25 July, VIRUS 2020

Record daily rise in global cases with almost 285,000 new infections. The Guardian

Fires in Pantanal, world’s largest tropical wetlands, ‘triple’ in 2020. BBC

Chief public health officer warns of pandemic ‘fatigue’ as cases surge among young people. CBC

The violent situation in Portland for the past 56 straight days continues with violent anarchists rioting on the streets as federal law enforcement … www.dhs.gov

Wake to the fire alarm around 4.50. I get up, take my phone to the door am about to step out and record the ear-piercing wail and the sonorous voice urging residents to evacuate when it turns off. I take some photographs of the fire engine flashing, colours are magic. Just a couple of stars pierce the light pollution. Andrew sleeps through, doesn’t believe me until I show him my evidence.
The last time I stayed here, six months ago, the fire alarm went off in the evening, and we all met outside on a summer’s evening and chatted. I am not used to this. Light traffic on Crystal Street, a Raven’s crying in the nearest tree, the first plane passes overhead at 6.24, air traffic is way down, whinging Indian Mynas, death rattles from the fridge.
I pick up Wyn from the station. We wander to Andrew’s shop, via a confusion of small streets.

. . . could there be an end to capitalism? Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (1776) showed how ‘free trade’ opens up economic gains with specialised divisions of labour the efficiency of large scale production. Without factoring in free trade is never free, that the rich exploit the poor. 1776 was the year Jefferson drafted  a passage attacking slavery in the Declaration of Independence, which was excised by the delegates. Modes of production have changed, information has risen to the top, but control and surveillance are in full use.

How to recognise the beginning of the end, the garbage piling up in the streets, the dead lying abandoned in the streets? Civil unrest? Where are we going?
Minimal sculptural form with a useful entry/exit mouth, someone designed this, cost a factor, when was everything going to plan?
A child’s ghost taking a strange turn, where are they, how old? Accidental? Is happiness their mode?

Footprints found in 1978 by palaeontologist Mary Leakey in north-eastern Tanzania, just south of Olduvai Gorge. Moe have been found since of an adult male Australopithecus afarensis, two or three adult females and two or three children. Three and a half million years ago, are we related?
The formal beauty of paintings, flat sheets of colour. I am fond of this memory. I wanted more but he noticed me and became suspicious, as if I was paparazzo.
I once saw Elvis pop into a bakery in some tourist village in the Cotswolds. This fan advises ‘You will all be shook up’. It was after 16 August 1977, when he was sitting on the throne and I was Morocco.
When you see the dirty pavements decorated it is cause for a smile. And these flakes of rich burgundy are lovely.
Stanmore: inner west coffee shop, simple, basic, minimal, trendy,distressed . What more could you want? Fairtrade Coffee? (which doesn’t factor the environmental impacts. Coffee processing plants frequently pollute rivers.)
In Andrew’s upmarket shop I chat to the staff, and take a shot of my misty rendition of Point Lookout (it’s for sale!)
We return, briefly following unicorns, off for a shoot of magical creatures.
Shopping trolleys are the bane of local councils, but useful for lazy people (or old, disabled, disadvantaged). Neighbours are the bane of city living.
Melaleuca linariifolia, commonly known as narrow-leaved paperbark, flax-leaved paperbark and in the language of the Gadigal people as budjur. It is in the myrtle family Myrtaceae and endemic to New South Wales and Queensland. Birds use it for shelter, the insects, as a nesting site and source of nesting materials.

~

Perhaps my recent work up at Valla has been a psychogeography of natural places, not Guy Debord’s 1955 reworking of Baudelaire’s concept of the urban flâneur.

Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal reveals modern cities as subjects for poetry; their democratic mode is linked to Alain-René Lesage’s picaresque tradition of ordinary people having adventures.[1] The city’s sublime size and unknowableness terrified de Quincey,[2] but intrigued Rimbaud,[3] and later generations of Parisian writers.[4] After ten years in a village a long way from Sydney’s manic Inner West where I spent nearly thirty years, I now sympathise with de Quincey. Influenced by both Baudelaire and Louis Aragon’s Le Paysan du Paris (1926), Walter Benjamin considered aimless and arbitrary wandering a proper means of viewing the modern world. He wrote, ‘Paris taught me this art of straying; it fulfilled a dream that had shown its first traces in the labyrinth.’[5]

6 March, 1956, Guy Debord and fellow Letterist Internationale[6], poet and artist Gil J. Wolman wandered through the 11th arondisment of Paris, ‘an area whose poor commercial standardisation is a good example of repulsive petit-bourgeois landscape. The only pleasing encounter is the store at 160, rue Oberkampf: ‘Delicatessen-provisions A. Breton’. [7]They were trying to defamiliarise themselves. They were pissed and stopped as it got dark, ending, ‘a day they deemed to be of little interest as such.’ They wanted to drift through the city by unconscious desires, not consumerist desires (‘the spectacle’). Debord’s method of Dérive (‘drifting’) is, ‘a technique of transient passage through varied ambiences… In a Dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.’[8] The city is always changing, but so is a natural environment.

