July 5, VIRUS 2020

Why do Muslim states stay silent over China’s abuse of the Uighurs? The Guardian

‘We don’t see ourselves as a cold country’: Why is it so hard to stay warm in Sydney?: More people die from cold temperatures in Sydney than Sweden, which housing advocates blame on energy poverty and poor building standards. SMH

France returns trophy skulls of Algerian resistance fighters: The resistance fighters were decapitated by French colonial forces and their remains displayed in a museum for decades. ABC

Jobs hope emerges for koala park proposal: A study is underway to determine the true number of jobs that would be created by the Great Koala National Park. Coffs Coast Advocate

Black and Latino people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in a widespread manner that spans the country, throughout hundreds of counties in urban, suburban and rural areas, and across all age groups. NY Times

Weak, divided, incompetent… the west is unfit to challenge Xi’s bid for global hegemony. The Guardian

Fourth of July: Trump vows to defeat ‘radical left’ in Independence Day speech. BBC

Previous pandemics have unfolded in “waves” of infections, with fresh outbreaks recurring after the initial peak subsides. Health experts think Covid-19 may follow a similar pattern – but there is no firm agreement on what exactly constitutes a second wave. BBC

It is a cold morning, 4.9 degrees at 6am, 15 degrees inside.
Walking through Jagun, our breath billows. It is a hidden world, and the world occasionally visible, a Yellow-faced Honeyeater is rustling leaves high in the canopy, the whirr of Superb fairy-Wren through the bush. Golden Whistlers sing further down.
Oyster Creek running slow, low and silent, no birds to be seen, but the flow patterns are exquisite.
Being a birder (not a twitcher) helps you pay attention. I am strictly a keen amateur and opportunistic, at the level of what Scott Weidensaul calls, ‘birding’s roots . . . bird-watching in the original sense . . .  a celebration of the creature that makes it all possible — the small, contained miracle that is a bird.’[1]The two Kookaburras are silent, you need to be looking to notice their stationary presence, their patience, their umwelt, no reciprocal gaze. There is a link to being a flâneur in the modern city. It’s said that Flaubert pushed Maupassant out into a street in Paris and demanded that he describe a concierge passing by so that she could be recognised at anytime.[2] This kind of attention is usefully transferred to natural environments and approaches the concept of the flâneur as, ‘a kind of private eye.’[3]

Emerson had bought the land by Walden Pond to stop farmers cutting the woods for quick profit.
Thoreau’s account of his time there, a complex text encompassing nature writing, social commentary, political critique and autobiography, is called Walden, or, Life in the Woods: ‘But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is – I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?’[4]

Life battles to survive.
Iris Murdoch talks of the redemptive nature of attention:
‘We are anxiety-ridden animals. Our minds are continually active, fabricating an anxious, usually self-preoccupied, often falsifying veil which partially conceals our world  . . . The most obvious thing in our surroundings which is an occasion for ‘unselfing’ is what is popularly called beauty…I am looking out of my window in an anxious and resentful state of mind, oblivious of my surroundings, brooding perhaps on some damage done to my prestige. Then suddenly I observe a hovering kestrel.

In a moment everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but kestrel. And when I return to thinking of the other matter it seems less important. And of course this is something which we may do deliberately: give attention to nature in order to clear our minds of selfish care.’[5]
I think she is spot on, but two pages later Murdoch writes of art and attention, ‘Art is less accessible than nature but also more edifying since it is actually a human product, and certain arts are actually ‘about’ human affairs in a direct sense. Art is a human product and virtues as well as talents are required of the artist.’[6] She has a naïve idea of what art has become, and the term edifying has a place in a Victorian discussion on art. Sven Birkerts gets closer, ‘Art is a summoning of attention. To create it requires the highest directed focus, as does experiencing it.’ [7]

What is needed for authentic aesthetic experience to occur is something to rivet the viewer’s attention in a way that produces a fulfilled, continuous, unified, passionate experience. This something may be part of the character of the aesthetic object, as, for example, the sound, movement, and colour of the fire-engine rushing by or part of the character of the experiencing participant, as, for example, the delight of a person tending plants.[8] Allen Carlson and Sheila Lintott using John Dewey’s, Art as Experience (1934).
Nature creates art by chance and the natural ecological processes that gave evolved over millions of years. Tree stumps beautiful sculptures that change, decay makes the world go round. I think they are art John Dewey would disagree for having no human agency, an ‘accidental natural product’ is not art but a natural curiosity.[9] For me what matters is the aesthetic response.
So much attracts my attention in this forest we are neighbours to. This place is brimming with beauty.
Elaine Scarry writes: ‘How one walks through the world, the endless small adjustments of balance, is affected by the shifting weights of beautiful things.’[10]

How would the Gumbaynggirr have /do experience this place? David Mowaljarlai, a Ngarinyin elder from the Kimberley talks of indigenous perception: ‘You have a feeling in your heart that you’re going to feel your body this day, get more knowledge. You go out now, see animals moving, see trees, a river. You are looking at nature and giving it your full attention, seeing all its beauty. Your vision has opened and you start learning now . . . When you touch them, all things talk to you, give you their story. It makes you really surprised. You feel you want to get deeper, so you start moving around and stamp your feet – to come closer and to recognise what you are seeing.’[11]

Devil’s Snuffbox, Lycoperdon perlatum

In 1841 the explorer George Grey published an account of his travels in Western Australia and reported that he’d seen seven species of fungi eaten by the Aborigines. He commented that ‘The different kinds of fungus are very good. In certain seasons of the year they are abundant, and the natives eat them greedily.’ The Tasmanian George Robinson wrote: ‘Various are the fungus which the natives eat, and all are known to them by different qualities which they possess, and all are known by different names.’ [12]

[1] Scott Weidensaul, Of a Feature: A Brief History of American Birding, Harcourt, 2007

[2] Cid Corman, ‘Apron in the Jungle’, in At Their Word: Essays on the Arts of Language Vol II, Black Sparrow, 1978, p41-2.

[3] Anke Gleber, The Art of Taking a Walk: Flanerie, Literature, and Film in Weimar Culture, Edition: 1999.

[4] Walking which began as a lecture called ‘The Wild’ delivered (as a talk poem) at the Concord Lyceum on April 23, 1851. He developed it into the essay finally published in the Atlantic Monthly after his death.

[5] Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good Over Other Concepts, Psychology Press, 2001, p82.

[6] Iris Murdoch, 2001, p84. Further on she writes in a Platonic vein, ‘Good art shows us how difficult it is to be objective by showing us how differently the world looks to an objective vision. We are presented with a truthful image of the human condition in a form that can be steadily contemplated; and indeed this is the only context in which many of us are capable of contemplating it at all. Art transcends selfish and obsessive limitations of personality and can enlarge the sensibility of its consumer. It is a kind of goodness by proxy.’ p371

[7] Sven Birkerts, ‘The art of attention’, Aeon, 24.5.2013

[8] Allen Carlson and Sheila Lintott, Nature, Aesthetics, and Environmentalism(New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 19.

[9] John Dewey, Art as Experience, Berkeley Publishing Group, 1934, p50.

[10] Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just, Princeton University Press, 1998. Scarry believes we are too wary of the natural experience of beauty, “intense somatic pleasure”.

[11] David Mowaljarlai quoted by Haydn Washington, A Sense of Wonder, Ecosolution Consulting, 2002, p18.

[12] https://www.anbg.gov.au/fungi/aboriginal.html