Sunday, 28 October 2007

Existential Epiphanies

It’s that time of the week/month/year when I am grappling again with
decisions and their precision And
expectations that travel in a wave forming
Crests and troughs
From the others to my many selves.
I’m reflecting, retro-analysing and respecting what I want from life again with
The desire to reinvigorate a free will and
The will to be free lining
all the clouds that I conjure up
in the imaginary reality of my past future.
In the hybridity of my existence that obfuscates meaning again even as it
Lives itself out day after day And
gives me glistening realizations that turn rustic
Over the course of words
formed and read, spoken and listened to.

'Curry Night'


I went to see the John Travolta-starring Hairspray recently, and was both inwardly and outwardly relieved to find the film was more than just a musical. It might be set in the 1960’s, but its references to ‘Negro Day’ on mainstream American television resonate with the multicultural-multistruggles faced by contemporary Australia and other western societies. There are examples aplenty…
After Big Brother’07 adopted the marginal by devoting a weekly task to a Bollywood theme, it is now the turn of Channel Seven’s Dancing with the Stars to pay homage to the Indians with a night of Bollywood-style moves. Is this another instance of patronizing the minorities? Or is it simply a case of western culture tiring of itself and lightly caressing the promise embodied in the exotic, not dissimilar to the fashion world embracing ethnic chic a few years ago through the vibrancy of Indian peasant skirts, printed kaftans and chunky silver jewellery? The current Prime Minister, John Howard, is not far behind in dropping the Indian name. During the ‘Great Debate’ with Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd last week, he unexpectedly compared China and the US’s not being signatory to the Kyoto Protocol to a World Cup Cricket tournament without India and Australia. I wish I could assume that appeasing new migrants, a significant proportion of whom are now coming from India, was not on his agenda.
But the mainstream is not the only stream attempting to ‘include’ the previously excluded in its magnanimous and newfound liberal self. When I flick through Rip it Up, Adelaide’s local gig guide to find out which bands will be playing at the Exeter Hotel, my favourite artsy haunt, I am both bohemian-pleased and migrant-cynical to see Wednesday advertised as ‘Curry Night’. Perhaps I/we should be glad that attempts are being made to integrate us (presuming there is a unitary ‘us’). Perhaps I/we will have more friends now that we are a wise economic investment, if not a desirable cultural precedent. Perhaps I/we ought to negotiate the terms of this ‘integration’ – so that way we can have our curry and eat it too!

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Intimacy (Aut. Hanif Kureishi)

This book of fiction (although apparently based on British-Pakistani Kureishi's own marital life), is the stream-of-consciousness of a middle-aged English male writer on the eve of his "abandoning" of his competent spouse and two young boys. It has often been described as a much-needed "man's novel" in today's age of feminine/feminist abundance. Yet, despite (or perhaps because of) my status as a self-proclaimed feminist, I enjoyed this honest rendering of what goes on inside a man's head, even if he may be a man more attuned to the creative world of self-knowledge than most "average" men. Why did I like a book filled with so much retrospection, regret and rumination? Or was it the disjointed narrative with its unexpected trips down suburban-London-lanes and its seamless, almost palpable depiction of ongoing love-lust that appealed to me? Yes, the narrator-writer's state of mind was/is manifested in my psyche as my fingers trace(d) his words. I don't sympathise with him; I don't know if he is brave or gutless; I'm not sure if one can be free through escape. But the idea that one cannot be loyal to others by being disloyal to oneself has stayed with/in me. Or is this the realm of self-indulgent artists?

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Monsoon Wedding (Dir. Mira Nair)

I couldn't stop myself from watching this film yet another time when it was screened on SBS on Sunday night, despite the fact that I "possess" it on DVD. Why? It is one thing to watch a crossover film that one relates to at one's will, and quite another to see it broadcast on a national television station in a country to which both oneself and the film are relatively foreign. Agreed, SBS stands for Special Broadcasting Service and is Australia's dedicated token of multicultural programming, but this does not sufficiently subtract from the entertainment value accorded to the Indian diasporic cultural product through its "displaced", yet somehow appropriate screening on a g-local channel. Simply put, I was thrilled to see an "Indian" movie being shown in Australia.
I felt validated. The years of explanations on Bollywood and arranged marriages notwithstanding.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

