July 6 27 Florence St
West Perth 6005
What a letter. I don't quite know where to start, other than to say that I did wonder if I might appear censorious in my last letter - I hope not. It was not my intention. Yes, I did inaugurate the question of metaphor, only to then problematise it. I don't know that you were ill-considered, as you say. Rather, I would say that your considerations caused me to consider - which is surely the point of this exchange. Oh, by the way, it is still raining in Perth, buckets and buckets. The poor postman.
Before I draw breathe and dive in, I must tell you that C. and Me went to the christening of my niece Meaghan today. It was strange to be there, and to play the role of God-parents. Strange is not the right word. Unheimlich is not the right word either, but is sounds better. It was at X in Cottesloe, which C's mother informed us is a very wealthy diosecese (is that how you spell it? Some words slip out of use and fail to return intact.) I have always loved the name of that Church. One of my brothers whispered the story of the priest to us while we waited for the squirming baby to settle down - apparently he was the treasurer of the Catholic Church during the Burke years (Brian Burke was the Labor Premier in the 80's who began a brilliant career of corporatising the relations between Party and State, and ended up as Treasurer for a prison some kilometres from the CBD. Ah, the circle of life.) Seems the Monsignor made an ill-advised investment in one of the many disaster of the time - relevant links here include W.A. Inc., Horgan, Connel, Alan Bond etc. - and lost most of the Sunday takings in the process. We all have our stories. The Monsignor was rather charming, and took care to explain that words and symbols mediate the ineffability of faith, and are just the Lord's way of getting things done, or something like that. Earlier there had been a kerfuffle (? another unheimlich word) because my sister-in-law refused to attend the ceremony, saying it would be hypocritical of her. My mother is very hurt, and the parent of the child are not saying so, but they are hurt too. Why am I telling you this? Not to proclaim a return to the fold - I guess I find myself increasingly defending faith, or some concept thereof, in the face of a kind of terrorist rationality of the sort that my sister-in-law exhibits. Yes, I know there is no Church without the Institutions that go with it, and we all know about the Catholic Church, but I feel rather less inclined to place my personal need to assert my non-belief over other peoples desire to participate in rituals such as baptism. I also belief there is a place in the world for things that cannot be lassoed and pulled to the ground. Mystery is mystery. Writing is impossible.
It was strange for C. and me to be so enfolded in the family. C. always calls himself an out-law, rather than an in-law. It meant a lot to him, and to me.
Am I being two faced? Well I don't think so. Agreeing to care for the spiritual well-being of a little girl? A humbling responsibility, I must say. Where do I start? Any hints would be appreciated.
"Is having two faces such a triumph?" What an amazing line. I had forgotten you wanted to be a war correspondent. It is very moving, this reminder of what you wanted to be. I recognise in it the desire to 'make a difference', as it is popularly called; I recognise the sort of anxiety that can still take me over when I am down. You ask - does writing need to have such a heroic objective? What you say makes me acknowledge how hard it is to make a place for oneself in the world with words. That bullet-proof shield between words and things returns our efforts to us, painfully. Heroic affiliations can simulate the transparency of the phenomenal world to our consciousness. The urgency of battle adds the impossible codicils of Tragedy and Revolution to our vocabularies. Being On The Spot. Witnessing. I remember seeing an amazing documentary about the bombing of Sarajevo, made by the son of Marcel Ophuls, (or was it by, Marcel the son of Max? I am confused...) Did you see it? The most telling moments of the documentary were about the reporters, holed up in the Holiday Inn, waiting for their 'feed'. Their impotence, the mediated nature of their knowledge, their imbrication in the power-play of the day. Of course, our 'Australian' tragedies happen largely at home, in smaller but no less wounding ways. We are not so televised are we? We live in a era of disavowed tragedies that struggle to be heard. One Nation, as you say. The Wik 'compromise' .
I want the impossible too, Linda.
It is my turn to be chastened. With the story of your mother and her family the flaring arc of 'the meaning of collaboration' tumbles right out of the electronic ether. The question of judgement hangs about in the air, and it is certainly not for me to take that seat. No doubt your parents live with those questions in ways that I never will. I hope I never will. I realise writing this that I am desperately hoping that we never will. This is the shock of Bosnia. The war within Europe. A war closer to Paris than I am to you.
As far as One Nation, I can only hope they continue to implode. Our very own Black Hole of Negative Space. My motto for the day :
One Nation is Not Enough.
Thanks for your thoughts on Favourites. Appreciative Inquiry. The Co-ordinater of Continuous Improvements. HA! As J. suggests, there's a job for the Age of Enlightenment. It resonates with a certain sort of New Age practice that I believe requires one making daily 'Affirmations'. For example -
I am Good.
I am Beautiful.
I am Rich.
I am Happy.
I Am! I really really AM!
Whatever happened to "Introspections"? "Interrogations"? e.g.
Why am I such a fuckwit?
Re: Favorites - what about Word Perfect?
