Wow! What an amazing day! And we are still standing- because of inclement weather we had to squeeze a number of items into this, our last day in New York:
First here is our wrap up discussion and our reflections o the Book Of Mormon -Go James!
Then we had a number of tour stops with readings in Harlem and Central Park:
The day finished with a group meal and with a number of us peeling off to a variety of events. I took a group of 8 to Carnegie Hall to witness an amazingly energetic concert: Sounds of the American Century. The concert was a spectacular closure to the themes we have been exploring in literature and drama for the last 10 days. The space is one of the world’s best acoustic halls and tonight you could hear every instrument like a bell. It was an extrordinarly invigorating experience! Thank you all for being such a great group of eager participants during the last 10 days. See you all back in Aus.
PS- more videos to come with Eric and Merissa- when I get a fast internet connection!
Hello all, please find the recording here for our lively discussion on True West and our reflections on the way our walk around Brooklyn and over Brooklyn Bridge enhanced our understanding of these two amazing poets- so different and yet so switched on to the underlying meaning in their experiences of place. Click on each item for a closer look.
With James we discussed deeply what the title of True West might mean. Is this a radical challenge to all the idealisations of the West that are such a strong part of the American sense of its own identity. There was much to say about this, spearheaded by James’ incisive questions!
We then looked in a more focussed way on those quote lines from Whitman and Hart Crane in the images above, and their some wonderful insights into how actually being there “on location” truly did deepen your sense and understanding of what these poets were trying to communicate through the creative moulding of their words, sounds and images. Thank you all for this great tutorial!
What a gift this was to be to share my insights on and understanding of Australian Indigenous literature with this passionate, switched-on group of Harlem Clemente students. They were so keen to hear and know about their less well -off brothers and sisters down-under. I shared with them the way that our university supports Indigenous Students through the Yalbalinga Centre and spoke to them about the work of Danielle Dent in this connection. And thank you Peter Howard (Leader of the Clemente Program in Australia) who set up this whole event:
In our session in Harlem we explored Yothu Yindi and some of the poetry of the Stolen Generation (Eva Johnson, Kevin Gilbert, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Lisa Bellear) together with art work and poetry by Paddy Nelson, Margaret Preston, Russell Drysdale, Judith Wright and others.
This was such a wonderful opportunity to share with this vibrant, intelligent group how the continuing disadvantage of indigenous people in Australia has many similarities with the situation of African Americans although by and large Australians do not want to admit this. Thank you for all your comments and thoughts: Martha, Linda, Cha-Ron, Alexis, Michael, Elvin, Nadine, Carina, Lisa Holmes, Andrea, Charlene, Cynthia, Charlitta, Jeca, George, Yolande, Alan, Kelissa, Mary Alen, Rogelio Vanessa, Daniel and Desiree. It is my observation that Indigenous people have been made very invisible in main-stream Australia. We are very lucky to have groups of them coming through our University to complete their studies on a regular basis, but aside from this, their invisibility is shocking- except in the Gaols! This group of Harlem students was in awe at the fact that their situation here in Harlem might in fact be better than that of the effectively silenced voice of Indigenous Australians. There is much work to be done on both sides of the ocean, and reading/studying literature – the opening our heart to the experience of those still suffering severe disadvantage- is one powerful way of taking us forward.
And thank you Carina- one of our ACU (Literature & Drama of NY) students for coming along and sharing your own experience of growing up in Australia and how this deepened the group’s sense of the place of the indigenous in Australian Society today. What you were and were not taught in schools about our Indigenous community was powerfully helpful to our wider picture of the situation . Thank you David Kittay and Charlene Floyd for organising this whole event!! And thank you to all you students for your passion and your friendliness: this is where again I felt blessed to be touching the real New York!
Here are some of the images to which I directed our discussion – click on any of these to enlarge :
The recording of our our class discussion on these topics is right here: Haleluia :):
Don’t miss this one if you are staying on in NY. At 533 West 19th is this commemoration of America’s greatest contemporary African American writer. Photographs, art works, videos, stories and letters give a rare, more private insight into how this man transformed his life and helped profoundly to shift fixed attitudes toward African Americans.
A goodly handful of us had a wonderful treat today: not only did we see and discuss some of the more controversial Post WW2 American artists, but we had hour long wanderings among the most well known 20th Century modernists:
Such a happy team 🤣👍🎶
Inside we started with iconic Rothko and Picasso:
It is really worth studying this synopsis of Rothko’s intention:
And here are some of the wonders of the main collection:
Hi All, here is the wonderful discussion we had this morning – about “Pies” then about Walt Whitman’s “epiphanic” (thank you Naomi!) depiction of New York in “Mannahatta”, followed by Hart Crane’s ecstatic description of Brooklyn Bridge. We also briefly compared Joseph Stella’s 1939 painting The Brooklyn Bridge (at The Whitney) with Hart Crane. So enjoy this listen:
And here some of the images we used during the tutorial. Click on them for enlargement:
And here now are some of the highlights of our tour today across Brooklyn and Brooklyn Bridge- haunt of both Whitman and Crane:
And here is the first glimpse of those amazing “choiring strings” -as Hart Crane describes them:
O harp and alter, of the fury fused
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
From there the Bridge Walk brought fabulous perspectives of the physical elements that Hart Crane had transformed with his literary, visionary imagination:
Rob had some more to share with us about the location of the Manhattan side of the Bridge:
And here is another engagement with those amazing “choiring strings” which led Crane in his last stanza to celebrate the almost superhuman presence of this Bridge in the New York landscape (go back to the audio recording of the tutorial for more comments on this aspect of the poem- at the start of this Blog):
O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.
Finally as you come off the Bridge into the Manhattan landscape one is greeted with this amazing array of fabulous architecture. Whitman in his “Mannahatta” speaks ecstatically of the “Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender, strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies…” One wanders what he would have felt had he been transported forward in time to this amazing scene- would he have been able to respond at all, or would he have been totally overwhelmed by these “high growths of iron”:
Enjoy watching again the amazing walk and the amazing literature that has underpinned our experience today!!!!
James began our session today with a lively discussion on Waitress with a particular interest in whether you saw this Broadway stage version to be a reduction of the force found in the film. In the discussion there was a real sense that many of you thought that the play version was sentimentalizing a brutal and painful story. So here is how the discussion went: the first half hour was your discussion with James, the second half hour rolled into a discussion with myself on the links between the art we have been exploring and the literature. The discussion threads are illustrated in the slides below: your thoughts should all be audible on this recording. The session finished with listening to your responses to that amazing Gospel Mass that we were lucky enough to be part of yesterday morning…. thank you all for your heartfelt responses to all these questions: you are a great bunch!!!
Here is the audio from the tutorial…. followed by Eric’s input:
Today Sunday we had the extraordinary good fortune to be part (again- last time in 2017) of the Gospel Service at the Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem:
Personally I found this service incredibly powerful and moving, but I can also understand why some people might find it confronting and challenging. To this end I have posed this question for our class response:
I am looking forward to hearing and recording your responses at the tutorial in the morning!
Here now is Eric’s introduction recorded this morning on MalcolmX /Lennox Ave Blvd. in the freezing rain:
For the record, here is what I just wrote back home about today’s experience:
It was an inspiring morning at the Canaan Baptist Church Gospel Service. There was a profound sense of serious worship there accompanied by strong singing and dancing. It is the anniversary today of Martin Luther King and this gave poignancy and strength to all that was preached. The event brought tears to my eyes… There is no doubt in my mind that New York is an amazing place because of its history and staggering creative human responses to that history- one response of which is this Gospel service with its deep roots in African spirituality, married with a profound understanding of the meaning of the Gospel story. I have just heard that there were 67 million visitors to New York last year- and it is not hard to see the reason why…. at the same time I do know why I love the stillness of the Australian Bush and all that it has to offer as the total opposite of what can be found in New York!
Martin Luther King was born on January 15th, 1929 and was assassinated on April 4th 1968.
His final words were to ask for a beautiful song to be played the evening of his death:
“Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’. Play it real pretty”, are said to be the last words of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, just before he stepped out onto a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee where a gunman shot him a single time, ending his life half a century ago.
That gunshot over 50 years ago put an end to the life of a man who is one of the most revered figures in American history — not to mention one of the most quotable individuals with a persistent relevance to the condition of the country and its people. On Monday, the nation will celebrate his life and his birthday for Martin Luther King Jr Day, which occurs each year on the third Monday of January even though his actual birthday was on the 15th.
Before King made that plea for the sounds of beauty to Ben Branch, a musician scheduled to play at a planned event that evening in Memphis, he was known for using his words to inspire a generation to peaceful action in the fight for civil rights.
Here is the late reverend, in his own words.
“I have decided to stick with love. hate is too great a burden to bear”
“Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty we are free at last.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Day 4 – Day Off- with an early morning run round Central Park followed by a visit to The Whitney Gallery on the Hudson River with a special retrospective exhibition of Andy Warhol.
Central Park in the early morning creates a great sense of the deeper context of New York. Here you become aware of how the Manahatta landscape was before the arrival of the Dutch in the early 1600s. There are the original dirt tracks, original rock escarpments and even original trees and native fauna (eagles, squirrels, blue jays). And all this is surrounded by this vast metropolis, which includes the building once lived in by John Lennon and Yoko Ono:
Once you get to the top, North End of Central Park you come to a high hill called The Eminence which was the last place held by the British forces before they were routed by the American revolutionaries. From here you have a wonderful view over the lake at the top end of Central Park which is completely frozen over.
And once you get to the very top of Central Park you are actually in Harlem. Today, Sunday, we visited a Gospel Mass in Harlem (more of that to come) but we got out of the subway at Malcom X/ Lennox Boulevard. This Boulevard actually extends all the way down to the top end of Central Park- which is where I arrived at the half-way point of my morning run:
In the afternoon I went to The Whitney Gallery of American Art “Downtown” on the Hudson River. Here is a view of the city from the roof top cafe in The Whitney:
The Whitney itself was housing an amazing retrospective of Andy Warhol’s work. This is the first in 30 years. I have always been a little dubious about Warhol but I was lucky enough to catch a tour which has really changed my mind about Warhol altogether. I used to think that he and Pop Art was some kind of sleazy, consumerist version of the art that was driving American commercialism and that was at the same time driving New Yorkers crazy. I could not have been further from the truth. One sentence in a billboard in the gallery struck me. It said:
Andy Warhol produced thousands of commercial illustrations, paintings, drawings, collages, prints, photographs, sculptures, book, magazines, films, videos, TV shows & multimedia installations, radically redefining each medium while also calling into question the symbols that reflected many of the aspirations and anxieties of life in New York at the end of World War II.
We have been studying the reactions to New York in artists like Howard Benton and writers like Scott-Fitzgerald, Salinger and Baldwin. Warhol, I see now, confirms and supports their critiques of this world in New York. He is very much on their wavelength. There was also this quote by Warhol himself which reveals something of his depth:
And then on top of all this I was amazed to learn that Warhol was, despite his Pop veneer, despite the conflicts with tradition caused by his being Gay, despite all this he was deeply religious and in his last works he was drawn deeply into existential questions by recasting some of the great religious images such as Leonardo’s Last Supper. I can definitely recommend a visit to this gallery, both for its “free” Warhol exhibition, but also its incredible collection of significant American modern art. Here is a smattering of some of the works I loved to see (Click on the images to see them enlarged and to read the texts:
We were in Greenwich Village two days ago and Eric there was telling us about the Stonewall Riots for Gay Rights that were happening there in the 60s; Warhol was himself deeply involved in this movement:
And here is some of the work that reveals his deep existential questioning and his connections with his own religious traditions- kept publicly very quiet until the end of his life:
While in the Whitney, I picked up the one book I have bought so far (self-restraint!): The Philosophy of Andy Warhol by Warhol himself…. or rather by a close friend who decided to get Warhol to express himself on everything to do with the meaning of life: it is a great read and reminds me in some ways of the poetry of Frank O’Hara in its easy, natural rambling from one event/ point of view to another.
