ess sea aitch eye zed oh pea aitch are eee en eye eh

... runs in the family, some say. It runs in mine: my late sister, my later uncle. And, dimly, my maternal grandfather's nameless mother, who had 'second sight'. Because there wasn't a term for this condition much before 1900, it was called other things if it was called at all. I mean, if all the manifestations of what we call it now were even grouped under the same rubric. It's something I do think about when I look at the next generation, my sisters' children, mine ...

I've had one episode, of what objective severity I can't say. It was when I was in my early twenties and lasted, I don't know, several months? Say from about September of one year until January or February of the next, with a climax around Christmas, after which I slowly got better. Characterised most of all by disorientation and fear. I lost the ability to understand what it was people meant when they spoke to me, what their body language meant, what their intent was.

The disorientation was itself productive of fear, but the fear preceded disorientation. Loss of a sense of self perhaps breeds fear, you feel about to be invaded, you feel you are disintegrating. But some of my fears were extremely specific and they were the worst. I knew this guy, call him L, he was a friend. A cartoonist who cultivated a deliberately engimatic persona. He hardly ever spoke but had a great line in significant looks. Not speaking was part of his identity as a visual person, as it were.

Well, I became convinced that L was going to kill me. This was a delusion, and in some sense I must have known this because the certainty of it overcame me while I was hitch-hiking to another city from the one L lived in. He was a good five hundred miles away the night I 'saw' him enter the room where I was lying awake, carrying a knife, and tower shadowly over the bed like something out of Dostoevsky or maybe Doktor Caligari, with his arm upraised. I did not cry out and the phantom blade left no real wounds. It was after that episode I started getting better.

This was some kind of visual hallucination. I still don't really understand it. And, this is perhaps important, it was not accompanied by voices. I did not hallucinate voices, or not much more than a lot of people seem to do. I think if there had also been some jabber inside my mind, of a malign entity perceived as external, I might not have come out of it as easy as I did.

What I most remember about the episode now, is how replete with meanings other than the obvious, were the words that people spoke. The most ordinary of statements peeled back to reveal depths of paradoxical intent. Hitch-hiking in this state was an exquisite torture but I was lucky to be with a more robust friend and he sat in the front and handled the social side. But even talking to my family, where I went for that Christmas, could uncover these dreadful abysses.

What I don't know now is how much those other intents were really there and how much they were conjured by my fear. It's too simple to say it was either one or the other, it was clearly both and part of my distress was probably to do with my inability to walk the line between real intent and delusory fear.

In a way it's never left me, that question, and in a way it was a gift, even if it came out of torment: I mean the knowledge of how much of what we say to one another comes out of a shared place between us where nothing is ever quite certain, where there's always a crackle of potential meanings that might or might not manifest.



Along the road up to the Institution I saw cat-like creatures of a species unknown to me. They were dun-coloured, leggy and lithe, with large eyes and small padded feet, and they moved swiftly in prides across the bare grounds. Flights of birds that looked like their more colourful avian equivalent were caged in another enclosure, where the animal-keeper apologized for the poverty of her zoo and the paucity of visitors. I said I much preferred it to the Metropolitan, where crowds invade the sacred precinct reserved for those moments when animal and human gaze mutely at each other across the abyss of a lost communality. Here, however, I allowed, most people who pass are in too much of a hurry to reach the hallowed halls of the Institution. When I mentioned the cats, her eyes softened so that for a moment they took on that feline darkness in which there is no depth but depth.

My friend and I leaned companionably on the railings for a while, looking at the birds with their green heraldic crests, black wings and orange bibs. Our upper arms pressed warmly against each other and when we walked on, we held hands. This surprised me because she had previously refused to let me kiss her and later said that we could only ever be good friends. Her hands are rough and warm, larger than you might expect in someone so graceful and small. As we came up to her hotel, I let her go, intending to walk on by myself; but somehow I was still there when she, having showered and changed, came out again. Near the hotel entrance was a collapsed wall exposing a niche, and my friend climbed up there and posed among the broken masonry and fallen timbers, looking exactly like someone modelling for a reminiscence of the Blitz. It was then I recalled that item two on the wish list she’d shown me earlier mentioned her desire to earn her living solely by acting—something her current commitments would never allow her to do.

