Green armies, world heritage forests, knighthoods – and TS Eliot’s Little Gidding

I have lifted my head briefly from my immersion in numbers to find the most extraordinary things happening in Australia, courtesy of the Abbott government.

Tony Abbott has reintroduced knights and dames into the Australian honours system. A ‘green army’ of 15,000 young people (aged between 17 and 24) will work for very little money – about half the minimum wage – to do manual labour planting trees, fencing, clearing waterways and local creeks. And last month Abbott declared that too many of Australia’s forests are ‘locked up’ and need to be released – and he also plans to repeal part of Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area.

A new dark age? A Rational Fear puts it best (and funniest, that being the laugh at that which is true – and terrible): Tony Abbott’s forestry liberation

In other news, on Friday I was given seven lines from one of my favourite poems. Every time I think I’ve done with it, a fragment from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets captures me in ways that so far no other poem has ever quite done, so completely, except for perhaps John Donne and maybe some others. Here are Friday’s lines:

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

And finally, I went to Cockatoo Island last weekend to see the 19th Biennale of Sydney. I especially loved Mikhail Karikis’ video Children of Unquiet, taken in an abandoned workers’ village in southern Tuscany with children and geothermal activity. Extraordinary.

And Mikala Dwyer’s beautiful installation ‘The Hollows‘.


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‘I haven’t been nearly mad enough’ and the ‘production boundary’ – or why I won’t be blogging again until April

It’s been a long time between blogs – and it will continue that way until I’m out of the labyrinth of my new book. Which means that my post on Heart of Darkness promised on 9 January will be some time in the making.

In the meantime, I’ve been stumbling across some new books which seem utterly unrelated but are bleeding into each other in the most confounding ways. I haven’t quite got my head around their connections yet, but I suspect they also relate in various ways to my theme of the year: the relationship between people and the land. Two books in particular have seized my attention:

1. Well, more a review than a book, but a review brilliant in itself and one that makes me want to read the book: Jenny Diski’s ‘I haven’t been nearly mad enough’ in this week’s London Review of Books. It’s a review of The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times by Barbara Taylor. Diski begins:

9780241145098‘”Madness is a childish thing,” Barbara Taylor writes in The Last Asylum, a memoir of her two decades as a mental patient. The book records her breakdown, her 21-year-long analysis, her periods as an inmate at Friern Mental Hospital in North London, and in addition provides a condensed history of the treatment of mental illness and the institutions associated with it. Taylor was in the bin during the final days of the old Victorian asylums, before they were shut down in the 1990s, and their patients scattered to the cold liberty of the underfunded, overlooked region of rented accommodation or life on the street known as “community care”.’

I especially loved its concluding thoughts on asylums (and their abolition under Thatcherite liberalism) and on the idea of asylum in general, in all its guises, and our loss of it.

2. From the seas of madness to the rocks of hard numbers, aka Brett Christophers’ newish book Banking Across Boundaries: Placing Finance in Capitalism. Or not, as it turns out. I mean, the numbers are not so hard, they’re not such rocks after all. However we might like to think and behave as if they were. In terms of the numbers Christophers deals with – those of national accounts – they are arbitrary at best. Christophers is particularly fascinating on the ‘production boundary‘, ‘one of the most fundamental theoretical concepts in the national accounting canon’, an equally arbitrary boundary between ‘productive’ and ‘unproductive’ labour which frames our postwar national accounts, deeming, for example, the work of bankers and financiers to be productive and the unpaid labours of housewives and househusbands unproductive.

And that’s where I’ll be until April, plumbing the numbers. See you on the flip side. In the autumn.


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Happy 2014! This year, I’ll only read … books about relationships between people and land

After reading three pieces about choosing to read exclusively books by a certain kind of writer for a whole year – only books by women (Lilit Marcus in Flavorwire and Diane Shipley on Marcus in the Guardian) and only books by writers of colour (Sunili Govinnage in the Guardian), I thought I’d write here about my decision to read in 2014 only books about a certain kind of subject: the relationship between people and land.

This is partly related to my PhD dissertation, which is on Country in the novels of Alexis Wright and Kim Scott. I’ve written a little about this in my review of Wright’s latest novel The Swan Book in the Sydney Review of Books, and in an essay on Wright’s Carpentaria and Scott’s That Deadman Dance in the Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature.