Gary Snyder walks through Manhattan, seeing the dynamism of the urban nature continuum, the history, the native peoples, homeless people, peregrine falcons:

Alive, in the Sea of Information…
Peregrines nest at the thirty-fifth floor…           Gary Snyder [9]

Debord said the term psychogeography of came to him when he was so stoned in Jardin des Plantes that he got lost. [10] I have spent many hours in that main botanical garden in France en route to visiting friends in the country. We got to the Gare d’Austerlitz at lunchtime and found that there was not a single train until rush hour, so we retreated to the park next-door for a long afternoon. I have poems somewhere I wrote that day as proof. When the ‘mob’ attacked Louis XVI’s magnificent animal collection, survivors were placed in the Jardin des Plantes forming the first public zoo. Prussian shelling begun in January, 1871, which Victor Hugo called ‘The Terrible Year’. Parisians slept in underground caves  and Parisian chefs used the zoo stock to serve elephants ears from the well loved Castor and Pollux, and macaw and baboon.

W.G. Sebald’s last book ‘Austerlitz’ (2001) is a digressive novel about Austerlitz, a character who becomes friends with the narrator in Antwerp’s railway station. ‘I did not return to my senses until I was in the Salpêtrière, to which I had been taken and where I was now lying in one of the men’s wards … somewhere in that gigantic complex of buildings where the borders between hospital and penitentiary have always been blurred, and which seems to have grown and spread of its own volition over the centuries until it now forms a universe of its own between the Jardin des Plantes and the Gare d’Austerlitz.’ [11]

Austerlitz travels to and Liege, Brussels and London where Austerlitz walks the streets in the early hours night after night., they meet up in Paris and . The style is casual but hypnotic, sentence meander and lengthen. Found photographs, blurred grey offer a documentary feel with exact descriptions of place (sometimes).  Austerlitz is a melancholic lonely academic with a history of mental breakdowns (his first in Paris while searching for his father). A librarian helps him and she goes on holiday with him to Marienbad, (that film is lost in loops of time) the past like memory dissolves.

Sebald was never a scholar proceeding logically along established lines of thought, he was too curious, too open to chance. He wrote fiction, documentary, memoire, anecdote, a variety.

But I never liked doing things systematically. Not even my Ph.D. research was done systematically. It was done in a random, haphazard fashion. The more I got on, the more I felt that, really, one can find something only in that way — in the same way in which, say, a dog runs through a field. If you look at a dog following the advice of his nose, he traverses a patch of land in a completely unplottable manner. And he invariably finds what he is looking for. I think that, as I’ve always had dogs, I’ve learned from them how to do this. Austerlitz, 2001.

Here am I campaigning against dogs where they don’t belong, in estuaries with threatened birds.

I don’t think it was dogs, but Levi Strauss’ notion of bricolage: ‘In its older sense, the verb bricoleur (improvise) pertained to ball games and billiards, to hunting and horse-riding, but always denoting an unforeseen happening: a ball that bounces back, a dog that goes off the track, a horse that turns aside from the straight path to avoid an obstacle.’ [12] The bricoleur improvises using ‘the means at hand’. He or she ‘works with his hands and uses devious means compared to those of a craftsman.’ Deviation is important, no rules followed, no orders obeyed to the last letter. He uses the hideous term ‘savage’ for the mythopoetic yet embodied and in touch with the environment.

  • The ‘savage’ is a bricoleur, assembling, adapting ‘the means at hand’, adding, deleting, substituting and transforming objects;
  • The ‘scientist’ is an engineer, creating objects ‘out of nothing’;
  • The artist is ‘half-way between’.

We see objects as useful aggregates not so much as present-at-hand, but Heidegger’s notion of ‘ready-to-hand’ (zuhanden).[13] Vorhanden (‘present-at-hand’) suggests an objective entity in isolation, whereas zuhanden implies connectivities between agency, action and the object. For Merleau-Ponty, human action is primal, aimed at gripping the world. We understand a tool (‘equipment’) through its use, by understanding its readiness-to-hand. The flexibility of the human hand affords choice in how it handles the world. Raymond Tallis calls this, ‘manipulative indeterminacy’ which ‘ultimately is the basis for the intuition of agency. . . The hand becomes a tool; the body becomes an instrument; and we emerge as true agents.’[14]  Agency assumes responsibility.