My imagination hurts

Pain – caused by dysfunction, exhaustion, injury; producing an ugly wound on the delicate flesh of imagination. Think, envisage, fantasise, dream, till the cytoplasm of each nerve cell breaks out; defying anatomical conventions, challenging good health qualms, and completely defeating and destroying the psychological order of the extrinsic universe. Push these limits, these despicable barriers on knowledge – think, feel and imagine all you can in the brief span of your mortality. But you have to know pain, you must acquaint yourselves with the helpless inevitability of this quaint creature, you ought to sympathise with the timeless, boundless sorrows of pain – familiarise yourselves with pain before it chooses to accompany you again – don’t lose time in feelingless thoughtless inhuman indifference.
Avoiding the thought is avoiding life in its nudest purity. Overlooking the possibility is overlooking life in its limitless opportunity. If effort is pain, so be it! A void of a lifetime is too high a price for the absence of pain. Activity is a virtue, but thoughtless action is as sinister as utter passivity. Self-imposed blindness is the greatest harm you can do to your inner flesh and blood. You are blight on humanity if you fail to contemplate on the stain.
Even achievement comes with a sense of loss – the loss of the moment of the self. Accolade without self-appreciation, ambition without soul-search, accomplishment without personal interest; are we heading towards the altruistic abode of a naked saint meditating in the Himalayas, or the careless damning of a post-modern sinner? Is there such a feeling today which is not ‘corrupted’ by the traumatic slow-poisoning of pain? How long will the ‘ecstasy’ last – till the next one is administered? If we are happy on this day of your coming into the world, what is the need to accentuate this emotional state with material consumption? Dare you try and forget the pain, it will stab you harder the next time, and your battle will be harder by the day because you were too ‘stressed’ to handle it the first time it pinched you.
What counselling will help us, which psychiatrist will diagnose our fancy depression syndromes, what chemicals will dissolve our distaste when we pronounce the divine verdict of eternal happiness and misfortune upon our poor selves? The original pain is not as fatal as the grief we inflict on our selves through cancerous self-pity. While there may be no feasible prevention against a psychological onslaught, there is certainly a cure. Insanity is not a condition arising out of excessive trauma, it is more likely the result of a prolonged denial.
Pain is not satanic either. If you have ever seen a brave victim of a complex surgery, or a sombre kin of a deceased individual, you are bound to see an awe-inspiring strength of character emanating from their eyes. Whether or not there is a divine power that chose you to walk on the coals of pain so that you emerge a stronger person from the experience, the fear of ‘walking’ is often more agonising than the ‘walking’ itself. But the only weapon against this demonic fear is the act itself. Therefore, the act cannot be evil, although the procrastination of the act may be.
So, if your imagination hurts, you know that ignorance is not bliss. A fool’s paradise does not hurt the imagination like a painfully acquired wisdom that constructs heaven from the insightful reminiscence of hell. If you eat to live, work to eat, and socialise to work, then life must be a very important thing – so expand your horizons and get the most out of it!

Dreams of Speaking (Aut. Gail Jones)

Views Towards a Review

I haven’t changed my mobile phone for the last three years. It is a spearmint-coloured Nokia model (whose model number you can find in any clearance sale catalogue) that has served me through my poor undergraduate days. And now, in my black and silver year of abstract Honours thoughts, I wonder if I need a change.
Gail Jones’ Dreams of Speaking is about change – technological, social and personal. (Don’t you think there should be a statutory ban on clich├ęs, abouts, and any al-suffixed adjectives in academic writing?) Asides aside, there is nothing wrong with writing about change, and everything right with exploring the beauty of change, which is precisely what Jones does. (Even more exasperating than right and wrong binaries are precise definites.) Through her working class child/adult academic, alone/ self-sufficient, Australian/displaced, kangaroo-slaughterer/victim-rescuer, poetically female/mechanically male character Alice (who craves for the name of her younger sister Norah), Jones suggests that we are “large enough to contain contradictions” (Jones, 138).
Until loss
strikes Brings grief Bodies
shrink and
Float