It’s also related to the concluding chapters of Double Entry and current attempts by accountants and others to give monetary value to nature – which they’re calling ‘natural capital’ – and to nature’s work, or ‘ecosystem services’. I’ve written about this here.

Anna Rose

Anna Rose

But it was environmentalist Anna Rose who clarified my thinking on this subject when she said: the most important relationships for writers in the 21st century are not between people but between people and the land. I scribbled this down when I heard Rose speak brilliantly (as ever) at the conference ‘Writing the Australian Landscape’ at the National Library of Australia last year, but it doesn’t appear in the transcript of her talk, so maybe I dreamt it. Her talk is worth reading anyway: Solastalgia, extreme weather and the writer’s role in a climate changed.

So, as I said in my last post, I’m reading (halfway through) Natural Capitalism, which is dense, full of mind blowing stats (I love stats) and fascinating.

And I’ve just started Jim Crace’s Harvest, set in medieval England, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. It opens:

UnknownTwo twists of smoke at a time of year too warm for cottage fires surprise us at first light, or they at least surprise those of us who’ve not been up to mischief in the dark. Our land is topped and tailed with flames. Beyond the frontier ditches of our fields and in the shelter of our woods, on common ground, where yesterday there wasn’t anyone who could give rise to smoke, some newcomers, by the lustre of an obliging reapers’ moon, have put up their hut – four rough and ready walls, a bit of roof – and lit the more outlying of these fires. Their fire is damp. They will have thrown on wet greenery in order to produce the blackest plume, and thereby not be missed by us. It rises in a column that hardly bends or thins until it clears the canopies. It says, New neighbours have arrived; they’ve built a place; they’ve laid a hearth; they know the custom and the law. This first smoke has given them the right to stay. We’ll see.

But it is the second twist of grey that calls us close, that has us rushing early from our homes on this rest day towards Master Kent’s house …

A word cloud on the Mabo legislation via Creative Spirits

A word cloud on the Mabo legislation via Creative Spirits

I realise that the next two ‘classics’ I’ll be writing about here – Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and then Knut Hamsun’s Pan – are also centrally about the relationship between humans and land. And wonder if all novels are actually about this relationship.

Certainly the organisers of a conference in April 2014 called ‘Land and the Novel‘ think so. They – Vincent Pecora, Scott Black and Jeremy Rosen – write:

The history of the novel is in some ways a history of how populations left the land, and their political-theological connections to it, behind – or at least tried to. The novel never really left its chthonic roots behind, however. Like the ancient Greek tragedies, novels from Defoe and Scott on continually recalled those putatively archaic ties to land – both the soil itself and sovereign territory – even as they became the surest signs of an urban and urbane modernity. Instead, it is the critical tradition that seems to have overlooked these traces in the dust …

So, happy new year! And next up, the contentious Heart of Darkness.


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Wrapping 2013: down the rabbit hole – and two Christmas stories

Reading over my wrap of 2012 I realise how far down the rabbit hole I’ve vanished in 2013 – or, how deeply into my adventures with accountants and accounting I’ve plunged.

Alice and the rabbit

In December 2012 I was anticipating a summer of reading for pleasure, starting with Michel Houellebecq’s brilliant Atomised. My bookish 2013 began with ‘On being devastated‘, a blog about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s heart and The Great Gatsby, among other things. But it draws to a close in a very different register, with Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (1999) by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L Hunter Lovins. Natural Capitalism is absolutely fascinating and filled with gobsmacking stats about the waste of industrial life – like the ‘embarrassingly inefficient’ American car, which expends only 1 percent of its energy to move the driver, the rest either moves the car or is lost (80%) – and inspiring stories about green moves already afoot, but it’s no romp in Houellebecq’s fertile imagination or in Gatsby’s ‘promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing’.

And my summer reading? Karl Marx’s hefty Capital Volume 1, possibly interrupted by stolen moments with Maria Tumarkin’s Traumascapes: The power and fate of places transformed by tragedy, which I’ve been longing to read since it was published in 2005. It was love at first paragraph (and a bit):

‘This book exists because of one story. It began in the 1930s in the former Soviet Union – the country where I was born and which, in the briefest of life histories, I have managed both to leave and to outlive. I will scratch only the surface of this story, which spans centuries and can call forth (to those who are interested) thick, layered histories of spirituality, grief and empire building as well as Russia’s new and old money.

