I read Bernadette Mayer and Alice Notley and Diane Di Prima years ago and then more recently I start trying to masticate their words and other words but was derailed by a burgeoning affair with Bolshevik feminism/but reading instead about Alexandra Kollontai and her failures that were large and successes that were eclipsed and my writing practice at this time became less a text with purpose and more like a skeletal or cutaway approach to where the words tend to take me where for example i feel deep self pity from the blockages and stoppages within the links between my mind and my hands when it comes to the act of writing and rather than acting as though this was too gruesome for the public I felt like I could write through those moments and everything would be okay or that simple collage texts and acrostics directed my thoughts about how we make communism and feminism happen at the same time and whether writing had anything to do with it into something more open and fluid than I thought possible especially since i am struggling to make writing less willfully opaque and more revolutionary poems but writing is anger and sorrow and helplessness while also being cool-headed, authoritative, conceptual and so this is my attempt, I suppose, to revisit my conceptual writing practice without shutting down the affective nature of writing, esp. when it’s the kind of writing that might try to put EVERYTHING on the line.

to write about climate change in Australia is to ignore the degree to which these processes are themselves manifestations of much larger economic and historical phenomena, unable to be understood without taking into account the unequal distribution of wealth between nations, the role of global capitalism and consumer society, the legacies of empire and decolonization. Yet to write about those larger economic and historical phenomena is extremely difficult without ignoring the particularities of the experience of climate change for individuals and individual landscapes. Climate change is, to borrow the terminology and conceptual framework of the philosopher Timothy Morton, best understood as a hyperobject: a phenomenon so extended in space and time that it exceeds description.

to understand the inability of conventional realist fiction (and indeed the novel more generally) to accommodate the experience of climate change we need to look to the fact the realist novel is itself a product of capitalism, and as such serves to regulate and order our experience in ways that disguise the unpredictable and exceptional nature of the world we inhabit, and by extension the hastening convulsions engendered by climate change…the realist novel is designed to keep ‘the “narrativity” of life under control – to give a regularity, a style to existence’ through ‘the relocation of the unheard-of toward the background … while the everyday moves into the foreground’. This, Ghosh argues, ‘is the irony of the “realist” novel: the very gestures with which it conjures up reality are actually a concealment of the real’.

unlike social realism science fiction’s longstanding preoccupation with estrangement, experiences that exceed human scales of being, the alien and the uncanny means it offers a toolbox of tropes and techniques developed to allow it to represent and explore many of the new questions and experiences we are confronted with. Indeed one might go further and argue science fiction is equipped to deal with these questions precisely because it is, in large part, a literature of the exceptional, a genre whose core business is that of transformative change.

…Yet the generic restlessness of these post-natural fictions is only the outward expression of a deeper sea change. Around the world, fiction writers are shaking themselves free of old assumptions about subject matter and form in an attempt to find new forms, new strategies and new vocabularies capable of giving shape to the world in which we find ourselves. 

Sometimes that involves a decentring of the human…Sometimes it involves a disruption of unitary narrative and our assumptions about narrative time in an attempt to articulate an awareness of the inhuman scale of what is taking place around us…sometimes it draws upon Indigenous and non-Western perspectives. Sometimes it involves an attempt to capture something of the way these forces disrupt our ideas about the natural and the unnatural, or demand we recognise connections between phenomena that unsettle us. 

we see something of the way late capitalism obtrudes into the world, unhinging social relations and rendering the familiar strange. And in the inversions and repetitions of the uncanny we see something of the way we have made the world around us unnatural, and, as Jeff VanderMeer has suggested, an intimation of the way the experience of human time and geological time have begun to overlap and intrude upon each other.

It’s perhaps not surprising that so many novels that seek to explore post-natural themes end up focussing on questions of time, and in particular deep time: the inhuman scale of climate change and the Anthropocene demand we find ways not just of talking about geological timescales but also of making sense of human life and agency in the context of such timescales.

to talk about deep time is to remind ourselves of the contingency of the human, and human culture, an act that forces us to recognise that however hegemonic the present moment may seem, it too will pass. 

we must possess the imaginative tools to describe and discuss the world we are making, to step outside what we know and imagine ourselves in new ways.

Rosie believes we’ve reached a point where ‘sustainability’ is a cliché. “There’s not actually that much from our society that’s worth sustaining in the way we relate to our environment. I think we need to move into a regenerative phase.”

Ecology is the study of living organisms on Earth, and how they all interrelate. “There’s nothing you can do in your life that doesn’t have an effect on the rest of the world. That’s where it all ties together for me, looking at marine environments, our relationships with our bodies, and the way we treat each other and the world,” says Rosie.

