Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Going back

Well, I went out to La Trobe. I was asked to give a paper in a research day on Jane Austen, so I did that with great pleasure. The research day part of it was all fine. Visiting La Trobe was a pretty intense experience.

The weather was beautiful. I went on my bike and I got there early on purpose so I could have a really good wander around. It's only been about three years since I left. So it was just how I thought it'd be: uncanny how much the place hadn't changed and how much it felt like I'd never left. That is such a trite little cliche but you must understand, it was a raw and very strange emotional state. I felt as if the last three years had just been a dream I'd had last night, now fading in the light of the morning.

But also, at the same time, plenty had changed and that was uncanny too. Like, this had bemusingly appeared on the bit of grass between the path to car park 7 and the loop of the moat that rolls in front of the John Scott. I pulled over and looked at it for a while.

I knew I was expecting to find the place different - by the time of my departure, the VC had already plunged La Trobe deep into a convulsive physical change - but I'm afraid it wasn't until I saw this sculpture that I understood that I was fully expecting all the changes I found to be making the place worse. 

That recognition, then and there, put the lie to what I'd thought - that I was over La Trobe, no longer emotionally entangled in it as if it was, I don't know, a lover or something and not in fact a university campus. Lately the doctor has been all like, you can't accept deprivation and loss and rejection and unavailability, because not accepting it when you were small is how you survived. And I have been thinking that this notion of hers is just a bit too textbook Freudian to be very useful to me. So that was a bit of a shit, to find myself on campus for less than three minutes and already taking the loss of things overly personally. She isn't the sort of person who ever needs to say 'I told you so'. She works it so you come to that conclusion independently. 

There's a lot of sculpture at La Trobe and it's almost all very graceful, clean, modernist - a couple of recentish additions like the upside down Charles La Trobe monument are the exceptions and they are not improvements. This is also not an improvement, indeed it is fkn horrible. It's in the "small and quirky" sculptural genre which I have invested a lot of energy and words into hating and pouring scorn upon, on this blog, over the years, only this example isn't small. Well, maybe it will be destroyed by vandals. There are precedents. Someone has vandalised the Donald Whitehead building by peeling the brown bricks off and replacing them with metallic strips, possibly of the kind that are so good at catching fire and melting, there is no way of knowing. Well, I suppose it would not be appropriate for the university to issue MBAs unless the students who receive them have learned about 360-degree feedback tools, emotional intelligence, the seven habits of highly successful people and the like by watching video lectures recorded by sessional academics working in buildings which the THE World University Rankings has verified as being appropriately clad in metallic strips. 

Change comes even to the car pool: that little hut at the end of the row used to be inhabited by James the car pool administrator who lent out cars from his place in the centre of a puddle of empty fast food packaging which rose up as high as his armpits. You cannot see it in the photo but there are overflowing bins out the front. There must have been a coup. I hope James is okay.  
The lawn behind the Thomas Cherry building has always been able to make me feel happy. I once saw a handwritten poster advertising a riot scheduled to occur on the Thomas Cherry lawn. "Bring your own weapons" it said.
The one unmitigatedly great addition to the campus to happen in the current epoch is this set of sculptures by Reko Rennie.
Can't tell you how relieved, surprised and pleased I was to find that the Leonard French glasses are still in their places under the David Myers building. Last I heard they needed extensive restoration because the black stuff between the pieces of glass had deteriorated and it was going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (money that needed to be spent on metallic strips, and oh my fucking god, on painting the exposed concrete surfaces of Robin Boyd's Menzies College ORANGE AND BLACK)

Also very happy to see Inge King still in the moat and has thus far escaped being painted orange and black. The corporate colours doncha know!

This was my office in La Trobe Learning and Teaching, on the ground floor of Humanities 2. In Room 101. The room containing the worst thing in the world.

My previous office was on the fifth floor of the same building. Count back five window bays from the right and there it is. I was too unsettled to actually go inside Hu 2 but now I wish I had
 The Ag.

Menzies: you can't see the orange and black bits in this photo which I took while thinking, well, they can be stupid and paint it but they can't really ruin how nice it is here.

Unfortunately this tree stump has been made into a "designated smoking area"

I was just about weeping by the time I walked through the level 2 corridor bridging Hu 2 and Hu 3. Ridiculous I know.

 ]The research day was held inside the library, which has been most assiduously cleansed of books. Even the catalogue got disappeared.

This is what you see when you are walking back to Hu 2 from the Agora. That walk, that place, is the essence of La Trobe for me. The picture, well, you will just have to take my word for it that this is a photograph of a place where I have spent years of my life on an inward exploration, and that seeing it again, just waiting there in the morning sun, same as it ever was, makes me incredibly emotional. I know the picture is so boring that this sounds ridiculous. Those trees on the left will be doing their stupendous springtime flowering right now.

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