As we wandered through the crowds along the Strip, we talked about the way so many traditional occupations have been lost or are gone, how so many of us these days spend our time making entertainments for others to enjoy, how the construction and enjoyment of amusements of all sorts has become the raison d’être of our society the way war or discovery was of earlier ones. So that, when we heard a blare of horns on the road ahead and saw a line of vehicles approaching, advertising themselves as the Dusty Highway Crew or something similar, with black-clad acrobats frozen in hieratic poses on the backs of flat-bed trucks and denizens with the parched and weary faces of road-warriors staring disinterestedly from driver side windows, we felt their apparition only confirmed what we were saying. And who could repress a surge of excitement as the whole long convoy swept through the Strip and round the bend towards the Fairground that materialized, just then, behind the dingy clubs and the gambling dens?


add end um

I shoulda said it was Jean Vengua over here who led me to the narcisissim post - as she has to many other web wonders.


the damned & the saved

There's an interesting post here re: the agonies and ecstacies of so called literary life. What relation does narcissism bear to loss of journey and narrative horror? Is the shame we anticipate in others' eyes, should they learn our secrets, a symptom of a grandiose sense of self? Perhaps. What about the shame we feel in ourselves, at ourselves? Not sure. I had an irreligious upbringing but don't doubt for a moment that it took place in a context of the kind of puritanic protestantism that believes in perfecting the self by means of various mortifications, all orchestrated by sovereign conscience. Years of drug-taking and other forms of attempted escape haven't much modified that base grounding, one of whose worst effects, I think, is a tendency to equate virtue with vicious self-criticism. While I hope I've learned not to inflict those torments on others, it seems I don't yet know how to spare myself ... hell and damnation. On the other hand, I still catch myself sometimes performing in the sight of the god I don't believe in, for chrissake. Or anticipating his or her intervention in my sorry affairs. And yet, can I really claim I've never believed that I wasn't one of the Elect, even as I pretended to want to be among the Damned?


conscience making cowards ... or not

To distinguish again between loss of journey and narrative horror: When you experience the first, you are paralysed by the impossibility of your hopes, the wrongness of your desires, the iniquity, perhaps, of your deeds. The latter, in contradistinction, is horror at the thought that others are privy to the impossibility, wrongness, iniquity, of your hopes, desires, deeds. One is about self evaluation, the other, unwilled self revelation; or fear of same. So ... (don't know what comes next ...


Loss of Journey

Not sure of the provenance of this phrase, which I came across a few years ago now in moderately unusual circumstances. A friend, J, was corresponding via email with a old kuia in Aotearoa; he'd met her through her mokopuna, in some kind of workplace situation, and had become fascinated with both the young woman and old. J thought they had access to spiritual knowledge of a kind that he wanted too.

J didn't have a computer, still doesn't, so the kuia emailed him at my address, I'd print out the letter and take it up the road to him; his replies he'd write longhand and give back to me, I'd type and send ... the precise context for the phrase loss of journey eludes me now but it occurred in a passage where the kuia was rebuking J for his (she felt) inappropriate interest in her mokopuna. She pointed out that he already had a long term partner (he does) so what was he doing trying to romance a young girl? The dead end the vagaries of his libido were leading him towards was what she called loss of journey.

Perhaps the phrase was her own. Like many second language speakers (she is that rare thing, a native speaker of Maori), the kuia has a way of illuminating English with usages that are eccentric or perhaps erroneous; this might have been one of those. I think it's brilliant - a perfect way to describe those episodes of doubt such as I had last week. Or the larger disorientations that occur when a relationship ends, a job is unwillingly lost, a much anticipated attempt at some difficult goal fails, an invitation to bliss is not taken up ...

It rhymes in my mind with another phrase I like a lot, narrative horror, which is slightly different, since it is about the fear of the revelation to others of real or imagined transgressions; whereas loss of journey occurs when the track we're on suddenly becomes a thing of dread, when we realise we simply cannot go on the way we have been and must find another way forward. Or back. Or sideways. When self narration fails: what can we do, where will we go, how continue? And there, precisely there, is an opening to the new.