As a term, decolonisation is a complicated concept to grasp. On one hand it signifies the very act of breaking free from a way of thinking, of conceptualising the world signified by oppressive power structures, that have benefited Western hegemony on behalf of the discrimination of indigenous peoples around the world…decolonisation is what happens in our communities on a daily basis, far away from an academic Ivory Tower. To settler communities, decolonisation is an interesting debate to be had over a glass of white w(h)ine, to the rest of the world, decolonisation is life. Decolonisation cannot thus, and should not be compared to any other human rights struggle, by doing so the point of decolonisation is lost to and appropriated not to mention distorted by the very discourse it seeks to challenge…today decolonisation has become one of the most important tools in an indigenous person’s survival kit. Western society has worked hard to disconnect us from our own communities by denying us a sense of history, language and belonging – this all forms parts of the colonial process which seeks to replace our identities with those of the settler – and we will remain colonised for as long as we internalise the rhetoric used by settlers to dehumanise and disarm us.

As a writer you have to be able to put aside criticisms of writing as a practice. You know, ‘it’s pointless, no poem has ever changed the world.’ These criticisms are partly true, in the sense that as individuals we are always powerless against history. A nurse is powerless against public health policies. An environmental scientist is powerless against the cement production industry. Collectively, of course, there’s more power. There’s something small and tender and connective about writing—nonfiction, fiction, whatever—that provides a necessary counterpoint to this feeling of atomised powerlessness.

…‘The personal’ doesn’t really say anything about genre or form. It’s more an approach to writing that acknowledges, or suggests, that the body is not separate from the mind, and that what you know and can offer as a writer comes directly from the material world you’re corresponding from. It’s not enough to say ‘it’s interesting because it happened to me,’ but generally speaking, if it didn’t happen, in some direct or indirect way, to you, it’s not interesting.

The two, however, share the belief that that they have the authority to make a call about the national identities of their non-white counterparts. More broadly, both individuals believe that they have the right to determine the ways in which non-white people may inhabit the Australian nation space.

The perception that white Australians have the authority to dictate non-white identities fits more broadly into what anthropologist Ghassan Hage refers to as a ‘white national fantasy’. According to this fantasy, white Australians assume the role of ‘spatial managers’ of the Australian nation space.

As Hage suggests, if an identity can be granted, it follows that an identity can be withdrawn. In enacting the authority to ‘accept’ a non-white individual as ‘Aussie’, the genuineness of that identity is called into question. As Hage puts it, ‘acceptance translates into doubt’.

As a result, the posters imbue the white Australian who consumes them with a different mode of inhabiting Australia compared to those who are accepted into it. They empower the former with the fantasy of authority to dictate the terms by which the latter may inhabit it.

Of course, national identity is a complex matter. While many people of colour today see ourselves as Australian, others do not identify as such. Many of us embrace diasporic or hybrid identities, identities that are constantly in flux.

The bottom line is that the process of national identification is one that is irrevocably personal. It’s one that must be reckoned with by the claimant themselves, not externally assigned, regardless of how well-meaning that designation may be. A huge amount of harm has been and continues to be enacted by white Australians who see themselves as the custodians of non-white identities.

Non-white individuals, both those featured in the poster campaign and their current day iterations, carry identities that develop and change independently of how white people want them to, think they do, or believe they should. The good feeling surrounding Peter Drew’s poster campaign, then, may in large part speak to a desire on the part of white Australians to assert control over that which is uncontrollable – the hearts and minds of people of colour.

It’s one of those things that state power and the way that we act when we’re inside institutions often strips us of our own humanity or that potential. We see this with politicians all the time, before they go into parliament they seem like reasonable people and then when they have to go into parliament and tow the party line on say he treatment of asylum seekers and refuges we see people coming up with the most banal but the most horrific statements. I’m really interested in the way that institutions function to disempower people but also to strip people within those institutions of their capacity to engage with others in the more humane way.

…Europeans South Eastern Australia in the eighteenth, nineteenth centuries were stealing land and killing people as a method before the missions and reserves systems, is that when that failed, failed to destroy the fabric of Aboriginal society, Victoria where I come from was the first colony at that time to institute the half-caste Act so what people around Australia understand as caste legislation, discriminated against Aboriginal families by separating families, and was the foundation stone of the stolen generations policy – this was initiated in Victoria in 1886 [and] called the Aborigines Act and it literally attempted through legislation to legally separate Aboriginal people into categories of blood and soon saw family structures disintegrated. If people ask what is most important about retaining your sense of Aboriginal identity or what is it that non Aboriginal people find most confronting, I don’t think it is black, I think it’s family and genealogy or what Europeans call relationships with totemic systems etcetera. I’m not ashamed at all to say that in Victoria where historic communities were formed out of a great sense of loss, many of those traditions were taken and lost, but the two institutions in Victoria – the Framlingham Aboriginal reserve over in the West and Lake Tyres in the East were established as sites of incarceration of Aboriginal people and, I should note that when people talked about Lake Tyres in the first world war they talked about the final solution of extermination and eradication of identity. Those two reserves have some of the strongest Aboriginal community members in Australian and they thrived because of the inability of that institution to destroy family. So I think that for Aboriginal people to survive, you could lose everything but if you have each other, and this is the Walt Disney ending, if you have each other you still have the ability to survive all the forces of colonisation that have been thrown at you.