Jones’ pre-occupation with loss is conveyed to Aviva Tuffield in an intimate phone interview – “We have all lost a childhood, we have all lost friends and lovers, we have all loved someone who has died”. “This sense of loss is echoed over and over again”, writes James Bradley in a review for The Age. Talking of echoes, I am reminded of Jones’ own poetically resonant words that reach me through a microphone at the Adelaide Writer’s Week – “Most writing comes from loss or trauma rather than plenitude”.
Loss and Poetry?
Beauty and Poetry.
Machines and Poetry!
Synonyms are redundant.
Alice Black has an apartment in Perth, replete with books and souvenirs. It is located at walking distance from the river where she often engages with the elements through the sport of windsurfing. Alice carries the river inside her, and bears the weight of dead poets on her shoulders as she embarks on a pilgrimage to Paris to work on a book on the metaphysics of modernity. Yes, she manages a discreet visit to the cockpit of the aircraft, and is convinced of a brief encounter with divinity. No, she doesn’t inform her family of her safe arrival – she doesn’t seem to possess a mobile phone. Yes, she hears the river in the sounds of the late night traffic. No, she does not, like the schoolboy Leo, plug music into her ears to drown out the “Instant Karma” of the real world. Yes, she likes the company of, and e-mails from Mr Sakamoto, an elderly Japanese man writing a biography of Alexander Graham Bell. No, she hasn’t yet given a thought to Nagasaki, the birthplace of her resilient friend.
Summaries are redundant too.
I discover I cannot give up my spearmint phone. It has not a scratch, not a blemish. And I hear that the contemporary silvery varieties (god bless their compactness and convenience) are rather prone to slips’n falls. I do like silver, but spearmint is more personal, a surreptitious weapon on a quicksilver night, the shade I would rather be to dissolve into the inky blues and ambient greens of the wet darkness. This handset, notwithstanding its redundancy in 2006, is my very own knight in shineless armour, potentially connecting me to the familiar, and protecting me from all invisible unfamiliars.
Lo and behold, screams the TV reporter, quoting the university professor, citing the invisible radiations – my phone could give me cancer.
My story seems to be running ahead of my analysis. Never mind, let’s begin with the modern (post-modern?) knights in shineless armour (a thoroughly unmodern expression, don’t you think?). I guess romanticism is unmodern, albeit a presence in modernity. After all, Mr Sakamoto “would raise his glass of red wine”, and declare, “we live with so many persistently unmodern things. Dreams, love, babies, illness. Memory. Death” (Jones, 65). Will humanity ever be consistently modern? Perhaps modernity can become human.
Unmodern Modernity
Anachronistic Technology
Human Telephones
Structuralism is human too.
Behind the modern edifice of communication stands a human equivalent of an edifice to voice – Alexander Graham Bell. (Behind every modern invention is an unmodern obsession.) But Bell’s telephone was also borne of an irretrievable sense of loss – the death of his two brothers from tuberculosis, and the deafness of his mother. An absence of the voices of your nears and dears leading you to design a machine that conquers time and space to bring you a vibratory essence of your beloved – of course it is cause-and-effect, but also unscientifically moving, artistically three-dimensional, a real story. The man passionately researching Bell’s life – Hiroshi Sakamoto – is wealthy, grief-stricken, displaced; he is a technophile, a cinema enthusiast, a gourmet lover – but he is not real. His The Voices of Alexander Bell is not real. But we are discussing fiction, and Sakamoto’s story of the kamishibai man in Alice’s ears rings true in mine, his uncharacteristic confessions to Uncle Tadeo over the phone elicit a relation-less compassion, his no-longer-alive answering-machine voice is a metaphysical edifice.
May be post-structuralism is better suited to post-physics.
Bear in mind that post-physics is not quite different from pre-physics. Which is to say that meta-physics is omnipresent, and therefore, unmodern. And to add that I am not finished with Unmodernity yet. For isn’t the unmodern also the eternal? And one can but add to eternity. But one cannot help but be perplexed by the endless reflections on reflections about eternal modernity (or was it modern eternity?). For instance, consider this comment by Cath Kenneally in her review of Jones’ novel in The Australian: “The juggling act she [Jones] attempts is to keep abstract, intellectual musings engorged, as she might say herself, with the blood of those unmodern things, the stories of Alice’s failed love affair, her curious attachment to her Japanese opposite number, the sister-drama that is the real lifeblood of the novel”. Yes, I know I haven’t got to those stories and dramas yet. (How I envy long-sentenced and long-listed book reviews!) Before I lose my point in another point, here it is – are the “intellectual” and the “unmodern” essentially opposed? Where does that leave books? What about reviews of books?
Intellectually Unmodern
Savour the Intellect Linger in the Unmodernity
Poetry being primary
structure, or lack thereof, secondary
I don’t know if what I’ve left for the last is the best, but it certainly is uncomfortable. Because, like Alice Black, I am also mourning the loss of my childhood. I cannot digress any more, fact is that Alice has a strained relationship with her younger sister Norah in their mindless girlhood years. Alice the eccentric genius with unrealistic astronautical ambitions; Norah the popular schoolgirl with artistic potential – cause-and-effect again, need I say more? Yet when Alice meets the reduced-to-bones due to chemotherapy version of Norah at the airport, and the two establish a voiceless connection, it more than makes up for their pre-pubescent discord. In fact, the present connection is more poignant because of the past discord. It makes me want to re-believe in Kodak moments.
I have my own Kodak moment while writing this. Only it can’t be captured by a Kodak. It is a friend on my spearmint phone, narrating a story whereby her rather debilitating stage fright vanished at a recent Harmony Day function. And then the conversation ends pre-maturely. I recall that she had complained of “bugs” in her phone, re-call her, and joke that she seems to have passed on her stage fright to her phone.
I had fallen in love with the disembodiment of modernity, and immersed myself in a reverie of unmodernity even though I knew that Nagasaki was the next stop. Synonyms, summaries, structures elude me here. It suffices to say that I respect Jones for keeping the poetics alive at such a time. For keeping the poetics alive when time itself has stopped.
To conclude, I cannot claim to competently review a book that does not shy away from putting the words “eternity” and “nuance” into the mouths of main characters. I am but an ambassador of its interpretation, and an unmodern one at that. So it would be in your best interests to re-view Alice’s dreams in your own time, to speak to Mr Sakamoto on your own phone.

PS: Will this review be published? No answer.
Will humanity/modernity be redeemed? Disconnected.
I have to, however, reference those that have reviewed (and theorised) before me.
Engagement is the tone. And not just for Creative Writing.