The night the demons came I also had a dream/vision of great beauty which remained vivid in mind when I woke. It seemed important to remember it but at the same time the image was so strong I neglected to perform one of those acts of mental filing which will (sometimes) preserve a dream. Writing it down might also have worked but often writing down a visual image only traps it in an impoverishment. But what I have left is in fact a verbal redaction that doesn't return the image in all its vanished glory, a mnemonic without a referent perhaps. The best I can say about this image was that it resembled a painting in that it had a rectangular shape, taller than it was wide, portrait not landscape, and that it was a deep, lustrous black all over except that, at the top right, a dagger of hot pink came in from the side, piercing the darkness. This image didn't really have borders like a painting does, nor was it confined in some kind of other space - it was the space - and though it wasn't exactly kinetic, it wasn't static either. But now a doubt enters. Was it really hot pink, the dagger of light? I think so, but the descriptive phrase, hot pink, doesn't bring with it the associations the colour had in the dream. If I try to think of real equivalents for this image, I waver between some piece of abstract Pop Art and a canvas by Clyfford Still. There was a sense of reciprocity between the black and the pink, a fractal or Mandlebrot-like quality to it and also a figure/ground ambiguity as you get in Still: what is front? what behind? This:

has something of what I mean though not the composition, nor quite the colour. I'm trying to hang on to the image because it feels like an aid in the present - perturbation ...




Probably I’m dealing with a latent scepticism towards fictional structures per se, perhaps towards fiction itself. I overheard myself saying to someone the other day that I don’t like the word novel (Italian, novella: a tale, a piece of news) surprised both at the opinion and the realisation it is actually what I feel. On the other hand, I’m not happy with the term non-fiction either, which seems like a weirdness: not made? And yet surely an artefact too? But the way things have gone in my work, having used up my life, is inexorably towards the writing of fictions; that is, things that are made up, that I know not to be true and, here’s the rub, don’t expect readers to believe either. Well, not totally. The way I’ve done this is by framing inventions within a construction that was, or purported to be, not invented, not made up, non-fiction. In this way, I continued writing in the way I started out—first person, notionally autobiographical, with digressions into matters that had nothing obvious to do with a personal narrative. While also producing strings or streams of language that I liked, that pleased me simply because of their intrinsic qualities or else because of what they said or seemed to say.

The trope whereby an author suggests a fiction is something that really happened is of course very old, much older than Defoe, who is usually identified as the one who made it over in the form most available to us now, the novel. What I’m writing now has a similar set up, but with this difference: it’s a fiction presented as a non-fiction that cannot be true. In other words, a fraudulent memoir, which I thought would be an interesting form to try just now, when such things routinely hit the headlines. So, am I writing something falsely true or truly false? How far do I need to practise fidelity? How detailed, how convincing should it be? Sometimes I feel like I’m trapped in a hall of mirrors and that’s when I start to doubt: I don't, you might say, know the ontological ground upon which I'm writing. Which is also the actual or notional subject I'm trying to address.

Yesterday when it came to be time to sit down to work, I felt so sick at the transparency of my inventions I simply couldn’t go on. Now, that feeling, if it persists, is the end of a project; so fear was added to nausea and then dread to fear. I went into the City, dérived around looking at a few places I hadn’t looked at for a while or had never properly looked at; spent a few hours in the State Library duplicating, I found out later, notes I already made last year; started planning my trip to Melbourne; practised various other displacement activities (anything not to think about—!); and, today, sat down at the usual time as if nothing had happened. Which, in a way, was true. Went OK I think, but I’m still holding my breath, in case the whole house of cards … tumbles …


What was coming was Demons: the Demon of Despair, the Demon of Self-Loathing, the Demons of Doubt and Uncertainty, the Demon of Believing All Your Work's in Vain, the Demon of Horror ... nothing new about them but they always return as if newly spawned from some pit of iniquity. Do I try to fight them off again or Do I move over and make room? If I entertain them right will they turn into Daemons and help me go on with this Double Damned Enchiridion? Hell, I Don'tknow ...