Did I tell you what happened to me on the flight back from Sydney? I sat in the wrong seat, and the steward came up to inform me of my mistake and I went to move and the man whose seat I had taken said not to bother and sat in my former seat. All well and good. We took off without incident. Two packet of peanuts and half a litre of water later, I went to the toilet. On the way out the steward said - 'Thank you so much for moving.' I was confused and said 'That' ok', thinking she had confused the parties involved in the seating misunderstanding. (As a back story to this, on the flight home from Sydney a couple of weeks before I had been asked if I would mind giving up my seat so that the couple sitting next to me with their baby would have the room to put her down. I was quite happy to move, and was given a seat in Business Class, which was hardly a sacrifice.) Anyway, I went back to my seat and the woman with the drinks strolled came by, leant over and said solicitously, 'It was so nice of you to move. I don't know how that couple got separated, and with the baby and all....' She smiled a charming smile, and I smiled back weakly. She kept smiling, and I said, 'No trouble at all.' I looked at her carefully and decided she might have been the same hostess as on the flight a couple of weeks before, and she might just be thanking me for my sensitivity to the couple with a baby (and all this BEFORE I became a God-parent!) Time passed. My rationalisation seemed increasingly unlikely. A terrible movie. A child vomited two seats up. I smiled encouragingly at the embarrassed parent (before I was a god-parent.) Another hostess appeared. 'Can I get you anything? a pillow? a drink?' 'I'm fine', I said quickly. 'It was so nice of you to move, you know. We'd like to thank you very much,' she said. 'Really, it was no trouble at all,' I said faintly. A fiction, once established, can take on a life of its own. I spent the next hour with my head buried in a book, and slowly life on board returned to normal. No sudden air turbulence, no engine anomalies, nothing. Dinner. By now any sign of indulgence meant trouble. I took my tray in a very business-like manner, hardly lifting my eyes off the book. 'Madam?' 'Hmmmm', I said, one finger on the corner of the page, `Madam? Would you like a drink? Wine? Beer?' `No thank you', I said crisply, `I've got my water.' 'Well,' she said, 'we would like you to have this complementary bottle of wine in appreciation for what you did for that poor couple.' What did I do? I smiled, and drank it.
Mind you, it didn't help. I was convinced that at any moment I would be discovered, that one of the staff would spot the real Good Samaritan, and I would be shamed, but not before being whisked up for a visit with the Captain and Crew...'Ever landed a 747, Ma'm? There's really nothing to it.'
I have never been so pleased to get off a plane. Well that's not true. I am always pleased to get off. I consider that I have faced death squarely and survived to tell the tale.
So there. A story of unwitting complicity. The sort of thing that would happen to George in Seinfeld, don't you think?
As you say Linda, the truth is out there. And so are lies.
Linda - is there a Phillip Adams and an Adam Phillips? Am I going mad, or are you?
I have to admit, Linda, that in concluding that the boy in the accident will never write again,it was pure conjecture. I don't know that he will never write again. I meant it as a kind of play on 'never walk again', and I must say it is a rather silly joke. Actually, it might be the case that he will never stop writing, having at last discovered his subject. Maybe he will write those Carveresque stories where accidents, people, lives overlap, collide, pass each other by. One things is for sure, he won't be driving that car again.
Nothing weakens a weak joke like explication. Sigh.
I seem to have steered away from collaboration. My mood is a little flippant, but then I am given to that, as you know. I think that's why I love reading things that make me laugh. It is a way that language makes its way into the body, a way of knowing that words (are) still matter.
I have been thinking about what it was that led me to thinking about torture and about war. It was your reference to the photo that sent me off to the Museum. To My Favourites. I think I said that I feared conflating the victim and the perpetrator, and you have reminded me of the nuances and complexities of those positions. When I was writing about the Museum of the Holocaust for my Prelim. thesis, in the days when I thought that I might follow the call of Museology (which is not the study of Muses), and I tried to track the impossible mission of corralling the position of victim, perpetrator and witness within the spacial logic of Museum exhibitions. I went back and read bits of it and found this -
'Witnessing is not the observing, recording
and remembering of an event, but a position in relation to what is witnessed1. Surely blindness, rather than sight would be
a more appropriate metaphor for the experience of the Holocaust? Claude
Lanzmanns's Shoah demonstrates that those who witnessed the event
- perpetrators, witnesses, and bystanders - do not occupy a single viewpoint,
but 'incommensurate cognitive and topographical positions....[They] are
differentiated not so much my what they actually see, as by what and how
they do not see, that and how they fail to witness.'
The Museum attempts to insert the visitor
as character into the narrative of the Holocaust through individual identification
with the person on the card (when they enter the Museum visitors are
issued a card of a victim of the Holocaust - dead or alive.) In the
ideal word everyone becomes a potential victim. However, identification
is a risky business. Some commentators call the card a 'companion', others
a 'phantom' surrogate' (they live that I might die?), other a 'phantom
guide' - foregrounding the role of the ID in organising the point of view
of the visitor...What distinguished the position of the visitor as victim,
from that of the bystander. What are the narrative and ethical implications
of that confusion?
In one article about the Museum the writer described stepping out into the Mall and finding all these printed cards with the names of the dead and the living floating around on the ground, in bins.
How does the need to represent avoid the obscenity inscribed within it?
I don't know Linda. I guess you just keep fumbling along.
1 Shoshana Felman, "Film as Witness: Claude Lanzmann's Shoah", Holocaust Remembrance