As always, it's lovely to hear from you. I have been negligent in obeying the protocols of letter writing. So I will atone. Today it is overcast and cold. It rained early this morning but it looks like clearing. I'm a bit sluggish due to a rather persistent flu. J is fine. He sends his fondest regards and wishes you well ...
The beautiful prose of your letter has provided me with much to ponder. You are right to remind me not to be so general, so ill-considered, in my linkages and comparisons between the transgressions of women in love and war. Such an undertaking, of course, devalues the significance of context and this was not what I intended. In writing 'they revealed too much', I was suggesting that it reaches a point where, in the public's alleged right to know, trivia is reported to us. Do we really want to know that President Clinton's penis has no distinguishing features: that it is in fact, a rather ordinary penis. But more importantly, old dividing lines are redrawn as these women are used as fuel in a debate which lampoons feminism and which evokes a fury of judgement. And somewhere along the line, Hilary Clinton has been accused of selling out! You are right to ask difficult questions of me: I am chastened by your questions but cannot really answer them. Perhaps we are, or rather I am, a bit too flippant, too ready to fill this writing with the metaphors of war and of battle. However, wasn't this part of our collaboration: the conflation of war and waiting, of waiting and strategic ploy, of feeling embattled? It is an act of ignorance, of not knowing, of trying to understand these impossible things called 'war' and `writing' and this impossible space which forms and unfurls at the juncture of the media-military-industrial, forming a 'complex'.
I have just finished reading Milan Kundera's new book, Identity. I enjoyed it, though not one his best. However, there are some ideas worth considering. In particular, I have taken a great deal of delight in the way this quite cool narrative which plots moments of intimate identity and desire turns to (primarily well-intentioned) deceit and trickery as its means of exposition. Running through the book are references to spying, privacy and duplicity, to lies, secrets and doubts. Then there's the uncertainty faced in many a relationship, of not being able to recognise, of not knowing who the other is. In this story of a man and woman whose identities are not only disputed but untrustworthy, he says of her, 'is having two faces such a triumph?' He used to relish the idea that among the advertising people she was like an interloper, a spy, a masked enemy, a potential terrorist. But she isn't a terrorist, she's more of a - if he has to resort to such political terminology - a collaborator. A collaborator who serves a detestable power without identifying with it, who works for it while keeping separate from it, and who one day, standing before her judges, will defend herself by claiming that she had two different faces.' Since when has being two-faced ever been a defence? I can hear the murmuring now, the sneering contempt, 'fucking two-faced bitch.'
I must consider my motives. Did I tell you, that after studying journalism, I wanted to be a war correspondent? I wonder about my motives for that, another conflation of war and writing. To borrow insensitively from Rosalind Krauss, 'writing in the battle field', or as it was described at a Brisbane Writers' Festival event some years ago, 'writing to die for ...' Does writing really want to/need to be such a heroic objective? However, I had no visions of grandeur, no real compulsion to become so intimate with those geographies and economies of suffering, no romantic delusions of being a crusader for 'truth', to excavate that truth from those mass graves which you have so poignantly evoked. But what I did want, I think, were experiences which would leave me teetering on the edges of those chasms - I like edges - in which nothing, especially those excesses and contradictions of war, could ever possibly make sense and in which language would reveal its inadequacy, its insistent slavery to reason. I want the impossible too, Josephine! That was the challenge of witnessing, of reporting and of writing.
As that massive wall which symbolises the divide between them and us was demolished, a cold war ends and we become acutely aware that ideology and rhetoric have failed us but safe in the knowledge that we won. And how do we know this? Someone, somewhere is making a profit. That windswept expanse called the Soviet Union shattered into dozens of ethnic conflicts and ruptures, and for some, that fragmented union becomes a land of milk and honey, a frontier of opportunity. So now, I take this desire, this feeling of loss, and self-consciously and repeatedly attempt to give it shape in writing and I hope that it might reflect an ethics. I am grateful to Mark (on the Ensemble Listserv) who reminded me of Felix Guattari's 'Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm': 'ethical choice no longer emanates from a transcendent enunciation, a code of law or a unique and all-powerful god. The genesis of enunciation is itself caught up in the movement of processual creation.' As I enter into this collaboration, considering the import of Chora, those ethics become the challenge of writing, a negotiable discursive economy.