…when it tries to play on this sense of the haunting in the Australian landscape, haunted by the deaths of Aboriginal people, I find it really uninteresting, to the point where I don’t even want to write about it because it annoys me. In my books I talk a lot about landscapes and in Blood in particular when those kids are moving from South Australia to Victoria across a very barren landscape, where death pervades the landscape during periods of drought. I believe that country is not interested in this, country is not interested in some white person’s melancholia or their sense of being haunted. I love to quote a friend of mine who is an Aboriginal activist Robbie Thorpe and when he speaks about land rights he says ‘what we’re talking about is the right of land not our rights to land’ so in that sense land has inherent rights and an inherent sense of dignity that doesn’t require those superficial narratives to give it meaning.

For there was once a time when the kind of knowledge that it takes to be a Politician, an Economist, a Climate Scientist, or an Investigative Journalist—i.e., knowledge of the natural and social sciences—was largely seen as a luxury reserved for those with leisure enough to rise above the clamour of day-to-day business and indulge in the contemplative life of the ‘learned’. At this time in history, which was more or less what we now call the Enlightenment, today’s so-called Elites really were Elites, and the Civic Institutions that were established as a consequence of their learned pursuits—the free press, scientific societies, democratic governments, independent judiciaries—were genuinelyimpressive human achievements.

Only that time has passed. For—largely as a result of the success of these Civic Institutions—the kind of learning that precipitated the existence of Nation States, the Mainstream Media, Public Universities, etc., has moved from being a luxury item possessed by Elites, to something held in common by many people. And while the democratisation of access to the natural and social sciences is certainly a good thing, it is not without consequences. The chief amongst these being that knowledge of such sciences is no longer attended with the sort of lustre that comes from being an Elite pursuit.

..But there can also be good people who challenge the tyranny of truth. The name I keep for such people is artists. Artists can come from the ranks of the Ordinary, or from the established Civil Authorities. But what distinguishes artists from both these types of people is that artists transcend the boundary between work and leisure. For when artists make art they become indistinguishable from the truly Elite, and the best art commands the same esteem that attends Elite pursuits. And what the best art does is lie with a clear conscience.

It took me a long time to stop asking art to tell my story.

To stop hoping to see my story on stage or in books or on film. To stop waiting for that one artist who could reflect back the minutiae of what I was feeling. To stop thinking I would finally pick up that book, sit in that theatre, and have someone say: here it is; I know what your life is like, too. Even if only for an hour. Just to feel seen.

My life, like most, has been both messy and banal; there have been moments of great joy and moments of great grief. It has no overlying narrative arc, no lessons to be learnt. There isn’t a theatre show in there, waiting to be seen.

So I learnt: I wouldn’t find my story in a stand-alone piece of art. Instead, I now know to find it in fragments, in characters or scenes or lines that butt up against the edges of my life…And through some combination of these almost-but-not-quites, these perhaps-but-not-reallys, I can start to put myself together and understand my place in the world.

I sometimes think, more than anything, this is what keeps me going back to the theatre: to try and figure myself out in a semi-public forum, in a way which isn’t simply introspective and individual, but reaches out into the world beyond. Through the act of witnessing shared stories I am able to pull parts of myself back into focus, or perhaps be reminded of things I once thought or once was, but remember no longer.

…We Live By The Sea isn’t my story. It’s nothing like my story. But it joins my life at the edges, just a little, stitching something of me together. For some in this audience, their experience will be of this: a reminder, or a reflection.

Like all lives, we’re not let into a grand narrative: it is that everyday combination of messy and banal, filled with joy and grief.

The more I understand this tangle that makes a life, the more I find myself at ease with looking at art not to see a mirror of my experience, but to see the bits of my life ensnarled within the stories of others. Showing me the mess of the world as it is. I find comfort, now, in these stories which are almost-but-not-quites, these perhaps-but-not-reallys, the stories that sit alongside my own, for even just a moment. Those stories that not only say ‘I see you’, but continue on the conversation and say, ‘Have you seen this part of someone else’s story, too?’

 

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