‘On the morning of 5 December 1931, on the direct orders of Stalin’s Government, and as thousands of Muscovites watched, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was destroyed by a series of bomb explosions, the planned demolition taking close to an hour because the structure stubbornly refused to collapse. The explosions, so the persistent rumours tell us, were accompanied by one of the top officials exclaiming “Let’s lift up the skirt of old Mother-Russia!”‘

From Mother-Russia to Mother Mary and Christmas, which tears me in two every year: I love celebrations, the spirit of giving, festive gatherings – and I abhor the grotesque overproduction of junk, the frenzied shopping verging on mania as Christmas approaches, the appalling waste of everything, from food to unwanted presents to the numberless pine trees cut down and trashed each new year. And the terrible loneliness the season can bring.

So, here are some older Christmas stories as told by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford in The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image.

Of virgin births and luminous children:

‘All over the world, for countless millennia, people have participated in a religious ritual at the winter solstice, when the sun’s downward course is arrested and it turns back, as it seems, to earth. This change of state in the bleak mid-winter of the year was experienced as the rebirth of the sun and commemorated as the birth day of the sun god, the luminous divine child. Like the heavenly sun arising from the depths of darkness, these divine sons were born at midnight, hidden in the depths of the earth, in a cow-byre, in the reeds, in a cave, out of a rock, in a manger. The cry “The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing!” would have echoed in various tongues across the centuries. In Mesopotamia he was called Tammuz and Demuzi; in Egypt he was called Osiris and Horus, and, later, Aion; in Greece, Dionysos, Helios and Orpheus; in Persia and Rome, Mithras.



‘Such parallels were not lost on the early founders of the Christian Church. St Jerome related the tears of the baby Jesus to those of the women bewailing the death of Adonis, all echoing in the same groves of Bethlehem. Originally the birth of Christ was celebrated 12 days after the solstice on 6 January, the day of Epiphany (Manifestation) in the Christian calendar, when Jesus was manifested to the wise men from the East. In those days this was also the date of the festival in Egyptian Alexandria of the birth of Aion (a later version of Osiris) from the Greek Kore, “the Maiden”, identified with the Egyptian Isis, whose particular star was Sirius. Every year for hundreds of years Egyptians had watched for Sirius to rise on the horizon, for this announced the rebirth of Osiris as Horus and the rising of the flood waters of the Nile, bringing to the people life and eternal life together.

‘This ritual was described by an early Christian writer, Ephiphanius, who, although writing about heresy in the 4th century AD, saw the relevance of the older ritual to the birth of Jesus:

“After they have kept all-night vigil with songs and music, chanting to their idol, when the vigil is over, at cockcrow, they descend with lights into an underground crypt, and carry up a wooden image lying naked on a litter, with the seal of a cross made in gold on its forehead, and on either hand two similar seals, and on either knee two others, all five seals being similarly made in gold. And they carry round the image itself, circumambulating seven times the innermost temple, to the accompaniment of pipes, tabors and hymns, and with merry-making they carry it down again underground. And if they are asked the meaning of this mystery, they answer: ‘Today at this hour the Maiden (Kore) that is, the Virgin gave birth to the Aeon.’”

‘This is a description not of a 4th century Midnight Mass and Christmas Day, but of the Festival of Kore in her temple at Alexandria.’

And of Christmas trees:

‘The evergreen tree we call the Christmas tree, with candles flickering on its branches and gifts strewn around its roots, was once honoured as the Tree of Life, or the World Tree. Uniting the dimensions of heaven, earth and the underworld, it was the cosmic axis at the centre of the world, the Axis Mundi, through which the eternal energies of creation poured continuously into time. The greenness of the Tree of Life at this darkest moment was then, and is still under a different name, the sign and the promise of life eternally renewed.’

All best wishes for the festive season. May all your trees be green.


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Fisher Library and new space, new time – or the day the First Tuesday Book Club broke my heart

Today I went to work in the University of Sydney’s Fisher Library – and lo and behold! The event I’ve been dreading for so long had come to pass. My favourite desk was no more. My favourite floor was a building site. Not a book or desk to be seen.


