an existing God, Anselm held that an imagined God could not satisfy the definition of God. I read about Pascal’s Wager, in which Pascal argued that we are presented with two options when faced with the question of whether God exists. We can either live our lives as though God doesn’t exist, or we can follow God’s teaching. In the former, the worst possible outcome is an eternity in Hell. In the latter, the worst possible outcome is that God doesn’t exist and that we just wasted some time in church. As a matter of self–preservation, Pascal argues that we should therefore live our lives as though God exists. Like the Pahnke–Richards questionnaire, though, none of this took me any further. Putting aside for a moment the logical flaws, the arguments of philosophers like Pascal and Anselm struck me as wan and pedestrian. Next to the Experience I had outside the court, they seemed like cheap tricks. As I made my way through the works of these psychologists, philosophers and theologians, I began to understand what I had suspected, but ignored, since the beginning of the whole enterprise: no amount of research would take me any closer to faith. There was no justification beyond my Experience. I couldn’t reason my way into it.

VI. Disappointed, I went back to Kierkegaard. In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard meditates on God asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. At the last moment, God presents a ram to be sacrificed instead, saving Isaac. The story has always troubled me. I remember hearing it for the first time at school as a small child. It sounded like some kind of sick prank. What kind of God would do this? But Kierkegaard instead focuses on Abraham, casting his behaviour as an extraordinary act of faith. Abraham blindly accepted God’s will, and took the most important thing in his life to be slaughtered at the top of a mountain, for no reason other than that he was told by a voice in his head. This, Kierkegaard says, is real faith. And my reaction to the story is the reason why: it is only real faith because of its inherent absurdity. Why would God ask such a thing of Abraham? Why would Abraham submit? There is no reasonable answer. But for Abraham it didn’t matter. He made what Kierkegaard calls the final ‘movement’ of faith, which requires that one ignore worldly wisdom and morality, and rely instead only on the ‘strength of the absurd’. Reading this, I realised why faith had escaped me throughout my life: I was too attached to reason; I could not submit to the absurd.

VII. In the months after I read Kierkegaard, for the second time in my life, I gave up my pursuit of faith. Partly it was because I knew that submission to the absurd was unachievable for me. But it was also because the escape that faith

34 /

NONFICTION offered, and the escape that I had sought, began to seem ugly. When I had the Experience, a ‘truth’ was revealed to me, as often happens to people who have these experiences. My truth was: Everything is just as it should be. At the time, it felt like a profound, beautiful realisation. Like Granny on her deathbed, it seemed for a moment as though this could be my escape too. But, enacted as it was by Abraham in the Bible, it seemed callous. In the face of evil, Abraham resigned himself to the fact that everything was just as it should be, Isaac be damned. It all worked out in the end for Abraham and Isaac—but is that enough? Is everything just as it should be? In a world full of pain and suffering and injustice, I hope not. And, even if it were, I would need a lot more than the ‘absurd’ to submit. If there were an escape, this wasn’t it. One question, though, lingered. If my Experience wasn’t going to lead me to faith, was it going to lead me anywhere?

VIII. The only compelling philosopher I read in the period after my Experience was Spinoza. The son of Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam in the sixteenth century, Spinoza was expelled from his synagogue for practising a strange form of pantheism. He believed that God was not a separate entity who created the universe, but rather that God was the universe. In the Ethics, Spinoza paints his picture of God using a series of propositions. His final proposition reads: Proposition 14: Except God, no substance can be or be conceived. I know that psychiatric research into mystical experiences has seen a resurgence in recent years, particularly since the publication of research by Roland Griffiths, a psychopharmacologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in 2006. Since then, further clinical studies have taken place at NYU, UCLA and Imperial College, London. Griffiths’ study administered a hallucinogen, psilocybin, to his subjects in an attempt to create a mystical experience in them, mirroring quite directly the mystical experiences of the religious people studied by James. I know that Griffiths’ research showed that most of the subjects who took psilocybin and had a ‘complete’ mystical experience—as determined using the Pahnke–Richards questionnaire—recorded positive and significant impacts on their personality in the year after, particularly in relation to the traits of creativity, openness to new experiences, and attentiveness to aesthetics and inner feelings. I know that I have as many demons and doubts as the next person. But I also know that, in the year after my Experience, when I reached inside myself, there was always something there. In that year, for the first time since my adolescence, I started enjoying time alone. I started writing again. I sat on the lawn at Granny’s house—where my mum and dad now live—reading a book in the sun, and thought: I need more time. I know that, in that year, and for the first time since her death ten years earlier, I began to write and speak about my friend Dani. For the first time, I took flowers to her grave. (I chose snow peas, because they’re fragile and young.) For the first time, and only by knowing where my pain was, did I finally get to say: I’m sorry, Dani. I love you. I miss you. I know that I was recently moved by the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who believed that the glory of God could be found in the world around him. In ‘The Windhover’, Hopkins dedicates the poem ‘To Christ our Lord’, and then writes about a bird: I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing! I know that, recently, I was smoking in an alley at my new work. A thistle seed ambled past. I grabbed at it, practising a childhood ritual. I held it in a cage of fingers, deciding what to wish for. And as I did, a gust of wind blew it out of my hand. I lunged at it, and then laughed at myself, an adult man chasing a fairy. I finished my cigarette. As I left the alley, I saw another fairy rolling in the gutter. Another came towards me along the footpath. Another between the parked cars. I watched them float past me, and walked back inside. •

/ 35

‘No Longer Any Distance Technology, Climate Change and Narrative Empathy By Rachel Fetherston

‘This compartmentalisation of narrative events asks a difficult question about the relationship between film narrative and truth: can film be trusted to reflect the truth—in this case, the future impacts of climate change— or are the climate imaginaries of film destined to take the form of voyeuristic disaster entertainment?’

36 / Art by Emma Magnusson-Reid

B e t we e n U s ’ : in Briohny Doyle’s The Island Will Sink

‘No Longer Any Distance Between Us’ There is a limit to how much those fighting climate change can rely on science. In many ways, we also need to rely on stories—stories about this science, but also stories about the humans and non-humans that are, and will, be impacted by the climate crisis. Studies over the past decade indicate clear political divisions on the issue of climate change within Australia, the US and the UK, among other countries.1 In a time when the global community is finding it increasingly difficult to proactively respond to the global, ever-advancing impacts of climate change, more scholars are asking whether narrative could enable deeper devotion to the natural world. Despite the large amount of information communicated to the public regarding the environmental crisis, one study found that people feel less responsibility and, indirectly, less concern for global warming the more information that they have about it.2 This paper explores the question of whether devotion to popular entertainment technology can be exploited to encourage more public devotion to the natural world in the face of anthropogenic climate change. Briohny Doyle’s The Island Will Sink (2016) represents a fictive response to this issue. The Australian publishing industry has seen the release of various climate-fiction titles in recent years. Novels such as Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book (2013), James Bradley’s Clade (2015) and Catherine McKinnon’s Storyland (2017) are among several recent, award-winning works that depict the possible consequences of climate degeneration. Doyle’s work of speculative fiction is another example of such a text. It explores the use of popular film entertainment as a means of exposing the general public to the visceral impacts of climate change. The novel is set in a near-future, undisclosed city that is experiencing serious socio-environmental devastation. Filmmaker Max Galleon navigates the interconnectedness of memory, family and the Anthropocene in his attempt to create a one-of-a-kind virtual reality (VR) film depicting the sinking of Pitcairn Island, due to rising sea waters in the Pacific Ocean. The novel is one of many speculative texts that attempts to instil a greater sense of urgency regarding climate change. As Owen Richardson

describes in his review of the text, one of the most obvious connections between Doyle’s fictional setting and our real world is the idea that ‘the apocalypse we aren’t doing enough to avoid keeps reaching back towards us, at the IMAX and on boxed sets’.3 4 Doyle’s novel depicts a future that is in many ways similar to our present reality, where some awareness of climate change may exist, but real, long-term action is lacking. In the novel, filmgoers are exposed to the sense of disaster that climate change evokes in those who live through its impacts. Those who watch Max’s film become physically ill, triggered by a feeling of hyper-empathy for those experiencing the island’s sinking firsthand (spe­ cifically Jean, Max’s film partner, who dies while capturing this experience) as well as for others on the island, such as ‘a fisherman, or a tourist, or even an animal for a few seconds at a time’.5 To draw on Margaret Atwood’s definition of speculative fiction, it could be said that The Island Will Sink is ‘about things that really could happen’.6 However, Doyle’s exaggerated portrayal of extreme empathy reflects R.B. Gill’s definition of speculative fiction as ‘envision[ing] a systematically different world in which not only events are different, but causes operate by logics other than normal ones’.7 While the novel’s depiction of the consequences of climate change may accurately represent what ‘really could happen’,8 Doyle’s exaggerated portrayal of the audience’s visceral reaction to Max’s film follows a more satirical logic, in accordance with Gill’s definition, that opposes the reader’s expectations of reality. It is this depiction of entertainment technologies in Doyle’s text that I will explore in this paper, as it raises issues regarding the use of narrative and technology in the fight for action on climate change and, in doing so, demonstrates a strong relationality between people’s obsession with popular entertainment and devotion to the natural world.

Climate change, narrative and the ecological self

Studies show that fictional narratives can educate people on facts about the world as effectively as nonfiction can.9 Sabine Pahl and Judith Bauer suggest that imagining future scenarios, such as those relating to the

1 Aaron M. McCright, Riley E. Dunlap, and Sandra T. Marquart-Pyatt, “Political Ideology and Views about Climate Change in the European Union,” Environmental Politics 25, no. 2 (2016): 34338–58. 2 Paul M. Kellstedt, Sammy Zahran, and Arnold Vedlitz, “Personal Efficacy, the Information Environment, and Attitudes toward Global Warming and Climate Change in the United States,” Risk Analysis: An International Journal 28, no. 1 (2008): 122. 3 Owen Richardson, “The Island Will Sink Review: Briohny Doyle’s Debut Novel Tackles an Ecodisaster,” The Sydney Morning Herald, August 26, 2016. 4 JD, “Briohny Doyle, The Island Will Sink,” The Saturday Paper, August 6, 2016. 5 Briohny Doyle, The Island Will Sink (Melbourne: The Lifted Brow, 2016), 277. 6 Margaret Atwood, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (New York: Virago, 2012), 6. 7 R.B. Gill, “The Uses of Genre and the Classification of Speculative Fiction,” Mosaic: An Interdisciplinary Critical Journal 46, no. 2 (2013): 73. 8 Margaret Atwood, In Other Worlds, 6.: SF and the Human Imagination (New York: Virago, 2012). 9 Michael F. Dahlstrom, “The Role of Causality in Information Acceptance in Narratives: An Example from Science Communication,” Communication Research 37, no. 6 (2010): 857–75; Elizabeth J. Marsh, Michelle L. Meade, and Henry L. Roediger, “Learning Facts from Fiction,” Journal of Memory and Language 49, no. 4 (2003): 519–36, cited in Michael F. Dahlstrom and Shirley S. Ho, “Ethical Considerations of Using Narrative to Communicate Science,” Science Communication 34, no. 5 (2012): 605.

38 /

ACADEMIC impact of climate change, ‘might be even more powerful if told in narratives by individuals to provide a personal viewpoint’.10 Narrative fiction may play a significant role in swaying public opinion on climate science. John D. Sterman and Linda Booth Sweeney contend that ‘in democracies, public opinion constrains the ability of governments to implement policies consistent with the best available scientific knowledge’.11 There is great potential for fictional stories to effect public action through their depiction of the real-world impacts of climate change. A study by Michael D. Jones demonstrates that narrative strongly affects people’s opinions regarding climate-change policy.12 David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano have also demonstrated a link between reading literary fiction and improving empathy for another’s mental state,13 which suggests that literary fiction may play a role in supporting readers’ feelings of empathy for the natural world and those impacted by climate change. This is particularly pertinent in the context of speculative texts such as Doyle’s, which is about living in a near-future world devastated by climate change. In a study undertaken by Pahl and Bauer, one group of participants were asked to take the perspective of a woman from the year 2105, who explains the impact that environmental change has had on her life, while a second group was asked to focus on the facts of her story and remain objective.14 This study found that ­taking the point of view of this woman led to more environmental engagement.15 Additionally, a study undertaken by Jaime Berenguer found that participants who were asked to take the perspective of a non-human organism (a bird or a tree) demonstrated increased empathetic feelings towards the organism, as well as more positive attitudes towards nature in general.16 This suggests that, in a world impacted by climate change, there is practical potential for speculative narratives told from the perspective of non-human agents. The studies also lend credence to the power of intersubjective awareness

enabled through narrative storytelling more generally. Arne Naess’s idea of the ‘ecological self’ bears some relevance here in terms of the capacity of an individual to identify and empathise with the natural world and the non-human in a self-interested way. Naess argues that the expectation that people must ‘unselfishly give up, or even sacrifice, their self-interests to show love for nature’17 is an unhelpful and potentially dangerous foundation for conservation. The concept of an ecological self contends that through identification with nature, a person ‘may come to see that their own interests are served by conservation, through genuine self-love­­­—the love of a widened and deepened self’.18 In attending to an increased empathy for the natural world, the reader may come to equate devotion to nature as a practice akin to devotion to the self. In this sense, the ecological self is constituted by understanding the position of the self within nature, and an awareness of the relationship between personal needs and environmental wellbeing. With this in mind, a lack of devotion to nature may suggest a lack of concern for the needs, identity and survival of the self. Luca Valera argues that Naess’s concept of the ecological self is directly tied to how a person understands other beings—human and non-human—that inhabit their place of belonging.19 As Naess states, ‘to distance oneself from nature and the ‘natural’ is to distance oneself from a part of that which the I is built up’20—to reject a deeper understanding of nature is to reject a deeper understanding of the self. Using narrative to enhance a reader’s sense of ecological self may be a means to take advantage of this notion, especially for fictional narratives that provide perspectives of non-human and human suffering under the impacts of climate change. In the context of Doyle’s novel, the destruction of a non-human habitat that supports a human community, and the depiction of their suffering, focuses the reader’s attention on the intricate connections between climate change and human/non-human suffering. This speaks to the potential for an increased

Sabine Pahl and Judith Bauer, “Overcoming the Distance: Perspective Taking With Future Humans Improves Environmental Engagement,” Environment and Behavior 45, no. 2 (2013): 157. 11 John D. Sterman and Linda Booth Sweeney, “Understanding Public Complacency about Climate Change: Adults’ Mental Models of Climate Change Violate Conservation of Matter,” Climatic Change 80, no. 3–4 (2007): 236. 12 Michael D. Jones, “Cultural Characters and Climate Change: How Heroes Shape Our Perception of Climate Science,” Social Science Quarterly 95, no. 1 (2014): 22. 13 David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind,” Science 342, no. 6156 (2013): 377–80,; D. Kidd and E. Castano, “Different Stories: How Levels of Familiarity with Literary and Genre Fiction Relate to Mentalizing,” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 11, no. 4 (2017): 474–86. 14 Pahl and Bauer, “Overcoming the Distance: Perspective Taking With Future Humans Improves Environmental Engagement,” 160. 15 Ibid., 163. 16 Jaime Berenguer, “The Effect of Empathy in Proenvironmental Attitudes and Behaviors,” Environment and Behavior 39, no. 2 (2007): 277. 17 Arne Naess, “Self-Realization: An Ecological Approach to Being in the World,” in Deep Ecology for the Twenty-First Century, ed. G. Sessions (Boston and London: Shambhala, 1995), 229. 18 Naess, 229. 19 Luca Valera, “Home, Ecological Self and Self-Realization: Understanding Asymmetrical Relationships through Arne Naess’s Ecosophy,” Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics 31, no. 6 (2018): 661–75. 20 Arne Naess, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 164. 10

/ 39

‘No Longer Any Distance Between Us’ understanding of how the self, and personal suffering, may also be impacted by climate degeneration.

‘Should science frighten?’: disaster film and the climate crisis

Keeping in mind the relationships between intersubjective awareness, public opinion on climate change and narrative fiction, how then does Doyle’s text explore these connections? Specifically, The Island Will Sink addresses the role that modern entertainment technology, such as film, games and mobile apps, may play in addressing the future impacts of climate change. The text also explores what Michael F. Dahlstrom and Shirley S. Ho describe as the ethical concerns of using narrative in science communication21 and the overlap of reality and fantasy, following the prolonged use of certain technologies. For Max, a filmmaker and the novel’s protagonist, film and entertainment technology are not simply elements of popular culture, they are a way of life. Prior to the premiere screening of Max’s Pitcairn VR experience, the text alludes to the increasingly blurred distinctions between reality and popular entertainment in the lives of the text’s primary characters. When Max returns to his family home after some time away, he feels reassured ‘to see that Bay Heights is an actual house, a thing of stone and wood rather than a series of domestic sets for a family sit-com’.22 Throughout the text, traditional prose occasionally shifts to narration via screenplay, including phrases such as ‘POV MAX, ‘VOICEOVER’23 and, the final word of the novel, ‘FADE’.24 This sporadic use of screenwriting conventions suggests that Max, the first-person narrator of much of the novel, experiences an intrusive overlap between his real life and his filmmaker life, in which he is completely absorbed by his work and the disasters that he sets out to portray. Significantly, the novel is divided into parts that reflect stereotyped elements of a film narrative: ‘Establishing Shot’,25 ‘Romantic Subplot’,26 ‘Action Sequence’27 and ‘Director’s Cut Ending’.28 This compartmentalisation of narrative events asks a difficult question about the relationship between film narrative and truth: can film be trusted to reflect the truth—in this case, the future

impacts of climate change—or are the climate imaginaries of film destined to take the form of voyeuristic disaster entertainment? In many ways, these films function both as a distraction from the reality of climate catastrophe and as a means to incentivise greater action to prevent such a reality; it is these seemingly disparate views that Doyle moves between throughout the course of the narrative. This interweaving of reality and fantasy occurs throughout the text, resulting in an obsession with disaster entertainment, rather than a commitment to preventing disaster itself. The novel’s characters are unable to distinguish between real disaster, and disaster for entertainment’s sake. Max’s teenage son Jonas plays a VR game set on Pitcairn—the very island that is the focus of Max’s film—where its colonisation is re-­enacted by enthusiastic gamers around the world. Jonas claims that the purpose of the game isn’t to win, but that ‘the point is learning. About history. And about yourself’.29 However, the unethical entertainment value of the game is evident when Max learns that players can take the role of ‘a kidnapped slave’ and have ‘a native wife’.30 This suggests that the game is less about learning and more about re-enacting the disaster of European colonisation as a form of entertainment. This appropriation of history for entertainment purposes highlights the problematic relationship between entertainment technology and disaster narrative. Max and his colleagues, Jean and Sullivan, attempt to overcome these kinds of egotistical entertainment technologies in their film (also titled The Island Will Sink), which allows their audience to feel and observe the sinking of Pitcairn Island. Sullivan encourages Max to make a film about this real, rather than imagined, disaster because ‘real things are happening in the world that we are completely disconnected from’.31 In an interview prior to the film’s premiere screening, Sullivan posits that ‘through this technology we have managed to create the conditions for total empathy. There’s no longer any distance between us’.32 In some ways, Max’s project is a fictional representation of Pahl and Bauer’s study of perspective taking. As Pahl and Bauer’s study shows, perspective taking can result

Michael F. Dahlstrom and Shirley S. Ho, “Ethical Considerations of Using Narrative to Communicate Science,” Science Communication 34, no. 5 (2012): 592–617. 22 Doyle, Island Will Sink, 72. 23 Ibid., 31. 24 Ibid., 299. 25 Ibid., 1. 26 Ibid., 103. 27 Ibid., 163. 28 Ibid., 287. 29 Ibid., 166. 30 Ibid., 166. 31 Ibid., 51. 32 Ibid., 291. 21