This post includes the morning tutorial on To Kill a MockingBird and on the insights gained from the literary tours. Go to the end of the blog for these….
We had a great tour through the Modern and Contemporary Gallery today looking at early 20th Century Regional Art – in the form of Thomas Hart Benton (America Today) and some of the early, cubist-inspired modernists like Charles Demuth I Saw The Figure Five In Gold and then the New York School of Artists inspired especially by Jackson Pollock.
We began with Charles Demuth, who in I Saw The Figure Five In Gold was acknowledging and celebrating in his own terms the work of his poet friend William Carlos Williams who was a minimalist imagist poet and was pruning his poetry back essentially to a series of tightly wrought visual images. His friend Demuth was attempting through visual art to make the visual image as succinct and powerful as the image created through text… but he couldn’t resist bringing text images into his visual field…. so this was an amazing painting to explore from the point of view of the deep links between literature and the visual arts.
Thomas Benton was also an extraordinary artist to explore from our literature context. So much of the world of Gatsby, of Hart Crane (especially “The Bridge”), even of Salinger, is embodied in this massive mural.
In this last image we see Benton moving into a kind of Vorticist technique (away from the social realism of much of the rest of the mural) in which he is celebrating speed and kinetic energy as entities that are moving towards abstraction (but not quite!). Here is good description of all the details of this work:
And it was really interesting to note the possible links between Benton and the Harlem Renaissance which was happening at exactly the time this paintings was completed (1931). Benton’s statuesque African American figures showed his wish to embrace this new, enlarged element of the now truly American population- pity that this impulse has not persisted into the 21st Century- if Aaron Sorkin’s drama adaptation of To Kill A Mocking Bird is any indication of where the contemporary American population is at????
Here is Benton’s sketch for the major panel in America Today which depicted the African American as a solid, working part of the American 20th Century Industrialization:
Now one of the figures in Benton’s canvas – one of the hard working navvies- was none other than the young Jackson Pollock who, then an art student of Benton, would become one of the major innovating forces in New Art in the next generation: Jackson Pollock:
You can just sense the muscles and sweat of this robust figure who would tragically drink himself to an early death. But here is one of the wonderful images that he produced through a kinetic energy in which his whole body became involved in art creation:
And it is fascinating to observe that while one might think that Pollock is indulging in some kind of crazy modernist subversion of all techniques, he is actually inspired by the most ancient of traditions of art making in the work of American Indians and their sand painting- famous for its methodology which metaphorically embodied ideas about life’s impermanence. And Pollock’s art was also so centrally influential on poets like Frank O’Hara (celebrated in the poem “A Step Away from Them” we looked at in tutorials):
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them?
The main influence – as Deborah seemed to suggest- was the way O’Hara, like Pollock emphasised the complete openness to immediacy, to change, to events… nothing is tied down to any predetermined form. So paint, like sequences of words, can tumble out and sound their specific eccentricities…
One of the last artists that Deborah took us to was New York Abstract artist Mark Rothko, renowned for creating art work that touched the viewer in ways that took them into subliminal space, beyond the immediate here and now. I must confess I went back into the Rothko room for around an hour after our time together and did experience something of this quality in the following painting- simply entitled “No 16, 1960”:
This painting really did represent/ embody/ project/ and experience of the different states that a human being can experience: it is like a psychic projection of the human inner self in its various shades of light, dark and luminescence…. It is always incredibly hard trying to translate paintings into words, but one can but try! The famous American poet T.S. Eliot, in this context said something really profound and relevant: “Words, after speech, reach/ Into the silence”. You can read this in the context of the whole poem right here: http://www.davidgorman.com/4Quartets/1-norton.htm– scroll through to section 5.
Before I leave Rothko I would just like to repeat my plug for a conference that I am helping to create in October this year. We have just published the first flier for this conference and it has Rothko on the front. Click here to see its content (and if you are interested please forward it on to whoever!): flier 1x
We were hoping that we would have a guide to take us through this section, but this did not happen so you had to do your best with me!!
At all events you saw the core images that I wanted you to see in order to set our literature in the context of American History. George Washington and his crossing of the Delaware, and George Washington as the General of the new American Revolutionary Army are central disciminators for the way that the Americans defined themselves against their oppressors, the British. Here is Washington (by Charles Wilson Peale) as the Military Commander- you can read all about this painting here: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/11707:
I wanted you all to compare this with the painting done of the English King George III which was done around the same time. Here is one very similar to the one which had been hanging in the MET last year. This shows the dramatic difference between the leaders of the two countries in their relationship to their people: back then at least! You can see how the posture is exactly the same, but the clothing, and especially the direction of the look in the eyes, tell a very different story!-
We had a very instructive day at the MET and tonight we are off to The Waitress on Broadway….. !!!!!!!
QUESTIONS WORTH ASKING YOURSELF WITH REFERENCE TO LITERATURE AND ART:
How does the content a the painting mirror or amplify the content of a work of literature?
What overlaps are there in the media that are used by the painter and the writer? For example how is free-flowing sentence structure and fragmented syntax picked up in the style of certain visual artists?
How do the themes of paintings and writings (fiction/ poetry/drama) mirror one another and/or tell a different kind of story? Are there certain things that are more effectively expressed in words than in images?
Why do you think some writers wish that their words had the power of the artist or the musician in their ability to reach meaning without specific verbal connotations??
PLEASE FIND HERE RELEVANT RECORDINGS from today’s sessions:
A day to be remembered! Nick so generously took us through his life-long experience of New York and his passionate lover of the literature that it has produced, and his deep sense of the social and ethical insights that reading and understanding this literature can give. Thank you Nick!
With Nick’s permission here is the audio of his lecture to our keen students from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney:
and Eric Chase -fabulously talented (owner of NYLiterary Pub Crawls Wanderings):
And here is Eric (and James) introducing students to what we are going to be around New York over the next few days and the protocol of our tours around the town:
So we begin with Washington Square which anchored us in the world of Henry James and also in the world of neighbouring Greenwich Village home to writers, artists, musicians, dramatists and theatre people for the last 100 years.
Here is Eric and his colleauge Merika’s introduction to Washington Square and Greenwich Village
We had a real treat of a group of grey squirrels cavorting in the freezing weather:
But then Eric and Marica took us deeply into the world of Greenwich Village, both 18th and 20th Century.
Here is a slice of James Baldwin’s connection in Greenwich Village:
And here is a glimpse into the world of O’Henry and his wonderful story “The Last Leaf””
And here is a long discussion around the radicalism in the 60s centreing on the Stone Wall Inn. You can read the history of the Inn here– and thank you Eric for this impassioned, inspiring talk.
At the very end of the day we all headed off to see To Kill a Mocking Bird which was a powerfully confronting reminder of the continuing racism in American- no this is not an issue that has gone away; it is still very strongly with us. But this play presents the play with compassion and humour and with a real sense that there is some hope in the future. It was a wonderful production. You can read the New York Times review of the play right here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/theater/to-kill-a-mockingbird-review-jeff-daniels.html
Hi All, thank you for your wonderful contributions to today’s classes. We felt that you learnt a lot and -if you read the texts and ready and listen to the study guides you should not have a problem with our quizzes. The drama quiz will remain on January 9th (NSW & VIC 11-12; QLD 10-11. The literature quiz will now be on Monday 14th January from 10-12 NSW and VIC and 9-12 for QLD. The drama quiz will allow you 45 minutes to complete your questions; the literature quiz (because it has one extra question) will allow you 55 minutes. Enjoy your preparation. As was said in the tutorials, the whole point of these quizzes is to maximise your enjoyment and appreciation of this amazing educational tour that your are about to have!
Here are the audios from today’s tutorials. Listen to these in conjunction with the pdf slides posted in LEO:
Also: one of our Sydney gang (Jackson Eagles) was stoked to hear references to Kendrick Lamar in the short clip about James Baldwin’s legacy for future African Americans:
Thank you all for your attendance and keen participation today. We have two recordings of our presentation and discussion. The first is the recording from the Sydney cohort, the second from the Melbourne and Brisbane cohort combined. Attached also please find the slides from today’s tutorial. Enjoy revisiting this content as needed for your quiz exam.
This street, one of the most important streets in the world for African American Culture, came to be known as Harlem’s Heartbeat (name given to it by poet Langston Hughes). The street was the heart of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930’s. Lenox a philanthropist in 1887- 100 years later the street was co-named Malcolm X in honour of this slain Civil Rights leader.
For one of the most sustained and powerful insights into Baldwin’s work you should watch the unforgettable film I am Not Your Negro. The film is discussed in this link, but is also available for download rental or purchase (Rental is $4.99).
Mount Olive Fire Baptized Holiness Church West 122nd Street Harlem
The Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God of the Americas was founded in 1898 in Mountville, South Carolina, by a Methodist preacher, William Edward Fuller, Sr., after he received the “Baptism of the Holy Ghost and Fire” while praying alone in a corn field near his home. Fuller’s congregation began with two members who lived nine miles apart, and grew to more than thousand members by 1908. Since then, the church has vastly increased its membership and geographic presence, and now consists of three dioceses located throughout the United States, Canada, the West Indies, the Virgin Islands, and England. The Mount Olive F.B.H. Church is part of the New York District of the First Episcopal Diocese. The Mount Olive congregation was organized in 1918 from a mission that was established the previous year by Bishop Fuller. Daniel Matthews was appointed the first minister of the church. Mount Olive’s first home was at 6 West 126th Street. In 1932, it moved to 2395 Eighth Avenue, where it remained until it acquired its present home on West 122nd Street under the leadership of Reverend McDonald Brown.
A severe criticism of the Christian religion can be found in Langston Hughes‘ poem “Merry Christmas”, where he exposes the irony of religion as a symbol for good and yet a force for oppression and injustice.
by Langston Hughes
Published In New Masses (Dec. 1930)
Merry Christmas, China
From the gun-boats in the river,
Ten-inch shells for Christmas gifts,
And peace on earth forever.
Merry Christmas, India,
To Gandhi in his cell,
From righteous Christian England,
Ring out, bright Christmas bell!
Ring Merry Christmas, Africa,
From Cairo to the Cape!
Ring Hallehuiah! Praise the Lord!
(For murder and rape.)
Ring Merry Christmas, Haiti!
(And drown the voodoo drums –
We’ll rob you to the Christian hymns
Until the next Christ comes.)
Ring Merry Christmas, Cuba!
(While Yankee domination
Keeps a nice fat president
In a little half-starved nation.)
And to you down-and-outers,
(“Due to economic laws”)
Oh, eat, drink, and be merry
With a bread-line Santa Claus –
While all the world hails Christmas,
While all the church bells sway!
While, better still, the Christian guns
Proclaim this joyous day!
While holy steel that makes us strong
Spits forth a mighty Yuletide song:
SHOOT Merry Christmas everywhere!
Let Merry Christmas GAS the air!
For an excellent plot summary with a diagram of the movement of the plot at:
Here is the summary- if you are unable to access this link.