Thankfully there are other floors which have already been ‘renewed‘ so I found another desk and set to work.


But as I worked I was acutely aware of the absence of books. Of course there are still books, tucked away beyond the desks, but no longer was I surrounded by walls of books as I’d aways been – and was just last week. I’ve researched and mostly written all three of my books in Fisher Library, trawling the shelves for classics from Homer to Carson McCullers, retrieving arcane accounting books from storage.


Fisher is being renewed to create, among other things, ‘a range of high quality, IT enhanced learning and research environments’ and ‘improve the utilisation of space’ (which entails moving truck loads of books into storage 100 kms south of Sydney).

So Fisher is moving into 21st century, into the Information Age. Its quiet book dominated space has been transformed into e-space: connected, communal, collaborative work stations. This reverses the medieval European move from a noisy oral culture to one of monkish silence, from spoken storytelling to written culture read silently in minds. With e-space comes e-time – short, nonlinear – and new ways of getting and telling stories, information: downloading, surfing, biting, grabbing, linking, blogging, tweeting, facebooking, instagraming, snap chatting, etc.

These two worlds – books from days of yore and 21C e-time – collided in last week’s First Tuesday Book Club, Bragging Rights, which was devoted to ‘thoroughly troublesome books. You know them – those big fat ones you need a grasp of quantum physics, a smattering of ancient Greek and a degree in epistemology to even begin to understand’. The session challenged four guests ‘to take up one of these impossible books and report back’. The guests were comedian and actor Lawrence Mooney, writer and director of Adelaide Festival of Ideas Sophie Black, former board member of the Sydney Writers’ Festival and former Chair of Saatchi & Saatchi Sandra Yates, and documentary maker and writer John Safran.

The ‘impossible books’ were Underworld by Don DeLillo (chosen by Lawrence Mooney); Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Sophie Black); Swann’s Way, the first volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (Sandra Yates); and Cervantes’ Don Quixote (John Safran). Mooney finished Underworld and found it quite easy, apart from its enormity. Safran read half of Don Quixote and was amazed by how postmodern it is, how funny, how accessible: ‘If you’re just slightly generous and you get into the lingo, it’s hilarious’. Black and Yates didn’t, couldn’t, finish their books.

OK, so I totally get why we don’t have time to read these books in the 21st century. I also think discussing the problems we have reading them – their enormity, complex genealogies, lack of punctuation, the grind of life, the shortness of time – is a worthwhile pursuit.

BUT! When the national broadcaster’s only TV book show canvassed four of my ALL TIME FAVOURITE novels in mostly superficial and glib tones my heart broke – a lot. Not because I think everyone should read these books. Or like them if they do. But because I LOVE these books. It was like someone dismissing my most beloved friends because they’re too difficult, shy, complex, demanding to spend time with and get to know. Why do I love these four books? Let me count the ways:

1 Don Quixote – I’ve already written about Cervantes’ novel here, but I think what I most love about it is its shocking agelessness (or postmodernity, as Safran called it) notably its super sophisticated self-referentiality and play with the world beyond itself (like Ferris Bueller as Safran said, or Woody Allen’s Zelig or reality TV), and its hilarity (I laughed out loud so often). And then there’s something agonisingly poignant, oh so human, about this story of a middle aged man who loses himself in romances, in tales of chivalry, and sets off into the real world to live them out. He fails dismally because the age of chivalry has long gone, but he is none the wiser, in his delusion he truly believes he is a knight in shining armour. And then one day he meets a group of people who turn his dream world into ‘real’ life … opening the possibility of disenchantment of the most devastating order.

2 War and Peace – most days my all time favourite novel, as I’ve written here. In its many pages it contains some of the most penetrating, profound writing on war and history, love and family, youth and age, I’ve ever read. And a love triangle (my favourite kind of story) like no other.

3 Swann’s Way – I fell into this novel from the first page and keep returning to it: ‘For a long time I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, when I had put out my candle, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say ‘I’m going to sleep.’ And half an hour later the thought that it was time to go to sleep would awaken me; I would try to put away the book which, I imagined, was still in my hands, and to blow out the light’. How many nights have I done that? It is harder to say what I love about Proust, especially because he’s fairly new to me, but perhaps it’s as simple as loving drifting to the rhythms of his prose, meandering down the laneways of his mind, losing myself in his palpable conjured life, his books. And I love Swann’s longing.

4 Underworld – Apart from having one of the all time greatest extended openings of any novel on earth, this really is what they say it is: THE novel of America from the Second World War to the end of the 20th century. It’s haunted by violence, atomic weapons and waste, murders and the deaths of children from AIDS, drive-by shootings and beatings, but it vibrates with life, with jazz, cinema, chess, baseball, Hollywood, love, sex, graffiti, art installations in the desert, rooftop parties in summertime Manhattan, ‘It was the rooftop summer, drinks or dinner, a wedged garden with a wrought iron table’. The novel centres on Nick Shay – I love Nick Shay – but it is vast. No one has captured it better than Michael Ondaatje: ‘This book is an aria and a wolf whistle of our half-century. It contains multitudes.’

Strangely enough I managed to do good work in the renewed Fisher Library today. Thinking about this made me realise my new projects cover mere decades, not millennia or centuries as my previous three have. Perhaps I’m moving into e-time.


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Australia 2013: sport (Gideon Haigh’s ‘On Warne’ wins the Nib Award 2013) and mining (Craig Walsh’s Embedded)

9780670076604This morning at the Margaret Whitlam Recreation Centre in Bondi, Gideon Haigh‘s On Warne won the 2013 Nib Waverley Library Award for Literature. It seems apt that a cricketer should be the subject of Haigh’s second Nib Award (his first was for Asbestos House: The Secret History of James Hardie Industries).

Apt because the Nib is awarded for research and writing. That Haigh’s book deserved to win on the strength of his writing is uncontested. There is so much elegant and penetrating writing in this book. Here is one example:

‘In our age, only two other cricketers have enjoyed comparable renown, dealing with it rather differently. Sachin Tendulkar veered one way, preserving his excellence by sequestering himself from a clamouring public; Ian Botham veered the other, allowing his legendary self-belief to become self-parodic. Warnie swaggered down the middle of the road, living large but always bowling big, revelling in the attention while never losing the love of his craft, seeming to treat the tabloid exposes as lightheartedly as sixes hit off his bowling. Just an occupational hazard. He’d put things right soon enough.’

The Nib judges called Haigh ‘arguably the finest prose stylist of his generation’.

Gideon Haigh with Gretel Killeen (l) and Mayor Sally Betts (r)

Gideon Haigh with Gretel Killeen (l) and Mayor Sally Betts (r)

But why it is particularly apt and what was more interesting to me – especially as I had to interview Haigh about it at the breakfast – is the matter of research. Haigh wrote On Warne in one month and said it just flowed out. (Which is how it reads, effortlessly, seamlessly.) But what sort of research can be done in just 31 days? Of course! Haigh has been researching this book all his life. He has lived, played, watched and written about cricket all his life. Or, as the judges put it: ‘If the dimension of research in this book is not at first apparent, that is because the author is one for whom research into cricket is as natural, and as necessary, as breathing.’

And Haigh has also lived Warne. He said that for that one month he inhabited Warne – which, given they are almost polar opposites, was often extremely uncomfortable. This inhabitation also shows. Haigh brings a rare sympathy to this confounding and unlikely cricket star who on his Test debut ‘actually looked like that friend of a friend who turns up to help your club out on a Saturday who used to play but hasn’t for ages, who didn’t have anything on and thought it might be fun to have a bit of a run-around, albeit he’d had a few the night before and maybe you could put him somewhere quiet.’ And within 18 months had bowled ‘the Ball of the Century’.

Perhaps the best thing about Haigh’s Warne for me was the way Haigh ‘put flesh on the myth (sometimes rather a lot of flesh)’, and explicated the complex, impossible art of spin bowling – without taking away from either the myth of the man or the mystique of his bowling. And that he reminds us how wholeheartedly Warne played cricket for his entire career:

‘Cricket is not after all so important; I’m bound to say that by several rigorous measures it may even be judged quite trivial. But being day in, day out for nearly two decades the best at something that there has ever been is assuredly not. To approach every day of that period with zest and zeal is to accomplish something worth celebrating.’

For the first time this year there was also a People’s Choice Award, won by John Hamilton for The Price of Valour, the story of Hugo Throssell who was awarded the Victoria Cross at Gallipoli and married the writer Katharine Susannah Prichard. The other shortlisted books were Matthew Condon’s Three Crooked Kings, Michael Fullilove’s Rendezvous with Destiny, Hannah Kent’s Burial Rights and Helen Trinca’s Madeleine.

So from sport to mining, that other pivotal player in Australian life and key to my work on the novels of Alexis Wright.

After the Nib Award I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see Craig Walsh’s fascinating sounding installation Embedded, which is drawn from the Pilbara in northwestern Australia (quite literally: 21 industrial bins full of Pilbara iron ore are installed in a darkened room). The work developed out of a commission from Rio Tinto and the MCA, which allowed Walsh to spend time in the Pilbara’s Barrup Peninsula (Murujuga).


For me the Pilbara is one of the most hauntingly beautiful and potent lands in Australia. More importantly, it is Aboriginal Country and home to sacred sites and rock art. It is also one of Australia’s richest mining fields. We are digging it up, tearing it apart. I wondered what Walsh would make of these tensions. These different registers.

Walsh acknowledges the tensions in a note at the exhibition entrance: ‘The Pilbara is a place of extreme contrasts. Here, the idea of land as a source of spiritual and cultural identity and the idea of land as commodity co-exist.’ And the installation represents these two very different aspects of the Pilbara, with its bins of iron ore and its multimedia installations of interviews with some of the Country’s traditional custodians – the Elders of the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation – which are projected onto meaningful sites of the landscape.

What most overwhelmed me about Embedded was the pungent smell of that iron ore, the earth of the Pilbara transported to a Sydney art museum. And the recordings of crickets. The darkness. But it perplexed me more than undid me or blew my mind, as Mike Kelley‘s mining of American culture did at MoMA last month. I felt kept out, rather than affected or embedded. But perhaps that’s the point. I’m still ruminating on it.

Mining is also the subject of Malcolm Knox’s new book Boom: The underground history of Australia, from Gold Rush to GFC (great title), which apparently ‘reveals the history of mining as the Australian story, for better or worse’. I’m looking forward to reading it.


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Superman recites selections from ‘The Bell Jar’ and other works by Sylvia Plath: Mike Kelley at MoMA PS1

On a slow Friday afternoon the program from the Mike Kelley exhibition at MoMA PS1 keeps catching my eye. I’ve been resisting the urge to write about it here (cos: work) but I can resist no longer. It was one of the most extraordinary exhibitions I’ve ever seen.


The enormous space that is MoMA PS1 in Queens NYC was brimming with Kelley’s stuff, scribbles, sketches, drawings, words, paintings, photographs, sculptures, installations, videos – such exuberance, so much STUFF. Imagination gone wild and yet contained in this incredible range of media.



What took me there was actual stuff: an installation made of stuffed animals, colour coded and so terribly poignant (I still have the stuffed panda my grandmother sent me when I was born).


But what blew my mind and completely undid me was a series of works inspired by Superman and Sylvia Plath, including a video of Superman reciting selections of The Bell Jar and other works by Sylvia Plath. The conflation of Superman’s superhuman solitude, aloneness, otherness, his alien city, with Plath’s words, the claustrophobic containment of the bell jar, depression, suicide … was overwhelming. Devastating. I can’t stop thinking about it.



This is how the program introduced Mike Kelley:

‘Widely regarded as one of the most influential artists of our time, Mike Kelley (1954-2012) produced a body of deeply innovative work mining American popular culture and both modernist and alternative traditions – which he set in relation to relentless self and social examinations, both dark and delirious.

‘Born in Detroit, Michigan, Kelley lived and worked in Los Angeles from the mid 1970s until his death at the age of 57. Over his 35-year career, he worked in every conceivable medium – drawings on paper, sculpture, performance, music, video, photography and painting – exploring themes as diverse as American class relations, sexuality, repressed memory, systems of religion and transcendence, and post-punk politics, to which he brought both incisive critique and abundant, self-deprecating humor.’

His mining of American popular culture is what I loved so much. And how apt these words he mined from Balzac.


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