40 /

ACADEMIC in increased environmental engagement.33 In Doyle’s fictional, near-future scenario, Max’s immersive VR film familiarises the audience with the experience of someone on Pitcairn Island as it sinks. As viewers’ bodies physically react to the reality of living with the consequences of climate change, the VR experience instigates a catastrophic reaction, rather than an alert engagement with the issues at hand (that is, climate change and the destruction of an island community). On the ground people convulse in epileptic fits. Still figures are suddenly overcome with nausea and spit bile onto the carpet. A great moaning begins. A howling chorus of grief. There is shivering and rocking. All about me are heaving bodies, mewling and puking, doubled over in pain.34 The climax of The Island Will Sink explores the ethical questions of utilising film technology to trigger extreme feelings of empathy in the viewer. In Dahlstrom and Ho’s discussion of ethical science communication, they ask whether effective science communication should ‘promote personal autonomy to make choices or create disengaged compliance toward a conferred outcome’.35 In the context of Doyle’s novel, Max produces a film that triggers a sense of empathy so strong that it overwhelms the audience. Viewers’ bodily impulses are depicted as outside their control, with ‘women tear[ing] at their designer gowns … men masturbat[ing] furiously’.36 This disturbing imagery speaks to the ethical dilemma of using VR technology—although perhaps such a physical and emotional response from the audience is justified. As Dahlstrom and Ho argue, ‘the social benefits of increased … environmentally conscious behaviours may justify reduced personal autonomy’.37 While these visceral reactions are exaggerated to the point of parody in Doyle’s text, the novel seems to say that this is what society’s reaction should be—emotional, physical and human, rather than the calm and controlled governmental and corporate reactions (such as ‘Pow-Pow the Power Saving Panda’38) that dictate sustainable living standards. Doyle’s novel evokes the knowledge that action on climate change comes too late in this near-­future setting; the audience is so terrified by the film’s depicted catastrophe that they are unable to reconcile

themselves with the rapidly approaching climate apocalypse. The audience’s horrified response to Max’s film is a warning—if action is not taken seriously in the here and now, then humankind will be unable to reconcile with the severe emotional and physical toll of anthropogenic climate change. Max tells Gabrielle, a doctor attempting to recover the memories of Max’s comatose brother, that although the disasters he has portrayed in many of his films haven’t really happened, to him ‘it feels the same, like it did happen’.39 Though fictional, Doyle’s novel is also speculative. The climate disaster she portrays—the sinking of Pitcairn Island and the social injustices felt by the underprivileged classes as a result of climate change—is a potential outcome for humankind and the natural world. Kate Rigby describes this mode of warning through narrative as ‘ecoprophetic witnessing’. Ecoprophetic writing ‘seek[s] to disclose the catastrophic consequences of continuing on our current ecocidal path and awaken[s] us to the possibility of another way of thinking and being’.40 Rigby likens this concept to biblical prophetic writing, and explains that ‘the prophetic voice … does not speak from a place of purity: the prophet is both implicated in and wounded by the wrongdoing that is shown to be driving his or her world headlong into catastrophe’.41 Max is perhaps such a witness. Although his film depicts what has happened and is happening in the present, it is a warning to its privileged audience that what occurs on Pitcairn will soon occur elsewhere. Max is implicated in an industry that seeks to profit from the terror of climate change, but he has also been wounded in various ways by the socio-environmental impacts of the catastrophe. In the novel’s technologically advanced world, climate change is proceeding at a terrifying pace and the general populace seems either unaware or indifferent to it. Max’s wife, Ellie, makes a particularly troubling comment about Max’s immersive disaster films, stating that ‘it helps people get on with their lives. Feeling finally and totally connected to one another is one of humanity’s only historically constant desires.’42 Ellie’s comment frames such empathetic connections as an egotistical ‘desire’; a way for the audience to move on from the world’s problems. While the public is less concerned with the impacts of climate change, and more concerned with the personal value that these films provide, this could be viewed as a positive reaction, when

Pahl and Bauer, “Overcoming the Distance: Perspective Taking With Future Humans Improves Environmental Engagement,” 163. Doyle, Island, 296. 35 Dahlstrom and Ho, 603. 36 Doyle, Island, 296. 37 Dahlstrom and Ho, 604. 38 Doyle, Island, 4. 39 Ibid., 107. 40 Kate Rigby, “Writing in the Anthropocene: Idle Chatter or Ecoprophetic Witness?,” Australian Humanities Review 47, no. Nov (2009): 173–7487. 41 Rigby, 178. 42 Doyle, Island, 153 33 34

/ 41

‘No Longer Any Distance Between Us’ considering Naess’s idea of the ecological self. A personal investment in these stories is needed in order to elicit a deeper connection to the natural world. Devotion to the natural world comes in many forms and does not necessarily discount devotion to oneself.43 The disturbing end to Doyle’s novel suggests that if viewers are personally confronted in a visceral way, then they are more likely to feel devoted to action on climate change. In light of this, self-interest could be an essential factor if real action on climate change is to be taken seriously by the general public. New technologies could bridge the gap between the function of film as pure entertainment, and for a greater cause; a trigger for action from audiences. It is significant that the title of Max and Sullivan’s film imitates the title of Doyle’s novel. The screening of the film results in a reaction from viewers that is visceral and horrific, and the novel, too, depicts what may soon be the very real impacts of climate change on the modern world. Similar to the narrative strategy of Max’s film, Doyle’s novel draws the reader into a close, empathetic relationship with Max to evoke the shocking impact of the climate crisis. Doyle’s exploration of the role of disaster film suggests that the use of empathy in narrative, especially of this kind, is a problematic but potentially redeeming method for communicating the urgent need for action on climate change. It begs the question that Max himself asks: ‘should science frighten?’44 or, more specifically, should narratives about climate change frighten and, if so, to what end?

Entertainment technology and ‘the extinction of experience’

While film is a central theme of Doyle’s text, the role of entertainment technology more broadly is also explored in the depiction of Max’s family: their reliance on technology and lack of connection to nature. Robert Michael Pyle describes humans’ increasing ­disconnection from the natural world as ‘the extinction of experience’.45 He links the extinction of species and the increasing lack of contact between humans and the natural world with the extinction of humans’ ability to form a deeply personal relationship with nature. Similarly, Masashi Soga and Kevin J. Gaston cite a loss of opportunity for humans to interact with nature and a decline in ‘people’s positive

orientation toward engaging with nature’ as the causes of this extinction of experience.46 Linking this to Naess’s concept of the ecological self, the extinction of experience not only means a decline in human–nature interactions, but a decline in our ability to better understand the self and, consequently, to practise devotion to nature and self simultaneously. As demonstrated in Doyle’s text, home and place are becoming increasingly defined by a reliance on technology, which complicates the idea of technology as at odds with what is considered ‘natural’. Valera highlights how contemporary environmental philosophy is concerned with this distinction, arguing that the idea of the home and, consequently, our understanding of place cannot be separated from nature.47 Despite Max’s house being ‘flood-proof… fire-proof… [and] rape and pillage-proof’,48 his and his family’s daily immersion in various technologies remove them from the environmental disaster occurring around them. When Max’s apartment is partially destroyed by a storm, the technologies that may have saved him are rendered useless and Max admits that he is ‘not prepared for this’.49 While the technologies themselves may be prepared for environmental disaster, humans, clearly, are not. Max recognises that he is nowhere near as capable as a movie hero, who would ‘be able to jump [a car] over wide chasms and jammed drawbridges’50 to escape the ensuing disaster. In this context, the extinction of experience is not just concerning, it is life-threatening, suggesting that even in a world that may be technologically prepared for the climate crisis, humans and other inhabitants of the natural world are far from safe. The Island Will Sink is concerned with enacting a connection not simply to nature as the natural environment,51 but with a conception of nature that is inclusive of built environments—‘the sprawling wind farms and trailer lots’ that exist alongside the ‘manicured’52 native gardens of the city in which Max and his family reside, the human community on Pitcairn Island, and technologies, such as VR film, that illustrate the consequences of climate change for the viewer. David M. Markowitz et al. found that an immersive VR experience resulted in participants reporting more knowledge about or interest in ocean acidification

Naess, 229. Doyle, Island, 150. Robert Michael Pyle, The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993). 46 Masashi Soga and Kevin J Gaston, “Extinction of Experience: The Loss of Human-Nature Interactions,” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 14, no. 2 (2016): 964–101. 47 Valera, “Home, Ecological Self and Self-Realization: Understanding Asymmetrical Relationships through Arne Naess’s Ecosophy,” 664. 48 Doyle, Island, 8. 49 Ibid., 221. 50 Ibid., 226. 51 Steven Vogel, Thinking Like a Mall: Environmental Philosophy after the End of Nature (Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: The MIT Press, 2015), 2. 52 Doyle, Island, 35. 43 44 45

42 /

ACADEMIC relating to climate change, as well as pro-environmental behaviour change. Additionally, Susan Clayton et al. comment that Nature-based reality shows, documentaries, and streaming animal cameras create an experience of nature for many modern citizens while they are sitting in their homes; video games even allow people to virtually interact with nature.54 Just as Naess contends that the human self should not be at odds with nature, technology may lead to deeper and more nuanced understandings of how humans and non-humans coexist in their shared, natural surroundings. The problem arises when technology, as in Max’s world in The Island Will Sink, becomes one of the only ways to connect with nature, eclipsing real-life experience with nature. The character and associated imagery of ‘Pow-Pow the Power Saving Panda’,55 a pro-environmental Giant Panda mascot, provides Max’s daughter Lilly with an endless source of advice on how to uphold ‘EcoLaw’.56 Lilly is devoted to Pow-Pow and the messages he communicates, but the circumstances of Lilly’s relationship with this mascot also challenge the idea that devotion to pro-environmental technologies translates to devotion to the natural world and, in turn, to action on climate change. While Lilly reminds her family to ‘surrender all out-of-date appliances… and install tanks and distilleries’57 based on Pow-Pow’s advice, such actions appear minimal in the broader context of sinking islands. Significantly, Pow-Pow is also a corporate mascot58 and Lilly owns various forms of merchandise such as ‘a Pow-Pow solar night-light and a Pow-Pow ThermaFreeze cooling box’,59 suggesting that although she may be devoted to sustainable living, her daily interaction with Pow-Pow as a technology and icon of popular culture is what really drives her desire to follow his instructions. Rather than encouraging her to act in the interests of nature (as opposed to self-interest), these interactions prevent her from seeking a deeper connection to the natural world and enacting more meaningful action on climate change.

Lilly’s relationship with Pow-Pow may, on a surface level, connect her to nature through technology, but Pow-Pow does not offer any positive solutions for real nature engagement in a city with limited natural environments. In some ways, Pow-Pow symbolises a rejection of the local when it comes to the climate ­crisis—there is the suggestion that the panda is relevant to everyone. This imagined homogenisation of the world’s natural places speaks to the potentially damaging effects that such a rejection may have on local environments. Mirroring the real-life mascot of the World Wildlife Fund (also the Giant Panda),60 the irony of Pow-Pow’s prominence as an environmental warrior in a world greatly altered by climate change is significant. Advising Lilly to ‘sponsor an endangered animal today’,61 Pow-Pow represents a homogenisation of the extinction crisis through technology, symbolising a side-line issue within the larger eco-crisis narrative of the text. Andreas Kontoleon and Timothy Swanson suggest that the attention being paid to a flagship species creates disadvantages and does not necessarily lead to effective biodiversity conservation.62 Thoughts regarding climate change have arguably become synonymous with the imagery of particular, charismatic non-human species: polar bears clinging to the last, lonely ice sheet and pandas, already endangered, as a symbol for saving species worldwide. Stories about these animals are important, but these broader stories about flagship species such as polar bears and pandas fail to accurately depict the diverse and widespread impact on so many other ecological communities. The animals that children are exposed to in Doyle’s fictional future are not necessarily relevant to the climate plight in their own country, let alone their local area. This predicament is an example of Pyle’s ‘extinction of experience’, whereby people, especially children, are less connected to their local environment.63 However, even if more local species are used in climate-change messaging, will their significance always be depleted by their digital, rather than physical presence? The recurring figure of PowPow is satirical in this sense, used throughout the text as a warning of the disengagement caused by the overuse

David M. Markowitz et al., “Immersive Virtual Reality Field Trips Facilitate Learning about Climate Change,” Frontiers in Psychology 9, no. Nov (2018): 161–20. 54 Susan Clayton et al., “Transformation of Experience: Toward a New Relationship with Nature,” Conservation Letters 10, no. 5 (2017): 6485–51. 55 Doyle, Island, 4. 56 Ibid., 6. 57 Ibid., 6. 58 Ibid., 4. 59 Ibid., 5. 60 “History,” World Wildlife Fund, accessed June 4, 2019, 61 Doyle, Island, 5. 62 Andreas Kontoleon and Timothy Swanson, “The Willingness to Pay for Property Rights for the Giant Panda: Can a Charismatic Species Be an Instrument for Nature Conservation?,” Land Economics 79, no. 4 (2003): 497 63 Pyle, The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland. 53

/ 43

‘No Longer Any Distance Between Us’ of technology to connect people with endangered species and the natural world more broadly. The significance of Pow-Pow in the novel is comparable to the world’s focus on Pitcairn Island as it is overcome by rising sea levels. The sinking of the island, while confronting enough to evoke some sense of panic amongst the novel’s characters, is still not an event which is directly relevant to all people in this future setting. Similarly, the panda is not a relevant species to most people’s local ecosystems. Those who are aware

habitats like Pitcairn. The depiction of the audience’s extreme, visceral reaction to Max’s film represents a fundamental connection between the self and the destruction of the natural world—the destruction of one equals the destruction of the other. Doyle’s speculative novel implies that while narrative and entertainment technologies have great potential in this regard, they are also dangerous. As Dahlstrom and Ho suggest, there are ethical concerns regarding the use of narrative in this context,65 and an increased

‘Doyle’s novel evokes the knowledge that action on climate change comes too late in this near-future setting; the audience is so terrified by the film’s depicted catastrophe that they are unable to reconcile themselves with the rapidly approaching climate apocalypse.’ of the sinking of Pitcairn as it happens in Doyle’s novel are alert, but not yet alarmed, and the same could be said of children’s connections to Pow-Pow: he is a character that is broadly, but not locally, relatable. Pow-Pow also encourages his followers to earn ‘Panda Points’64 by reporting the non-ecofriendly behaviours of friends and family, suggesting that even in the dire context of this near-future world, the general public are still not taking climate disaster seriously. The fact that an icon like PowPow and the associated technology are still needed to combat anti-environmental sentiment alludes to a desperation within the environmental politics of Max’s reality. Pow-Pow’s purpose as a symbol of sustainability and environmental stewardship comes across as largely insignificant in a society that is failing to prevent the broader impacts of climate change.

A fictive solution to environmental apathy?

While empirical studies are currently examining the role of narrative in climate–science communication, there is still much to be said about the significance of speculative fiction in this context, especially regarding Australian texts. Doyle’s The Island Will Sink explores the potential of narrative and advanced entertainment technologies, and the roles they may play in stimulating more nuanced understandings of the natural world among audiences. In The Island Will Sink, the use of VR technology simulates the degeneration of natural

reliance on technology could result in a disconnect from nature and the ‘extinction of experience’. The Island Will Sink reveals how exposure to certain narratives—both the book itself and Max’s film—could become a solution for instigating action on climate change, albeit an ethically problematic mode of promoting empathy in audiences. Whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages depends on whether humankind can prevent the speculative, possible future of Doyle’s narrative in other ways first. • BIBLOGRAPHY Atwood, Margaret. In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination. New York: Virago, 2012. Berenguer, Jaime. “The Effect of Empathy in Proenvironmental Attitudes and Behaviors.” Environment and Behavior 39, no. 2 (2007): 269–83. Bradley, James. Clade. Melbourne: Hamish Hamilton, 2015. Chaturvedi, Sanjay, and Timothy Doyle. Climate Terror: A Critical Geopolitics of Climate Change. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. Clayton, Susan, Agathe Colléony, Pauline Conversy, Etienne Maclouf, Léo Martin, Ana-Cristina Torres, Minh-Xuan Truong, and Anne-Caroline Prévot. “Transformation of Experience: Toward a New Relationship with Nature.” Conservation

Doyle, Island, 6. Dahlstrom and Ho, “Ethical Considerations of Using Narrative to Communicate Science.”

64 65

44 /

ACADEMIC Letters 10, no. 5 (2017): 645–51. Dahlstrom, Michael F. “The Role of Causality in Information Acceptance in Narratives: An Example from Science Communication.” Communication Research 37, no. 6 (2010): 857–75. Dahlstrom, Michael F., and Shirley S. Ho. “Ethical Considerations of Using Narrative to Communicate Science.” Science Communication 34, no. 5 (2012): 592–617. Doyle, Briohny. The Island Will Sink. Melbourne: The Lifted Brow, 2016. Gill, R.B. “The Uses of Genre and the Classification of Speculative Fiction.” Mosaic: An Interdisciplinary Critical Journal 46, no. 2 (2013): 71–85. “History.” World Wildlife Fund. Accessed June 4, 2019. JD. “Briohny Doyle, The Island Will Sink.” The Saturday Paper, August 6, 2016. Jones, Michael D. “Cultural Characters and Climate Change: How Heroes Shape Our Perception of Climate Science.” Social Science Quarterly 95, no. 1 (2014): 1–39. Kellstedt, Paul M., Sammy Zahran, and Arnold Vedlitz. “Personal Efficacy, the Information Environment, and Attitudes toward Global Warming and Climate Change in the United States.” Risk Analysis: An International Journal 28, no. 1 (2008): 113–26. Kidd, D., and E. Castano. “Different Stories: How Levels of Familiarity with Literary and Genre Fiction Relate to Mentalizing.” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 11, no. 4 (2017): 474–86. Kidd, David Comer, and Emanuele Castano. “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind.” Science 342, no. 6156 (2013): 377–80. https://doi. org/10.1126/science.1239918. Kontoleon, Andreas, and Timothy Swanson. “The Willingness to Pay for Property Rights for the Giant Panda: Can a Charismatic Species Be an Instrument for Nature Conservation?” Land Economics 79, no. 4 (2003): 483–99. Markowitz, David M., Rob Laha, Brian P. Perone, Roy D. Pea, and Jeremy N. Bailenson. “Immersive Virtual Reality Field Trips Facilitate Learning about Climate Change.” Frontiers in Psychology 9, no. Nov (2018): 1–20. Marsh, Elizabeth J., Michelle L. Meade, and Henry L. Roediger. “Learning Facts from Fiction.” Journal of Memory and Language 49, no. 4 (2003): 519–36. McCright, Aaron M., Riley E. Dunlap, and Sandra T. Marquart-Pyatt. “Political Ideology and Views

about Climate Change in the European Union.” Environmental Politics 25, no. 2 (2016): 338–58. McKinnon, Catherine. Storyland. Sydney: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2017. Mills, Jennifer. Dyschronia. Sydney: Picador, 2018. Naess, Arne. Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. ———. “Self-Realization: An Ecological Approach to Being in the World.” In Deep Ecology for the Twenty-First Century, edited by G. Sessions, 225–39. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1995. Newman, Greg, et al. “The Future of Citizen Science: Emerging Technologies and Shifting Paradigms.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 10, no. 6 (2012): 298–304. Pahl, Sabine, and Judith Bauer. “Overcoming the Distance: Perspective Taking With Future Humans Improves Environmental Engagement.” Environment and Behavior 45, no. 2 (2013): 155–69. Pyle, Robert Michael. The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993. Richardson, Owen. “The Island Will Sink Review: Briohny Doyle’s Debut Novel Tackles an Ecodisaster.” The Sydney Morning Herald, August 26, 2016. Rigby, Kate. “Writing in the Anthropocene: Idle Chatter or Ecoprophetic Witness?” Australian Humanities Review 47, no. Nov (2009): 173–87. Soga, Masashi, and Kevin J Gaston. “Extinction of Experience: The Loss of Human-Nature Interactions.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 14, no. 2 (2016): 94–101. Sterman, John D., and Linda Booth Sweeney. “Understanding Public Complacency about Climate Change: Adults’ Mental Models of Climate Change Violate Conservation of Matter.” Climatic Change 80, no. 3–4 (2007): 213–38. Valera, Luca. “Home, Ecological Self and Self- Realization: Understanding Asymmetrical Relationships through Arne Naess’s Ecosophy.” Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics 31, no. 6 (2018): 661–75. Vogel, Steven. Thinking Like a Mall: Environmental Philosophy after the End of Nature. Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: The MIT Press, 2015. Wright, Alexis. The Swan Book. Artarmon: Giramondo Publishing Company, 2014.