Go Tell it on the Mountain is the story of John Grimes. All his life John Grimes has been immersed in the Temple of the Fire Baptized in New York City. The oldest child in a family of four children, he feels the weight of high expectations from his family, his church, his teachers, and himself. John learns he must walk a narrow path of righteousness to get to heaven, and his stepfather, Gabriel, demands John be saved to serve God. At the same time, John wants no part of the poverty and guilt that is his stepfather’s legacy. He struggles to resolve his desire for a better life with his desire for his parents’ approval and God’s love. These conflicts come crashing together for John during a tumultuous Saturday night service on his 14th birthday in 1935.
The Saturday that changes John’s life starts out as an ordinary day. He wakes with the guilt of his adolescent sins—sexual thoughts, disrespect for his parents—weighing on his mind, but he has breakfast with his family and commences his chores with his half-brother, Roy. His disappointment that his birthday has been forgotten is assuaged when John’s mother, Elizabeth, gives him some spending money as a birthday treat. Set loose with the possibilities of New York City before him, John wanders from his home in Harlem to Central Park and then down Fifth Avenue to 42nd Street. He admires the glittering wealth around him and indulges his own fantasies of an adulthood spent as a prosperous and respected man, even as he feels mildly intimidated about being the only black person in the stores and landmarks he passes. He goes to a movie, which leaves him feeling both exhilarated about the vision of life it presents and guilty about having been to a movie about wicked people.
When John returns home, he finds his brother injured from a knife fight and his stepfather, Gabriel, raging at everyone, looking for someone to blame. Unable or perhaps unwilling to accept that Roy brought the injury on himself, Gabriel’s rage culminates when he slaps Elizabeth, leading Roy to threaten his father in his mother’s defense. John remains quiet but broods through the chaos, nurturing his own hatred for Gabriel. He then escapes to the church to help prepare for evening services.
At church John bonds and works with his friend and Sunday School teacher, Elisha. Elisha encourages John to take the path of salvation, and his encouragement provides a balance to Gabriel’s threats and fearmongering. Then the congregation, including John’s parents, siblings, and Aunt Florence, arrive and the service begins.
Unbeknownst to John, the adults in his family spend the service grappling with their personal demons. Florence, after learning that she is dying, has come to the church looking for solace. She remembers her childhood, her mother’s history as a former slave, and the favoritism toward Gabriel that sowed the seeds of discord between them. She thinks of her friend Deborah, censured by the town and blamed for her own rape at the hands of violent white men. Florence remembers how her own white employer propositioned her for an affair, spurring her to finally leave the South and move to New York City. In New York Florence marries Frank, a blues singer who leaves her for a younger woman. Through all of this, Florence envies and resents her brother, and that resentment comes to a head as Florence faces her own mortality and wants finally to confront Gabriel about his own sinful past.
Gabriel’s sinful past is on his own mind during the service, as he remembers his drinking and womanizing youth, his spontaneous conversion to follow God, and his marriage to his first wife, Deborah, as he built his reputation as a minister in the South. He also remembers his brief affair with a woman named Esther, whom he paid to leave town when she got pregnant and who died giving birth to their child, Royal. He remembers watching Royal grow up with his grandparents, his fear for the young Royal’s soul and safety, and his despair when Royal died in a bar fight in Chicago. Gabriel moved to New York after Deborah died, but his experiences, his failures and guilt, haunt him and harden him against his family. He clings to his faith in God, and he resents the old sin his wife, Elizabeth, brings into their marriage.
The old sin Elizabeth has brought into her marriage to Gabriel is John, the product of Elizabeth’s relationship with a man named Richard. Raised in Maryland by a strict aunt, Elizabeth moved to New York with Richard after the two of them fell in love. The couple planned to marry, but Richard’s implication in a crime he did not commit left him broken and hopeless, even though he was acquitted. He committed suicide before Elizabeth could tell him she was carrying their baby and left Elizabeth a heartbroken single mother. She met Florence at work, and the two became friends. Elizabeth then met Gabriel, who promised to marry her and raise her son as his own.
All of these elements of family history have shaped John in ways he does not even realize, and they converge in the church during the Saturday service. While Florence, Gabriel, and Elizabeth muse on their respective pasts, John is overcome with the power of God. He falls to the church floor, plunging into a frightening vision of sin, fear, the history of his family, and his race that bring him through the fire to see the face of God while Elisha talks him through it all. When he emerges from the vision, John declares he has been saved and eagerly awaits his stepfather’s approval at last. The entire congregation, especially Elisha, is eager to congratulate John, but Gabriel’s approval never comes. As he returns to his home, John feels transformed by his experience at church but seems uncertain of what that transformation will mean in the time to come.
In today’s last session we turned first to exploring the ways in which William Blake explores the conditions that create GRACE. In his Songs of Innocence and Experience he has two songs that are about Nurses. In Nurse’s Song in Songs of Innocence he presents the Nurse in a state in which “her heart is at rest within [her] my breast”. This state or condition of her Being, has extraordinary consequences on the children under her care and on the world around her.
This situation is dramatically contrasted with the the second “Nurses Song” from the Songs of Experience in which the Nurse’s state is now not “at rest… within my breast”, but is described as one in which her “face turns green and pale” as “The days of [her] my youth rise fresh in [her] my mind”. The consequences of this state are equally dramatic!
The discussion we had on these two companion poems was wonderfully insightful and alive. Thank you all who took part!
After our discussion on William Blake and the ways in which he dramatizes the means for opening, or closing to Grace, we turned back to Shakespeare, in particular the scene in The Merchant of Venice in which Lorenzo speaks with his beloved Jessica and illuminates for her what stands in the way of being conscious of the divinity that lies in each one of us. Here are the lines we discussed and you can listen to the discussion and the Globe Theatre dramatisation of this episode in the audio link above (it comes immediately after the discussion on William Blake:
Lorenzo to Jessica The Merchant of Venice 5.1 53ff. (1139)
Lorenzo.Sweet soul, let’s in, and there expect their coming.
And yet no matter: why should we go in?
My friend Stephano, signify, I pray you,
Within the house, your mistress is at hand; 2505
And bring your music forth into the air. [Exit Stephano]
How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night 2510
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings, 2515
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Come, ho! and wake Diana with a hymn!
With sweetest touches pierce your mistress’ ear,
And draw her home with music.
Jessica.I am never merry when I hear sweet music.2525
Lorenzo.The reason is, your spirits are attentive:
For do but note a wild and wanton herd,
Or race of youthful and unhandled colts,
Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud,
Which is the hot condition of their blood; 2530
If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
Or any air of music touch their ears,
You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
Their savage eyes turn’d to a modest gaze
By the sweet power of music: therefore the poet 2535
Did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones and floods;
Since nought so stockish, hard and full of rage,
But music for the time doth change his nature.
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, 2540
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.
THANK YOU ALL FOR BEING SUCH WONDERFULLY RESPONSIVE AND THOUGHTFUL STUDENTS DURING THE LAST 4 WEEKS. I LOOK FORWARD TO BEING WITH YOU ALL EARLY JUNE NEXT YEAR (STARTING ON THE 12TH).
Here, in conclusion are two more poetry offerings from Peter Solway and Stephen Mason
Here is Peter’s Poem with his reflections on Les Murray, his aboriginal connections and his feelings for his father:
Metaphor correct bout big Les
blowing into town,
dusting tall glass, figs and cars in park
harbour boats and bridge with imported rust
Clever as a black fella
from solid, ground -dwelling grandma;
but full encyclopedic wind
all flags blowing, ancestors wailing
thieving farmers income
pushing blind commuters round
set drunk bins street loose
pamphlets to race plastic skirts,
sky to howl lost odds
Rosehill to Randwick and beyond
Over the gap, into the convict sea
murky with a sad farmer’s history,
elder children never to visit.
Lone cricket at the scg
beer the slur of drought,
dog with mange so black
umpire white trash!
Bully-boy wind, plane tossed from Mascot
up the scarred, sacred coast-line,
tin flapping back at the farm
Les come on home
leave glaucoma high-rise town behind
Soiled in it’s caul of commerce, dirty windows
aborted frowns (through the glass dark…)
Corinthians looking down
chapter and verse of squared sport.
Plane almost to Macquarie port;
prepared to land, seat-belt off
wheels dropped ,air-warm
where last stanzas are redeemed
the bunyahs weep, the wild gums pine;
young son’s note to remind
Dear dad please hurry home
chook’s distressed, roof blown off,
real dog down, kennel gone!
Here also is Stephen Mason’s poem based on his experience of Sydney’s City Scape; Click on this link to read Stephen’s poem:
It was great for James and I to meet you all today and to shake out some of your questions and concerns. This is the place where you are going to be able to find all the audio recordings both before and during our New York adventure. I will of course be putting this link into LEO as well. Here is the recording of today’s session: Enjoy!
And remember any further questions don’t hesitate to field them either through WhatsApp or email: email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org
In this week’s session we looked first at Les Murray’s “The Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle“. If you click on the title you can read the whole poem right here! We explored the ways in which Les’ poem builds on the ” ‘WONGURI‐’MANDƷIKAI SONG CYCLE OF THE MOON‐BONE“ which we explored in last week’s session. You can read the translator Ronald Berndt’s introduction to the Song Cycle by clicking her on the title itself. Les Murray speaks at length about his poem and its links with the Aboriginal Song Cycle in his article “The Human-Hair Thread” published in Meanjin, 1977. There is a link to this whole article right here: Murray Hair Thread
This is a wonderful article that is still very current in its relevance to the Aboriginal situation today. Les talks about his long engagement with Aboriginal questions and about the many poems he has written directly about Aboriginality. It is certainly worth reading.
After our session on Les Murray we turned our attention to William Shakespeare, no less. In particular I was trying to explore the ways in which the bard is deeply committed to a contemplative approach to life and is very much open to the experience of Grace.
The talk, with comments from the floor, can be listened to here and this is followed by a link to the visual slides and video links used in this session and two extra texts used in the session:
This week we first turned our attention to Judith Beveridge’s wonderful poem “Flying Foxes, Wingham Brush”. In this poem she reveals her capacity to enter into the lives of these amazing creatures, giving them her full attention, drawing us in to the experience of their wondrous beings! Enjoy this audio lecture which moves at the end towards “The Wonguir-Mandjikai Song Cycle of the Moon Bone”:
Here also are two more creative offerings from the group. Enjoy!
First from Grahame Ellis who is “continuing struggle to respond to Michael’s quote”: What elements in the creative use of language enable the mind to overleap its earthly bounds ? Click Here for Grahame’s offering:
This was perhaps the most creative component of all the blogs: those many stories about strangers or family members who provided a trigger for seeing the world in a totally new way.
Here is Jamie’s wonderful story about his sister from Vietnam in which he “describes a totally ordinary person in such a way that you reveal their inner humanity, totally different from what their exterior appearance might suggest”:
Claudia’s Summative Entry expressing how Visionary Imagination, as expressed in the work of William Blake, Patrick White and Brett Whiteley “has given me a new way of seeing and understanding the world”. Thank you Claudia!
In this unit we explored writers and artists beginning with English Gerard Manley Hopkins right through to Trinidadian M. Nourbese Philip. The focus has been on the way writers and artists in the 20th Century have been trying to use their medium to break through the mirroring surface of things to the depths below, where the bedrock of truth may be found. And this quest was being carried out in a time where that bedrock of truth was being mercilessly buried by politics, war and, as D.H. Lawrence called it “the unspeakable brutality of the press”. So we have a clutch of wonderful ACU students who have been producing reflections on their 20th Century Literature experiences in their blogs. Enjoy these fruits:
From Elora-Beth: https://cardiophobicspokenword.wordpress.com/2018/10/19/my-eportfolio-2/: “The blogs were my favourite component of this unit. I loved having the opportunity to express my own ideas, reflections and creativity through this medium. I also found that it was a fantastic way to engage actively with the literature in this unit, it forced me to be attentive, to develop an opinion and to think with a creative lens.”