The Ides of March

Today is a grey day. Soft, yellow-white, sometimes purplish, sometimes bluish clouds have lain over the City since morning. It's warm and humid but not uncomfortably so. Against the grey the green of the gum leaves, of the bottle brush, the hibiscus, the palms, takes on a softness, a roundness it doesn't have under the hammer of the sun. Sounds too are blurred, they have an aureole perhaps, the magpie's chortle seems muted, the crows fark off elsewhere with their abrasive cries, the exemplar becomes the spotted dove on the red roof tiles that also look softer, more replete. And yet there is also a sense of anticipation in the air, and not just of the rain which may or may not come later and, if it does, will fall softly, like an overflow of the clouds: tonight is also a full moon. What we—I include the trees, the birds—anticipate isn't known to me and maybe not to any of us. Completion of a cycle perhaps? Culmination of a trait? A discharge of energy that will let us sleep in a way we haven't done for a while? Or—the new? For myself, I no longer know for sure what the shape of the new would be, having spent so long imagining the unimaginable: when (if) it comes it will look either just like something I've already entertained or it will be what I have never known, never seen, never even contemplated. It isn't without a thrill of fear that I say I hope it is the latter; while another part of me assumes, not necessarily sadly or with resignation, the impossibility that either my hope or my fear will be answered. Meanwhile the cloudy softness lours ever closer as evening draws on; and the currawong's whistle has an exploratory edge or air, a speculative accent, a perhaps immemorial curiosity.


Mycobacterium tuberculosis

You can't read Keats' life without also thinking about TB, which killed him before he was 26. He probably got it from nursing his younger brother Tom, who also died of the disease, aged 19 but where did Tom get it? From the stables at the inn where both boys partly grew up? Who knows? We tend to think of consumption, as it was then known, as a quintessentially 19th century disease but that's simply not true: it is estimated that 1.7 billion people today have been infected with the disease, nearly a third of the entire planet's population. This astonishing statistic may include those who have had it and recovered, I don't know; but there are certainly large numbers of people, especially in Africa and Asia, who are still infected, about a third of whom will die. Many of those with HIV-AIDs die of TB, a fact which is increasing the rate of infection in non-HIV sufferers. Another factor is the propensity of those who are lucky enough to receive drug treatment to stop taking the medicine once the symptoms disappear: this ineluctably leads to resistent strains of a bacillus which is highly mutable anyway. The term for this is MDRTB - multi-drug resistant TB.

My grandmother had TB. It left her with massively impaired lung capacity, she breathed using one half of one lung, was extremely thin and, while sleeping, sounded like she was on the point of expiring with every breath. There'd be a strange, high-pitched hhnnnnnhhh as she inhaled and then a long hhhuuuurrrrgggghhhh when she exhaled. I haven't ever heard a death-rattle but, as I lay in my bedroom, aged about 12, up above the Chemist shop on Main Street listening to her in the double bed in the tent on the back lawn, I thought each exhalation was it. Sometimes I committed the awful mental sin of wishing that it would be, partly because we did not have a happy relationship, her and I. This, I found out much later, had it's origin in the death of her youngest son, John, by his own hand at the age of, I think, 21. John had TB as well. He probably contracted it from his mother, who was extremely protective of him and liked to keep him physically close to her, even, or especially, when she was ill. He'd sit on the bed where she lay, reading to her. I resemble my Uncle John and, according to my father, this was the reason why my grandmother could never look upon me without anger. How dare I exist when he did not?

Children of my generation were all innoculated against TB as a matter of course, but the six kids in my family got our jabs much earlier, I think some time in the 1950s when my grandmother had a scare. I've got a round scar about the size of a sixpence high on my upper left arm where the needle went in. They were compound needles, a set of six or maybe even more, that looked a bit like those multi-prong plugs used for printer cables. When my class at school had their turn to get their BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin)s, as they were called, I was given something different, I think because, in the preliminary testing we all underwent, I had come up positive. This was with the same kind of multi-pronged needle but they put it in on the inside of my arm and it didn't leave a scar. For some reason, we were very proud of our scars. They were like a mark of distinction. BCG is a live vaccine, it turns out, and doesn't stop you getting the disease, however, it will perhaps protect against some of the more virulent forms. Australia stopped vaccinating kids with BCG in 1984. The thing is, TB is never far away, especially in a time of migration like today. It's been estimated that 50% of immigrants into first world countries have the disease. Although Australia seems to have it under control (only about 1000 cases per year), the two most afflicted regions, South East Asia and the Western Pacific, are just over the horizon. And, anyway, with proper treatment, recovery rate is 100% when HIV is not involved- so why is this so?


Keats put cayenne on his tongue before he drank:

- now I like Claret whenever I can have Claret I must drink it. - 't is the only palate affair I am at all sensual in - Would it not be a good Speck to send you some vine roots - could [it] be done? I'll enquire - If you could make some wine like Claret to d[r]ink on summer evenings in an arbour! For really 't is so fine - it fills the mouth with gushing freshness - then goes down cool and feverless - then you do not feel like quarrelling with your liver - no it is rather a Peace maker and lies as quiet as it did in the grape - then it is as fragrant as the Queen Bee; and the more ethereal part of it mounts into the brain, not assaulting the cerebral apartments like a bully in a bad house looking for his trul[l] and hurrying from door to door bouncing against the wainscoat; but rather walks like Aladin about his own enchanted palace so gently that you do not feel his step - Other wines of a heavy and spiritous nature transform a Man to a Silenus; this makes him a Hermes - and gives a Woman a soul and immortality of Ariadne for whom Bacchus always kept a good cellar of claret - and even of that he could never persuade her to take above two cups -

written to his bro. George in America, Feb. 1819.


Have finished drafting part two of my book. It's rough as, but I don't yet feel like going back and smoothing things out. I'll let it lie for a bit, let it settle. The first two parts together make up just under 40,000 (15 + 25) words, with an intro of, I think, about eight? or five? Five. Part three ... I need to go to Melbourne for that, just a recce, just to get a feel of some of the locations. And I can't, because of the Commonwealth Games. They start next Wednesday and go until, I think, the following Friday. No way I want to be there then, but post-Games might be good - melancholy, hung-over, quiet. How long is the third part going to be? Wish I knew. Part two is longer than I thought it would be, my feeling at the moment is that I'd like part three to be about the same length as part one. This inane desire for symmetry ... so I'll have to take a break, which bothers me somewhat, even though I've known for a while that this would happen. Long term concentration will not, I hope, be broken as well. It might work out well, I'm waiting for my screenplay to come back from Hong Kong, for Luca to come back from Wellington, both big editing jobs, maybe I can get those two things underway, then go to Melbourne, then come back here and resume ... I know how part three starts, I could even carry on a little bit further next week, just keep on going until the inevitable interruption comes? Shall I?


The other book I'm reading (fiction in the evening, non in the morn, is my habit or rule) is Nelson Algren's The Man with the Golden Arm. Whoa! What a book! (what a heartbreaker ... )


This mortal body of a thousand days

Andrew Motion's Keats is 578 pages long. It seems we know just about everything he did, thought or wrote in his 24 years. It's a slow read of a quick life and sometimes I don't think I'll make it through. And then, on p. 290, there is this:

It seemed a small decision, compared to many others Keats had taken in recent weeks, but it turned out to be crucial. Sailing by ferry from Oban on the island of Kerrara, and then on to Mull 'in forty minutes with a fine Breeze', Keats embarked on the most demanding part of his tour. During the next two days he trudged thirty-seven miles, was saturated by rain, exhausted from stumbling through bogs, chilled by sleeping in bleak huts, drained by the effort of merely continuing. Within hours of returning to the mainland he began worryinig about his health more anxiously than ever before; within days he started contemplating an early departure for London. When he finally reached Hampstead he immediately began nursing his brother, exposing himself to a highly infectious illness. Previously, when he had cared for Tom, he had been robust enough to keep his own good health. This autumn he could not remain immune so easily. It was on Mull that his short life started to end, and his slow death began.


it was called saudade : extract from a future diary

After I finished the badman post over at dérives yesterday (even though it's not really a dérive), I literally found myself writing something else, about a situation I've been in for a while now and will be for a while longer. One of those life-changing predicaments that you don't know how to resolve, or rather, how they will be resolved, since full control isn't necessarily implied. It was a relief to write it all down more or less as it seems at the moment and I was feeling happy about it as I went out to see a movie - Girl With A Pearl Earring, which, despite some faults, is still like spending an hour and a half inside a Vermeer, which is not a bad place to be. Afterwards, though, I didn't feel so pleased about what I'd written that morning. Specifically, I felt I'd written it between two registers. It wasn't exactly a diary entry, but on the other hand, it wasn't exactly public speaking either. Not clear if I was addressing myself or the notional readers of this weblog, say. When I came home, I re-wrote it into two versions, which correspond to the two options in the previous sentence. That felt better - the diary-entry version is clearer on a several points I'd fudged or elided, whereas the weblog version, which I cast into a different tense, as if it pertained to an indeterminate period in the past, evolved into what I felt was quite a good piece of writing. And I did post it here. But then. A doubt. It may have been 'good' but it was no longer true. It suggested the dilemma had passed or been resolved, which it hasn't and isn't. There were other considerations - how much of what's personal to me do I want to disclose, what might the effect be on others who are involved in the (perhaps unlikely) event they were to read it - but it was the distortion of the real that bothered me more. I pulled it. Now I'm sort of half wondering how long it was up here for (can't remember), whether anyone did actually read it and if some after shadow persists in cyberspace? Not that it matters ... much ....


... just gearing up to do the edit on Luca Antara. And, have received from the publishers the schedule. My next obligation, by the 30th of this month, is to supply them with a book list to go in the back. We discussed this briefly last year but I hadn't done anything about it because it seems like a task best accomplished as the editor and I trawl through the manuscript. But there are complications. LA, the book, is to some extent a book about other books. It begins in an antiquarian bookshop and the external travels it maps are echoed and reiterated in accounts of the internal travelling that is reading. When a book comes up in the text, I've included, bracketed, the date and place of publication, viz: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (New York, 1942). However, not all the books encountered along the way are germane to the story, insofar as there is a story, while others are intrinsic to it. What to do ... I don't want to elide the (New York, 1942)s because I like the way they act as pause points in a fairly dense text and also because I think they help orient the reader to my reading; but it seems redundant to list them all again in the back. Maybe, I thought the other day, what I should do is provide, rather than a simple bibliography, a discussion of sources? And, having thought that, I suddenly felt excited at the prospect. I love those kinds of appendices to books and I'm really looking forward now to writing one. That will mean LA will have a subtitle, an author's note, a table of contents, three epigraphs and then, following, a discussion of sources ... more and more its starting to resemble one of those 19th century travel chronicles I used to read so many of, a form I always wanted at once to emulate and undermine.


Ern Malley Not The Only Famous Writer To Work As Mechanic

After finishing the course, I worked for two years as a mechanic at a car repair shop. By that time I had already started to frequent, in its evening opening hours, a public library in Lisbon. And it was there, with no help or guidance except curiosity and the will to learn, that my taste for reading developed and was refined.


... for long cooling

cold longing

Today, in the weirdly formalised and displaced seasonal calendar we use, is the first day of Autumn. In fact there has been a slight chill in the morning air for about a week now, a coolness that seems to have its own scent, as well as bearing the other scents - frangi pani, or the sweet rottenness of berries fallen off the palms, or the lemony small of gum leaves if it's rained in the night. But this chill doesn't last, even on cloudy or windy days, usually by mid-morning, which is what it is now, the humid heat will be gathering. This January was the hottest on record in Sydney. It was also quite wet, like Januaries used to be in the 1980s. The figures aren't in yet for February, but this has been a hot and humid month too. I can't tell if it's getting hotter or if my tolerance of heat is decreasing but the result is the same: I long for cooler weather, even cold weather. It may be so all over the globe. A recent Granta included short contributions in the back from, I think, nine writers in different parts of the world. Margaret Atwood wrote about the melting Arctic, Tom Keneally about blazing Australia, there were contributions from Central America, India, Sri Lanka (an American caught in the tsunami), Holland, Spain ... all of them felt the world was getting hotter, the seasons changing, but by the same token few of them were prepared to abandon doubt as a kind of hedge against heat inflation. Because the truth is, even as we know, we don't know. Especially, we don't know how bad it's going to get. Today's paper says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's next report to the UN will stress that no reliable upper limit can be put upon how quickly the world will warm; the same article suggests that the rise in temperature may be as much as 11 (!) degrees, not the 1.5-4.5 degrees previously predicted. I do not expect to be alone in my cold longing.