/ 45

Rascal & Snapper By Joel Mak When the gym went dark the numbers went with it, but the LED blocks still burn my eyelids when I try to sleep at night. One hundred and thirty heartbeats per minute on level sixteen difficulty. I remember how Kru said that biking at level fifteen and below was for momos. He would get us to measure our pulses—anything lower than 135 and we’d be doing burpees. I don’t think I’ve been under 140 for weeks now. I didn’t feel like boxing that day, so I wasn’t on the mats. Prepping for weights, I warmed up on the treadmill and watched Kru take the 7am class through the paces. He’d already seen me not wrapping up. Giving me a fist bump and ruffling my hair, he said, ‘When you ready, momo.’ Something small pushed from within my throat. I nodded back, vowels unable to form. A couple of people we knew were in the mix. I watched Rach teaching a new girl how to meet a punch with her pads. You can always tell new recruits from the weathered. The new punch like giraffes, the old like gorillas. On my first day at Team Top Thai, Kru told me that pads weren’t shields. ‘You want a shield, go be an extra on 300. Tap back, momo. Tap. Back.’ I was curling into my memories, bringing up the snippets, finding my way to you when the stereo popped. It had been playing Kru’s fave: a mashup of Bronx rap and The Beatles. My pedalling met no resistance and my knee buckled, extended. Everybody stopped moving and looked up. George Harrison’s guitar would never weep again. • It doesn’t look like much now, especially after Jerry started that fire in the stretching area. In the daytime, the sun comes in through the double-glazed windows, giving the loft a dim glow, making us look like we’re walking vignettes. We flip through the reading material that we’ve pooled together—a messy collection of drugstore paperbacks, Men’s Health, A Feast For Dragons. We go for truncated walks, circling

46 /

around the ring, the machines, and the benches. We sit silently on medicine balls. We’re down to the last dredges of food from Kru’s reception desk. We yearn for greenery and hot food. The running water probably isn’t potable but we don’t have a choice. It’s that, or the vitamin water from the vending machine, which we cracked open with a fire extinguisher. Down the machine’s battered side, a sticker says ‘Next Service: 20/07/19’. We laugh at it, but it laughs right back at us. We eat protein, granola, and zero-sugar bars. Most things are in powder form and artificially sweetened. There are two cartons left of long-life milk. Flies dance above the trash cans of rotting banana peels, their fruit long devoured. I struggle to remember how I could skip rope, spar, stretch, finish on a hundred knees to a punching bag. I’ve noticed how the neck ache from doing nothing is different to the soreness of clinching practice. After I’m up the sun is already down, and I join the rest in collective despair. Instead of succumbing to the melatonin our bodies secrete, we contend with spiked levels of anxiety. Night time arouses more questions than the day. What’s happening? Will there be help? Where’s Kru? To stay sane, we swap stories, recalling how Kru beat us all at King of the Mountain. Or the time Kru slipped on a puddle of sweat while trying to demonstrate balance, spraining his big toe. The many occasions he would whack us on the head with a foam noodle if it looked like we weren’t concentrating. I fall into restless sleep on a purple yoga mat once belonging to a Kayden. I’ve never met the guy or girl. I have a towel for a blanket, my mind for company. In my dreams, I see you and sometimes it’s sweet. In one, we’re wrapping up each other’s hands, mixing up lefts and rights. I’m running around the ring with you hoisted on my shoulders, Kru shouting faster, quicker, you lazy-bum momos. We’re watching Khabib Nurmagomedov maul Conor McGregor on replay and your hand tightens its grip on my bicep as we just wait, wait, wait for ‘Notorious’ to tap out. •


Jerry snapped. He had been arguing with Big Dan. The softer Big Dan spoke, the louder Jerry got. When he realised we were looking at him, he stopped and addressed us, the last survivors of Kru’s lot. ‘Aren’t we going to do something? It’s been three weeks, you stupid shits! It’s fucking freezing in here!’ I can’t say I didn’t agree. The days were getting cold. And yet, doubt kills the fighter before the fight. He palmed the lighter as though lighting a cigarette in the wind. Intentionally or not, Jerry lit up his sweater. There were no fire extinguishers by that point. He dropped to the mats. It was a different type of scream to when he was chewing out Big Dan. Ants danced on my fingertips. Some of us walked away from the scene, fingers in ears. Big Dan remained seated on a bench, stroking his filling beard with his good hand, never taking his eyes off the fire. It went on forever. I thought of the time we went camping in the middle of nowhere. Once we got a fire started we realised we didn’t have enough wood for fuel. You volunteered to get some from other campers. On the way back, you were grinning like an elf, jogging on tiptoes, a log hidden under your hoodie. We grilled the sausages and lost a few marshmallows to the embers. I had to carry you into the tent, you drank the wine so fast. • I remember the seconds after the blackout. A faint hint of technology lingered in the air, like the plume of smoke after a candle’s been blown out. The fans in the vending machines purred asleep and the fruit freezer belched like a failing engine. Some things bid adieu with a snap, like ceiling lights, the dryers in the locker rooms, the telephone blinker on Kru’s desk. The boxers stood still, hands guarding their chin—Kru would make us do bicycle abs whenever we dropped them. I knew that he was annoyed at the interruption. He got out of the ring and huffed over to a television, punching the switch as though doing so would bring Ellen DeGeneres back to life. My tinnitus came and went in waves. Without the stereo, the gym was almost silent. I looked at my phone for answers and a distraction—it unlocked to the wallpaper of us. You always said my phone took better pictures. I wiped a speck of lint off your eyes. We were covered in notifications and reminders.

Seconds ticked along in the dim light. Kru went off to look for the switchboard, shouting that in Thailand, they trained in the open air, with mosquitoes, leeches, and dengue fever. ‘You momos are lucky sonsofguns with your ventilation and WiFi and shit.’ • I never told you this, but a friend of mine had said there would be hot chicks at Muay Thai class. What he didn’t say was that Muay Thai chicks like you could turn my neck into a pretzel—literally sweep me off my feet. He didn’t say that Muay Thai chicks give no fucks and have rainbow hair. Muay Thai chicks have got sharp knees and stares that wilt hard-ons. While light sparring, you punched my gloves and they bounced back into my face. You shrugged as if to say shit man, sorry, but the corner of your lips curved just a little. Embarrassed and looking to save face, I waved it off. The ten-ounce gloves I had borrowed from a bucket in the corner of the gym felt damp. Kru told me that he wanted me to smell them in my sleep. I was already drained after the warm-up, the kettle bell circuit, the combos, the kicking drills. My legs felt like they had been used as chopping boards. If I were never to feel my muscles again, I wanted to at least talk to you. After the final bell, we all bowed to each other. Chatting, I mentioned your karate stance. I discovered that your favourite fighter was Michelle ‘Karate Hottie’ Waterson. I watched the UFC religiously too. Maybe it made all the difference, maybe it made none. • The blue lights of our devices illuminated chins and furrowed brows. We looked like squirrels deciding on the next spot to run for cover. Rach came over to me and showed me pictures that filtered through before the last networks went down: a dark lecture hall, people stuck in a subway in between stations, blacked-out traffic lights. I told her that it was certainly strange. She bit her lip nervously. I wanted to soothe her, to tell her something funny. Instead, I thought of the social media accounts I no longer had access to. All I had was your face, your pictures, texts, smiley faces—whatever comprises the DNA of a relationship. A video of you singing happy birthday around our friends. Drafts upon drafts of emails. WiFi

/ 47

Rascal & Snapper

network names from our trips around the world, hoping for a network without a password because we were always so broke. We snapped to attention after Kru’s voice boomed from the corner of the gym. He said the switchboards were fucked. He was going to go check it out but everyone had to prepare to leave in the case of a long-term power outage. A minority complained. Kru held his hands up, demanding peace and order. He reminded everyone whose gym we were in. His blood, his sweat, his tears! He said that twice a day. You know how he is. He pushed the door open and left. Bowling balls for shoulders, a beer-nurtured gut, shins so shiny you know no leg kick was going to break them. • Big Dan was default deputy. Two-time regional Muay Thai champion, everyone in town knew about his elbows from the skies, tsunami knees, pythonesque clinch. The fire extinguisher looked like a baby in his arms before he sent it through a frosted window. Glass scraped his wrist. Red tree roots spread across his arm. I doubt you would have flinched. Not us, the couple who watched grapplers choking out kickboxers in pools of blood on Sunday afternoons. Frantic, we tried our phones again. A tumbler of water went around, more for nerves than thirst. We wanted an ambulance, the police, our families. We took turns looking down on the street through a fist–sized hole in the glass. The fire extinguisher had rolled to a halt by a pram. Empty parked cars had their hazard lights on. The windows of the cafe we frequented were smashed in. A few people were slumped over on the footpath like drunk men after a night out. Kru was not one of them. Someone wondered aloud if we should send another person out. This time, the choice of words was significant. To send someone implied that the rest of us would stay in the relative safety of Kru’s fortress. Big Dan grunted that either everyone went or nobody went. Kru would’ve said that too. He would’ve belted out, ‘We Team Top Thai you momos. You fight together, not alone! This not Ninja Warrior!’ It’s strange what pops into your head in moments of crisis. Your body’s on autopilot but your mind is elsewhere. Opening drawers for painkillers and iodine for

48 /

Big Dan, sweat pouring down my forehead, I saw you in the periphery. You reminded me to lift my head and to keep my chin up as you wiped over my eyes. I got a few peeks in. You had crow’s feet around the eyes. • Nothing would make Kru push me harder than after I won a fight. Congratulatory on the night, the next class I checked in to, he had me slinging the ropes for an eternity. Then I was doing sit-ups on a declined bench, getting jabbed in my abdomen every time I came up. He didn’t need to say a word. I grunted every time, careful to let him know I didn’t think I was a hero. Not yet, anyway. It was worth it just to sit against the gym’s wall, underneath posters and banners, brainstorming fighter names with you. Kru used to fight as ‘All Day’. Big Dan was ‘Zeus’. Team Top Thai had ‘The Dark Horse’, ‘Scalper’, ‘Wonder Woman’. You said you would never actually compete because part of you still didn’t want to get kicked in the face, but in another world you would have gone by ‘Snapper’. Our dust-coated, sticky toes touched. You told me about the first time you ever punched anyone. The girl had been talking shit in elementary school. You shoved her and got your ponytail yanked in return. All the way up to the principal it went, but your parents just praised you for standing your ground. Ever since then it was karate, judo, aikido, Krav Maga, the Science of Eight Limbs. It was something so simple. You sighed that those girls were the worst rascals, wrapping your arm around mine, head to my shoulder. Four weeks into this ordeal, that wall is still my spot. If I ever leave this place, I’ll pick a brick and engrave a memento for us on the wall: ‘Rascal’ and ‘Snapper’ were here. Kru probably wouldn’t mind anymore. • We put Big Dan in the men’s. It must’ve been a blood infection. The evening he left us, his arm was the size of a sledgehammer. All of us had heard, read, or watched something on TV about rotting corpses and the smell. There he was with his salt and pepper hair, a tank top, flared Muay Thai shorts, a kickboxing record of thirty-two to six. He used


to do the pre-fight traditional dance, the wai kru, which Kru had passed on. He was no longer that 220-pound chunk of muscle gracefully sliding around the ring. I was never blessed with that athleticism. You called me gangly. My game was all technique, sprinkled with the cliché called heart. It’s how I won three in a row, all of them via decision. I hit the canvas a few times but stood back up. My walkout should be that Chumbawumba song, the one about getting knocked down and getting back up again. • But you know how the story goes. Some days you wake up and you can stop a charging lion. Some days you want to hide in the shadows, a hood over your face, ignore the world. Kru yelled: combo, combo! Check, man, let’s go momo! All I could do was wait for the mother of all openings. You asked me this more than once: was I scared?

Instead, I left the cage slung around Kru’s shoulders, not knowing my name. You said my time would come, but I guess I’m still waiting. • We’re gathered in the stretching area. Someone imitates Kru, the way he would ask us if we were just idly waiting, not stretching: you want me to grow some tits and massage you momos? The delivery isn’t spot on, but everyone chuckles. If nothing else, it’s good for morale. They divide the supplies, stuffing Team Top Thai duffle bags with protein bars, bottles of water, things that could be used as weapons. Peeling away the poster which covered the hole Big Dan made, they look out the window. Heads poke out through feet of untouched snow. Wind sways the electric cables, whistling in the white sky. One of the guys who joined the gym the day it all came falling down comes up to me for a hug. ‘I saw you at Thai Risers 2018, man. Good luck.’

‘Bowling balls for shoulders, a beer-nurtured gut, shins so shiny you know no leg kick was going to break them.’ You recorded the fight and we analysed it to oblivion. Even now I play the event all the time, with all its possible permutations. Sleeping with my back to our wall, I can see you on the couch, arms out, hands facing the ceiling, unable to understand why I didn’t shoot, nine-five-nine, like we practiced so many times. Biscuit crumbs on the floor, we watched as I got kneed in the ribs three times in a row. The bell did its job and you slumped back into the couch, booing the television. You muttered something about an illegal shot and ran your hand through my hair. The best fans always manage to see past their favourite fighter’s weaknesses. I know I couldn’t even stand next to the ref for the hand raise, but in some edits, I walk into the ring and beat this Samoan who looks like he grew up where the robbers mug each other. In some versions, I get down on one knee after getting my fourth win. The crowd cheers you on to say yes.

I just nod back—I have memories of you at that fight. Before I can make my mind up about joining the group prayer, they start to shuffle toward the front door. Some weep, some are stoic. If this is a bad idea, nobody says it. I watch them leave from where I sit, leaning against our wall. I try to imagine you somewhere beyond that door, where we would have to go it alone, in a time we don’t understand. In my deepest wishes, everyone I love and believe in comes back. You. Kru. Big Dan. I sit, alone, and I see us in my living room. The TV is on and we’re snacking on popcorn. It could be any fight on any Sunday. It could be Michelle Waterson, Conor McGregor, or even me. The commentator Joe Rogan yells, ‘She’s hurt, she’s hurt! It’s all over!’ You jump around, waving your arms like an alarmed air traffic controller. The crowd goes wild. I don’t say a word, feeling something in my throat. It’s over, it’s all over. •

/ 49


Love in Aphasia By Nicole Melanson trees white ice icewhite sky awaygone mountain birds wings ice trees unsing quiet white snow mountain cold cold skydown mountain trees white sky white wings white white


you lighthot unwhite mountain whiteaway unsnow trees unsnow sky light light wings unwhite river blue river unwhite trees green oh green oh green treelight trees bluebright sing wings and sky and light

Art by Ilsa Harun / 55

‘It must be fidelity that drives Luke to show up at 7am every weekday, pay a day’s wages to speak to someone he can’t see and then go home to his parents’ place at night.’

Devotion to a Symptom Eloïse Mignon

Art by Matt Gold /57

Devotion to a Symptom

To Think and to Thank are in our language words of one and the same origin. Whoever follows their sense comes to the semantic field of ‘to remember’, ‘to be mindful’, ‘memory’, ‘devotion’. Paul Celan1 My friend Luke is devoted to psychoanalysis: he goes five mornings a week. A couple of years ago he sublet a room in our run-down house, the Verger’s Cottage of the parish of St. Mark’s Fitzroy, where we pay rent to the priest. Unless it was pouring with rain, Luke would jog to his analyst’s rooms on the other side of the CBD, do his session, and run back. I was usually waking up when he got home. From my perspective, Luke’s dual commitment to fitness and analysis was worthy of deep admiration, particularly in light of my own wavering attempts at both. He referred to his sessions as ‘seeing M.’, although he really only saw M. when they shook hands upon greeting and departing—for the rest of the session he saw only the eclectic bibelots of M.’s bookshelf, or at least that’s what Luke was seeing in my imagination. Witnessing Luke’s wholehearted commitment to psychoanalysis engendered my vicarious obsession with his treatment. The daily fifty-minute hours between Luke and M. banked up in my mind as an enigmatic substance that I was endlessly curious to explore. Luke was generous about it. When we’d make coffee and I’d ask ‘how was M. today?’, he would have an entertaining answer for me, a funny B plot I could grasp. There was the time he was intrigued by M.’s wife after he noticed a plaque outside the lift for another doctor with M.’s last name. When he finally got the guts to ask M. about her, M. replied that it was pure coincidence that another practitioner in the building shared his surname. This made us laugh. It’s really not so crazy to assume that a couple might rent office space in the same building. But in the singular context of the analytic relationship, where the analyst performs the ‘role of nonperson’, as Janet Malcolm puts it, a question like that can feel loaded, self-exposing.2 Luke’s subsequent theory was that M.’s wife worked in theatre, because M.admitted knowledge of a play Luke had performed in at the Melbourne Theatre Company. I agreed that this was probably true, or at least that I had also been convinced, during the period of my own sporadic and aborted analysis, that my analyst, coincidentally also called M., was attending my plays: watching me weep and sweat from the darkness.

The story of Luke’s I found most titillating was the one in which he arrived at the waiting room earlier than usual. As he recovered from his run, Luke glimpsed a woman emerging from M.’s office. He only saw her for a second and their eyes didn’t even meet, but he felt a stab of incensed rivalry and strong lust. He kept reiterating how shocked he’d been at the strength of his desire, considering she’d hurried across the room bowed over a bag, hair veiling her face. I made him tell me that story more than once. While Luke’s devotion to psychoanalysis has left a sincere impression on me, others in his entourage are bemused. At a dinner party his friend expressed her disbelief that Luke, an intermittently employed artist and labourer who is in his early forties, is spending his savings on psychoanalysis instead of putting down a deposit on an apartment. It’s true that since he began seeing M. Luke’s moved back in with his parents on and off, to a suburb a fair way up the freeway. In the first year of his analysis he met someone, but because she didn’t live in the same city as M., Luke didn’t commit to the relationship. I’ve noticed people look unsettled when he talks about his analysis. Five days a week is too much, he’s been told, it’s excessive, he’s obsessed. They worry he’s being taken advantage of, that M.’s leeching all his cash. These doubts aren’t that surprising. Skepticism about psychoanalysis is everywhere. Since the 1960s, a considerable faction of Anglo-American thought has committed itself to toppling Freud and revising his legacy, as detailed, among other places, in Janet Malcolm’s Freud Archives (1984). Theories prevailing in the field of psychology since the eighties submit that taking time to explore the unconscious ‘is not as effective in restoring mental health’ as practices in which thoughts are challenged (as with cognitive behavioural therapy), wilfully ignored (as with mindfulness therapies) or muted (as with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Alongside the instruction of popular mindfulness podcaster Tara Brach that negative thinking be visualised as just another wave in the ocean, the idea of committing to a praxis that works to slowly uncover and examine submerged material seems inconvenient, even outré. Luke

1 Cited from Paul Celan, Der Meridian und andere Prosa. (Frankfurt, 1990), in Anne Carson, Economy of the Unlost (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999) p.41 2 See Malcolm’s essay here:

58 /


said that besides the money, psychoanalysis’ murky timeframe is what people find most difficult to accept. Freud writes in ‘“Wild” Psycho-Analysis’ (1910) that ‘(p)sychoanalytic intervention … absolutely requires a fairly long period of contact with the patient’.3 How long is fairly long? Luke’s father, even in the first few weeks of Luke seeing M., constantly raised the question of when he would stop. A friend repeatedly asked, ‘what’s your exit strategy?’ In a 1984 essay Malcolm mentions that the average length of an analysis has stretched out to ten years. Luke’s done five so far. In the same piece, she describes the psychoanalytic institution as a ‘sagging and peeling mansion’.4 It’s sagged further since.5 The determined overthrow of Freud’s authority can be identified through the lens of what Jean-François Lyotard defined in 1979 as the ‘incredulity toward metanarratives’ that structures the postmodern condition.6 If psychoanalysis emerged in the first place as the symptom of a crisis of faith—‘modern man’, Lacan says in his ‘Discourse to Catholics’, ‘is the one for whom God is dead’—these days, it is among the discourses dispelled by the faithless.7 Postmodern man is the one for whom God and Freud are dead, and alongside them the sense that believing in anything other than owning your own property in a city where median rents are over 30 per cent of average wages might be a reasonable belief. Indeed, as far as Luke’s friend at the dinner party was concerned, it is not hard to suppose that, (and especially in light of Melbourne’s current real estate climate), most people, given the choice, would have bought the apartment instead of doing the analysis, even if they then had to live with themselves. Funnily enough, during their pre–couch consultation sessions, M. made a real estate analogy. Committing to psychoanalysis, he said, is like renting a house. ‘Whether you sleep in the house or not is up to you. Whether you come to the session or not is up to you. But you pay the rent.’ In regard to Luke’s friend’s unease about Luke squandering his deposit, this analogy is apt.