When war was declared in 1939, Anais Nin wrote in her diary, 'I have never been responsible for an act of war and yet I am now involved in this thing that happened to the whole world.' Such serious girls we are, concerned with matters of life and death, of who really has blood on their hands. I can tell you stories. I have secrets too. (My girlish bid to make friends.) Or rather the secret to which I refer is not my own but belongs to my mother. I feel careless in revealing this secret which she has guarded so closely - forgive me - that I did not learn of it until about three years ago when a second or third cousin visited from Switzerland. Even then, it is not her secret but that of her own parents, a family secret, but nevertheless her shame and sadness endures. The secret is that they crossed the line during war time - and I have no idea of what that crossing entailed but I can guess - and the result was a public execution just after the war. My mother, aged nine, the oldest of three, forced to witness. Then separated from her siblings, she lived with relatives for ten years until she migrated here. Someone has indeed paid for something with their lives: I am uncertain whether justice has been done.
Then there's stories my father tells me about living in an occupied village, of the young German soldier who pulls him aside one day and tells him that the Germans will bomb the hillside above the field where he and his family worked. He and his family might want to make themselves scarce for the day. For this, he tells me, he is thankful. Who can, who really wants to judge? You ask: is my transgression to be applauded, celebrated, when it leads straight to the death of others? I cannot answer this. I can only ask: is my transgression tolerable if it means that someone, who I possibly love, will live? We can justify anything if we really want to - each time someone is murdered an angry mob gathers outside the court house and demands the death penalty - if we really put our minds to it. Some lives are lost, others are wasted ... weighed, as we all are, by circumstance. <An aside: and this might be another relationship between writing and war. In the war which framed my parents' early lives, they were deprived of education. They did not, could not, learn to read and write.>
Of course, genocide and ethnic cleansing, are entirely different matters: incomprehensible, massive and terrifying. And now with terror and torture in the picture, I am at a loss. I may have to think about these: there is already too much pain and grief in this letter. As we know, hate is a profitable enterprise: it can make some people rich, it can make others powerful and it can drive others into politics. Collaboration, or maybe it's just coalition? This is afterall Australia and they are coy when they speak of matters of democracy, aren't they? The prime minister admits that he'd rather form a coalition government with One Nation than with the Democrats or the Greens. We know what they mean. It's time to cut a deal. It's time to be pragmatic. Every political cartoonist in the country makes it explicit, someone is 'getting into bed with ...' someone else. If it's not Cheryl Kernot in bed with Gareth Evans and Kim Beazley, then it's John Howard in bed with Pauline Hanson or Liz Cunningham in bed with Rob Borbidge or ...
And thank you to Phillip Adams who writes about treason in this weekend's Australian:: 'while information, data and money are instantaneously transferred, so are allegiances ... And soon the notion of citizenship will start to disintegrate under the battering of globalism. Between the Boeing 747, the Internet and the global company, the values that made the traitor possible, that made treason a coherent idea, are being eroded.' This, I find intriguing, the idea that technology somehow makes treason more difficult, because fidelities are no longer so readily available (as the earlier Guattari citation indicates). It would seem to suggest that transgression, in this context, isn't so much an option, as it is an inevitability. And inevitabilities, as they say, are just an affirmation of, if not your beliefs, then your context. But as unabashedly old-fashioned Adams concludes, this era of pragmatic bed-hopping which spreads the contagion of 'virulent beliefs', is Australia's age of treason.
And doesn't Pauline know it? Poor Pauline, her heart heavy with lost fidelity, bemoaning, 'no one knows the meaning of loyalty anymore.' Yes, I do agree with you: it is power, power, power. It is a dirty business. Government and political process proves this on a daily basis. They've (One Nation) scoured the annals of Australian history and resurrected a political platform from a century ago. Someone should tell them that hitting return doesn't really mean going back. It's no surprise that as the vermin build their nest with those long discarded files, cosy and comfortable in their secluded and idealistic nostalgia for grand and glorious days, those ghosts of Christmas past, they begin to fight among themselves. It's all you can expect from people whose platform is predicated on an overinflated, unresolved and pious sense of victimstance ... I too must guard against being self-righteous. And to the little miss I encountered the other day, who proclaimed her right to be politically incorrect, asserting the integrity of the generic 'he', I must respond. 'My dear, why is it that you are so willing to exclude yourself and your gender from the language which you use to describe your life? And when you have finished erasing yourself and your experience, don't protest when your absence has resulted in, not only your disenfranchisement but that of all of us.' Such is the success of One Nation, a selfish population whose political morality doesn't extend beyond the petulance of a child's or adolescence's unimaginative retort to a parent's request, 'I don't want to!' ...
