Saturday, 6 October 2007

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 clichés, 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

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.

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