Luke’s decision to devote himself to psychoanalysis has meant not only that he has sacrificed home ownership, but also that he has made a pact with an unforgiving landlord to pay rent for an indeterminate amount of time. There was no hiatus from fees when Luke went to Bali with a new girlfriend, nor to Europe for a tour with a play: M. told Luke that letting him off the hook would amount to colluding with the part of him that remained resistant to the work of analysis. Because he was paying, Luke skyped M. for their sessions, but told me that it never felt the same. Owning a home is a symbol of independence, a status privileged by our tax system. Conversely, living with your parents makes you their tax-deductible ‘dependant’. The financial and emotional resonances of these terms can slide into opacity. For Luke’s dad, Luke’s renewed dependency on them was a result of his overdependency on M. He’d say, ‘I just think you should be able to stand on your own two feet.’ Initially, Luke took his father’s concern on board. He found it troubling when it was hard to cope with the breaks from analysis over the weekend or during M.’s holidays. Dependency on pretty much anything, but especially on other people, is viewed unfavourably by our society; dependency on something like psychoanalysis, where the ‘outcomes’ remain elusive, especially so. One of Luke’s favourite writers on psychoanalysis, Adam Phillips, expresses the unquantifiable character of its value like this: ‘If you buy a fridge, there are certain things you will be guaranteed. If you buy a psychoanalysis, you won’t be.’8 Phillips holds the opinion that today’s ‘extreme scepticism’ about psychoanalysis is a good thing, indeed ‘the best thing that could have happened to psychoanalysis, because it means there is now no prestige in it, no glamour, no money’. He adds, ‘I hope that the disaffection with it … will free people to work out what it is’. To Luke, Phillips’s faith that the prevailing lack of faith in the psychoanalytic institution will ultimately

3 Freud, Sigmund. “‘Wild’ psycho-analysis.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XI (1910): Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Leonardo da Vinci and Other Works. 1957. 219-228. 4 See Malcolm’s essay here: 5 See this article in The New Yorker by Louis Menaud, which reviews a book by Frederick Crews, who consolidates a century of anti-Freud revisionism in his book Freud: the Making of an Illusion (2017) 6 See this entry on Lyotard in the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy See also Alain Badiou on Freud as a figure felled by ‘contemporary obscurantism’, alongside Marx and Darwin, here: 7 Lacan, Jacques. The Triumph of Religion preceded by Discourse to Catholics. Trans. Bruce Fink. (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2013). 8 See this interview with Phillips in The Paris Review: 9 See this article by John Gray in prospect magazine”

/ 59

Devotion to a Symptom

spur it toward self-inquiry and prove nourishing to it as a thought process is consoling. He mentioned to me another contemporary defender of Freud, political philosopher John Gray, who writes that Freud’s last book, Moses and Monotheism (1937), recognises that Freud’s own discovery of the unconscious ‘owed its existence to faith’ as well as to scientific method.9 That is to say, it was ancient Jewish belief in an unseen God which ‘encouraged inquiry into what lay behind the world that is disclosed to the senses’, and so prepared the ground for Freud’s rational inquiry into his hunch that there may be more than what there appears to be. When Luke told me about Gray he misquoted him, saying psychoanalysis is an act of faith. I guess it’s a slip that speaks to his experience. It must be fidelity that drives Luke to show up at 7am every weekday, pay a day’s wages to speak to someone he can’t see and then go home to his parents’ place at night. In a way, the idea of maintaining faith in a process, which as Phillips points out, offers no tangible guarantees, fuelled some of last century’s critiques of psychoanalysis, some of which accused its discourse of wilful obscurity.10 At a 1974 press conference, someone said to Lacan, ‘your Écrits are very obscure and difficult. Someone who wants to figure out their own problems by reading them is left profoundly unsettled.’ The longing for graspable meaning in this latter comment is a longing that probably inhabits most of us. It’s possible that this question spurred the invention of the self-help genre, which definitely does better at explaining to people the meaning of their own problems than Lacan’s Écrits. But Luke told me that his devotion to analysis has slowly generated a parallel faith in himself and in his own capacity to decide on the worth of continuing with it, despite all odds. In the epigraph to this essay, Paul Celan is talking about the German language, where the words ‘think’ and ‘devotion’ belong to the same semantic field. But in English, too, it is possible to understand Luke’s devotion to psychoanalysis as rooted in a commitment to thought. • The stories Luke told me from his childhood were so funny, but also so ordinary, that for a time I was convinced we should make an art installation of Luke recounting episodes from his suburban upbringing. For me, someone who has foreign parents and possibly more

of an anthropological fascination with ‘mainstream’ settler Australia than most other Melbourne-born people do—Luke’s stories invented a genre where the suburbs are exploding with insanity, where neighbours scream ‘Fuck up and die, cunt!’ at kids playing backyard cricket. The names are amazing. Rocky LaBosco. Darren Shine. Loretta Shine. The Kenyan, who was a white guy but a really fast runner. Glen Hatfield, who Luke’s friend was going to beat up but then didn’t, ‘cause he had sunburnt legs. Going to mass, hanging around the primary school and the Caltex with nunchuks and knives. One kid went around selling SS cricket bats for $20, but Luke and his friends later figured out his mum was buying them from Kmart and polishing them up. Some of the stories were tragic, though. Luke told me about a young guy called Mozzie, who stood up while riding his motorcycle and dashed his brains out on a branch. In the aftermath of his death, primary school–aged Luke saw Damo Shine knifing a Devondale butter packet and understood grief. As Luke told me more about his family, who are originally Catholic, I couldn’t help but make links between his self-described fidelity to psychoanalysis and various devotional behaviours of which his ­brothers have undertaken. His middle brother has also undergone analysis, though Jungian, and consults shamans. The youngest one lived in a monastery for years. One day at St. Mark’s, as I tried to extract juice about his session with M., Luke told me that their father was a survivor of abuse by a priest. Luke was sixteen when his dad told his sons what had happened. The priest was in court, and Luke’s dad was worried he might be named in the news as a victim—he didn’t want his kids to find out that way. Luke said he’s not sure his dad would ever have told them otherwise: he didn’t think his experience should affect his kids, didn’t presume that it would have any bearing on them. But Luke describes their home as a pressure cooker. I remembered that image because often my home life felt exactly the same. I looked up what Lacan had to say about the Catholic Church. During that press conference he faced questions about psychoanalysis’ presumed proximity to, or supposed substitution for, religious faith.11 Some of his answers are weary. To the journalist who asks, ‘Do you think that people now go to a psychoanalyst like they used to go to their confessor?’ Lacan remarks, ‘I guess someone had to ask that question.’ One of his more intriguing predictions, as summed up in the blurb by

See, for example, the novels of French writer Boris Vian, especially his last book L’arrache-coeur (1953) All citations from Lacan, Jacques. The Triumph of Religion preceded by Discourse to Catholics. Trans. Bruce Fink. (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2013).

10 11

60 /

NONFICTION Jacques-Alain Miller, is that ‘the true religion, Roman Catholicism, would take in everyone in the end, pouring bucketsful of meaning over the ever more insistent and unbearable real that we, in our times, owe to science.’12 Lacan describes psychoanalysis as a ‘symptom’ of a particular epoch, arising ‘correlative to a major step, to a certain step forward made by scientific discourse’. For Lacan, the capacity for religion to soak any unknowns that may emerge through scientific processes in meaning is too great to be overcome. The symptom itself, psychoanalysis, will not manage to escape: ‘By drowning the symptom in meaning, in religious meaning naturally, people will manage to repress it.’ Looking at Lacan’s prediction with Luke and his father in mind, it is possible to suggest that if religion had been triumphant enough in the first place, psychoanalysis may never have appeared as a symptom at all. But, as M. once said to Luke, the damage has been done.

with psychoanalysis? Luke agreed that the tone of what I’d written didn’t reflect his experience at all, though he didn’t mind that I’d given it a try. He said that he feels more compassion for people since starting analysis, and listens more to what they’re saying. He described the process with a string of words including ‘harrowing’, ‘arduous’, and ‘intense’. I looked at him as we sat on the same stair with our boxes of cold rice, and saw he was serious. I realised in the same moment that I had wanted him to admire my essay, which used his devotion to psychoanalysis for its topic, and the silliness and egoism of that settled over me. The only excuse I have is that I believe in what Luke is doing. It’s unsettling to confront holes in the narratives we’re entwined with (family, church, father), and even more unsettling to consider the idea that others might give up pretending they can’t see the holes too. Luke said that he was partly inspired to take up psychoanalysis because of a conversation we once had when I

‘A friend repeatedly asked, “what’s your exit strategy?” In a 1984 essay Malcolm mentions that the average length of an analysis has stretched out to ten years. Luke’s done five so far. In the same piece, she describes the psychoanalytic institution as a “sagging and peeling mansion”. It’s sagged further since.’ I gave Luke this essay to read so that he could okay what I’d written about him and his family. ‘Eloise,’ he said, as we stood in line at the sake bistro in Union House, ‘I had to look up the word “bibelot”’. He told me that my ideas about his analysis were at a distance from reality. M.’s office doesn’t contain any bibelots, rugs, books or artefacts; Luke lies on a fold-out couch and stares at a foam ceiling. They don’t shake hands. He said he never jogged to his ­sessions when we lived together—more like walked—but that nowadays, when he drives to M.’s from his parents’ place, he does sometimes park the car at an oval and do chin-ups on a bar coming off the back of a rugby post. When he saw the woman, M.’s other patient, it wasn’t because he’d arrived early but because she’d forgotten something and was readmitted to the waiting room. He granted that I hadn’t misrepresented that moment’s erotic charge. I started to feel ridiculous. How could I presume to write about someone else’s experience

was seeing my M., who I never properly committed to. I went to Sydney to do a play, told M. I’d call him when I was back, but didn’t. Now I’m in grief counselling because my brother died, and after every session on the drive home I think maybe I’ll call M. and see if he’ll take me back. But every week I go back to the counsellor and get a quick fix. She tells me to cut out wheat and start running again, maybe listen to a mindfulness podcast. I suppose her advice comes down to ‘don’t think about it too hard’. I pay rent to the priest, and sometimes he blesses me. But Luke hasn’t capitulated to the view that nothing is worth thinking about all that much. Every day he recommits to a process that could allow him a sliver more autonomy in deciding the meaning of the holes in his own life, or how to think about what meaning is, anyway. What his friends might think, or write, is their own problem, or maybe their own symptom. •

Miller, Jacques-Alain. Cited from the blurb on the back of Lacan’s aforementioned book.


Art by Alexandra Burns / 61

‘Things that Quicken the Heart’: Intimacy in the Foreign Metropolis in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. By David Fenderson Chris Marker—filmmaker, writer, artist—was devoted to representing the world around him. His work demonstrates an acute understanding of the complexity of other people and cultures, and an ethically motived consciousness around how that complexity is represented in the text. Early in his career Marker wrote: ‘people exist with their complexity, their own consistency, their own personal opacity and one has absolutely no right to reduce them to what you want them to be’.1 This awareness of the problematic potential to simplify or obscure subject matter in the process of representing it emerges most palpably in Marker’s work as the artistic voice reflexively charts its encounter with the other and the elsewhere. Marker’s seminal essay film Sans Soleil (1983) is a sprawling, lyrical, genre-bending meditation upon memory, time, history, politics, place, ethnography, and representation, and stands (alongside La Jetée [1962]) as the best-known work of the French filmmaker, who remained innovative and prolific from the 1950s until his death in 2012.2 Sans Soleil vividly grapples with the process of gleaning something from, and saying something about, a wide outside world via its journeys across time and space: it gestures constantly to the past; it sweeps across histories and speculates futures; and it moves between an extensive range of geographies including Japan, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Iceland and San Francisco. But Japan, and principally Tokyo, constitutes the focal point for much of the film, and—in a highly peripatetic text—most closely resembles a geographic point of return. In this article I chart Sans Soleil’s manoeuvres through the myriad cultural and physical topographies of Tokyo as a means of unpacking the highly distinctive nature of Marker’s representational entanglements with the outside world. Marker’s portrait of Tokyo comprises a vibrant and contrasting assemblage of places, events, practices, and experiences, but across the diversity of this material Sans Soleil achieves a

consistent and particular sense of intimacy onto subject matter.3 As my article explores, this can be explained by the distinctive quality of attention to and reflection upon the world encountered and refracted through the text that Sans Soleil—and much of Marker’s work—­ demonstrates. Sans Soleil exhibits Marker’s devotion to the act of representing others and otherness, legible in his assiduous consideration of particularity and detail, and an intertwining attempt to trace the shadows of what lies beyond representation. Marker viewed documentary representation as an indelibly subjective act, but despite his repeated, inventive methods of highlighting the distortions and limitations of his own lens, and the highly lyrical nature of his filmic voice, his films seem to say something striking, relevant and meaningful about the worlds they open onto—a quality that I map in Sans Soleil’s Tokyo. Focusing my analysis of Sans Soleil around its representation of Tokyo is pragmatic—providing substantive analysis of other geographies would require a much longer article—but also conceptually relevant: while the claims I make about the film’s intimacy onto subject are not aimed solely at the Tokyo content alone, there is a specific, heightened intimacy in the way this film focuses on and returns to Tokyo in the context of a broader arc of trans-continental displacement. • Over the course of his career, Marker documented an impressive scope of places. He made films in Siberia (Lettre de Sibérie), Cuba (Cuba, Si!), China (Dimanche à Pekin), and Israel (Description d’un combat), to name a few. These early travelogues were made between 1956 and 1961, at a time when such places were (at least to a European audience) less represented, less photographed, less near than they seem today. Yet, as Marker understood, they were rapidly becoming closer. ­Marker’s interest in mapping a shrinking world was

Chris Marker quoted in Catherine Lupton, Chris Marker: Memories of the Future (London: Reaktion Books, 2005), 85. Sans Soleil, directed by Chris Marker (France: Argos Films, 1983), DVD. Marker oversaw the production of four different versions of Sans Soleil, with commentary in French, English, Japanese, and German respectively. Marker was fluent in English, having worked as a translator early in his career, and—although I have not come across any information about this—certainly would have translated the English text himself. 3 I use this construction—’intimacy onto subject matter’, as opposed to ‘intimacy with’—to signal that (as I expand upon below) the intimacy of Sans Soleil is not a reciprocal one: the filmmaker maintains a position of outsider observer. 1 2

62 /

ACADEMIC apparent before he made his first film, when he worked as editor of the Petite Planète journal series.4 Each edition of Petite Planète documents a country through the playful juxtaposition of images and text; Catherine ­Lupton describes the series as intended to function as ‘user manuals for life on a small planet’.5 As she writes (also quoting Marker’s own commentary): A potent sense of the prospective disorientation of world travel informs Marker’s announcement of the Petite Planète series … he pinpoints a growing sense that the post-war world has come within reach as never before, but that as a subjective experience this prospect of increased access seems confusing and elusive: “we see the world escape us at the same time as we become more aware of our links with it”.6 For Marker, the contradiction between access and elusiveness proves fertile, and intersects with complex questions about the process of representing the world through film. What does it mean to document somewhere, and for that necessarily selective representation to constitute a narrative of culture and place? What does it mean that in capturing the world through film and photography, the ultimate vastness and complexity of that world is made more, not less, present? Such questions run through Marker’s body of work, and ­perhaps most saliently through Sans Soleil. • The intimacy of Sans Soleil is complex: it has as its obverse markers of distance, through which it is diluted, but also charged. Marker compellingly attends to the presentness of the person or place in front of us on the screen, but this is also a film preoccupied with

transience and loss. Over the course of its wanderings around the world, Sans Soleil ruminates on the relentless passage of time and the irretrievability of things past, the vicissitudes of memory and all it mis-­ remembers and forgets, and the maddening aporia of the image, which in its very power to capture something of the world, presents an elusive window onto an ‘already inaccessible reality’.7 The obsessiveness with which Sans Soleil contemplates the limitations and contradictions of memory and images suffuses this film with a ‘melancholy whose colour’ betokens distance and irreparability.8 As Nadine Boljkovac suggests, ‘Sans Soleil sensorily evokes a melancholy whose disembodied wounds bespeak the loss of actual limits and survival of virtual remains … [it] unearths the untranslatable and impermanent, that invisible between or “poignancy of things.”’9 The sense of impermanence and pathos in the film’s reflections on memory, time and images is in turn heightened by the momentum with which it jumps from subject to subject and country to country. As Lupton describes, ‘the content of the images that pass by so swiftly is marked by transience, the sense of time passing … People constantly move through and beyond the frame, the sun sets, rain falls, things decay or are destroyed.’10 And so there is a tension between the sense of closeness the film establishes onto subject matter within even a one-minute scene, and the sense that each subject, each image, is only an ephemeral stopover on the way to something or somewhere else. The commentary in Sans Soleil is narrated by an unidentified female reader and structured via the epistolary conceit of letters written to this woman by a travelling cameraman, identified in the film’s closing credits as ‘Sandor Krasna’11 I agree with Stella Bruzzi’s view that the film actively ‘problematises … notions of centralisation’ between these various persona, and with Lupton’s suggestion that its ‘refusal to anchor being and identity

Chris Marker, Petite Planète (Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1954). Lupton, Chris Marker, 44. 6 Ibid., 44. 7 Marker, Sans Soleil, 0:42:10. Towards the end of Sans Soleil, Marker introduces a solution to the problem of the image: the zone. In the zone, images we have seen earlier in the film are distorted via an image synthesiser into depthless shapes of superimposed colour—transfigured so as to wear the signs of their own representational limitations—and so ‘freed of the lie that had prolonged the existence of those moments swallowed by the spiral’ (1:38:00). This is a reference to the spiral of time in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which Sans Soleil meditates on via footage of San Francisco. 8 Marker, Sans Soleil, 0:29:00. The reference to a ‘melancholy colour’ in Sans Soleil makes me think of Rebecca Solnit’s writing on “the blue of distance” in A Field Guide to Getting Lost (New York: Penguin Books, 2005). She writes: “...the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost... The colour of that distance is the colour of an emotion, the colour of solitude and of desire, the colour of there seen from here, the colour of where you are not...Blue is the colour of longing for the distances you never arrive in...’, 29-30. 9 Nadine Boljkovac, Untimely Affects: Gilles Deleuze and an Ethics of Cinema (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), 113. 10 Catherine Lupton, “The Exile of Remembering: Movement and Memory in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil”, In Culture of Exile: Images of Displacement, ed. Wendy Everett and Peter Wagstaff (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2008), 37. 11 Marker used a silent 16mm Bolex camera. See: Chris Marker, Letter to Theresa–Behind the veils of Sans Soleil. Year unknown. Accessed online at: (Last date accessed: 01/08/2019). 4 5

/ 63

‘Things that Quicken the Heart’ in visible bodies and defined characters’ results in the projection of ‘a kind of global, disembodied consciousness’—or as Boljkovac puts it, ‘an ethereal, otherworldly sensory quality that exceeds any individualised perspective or place’.12 These sentiments perfectly articulate the sense in which the film inhabits multiple positions and ways of looking simultaneously—and yet, despite this diffuseness, the film’s subjectivity nevertheless feels incredibly present, a claim supported by Lupton’s observation that ‘the experience of a self addressing us in Sans Soleil is intimate and immediate.’13 This apparent tension between intimacy and removal in the way the film addresses the audience is also evident in how it represents Tokyo. • Early in Sans Soleil, against archival footage of longrange missiles and military aircraft in flight, we are told of the eleventh-century Japanese author Sei ­Shonagon’s idea for a ‘list of things that quicken the heart’, of which the filmmaker remarks: ‘not a bad criterion I realise when I’m filming; I bow to the economic miracle, but what I want to show you are the neighbourhood celebrations.’14 The economic miracle is Japan’s rapid rise from post-WWII devastation to the world’s second largest economy by 1967, but this miracle and its plethora of symbols constitutes the least remarkable aspect of Marker’s representation of Japan’s largest city. This is a Tokyo familiar to the outside world: the immense metropolis, the technological playground, the city of the future. Marker’s preoccupation with ‘the neighbourhood celebrations’, which we are subsequently shown via an extended, immersive sequence of footage—sans commentary—of a traditional Tokyo dance festival, heralds his intention to represent the city beyond the techno-economic miracle, and beyond what is later alluded to as ‘the cheapest image of Tokyo: overcrowded, megalomaniac, inhuman’.15 Marker’s refusal of a ‘cheap’ portrayal of Tokyo can be understood in part through his devoted pursual of, and rumination upon, marginal histories

and details that transcend hegemonic images or narratives of Tokyo, and Japan, as place. A portion of the critical literature on the representation of Tokyo in Sans Soleil frames it primarily as a space of futuristic spectacle. Scott Bukatman contends that Marker’s relation to the city is one of ‘disorientation’, which ‘coupled with the high-technology compactness of this urban environment, creates the effect of a futuristic alienation’; the city figures as ‘pure spectacle’.16 Stephen Barber likewise describes Marker’s Tokyo as dominated by images, mediascapes, and ­oneiric formations, a vision partly analogous to Catherine Russell’s, who suggests that in Marker’s optic, ‘“Japan” is depicted solely through images of Tokyo crowds, surviving high technology through the maintenance and adaptation of ritual practices’.17 But Russell’s reference to ritual practices here alludes to another side of Marker’s engagement with the city, elaborated when she notes: ‘In Japan, Marker finds a culture in which an ancient aesthetic of transience, of “the impermanence of things”, is fused with rapid modernisation’.18 The collocation of tradition and modernity is an important aspect of the depiction of Tokyo in Sans Soleil. At one point we hear: ‘at nightfall the megalopolis breaks down into villages … Each district of Tokyo once again becomes a tidy ingenuous little town, nestling amongst the skyscrapers’.19 But what makes the presentation of Tokyo in this film distinctive is the quality of engagement practised in relation to the physical and social spaces that exist beyond such polarities. Kaja Silverman alludes to this quality in her suggestion that Sans Soleil orients towards the ‘incidental’ details, as opposed to the dominant ‘tropes’, of Japanese culture, and that through this attention to detail ‘“Japan” ceases to be an alien other which must be colonised, exoticised, or phobically repelled, and becomes the thrilling prospect of another set of cultural possibilities’.20 A corresponding view is put forth by Jacqueline Dutton, who suggests that in Sans Soleil Marker rejects ‘essentialised images of places, privileging the people and politics connected to the places that give it meaning and memories’, and by Boljkovac who claims: ‘Sans Soleil traces the