This is the fourth seminar series in a group titled The Poetry of Grace held at the Aquinas Academyin Sydney. Previous seminars have explored the poetry of Austrian Rainer Maria Rilke and Australian Francis Webb (these can be accessed from this WordPress site- just click on the Poetry of Grace link above). This 2018 seminar builds on these earlier seminars; it begins with some broad reflections on the nature of the sacred, on contemplation and on creativity, and then turns to the immediate Australian context: Judith Beveridge, an Aboriginal Song Cycle & Les Murray. Thereafter the plan is to move in the direction of exploring some of the great English mystical poets: Shakespeare, William Blake, George Herbert, T.S. Eliot, William Wordsworth…
This space is provided for recording the contents of the seminar and for participants to be able to present any reflections in prose or poetry that they may wish to share with the group. If you do have anything to share please send this through as a Word.doc document to email@example.com. I will then post it up in this space. Visual illustrations are also welcome.
Here is the audio of our first meeting on Wednesday November 7th. Enjoy!
Here are the slides used in this class (some of which will be carried over to next week):
If you would also like to listen to a clearer recording of Judith Beveridge’s talk to ACU students then please head to this link. You will find the full lecture there, but you have to “scroll” in to the 58 minute mark to hear the start of her talk:
Response Poem from Stephen Mason- (thank you Stephen):
I have a poem to offer the group in response to Merton’ s: the true poet is always akin to the mystic because of the prophetic intuition. The poem below seeks a prophetic stance in reflecting on what being Christian means in relation to the context of contemporary Australian politics…
( ‘In apprehension how like a god…’ Hamlet)
Port Arthur, of course, our first off Shore facility… Our first people smugglers, being Staunch English governors.
To be a con or not To be a con artist’ s history…
Jesus was murdered in custody, St.Paul, John Pat, Eddie Murray…
You frightened boat people Who look to us for solace Who want us to share Our Claudian stolen Liberty…
In apprehension how like the Christian God we nail you off Shore to Manus and Nauru.
Stephen Mason 2018
Aboriginal Bark Painting fromfrom Yirrkall, N.E. Arnhem Land- illustrating a legend of two brothers lost while travelling in a canoe (Anthropology Museum, Uni of Queensland)- reproduced on the cover of The Jindyworobaks edited by Brian Elliott.
There have been some wonderful blogs by students studying Australian Literature at ACU this semester. We began the unit with Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance and then travelled through a number of Indigenous authors before beginning the “White” literary staircase from early colonial times right up to contemporary times with Francis Webb, Lisa Bellear and then Judith Beveridge showing us how poetry still has such an important place in our modern world. Judith Beveridge came to visit our students and inspired students into a new understanding of how poetry can open up our ways of seeing, our deeper awareness of what is around us. A number of students in fact went on to write poems directly inspired by Judith’s suggestions. Listen to her lecture right here: CLICK. Overall it has been a fabulous semester of critical responsiveness and creativity- here exemplified in students’ capacity to navigate so well the medium of the digital blog. Here are some outstanding, shining examples:
First some powerful blogs by students who have either arrived in Australia as refugees or are here as children of immigrant parents. For Fatima Hussein who fled from Baghdad because of the invasion of her country we hear how studying Australian Literature has opened the doors to a more inclusive understanding of racial differences in this country.
Here Fatima expresses her sense of welcome in this country: CLICK
And here Fatima talks of how the boundaries of her experience have been opened: CLICK
Here Sandra Russo (child of immigrant parents) gives a beautiful description of how blogging “opened up a new way of appreciating the history of Australia, the different voices and people that have contributed to this country: CLICK
Here now are a number of comments by our international students who have found Australian Literature a wonderful extension to their literary knowledge.
And here is Eliza Weidner also from Germany commenting on the way that blogging has opened up her understanding of literature: CLICK
Tyler Sirowich from the USA also expresses how blogging in Australian literature has helped to deepen her engagement with texts and with fellow students (whom she- and the rest of the group- had to peer review each week):CLICK
Then amazingly there were quite a few students who were inspired to write love sonnets inspired by one of earliest colonial poets Charles Harpur! Here is Lili Braidner’s Sonnet On Self-Love- inspired by Charles Harpur: CLICK. And here is Veronica Casha’s beautiful sonnet to a future lover (watch out guys!) also inspired by Harpur: CLICK
Here are some wonderful responses to Judith Beveridge’s Visit and to Francis Webb.
First Chloe Hayfa’s powerful response to Judith Beveridge’s advice to“Pay Attention to the World Around Us”, especially exploring the way women’s situation is so suppressed: CLICK
Second Rawan Hijazi’s amazing poem inspired by Judith Beveridge’s visit: CLICK and in addition to this here is Rawan’s summative entry in which she speaks about the nature of Beveridge’s wider impact on her:CLICK
Third (but not last!) here is the best poem inspired by Judith Beveridge’s visit! Thank you Laura Nash: CLICK Needless to say, I have sent this poem through to Judith for comment!
And here is the best blog on Francis Webb. Thank you Alexandra Poeder: CLICK
Here are some wonderful entries on “Australian landscapes that I love”:
Here is Izabella Georgievska celebrating the night sky: CLICK
And here are Charlotte Alphonso’s wonderful memories of times with her grandparents in Bathurst: CLICK
Here is a powerful feminist poem by Heidi Carroll inspired by Dame Mary Gilmore: CLICK
And here is a humorous poem by Jacob Hall inspired by John Shaw Neilson and a dog! CLICK
Here are the best overall summative entries and entries on the joys of blogging:
Julia El Azzi, who writes passionately about Aboriginal women and about “Milford Sound”: CLICK
Here is Chloe Hayfa’s powerful summative entry on awakening to the plight of indigenous people through studying Australian literature: CLICK
Here are Rachael Kirkpatrick’s comments on how her study has made her into a convert to Australian literature and how powerful for her have been the stimulus questionsfor the blogs: CLICK
Here Christina Pisani shows us the power of animated gifs in getting her point across: CLICK
And here finally are two wonderful entries on the joys and benefits of literary blogging. Here is Brooke Kelleher raving about how the interactivity of blogging really helped her understanding and engagement: CLICK
And here is Lauren Ward’s deep appreciation (after initial terror) of how blogging on and in Australian literature has powerfully expanded her horizons:CLICK
Performances based around the work of William Blake and his legacy in Australia have taken place today in Strathfield (ACU)! What an amazing collection of young voices celebrating the continuing creative power of William Blake and his impact on such diverse talents as Patrick White, Brett Whiteley and Allen Ginsberg. Here are our pre-performance tutorials on what William Blake has meant to this young cohort:
And here are some screen shots from these powerful performances:
Hello All fellow travellers: Listen to the short lecture here as you look at the three slides that are immediately below this link. The slides are also placed within this space (if that is easier for you to use!)
This play was performed today by our wonderful second year students who were exploring the ways in which Beckett was pushing the boundaries of English language along a continuum that had begun with Joseph Conrad, The poets of the First World War, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, T.S. Eliot, Charlie Chaplin and George Orwell. Beckett comes at the end of this line of creative artists who were exploring ways in which the creative re-invigoration of the English language might be a force for healing the world of its mechanistic slide into the abyss! Too dramatic? Maybe! But at all events these writers and artists were experimenting with ways in which the human brain could be channelled, redirected into a condition of harmony rather than dissolution. And Beckett does this by dramatizing the process of dissolution itself and then, seemingly, reaching beyond this. His play has a shock value that forces us to recognise the circularity of our own thinking and feeling, the need we have for a dramatic change in the mechanical processes of our own thinking….
We had a great time exploring the powerful poetry and symbolism of David Malouf’s wonderful short novel Fly Away Peter today. Here is the audio lecture on this topic followed by the audio tutorial. Enjoy! Below this is the White-Board brain storm from Tutorial 3 and the PowerPoint for tutorials 1 and 2.
Hi All, today was our final excursion into the world of Patrick White, especially his representation of Alf Dubbo, the Aboriginal artist as a ministering priest of a renewed Christianity. Patrick White shows us how Alf Dubbo’s belief is restored through his visionary imagination and in this way illuminates the way in which William Blake’s own creative practice was underpinned by a profound belief in the power of the creative imagination to touch the divine. Lecture and Tutorials can be found right here:
Today we explored a range of immigrant writers who either embraced the English Language totally (such as Derek Walcott and Wole Soyinka), or those who enjoyed flaunting the creative powers of their own appropriation of English (such as Louise Bennett and Grace Nichols). This is a fascinating topic that shows the ways in which users of English from the Empire are clearly able to reinvigorate the language dragging it out of the restrictive conventions of BBC (or ABC – in Australia) English.
Here is the full lecture for today’s topic: enjoy!
Blog Topics for week 11. For those of you still needing to add a blog question and answer please visit the slides from today’s lecture topic in LEO and answer any one of the questions posed from today’s slides. Be sure to listen to today’s lecture to hear closely the requirements for submitting your ePortfolio by this Friday.
Today’s lecture began with some further comments on the poetry of Francis Webb. In particular I looked at “End of the Picnic”, “Black Cockatoos”, “Banksia” (from the Eyre All Alone sequence and “Harry” (from the Ward Two sequence. The first part of today’s audio lecture covers these poems. Enjoy listening!
We then moved on to David Malouf’s Fly Away Peter, but I thought it worth while reviving memories of exactly one year ago when David Malouf was on campus with us. Back then he gave us a wonderful lecture on Fly Away Peter, but he also spent time sharing with us his sense of how we need to read his work, indeed any great literature, in order to connect with the experience that it is trying to engage us with. Literature, as he said, is not about simply gleaning information, but is about immersing yourself in an experience of words, chosen and shaped, to take us to somewhere where we have perhaps never been. And by this he was meaning somewhere “in ourselves” as much as somewhere “geographically different”. His key to finding the connection with the kind of experience that literature offers is to read S…. L…. O…. W…. L…. Y….. For example we need time to take in the symbolic implications of certain scenes, for instance where Jim is pushing the flat-bottomed boat through the muddy water with Ashley and his friends on board (Chapter 4):
He would push his pole into the mud again, and putting his shoulder into it and watching the birds flock away, and they would ride smoothly in under the boughs. Nobody spoke. It was odd the way the place imposed itself and held them…. And maybe, Jim thought, this is music too, this sort of silence.
What he could not know was to how great a degree these trips into the swamp, in something very like a punt, were for Ashley recreations of long, still afternoons on the Cam, but translated here not only to another hemisphere, but back, far back, into some pre-classical, pre- historic, primaeval and haunted world… in which the birds Jim pointed out, and might almost have been calling up as he named them in a whisper out of the mists before creation, were extravagantly disguised spirits of another order of existence… a water journey in another, deeper sense; which is why he occasionally shivered, and might, looking back, have seen Jim… as the ordinary embodiment of a figure already glimpsed in childhood and given a name in mythology, and only now made real.
David Malouf asked the class whether anyone could identify who this figure in mythology might be. As noted by one student it is indeed Charon, the ferryman who takes the dead across the river Styx to the underworld. So reading this scene (and all scenes) slowly and carefully does reveal layers of meaning not immediately apparent. When you do understand who this mythological figures is, then you also begin to see how this innocent event on the flat-bottomed boat is, in some much deeper sense, connected with the ending of the novel, with the novels preoccupation with life and death and the question of what divides these two realms of human experience.
