VV Week 6- The Desert and the Suburbs

From the bottom left around the table clockwise: Hi John (Johannes!), Luke, Shayne, Tania, Michael, George, Rosemary, Ian and Anissa.
We have been temporarily moved from our site at Vincentian Village because internet access was suddenly cut. So here in upper Crown Street in the Charles O’Neill Men’s refuge we have found a wonderful location to continue our animated, animating, illuminating discussions about literature and the sacred. Today we were all fired up with our recent visit to John Bell’s “The Tempest” and had much to say about this play’s interpretation of the sacred: is Caliban, for example supposed to be seen (like Gemmy in “Remembering Babylon”) as an enlightened being, free from the taint of “civilized” education? Does Prospero’s abandonment of his role as mage/magician at the end signify his dying to himself and his emergence as a renewed soul? Questions followed questions and at one point I was prompted to say: here we are discussing Shakespeare’s last play with a group of people some of whom have NEVER seen a Shakespeare play before… and yet the intensity and depth of our questioning sounds like a Post-graduate seminar. Truly the level of interest and awareness of real issues in our discussion was quite extraordinary. We then moved on to Francis Webb’s visions of Leichhardt and Eyre, the two explorers who Webb turns into images of ourselves in quest of sacred meaning through the journey of life… all were astonished by the richness and depth of Webb’s language and imagery:

Southward the new, the visionary!
This is the land where man becomes a myth
Naked, his feet tread embers for the truth….

This is how Webb put the possibilities opening up in Australia for those jaded by the imprisoning world of European culture in the mid 19th Century. In “Eyre All Alone” Webb has Eyre discover the Banksia flower which acts for him like an epiphany, an awakening from all he has been up to this point…. now, confronted by this miracle of creation Eyre finds himself released from his old self and discovers his new voice and openness to the world around him. For Francis Webb it was the discovery of his deep links to the Australian continent while incarcerated in England. This poem was an act of imaginative reconnection with the land of his spirit:

Alone with his Aboriginal tracker Wylie Eyre asks at a crucial moment of the journey what Wylie sees up ahead (they are nearing the West Australian Border)

Wylie, what can you see?
I see a flower.

To which Eyre joyously responds, knowing that this particular Banksia flower grows only in the West:

Turn the horses loose, Out of earth a power….

Banksia, carry fire, like the thurifer
Over my sandy tongue-tied barren ground

Wylie, what do you hear?
I hear the Sound.

(This being both King George’s Sound where they have now arrived, but also the world Sound, the sound of the universe, the Sound of his own deep self… resonating with similar connotations to David Malouf’s “expansive monotone… the ground bass of every music he had ever known”… remember on page 6 of our Workbook.)

We then went on to explore two poems by Australian women Alison Clark’s “Gardening” and Judith Wright’s “Age to Youth” both of which presented the possibility of “Sacred” experience emanating from Suburban or even Urban settings…. As Elaine Lindsay has persuasively argued in her book “Rewriting God: Spirituality in Contemporary Australian Women’s Fiction”, the desert is not the only realm in which the sacred has a proper place in Australia. For an excellent review and summary of Elaine’s book check out: http://www.emsah.uq.edu.au/awsr/recent/132/f.html
From 4-6 the class spent time catching up on their live journal entries and in beginning our 2 week on-line WebCT Discussion which began with the question: Australia is a place that is seen as materialist and lacking in spirituality. What evidence is there in the literature and art that we have been studying that there is a genuine interest in and experience of the sacred?
So please – if you are doing this unit- go to WebCT and add some more to this discussion… and see if I have put any more questions there yet…. I will be adding questions during the two week discussion period…

While all this was happening there were many intense conversations going on … about literature and life and their intersection…. I was particularly struck at one point when Shayne volunteered the comment: “I am beginning to see that we are doing this study not just to learn ABOUT something, but because it is asking me to think about deep questions that affect me: What is my aim, direction and purpose in life?” (PS not an exact quote -sorry Shayne- but that was -I think- the direction of your comment)…. Undoubtedly this group as a whole brings such an intenstity of questioning to every poem, text or picture we look at because there is a real, deep need for understanding… and along with that, there is a rich and often painful experience of life that drives and animates every question…. thank you all for such a rich afternoon!

And please remember that next week we all meet at the NSW Art Gallery at 1pm.. Art Gallery Road… on the way to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair… behind the Domain… near the Botanic Gardens… we are going to explore the way Australian painting, like the literature also expresses the search for the Sacred in Australia…. see you all then

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