~

After getting back to the flat, an old friend turned up and we squeezed into the Aldi and drove to Ashfield, an area new to me.
We waited twenty minutes for a physically distanced table in the New Shanghai.
They gave our Soft Shelled crab to a different table and forgot our Roast Duck, we ate late but were so busy talking, it was of no consequence, and their prawn dumplings were delicious.

~

I was thinking that this great debate about statues [see June 9 post] is not that relevant, given that nobody takes any notice of them usually, as they walk past going about their business. The statues of old are not seen as art but as something from the past and belonging back there.

Back in the Inner West, these works of art caught my eye.

‘Statues are dumb. They cannot represent big or complex themes. All they can do is function as crude symbols. They reduce history to celebrity culture. The reason why so many Victorian statues survive in our cities is that 19th-century historians believed history was created by “great men” and their leadership.’[15]

[1] The French novelist Alain-René Lesage adapted the Cervantes’ picaresque novel for a ‘real’ working class character Gil Blas who encountered real obstacles which influenced the English novel. Smollett translated Gil Blas with great success. It led to Fielding writing Tom Jones.

[2] ‘London is a city with monstrous, sublime and seemingly infinite – and therefore unknowable – proportions.’ Quoted by Julian Wolfreys, Writing London, Macmillan, 1998, p105.

[3] ‘I thought I might be able to estimate the depth of the city. But the marvel I was unable to judge was that of the levels of the other parts above or below the Acropolis. For the foreigner of our own day, exploration is impossible.’ Rimbaud, Villes 2, Les Illuminations (1873 – 1875).

[4] The city street is ‘the Zone’ where Apollinaire experienced life surging up into the sky, as he hummed tunes and composed poems walking through Paris. It’s the locale for Louis Aragon’s narrator in Le Paysan de Paris (Night-Walker) (1926 / 1953). Paris is a place of modern consumerist and technological excitement and ever-changing; a place of mobility, of ‘surprising detours’ as Andre Breton put in Nadja, (1928) his discursive essay / novel / dream sequence. And now Sydney is full of surprising detours, new roads new toll ways, new diversions.

[5] The labyrinth is the mirrored structure of his uncertain, unfinished collagist form for the Arcades. Baudelaire was central to Banjamin’s Arcades project. In ‘Moscow’ (1927), he wrote, ‘Yet one day the gate, the church that were the boundary of a district become without warning its centre. Now the city turns into a labyrinth for the newcomer. .  The whole exciting sequence of topographical dummies that deceives him could only be shown by a film: the city is on its guard against him, masks itself, flees, intrigues, lures him to wander its circles to the point of exhaustion.’ Walter Benjamin, Reflections: Essays . . Ed., Peter Demetz, Schochen Books, 1978, p99. Mention labyrinth and Jorge Luis Borges comes to mind, ‘No one realized that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same.’ ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ in Labyrinths – Selected Stories & Other Writings, New Directions, 1962.

[6] June 1952, Wolman and Debord formed the Letterist International, a Paris-based collective which morphed into the Situationist International. ‘The group was a motley assortment of novelists, sound poets, painters, film-makers, revolutionaries, bohemians, alcoholics, petty criminals, lunatics, under-age girls and self-proclaimed failures.’ Wiki

[7] Guy Debord, ‘Gathering of Urban Ambiances by Means of the Dérive’, Les Lèvres Nues #9 (November 1956). https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/presitu/twoaccounts.html

[8] Guy Debord, ‘Theory of The Dérive’, Internationale Situationniste #2, 1958, in Ken Knabb Ed., Situationist International anthology, Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981, p50.

[9] ‘Walking the New York Bedrock’, Mountains and Rivers Without End, Counterpoint, 1996, p99.

[10] Ian Marchant, Walking with Attitude, 4 Dec 2011. Sunday Feature, BBC Radio 3 https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b017ss48. He follows that original walk. On psychogeography, ‘It was invented by drug-influenced French situationists – who described it as “pleasingly vague” – as they wandered round Paris in an attempt to escape the banalisation of the “spectacle”. But British writers like Will Self, Iain Sinclair and Stewart Home have made the term almost mainstream.’

[11] W G Sebald, Austerlitz, Hamish Hamilton, 2001, p375-376.

[12] Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, trans. George Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962; Chicago: UCP, 1966.

[13] Heidegger, ‘Hands’ Lecture 1, in What is Called Thinking? Harper & Row, 1968, p16.

[14] Raymond Tallis, ‘Carpal Knowledge’, Philosophy Now, No 33, Sept/Oct. 2001, p25.

[15] Jonathan Jones, Statues are lies selfies in bronze – and you can’t bring history to life with a dead art’, The Guardian, 22 July