Bruzzi, Stella. New Documentary: A Critical Introduction (London: Routledge, 2000) 60; Lupton, Chris Marker, 156. Lupton, “The Exile of Remembering”, 38. Marker describes Sei Shonagon as ‘a lady in waiting to Princess Sadako at the beginning of the 11th century’. Shonagon is well known as the author of The Pillow Book, from which this list is taken. 15 Marker, Sans Soleil, 0:53:50. 16 Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993), 25-26. 17 Stephen Barber, Projected Cities: Cinema and Urban Space (London: Reaktion Books, 2002), 113-114; Catherine Russell, Experimental Ethnography (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1999), 304. 18 Russell, Experimental Ethnography, 308. 19 Marker, Sans Soleil, 0:19:20. 20 Kaja Silverman, The Threshold of the Visible World (London: Routledge, 1996), 191-192. 12 13 14

64 /

ACADEMIC frontiers of our globe with an eye seemingly attuned to the exuberant, yet more evocative of the minute’.21Such sentiments are echoed in Lupton’s statement apropos Marker’s travelogues more broadly, that he ‘seeks out the fugitive signs, embedded in the texture and habits of everyday life, that reveal how nations and cultures organise and express themselves.’22 It is with this quality of engagement with other cultures and places in mind that I trace the highly percipient and intimising (to bring close; to make intimate) quality of the representation of Tokyo in Sans Soleil. An early sequence in Sans Soleil depicts Krasna’s ‘reunion’ with Tokyo and prefigures the sense of fascination that marks the film’s encounter with the city. Against images of favourite landmarks, and a montage of quick cuts of the city’s abundant sights and sounds, the narrator states: Like a cat who has come home from vacation in his basket and immediately starts to inspect familiar places, he ran off to see if everything was where it should be: the Ginza owl, the Shimbashi locomotive, the temple of the fox at the top of the Mitsukoshi department store … Everything interested him. He who didn’t give a damn if the Dodgers won the pennant or about the results of the Daily Double asked feverishly how Chiyonofuji had done in the last sumo tournament … These simple joys he had never felt: of returning to a country, a house, a family home. But twelve million anonymous inhabitants could supply him with them.23 It is interesting how Krasna’s sense of being at home is here linked to his status as a foreigner.24 This outsider’s traversal of a teeming urban space, in which ‘everything’ is of interest, evokes the image of the flâneur, who locates a kind of parasitic creative power from the detatched vantage point of the anonymous observer. As Charles Baudelaire wrote: [It] is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be

away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world.25 Baudelaire’s erotics of immersion among the multitudes is an inescapable reference point for Marker’s capacity to establish a sense of grounding and orientation within the foreign city. But Marker’s engagement with Tokyo departs from the flâneur’s self-centredness via an ethic of responsiveness—and responsibility—to the outside world. The subjectivity in Sans Soleil does not assume to be ‘at the centre of the world’; it meets the foreign city with a strong sense of imagination, but it does so with a quality of thoughtful consideration that draws objects of representation into a relation of intimacy. One way in which Sans Soleil achieves this is through its attention to Tokyo’s sites—and sights—of the fascinating, amusing, wonderful, endearing and strange. This includes the street-side cook, Mr Yamada, who ‘possessed in his humble way the essence of style’, and who, ‘by watching carefully his gestures and his way of mixing ingredients, one could meditate usefully on certain fundamental concepts common to painting, philosophy, and karate’.26 Clearly this description is playful, but it also simply brings out—without overshadowing—the gracefulness of Mr Yamada’s actions we see on screen. Marker’s commentary here leaves room for both subject and filmmaker, allowing each to sit in a relation of independent but productive association with the other—in the same way, perhaps, that this notion of ‘fundamental concepts’ between these disciplines seems to impart onto each a superjacent property of technique or form. It also includes the youth—the ­‘Takenoko’—Krasna watches dance ‘every Sunday in the park at Yoyogi’. Against an extended section of footage of these dancers Marker muses: ‘they are baby Martians … I can spend a whole afternoon contemplating the little Takenoko girl who is learning—no doubt for the first time—the customs of her planet.’27 The quality of observation here is whimsical (why ‘baby Martians’, I wonder?), but befitting of the curiosity with which the attentive outsider (the passer-by, the filmmaker, the viewer) encounters the beautiful difference of these images of a subculture in singular movement. Tokyo’s

Jacqueline Dutton, “Not Another Road Movie: Alternative Utopias of Travel in Sans Soleil (1982) and Sansa (2003)”, Motion Pictures: Travel Ideals in Film, eds. Gemma Blackwood and Andrew McGregor (Bern: Peter Lang, 2016) 63; Boljkovac, Untimely Affects, 121. 22 Lupton, Chris Marker, 43. (Emphasis added.) 23 Marker, Sans Soleil, 0:16:00. 24 Lupton, “The Exile of Remembering”, 35. Note the references to baseball in this passage, which imply America to be Krasna’s shunned home country; the French version instead makes references to a French soccer player. 25 Quoted in Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, trans. and ed. by Jonathan Mayne (New York: Da Capo Press, 1964), 9. 26 Marker, Sans Soleil, 0:20:10. 27 Ibid., 0:45:40. 21

/ 65

‘Things that Quicken the Heart’

See note 28

66 /

ACADEMIC memorial animals provide a similarly specific and offbeat form of observational landmarking. We see the statue of Hachiko the dog at Shibuya Station, dedicated to the dog who waited there for their owner long after their owner had died, and ‘in front of which sushi and rice cakes are still placed so that the faithful soul of Hachiko will never go hungry’.29 We visit the Temple of the Fox (‘invaded by little girls and rock singers’), the Ginza owl, the Mitsukoshi lion. At one point we hear: ‘Tokyo is full of these tiny legends, and of mediating animals.’30 Animals make further appearances as part of another motif that criss-crosses Sans Soleil’s mapping of the city: representations of ritual and commemoration. At the start of the film we visit a temple in the Tokyo suburb of Gotokuji that features hundreds of ceramic cats, each left by a different owner as a means of honouring the memory of a pet, lost or deceased. Against the beautiful footage of this temple we hear: I wish I could convey to you the simplicity—the lack of affectation—of this couple who had come to place an inscribed wooden slat in the cat cemetery so their cat Tora would be protected. No, she wasn’t dead, only run away. But on the day of her death no one would know how to pray for her, how to intercede with death so that he would call her by her right name. So, they had to come there, both of them, under the rain, to perform the rite that would repair the web of time where it had been broken.31 Marker’s description here bespeaks a quality of reverence that complements the event we witness without overpowering or reducing it; lyricism coupled with deference. At another point we see footage of a ceremony held each year at the Ueno zoo for the animals that have died over the course of the year. Here we are told the death of a panda was ‘more irreparable … than the death of the prime minister that took place at the same time …’32 In Tokyo, Marker finds ceremonies for everything: ceremonies for ‘brushes, abacuses, and even for rusty needles’; ceremonies prior to the construction of a ‘factory or a skyscraper’; and ceremonies for ‘the repose of the soul of broken dolls’, where they

are burned in front of a solemn crowd of onlookers.33 The ceremonial is woven so heavily into Marker’s Tokyo that even the air becomes sanctified, as when we hear: ‘It’s Indian winter, as if the air were the first element to emerge purified from the countless ceremonies by which the Japanese wash off one year to enter the next one.’.34 If, as Marc Augé suggests, the monument functions to establish a ‘tangible expression of permanence’ in order to place its object of commemoration ‘above temporal contingencies’, forms of commemoration more generally could be said to reify the immaterial by establishing a sense of duration and grounding through cyclical events and designated places.35 Sans Soleil’s perceptive reflections upon spaces and processes of tradition and commemoration make Tokyo appear localised (the site of ceremonies is often of great importance), and intimately relatable as a set of recurring and therefore tangible processes. Likewise, Marker’s engaged, imaginative, compelling reflections upon each of the city’s ‘tiny legends’ anchors the film—and thereby the viewer—within the vast flux of modern Tokyo, reading the city through the patient accumulation of marginal and heterogenous narratives. • There is a basic intimacy in these examples to how Sans Soleil orients its gaze—and thinking—around things that can be made into a close object of study, just as there is an associative intimacy in the way the film strings together diverse fragments of the city into a kind of suggestive resonance.36 But this intimacy is disrupted when Sans Soleil enters a set of city spaces substantively different from the sites of legend, landmark and ritual I analyse above. In the second half of this article I explore how Sans Soleil navigates a side of Tokyo in which the quality of intimacy onto the particularities of subject matter I discuss above is no longer possible: generic, functional, modern spaces that are, in important ways, defined by patterns and relations of transience and mutability. The way in which Sans Soleil moves through—and eventually establishes its own means of orientation—within this

Left: the Takenoko dancers; right: the cat temple at Gotokuji. All images are my own screenshots of the film. Marker, Sans Soleil, 0:36:50. 30 Ibid., 0:16:10; 0:37:20. 31 Ibid., 0:03:45. 32 Ibid., 0:03:45. 33 Ibid., 0:30:40. 34 Ibid., 1:30:40. 35 Marc Augé, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, trans. John Howe (London: Verso, 1995), 60. 36 For detailed analyses of the complex function of the gaze in Sans Soleil see Silverman, The Threshold of the Visible World; and Russell, Experimental Ethnography. 28 29

/ 67

‘Things that Quicken the Heart’ less representable space provides a revealing case study for the film’s broader movements across the leitmotif of transience. The most vivid example of Sans Soleil’s navigation of transient spaces in Tokyo occurs in what I call the subterranean sequence, which, following the sunlit portrayal of the winsome Takenoko dancers, articulates a parallel vision of the city.37 It opens with a brief shot of a glass wall with water flowing down it, the people behind it opaque, and is followed by a second brief shot from the other side of this wall, the same people now foregrounded but indistinct in shadow. The vagueness of the subjects in these two shots—the sense that they cannot be fully seen—foreshadows a navigation through spaces in which subjects are only encountered fleetingly. These following lines unfold against images of crowds moving through underground tunnels and shopping arcades:

In comparison to the scenes I analysed earlier, this is a decidedly subjective envisioning of Tokyo: the lingering ‘presence’ of the dream permeating real city spaces the following day; this presence then transfigured into a meta-subjectivity that projects the city itself—‘a gigantic collective dream’. Dreams here provide a fitting means of figuring the subterranean spaces that simultaneously expand and conceal the city. Dreams disorient—dream spaces are protean and never fully knowable or viewable, precariously occupied until another assumes its place—and in the oneiric guided tour through the underground in this sequence, ordinary boundaries collapse: ‘it mi­ght suffice to pick up any one of the telephones that are lying around to hear a familiar voice, or the beating of a heart, Sei Shonagon’s for example’; the virtual infiltrating the actual. Against the lines quoted above, we are given a tour of the underground: we see faces

See note 39

One day he writes to me: description of a dream. More and more my dreams find their settings in the department stores of Tokyo, the subterranean tunnels that extend them and run parallel to the city. A face appears, disappears; a trace is found, is lost. All the folklore of dreams is so much in its place that the next day when I am awake I realize that I continue to seek in the basement labyrinth the presence concealed the night before. I begin to wonder if those dreams are really mine, or if they are part of a totality, of a gigantic collective dream of which the entire city may be the projection. It might suffice to pick up any one of the telephones that are lying around to hear a familiar voice, or the beating of a heart, Sei Shonagon’s for example.38

on advertisements, peering onto passers-by; we see giant carcasses hung in the windows of a butcher shop; we see a mannequin, sans head, dressed in a pink kimono, flanked on either side by a model of a giant, smiling, golden face. Through these images Krasna’s dream seems to materialise—the hidden and repressed ­formations of the unconscious made legible within this parallel city. To anticipate the following scenes of the subterranean sequence it takes as its spaces long subterranean tunnels, underground shopping arcades, train stations, the insides of train carriages, staircases animated by commuters, and virtual zones of media: spaces of passage, liminality, anonymity. In thinking through Marker’s presentation of these spaces, it is worth considering Augé’s notion of the ‘non-place’, which he defines in opposition to ‘anthropological’ forms of place.40 In

Marker, Sans Soleil, 0:47:25–0:53:35. Ibid., 0:47:25. Left: subjects opaque behind glass; right: a still from the underground tunnels of the subterranean sequence. 40 Augé, Non-Places, 34, 52. 37

38 39

68 /

ACADEMIC anthropological places, formations of identity, relations, and history are embedded in place through the tangible links between a site and its cultural-historical context. In the non-place—of which Augé includes ‘air, rail, and motorway routes … aircraft, trains and road vehicles … airports and railway stations, hotel chains, leisure parks, large retail outlets’—such cultural-­historical formations are absent (or at least lacking) because these types of modern places ‘do not integrate … earlier places’.41 What non-places tend to have in common is a kind of transposability—they often look and feel the same, not only within cities but between countries—and anonymity: they are zones in which the subject is surrounded by unknown others, most of whom have no connection to that space beyond the process of passage from A to B. Augé’s description of the different types of relations that places and non-places foster is productive for thinking about the representation of Tokyo in Sans Soleil. For Augé, the non-places of supermodernity ‘subject the individual consciousness to entirely new experiences and ordeals of solitude’.42 Where ‘anthropological places create the organically social’, nonplaces create ‘solitary contractuality’.43 Augé presents this subjectivity of the non-place as follows: The only face to be seen, the only voice to be heard, in the silent dialogue he holds with the landscapetext addressed to him along with others, are his own: the face and voice of a solitude made all the more baffling by the fact that it echoes millions of others … The space of non-place creates neither singular identity nor relations; only solitude, and similitude.44 Augé’s evocation of the self-reflecting solitude of the non-place provides a means of unpacking the inward turn of the dream passage from Sans Soleil discussed above, where an inward-turning subjectivity—into dreams, into the virtual—emerges as a defining lens through which the city is represented. The stations and subterranean tunnels of the subterranean sequence are relatively nondescript and meet Augé’s criteria of the non-place insofar as they are zones of commerce or transit that could be replicated

across different spaces again and again without integrating into the cultural-historical specificity of any particular site. Partitioning us from the outside world, from even the light of day, the interchangeability of these non-places means the subject is easily lost, unable to distinguish one space from another, encountering others within a state of constant transience— disorientations that suit perfectly the protean spatial logic of the dream. Even the possibility of recognition among a sea of passing strangers—‘it might suffice to pick up any one of the telephones’—is more like a ­recognition of the self among the experience of solitude. Shonagon’s list is, after all, Marker’s criterion. Continuing after the dream passage, and foreshadowing a following scene, we hear: ‘the train inhabited by sleeping people puts together all the fragments of dreams, makes a single film of them— the ultimate film. The tickets from the automatic dispenser grant admission to the show’.45 Here we see a series of images of commuters flowing through train stations, visions made dreamlike by an aqueous, dissociative electronic soundscape. One extended ­ shot shows a stream of commuters cropped from the neck down as they hand their tickets to a guard at a station gate. In this framing, each subject’s navigation of the space is de-individuated into an abstracted projection of movement; so too in the shot that f­ ollows, where we see disembodied arms placing coins into ticket machines. There is little opportunity for intimacy in spaces so structured around transience. Proximity to others within crowded city spaces sits in tension with the alienation of being alone among strangers, each meeting all the stranger because it’s so ephemeral (here you are, momentarily together in space; mutually inscrutable). ‘The ultimate film’ arrives via a long string of close-ups of people’s faces on board metropolitan trains, more often than not with their eyes closed. These shots establish an interesting contrast to those of the fragmented bodies that preceded them: subjects here are to some extent re-individuated through the proximity and stasis of the facial close-up. But that individuation never transcends complete opacity. Walter Benjamin writes that ‘the activity of the

Ibid., 79, 77. Augé formulates this distinction between place (that is, anthological place) and non-place within the context of describing how aspects of modernity have accelerated and heightened into what he terms ‘supermodernity’ (29). Through the ‘overabundance of events’ (by which he means perspectives, narratives, connections), ‘[supermodernity] makes the old (history) into a specific spectacle, as it does with all exoticism and all local particularity’ (30, 110). But just as ‘supermodernity is not all there is to the contemporary’, Augé’s distinction between the place and the non-place is porous: ‘the first is never completely erased, the second never totally completed; they are like palimpsests on which the scrambled game of identity and relations is ceaselessly rewritten’ (110, 79). 42 Ibid., 110. 43 Ibid., 92,94. 44 Ibid., 94. 45 Marker, Sans Soleil, 0:48:40. 41

/ 69

‘Things that quicken the heart’ eye’ is the primary channel of ‘interpersonal relationship’ between strangers in urban environments, so in that sense, a person with their eyes shut in public is shielded from the encounter with the stranger.46 In this scene that moves quickly between faces, the familiarising voice of the narrator is absent, replaced with a repetitive set of ghostly and mechanical sounds, l­ eaving the viewer without orientation in their encounter with the other. The relational intimacy of viewing the other—so often a prevailing quality of this film—is here usurped by a sense of non-recognition, as subjects enter and leave anonymous and unknowable: a moment of unconsummated encounter that gives way, like the ‘last sight’ of the stranger the flâneur glimpses in the crowd.47 Into this anonymous space Marker begins to insert—as if plucked from the dream worlds of sleeping commuters—stills from Japanese horror films, referencing an earlier scene that contemplates Japanese television. Sans Soleil explores how places can be read as narratives, and the relative lack of relational intimacy in the non-place leaves a gap within which the various media formations Marker finds in 1980s Japan—video-games, manga, game shows, horror movies—permeate the concrete, as in how the supernatural media-space infiltrates the quotidian space of the train here, which recalls an earlier line that claims: ‘the more you watch Japanese television the more you feel it’s watching you’.48 In another scene, against images of posters and billboards, we hear: ‘the entire city is a comic strip—it’s Planet Manga. How can one fail to recognise … the giant faces with eyes that weigh down on the comic-book readers, pictures bigger than people, voyeurising the voyeurs’.49 These media-worlds disorient the physical because the virtual takes place nowhere, and so potentially anywhere: like a ‘gigantic collective dream’ drifting across city space. The virtual—like the strange transplantations of late capitalism—needs no place proper. • Ceremonies embedded within historical traditions and particular sites; the tiny narrative of Mr Yamada’s humble essence of style; statues of animals that landmark

the city and each tell their story; the Takenoko dancers in Yoyogi park, which Marker can observe for ‘a whole afternoon’. As sites of representation, these all exhibit characteristics of anthropological forms of place—­ insofar as they promote ‘organically social’ forms of relations between subjects and, in my extension, between filmmaker and subject. In the zones of transit in the subterranean sequence, it is the ‘solitary contractuality’ of the non-place that functions as the basic form of, or absence of, relation between the subject and the space around them, resulting in the subjectivised, oneiric envisioning of the city Marker provides here.51 But in the final scene of the subterranean sequence, Marker transfigures the ‘solitary contractuality’ of the non-place into something intimate and specific, rewriting via a culminating sentiment this anonymity as a form of familiarity. Against images of commuters caught briefly upon staircases, we hear: He told me about the January light on the station stairways. He told me that this city ought to be deciphered like a musical score. One could get lost in the great orchestral masses and the accumulation of details, and that created the cheapest image of Tokyo: overcrowded, megalomaniac, inhuman. He thought he saw more subtle cycles there, rhythms, clusters of faces caught sight of in passing—as different and precise as groups of instruments … All of it fits together like the voices of a somewhat complicated fugue, but it was enough to take hold of one of them and hang on to it.52 Why this figuration of recognition within constantly disappearing sets of strangers? Within spaces where ‘the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent’ constitute the primary mode of relation?53 Michel De Certeau writes: ‘to walk is to lack a place. It is the indefinite process of being absent and in search of a proper. The moving about that the city multiplies and concentrates makes the city itself an immense social experience of lacking a place’.54 The sense of recognition Marker comes to locate in this pedestrian space is not the self-projecting possibility of Shonagon’s beating heart, but an insistence on recognising those specific configurations of anonymous others, caught

Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire, 38. Ibid., 45. 48 Marker, Sans Soleil, 0:23:00. 49 Ibid., 0:18:55. 50 Left: a Tokyo commuter in the train sequence; right: one of the television images Marker layers within the space of the train. 51 Augé, Non-Places, 103. 52 Marker, Sans Soleil, 0:53:50. 53 Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, trans. and ed. Jonathan Mayne (London: De Capo Press, 1964), 13. 54 Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (California: University of California Press, 1988), 103. 46 47

70 /


See note 50

/ 71

‘Things that quicken the heart’ only briefly but nevertheless ‘as different and precise as groups of instruments’. Marker refuses the ‘cheap’ image of Tokyo as just another modern crowded city (and in the precise space in which it might be characterised as exactly that) by attending to the subtle cycles formed by the lives of others that ephemerally intersect the non-place—‘one could get lost’, but here he doesn’t. By affirming the experience of being—and having been—there, ‘hang[ing] on’ to individual faces, capturing with his camera the fleeting details of the everyday that would otherwise recede into history unnoticed, the non-place is made intimate. •

separable—from the devoted ethic of representing the other that characterises Marker’s work—the seriousness with which he took the role (however imaginatively executed) of mediating between viewer and the world encountered. • At the start of Sans Soleil we are told: ‘I’ve been around the world several times, and now only banality still interests me’.57 But there is no mistaking that Marker gravitates towards the lyrical within this prosaic itinerary. At one point, far away from Japan on a desert island off the coast of Cape Verde, we hear about ‘the memory of a precise colour in the street’ in Tokyo, a memory that ‘bounces back on another country,

