the liminal days

In my peculiar chronology, the old year ends around the summer solstice and the new one doesn't begin until today, or perhaps tomorrow. The days between are liminal days, intercalary days . . . sometimes I feel like proclaiming an idiosyncratic Decree of Canopus but it would of course have effect only in my own private universe. Or within these four walls, whichever is the larger. So, there's time in there not so much for reflection as for casting ahead, for attempts at precognition, that sweep of mind-light into the near and far of the future. In 1977, perhaps foolishly, I refused the option of a university career (was a Junior Lecturer in the English Dept. at Victoria Uni in Wellington that year, with the possibility of doing a PhD OE and then joining a faculty somewhere) and ran away instead with the Red Mole circus for five delirious years on the road in NZ, the US, the UK . . . that led onto working with various rock 'n' roll bands. And so on and so forth. Now, thirty-three years later, I've enrolled at the University of Western Sydney and will, on February 1, formally begin study towards a DCA . . . which means, portentously, Doctorate of Creative Arts. The good thing about that is the generous scholarship I'll be paid to do it over the next three years. It isn't quite enough to live in the high style I've always wanted to become accustomed to; but will mean I'll spend far less time sitting on the rank at Bondi Junction wondering where it all went wrong. As if I don't already know all the many ways there are to roast that old chestnut. My subject . . . is not an easy one and I feel some trepidation even naming it here; the proposal is called Double Lives and the idea is to research and write a dual biography of two Australian painters of the mid-years of the 20th century. Sounds fairly straight forward; until you realise the two are Rex Battarbee and Albert Namatjira and therein lies a tale of infinite complexity. Well, I wouldn't be content with anything simple, now, would I? As long as I've lived here I have, like many Australians, shied away from both the idea and the reality of the Centre, as it's sometimes called; but following along in the steps of Ludwig Becker in late 2007 somehow changed all that. Two things determined my shift in focus: one was an inadvertent speculation arising from contemplation of one of Becker's images: I wondered if a line of influence might be traced from his work to Namatijira's; they were both Lutherans, both water-colourists . . . and both something more than any such categories can comprehend: if a line could be found, the intermediary would have to have been Battarbee. The other was a moment on the trip itself, when I stood on a bluff about twenty-five ks from Broken Hill and looked west towards . . . whatever is out there. There's a strangely active, almost cacophonous silence that rises from those desert lands. Like a clamour of unheard voices. Once you have heard the unheard, you then wish to see the unseen. Various coincidences since, which I won't go into, have transformed this vague hope into something that now feels more like an imperative.



Elisabeth said...

Oh Martin, that's wonderful. I'm excited for you.

Your story is not so dissimilar to mine, and yet it's also very different.

I started my PhD in creative non fiction writing in my early fifties, on a very different topic, at a different university and I'm doing it part time and without a scholarship because I still work full time, but oh the joy I have found in it.

I suspected when I met you at the Newcastle conference you are a man of scholarship, in the best sense of the word.

You deserve to explore things with a little help in the form of government patronage. Your topic sounds brilliant.

You ran away to 'join the citcus' in 1977. I married the man to whom I'm still married for some 32 years. Four daughters later and much more besides my life is so differnt from yours and yet I resonate so much with your writing.

It's wonderful, is all I can say again. Not only will you be paid a modest sum to do your research - a very modest sum - but at the end along with whatever wonderful book you produce - and I'm sure it will be wonderful - you will also come out with a doctorate.


Kayte Denham said...

Yeah, go west, old man; your Canopus Decree, no doubt, will eke or rise from it for those with interest, to may make a note.

Okir said...

Good luck to you, Martin. I'm finishing my doctorate, too. A liminal place, indeed.

Martin Edmond said...

Thanks, Jean. What is yours about?

Okir said...

My diss is an archival project to collect (and write about) essays, poems and literary criticism from newspapers published and edited by Filipino migrant workers in the U.S. during the Great Depression era. They were actually very prolific newspaper publishers, and the first Filipino American writings were published in these newspapers and magazines as early as 1900.