Monday, 31 October 2005

huge sigh of relief

Hoo-rah, no more teaching. Just marking and mopping up for a few days more, then back to the other thing. But I do need to think a bit, while the semester is still fresh, about stuff that could be done better next semester.

One priority is working out a coherent position on students using the internet as a source of critical material on the texts they're studying - a position that they and I can both understand and be happy with. Some departments put a blanket ban on using the internet and send students to the library instead ("the library" including online scholarly journals, so it's not quite an outright paper fetish.) I have some sympathy with that position, especially after encountering many student essays citing paper mills - , crib sites , Wikipedia articles, IMDb user reviews, etc. Doesn't it go without saying that a plot synopsis posted on IMDb isn't going to enhance anyone's assignment? No, it doesn't, is what I've found out this year. But the thing is, students will google while they write whether they're forbidden to or not. Prohibition isn't going to make the problem go away, just drive it underground, and next thing you know, it's hello plagiarism! Not to mention a significant number of the students I teach don't have access to anything I would call a real library so the Internet is their only resource anyway.

So they use resources like IMDb. Not things like Jahsonic, Pseudopodium, Senses of Cinema, or even Strange Horizons, all of which have loads of interesting and thoughtful material related to the topics we've studied, and any of which I'd have leapt for joy to see come up in an assignment. This suggests to me they are not using Google as pointedly as they might. If you type in the name of a play by Shakespeare you will get about six pages of essay-for-sale results ranked over anything else. But if you type in the same title and a few well chosen keywords you get a much less homogenous and depressing collection of links to choose from and work through. I didn't point this out in class, and now I'm wondering why.

So a better search technique is one thing to talk about next year. Another is how to assess / evaluate search results. This is a bit more challenging - how do you teach someone to judge whether a writer knows what he or she is talking about - without imposing some conventional rule like "must be written by an academic and/or hosted on a university server"? Apart from the fact that this kind of rule (which I have seen around the place) excludes far too much of what makes the internet worthwhile, it doesn't do the student any favours in the long run to let him off the hook of exercising his judgement in this situation. I don't know if I can articulate how I myself distinguish the good stuff, though, so this is something I'll need to spend more time considering.

Also involved in this bundle of thoughts is a growing desire to bring my students' learning into dialogue with what I believe is being called Web 2.0 - the participatory, wiki-ised, decentralised, generative, collectively created internet (though I prefer the original term crackalackin' myself.) For example, next year I'm going to experiment with setting up communal accounts for each subject I teach in where every student has full access and can add, tag, comment on and delete links they find in the course of their travels. In theory this will make them more responsible for each others' learning and for the overall quality of the communal resource. (In practice it might mean that me and one other geek-type do all the work. We'll see.)

Of course it's all a bit pie-in-the-sky when at least a third of the people I taught this semester don't even have email addresses or an internet connection at home.

Friday, 28 October 2005

Statuary Friday #17

My ongoing blog project - documenting Melbourne's open-air public sculpture in words and pictures. Suggestions for future episodes are more than welcome.

#17 Dante's Divine Comedy

La Trobe University, Bundoora

I've been walking past this sculpture four or five times a week for omigod nearly eleven years, and to be perfectly honest, I've never liked it. This morning when I took the pictures you're seeing now was the first time I've managed to refrain from averting the eyes long enough to read the plaques and find out what it's all about beyond being a suspiciously educational-looking triangular object planted in the middle of the scruffy lawn in front of the Thomas Cherry building.

The story as it turns out is mildly interesting. The sculpture - made by Bart Sanciolo to commission - was a gift to the People of Victoria from the Italian Community on the occasion of Victoria's 150th anniversary of statehood in 1987. (It doesn't belong to La Trobe, then, but to All of Us.)

It's made of bronze and is about 10 metres tall, which is a pretty decent height for a bronze, but unfortunately the sculpture is placed in a setting where it has to compete visually with a lot of tall airy eucalypts and a large block-y building and all the shadows those things throw across the ground. My guess is it would look a lot better in a more open space, like an elevated grassy bank (and there are plenty of those around the campus.) The sculpture has mildly strange proportions - it's shaped more like a spire or a tree top than any earthbound thing - and each of the three triangular faces is slightly indented, which creates an optical illusion, as you walk past, that it's tilted off the 90-degree line, and for a pyramid form to look off-kilter in that way creates a slightly seasick feeling in the viewer.

That queasiness I think is the reason why I had never taken a very good look at it until now. It's actually pretty interesting up close. The three sides are decorated with relief mouldings showing Hell, Purgatory and Paradise with people swarming up each surface. Some parts of the images work better than others. The Paradise side is best - I guess the orderly and neat quality of paradise and the large God head at the top made things easier for the sculptor.

It can't have been an easy commission to execute - a sculptural representation of Dante, for heaven's sake. Piecing the backstory together it seems that The Divine Comedy was chosen for a number of telling reasons. Dante represents one indisputable pinnacle of the cultural heritage Italian (mostly Catholic) migrants brought to Australia (and the poet himself being an emigrant and a seafarer.) The uber-classy literary associations lend themselves to the rarefied intellectual atmosphere of the University (ahem!) A message of the poem, of course, and of the sculpture, is of fervent struggling ever upward, which is the unshakeable core of the story of migration and of a 1960s suburban university like La Trobe as well (only it's mostly done with clothes on, IRL.)