See note 55

How many hours did Marker spend on Tokyo’s trains in order to capture so many images of people sleeping? Or wandering streets in order to map the city via its ‘tiny legends’? What did it mean to edit these images of clusters of faces, to re-view those configurations of subjects in space that lasted only for ‘a ­twenty-fourth of a second, the length of a film frame’?56 There is a dedication to this process of mapping a city from such details. It is the highly distinctive quality of Marker’s engagements across disparate subject matter—one which includes a keen eye, a roaming intelligence, a wide frame of reference, an impressive ability to associate, a suggestive degree of semantic complexity—that underpins Sans Soleil’s intimacy onto the diverse topographies of Tokyo, and onto the other places the film remembers. And these qualities of filmic voice never depart—and are not

another distance, another music, endlessly’.58 In Sans Soleil’s movements across a wide scope of places and histories, intimate attention to small moments and details—‘the January light on the station stairways’; ‘a precise colour in the street’—constitute anchors against which Marker, and the viewer, chart an ever expanding sea of transience and loss: ‘he liked the fragility of those moments suspended in time, those memories whose function had been to leave behind nothing but memories’.59 Sans Soleil might be read as performing its own ceremony for the world encountered through those memories—and images as memories—that can at best ‘follow the contours of what is not, or is no longer, or is not yet; the handwriting each one of us will use to compose a list of “things that quicken the heart,” to offer, or to erase’.60 Even Tokyo’s ‘tiny legends’

Left: a still from the city as ‘musical score’ passage discussed above; right: a still from earlier in the subterranean sequence. The ‘my city’ logo in the top left of this image is apposite for Marker’s personal reading of the city here. 56 Marker, Sans soleil, 0:34:30. 57 Ibid., 0:01:55. 58 Ibid., 1:29:25. 59 Ibid., 0:02:00. 60 Ibid., 1:39:30. 55

72 /

ACADEMIC succumb to the film’s ontological trajectory: they are glimpses of a point in time, remnants of inaccessible people and moments ‘already swallowed by the spiral’.61 But there is a discreet intimacy in contemplating this world of outlines, a poignancy to the crystalline perception of distance from the unreachable object. And it is this momentary, fragile intimacy that gives fullest significance to the ‘impermanence’ of the things we come into contact with in this film: things brought closely into view before being displaced by another proximity. Marker’s portrait of Tokyo—where a sense of dwelling is established amid a broader arc of movement—provides an illustration of how his work encounters the world across intertwining dialectics of presence and absence, remembering and forgetting, recognition and unknowability. It is testament to the intricacy of Sans Soleil that it manages to give so much expression to both sides of the things: to the urgent, banal, resplendent, diversity of life as it takes place (‘to be eaten on the spot, like fresh doughnuts’), and to the pathos of the no longer holdable, no longer thinkable.62 The present-as-­ absence status of Sans Soleil’s objects becomes the signal criterion for that which ‘quickens the heart’, and the multidirectional positions of thinking and looking that address these objects open onto worlds of sensation and response that transcend those objects themselves, making Marker’s list feel something more than personal. The intimacy that Sans Soleil gleams so fluidly across the surface of an ever-expanding list of things resides most fully in the way it maps out a mode of relation to the world that vividly proclaims: here is the world, immense and fascinating and complex. A world we meet with a sense of recognition that is less about complete understanding of any one thing, and more about understanding something about what it means to think through and across the world, with and without sun. A world outlined through fragments that in their exact, limpid fragility inspire the p ­ ossibility of perpetual access: to another set of narratives and resonances, to another memory or image that captures and fades, to ‘the thrilling prospect of another set of cultural possibilities’, to ‘another country, another distance, another music, endlessly’.63 This world—Marker’s world—makes a captivating claim to something of what lies beyond it. •

BIBLIOGRAPHY Augé, Marc. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Translated by John Howe. London: Verso, 1995. Barber, Stephen. Projected Cities: Cinema and Urban Space. London: Reaktion Books, 2002. Baudelaire, Charles. The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. Translated and edited by Jonathan Mayne. London: De Capo Press, 1964. Benjamin, Walter. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. London: NLB London, 1973. Bukatman, Scott. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993. De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendall. California: University of California Press, 1988. Dutton, Jacqueline. ‘Not Another Road Movie: Alternative Utopias of Travel in Sans Soleil (1982) and Sansa (2003)’. In Motion Pictures: Travel Ideals in Film. Eds. Gemma Blackwood and Andrew McGregor. Bern: Peter Lang, 2016. Lupton, Catherine. Chris Marker: Memories of the Future. London: Reaktion Books, 2005. ———. ‘The Exile of Remembering: Movement and Memory in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil’. In Culture of Exile: Images of Displacement. Eds. Wendy Everett and Peter Wagstaff. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2008. Marker, Chris. Petite Planète. Paris: Editions de Seuil. 10, Summer 1954. ———. Dimanche à Pekin. France and China: Pavox Films and Argos Films, 1956. 22 min. ———. Lettre de Sibérie. France: Argos Films, 1958. 62 min. ———. Description d’un Combat. Israel and France: SOFAC, 1960. 60 min. ———. Sans Soleil. France: Argos Films, 1983. 100 min. ———. Letter to Theresa – Behind the veils of Sans Soleil. Year unknown. Available online at https:// on-sans-Soleil-by-chris-marker/ Russell, Catherine. Experimental Ethnography. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1999. Silverman, Kaja. The Threshold of the Visible World. London: Routledge, 1996.

Ibid., 0:38:00. Ibid., 0:45:00. 63 Silverman, The Threshold of the Visible World, 192; Marker, Sans Soleil, 1:29:25. 61 62

Art by Laura Kay Keeling / 73

the question of an ethical shot By Shastra Deo

for Jini Maxwell you left the body in the mountains. no incense for your brother, no burial. goneness of him clean and hot. the body was not his, nor was it yours to take—gutshot, frenzy, spilled intestines rime-crisp. cheek frozen to frost earth. no meat wasted, come spring. this is not an escape so much as a mourning of such tender want. × where to shoot deer: close to clearings, beds, food plots; away from deep rivers, ice; away from home. where to shoot deer: the neck, heart -lung, high in the shoulder—snap spine and shock the nervous system, keel to anchor. ×

76 /


butchers require a steady hand, soft touch, and your hands have not committed softness for a long time. × the heart-lung is forgiving. haemorrhage easy to find and follow. you know how he sounded when struck in the ribs, the throat. when he hungered. moments before sleep, rangy muscle of him hanging from the crook of an elbow. your mottled boyhood and all its grace. what is a body whose only trace is silence? × where to shoot bears: brain, neck, shoulder, lung. a bear’s heart is often protected by its upper leg. avoid the abdomen, unless aiming to track or torture. the soft part of the belly is best for eating. ×

/ 77

the question of an ethical shot

your brother had no softness to his belly but the bullet still stuck. a gutshot animal will inevitably go to water. × snowfall gnaws raw into cubital fossa. pithed for a bruising. what is a body to a butcher’s hand? meat to tongue? you haven’t stopped chewing, which is to say your living no longer feels like betrayal. × you leave your body on the mountain. no incense, no rage. sometimes a border is marked only by passing through again and again. you could kill a man to become him but this has already happened. this is not an escape but maybe the end of it: the last of the ice under your cheek thawing out.

78 /


Art by Dali Lenoir / 79

‘Everyone Assumes You Want to Fuck Them’: Bisexuality and the Queer Art of Failure in the Poetry of Hera Lindsay Bird By Marina Scott ‘There’s such a thing as too much sexual freedom…’ Heidegger wrote that he was bisexual too ‘Bisexuality’, Hera Lindsay Bird Hera Lindsay Bird’s poems provide her reader with a refreshing sense of scathing towards the literary institutions in which she partakes. Balancing humour and playfulness with a deep and often nostalgic emotional intimacy, Bird’s verse holds frank images of sex that are at odds with the discursive nebulousness associated with the sexual identity she claims: bisexuality. The poet’s self-titled first collection, Hera Lindsay Bird, discusses her past relationships with men and women, satirising stereotypical tropes surrounding bisexuality to expose the creative and critical silence eclipsing it as a sexual identity. The formal queerness of her work and the self-reflexive critiques of her chosen genre are illuminated by the work of J. J. Halberstam. Outlined in The Queer Art of Failure, Halberstam’s argument can be used to suggest that Bird’s poetry defies ‘success’ in the heteronormative, capitalist sense of the term via a queering of conventional poetic modes. Queer theory has, since its inception, demonstrated a troubling effacement of bisexuality as a sexual identity, resulting in ‘a blind spot in sex research’.1 In ‘Playing With Butler and Foucault: Bisexuality and Queer Theory’, April S. Callis notes the conspicuous absence of bisexuality from key theoretical texts within queer theory, observing that even in Butler’s seminal Gender Trouble, ‘bisexuality is only present in laundry list style, somewhere between gay, lesbian, and heterosexual.’2 This strikes as strange for Callis, as she locates bisexuality as ‘an ideal starting place for deconstruction’3

precisely because it doesn’t fit the structure of the heterosexual/homosexual dichotomy. Various theories attempt to account for why the category is repeatedly overlooked, including the suggestion that the term denotes a particular act rather than an ontologically distinct identity. In Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution (2013) feminist, bisexual and genderqueer activist Shiri Eisner refers to how Freud was one of the first thinkers to employ the term bisexuality. He argues that it forms ‘the ground from which “normal” heterosexuality a­nd “pathological” homosexuality developed.’4 For Eisner, this psychoanalytic origin of the word casts bisexuality as an immature sexual state, one that is ‘just a phase’.5 Others, such as Donald Hall, argue that the term’s unpopularity stems from how it necessarily rehashes the dichotomy between heterosexuality and homosexuality through its ‘inescapably encoded binarism’.6 Defying established hetero/homo binaries, bisexuality upsets the polemic distinction by participating in both identities. Simultaneously, the term bisexuality may be seen as reductive in how its duality might connote only two genders. As Wilkinson shows, as recently as the 1960s the term was being used to mean ‘comprising members of both male and female identified people’.7 However, the term certainly doesn’t entail that transgender, non-binary, or gender queer people fall outside its scope. Wilkinson notes that ‘if bisexuality is perceived as upholding the gender binary, it is possible that its colloquial use may become less popular among

1 Steven Angelides, A History of Bisexuality, The Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 2. 2 April S. Callis, “Playing with Butler and Foucault: Bisexuality and Queer Theory,” Journal of Bisexuality 9.3–4 (2009): 226 <https://doi. org/10.1080/15299710903316513> 3 Callis, “Playing,” 219. 4 Shiri Eisner, Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution (Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2013), 15. 5 Ibid., 16. 6 Angelides, A History of Bisexuality, 2. 7 Mark Wilkinson, “‘Bisexual oysters’: A diachronic corpus-based critical discourse analysis of bisexual representation in The Times between 1957 and 2017,” Discourse & Communication 13: 2 (April 2019), 249–67 (256) <>. 8 Wilkinson, “Bisexual oysters,” 265.

80 /

ACADEMIC those who no longer subscribe to the binary gender paradigm’.8 In neglecting to mention bisexuality as part of the contemporary queer schema, the perceived polarity between heterosexual and homosexual identities is placed in sharper definition, reifying the supposedly disjunctive relation between them. Bird’s poetry provides a site where these sharp binary distinctions are challenged by her dualistic figuration of bisexuality. In her unapologetic poem ­ ‘Bisexuality’, Bird explores the ‘doubleness’ of bisexuality, as articulated by Sarah E. Rowley in her collated edition of essays from bisexual people, Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World (2009). Many people see bisexuality as a double desire. They use a twofold language to expand the possibilities of love, sex, attraction, longing. While some see bisexuality as excessive desire and bisexuals as oversexed, voices from within our community have sung, spoken, and shouted from their own twin experiences.9 Bird is one of these singers, speakers and shouters, observing that ‘to be a woman to a woman, is a female double-jointedness.’10 She opens with a line that parodies the theme of bisexual people as ‘oversexed’, declaring ‘There’s such a thing as too much sexual freedom … ’ Bird exploits the trope of the hypersexual, lascivious and insatiable bisexual woman from the outset, ironically quoting the existence of an excessive sexual freedom. She stacks salacious and graphic images (Heidegger ‘naked on a black leash’, ‘a risqué halter neck’, ‘an elegant leopard trim’), satirising the notion of bisexuality as synonymous with promiscuity: ‘everyone assumes you want to fuck them……….and they’re right.’ Bird plays with these bi-phobic assumptions to address and challenge the erasure, or ‘bi-erasure’, of bisexual identity. In Mapping Desire: Geographies of Sexualities, David Bell explains how bi-erasure obscures bisexuality, as the identity ‘enacts a panic function across the hetero/homo dyad […] [and] threatens the collapse of both domains.’11 By evoking the strangeness and abnormality of her ‘female double-jointedness’, Bird deconstructs the notion that heterosexuality and homosexuality exist within a binary.

Sex (as an act) is everywhere in Bird’s work, whether it be tethered to philosophers, parodic nods towards literary clout (‘Keats is dead so fuck me from behind/ Slowly and with carnal purpose’),12 or pop culture references (‘like slowly fingering your girlfriend to Bohemian Rhapsody’).13 Ironically, this casts the poet herself as a stereotyped bisexual woman preoccupied with sex and sexuality. However, in her direct discussions of bisexuality, Bird avoids a final definition and instead urges her reader to critically consider the term: It’s hard to know what bisexuality means It just……..comes over you, like an urban sandstorm When a fish crawls up onto land? – that’s bisexuality It’s an ancient sexual amphibiousness14 The images in this stanza are antithetical to the sensual, sexual vignettes from the opening of the poem, and their disjointedness shows Bird subverting the fetishisation of people attracted to multiple genders. Above, she paints bisexual people as ‘fish [that] crawl up onto land’, defining bisexuality as ‘an ancient sexual amphibiousness.’ The strange image of a crawling fish is placed in stark juxtaposition to the kinky ‘black leather’ and ‘risqué halter neck’ that characterise bisexuality at the beginning of the poem. The fish she describes is a creature that desires both the water and the land, which may suggest a kind of ecological promiscuousness, but Bird figures bisexuality as a natural and ‘ancient’ state of being—the process of fish becoming amphibians is an evolutionary one. Through the disjointedness of the work, alongside her occult metaphors for bisexuality, Bird implicitly counters the fetishisation of people attracted to more than one gender. By satirising tropes of bisexuality, Bird’s poetry demonstrates how the identity fails to fit neatly into the heterosexual/homosexual binary, highlighting an epistemological void within queer theory. In Bird’s own words: ‘it’s hard to know what bisexuality means’. This demonstrates a ‘failure’ of meaning as J. J. Halberstam defines it: Halberstam conceptualises failure as an alternative to capitalist modes of production and material success, that allows us to ‘escape the punishing norms that discipline behaviour’.15 Halberstam’s argument rests on the idea that heteronormativity and capitalism

Robyn Ochs and Sarah E. Rowley, eds., Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World, (Boston, MA: Bisexual Resource Center, 2009), 135. Hera Lindsay Bird, “Bisexuality,” in Hera Lindsay Bird (United Kingdom: Penguin Books, 2017), 47–48. 11 “Perverse Dynamics, Sexual Citizenship and the Transformation of Intimacy,” in Mapping Desire: Geographies of Sexualities, eds. David Bell and Gill Valentine (London; New York: Routledge, 1995), 304–17. 12 Bird, “Keats is dead so fuck me from behind,” Hera Lindsay Bird, 79. 13 Bird, “Lost Scrolls,” Hera Lindsay Bird, 56. 14 Bird, “Bisexuality,” Hera Lindsay Bird, 48. 15 Judith Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (Durham [NC] : Duke University Press, 2011), 3. 16 Ibid., 2. 9


/ 81

‘Everyone Assumes You Want to Fuck Them’ are explicitly linked by their hegemonic ideological status. By pedestalling ‘specific forms of reproductive maturity [and] wealth accumulation’,16 the interrelated ideologies of capitalism and heteronormativity shape the metrics of success within our current social system. They argue that these ideologies can be resisted through embracing failure: a ‘counterintuitive mode of knowing […] a refusal of mastery, a critique of the intuitive connections within capitalism between success and profit’.17 This embrace would coincide with a recognition of ‘failure as a way of refusing to acquiesce to the dominant logics of power and discipline and as a form of critique’.18 For Halberstam, failure is a distinctly queer art, as ‘the queer artist works with rather than against failure’. The dominant social conditions that dictate what it means to succeed are defined by heteronormative structures, and are at best not suited, or at worst actively hostile, to queer people. Though Halberstam notes there is no essential link between failure and queerness, ‘the social and symbolic systems that tether queerness to loss and failure cannot be wished away’.19 Halberstam’s concept of the queer art of failure can be lodged more securely into the realm of poetic aesthetics through its relation to the work of Sarah Brouillette. Halberstam argues that ‘failure, of course, goes hand in hand with capitalism’,20 existing as the necessary corollary to the financial success that the ideology promises to be hypothetically attainable for all. In her 2014 book, Literature and the Creative Economy, Brouillette describes the turn to conceptualising artists as workers, positioning the creative arts as financially lucrative. This shift ushers in the idea of the ‘creative economy’ (which she cautions must not be taken at face value and may in fact only exist ‘as a script designed to serve political interests’21). Brouillette proposes that the ‘creative-economy discourse dovetails importantly with neoliberalism’, as it provides a framework for ­creative praxis structured and explained via profit. In other words, the idea of a creative economy plays a role in ‘orchestrat[ing] and justify[ing] […] capitalism’s continued and insuperable expansion [as] at once inevitable and welcome’.22 The conception of the creative economy positions artistic expression as part of the inescapable capitalist structure, allowing society to impose

a barometer of success on Bird’s poetry. Brouilette’s proposition is complemented by Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (2009), where he argues that capitalist ideology has permeated all areas of contemporary life, including language and art, ­making it near impossible to think outside of its theoretical framework.23 Much of the link that Halberstam establishes between heteronormativity and capitalism rests on the self-perpetuating nature of these ideologies, and the near unthinkability of a metric outside of their terms. In many ways, the queerness of Bird’s poetry challenges preconceived metrics of success through performing different manifestations of ‘failure’, in particular, failures of articulation and decisiveness. In ‘Pyramid Scheme’ Bird brings metaphors of late capitalism into her work, emphasising the anxieties surrounding the relations between art, capitalism, and value generation. She reflects ‘banks are the real pyramid schemes after all/ or was love the real pyramid scheme? I can’t remember’,24 approaching commodification in a non-committal, blasé tone. As a challenge to the s­ tandards of success generated by the matrix of heteronormative-capitalism, Bird’s poems subvert the traditional form and content of lyric love poetry, demonstrating a failure that, in Halberstam’s line of argument, uncovers ‘alternatives [which] are embedded already in the dominant’ and ‘exploit[s] the unpredictability of ideology and its indeterminate qualities’.25 Almost everything is a simile for Bird, as she yokes bizarre images together through comparison. This creates a feeling of indecision—perhaps linked to social expectations surrounding bisexuality—and an opening out of an uncertain future, filled with possibilities and potentialities. Her poems describe what things are like but skirt around committing to what they are. This is especially pertinent in her discussions of love in ‘Love Comes Back’. Love like a recurring decimal of some huge, indivisible number or a well thrown boomerang coming to rest in the soft curve of your hand Love comes back… like a murderer returning to the scene of the crime…

Ibid., 11–12. Ibid., 88. Ibid., 97–98. 20 Ibid., 88. 21 Sarah Brouillette, Literature and the Creative Economy (Palo Alto, United States of America: Stanford University Press, 2014), 2. <http://> [accessed 12 March 2019]. 22 Brouillette, Literature, 2–3. 23 Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, (Winchester: O Books, 2009). 24 Hera Lindsay Bird, “Pyramid Scheme,” in Pamper Me to Hell & Back, 25 (United Kingdom: Smith/Doorstop Books, 2018). 25 Ibid., 88. 17 18 19

82 /

ACADEMIC or not returning… yet still the crime remains… like love… observed or unobserved…26 Here, love is both a murderer returning or not returning, embodying both scenarios despite existing in opposition, surviving its own negation. Often her descriptions are crescendo-like, as she builds on a string of similes into enumerative anaphora. As a consequence, the poems often appear to be reaching a climax or revelation, but instead swerve against expectation, offering not profundity but humour (or vice versa). In ‘Speech Time’, Bird considers the relation between poetry and speech, finding ‘poem time’ difficult to define. It’s like panicking because your castle is too beautiful, Or an advent calendar for atheists full of empty windows

of incomprehensible infinity to it. In ‘I am so in love with you I want to lie down in the middle of a major public intersection and cry’,28 she points towards the failures of language in love poetry—‘i don’t know how to write a love poem/ because love is indescribable’— but through ironic apophasis continues to attempt to render it regardless: it’s this feeling you get when your mind gets hot and everything else gets insignificant ………… with diamonds on it29 And again in ‘Ways of Making Love’. It’s crying over spilt milk before it’s out of the cow. It’s like breaking into a field at dawn and euthanizing the cow so you can get your crying