J has been telling me about a method of qualitative analysis which is employed by a consultant he is working with. It is called 'appreciative inquiry'. Apparently, the method involves a style of questioning which makes a negative response impossible. Obviously, all answers provide an affirmation of the matter being addressed. It's certainly, a way of ensuring you get what you want, and of making others think it's what they want too. Perhaps this is what might be at play in the metaphorics of interfaces and programme menus. Some cyber-theorist, I can't remember who, warned of this. He warned that in the development of interfaces and access routes, we must exercise caution or we must learn to live with our metaphors. 'Favourites', like a box of chocolates, pleasurable and consumable. And you know what they say? You can never have too much of a good thing! Can you even begin to imagine what the `favourites' of your average neo-nazi or serial rapist are?
Another observation from Anais Nin from the anthology 'A Woman Speaks': after reading Alvin Toffler's Future Shock she responds, 'what shocked me was the concept that technology should dictate to us what our human relations should be and decided that because our life has been accelerated we have no time for relationship. This is the unfortunate consequence of the false concept we had about contact. And what helped us distort the sense of contact was the media, which gave us the illusion that we were in touch with all the world and everything that was happening in the world ... The media give us a false sense of communication and of contact.'
I also remember seeing a job advertised at J's workplace. The job title was 'Co-ordinator of Continuous Improvement' and I mentioned to J that it would be an interesting exercise to track the psychological changes in the person who lived within that job title. 'Fancy having optimism as your job description. How could they possibly have a bad day?' I asked. He replied that 'they'd always be safe in the knowledge that things could only get better.' Maybe it's one of those you-had-to-be-there moments. But I think we've discovered a conspiracy: it's a plot to gradually stupefy the corporate environment by eradicating negative thinking! ; ) What will become of dissent?
Do we perhaps enter another tricky terrain, that of coercion, consent and complicity? Have we accounted for these phenomenon yet? I suspect these are what give collaboration its nuances and complexities, making power not only sticky and mutable, but also transferable. Then there's another character in the whole scenario of secrets and security, the one whose leaks are not only sanctioned but necessary, 'the whistleblower', the one who relies on their honour, making a moral decision not to be co-opted, whose revelation acts as a protest. Poor Agent Mulder, his words intercepted by a bug, by the walls with ears, 'the truth is out there,' he says. And Agent Scully, her dispassionate demeanour cools the words which fall from her mouth, replies, 'and so are lies.'
I have not advanced my thoughts on accidents and contingency and look forward to hearing your response. It's terrible news about your friend in the car accident, and the boy. A relief to know that no one was hurt. Never write again, you say? In the language of reportage, must every accident lead to loss? And this now brings me back to those questions of torture and terror. My heart goes out to your brother. Just reading about the exchange between your mother and he (resplendent with a Terminator-style red light flickering in his eye) made me shudder. One of the most terrifying things about it, is the evocation of the child's body as that which betrays and the taunting of the child with a body s/he cannot control. Unfortunately, it would seem a commonplace ploy of parenting.
How ridiculously easy it is to prey on a fear. As Adam Phillips writes in 'Terrors and Experts', `fear is always familiar'. In the scenario of torture, the tortured fears herself, she is terrified of her own body and it's loss of boundaries, her ability to feel pain. They know how to break that fragile frame, that steely resolve, how to loosen a tongue. Speaking, spilling her guts, saying anything might be the way to end the searing and surging agonies which rack her body. I can no longer bear this ... I will tell you anything to stop having to write this ... A way out, another trajectory, another relationship between fear and speaking, the domain of psychoanalysis. According to Phillips, 'the patient who comes into the analyst's consulting room, always comes because he cannot speak.' This is how he learns about his fears, in words. And as Phillips suggests, 'psychoanalysis turns panic into meaning. It makes fear bearable by making it interesting. And it does this in the most ordinary way: through conversation with another person.' I should conclude something from this, apply it to collaboration, to IRC. I feel there's a connection of some sort, something that needs to be made explicit, but it seems mundane.
I am sorry to have gone on, to have digressed and rambled. I will continue to ponder the idea of the 'radical maladaption'. Perhaps, a mutation (or an event of evolution) which does not/cannot endure but which is generative? Enough, I keep saying to myself, enough!! It is Sunday, afterall, and I'm on a home decorating kick, of sorts. I have new curtains which I want to dye and a flat which is in desperate need of attention.
Keep well. I look forward to your next missive ...