With reference to David’s mysterious use of language there was one very interesting question from a member of our audience who asked why David wrote such incredibly long sentences. His answer was interesting. He spoke of being inspired by the Stream of Consciousness methods of writers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce and he spoke of the need to get inside the mind of his characters and describe the world through their consciousnesses. He suggested that if you look at the workings of your own mind you might see similar processes at work. Our minds don’t usually like full-stops. He spoke also about how, as readers, we need to attend very carefully to the question of whose consciousness we are now in. Sometimes it might be Jim Saddler’s, sometimes it might by Ashley Crowther’s. Sometimes it is not so easy to tell, so it is important to read very S…. L…. O…. W…. L…. Y…..
Blog Topics for Week 11
1/ Write a long sentence that matches the way that David Malouf enters into a character’s consciousness. Introduce the sentence with a short sentence so that your reader knows what or who you are trying to dramatize.
2/Do you have an appreciation of the natural world that matches either Ashley Crowther’s or Jim Saddler’s? Describe some of its elements.
3 /Drawing inspiration from the closing scene of Fly Away Peter describe a surfer managing a wave.
4/ Why is David Malouf so critical of conventional education (as experienced by Ashley Crowther)?
5/ Remember you are permitted to create your own blog topics.
Here is today’s tutorial recording:
And here are the white-board images that went with this tutorial:
Patrick White presents his hero Alf Dubbo -one of the four “Riders” in the Chariot- as a human being who brings into the present the transformative power of his aboriginal creative heritage. He does this through his deep animation of Christian themes, bringing these back to their true meaning in the sources of Christianity prior to institutionalisation.
For a wonderful discussion on White’s religion, as presented in his fiction, you should have a look at this conversation with White’s biographer David Marr: Click.
Margaret Preston may have been roasted on a spit for daring to present Adam and Eve as an Aboriginal couple in offering this painting to the Blake Prize in the early 1950s. How dare one assume that our forefathers had anything to do with Aboriginality!!! Thus spake the right-wing factions of our country!
So how did Patrick get away with daring to present his Aboriginal artist Alf Dubbo as Christ, as the source of salvation for an Australia swallowed up by materialism and a total lack of authentic spirituality? How did he get away with it? Good question. Probably because no one had the time and patience to read past the opening pages of his most amazing novel Riders in the Chariot. Had Australians followed their Nobel Prize winner to that place of “darkness” where the dying Alf Dubbo, a latter-day Christ, re-imagines the beginning of creation, evokes the Deposition & the Chariot of Ezekiel, they would have scoffed at the “insanity” of anyone trying to ennoble the Indigenous imagination in this way. It is all there in Chapter 16 of Riders in the Chariot, a wonderful tour-de-force of one verbal artist (Patrick White) transmitting the vision of his non-verbal central character into canvasses glowing with spiritual affirmation of the created universe. I am strongly reminded here of Brett Whiteley who, like Alf Dubbo, allowed the central panels of his Alchemy to come into being:
The days grew kind in which Dubbo painted his picture. They were of a fixed, yellow stillness. The creaking of cicadas was not so much a noise, as a thick, unbroken, yellow curtain, hung to protect his exposed senses. All other sound seemed to have been wound into a ball a the centre of the town, as he stood and transferred the effulgence of his spirit onto canvas, or, when overcome by weakness, sat on the edge of a scraping chair, leaning forward so as not to miss anything taking place in the world of his creation.
We began today’s lecture trying to respond to the question about language (in the screen shot below) and about the ways in which Samuel Beckett may be trying to address these questions. There were some great responses to the question from the class and you can hear these as the first items in the recorded lecture below:
After this dramatic confrontation with what you have learned from your practical work on drama, we began to explore the ways in which the English language has been and is being radically transformed by those races, with their cultures, who have been exploited by England during the hey-day of Colonialism. Now the Empire is Striking back, the title of a wonderful book on this subject by an old student friend of mine Bill Ashcroft.
What we see in the literature this week and next week is artists who are trying to find their bearings in the language of the dominant culture, without relinquishing all from their own historical past. This is what we discovered today especially in the work of Marlene Nourbese Philip who seemed to lament the loss of language and felt dispossessed by the whole process of colonisation. She presents us with much dramatic and emotional content. She expresses a lament for the loss of human dignity through exploitation. This is a savagely powerful poem that places the lyrical poetic voice in the context of a range of other “languages” that demonstrate how and why the Logic of Language can be an imprisoning logic. It is worth listening again to Marlene reading her poem “Discourse on the Logic of Language” with such passion:
is my mother tongue/
A mother tongue is not
not a foreign lan lan lang
-a foreign anguish. (Click on image below to hear the whole poem)
The lecture today was a lecture/workshop which focussed closely on Marlene’s poem. Here is the audio of the lecture/workshop together with a white-board screen shot of the wonderful contributions to this discussion made by the class as a whole:
Blog Topics for Week 10
Start a poem with the lines “English is my mother tongue” and through your poem explore the meaning of this line in relation to your own experience of language in your life.
Give a short account of the way in which language has played an important part in your identity. Perhaps you are from a multi-lingual family group, or perhaps you have been born and bred in the King’s English!
Create a mini digital kit from which your readers can find useful resources on any two of the authors studied today.
Remember you can create your own topic that draws inspiration from anything discussed or presented this week and that might also connect with experiences in your own life.
Today we began by exploring the life and language of Francis Webb, especially his poem “Five Days Old” which gives such a deep insight into the way he uses language to transform his experience into such a momentous event.
We then had the privilege of having as our guest the poet Judith Beveridge who spoke about the place and purpose of poetry in her life and then proceeded to give wonderful readings and expositions of a number of her major poems, including some from her most recent published collection Sun Music: New and Selected Poems (Giramondo Press)
Our tutorials brought into focus the fact that Frank Webb and Judith Beveridge have a number of things in commons. For instance they both have a deep appreciation for life, they both show how much is to be gained from the seemingly insignificant details of life and the way they both transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Judith Beveridge spoke at length here about how her choice of imagery was her way of allowing her readers to discover the world in a new way. And yet there were some key differences between Judith Beveridge and Frank Webb. One student commented perceptively that Webb focuses on the “World Within” where Beveridge focuses on the “World Without”. Is that true or not? An interesting question. You can see on the white board image below how that discussion generated quite a powerful discussion on the similarities and differences between these two poets. For example one student commented on the fact that Judith uses specific tactile things like the sound of birds feet on a tin roof to draw her readers into a world seen as if for the first time. In contrast Frank uses nature imagery to draw us into more metaphysical and theological reflections, for example is his image of the groping eyes and the absorbed skies.
Yesterday’s lectured focussed for the first 50 minutes on Francis Webb (in particular “Five Days Old”); the second 50 minutes was Judith Beveridge speaking on the nature of poetry, on spirituality in poetry and then on her own poems, in particular “The Saffron Picker”, “Man Washing on a Railway Platform Outside Delhi”, “Flying Foxes, Wingham Brush” and “Yachts”. These poems are attached here: Judith Beveridge Poems from Anthology; 2 Additional Poems by Judith Beveridge
And here finally is also the weekend’s SMH review of Judith Beveridge’s new book of poems: Click Here
Blog Questions for Week 10:
1/ What did you learn about the importance of form in poetry through Judith Beveridge’s lecture?
2/ Chose the first line of any of the poems distributed today and compose your own poem based around the theme or idea of your chosen line and pay special attention to the form you give your poem and how you judge when to end your lines. [Remember Judith saying that young poets often end their lines at the natural grammatical breaks, poetry however, often enjoys the break that comes unexpectedly]
3/ Write a letter to either Judith Beveridge or Francis Webb telling them how one of their poems has made a deep impression on you.
4/ Create a mini digital kit which presents a list of resources for either Beveridge or Webb. In your kit make sure you provide your readers with a brief suggestion on why you have chosen these resources and not others.
5/ Always: create your own topic that arises from anything that we have discussed or commented on today.
The Aboriginal and the Jew have a really important place in Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot. They embody two outsiders who have the key to a kind of wisdom that is not available to many. What is extraordinary is the way that Patrick White locates the seminal meeting between these two central characters in a men’s toilet in a bicycle factory in the Western suburbs of Sydney. What we witness in the moment of connection as Mordecai intones Ezekiel passages from Alf’s Bible is a transfiguration of these two figures from the ordinary to the extraordinary- precisely what White was intent on doing (as seen from his essay “The Prodigal Son”. Reading the opening pages of Chapter 11 today, brought the imaginative depth and richness of White’s writing into focus. It is amazing that White had this extraordinary insight, back in 1961 to write about the creativity inherent in his Aboriginal character Alf Dubbo who plays a leading role in this novel Riders in the Chariot. In fact Alf Dubbo does turn into something like a Blakean artist in an Australian context- and it is an Aboriginal who is the bearer of this transformative imagination!!!The novel won the Miles Franklin award in the year it was published and then in 1965 won the Gold Medal of the Australian Literature Society. Patrick White’s instinct to celebrate his Aboriginal’s creative spirit was a powerful support to the gathering movement towards citizenship for all Aboriginals- finally announced in 1967.
But Alf Dubbo is much more than just an Aboriginal artist, he carries within him a powerful blend of what he has learned through his missionary upbringing and through the creative energy from his ancient traditions that still course through his veins. In a land which has all but lost any hint of true Christianity, Alf Dubbo, despite his desperate sickness, his place as a total outsider to the rest of society, in fact becomes the figure through whom essential Christianity is re-ignited . There is a masterful magic in his creation of the Deposition scene and of Ezekiel’s Chariot which show that through his creative energy he has broken through to a new level of understanding which no one else in the community can match. This is very close to what we have seen of William Blake’s role in England in the late 18th/ early 19th Centuries.
1/ Imagine yourself as Patrick White. A student or member of the public has asked him about why certain passages of his writing are so complex. Chose such a passage (about 4 lines in length) and as Patrick White answer the student/ member of the public, telling them why you felt you had to use this complex language.
2/ From the film in which David Marr is interviewed about Patrick White’s belief summarize briefly what you think Patrick White’s religious position is:
3/ In your own words describe a short conversation you have had with any one of the “Riders”: Mordecai HImmelfarb, Mary Hare, Mrs Godbold, Alf Dubbo
4/ Write a paragraph describing a painting using Patrick White’s technique of taking you inside the artist’s thinking. Chose a painting that you are not familiar with and reproduce the painting in your blog then write a “Whitean” description of the artist creating this work.
5/ Remember you can always construct your own question as a blog topic for this week (you might even find an interesting topic through the work you have been doing in preparing your “Blake” performances…..
Bosch’s Crucifixion upon which Patrick White probably based his scene in which Mordecai Himmelfarb, the Jew, is crucified by the Australian “Blue” on Good Friday.
Audio Lecture for week 9 – the recording device failed around half way through the lecture. There may be an addition to this which I can salvage from my iphone… sorry!
Audio Lecture on George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” and “Politics and the English Language”:
George Orwell who experienced the horrors of imperial exploitation when working as a police officer in Burma began then to think of ways in which he could challenge corruption in politics, indeed in all human affairs, using his gift of language. Language for Orwell was man’s most creative as well as his most destructive tool. Orwell was determined to unleash his own capacity for seeing the truth, into his writings, especially “Politics and the English Language”and 1984. In these works he wanted to show us what was wrong about our use of language and our blind belief in whatever anyone said. He wanted to teach us how to rectify, clarify, transform our own understanding of ourselves and the world by being much more sensitive to how we use words. His essay “Politics and the English Language” is a blueprint for how we might begin to take responsibility for our language, and in so doing how we might begin to take responsibility for the language-controlled world in which we live. As future English teachers or future journalists or future editors or public servant, if we develop an Orwellian Backbone we will have the power to stand against the erosive and destructive forces of the media, of politicians, of war-mongers; this is the essence of Orwell’s message…
Blog Topics for Week 9
1.Write a letter thanking George Orwell for his amazing insights into how we might shape the future of the world by taking more care of our own writing habits.