‘By pedestalling “specific forms of reproductive maturity [and] wealth accumulation”, the interrelated ideologies of capitalism and heteronormativity shape the metrics of success within our current social system […] These ideologies can be resisted through embracing failure: a “counterintuitive mode of knowing […] a refusal of mastery, a critique of the intuitive connections within capitalism between success and profit”.’ It’s like pouring cold champagne all over your thighs Or an evil piano that can only be played at midnight27 Her similes are non-exhaustive and read like paratactic lists; it is not clear how the dislocated images relate to each other. Two intertwined themes arise through her attempt to articulate what things are ‘like’: the difficulty of defining love adequately (particularly mirage-like bisexual love), and the dubious status of defining what poetry is or should be. The first strand of this failure of articulation is in Bird’s depiction of love as ‘a recurring decimal of some huge, indivisible number’, attributing a sense

over and done with and immediately begin adjusting to your lactose free existence. But love isn’t really like killing cattle no matter what poetry wants us to believe30 The reader is none the wiser about what love is. Despite the list of what making love is declared to be like, Bird’s poem swerves and contradicts itself. This leads into the second form of failure, which is concerned with the shortcomings of poetry itself as a medium. In ‘Pyramid Scheme’, she presents metaphors as shifting, almost fickle, as they slip away from her:

Bird, “Love Comes Back,” Hera Lindsay Bird, 65. Bird, “Speech Time,” Pamper Me to Hell & Back, 7. 28 Bird, Hera Lindsay Bird. 29 Bird, “Speech Time,” Pamper Me to Hell & Back, 18. 30 Bird, “Ways of Making Love,” Hera Lindsay Bird, 33–34. 31 Bird, “Pyramid Scheme,” Pamper Me to Hell & Back, 26. 26 27

/ 83

‘Everyone Assumes You Want to Fuck Them’ I think this was meant to be a metaphor for something but I can’t remember where I was going with it and now it’s been swept away by the winds of whatever31 Unable to say or render anything accurately, Bird parodies the limits of poetry and language—her metaphors ‘swept away by the winds of whatever’. In ‘Hate’, Bird is sceptical about the commercial nature of poetry, as she imagines being ‘stretched on the racks of the poetry industrial complex’.32 Her work not only grapples with what poetry is but what is should be: ‘poetry should be democratic—that’s the modern view, / It’s like a murder on a train where everyone did it!’33 She proclaims her own subversion of poetic convention and enacts the ‘bad crime’ of ars poetrica, speaking about poetry in poetry, by engaging in precisely what she describes as

Gurlesque poets illuminates the ways in which her verse borrows from them, as well as its departures. The Gurlesque tendency to perform femininity in an excessively camp and at times grotesque satire chimes with Bird’s humorous use of female sexual excess. Though the final poem in Bird’s 2018 collection, Pamper Me to Hell & Back, is ‘after Chelsey Minnis’, a contributor to the Gurlesque anthology, Bird’s manipulation of punctuation and grammar differentiates her work from the majority of Gurlesque poets. Her distortion of the basic rules of grammar and excessive, hyperbolic use of punctuation acts as a formal precursor to the overplayed, extravagant sexual imagery that dominates much of the poetry in Hera Lindsay Bird. In the opening poem of her collection, ‘Write a Book’, she muses My friend says it’s bad poetry to write a book And I agree with her I agree with her……………………… principle38

‘Her work not only grapples with what poetry is but what is should be: “poetry should be democratic—that’s the modern view, / It’s like a murder on a train where everyone did it!”’ poor poetic practice (‘It’s a bad crime to say poetry in poetry/ It’s a bad, adorable crime’).34 Furthermore, an awareness of her critics hovers in the background, as she envisions being held accountable for her ‘artistic wrongdoings’ by the ‘critical theorists advancing, with black leather pompoms’.35 The form of Bird’s poems contributes to her ‘artistic wrongdoings’, as she ‘fails’ to meet conventional expectations of grammar. Bird’s work has been compared to the self-proclaimed ‘Gurlesque’36 (anti-)movement, coined by Laura Glenum and Arielle Greenburg, owing to the women poets’ ‘rude self-exposures strik[ing] back against patriarchal tastes and rules’.37 Despite not being part of Glenum and Greenberg’s 2010 anthology, Gurlesque: The New Grrly, Grotesque, Burlesque Poetics, situating Bird alongside the women and non-binary

The humorous use of ellipses here creates a visual disjointedness as well a visual caesura in the line. Bird overuses the formal tools of textual communication and exploits the shorthand logic of and expectations surrounding grammar to create dramatic (and at times ironic) hiatuses in her work. This is immediately noticeable to the reader and signifies a playful defiance of literary convention. Consider these lines from ‘Having Already Walked Out On Everyone I Ever Said I Loved’: Once upon a time I used to feel like………huh But then I started to feel a little more like…………………………uhuh Once upon a time I used to feel like………...?? But then I started to feel a little more like…………………………????????39

Bird, “Hate,” Hera Lindsay Bird, 40. Bird, “Pain Imperatives,”Hera Lindsay Bird, 90. 34 Ibid., 91. 35 Bird, “Untitled 404,” Pamper Me to Hell & Back, 23. 36 See Lara Glenum and Arielle Greenberg, Gurlesque: The New Grrly, Grotesque, Burlesque Poetics (Saturnalia Books, 2010). 37 Stephanie Burt, “On Hera Lindsay Bird,” London Review of Books, 30 November 2017, 24 38 Bird, “Write a Book,” Hera Lindsay Bird, 7. 39 Bird, “Having Already Walked Out On Everyone I Ever Said I Loved,” Hera Lindsay Bird, 77. 32 33

84 /

ACADEMIC Bird plays with the ambiguity of the slightly differing ‘huh’ and ‘uhuh’ used here to designate feelings: slang words, or perhaps more accurately, sounds, uncommon to lyric poetry. By defying these often taken-­­forgranted literary and grammatical conventions, Bird enacts Halberstam’s idea of failure. She exposes how such conventions, much like the social conditions of capitalism outlined by Brouillette, partake in generating economies of aesthetic and artistic value. Indeed, Bird’s critique of her own writing taps into this idea. The difficulties and disjointedness in expression indicated by her extreme manipulation of punctuation enact her defying normative standards of such. Many of Bird’s metaphors nod toward consumerism, like her description of love as an all-absorbing insignificance ‘………… with diamonds on it’. In ‘I will already remember you for the rest of my life’, she plays with what first presents itself as a pastoral image, but subverts expectations to reveal itself as a capitalist-­constructed selling strategy: ‘like a field of blossoms in an air freshener commercial/ sarcastic with light’.40 Bird’s explicit use of consumer-centric language and images in her poetry brings a reader’s attention to the ways in which her work fails to conform to heteronormative structures and aesthetic conventions, both buttressed by capitalist ideology. In relation to normative/traditional criteria for successful poetry, Bird’s work exists as a failure in Halberstam’s sense; her queerness in form and in content allows her to pedestal the often overlooked category of bisexuality, providing a subtle critique of capitalist systems of value assignment in relation to poetic texts. Bird’s poetic depiction of bisexuality sheds light on a marginalised sexual identity through subverting biphobic stereotypes surrounding people attracted to more than one gender. The explicit queerness of her work functions alongside the formal and grammatical failings of meaning to challenge the dominant and intertwined logics of capitalism and heteronormativity. In addition, her self-reflexivity surrounding genre points to the ways in which such logics have shaped poetics. Her poetry exists as an instance of what Sara Ahmed terms ‘queer use’: (re-)appropriating the dominant systems that govern our personal, political, and creative lives in order to ‘bring to the front what ordinarily recedes into the background.’41 •

BIBLIOGRAPHY Angelides, Steven. A History of Bisexuality, The Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. Bell, David, and Gill Valentine, eds., “Perverse Dynamics, Sexual Citizenship and the Transformation of Intimacy,” Mapping Desire: Geographies of Sexualities London; New York: Routledge, 1995. Bird, Hera Lindsay. Hera Lindsay Bird. Penguin Books, Limited, 2018. ———, Pamper Me to Hell & Back, United Kingdom: Smith/Doorstop Books, 2018. Brouillette, Sarah. Literature and the Creative Economy, Palo Alto, United States of America: Stanford University Press, 2014. <http://ebookcentral. 1632049> [accessed 12 March 2019] Burt, Stephanie. “On Hera Lindsay Bird,” London Review of Books, (30 November 2017): 24. Callis, April S. “Playing with Butler and Foucault: Bisexuality and Queer Theory,” Journal of Bisexuality, 9.3–4 (2009), 213–33. <> Eisner, Shiri. Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2013. Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, Winchester: O Books, 2009. Glenum, Lara, and Arielle Greenberg, Gurlesque: The New Grrly, Grotesque, Burlesque Poetics, Philadelphia, United States of America: Saturnalia Books, 2010. Halberstam, Judith Jack, The Queer Art of Failure (Durham [NC] : Duke University Press, 2011. Ochs, Robyn; Rowley Sarah E eds., Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World, Boston, MA: Bisexual Resource Center, 2009. Sara Ahmed, “Queer Use,” Feministkilljoys, 2018 < w-use/> [accessed 8 December 2018]

Bird, “I will already remember you for the rest of my life,” Pamper Me to Hell & Back, 9. Sara Ahmed, “Queer Use,” Feministkilljoys, 2018 <> [accessed 8 December 2018].

40 41

/ 85

Looking Up Ilsa Harun

Ilsa Harunâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work uses a dramatic sense of perspective to compel viewers to feel they are in the artistâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s shoes, intimately sharing her gaze as she casts her lens upwards. As Harun visited each location on her travels in Istanbul and Spain, she considered how many cultures and religions encourage communities to look towards the sky, imbuing us with a deep sense of the sublime and reminding us of our humanity and shared histories.


Milk and Honey: Textual Analysis By Madeleine Dale Enter the redactors, out scalpel and ink for harmonisation —we hum to tune when struck to enumerate the fables of musculature that [I] might be recited, verse, by verse; so I am easy to find at every point. [We] are a line too close, in style or tone, milk and honey, frequent victims of dittography to find at every point, honey, you are a hive’s worth a thousand small, moving phrases, sweet and unadulterated and explanatory margin work: worth a variance from the primary codex. A local text grown up in its city, [I am] written and overwritten with [you, your] dialect taking root at the base of [my] tongue. Here, in darkness behind the walls—{…} Ah, [we] are so full of printer’s errors, in need of patching. The neutral text is all but, impossible to tell if I love you as I have faith: on my knees is document corruption or the whole point. see what I have reaped from blood you planted? A milk and honey love The text returns to Jerusalem, amended as though to tell the maker: here I am I am your own, come home, unrecognisable. Here: this will be milk and honey, love, so long as the core remains.

Art by Alexandra Burns / 95

Swan Song By W. C. Scott I come home for Easter and the dog’s dying, lying be­neath the kitchen cupboard with its head on a funny angle, breathing hard. My parents are both on their phones. Mum’s chatting over the sink, phone pinned tightly between her shoulder and ear as she takes the heads off a bag of prawns. There’s footy on the television but some other team, so the murmur of commentary sits beneath all domesticities, even Dad’s sombre conversation. He’s talking to Mum’s brother, I can tell. They’ve been having the same conversation for years. Both his elbows are on the table, his left hand cupping his exposed ear. The tone is muffled, conspiratorial. His new hearing aids are in and on, and though he complains that they make him hear what he doesn’t want to hear, right now he’s on top of things, catching words intently and replying carefully back down the line. ‘Yes. Yeah, yeah, and, well. Hey, well take a look at the turnover count. ‘And I don’t know what he’s thinking, leaving Fox out again. ‘And I’m worried about Reid. Listen, hey, hey, listen. No. Well listen, there’s something they’re not telling us about him.’ I feel like we ought to dim the lights and grab him a cloth to hold over the mouthpiece, but it’s only the Sydney Swans being discussed, and, a year off thirty, I’m immune to almost all of these eccentricities. Still, there are surprises. This afternoon he suggests getting the sick dog up and dressing it in its red and white outfit one final time for luck against the Richmond Tigers, and Mum and I look over at the patch of shadow beneath the cupboard and sigh. We haven’t forgotten the early enmity Dad had for Baz. He couldn’t stand the alpha in him: the way he grew to dominate his older, gentler halfbrother. Dad only recently stopped referring to Baz as ‘the shit-heel’. People enjoy Dad’s sense of humour and like to mimic his accent: vaguely raspy, still very American. He was born in Berkeley a year after his father returned from the Second World War, and, before the age of five, was taken from his alcoholic mother to be raised

96 /

in Utah, where his father’s family is from. He remained there until his final day of high school; the following day, he hopped into his car and drove back to Berkeley. His first time in Australia was on R and R from ­Vietnam, touching down in Darwin, where customs officials in little shorts and long white socks emptied cans of insecticide up and down the aisle before permitting the plane on to Sydney. It was summer, then, so no Australian football—just languorous games of cricket playing in Bondi bars, and bright, unfamiliar crowds that provided respite from the burnt and busted bodies in the jungle further north. This country fascinated him, the people most of all. He visited again in the late seventies and, having met Mum, returned in 1982, leaving behind his life and loved ones in the Bay Area for good. Mum is not a nostalgic woman. Picturing her and Dad euphorically in love takes some imagination. I’m intrigued by her dry, bemused recount of the details: of Dad getting up with her at the crack of dawn, sitting there in the car for company as she drove to work at a hospital on the Central Coast—two hours up the highway on a regular basis, only to then ride the train back to Sydney once she’d clocked on. I seem to find these anecdotes, so stoic in their retelling, more touching than she does. Maybe the passing of time has ossified fond memories. Dad moved to Sydney the same year as the South Melbourne Swans. The team was one that lived in ­Melbourne and trained in Melbourne, and simply flew up to Sydney for their home games. Dad started watching the sport at a local pub in Bondi where thin, listless men would linger looking for heroin, scratching around while they waited for their man. Though remarkably indifferent to the world around them, their dismissive attitude towards the sport on the screens was something they seemed to share with the rest of the city— these were Victorian tastes. But by this stage Dad had sampled every sporting code, and this was the one he liked. He was taken to his first game by a group of other expatriates, which included folk from Wagga Wagga and an Irishman who dearly missed his Gaelic football.


In those days, the crowds were tiny but accessible and people enjoyed themselves; this stood in contrast to Dad’s experiences of Oakland Coliseum, where he had watched his beloved Raiders play in an atmosphere soaked in violence and intimidation. The Sydney Cricket Ground stands were playful, self-mocking and bizarre—a mirror reflecting the developing team itself. Around this time, Geoffrey Edelsten, a glitzy doctor from Melbourne, bought the Swans, flying onto the scene with helicopters, Lamborghinis and a slew of quick-fix measures to buoy the near-broken club. He poached top players and a coach from other teams, and introduced a group of gyrating cheerleaders, the Swanettes, who would perform at home games; later, a band of committed Sydney drag queens, the Swan Tits, began to mimic the dance routines from a bay of the grandstands, and soon became a household name themselves. Warwick Capper was around, too—an anthropological interest in his own right—with a blond mullet, pink boots and shorts a size tighter than his skin. Things were a little absurd. But it was the game’s movement that drew Dad back each week: its speed, power and grace, which gave rise to moments of beauty more akin to dancing or ballet. Dad shines when he talks about it: blue eyes in a brown face, dull gold glinting in the back of his mouth. I’ve heard this all before, and there’s a chance he knows that, but I don’t feel like interrupting. He’s excited to have me home. It’s nice to be here. I gently get the dog and sit him up at the table with us, resting his head— misshapen with new tumours—in the crook of my arm. Time out from beneath the cupboard seems to quicken his heartbeat, and his breathing, too, and the chunky little body wheezes uncomfortably in my lap. He’s only six. Every dog we’ve had has been an Australian Silky. Though Baz is as curious and friendly as the others, he’s always seemed endearingly amiss. Before the cancer, we’d been calling him Basil Fawlty. We got the first of these dogs in my first year of school: 1996, the first year the Swans had won a minor premiership since 1945. There was a lot to celebrate.

The previous five years had been horrific: three consecutive wooden spoons and a record-breaking twenty-six game losing streak. Dad sat through all of it as if observing penance. His fervour for the team had become such that, on the day of my birth, after snipping my umbilical cord, he went running from the hospital in Darlinghurst and made it to his little plastic seat before the opening bounce. I was born at 1:09pm. Kick-off was at 2:10pm. That day we beat the Demons by five. In the week leading up to that unsuccessful ’96 grand final, I remember clutching the first puppy under my arm as I stood amidst neighbours on the nature strip, watching Dad paint red and white stripes down the telegraph pole out the front of the house. He had thrown drop cloths over cars and the surrounding pavement and was applying paint in thick, even, alternating stripes with an extendable roller. A house painter of some years, his job was impressive enough to land him a write-up in the Sydney Morning Herald and a significant fine from the power company. But the Swans themselves soon contacted him and pledged to have the penalty waived—the power company was a club sponsor. Dad had progressed from private to public tragic. Those long and unsuccessful years had raised the stakes of Dad’s fandom, rusting identity to tragedy in the same way nations cling to their historical sorrows. He doesn’t watch to see them win, that’s for sure, but he finds it painful to watch them lose. The lounge room fills with tension and aggression. The television gets screamed at. His body sinks despairingly, head in hands, elbows on knees. And he pleads, advice sent begging through the ether: he yells at the coach, high up there in the glass box, or sends furious texts, bashing them into his protected phone screen, delivering them second by second to Wagga Wagga, Melbourne, Murwillumbah. Having other bodies in the room brings an even greater gravity to a game, but conversation is not encouraged. Unrelated chat ought to take itself outside. When Mum has a friend around, they find themselves shoosh’d or c’mahn’d: pleas so wildly sincere that they

/ 97

Swan Song

‘His fervour for the team had become such that, on the day of my birth, after snipping my umbilical cord, he went running from the hospital in Darlinghurst and made it to his little plastic seat before the opening bounce.’ cannot be reckoned with. He shows the whites of his eyes, and his upturned palms, and any common metre of manners is disregarded, overridden by a madness that people seemingly accept—an obsession vindicated by all those seasons attended, all those moments missed, all the sweat and tears and money spent. He continues to pay for our memberships, doling out more and more cash each year as he has done since 1996. Mum rarely goes to games, and my sister and I live out of state. Still, it’s not hard to find guests to take. The AFL is now relatively popular in Sydney, and the Swans have been very successful in the last twenty years, missing finals only three times since 1995. The statistics only make you wonder about Dad’s pessimism. When the team wins, it’s often because they ‘got lucky’, ‘scraped through’ or ‘got there on guts alone’. Even in years at the top of the table, when every pundit is singing our praises in the papers, it’s the other teams down at fourth and fifth position that are the ‘ones to watch’. Hard times are coming. Loss awaits perpetually. Not much of the world escapes this attitude. If Dad sees the world in bitter red and white, Mum drinks from a glass half full. Hope remains to the final siren, no matter how dire the margin. Before they were married, she didn’t miss a game. Now she sometimes watches the last quarter, considering those twenty-­ some minutes an appropriate length for the entire match. In rare moments, she’s incredibly involved. If a game is ending tight, she’ll go and get a particular pair of earrings, small green circles with Chinese characters, and clutch them during tense moments inside fifty. She cheers when we score a behind, believing that one is better than none in spite of any potential sixes. Occasionally, when things are terrible or the margin is too close to bear, she calls for intervention, drowning out the commentator with a prayer: Hail Mary, full of grace, put the ball in the right place. Raised by her