Yeah well, it's not a mindblowingly good bit of sculpture, but at least it's got something to say.

Community TV, is that like citizen journalism?

I was walking past the TV on saturday afternoon, luckily with camera in hand, and this was on Channel 31 -

I immediately stopped to watch, of course, what normal healthy person wouldn't? The televisual fascination was definitely enhanced by the audio accompaniment, which consisted of the tiny muffled cries of infants speaking Mandarin Chinese (subtitles are for wimpz.)

It appeared to be some sort of maverick, narcissistic, unprofessional, unmoderated Little Red Riding Hood show. But who can say for sure what these weirdos think they're up to? If I want to be told a fairy tale, I'll ask the Brothers Grimm thank you very much.

Wednesday, 26 October 2005

Best. List. Ever

A link post! First ever, I think. Ah well, lame news aggregator culling descends upon even the Finest of Citizen Journalists. (That's a joke, by the way.)

I simply wished to draw your attention to the Time Magazine Hottest 100 list of the 100 best eng-lang novels from 1923 to now. Ya know I love this kind of rubbish. It's so healthy to let off a bit of steam occasionally.

But really, don't waste any time on that link - just glance it over cursorily enough to glean the context in which to fully appreciate this brilliant, twinkling compilation of one-star Amazon reviews of the aforementioned best books ever.

A sample:

The Great Gatsby (1925)
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

"It grieves me deeply that we Americans should take as our classic a book that is no more than a lengthy description of the doings of fops."

More where that came from - not enough more, though. Matthew Baldwin of Defective Yeti is responsible.

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

light blogging ahead...

...for the next few months I should think. I'll still be around and no doubt posting occasionally. But the semester is winding up and I am also winding myself up, to write like a dervish, or a steel spring possibly. Something a bit tense and intense, anyway.

Monday, 24 October 2005

More Mashup Fun

Another of Dorian's mashups -

this one is Gorrilaz v Beatles. Who hasn't always yearned to put Paul McCartney up against Shaun Ryder? It's an aesthetic combination resembling perfumed printed embossed rose-pink toilet paper used for its proper and inevitable purpose.

The mash is called Dare Michelle.

He posts these to a bootleg / mashup community. This one triggered a low-level internet scrag fight. The main objection (from the objectors side) appeared to be that it's somehow sacreligious to shift the pitch of a Beatles vocal, because our ears know it so intimately it's always going to sound "wrong" if it's not presented au naturel. What do you think about that?

I think one important point about the mash / remix is that nothing's sacred. Familiar sounds are just as available for tweaking as unfamiliar ones. But I am biased.

Sunday, 23 October 2005


Insincere apologies for the bluntness of the post title, but read on and you'll see why I'm angry. This is f*cked.

The University of Melbourne is advertising for a short-term (one semester) contract Lecturer in Internet Communications. They want someone to design and deliver (lectures, tutorials, admin) a subject on, well, internet communications, in first semester next year, as a once-off.

The person who gets the job will give all twelve lectures and teach five weekly tutorials (so, about a hundred students), do the marking, supervise casual tutors, be available for student consultations, "contribute to teaching in the department", etc. The position description says twelve contact hours per week. In my experience this is a sixty-hour-a-week-or-more job, particularly if the incumbent hasn't got all twelve lectures written and ready to go.
The amount of labour involved in designing a subject the first time is, in theory, offset in subsequent years, when the lectures will generally only need minor tweaking. (For a two hour lecture I write a seven thousand word script and scrounge up about 45 minutes worth of supporting material - video etc - it takes me at least four days to put a decent lecture together.)

But UniMelb Inc. is advertising a one semester only position. It's not as if this is the first time they've done this either. An acquaintance is teaching a subject dealing with the literary gothic there this semester, I understand under the same arrangement. It looks like this is how the university is choosing to deal with the dwindling of full time long term positions - when a senior academic gets a research grant and "buys out" his or her teaching responsibilities, the university replaces them with intinerant labour.

Government-supported students enrolling in this subject will pay between five and seven thousand dollars HECS for a full-time semester, normally this is three subjects. I have no idea how many full-fee payers would take a subject like this. As it's Melbourne Uni, I suspect not a negligible number. So each student contributes, at a conservative estimate, $2000 toward the cost of providing the subject.

With one hundred students enrolled that adds up to $200,000.00

UniMelb will pay their Lecturer $13,000 for the semester.


Thursday, 20 October 2005

NaNoWriMo inspiration?

Further to recent discussions at Ampersand Duck of thwarted novelistical urges, romance novels (ahem, it's called "genre fiction"), and art schools as possible / probable / inevitable settings for said literary outpourings -

It's November in a few days. Write a novel, dammit! Make like Roger Corman always suggested, and start with the cover art. Actually, go all postmodern, and start with "appropriated" cover art.

Case rested?

See you in a couple of days -- I'm dead busy here, alas.

Tuesday, 18 October 2005

Double-Barrelled Meme Blaster x 7

Duckie and Fyodor both invited me to meme with them - how hard would the heart have to be to knock them back? It's the blog equivalent of being mewed at by a basket full of ginger and white kittens with pink ribbons round their necks. The basket is being carried by a basset hound (held between the teeth). There may also be some fluffy yellow ducklings in the basket, I couldn't say for certain.

It is the venerable and virulent meme of sevens. Ever wondered why so many good things come in bundles of sevens?

Smart person George M. Miller has some ideas about why. In "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information", he says it's related to how many separate individual pieces of information (within the same single category) a person can conceive of as separate. Plus or minus two, seven positions on a graph, or seven different pitches, is as many as a person can remember and retain without confusing them or without grouping them into subcategories.

So there you go. On with the meme.

7 things I want to do before I die:

1. Blow out three hundred and one candles on my birthday cake.
2. Meet Elvis.
3. Go on the radio.
4. Live and work and make friends in a foreign country.
5. Write a screenplay faithfully and uncompromisingly based on a Patrick White novel.
6. Contribute to the greater knowledge, dignity and compassionate understanding of humanity.
7. Go for a ride in a speedboat.

7 things I cannot do:

1. Stop reading a novel or play or watching a movie even though it's obviously shit and not getting better.
2. See what's so good about David Foster Wallace.
3. Crack my joints.
4. Dive.
5. Anything that probably should have been done two days ago.
6. Be bothered getting the dry whitish stuff off the bathroom tiles.
7. Long Division.

7 things that attract me to the opposite sex:

1. A noble brow.
2. A very specific and quite rare sense of humour.
3. Manly disdain for inconsequential trifles and fussing.
4. Intellect.
5. Temperance.
6. An unfailing appetite for enjoyments of all kinds.
7. Honesty, dependability, steadfastness, fidelity.

7 things that I say most often:

1. What a beautiful cat! What a beautiful cat you are!
2. Ah Baz, such a nerd, such a fluffy little nerd.
3. I don't have anything to wear.
4. oh for fuck's sake.
5. No, still not finished.
6. That's nice.
7. NO, you choose.

7 celebrity crushes:

1. Jane Austen
2. Fanny Burney
3. P.T. Anderson
4. Julianne Moore
5. Mary, Queen of Scots
6. Jodie Foster
7. Walter Benjamin

It offends my sense of order that there are only six categories of sevenisms to this meme, so I'm throwing in another one here.

7 random things I feel like mentioning

1. Eric Hearble.
2. Jack Palance in Contempt: "When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my chequebook."
3. Most of Father Ted is no longer funny after four or five viewings. I have yet to discover how many viewings it takes to wear out the funniness of The Office.
4. Of the eight lightbulbs in this room, five are broken.
5. The last taxi ride I took, the driver was playing Barry White. Loud.
6. Whichever way you look at it, plagiarism is revolting.
7. Denmark: who cares?

7 people I'm offering this preciousss meme to, (if they wants it)

Any seven who step up to the plate. Just go ahead and take it. It's my civic duty to cop out of passing it on, because with that rate of replication, this meme could wipe out the internet.

Weak Feet

It's a warm Spring day here in Melbourne. I've stayed home in order to concentrate uninterruptedly on marking some of the 1,789,463 essays I need to get marked before 27 October when the next (and thankfully final) batch arrive. Hot and steaming.

Yes well, as I was saying, it's warm and I'm housebound. So I am wearing thongs on my feet (flipflops, non-Australians.) It's the first time since February and my feet have gone all soft and wimpy from being boxed in all winter, and now I've got the traditional sore red spots on the sides where the rubber presses against the side of the foot. The even more traditional blistery rubbed patches between the big toe and toe #2 aren't fully developed yet, but they're in the post.

If you live in the south, there's no way around the yearly breaking-in of the foot to the thong. It just has to be endured and suffered through.

Sunday, 16 October 2005

Statuary Friday #16

Oh, it's Sunday Friday again! Time for a statue post...

#16: Weary Dunlop

King's Domain, Melbourne

This dignified and humane portrait statue stands in the Domain gardens, facing the traffic on St. Kilda Road, at the foot of the hill crowned by the Shrine of Remembrance. It represents Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop (1907-1993), a medical man who saved a great many lives as a prisoner of war of the Japanese on the Thai-Burma Railway. That's the only the beginning of what this man did with his life, really. You'll want to follow that last link.

My post as always is about the statue, not the person, but in this instance the success of the statue is only measurable by how well it captures the way we think about the man. Martin Flanagan sums that up well - he writes:

What Dunlop demonstrated was that in the most barbaric circumstances civilised standards can still be maintained, the sick can be cared for, the strong can help the weak, the rich (or those with any money at all) can help the poor.

The bravery Dunlop displayed was not momentary, nor even episodic. It was as regular as the sunrise. Once, when he had been tortured for eight hours and given a beating that left him with a broken rib, he made his way back to the tent that served as his makeshift hospital and resumed his operating schedule. "I wished to make a point," he later said. The point was that he wouldn't be beaten by force.

The statue, made by Peter Corlett, is about one and a half life size. It is bronze, and we're told it contains spikes used on the Thai-Burma Railway. It stands on a low and unornamented polished granite plinth in the centre of a small square of bluestone which sits flush with the surrounding turf. A couple of low flights of steps connect the street footpath with the statue, and written across the steps and laid into the ground on either side are various maps, pictures, lists and narratives to do with what happened to Australian prisoners of war at Changi and in in Thailand. It is all very informative and low key.

There are lots of memorial statues in the neighborhood of the Shrine, but I think this is the only one which shows a person at a moment in their life when their wartime duties and achievements are in the past. Although "in the past" isn't quite right, because Weary is doing the kind of intense and profound remembering that attests to the continuance of the past into the present. He's not in uniform, he's dressed in a civilian suit, and he wears none of his honours and decorations, just the Remembrance Day poppy in his buttonhole. His just-removed hat is in his left hand, and the fingers of his right hand are loosely curled in a way that suggests it is unusual for him to be standing still and not doing something.

He is growing old. There is the suggestion of thickening around the midsection which the buttoned suit jacket, purchased for a younger slenderer Weary, doesn't conceal. There is the creased face, the grizzled hair, bushy eyebrows, and the combover. He must be in his late sixties, the age when veterans of World War II had again to consider their own and their friends' mortality. Yet the face is far from sad. It is serious, as if it's seen a lot of suffering, but is not defeated by it. It's benign and peaceful, but not forgetful. The nickname Weary matches this face: it registers both the weight and reality of the burden and the willingness to go on carrying it indefinitely.

To look at Weary's face, you have to walk right up to him and look up. He's bigger than life, and his head is bowed. But his eyes are looking up past you, as if resting on the horizon.

The statue is clearly visible from St. Kilda Road. What you notice most when glimpsing it from a tram or a car is the posture, and the more I think about it, the more rich with meaning that posture seems. It pays tribute without triumphalism. The head is slightly bowed, but the body is upright, without a trace of military rigidity or stiffness. He is larger than life but not towering over everyone (but also not studiedly or ostentatiously stooping down to our level, either.)

It's the stance of a survivor.

Wednesday, 12 October 2005

The Proposition, a very bad movie.

The Proposition: brilliant Emily Watson, genius Nick Cave, wanted to like it so much, blah, etc. But as the evening wore on, heads were hacked off, fies buzzed, Guy Pearce's cheekbones jutted, John Hurt bit off and swallowed enormous chunks of scenery, rose and lilac and amber sunsets blazed and faded to nothing, and the inescapable conclusion dawned..... bloody awful film.

Basically, it is a garbled, emptyheaded rip-off / mash-up of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith lashings of Apocalypse Now and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and, unforgivably, great huge swathes of Dead Man. I really hate that kind of thing. To lift chunks out of earlier movies, not to mention totally famous earlier movies, and just dump the chunks entirely undigested into yours, is as good as saying you think your audience is not as clever as you are and they won't notice or care that all the magpie bits and pieces of your film don't match each other. Actually there is stuff in The Proposition that can really only be described as plagiarism. I'm sure it doesn't break any laws. But if I were Jim Jarmusch I'd be looking at this movie going "what the....?" The issue is not the copying - imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery. If I was making some kind of melodramatic gothic Western, which is what The Proposition wants to be, I'd be looking pretty hard at Dead Man too. But you can't just take some random bit you like - say the scene where Iggy Pop and Billy Bob Thornton et al are discussing what a Philistine is - and wedge it into some gap in your own film - like the part where Danny Huston et al are discussing what a Misanthrope is. In Jarmusch's film, the conversation is an organic, integrated part of the whole story concerning those characters. It encapsulates and crystallises a chain of insights and revelations starting from the tiny and weird dynamics of that bizarre little 'family,' right up to the place of fire and brimstone religion in Frontier mythology. Also it's bloody funny. In the movie we saw last night, I'm sorry, but it's just some pretty-sounding words to say in front of a photogenic setting sun. Danny Huston says them gloriously. But, nothing in the movie explains how he learned about misanthropy, or why he thinks of it at this moment, or why it's an idea that seems to matter to him when he's the character in the film with the most comrades and associates.

What brief snatches of proper reviewers' commentaries on the film I've encountered have said, bewilderingly, that it is intelligent and observant about both Aboriginality and the Australian landscape. Putting aside for the moment the big problems arising from positing some kind of simple unexamined connection between the two subjects (although it is a connection the movie urges us to make), I'm disappointed at the devastatingly low expectations that judgement would seem to imply. I mean, I am sceptical about Australian movies, and not specially well versed in them, but even I can think of at least four films, two old and two fairly new, that look about a thousand times better and have a considerably less cartoonish grip on race relations in this country. Just in terms of what I have heard said about the movie making the Australian country look good: what a crock. People, Australia is beautiful. You have to work hard to make it look bad. You have to do things like not worry too much about achieving clean clear focus, about catching rich warm daylight and soft grey twilight, or about letting the film soak up all the richness and depth and softness and delicacy of colour. Don't bother framing your shots so the space feels real and not like a backcurtain, or joining them together so as to show how people really move across the earth. Concentrate instead on collecting some postcard scenery and arrange your actors in front of it so they look really cool / scary / dramamtic / profound.

David Wenham was utterly atrocious in the twisting-round-in-your-seat-with-shame-and-emabarrassment way that only a basically good actor gone psychotically, epically, cosmically wrong can ever achieve. The movie really got bad when he walked in. And it's emblematic of the root problem with the film that I can't figure out what his character was actually for in the first place. There were at least two potentially decent movies buried inside the script of this film. One about the gang, the three brothers and their Robber-King leader all holed up in the mullock-heap mountain ranges, singing each other sad irish ballads and reading Bronte novels and Origin of Species by camp fire light. The other was just about Emily Watson and Ray Winstone, who were both remarkable, and even more remarkable together. If I were James Agee I'd nominate the scene with Watson guiding cramped, tense, exhausted Winstone to lie down, sideways, upside down, on the edge of their narrow brass bed, as place where the movie redeems itself and pays us back for two and a half hours of incoherence and dumbness. But I'm not James Agee, so I'll just say The Proposition is a failure.

Everyone's Got One

Are you thinking hard about how to cast your vote in David and Margaret's poll to establish just what is Australia's Favorite Film? (Honestly, I really, really, shudder to think.) According to D & M, "Everyone's Got One", so I think that probably means voting is compulsory. But in the best traditions of Australian democracy one can always exercise one's right to not give a bloody rat's arse by casting a donkey vote. (Admire the mixing of the metaphors.) Unless you've already committed yourself, I strongly suggest you go read the sterling, stirring case made by Jon at Sterne before filling in your ballot papers.

Monday, 10 October 2005

been shoppin'

I went to the campus bookshop academic book sale today - or, more accurately, I went to the last dwindled pitiful dregs of the campus academic book sale today. They only had one table full left, and all books were drastically marked down to fifty per cent of the already discounted price! (see how consumer excitement makes a person start talking ad language?) Anyway, I scored.

From the bottom up:

The Crowd: British Literature and Public Politics by John Plotz. $4!
William Faulkner and Southern History by Joel Williamson. Think I might have read parts of this before. also $4!
Turning Points: Essays in the History of Cultural Expressions, Marshall Brown. $3.50!! which is $1.50 less than the library fine I paid for returning this exact same book two weeks late, last December.
The Embodiment of Characters: The representation of physical experience on stage and in print, 1728-1749, Jones DeRitter. I had this on interlibrary loan in April for Mansfield Park - related reasons, so I think it will be useful again. It was $4 also.

The Moving Pageant: A Literary Source-book on London Street-Life, 1700-1914, ed. Rick Allen. The massive sum of five dollars.
The Full-Knowing Reader: Allusion and the Power of the Reader in the Western Literary Tradition, Joseph Pucci, also $3.50, and on the four or five pages I've read so far, going to help me very very much in my dissertation.

Not pictured: Hurricane Hits England: An Anthology of Writing about Black Britain, ed. Onyekachi Wambu. I bought this because of having enjoyed and been moved by Small Island & thought at the time that I'd like to know more about the subject. That, and it was only TWO DOLLARS, for feck's sake.

The pineapple on top I picked up on the way home, it was $5.59, so it cost more than any of these bled, sweated out, and wept over products of scholarship. Why don't this year's pineapples have the leafy spiky part on top, does anyone know? I feel a bit cheated not being able to pull out the leaves one by one.

Baz the Lad

Why's this cat looking so pleased with himself....?

Don't know. But about five seconds earlier I found him sitting on Russell Crowe's face. Maybe that's why.

Basil you are BAAAAAAAD. Welease Wussell!

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Tawny Frogmouth

Spotted this last night in the back yard when I went out to get some washing off the line. He or she is often there. These birds only move around at night? and they don't make a sound when they fly over your head. It's eerie.

Unfortunately I didn't really have time to hang about and commune with the wild bird, because Australian Idol was just starting...

Sunday, 9 October 2005


I baked challah this afternoon, following this recipe (and encouraging nonintimidating instructions) from Phantom Scribbler. Thanks, PS. It turned out pretty well! By which I mean, it resembles bread more than it resembles any other vaguely eatable substance.

Next time I might roll the three snakes of dough a bit longer & thinner and plait them a bit tighter so the loaf is flatter. It smells very nice in my kitchen right now.

awww, Kittens

This pic was in Vice magazine a couple of months ago, part of a six-page kitten fashion photo story. It's nowhere near as good as best Japanese peloria, but dressed up kittens of any degree are not to be scorned and cast aside. OOOOOOh Nooooo.

This post is dedicated to Mel, who is having a very shitty weekend.


I've changed my display name on Blogger - out of petulance more than for any real pressing reason. Feel free to keep calling me whatever you called me before, though, and don't worry about changing blogroll labels, or anything like that. This is my thinking: anybody who searches the internet for me, by my name or by my blog's name, is looking for me, and will easily find me (because of The Valve, where I use my real name.) That's perfectly fine and OK. What I'm not so fine with is searches for random content which I happen to have (etc etc). I'm off Google now, it didn't seem all that purposeful anyway. Going on Sitemeter evidence alone, do google searches that lead to blogs *ever* give the searchers what they want?
I never did do one of those "wacky searches that led to my blog" posts, so here's an an ersatz version for posterity. Most people came here in hot pursuit of reviews of "Klippan" mattresses sold by Ikea, information about the Sun and Moon sculptures in Malvern, the Fairy Tree, and an "outline of Sorrow" (whatever in hell that means). Then there were searches for "ex-girlfriend" of a person on my blogroll, "loobylu dissertation" (would love to know what that was about), & my favourite of all time, "where is Australia". Of course, you would go looking through blogs to find that out.
Note, please, the complete absence of pornographic and lewd search strings. Buggered if I know how that worked out.

Friday, 7 October 2005

Statuary Friday #15

Yep, more public art. I thought about getting a new meme, but, naaah. The good statuary around here hasn't run out yet.

Picking up from where I left off: which was with a bold resolution to stick for a little while to proper statues, which as I said back then are harder to write about than polygonal slabs of yellow-painted steel or friendly model doggies.

#15 Burke and Wills Monument

Corner of Swanston Walk and Collins Streets, City

Burke and Wills. Burke and Wills. Wills and Burke? Man, where to begin. I am a bit afraid, to tell you the truth. Well, I'm just going to talk about the monument itself and not try to retell the story of Burke and Wills - it's too big and interesting and important a story to squash into a blog post. If you've never heard of these people, as I assume will be true for many Northern Hemisphereans, they were two leaders of an expedition which left Melbourne in the late spring of 1860, with 24 camels and 28 wagons carrying enough food to last two years, in a bid to be the first Europeans to cross length of the Australian continent and explore the 'unknown' interior.

Not only did the (much diminished) exploring party fail to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria (although they came very close) but most of the explorers died of exhaustion and starvation. (A full account.) The explorers' remains were recovered by a second party and brought back to Melbourne to immense public mourning. The story is an immeasurably important part of post-1788 Australian history, ultimately because it's a narrative of the massive failure and defeat of European civilisation, at the hands of the Australian landscape, and at the urging of some dark unnamed thing in the Romantic European collective unconscious that wishes only to shed the inessential and burdensome and insulating sheath of history and society and culture - symbolised, above all, by flesh and food - achieve mystical, ascetic, transcendent union with Nature, and die. Obviously nobody would argue that this starving of the soul is what the poor explorers intended to achieve, only that their horrific and piteous story epitomises this cultural death wish very powerfully and that is why their story has reverberated with us for such a long time.

So how much if any of this mystique still emanates from the actual statue? Like any piece of the public furniture, the Burke and Wills monument is something we don't really look at or think about very much anymore. It's just....there. I have heard more than one person casually joke about how the explorers are gazing longingly at Hungry Jack's on the other side of Swanston Walk; which is pretty interesting since it's actually not at all accurate, they're facing toward the southern end of the street - if they could be said to be looking at a food shop it would have to be Darrell Lea.

But explorers would not eat prissy little candy canes and peanut brittle when they could tear into a hamburger, would they? The name Hungry Jack's obviously suggests a joke in that it registers the explorers were undone by lack of food, so starvation is still the first thing the statue makes us think of.

But...they don't look all starved.

Or do they? The pose (Burke standing, Wills seated) suggests a sort of thousand-yard stare - Wills has some kind of notebook or chart on his lap, and Burke a scroll or something in his right hand - but they're definitely looking away from these writings, and at some unguessable but clearly very absorbing sight (or site). Wills especially is twisting round very inquisitively - to represent a sort of intellectual hunger, perhaps? To euphemise the horror of physical hunger by wrapping it up inside a 'thirst for knowledge' type of image?

Then there is the way they are dressed. Compared to the formal and elaborate costume sported by Redmond Barry in a statue from roughly the same era, Burke and Wills are practically naked. From ground level, it's pretty hard to tell whether the sculptor has actually given them open-necked shirts or whether this is a sort of technical trick of the drapery - the latter's more probable. But, visually, it looks like Burke in particular has his chest bared almost to the waist. The clothes are totally simple and body-revealing. Maybe when everyone on Melbourne streets looked like this, to dress a statue group in clingy, unbuttoned shirts (and no hats) signalled in a roundabout way a sort of refining and stripping back of the body.

The monument (which I should say was made by Charles Summer, put up in 1865, and was the first large-scale bronze cast in this country) is more than just the figures, of course. In fact they are a bit hard to scrutinise because they're so elevated. Around the bottom part of the pediment (granite, ugly, grimy) are four bronze bas-reliefs, and a bronze frieze, which you can see in my second picture, depicting interweaving plant forms. Apparently the plant is supposed to be nardoo, an indigenous wetlands plant from which, as that page points out, "Nutritious food can be made...if it is prepared correctly." The expedition learned from local people that nardoo was edible, but missed out on the part about removing the husks which somehow block the body from absorbing the nutrients in the seeds. So yeah. They had a food to keep them feeling full, but not to actually sustain life, and the frieze on the memorial commemorates that horrid little irony.

The reliefs around the pediment are hard to see in these photos, but they are just as much a part of the total effect of monument as the figures on the pediment - more so in some ways.

Front: The Expedition excitingly and heroically sets off for the interior. There is much shouting of "huzzah!" and throwing of hats into the air.

Right side - indigenous Australians attempt to assist the Europeans (to his credit, Summer has caught something of the explorers' inability to fully understand their dependence for survival on the help of the local people)

Back: the infamous Dig Tree, where things really went wrong...

Left side - the discovery of Burke's remains. While the statues up top capture a moment (an idealised one), the pictures down below at street level tell a story, and don't gloss over the defeat or the tragedy. That double perspective - the timeless immortal hero and the pitiful historic failure - is a favourite with Australians. We are all losers at heart....

and the moral of this story?

I don't think anyone at my work reads the business sections of the newspaper, luckily; I believe I'm safe from the uglier of possible outcomes. That worry out of the way, mostly, I'm now wondering what the moral of the tale obliquely unfolded on this blog this week might be. I think it's what most of you have said: anyone who takes issue with something said on a blog ought in the first instance to raise it inside the blogosphere, NOT in a mass circulation newspaper, *particularly* when the blog in question isn't actually trying to imitate or appropriate the territory of traditional journalistic media.

I think this because had the Associate Professor identified me on a blog, she'd presumably have linked to mine, and her readers would have had a chance to make up their own minds, instead of depending only on her characterisation of me (as we know, the vast majority of people have no idea what a blog is or how to locate one) which I still think (now that I'm fairly calm about it) is a gross, almost malicious, misreading. I'd also have known about her piece through the trackback system, instead of being alerted by another blogger who chanced to read it, which would have give me the opportunity to reply in kind. I would have had a chance to defend myself through commenting on her post. I wonder, actually, why The Age did not link to the post in the online version of the article. Surely that wouldn't have been so difficult? To not do that seems to me the journalistic equivalent of sniping at pedestrians in the street from the rooftops.

I'm aware that the last sentence is possibly a bit hypocritical since the only thing I feel personal regret for having done in the first place is having made an offhand remark about how I've observed a well-known person to act in public places. There's been a fair bit of that on this blog, as it happens: see for example this post, or this throwaway one, or this one - which I don't feel at all embarrassed about. These kinds of situations are just a part of any normal, anonymous, observant person's life. Writing about how public figures come over in ambiguously public situations is hardly terrifically noble (human condition and all that), but, it's hardly a hanging offence either.

And that is all I have to say! except that I've worked out that comments boxes aren't cached or google-searchable, so in the comments to this post I'm putting a names-removed copy of the deleted post plus a link to the article in the newspaper. Let this be a lesson to you who blog! just how little control you have over how other people will behave when you repose your trust in them!

Wednesday, 5 October 2005

Carry On Head Puppet Theatre

This week is the toughest of the semester in terms of the material we're reading. I'm having a difficult time with it myself, and I hope the students don't just give up on it, though realistically some of them will.

I should have said what the plays are: Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, and The Roaring Girl by Middleton and Dekker.

For all sorts of reasons it's a very good thing to put comedies not by Shakespeare into a Shakespearean comedy course, but I'm a complete neophyte at reading these particular plays, (let alone helping a class explicate and understand them) and in order to even grasp what's being said and done, I've had to revert to a method of unfamiliar-language play-reading that I haven't used for years.

This is what I do: the plays are comedies (so I'm told) so I think of a TV or movie comedy troupe, one with a range of familiar and distinctive voices, and allocate parts. The troupe absolutely has to be English. Fawlty Towers is very good if the play doesn't have too many parts; so is The Young Ones; Monty Python work for some things but not others. Unfortunately Little Britain is terrible (I found this out yesterday). Best of all, especially for anything with satirical tendencies, is the Carry On gang. Heaps of voices spanning a very useful range from dirty old man to silly woman to ridiculously affected and mannered, but very little opportunity for reverting back Received Pronunciation which is always a temptation with English plays, and is a proven and total passion killer. I use Sid James & Kenneth Williams most, with lashings of Babs Windsor, and a large, foolish sort of man whose name I can't remember.

As I read, I imagine how each speech would sound with the designated actor saying it. It feels very artificial at first but after a bit the speech rhythms kick in, and the lines begin to make themselves 'heard' in a very alive and spontaneous way. It's like I'm not actually supplying the expressive vocal patterns, and that is strange. The emphases fall in places that make comprehension relatively easy and natural - and importantly, with The Alchemist, make it easier to pick out the places where the characters are deliberately talking obscurantist jargon. I guess it's a way of turning off the internal censor that would otherwise take pleasure in incessantly reminding you that you're very tentatively feeling your way here. I used to depend on this method a lot for reading Shakespeare, and I'd more or less forgotten that it's quite a fun thing to do. It's fun to be surprised and carried along by the way your own mind makes sense of a printed page.

It's still hard work, though. I'm afraid any comic spontaneity the play might exhibit has to be pretty damn sturdy to survive this process. I wonder if I should tell my students about this. They might be cross that I aren't much chop at the old Ben Jonson. Or they might just look at me silently.......

Tuesday, 4 October 2005

when will it be safe to come down?

Think I'll just stay up here & post cat pixs for a coupla months. Or at least until I've driven away any readers who've been led to believe that this blog is a place where polemics are fashioned. People, all I make is handbags.

I'm still pretty wrecked about what happened yesterday. I've done the necessary to get my blog delisted off the search engines. That way, anyone who comes here will more likely be looking for me, not for some random patsy to make a pointless point about. I can't do anything about Technorati, but you've just got to hope that anyone who knows what that is & how it works also has some sort of grip on the differences between um let's say "journalism" and "commentary" on the one hand and er "life writing" on the other.

Fingers are tightly crossed that I don't lose my job or something. Unless it comes to that, I won't mention this horror again.

What this blog is really about....

I don't like to go to bed leaving the most recent (distressing) post at the top of the page, I feel weird about it, so I'm re-posting an old one from the archives. Sorry if you've read this already.

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Statuary Friday #4

Ok, here's my project: or perhaps it's a meme: though I doubt anything qualifies as a meme if only one person is onto it. Well, anyway, every Friday I do a different piece of sculpture selected from the vast numbers littered around lovely Melbourne. My only criteria are: it must be outdoors, it must be more or less permanent, and it must be in a publically accessible location. (Suggestions, especially for sculpture in the 'burbs, are very welcome.)

This week is image-heavy, I apologise for this, but I'm only posting about a third of the pix I took, and I've made them all as low-res as possible so hopefully the page won't take too long to load. Anyhow:

#4 the Springthorpe Memorial

Boroondara Cemetery, Kew

This Greek-temple-like tomb was erected in 1901 by Dr John Springthorpe, in memory of his wife Annie, who had died in childbirth four years earlier. It's about four metres each way, and sits in a garden plot 25m square, just on the crest of the hill in Kew Cemetery - on a clear day you can see all the way to Mount Macedon. The memorial, which was designed by Harold Desbrowe Annear, has black marble columns and granite pediments, bronze gargoyles, railings, and bronze inscriptions, a handpainted tile floor, and a magical rose-red stained glass domed ceiling. The sarcophagus over Annie's tomb and the marble statuary group were made by Bertram Mackennal. The memorial cost Dr Springthorpe ten thousand pounds and took four years to construct. The Bulletin reviewed it when it was finally completed, summing it up as "Melbourne's Taj Mahal."

1901 was the year Queen Victoria died. Socially and aesthetically, Annie Springthorpe's tomb epitomises the Victorian cult of death. It is austere and extravagant; classically formal and restrained in outline, but heavily decorated on its surfaces with writing, carving and colour from the ceiling; it gives a monumentally public form to an intensely private grief and mourning. I think it is extremely creepy and also extremely beautiful.

The marble statues inside the temple are very lovely. The dead woman lies cold and serene on a formal bier. The Immortal angel, compassionate but remote, bends lovingly over her, placing a wreath above her head (the wreath is missing now.)

At the foot of the bier is a haunting, crouching, veiled female figure holding a lyre: she represents Human love and Grief.

The light from the stained glass is a pale but rich red, and it makes the marble glow, very softly on a cloudy day, more intensely when the sun is strong.

Just about every flat surface inside the tomb has something written on it. Around the pediments are verses from the Bible written in Greek. All over the floor you can read quotations from poems by Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, and Tennyson. What you will not read anywhere is Annie's name: Springthorpe intended the memorial to be 'infinite and eternal', and to bespeak Annie's 'sweet pure influence' to all mourners who saw her 'Temple-Tomb' in years to come. The painted tiles give the dates of Annie's birth, marriage, and death, and describe her simply as 'Pattern Daughter, Perfect Mother, and Ideal Wife.'

One more photograph: Annie Springthorpe on her wedding day.

There is a whole chapter about the Springthorpe Memorial in Pat Jalland's 2002 book Australian Ways of Death, should you want to know more.

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The original post (for the accompanying original comments thread.)


Strangely, being laughed at and squashed like a beetle by a Mega Top Academic in a Top Newspaper only seems to have garnered this blog an extra five or six hits yesterday.

I have deleted the offending post, mostly because I really don't intend or want to hurt anyone's feelings. I sincerely apologise if I did do that. Please put it down to momentary unthinkingness.

If my unread and unregarded remarks really represent the absolute worst pillorying Top Academic could dredge up out of a Technorati dirt search, then....what is all the fuss about? Could it have anything to do with TA having recently copped a blog-serve herself, and rather than dealing with it in the usual way, instead decided to discover a new and alarming trend: nasty, schizoid, loser bloggers being stupid about proper intellectuals. Well, whatever. TA gives good snark, I'll allow her that much.

The post in question was meant to be (and I maintain really was) just a brief reflection on ways of expressing the idea of community and 'public' life. (Ironic, huh?) But it's been very effectively demonstrated to me that Technorati and Google are excellent tools for uncovering stuff to take out of context, so to prevent future nonsense, it's gone.

Sunday, 2 October 2005

Editorial Sledging

Reading the introduction in my copy of Gulliver's Travels, I came upon this sentence:
'Only readers in a mood thoughtlessly to consume whatever the printed page offers can at this point avoid re-examining their assumptions about both the narrator and the book as a whole.'


And I'm meant not to take that personally? Like I haven't spent my whole entire reading life in that (apparently despicable) condition?

Saturday, 1 October 2005

my legendary boyfriend

He's so clever.

For auralcular proof you might listen to this mashup he made. It's called weeping sabrosa.