2. Following in line with Orwell’s essay “Shooting and Elephant” recall a moment in your own life where you have been forced to do something that you did not want to do, just because you had to keep up appearances. Use Orwell’s last sentence both as the title of your piece and as the last sentence of your piece:
I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.
3.Give an example from our own times of the way political speech and writing is “the defence of the indefensible”.
4. Remember that you are always permitted a topic of your own: critical or creative.
“In all directions stretched the Great Australia Emptiness, in which the mind is the least of possessions, in which the rich man is the important man… in which beautiful youths and girls stare at life through blind blue eyes… the buttocks of cars grow hourly glassier, food means cake and steak… and the march of material ugliness does not raise a quiver from average nerves.”
This is what Patrick White wrote in his essay “The Prodigal Son” an essay which, like the protagonist of its title, was about White’s homecoming to Australia after years away in Europe. So why did he decide to stay in Australia if he was so disturbed by all that he saw? Do his stories and novels give a clue? I think they do. He wanted to reinvent Australia, deepen its concerns with matters that were not materialistic. In his own words “I wanted to discover the extraordinary behind the ordinary, the mystery and the poetry which alone could make bearable the lives of such people, and incidentally, my own life since my return” (“The Prodigal Son”).
So how does this fit with the stories, extracts from novels, essays that we have been exploring this week?
Clearly “Down at the Dump” is an opportunity for White to celebrate the most ordinary, the outcast, in the form of Daise (Mrs Hogben’s sister). The relationship that is described between Meg and her aunt Daise is full of the “mystery and poetry” that White speaks of. The same might be said about the interaction between Meg and Lummy. And these moments of “mystery and poetry” (that might be as much about flowers and gardens as they are about trucks driving through the night!) stand out as a kind of critique of the “material ugliness” that seems to describe the life of Mrs Hogben, her husband and all the counsellors that belong to that group. Patrick White seems to enjoy satirising those parts of Australian society that have no soul. And he is looking to celebrate soul wherever he can find it.
I think “Miss Slattery and her Demon Lover” is a story that deeply questions a kind of soulless fun. But I am not sure who is the main target of White’s criticism here? Is it Miss Slattery herself or is it Tibby Szabo. The story is a kind of grotesque image of partying in Australia.
Clearly the section from the end of Voss is a glimpse into the heart and mind of those who have been touched by Voss’s questing spirit. Both Laura Trevelyan and Judd carry with them a sense of something beyond the ordinary, the mundane. They seem to be invested with the “mystery and poetry” that White was searching for. It is probably true to say that White, in his selection of subjects for his novels was led to chose those rather eccentric, outcast figures (like Voss) who were treated with suspicion by Australian society, but who actually experienced the world as something extraordinary.
1/Chose any one of the Patrick White texts mentioned above and say how you think it illustrates what White was saying in his essay “The Prodigal Son”.
2/Write a letter to Patrick White telling him what you think of any one of the texts you have read this week.
3/Write a letter to Miss Slattery telling her what you think about the decision she made to leave Szabo.
4/Write a letter to Meg in “Down at the Dump” telling her what you think about her relationship with Lummy.
5/Create a topic of your own that links in to the readings this week and that includes some reference to your own personal experience.
The walk down Lyre-Bird Gulley (from Mount Kuring-gai down to Calna Creek and on to either Crosslands or Berowra Waters) now begins with this beautiful stone carving of a lyre-bird created by Noel Rosten (Australian Plant Growers’ Assocation) and his team of native plant enthusiasts from Asquith Boy’s High School. This lyre-bird and the gulley itself is a fitting memento to Noel who was tragically killed recently (at age 85) outside his own home in Berowra. He and his team have regenerated the first few hundred metres of the walk putting in native plants along the sides of the track.
And here are still some of the wonderful spring flowers that can be seen all along the track down towards the creek:
And just before my turnaround point heading back up I was greeted by the wonderful echoing sound of this flesh and blood lyre-bird: enjoy!
Students completing a unit on The Visionary Imagination with a focus on William Blake, Brett Whiteley and Patrick White have produced their first batch of blogs and there are some wonderful entries. Here are some of the most compelling entries: enjoy. And thank you the creators!
CREATIVE TASK- Write a letter to William Blake asking him if he can help you to come closer to an understanding of the Visionary experience he speaks about in his letters.”
Here is Jessica Smith’s thoughtful, economical response- Click Here.
CREATIVE TASK: In a poem or short prose piece describe a situation where you have either seen or experienced a dramatic difference in the state of a human being and its impact on the world around. (This question relates to William Blake’s advice that we find moments in which our way of seeing the world is cleansed and deepened)
Joey’s blog contains an insightful assessment of the tragic irony of Whiteley’s drug addiction and also a wonderful poem that celebrates Whiteley’s artistic philosophy (with specific reference to Alchemy that “art should astonish, transmute, transfix”.
And one amazing entry by Brendon (Bernard) Johnson which explores Brett Whiteley’s CD and LP collection and shows how intertwined Brett’s painting process was with his listening to music, music that was intimately connected with William Blake’s creative imagination: Patti Smith & The Doors (or Perception….)- Click Here.
CREATIVE TASK Imagine the character that lies behind this face (this of course being William Blake’s death mask:
Last, but certainly not least here is Tom Whitaker’s fabulous response to this. Tom has doubts but I think he hits the mark in his closing paragraphs- Click Here.
What a wonderful world Patrick White takes us into in this remaking of the Australian social landscape in line with his own prophetic ambition to re-sacralize a spiritually desolate land. As he says in his essay “The Prodigal Son”:
Because the void I had to fill was so immense, I wanted to try to suggest in this book every possible aspect of life, through the lives of an ordinary man and woman. But at the same time I wanted to discover the extraordinary behind the ordinary, the mystery and the poetry which alone could make bearable the lives of such people, and incidentally, my own life since my return.
This is precisely what Patrick White does with his four “outcast” characters in Riders: Miss Mary Hare, Mrs Godbold, Mordecai Himmelfarb and Alf Dubbo. He shows that behind their exterior there is an imaginative richness and wealth about which most of us would know nothing. It reminds me of those amazing lines from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?
We see something of this quality of perception in the way that Mary Hare – that ordinary woman, discarded by her parents- sees the world around her, especially in her conversations with both Mrs Jolley and Mordecai Himmelfarb.
The final scene in the book where Mrs Godbold is experiencing such joy in her children and grandchildren is also a wonderful case in point. She is a totally ordinary woman who looks “something of a joke” “From behind, her great beam, under the stretchy cardigan”. But from another perspective, from the angle of inner vision “she also wore a crown” and her eyelids were “gilded with [the]..splendour” of the golden sunset. Patrick White creates this memorable portrait of the extraordinary inner beauty of this totally ordinarylooking individual! Patrick White is a master artist who has a magical ability to transform the mundane into the ineffable!
Today we explored the ways in which Samuel Beckett continues the work of Modernists such as Virginia Woolf (“I want to sink deeper and deeper away from the surface” The Mark on the Wall) and T.S. Eliot (“Words after speech reach into the silence” Four Quartets) in his, Beckett’s quest to bring the art of text into alignment with the art of abstraction. I made the analogy between the early work of expressionist Franz Marc and his later work, which shifted significantly from painting known objects (horses, tigers) into pure abstraction. This is the kind of shift we see in Beckett whose fundamental concern was to find freedom from formal constraints so that his art could approach the transmission or the representation of BEING in its purest form.
Here is today’s Audio Lecture:
Blog Topics (for those who need to catch up):
Respond in whatever way you wish to today’s offering. What kind of sense do you make out of Beckett’s creations? Can you write a brief comment on any of the Beckett videos presented today.
We began today with a glance at Henry Lawson’s “Drifted Back”, a short story which encapsulated aspects of his own life story, but which also reflected back on Lawson’s impressions of what was being lost as Australia moved into the new century: Community, Mateship, The Old Bush School, the destruction of the environment with the arrival of the steam train in the outback. The story also demonstrated Lawson’s self-conscious utilisation of words and phrases that were/are part of the Australian idiom. Lawson was strongly nationalistic and was one of a number of artists and writers who were determined to show how Australia could stand independent from the so-called “mother country”. The story also demonstrated how Lawson could, in so few words, bring the inner world and feelings of his characters so vividly to life. Here is his story:
HENRY LAWSON, DRIFTED BACK
THE STRANGER walked into the corner grocery with the air of one who had come back after many years to see someone who would be glad to see him. He shed his swag and stood it by the wall with great deliberation; then he rested his elbow on the counter, stroked his beard, and grinned quizzically at the shopman, who smiled back presently in a puzzled way.
“Good afternoon:’ said the grocer. “Good afternoon”.
“Nice day” said the grocer. “Nice day”
“Anything I can do for you?”
“Yes; tell the old man there’s a chap wants to speak to him for a minute.” “Old man? What old man?”
“Hake, of course—old Ben Hake! Ain’t he in?” The grocer smiled. “Hake ain’t here now I’m here” “How’s that?”
“Why, he sold out to me ten years ago” “Well, I suppose I’ll find him somewhere about town?”
“I don’t think you will. He left the colonies when he sold out. He’s—he’s dead now:’ “Dead! Old Ben Hake?”
“Yes. You knew him then?” The stranger seemed to have lost a great deal of his assurance. He turned his side to the counter, hooked his elbow on it, and gazed out through the door along Sunset Track. “You can give me half‑a‑pound of nailrod” he said, in a quiet tone— “I s’pose young Hake is in town?” “No, the whole family went away. I think there’s one of the sons in business in Sydney now:’
“I s’pose the M’Lachlans are here yet?” “No; they are not. The old people died about five years ago; the sons are in Queensland, I think; and both the girls are married and in Sydney”. “Ah, well! I see you’ve got the railway here now” “Oh, yes! Six years. Times is changed a lot.”
“They are.” “I s’pose—I s’pose you can tell me where I’ll find old Jimmy Nowlett?” “Jimmy Nowlett? Jimmy Nowlett? I never heard of the name. What was he?” “Oh, he was a bullock‑driver. Used to carry from the mountains before the railway was made”
“Before my time, perhaps. There’s no one of that name round here now” “Ah, well! I don’t s’pose you knew the Duggans?”
“Yes, I did. The old man’s dead, too, and the family’s gone away—Lord knows where. They weren’t much loss, to all accounts. The sons got into trouble, I b’lieve—went to the bad. They had a bad name here” “Did they? Well, they had good hearts—at least, old Malachi Duggan and the eldest son had. You can give me a couple of pounds of sugar” “Right. I suppose it’s a long time since you were here last?”
“Fifteen years:’ “Indeed!” “Yes. I don’t s’pose I remind you of anyone you know round here?” “N—no!” said the grocer, with a smile. “I can’t say you do.” “Ah, well! I s’pose I’ll find the Wilds still living in the same place?” “The Wilds? Well, no. The old man is dead, too, and-” “And—and where’s Jim? He ain’t dead?” “No, he’s married and settled down in Sydney. Long pause “Can you—“ said the stranger, hesitatingly “did you—I suppose you knew Mary—Mary Wild?” “Mary?”” said the grocer, smilingly. “That was my wife’s maiden name. Would you like to see her?” “No, no! She mightn’t remember me!” He reached hastily for his swag, and shouldered it. “Well, I must be gettin’ on”
“I s’pose you’ll camp here over Christmas?” “No, there’s nothing to stop here for—I’ll push on. I did intend to have a Christmas here—in fact. I came a long way out of my road a‑purpose I meant to have just one more Christmas with old Ben Hake an’ the rest of the boys—but I didn’t know as they’d moved on so far west. The old bush school is dyin’ out.” There was a smile in his eyes, but his bearded lips twitched a little.
“Things is changed. The old houses is pretty much the same, an’ the old signs want touchin’ up and paintin’jest as bad as ever; an’ there’s that old palin fence that me an’ Ben Hake an’ Jimmy Nowlett put up twenty year ago. I’ve tramped and travelled long ways since then. But things is changed—at least people is. Well, I must be goin’. There’s nothing to keep me here. I’ll push on and get into my track again. It’s cooler travellin’ in the night.”
This clutch of writers embrace a huge range of literary and intellectual interests. Neilson is the poet who shows how the language of poetry is closest to music and art through his use of colour and sound to paint word pictures, compose sound tapestries that approximate other art forms. His “The Orange Tree” moves language towards the ineffable with its closing line “… for I/ Am listening like the Orange Tree”. Miles Franklin records her battles with the harsh Australian landscape and with the insensitive commandeering Australian male with poetic panache! Her writing comes alive as it is read aloud, as her voice punches through the forces that opposed her distinctive talent:
The summer sun danced on. Summer is fiendish, and life is a curse, I said in my heart. What a great dull hard rock the world was!…. Weariness! Weariness! I said the one thing many times but, ah, it was a weary thing which tool much repetition that familiarity might wear away a little of its bitterness!
So we here we hear and see how for Franklin the actual writing of her diary of events is the very means through which she is able to push beyond the boundaries of her limitations and the restrictions imposed on her as an early 20th Century woman! This is a good example to demonstrate the power and purpose of creative writing: keep on with your blogging one and all!
Frederic Manning is my pick of the bunch today. He is such a deep and searching writer, bringing the harsh realities of the war experience into sharp focus, but not without a sense of humour as is represented through his quotation from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II in which the character Feeble intones:
By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe God a death… and let it go which way it will , he that dies this year is quit for the next!
This is a kind of macabre humour in linking the horrific experiences of World War 1 with this Shakespearean take on war. But then Shakespeare was such a passionate anti-war monger that he used all his literary resources (especially humour) to point out the utter absurdity of war. This is the starting point of Manning’s gripping tale!
Blog Topics arising from this feast
Take one of the following questions and adapt it to your own interest (if you want you can turn the way you answer the question into a creative entry, by making it into a dialogue or into a letter to a character or even the author (him or herself): – have fun with this!
Enjoy your writing.
John Shaw Neilson
1/Discuss the significance of the last line of “The Orange Tree”
2/Why is the speaker in “The Poor, Poor Country” “no pauper”?
3/What language choices gives Miles Franklin’s “A Drought Idyll” its poetic power?
4/ What clue does the last line of this chapter give to the function of creative writing for Miles Franklin?
5/ What insight does the exchange between Mr Beecham and Syb on pages 347-348 give the reader into Franklin’s attitude to relations between men and women?
6/How does Manning capture the state of mind of the exhausted soldier in the exchange between Mr Clinton and Bourne on page 367?
7/ What is Manning’s attitude to the experience of the soldiers on the last page of the extract (page 369)? How is attitude created?
8/How effectively does the language of this novel convey the disintegration of Sydney landmarks? (see especially pages 426-427).
9/ Stylistically compare the 2 paragraphs beginning “With them came Bowie.” (page 424) with Frederic Manning’s conversation between Mr Clinton and Bourne on page 367. Which piece of writing is more effective? Why?
Today’s Audio Lecture on Early 20th Century OZ Lit
Audio Lecture 1 in the NSW Art Gallery on Blake’s Job Engravings
Audio Lecture 2 in the NSW Art Gallery on Blake’s Job Engravings
Brett Whiteley’s “Grain of Sand” in Surry Hills & William Blake in Sydney: Blake’s “Job” in the NSW Art Gallery;
What a fabulous connection was made today (Friday 14th September 2018) with creative genius at its source in William Blake’s (1828) original engravings for The Book of Job(1828) at the Art Gallery of NSW and in Brett Whiteley’s creative masterpiece Alchemy (1971-1972), displayed in the actual Studio occupied by Brett Whiteley during the last years of his life:
So it was here that we discovered Blake’s actual grain of sand almost at the very centre of Whiteley’s Alchemy. It appears at the end of a long sight-line emanating from a portrait of Brett Whiteley himself whose face is partly concealed behind an open-hinged “door” and who is peering down at “Blake’s grain of sand” through a large magnifying glass- and if you get close enough you can actually see the grain of sand which has been stuck on to the painting surface! This occupies two panels near the centre of the work, here compressed (click on any of these images to reveal sharper detail):
from Brett Whiteley Studio Handbook, Art Gallery of NSW
To make good sense of this, you do have to see this in the context of the whole painting (which can be observed at the Brett Whiteley Studio). For reasons of copyright and permissions, no more than this segment -as a close-up- can be shown here. If and when you do get to the Studio you will have to get down on your knees to find this iconic “grain” which is barely visible to the naked eye. Here is a distant panoramic shot of the entire work (Click on this – and any of the images- to get a closer look):
After inspecting this vast work, stretching from the blue ocean on the right, to the transfigurative golden sunon the left we visited William Blake’s set of all 21 engravings inspired by the Book of Job, provided to us on request as a special exhibition in the Print Room at the Art Gallery of NSW (thank you especially MIriam!):
Like Brett Whiteley’s masterwork, this series also depicts a journey. Blake’s series is a journey from a static, rational and moralistic religion (defined by the caption “The Letter Killeth”- which you can see inscribed on the plinth underneath Job in Plate Number 1) through to an ecstatic, emotional sacred experience (“Spiritually Discerned”)- this end-point is also inscribed on this same plinth, foreshadowing the later development. This is how Blake translates his understanding of the Job who at the start lives only by the book and who at the end of his journey embraces an experience of the divine that is evoked through imagination and through the joyous appreciation of the body in harmony with music, symbolizing an inherent divine creative force. That is perhaps one way of describing what occurs between these two plates (1 & 21) at the beginning and end of the cycle (these are photographs taken of the actual prints, one of only twenty sets extant in the world today). When we were there, you could almost smell the artisan’s clothes that William Blake must have worn as he carefully lifted these engravings off the printing equipment set up in his studio on the South Bank of the Thames in London:
At the heart of this amazing set are the two engravings that depict the breaking or turning point at which the Old Testament turns in the direction of the New Testament.Which are these two plates? They are plates 11 and 12.
11 depicts Job’s horrific dream in which he is tortured by the uncertainty as to who and what God is. Is He a tyrannical, satanic, demonic force, driving Job almost to the point of suicide? In this engraving God is depicted with a cloven hoof. Is this the God of the Old Testament, who for Blake was very close to the actual Devil in his tyrannical, punishing, moralistic role? Is this the culmination of all that painful moralizing which Job had to endure from his so-called friends who were convinced that all that happened to him was his own fault and that he needed to wake up to the fact that he was in essence a Very Bad Man?
What is also so central and powerful in this eleventh engraving is that here Blake discovered -in the actual text of the Book of Job- a deep rationalefor this set of engravings. So what was it that caught Blake’s imagination so profoundly in the Job text? It was this: “Oh that my words were printed in a Book that they were graven with an iron pen & lead in the rock for ever. For I know that my Redeemer liveth…” Out of the depths of Job’s despair there is this powerful affirmation and this wish and desire that he, Job, share his story of persecution and redemption with humanity for all time.
Indeed Job’s story is one that touches the heart of humanity in all times because of its exploration of a fundamental question: why do we have to suffer, what does suffering mean? So when William Blake read these lines he was profoundly motivated to follow Job’s wishes and do exactly what this 4000 year old character in the Old Testament had demanded: he, Blake, took up HIS engraving tools and captured HIS understanding of the transformative story embedded in this ancient legend. Of course it is a truism to say that Blake saw his whole difficult life, as being profoundly mirrored in the Job story!
And then the next engraving (Plate 12) is like the dawn of a new age.Suddenly there strides before Job a young man who points up at the stars and in the top left of this engraving there is an extraordinary caption which declares “In a Dream in a Vision of the Night/ in deep slumberings upon the bed/ Then he openeth the ears of Men and sealeth their instruction“. This is as if to say that there is a different way of understanding the divine, beyond reason, beyond moralising. It is a way of understanding, mediated by wonder, by the imagination, a way that leads Job into a totally new relationship with himself and with the divine. From here on (as in the actual Book of Job) Job is touched by the power of poetry, of vision and of the imagination. The remainder of all the engravings show aspects of this extraordinary turn-around in Job’s experience. Quote after quote on the remaining engravings reinforce this appreciation, this wonder, this recognition that there are things way beyond our normal human understanding, things that nevertheless give us a taste of the ineffable, of the divine… no wonder there is such joy, love and open appreciation in the last engraving in this series.
One final comment needs to be made to students studying these art works within literature: you will have noticed how much both Brett Whiteley and William Blake depend upon words to broadcast their message, to deepen their meaning. All Blake’s visual images are literally encased in words (from the Old and New Testaments, from Religious authors, from his own imagination) and Whiteley’s images are also embedded within textual quotes or implicit references to the words of various writers:Patrick White,Arthur Rimbaud, Yukio Mishima... Both the works that we have studied this week are profoundly composite works of art. The are neither purely visual, nor purely verbal, they are an important fusion of ways of seeing – in order to see more widely: something in the direction no doubt of William Blake’s “fourfold vision”(don’t miss this last link!)
The Book of Job: When the Morning Stars Sang Together 1820
Watercolour, 280 x 179 mm
The Morgan Library and Museum, New York
Blake’s images oscillate between dream and reason. Even direct references to the Bible, as here to the Book of Job, do not necessarily mean that this is an illustration of the Bible. The scenes are too much a part of the artist’s private religious vision. Here we see Job, who has been through torment and suffering, taken up by God. With His arms outstretched, God appears as the Lord of Light and Darkness, but the depiction could also be intended to show God as the Lord of the Earth. There is a striking similarity in the faces of God and Job. The sheet is a drawing for one of the sequences of engravings that appeared from 1825.
BLOG TOPICS ARISING FROM TODAY’S VISITS TO BLAKE AND WHITELEY.
General Blog Question: A short blog expressing simply what inspired you most today, or what moment you felt was most illuminating, or what you enjoyed most about today…. one of these more relaxed topics would give life, animation and joy to your blogs… so go for it….. And remember please keep your excellent peer reviews up to date. Many of you are having fabulous conversations that are extending the boundaries of what we do in class. Enjoy!
If you want a more specific Blog Topic than the general one given in the previous paragraph then chose one of these:
Write a brief account of how colour helps to shape the meaning of Whiteley’s Alchemy.
Write a short free verse poem that begins with the lines: Rintrah roars & shakes his fires in the burdend air;/ Hungry clouds swag on the deep.
Chose a single plate from Blake’s Book of Job and briefly tell the story behind it, saying how this gives you more of an insight into Blake’s thinking.
Write a letter to either Blake or Whiteley telling them what you think of the way they use words to assist the understanding of their visual images.
Create a mini-digital kit on Brett Whiteley’s Alchemy.
Create a VLOG in which you read and/or comment on on one of the works (literary/ artistic) introduced this week.
Create your own topic on any aspect of this week’s material that has caught your interest.
Today we explored Virginia Woolf (“The Mark on the Wall”), T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” and Katherine Mansfield’s “The Daughters of the Late Colonel”. These are three amazing modernist authors who, in the shadow of war (both the First and Second World Wars) were trying to find a way through to some personal or spiritual certainty. Their creative explorations take their readers deep into questions about what it is to be human. This first audio lecture covers each of these authors in turn:
The tutorials focussed largely on the closing scene of Katherine Mansfield’s amazing story of a near breakthrough into a new consciousness. Here are our discussions together with images of the white board which was fed by the discussions:
– Click on the images to enlarge them:
In this tutorial we didn’t cover quite as much ground, but we explored with more intensity some of the core symbolic images used by Mansfield:
Here are some thoughts that flow from today’s session:
Virginia Woolf T.S. Eliot & Katherine Mansfield
Today we explored the ways in which these three early 20th Century authors used their creative gifts to delve deep into their own consciousness and into that of their characters. The two daughters in “The Daughters of the Late Colonel” suddenly find themselves freed from the patriarchal and imperialist shackles of their father and yet are unable to find the energy or the way through to a true expression of their essential nature. Mansfield presents this story I feel because she is illustrating how we are all so conditioned by the circumstances of our families and environments and how for all of us this quest for the almost ineffable breath of truth is not so easily reached. “Eyeep, eep” cry the baby sparrows on the window ledge and it is the souls of the daughters -and our souls- that are expressing their sense of the difficulty of what it is to be born anew!
Virginia Woolf is similarly trying to find a way through the tyranny of a patriarchal, imperialist society that gives limited room for women to grow creatively. The essay ends with a tragic moment where the husband (presumably) breaks the spell of the narrator’s revery and plunges her back into the so-called “real” world.
T.S. Eliot is less concerned with personal experience. It seems he is on a quest to experience and capture in words moments of transcendence when the mundane world is transformed and in which the destructive power of fire is also seen in its creative aspect.
Blog Topics for this week might include
*Take any line from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” and use this as a starting point for your own reflections on Time and on Life as a Journey.
*Try to write a paragraph in the style of Virginia Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall”. Try to set up your own physical situation where you are prompted into associative thinking and stream of consciousness.
*Write a sort paragraph describing how Kathleen Mansfield is able to take us inside her character’s experience. How does she invest real moments with so much symbolic significance.
*Remember you can always create your own topic drawing on this week’s readings and on your own experience.
*Remember also to complete your weekly peer review and copy and paste it into your own journal after submitting it to your peer.
Firstly let me share some more Outstanding Blogs. These are all inspirational! Thank you for your creative work on these. And thank you all for such a great Blog Crop! If these are anything to go by I am really looking forward to seeing your final ePortfolios!
And here are some reflections on today’s topic with some additional Blog Topics at the end:
Today we looked at Ada Cambridge, Barbara Baynton, Dame Mary Gilmore, Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson and on and on…. what an extraordinary cast of voices from this period that celebrated Australian independence from England both thematically and linguistically… the opening sentences of “The Drover’s Wife” show beautifully how Lawson has transitioned the language and themes from early colonialism to something more authentically “Strine”:
Nothing to relieve the eye save the darker green of a few sheoaks which are sighing above the narrow, almost waterless creek…. Four ragged, dried-up-looking children are playing about the house…..
So this is an extraordinarily exciting and new moment in Australian literature, both for the range of its radical themes and for the innovations and language and imagery that were appearing- in literature AND in art:
How dare an artist (here Tom Roberts) put a sagging tent and two oddly positioned men, having a billy of tea, into the middle of a “Work of Art”- what license! what proposterousness!!!!
We also looked at the following:
Ada Cambridgewith her wonderfully strident defiance of being a simpering woman subject to male domination. Defying all stereotypes she speaks to her lover: “I may some day love a better man…. And then we must be free to kiss and part” (164). No wonder she was seen as rebellious in her day!
Then we looked at the Über-rebellious Irish Ned Kelly who certainly could string words together when he wanted to make a point about those for whom he had a particular hate (those representatives of the British legal system): “the big ugly fat-necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw-footed sons of Irish Bailiffs or english landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police…” (224) and much more!
Then there wasDame Mary Gilmore, one of the few in this period who had a passionate regard for our Indigenous people and a real sense of what we as a community have lost by not taking care of them. Her poem “Australia” is a magnificent tribute to the ancient value of this people (predating all the most ancient civilizations) and containing within their culture the seeds of the beginning of language and poetry:
There was great beauty in the names her people called her,
Shaping to patterns of sound the form of their words;
They wove to measure of speech the cry of the bird,
And the voices that rose from the reeds of the cowal*.
(*Aboriginal word for small, tree-grown swampy depression)
So in their traditions and culture they transformed and transmitted the beautiful voices of nature into song, into language.
Blog topics for this week:
PLEASE REMEMBER THAT YOU MUST DO AT LEAST ONE PEER REVIEW EACH WEEK AND YOU NOW HAVE THE LIBERTY TO ROAM ACROSS ALL THE LITERATURE UNITS TO PICK AND CHOSE PEOPLE TO REVIEW.
CREATIVE Write a paragraph of prose in the style of Henry Lawson.
CREATIVE Write a stanza of a poem in the style of Banjo Paterson.
CRITICAL Critically compare Dame Mary Gilmore’s poem “Australia” with Bernard O’Dowd’s poem of the same name.
CRITICAL What does A.D. Hope’s poem Australia (written half a century after the 1890s) add to the debate on what is Australia?
CREATIVE “And then we must be free to kiss and part”. Write a short letter or poem that proclaims the kind of personal freedom that Ada Cambridge proposes in this line.
CRITICAL Write a brief description of this painting of Ned Kelly. What do you think it is saying about Ned Kelly’s status in the 20th Century
CRITICAL Write a short tribute to Dame Mary Gilmore drawing on any one of her poems (in the Pen Anthology 256-259) to show how important her ideas are to Australians.
CRITICAL Find out who the figure behind Dame Mary Gilmore is on the $10 note. What is the artistic significance of this other figure?
CRITICAL Henry Lawson or Banjo Paterson? Explain briefly your understanding of why these two authors were so different in their views of the Australian experience.
ANDASALWAYS: Chose or find a topic of your very own that relates in some way to the themes of this week. Draw on your own experience if you wish. For instance: what is your experience of being a woman compared to Gilmore’s “Eve Song”?
Students completing Australian Literature as a first year subject at ACU have the opportunity to write a weekly blog in either a creative or critical mode. They chose from a range of topics that reflects the reading for the week and that interfaces with their own experience. The work produced in this genre is outstanding and astonishing. Students take to this activity like surfers on a perfect wave! It is a joy to watch them producing their blogs in word and image. Here are a few of the best from the first trawl through their work in the early weeks of semester:
Best Blog on the topic: Describe the landscape that you love best and say what it is about the landscape that really draws you to it. Can you maybe also suggest why you think (from your own history and background) this landscape above all others captures your imagination, your Whole Being?:
Best Blog on the topic: Which artwork did you find most meaningful and/or enjoyable? Give a verbal description of the work (include a visual image if you can). You can approach this task either as a CRITICAL or CREATIVE blog. You can create an Ekphrastic poem or prose piece or you can give an analytical description.
Best Blog on the topic: (Critical) Find a story in the media in the last two weeks that sheds light on the continuing difficulties faced by Indigenous communities in our country. Write a brief commentary on the story you have chosen. Can you offer any solutions to the dilemma as you see it.
Today we explore all those sections of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that provide a real insight into Blake’s deepest creative purpose and that also help us to understand where Patrick White was coming from in Riders in the Chariot. So we looked at his subversive “Proverbs of Hell” which sanctify the unsanctifiable (in conventional religion); we looked at his praise of “the ancient Poets” and the Prophets (Ezekiel and Isaiah) who had the capacity (unlike Priests and Philosophers) to “discover the infinite in everything” – and therefore assist in the cleansing of the “doors of perception”; we looked at the Memorable Fancy in plates 23 and 24 which champions Christ as the antinomian law-breaker who dared to challenge the outmoded rigid morality of the Pharisees. Finally we looked at “A Song of Liberty” where Blake dares to celebrate the breaking down of the walls of the Bastille in 1789 “rend down thy dungeon” and goes on, in the face of King George’s opposition to all revolution, to dramatize the way the spirit of revolution dares to stamp “the stony law to dust” shouting “Empire is no more! and now the lion & wolf shall cease”. It is no wonder that Blake did not put his signature to this work. Had he done so, and had someone read this, he would undoubtedly have ended up either hanged or transported to NSW!
Our lecture today began with a wonderful brief insight into what lies behind part of William Blake’s large work depicting the Canterbury Pilgrims. We had the privilege of having Professor Paul Hardwick from Leeds Trinity University in England telling us about his passion for Chaucer, The Medieval World and for Chaucer’s The Plowman in particular. Paul’s lecture helped our understanding of some of the reasons behind Blake’s interest in the pilgrims. Here is a quote by Blake which underpins his vision of these characters:
“Of Chaucer’s characters, as described in his Canterbury Tales, some of the names or titles are altered by time, but the characters themselves for ever remain unaltered, and consequently they are the physiognomies or lineaments of universal human life, beyond which Nature never steps. Names alter, things never alter.” – William Blake
You can listen to Paul’s lecture on this at the start of the lecture presented below. Thank you Paul!
In the lecture today we explored the way Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell was in fact a subversion of the traditional Bible and we went on to explore “The Song of Liberty”. Remember where Blake says, in Plate 24: I have also: The Bible of Hell: which the world shall have whether they will or no.
For Blake the actual Marriageof Heaven and Hell occurs in plate 23/24 when the sanctimonious, commandment-loving Angel finally gives up his/her smug sense of superiority and happily embraces the flames of fire and joins the Devil’s party, a party which believes in the presence of God in each and every human being. Prior to this moment of transformation the Angel is committed to a hierarchical view of the universe in which God controls everything and human beings are all “fools, sinners, & nothings”. This is certainly how Blake saw the attitude of the churches of his time towards people in general. It is for this reason that he attacked the tyranny of the church along with the tyranny of the law and the tyranny of the state. The image above, of Nebuchadnezzar on his knees, is Blake’s image of the justifiable fear that those in authority should feel. Nebuchadnezzar was the tyrant king who was punished by being driven into the fields for seven years. Some of Blake’s audience may well have seen this as a depiction of King George III. Like King Louise of France, King George would be confronting the forces of republicanism. In this picture he is terrified. The proverb underneath him “One Law for the Lion & the Ox is Oppression” is Blake’s way of attacking the social injustices perpetrated by the law courts of his day. This was the period during which a poverty stricken man could be transported for 7 years to Australia for stealing a hat or an 11 year old girl on the streets could be transported for stealing clothes to keep herself warm. This girl, Mary Wade, is part of the family tree of Kevin Rudd.
This concluding plate in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is followed by “The Song of Liberty” which is in fact the first work of the “Bible of Hell” which Blake promised in the above Plate (Plate 24). This “Song” announces the start of a new age in which the narrator is presented as a prophet of revolution. The new king of this revolution is the Devil himself, someone who does not see human beings as “fools, sinners, & nothings”, but ratheras carriers -each and every one of them- of God, of the Divine energy, for – as the last line of “The Song of Liberty” democratically declares:
For every thing that lives is Holy
After this excursion into the depths of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell we looked ahead at how to understand Blake’s representation of The Book of Job and also how to link Brett Whiteley’s painting Alchemy to all these concerns. We also discussed the ways in which Blake’s vision of the imaginative power of his prophets (Ezekiel and Isaiah) played directly into Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot. Please listen to the end of the lecture to details about these additional elements.