98 /

Irish-Catholic mother and grandmother, she’s incredibly strong and reasonably superstitious. When my sister and I travel, she begs us to take some little Buddha coin-like thing, or some other charm or trinket, or she crosses herself discreetly or, less discreetly, flicks tap water on the car as it speeds out of the driveway and out of reach. At Easter, Mum still thinks it’s possible for the dog to recover, to have one more good day. The vet said he’d hardly seen anything like it: tumours growing in Baz’s neck and throat and down his front legs. We wipe slobber off the underside of his mouth, look into his little black eyes, still vivid in the bloated face, and try to feed him things he usually finds irresistible—cheese, crackers, Schmackos. He just wants water. Since the dog’s diagnosis, I’d been calling more regularly. It seemed important to keep tabs on Mum and Dad as much as Baz. Dad told me that he loved the dog. That was a development. As the retiree, he’d been the one tending to Baz through the months of decay. They’d walk for as long or as little as Baz wanted, and Dad no longer screamed at him when he took off to hassle the front gate of a local adversary, or when he ate garbage or rolled in bird shit. Some things mattered less, some things more. In phone calls, Dad detailed how the steroids and antihistamines needed to be mixed with little treats in the food bowl to mask their suspicious flavours. He was even getting down on the ground with a pair of scissors to carefully trim the dog’s fringe. By mid-April, Baz was no longer interested in walking, so they’d get in the ute and drive to a salt-scrub headland which overlooks the ocean, and simply sit, sniff and enjoy the view. When I arrived on Good Friday, the dog was eating and even giving a bark or two whenever someone came through the gate. But on Saturday, he was bad. Mum tried to get him to the couch to watch the game,


but he just wanted to return to the cupboard. The Tigers delivered us our fourth loss from five games: their pressure on the ball handler was manic, almost cruel, and we never looked up to the task. It was the first game that I’d watched with Dad this year, and he was more subdued than I’d expected. These days his hearing aids tune to the television, forming a bond with the footy’s rolling commentary or the dialogue of some Scandi noir that is difficult to penetrate. But he hates advertisements the way he always has, and so during the game the volume is muted after every goal, and during the quarter-time breaks, too. In those quiet moments we enjoy a peaceful regard for one another, and for the animals and what they mean to the family. Being away, I had not been privy to the undulations of Baz’s decline, but for Dad, the daily observation of that slow, unjust end—and the duties it birthed—had given rise to a subtle recalibration.

go tomorrow. Pain was being prolonged for the sake of a few more memories. In a rare reversal of the childhood order, I was surprised to see both of my parents yield. Dad agreed vocally enough, though his body remained busy rustling in the lee of the fridge door, and I knew then that he’d miss the pooch dearly. Mum replied with a sympathetic groan, and then, as she moved down the hall to check on the dog again, said that she had to work tomorrow and could not take him to the vet but absolutely wanted to be sitting with him when he took the injection, and so the appointment should be booked for the evening. That night, we sat down for dinner around the heavy wooden table, with the other dog, Ernie, clattering around our feet. He was already showing a new lease on life, though nobody wanted to talk about it yet. I had the first flight out of Sydney early the next morning: up at the crack of dawn, carry-on bag

‘Those long and unsuccessful years had raised the stakes of Dad’s fandom, rusting identity to tragedy in the same way nations cling to their historical sorrows.’ On Sunday, the day of resurrection, Baz moved to a darker corner of the house and crawled beneath an unused bed in an unused room. We needed to put him down, that was obvious to me, yet no one had committed to anything. Most of me expected Dad to pick up the phone, ring the vet and get it done. To demand an outcome, that would’ve been like him—not to seem so hesitant, impartial. He wasn’t deferring to faith in some miraculous comeback so much as letting Mum—who continued to mention that the dog had good days and bad days and might have a few more good days—make the call. The last dog had lived to a proper old age until, one day, he walked off beneath the heavy monstera and lay down quietly like a good boy. That was the natural way of things: the correct ending to his story. The three of us were clustered by the fridge, each wanting to retrieve something different, when I put my foot down and said, rather gruffly, that Baz needed to

jam-packed and waiting by the front door. I went to see Baz at his new spot in the spare room before I left. I kissed his head, muttered some meaningless baby talk, listened to a few laboured breaths, and said goodbye. Melbourne, when I got there, was cold and grey, and I thought about the dog all day. Dad had conceived of a small memorial before Baz was even gone. Less than twenty-four hours after the dog was euthanised, there he was in photo form: hanging from the lounge room wall, staring placidly through a thick fringe in the direction of the television, pride of place next to the shot of Paul Kelly marking over the shoulders of Glenn Archer in the 1996 grand final. The accompanying quote is one I’ve heard Dad repeat before. It goes like this: Outside of a book, a dog is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read. I sat there, chuckling, feeling far from home. •

/ 99

We All Know Frogs Go La Di Da Di Da By Matthew Wojczys Frogs typically have four legs, and I’ve even seen a fivelegged toad hopping in circles, but the frog that squats on a violin bow has none. It is a block of ebony decorated with two pearlescent eyes. Inside is a mechanism that tightens the bow hair. Think of this hair as your tongue—sticky with rosin, it catches insectoid melodies buzzing on the string. When I told students to curl their fingers over the bow frog, they wouldn’t think of a delicate do-hickey with an eyelet, screw, mortise and ferrule. They would think of an amphibian that bulges with pride, or some other emotion they couldn’t yet identify, a slimy music box creaking and un-creaking in the wet heat of summer. Though ‘slimy’ is an impolite adjective, you must admit it’s evocative. So I understood this girl’s confusion when she asked, ‘How does it hop with no legs?’ I didn’t want to discourage her. ‘It’s still a tadpole,’ I said. ‘You have to care for it by practising lots.’ She smiled. I pursued the metaphor. ‘Try again—don’t squeeze the frog, you’ll hurt it.’ Are tadpoles frogs? Human children are called human, unless they misbehave. Either way, the metaphor helped. Tongue poking between her lips, the girl scratched out something resembling an F sharp. The mother twitched. After teaching children for so many years, I’m accustomed to the high pitch. I even hear it when I’m trying to sleep. The sound has no external source, nor am I imagining things. Rather, my body responds to a missing stimulus, like shivering when you see a picture of a blizzard or sense a lover’s presence long after they’ve died. Tinnitus, it’s called. ‘Wow, do you hear the difference?’ I asked. ‘Now that you’re not holding it so tightly?’ The girl was beaming. The mother seemed less impressed. At the start of the lesson, she had scribbled my every instruction into a notepad. Then, without patience or rhythm, she tapped her foot.

100 /

‘Maybe it would help if you actually played something for her.’ It’s perfectly reasonable to expect a violin teacher to play the violin. Plus, I didn’t want to lose another prospective student. Picking up the bow, my fingers fell dutifully into position: my pinkie and thumb pinched the wood while the rest relaxed on top. Already I felt the stiffness creeping into my knuckles. I began to play a simple melody, either ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ or ‘Now I Know My ABCs’. I can’t remember which. Without the lyrics, they are indistinguishable because they share the same tune. This used to bemuse some of my students, as if they’d crossed their eyes and couldn’t stop seeing double. Whichever it was, the melody was recognisable so that the girl could copy my technique. I played slowly, the whole length of bow gliding up the string, but the stiffness had morphed into biting pain. My wrist refused to bend and my tone croaked amateurishly. I used to be proud of the pain because it would only manifest after long hours of practice. Now I can’t bear moving my hands even minutely. I had to stop playing—my hands were balloons ready to burst. I could feel the mother scrutinising me, realising that I couldn’t turn her progeny into a prodigy. At the end of the lesson I told her my rates and available days. Every day. I heard crickets chirping. Or maybe it was my tinnitus. ‘Thanks, I’ll let you know,’ she said. • In some cultures, frogs are a symbol of prosperity and wealth. A dollar sign is another symbol of wealth. I haven’t seen as many dollars as I’d like but I find frogs everywhere—English is full of them. In flower arrangements, a frog is the plastic disc which holds stems in place. A frog is also the triangular groove in a horse’s hoof. Even


the walls of my house are filled with frogs, the word for those holes in the middle of a brick. Of course, I couldn’t expect linguistic amphibians to bring prosperity. Instead, I relied on the frogs that lived in the scummy pond behind my house. I usually heard them gurgle in summer, auctioning for the limited real estate. Summer was in full swing and I still hadn’t heard a thing. It was also the first time I hadn’t been able to teach properly due to the pain in my hands. Coincidence? That’s what I thought at first. To resolve my pain, I consulted a relaxation tape—rheumatologists are expensive. The tape said pain emerges from stress and stress incubates in the body and the body is servant to the mind. It seemed logical enough. Let your mind take you to the beach, the tape said, or a shaded grove. Visualise your goals. I closed my eyes and crossed my legs on the lounge room floor. I drank the humid air through my skin. A glass of water perspired on the coffee table. Bugs bounced off the windows, humming in my ears. I couldn’t sit still any longer; the world was performing around me and I was visualising my rent being paid. So I adapted the tape’s advice. I wouldn’t just visualise my goals, I would actualise them. I opened my violin case and raised the velvet shroud from my instrument’s body. If you saw it, you wouldn’t believe that some people pay for new violins to be professionally damaged, the wood scraped and chipped to give an impression of experience. They see value in old age. There’s even a phrase for it, ‘the older the violin, the sweeter the music’. Fridge magnet wisdom. Next I took the bow from my case. If you’re not playing, your bow hair should be slack, otherwise it might tear when the wood expands from heat and moisture. I started twisting the frog’s tail, tautening the hair for performance. I visualised myself onstage. A spotlight shone on me and I bowed, revealing a thick head of varnished hair

to the crowd. I played sautillé and rolled vibrato with ease. My fingers leapt all over the fingerboard, splashed into a beautiful clear tone. In the lounge room, my bow hair was taut enough to play, but still I turned the frog. Familiar faces spawned in the crowd. My mentor, who would rap my knuckles if I neglected practice, was teary with pride. That girl’s mother, who was so unimpressed earlier, her mouth hung open with awe. Even my childhood dog was there, tongue lolling. She would howl along whenever I played, before she went deaf. The crowd ribbited with anticipation for my final note, about to land, when a twang pulled me back into the lounge room. The bow hair had ripped. I felt it tear like an overworked muscle. It was painful. Do you know how much it costs to re-hair a bow? Hundreds. And my ears rang with imagined notes in an imagined concert hall. Actually, it was a bug. I didn’t see it, I only heard it hum past my ears. It tormented me no matter how I swiped or shooed. Without thinking, I clapped—and missed. The bug didn’t burst against my palms, but my hands felt like they’d burst. What I did catch, though, was a revelation. The pain in my hands wasn’t the source of my problems, it was a symptom of the missing frogs. Then the solution hatched: what if I could collect froggish prosperity on a regular basis? Tests would have to be done. Could I absorb their prosperity in a passive, osmotic process? Or would I have to squeeze it out like a juiced orange? I wondered about diet. Perhaps the quality of feed would affect the quality of prosperity—people always fuss over grass-fed Wagyu beef. In which case, pet shop mealworms seem insufficient. This is not a perfunctory venture, so you can look forward to my home-bred crickets. In a few years, insects will be a staple global food source. High protein, low cost. I’m making an investment.

/ 101

We All Know Frogs Go La Di Da Di Da

‘I sifted through the water, if you could call it that, squeezing everything my hands found: stones, old bottles, memories of playing at the weddings of friends, and funerals too, and the realisation that I broke my violin bow on purpose, that I couldn’t stand the shame and disappointment of losing my song.’ I knew it was illegal to take frogs or their spawn from the wild. Kidnapping seems a more suitable term. Please understand, though, I was desperate. I had to consider what was better value, risking a fine or visiting a licensed breeder. Pricey either way. The dilemma stuck to me like sweaty clothes. I hadn’t had so much trouble sleeping since I was eighteen, on the eve of my conservatorium audition. The air was so humid you could have swum through it. With the windows open, I heard thousands of insects auditioning for a position in the genetic orchestra. Music is an instinct. You’ll understand when you’re older, when you’ve developed legs and an air sac. Somewhere in the din of males rubbing their tymbals, I thought I heard a solution to my dilemma, a wet sound recalled from past summers. A frog song. I could hardly believe my ears, considering my tinnitus. I didn’t bother with shoes before wandering through my backyard, out the gate and into the noisy darkness, thick enough to be the walls of a house. I felt my way down the hall, coaxed by the come-hither frog song, down a gentle slope where my feet met wet mud and tall grasses. I pushed bulrushes aside, embarrassed that they reminded me of a shower curtain, and stepped into the smell of sewage—far from an aphrodisiac. It was no breeding ground. I swear I had heard a frog song. I tried to keep calm. You are 60 per cent water, my tape said, so go with the flow. The remaining 40 per cent? Green gunk, left behind by the flow that congeals around sewage pipes. I sifted through the water, if you could call it that, squeezing everything my hands found: stones, old bottles,

102 / Art by Alexandra Burns

memories of playing at the weddings of friends, and funerals too, and the realisation that I broke my violin bow on purpose, that I couldn’t stand the shame and disappointment of losing my song. It all slipped through my grasp. There were no frogs hibernating in the mud. I had heard a frog song, but it was just an echo in a concert hall. • When they write my biography, that will be the sad part, the all-is-lost moment before success. And there will be a scene in a pawnshop where I explain to some cretin that the scratches and dents in my violin mean it’s valuable. Old. Of course, it wasn’t easy to sell, but I made an investment. That’s where you came in. A breeder sold me slobbers of frogspawn, jarfuls of jellied commas and full stops. All good stories are about change and metamorphosis. You, my wonderful little alchemists, will produce change. You will digest insects and excrete gold; you will transmute pain into music. I used to give my students some advice that I now pass onto you. Even if they didn’t have time to practise scales or pieces, I told them to practise listening. Here, listen to Bly, swallow his poem and make music: Every musician wants his fingers to play faster So that he can go deeper into the kingdom of pain. Each note on the string calls for one note more.1 • 1 Bly, Robert. “Waking in the Middle of the Night.” Poetry 185, 4 (2005): 284.

C o n t r i b u t o r s Safdar Ahmed is a Sydney-based artist and academic in the field of Islamic studies. He is the author of Reform and Modernity in Islam and the Walkley Award-winning web comic, Villawood: Notes from an Immigration Detention Centre. He works mostly in the mediums of drawing and comics, and is a founding member of the community art organisation, Refugee Art Project.

David Fenderson grew up in Canberra and currently writes and makes music in Melbourne. His research interests include representations of place and displacement, and how complex configurations of physical and virtual movement intersect subjectivity across the globalsphere. He has had recent work published in Interior and Demos.

Hannah Aroni is a writer, director, dramaturge and illustrator. Her writing has appeared in Overland and SBS Life and she recently co-created and directed Helping Hands, a new work from A_tistic which debuted in a sellout season at La Mama. She’s worked in law, disability advocacy and academia, and is currently completing her Master of Social Work.

Rachel Fetherston is a writer based in Naarm/Melbourne currently undertaking a PhD in Literary Studies at Deakin University. She loves to write about speculative and science fiction, environmental philosophy, native Australian species and habitats, and the health benefits of nature connection. Her PhD research is primarily concerned with the representation of the non-human in Australian ecofiction, and whether such fiction has an impact on readers’ connection to nature. She has worked in the Australian independent book trade for over five years and is a co-founder of Remember The Wild, a non-profit that focuses on engaging Australians with the natural world.

Grayce Arlov is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. She is a graduate of the University of Melbourne’s Master of Publishing and Communications degree. Her hobbies include making tea and then forgetting about it, loitering in bookstores and bushwalking. Anna Kate Blair is a writer and cultural historian from New Zealand. She has had work in publications including Litro, The Appendix, King’s Review, The Island Review and 10 Stories: Writing About Architecture. She shares a birthday with Charles Baudelaire.

Sam Flynn is a writer based in Melbourne. His work has appeared in The Lifted Brow, Swampland, Archer Magazine, Right Now and Going Postal, a recent publication by Brow Books.

Alexandra Burns is a Melbourne-based artist. After completing her Bachelor of Arts and writing her Honours thesis on modern fascist colonial architecture in Libya, she is currently undertaking a Master of Architecture at the University of Melbourne. Alexandra uses a mixture of gouache, watercolour and ink in her work. Her paintings explore themes of introversion, anxiety, and finding strength and comfort in an interior, dream-like world.

Matt Gold is based in Brooklyn, New York, where he divides his time between music and photography. His first image, a picture of his cat on a Sony Ericsson Z310A flip phone, was taken in 2008. He has continued to explore the aesthetic possibilities of that instrument to reveal a contemporary nostalgia that encompasses the prolific imagery of our visual culture. His work has been featured in numerous publications and journals.

Madeleine Dale is a Brisbane poet and word enthusiast. She holds a First Class Honours degree and University Medal in Creative Writing, and is currently completing a Master of Philosophy at the University of Queensland. Her work can be found in Wildness, Cordite, Voiceworks, Ibis House and Meanjin, among others.

Issie Hallwright is currently studying a Master of Global Media Communications at the University of Melbourne. She’s a Kiwi who grew up between Sydney and A ­ uckland. Melbourne is her fourth city in eighteen months, and she’s hoping to stay put for a while. This is the first time she’s tried to get her poetry published.

Shastra Deo is a poet, PhD candidate and videogame enthusiast living in Brisbane. Her first book, The Agonist (UQP 2017), won the 2016 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and the 2018 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal.

Ilsa Harun is a lover of all things travel, photography and cats. She holds both a Master of Marketing Communications and a Bachelor of Arts, and is currently working as a production assistant on a Screen Australia-funded documentary.

Winnie Jiao is a Melbourne-based artist and a graduate of the University of Melbourne’s Bachelor of Commerce. During her time as a student, she was actively involved in the university magazine Farrago as a graphics contributor. She mainly works in a mix of traditional pencil and digitally rendered art. Sonia Jude is a freelance illustrator and self-taught tattoo artist from Melbourne. Their work is currently being published in Farrago, Judy’s Punch and online student publication Et Cetera. Their art highlights the limiting nature of gender and sexuality as means of identification, and aims to blur this distinction by exploring gendered stereotypes, particularly those placed on women. Sonia draws inspiration from witchcraft, fantasy, mythology and tattoo design to creative emotive illustrations. Laura Kay Keeling is a Toronto-based artist whose work encompasses 35mm photography, collage and installation projects. Her work explores the idea of ‘home’, specifically how we utilise and design living spaces and form connections with communities. Laura has always been drawn to extreme environments and is driven to explore the connection between art and nature. Dali Lenoir is a former explosives physicist/vibration engineer undertaking postgraduate studies at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Dali enjoys sitting under the Old Arts building clock tower while munching on crêpes (sucre-citron). Dali and her cat Pierrot enjoy observing the night sky with their telescope. Recently they’ve become Aurora chasers after spotting their first glimpse of Aurora Australis. Emma Magnusson-Reid was born in Tasmania and raised on a rural property. This upbringing in the natural environment provided a strong source of inspiration, motivating her to develop an arts practice addressing environmental issues. After living and studying art for five years in Hobart, Magnusson-Reid is once again in a country setting; a life with fewer gallery openings and more chasing after sheep, observing the infinite change and absurdity that nature brings. Her artworks question what it means to exist in a world made of natural and unnatural forces, and allude to a conflict between beauty and darkness. Joel Mak studies in the Master of Public Policy and Management at the University of Melbourne by day and teaches ESL by night. His nonfiction work explores culture and language, while his creative fiction revolves around music, sport and identity. His work has been published in Ibis House, Farrago, carte blanche, Litbreak and elsewhere. He is a local in Sydney, Ipoh and Montreal.

Nicole Melanson grew up near Boston and studied at NYU and Oxford. After eighteen years in Sydney, she now resides in Brisbane with her husband and five young sons. A recipient of Australia Council grants in both poetry and fiction, Nicole also writes about feminism, disability and parenting, and edits WordMothers, a website dedicated to showcasing women’s work in the literary arts. Her work has won numerous awards and appeared in dozens of journals around the world. Eloïse Mignon has worked as an actress in Australia and France. She is currently studying for a PhD and works as a teaching associate in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. She has published writing in Meanjin. Thuy On is an arts and literary journalist and critic who has written for a range of publications including The Australian, The Age/SMH, The Saturday Paper, ArtsHub and Books + Publishing. She is also the books editor for The Big Issue. Marina Scott is a graduate in English Literature from Cambridge University. She specialises in contemporary fiction and poetry, with a particular focus on discourses of gender and queerness. Her undergraduate dissertation explored British author Daisy Johnson’s debut novel Everything Under, deconstructing discourses of gender fluidity in relation to landscape and language. She’s also interested in feminist retellings and rememberings of myth and folklore. Marina is currently ­working at Cambridge Literary Festival and performing with artist Paul Kindersley at Kettle’s Yard Gallery. W. C. Scott is a writer living and teaching English in Melbourne. Christy Tan is a settler/migrant living on un-ceded/stolen land in Birraranga/Narrm, originally from Malaysia of Chinese descent, via so-called Perth. Ellen van Neerven is an award-winning writer of Mununjali Yugambeh (South East Queensland) and Dutch heritage. They write fiction, poetry, plays and nonfiction. Ellen’s books include Heat and Light (UQP, 2014) and Comfort Food (UQP, 2016). Matthew Wojczys lives and writes in Melbourne. His prose and poetry focus on environmental issues. Tyson Yunkaporta belongs to the Apalech Clan from Cape York in Australia. He holds a doctorate in Education and is a senior lecturer in Indigenous Knowledge at Deakin University in Melbourne. He is a researcher, published author and poet.

$19.95 #29 October 2019

Profile for Antithesis Journal

Antithesis Volume 29: Devotion  

Antithesis is a refereed arts and humanities journal showcasing progressive, insightful work from Melbourne and around the world since 1987....

Antithesis Volume 29: Devotion  

Antithesis is a refereed arts and humanities journal showcasing progressive, insightful work from Melbourne and around the world since 1987....


Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded