Archive | August, 2013

Politics, Melancholia & Vulva Vulva Vulva.

23 Aug

I don’t know if it’s a consequence of my recent encounter with melancholia, but I can’t recall a time when I’ve been less engaged with politics around an election period.

The word melancholia reminds me of the 2011 Lars von Trier movie of the same name, an apocalyptic tale of planetary collision, inspired by the director’s post-depression insight that those of us stricken with this disorder behave with far more calm than do others when subjected to stress.

Why this is a surprise to anyone is beyond me.  We aren’t calm. We just don’t care enough to get excited. I don’t know how von Trier missed that difference.

When I consider the current political scene I do so with low levels of enthusiasm, and a good deal of despondency. David Horton articulates some of my ennui here, in describing our choices as between the lesser of two evils, that is,  an ideological extremist on the one hand, and a man lacking all belief (other than in himself) on the other.  In this faux presidential race, we have little to compare beyond the personalities of two white middle-aged men, both of whom, to me anyway, have all the appeal of a three-day-old boarfish.

I have no idea where they got the notion that repeating a word three times imbues that word with magical magical magical qualities qualities qualities.

I feel some sympathy for those obliged to earn their living autopsying  seemingly off-the-cuff comments made by one candidate or the other, in a desperate effort to manufacture meaning. At the same time I am fed up to the back teeth with the hours of “analysis” of one sentence, usually Tony Abbott’s. I am of the belief that everything he says is determined by the focus group du jour and that there are no “gaffes.” If he is sexist, that is because he is dog whistling sexists. Which is not to say it should not be remarked upon, of course it should. It is a sad situation, when in order to win an election a candidate must resort to sexism and xenophobia, but what is even more alarming is the willingness of potential leaders to capitulate to what is least desirable in the human.

Fed up with it all, my interest was briefly aroused by a kerfuffle at Sydney University over featuring female genitalia on the cover of Honi Soit.  Just because I can,  I’m going to link you to the Mamamia  account of how university educated women don’t know their vulvas from their vaginas. As will be clear to anyone who looks at the uncensored collection, these are vulvas on display, not vaginas, though the women involved set up a Twitter hashtag to deal with the fall out that read: #vaginasoit.

They’re following on from our globally acclaimed Convoy of Cleavage, I thought, momentarily emerging from my lugubrious state  mildly pleased to have been an inspiration to women.

It is alarming, though, that so many among us do not know the correct names for the female genitalia, adding weight to the women’s claims that we need to be more upfront about our bits. Who would ever call a penis testicles, or vice versa? Add to that the opinion of the university’s vice-chancellor that the cover of vulvas is “demeaning to women” and we have, in one  fleeting moment, been granted a view into the abyss to which female sexuality is cast by, erm, the patriarchy. An abyss of ignorance, contempt and desperate desire.

In their defence, the women cited an occasion on which Honi Soit featured a flaccid penis on its cover and nobody gave a toss. So to speak. Fair enough. Radical women must not be subdued by social conventions that insist a flaccid penis makes a more acceptable magazine cover than a series of resting vulvas.

Lars von Trier used Wagner’s (much-loved by Hitler) Tristan und Isolde prelude as the soundtrack for Melancholia. In his post screening interview in Cannes, von Trier lost his head and claimed to be a Nazi as a joke, he later protested, a joke that saw him banned from screenings for a period and roundly castigated for his sense of humour. Like the Honi Soit women, he crossed a line.

In politics, the masters and mistresses of spin have co-opted the innocent (if at times stupid) crossing of lines, and turned it into strategy. When Abbott is sexist, when either man is xenophobic, they are crossing lines and offending many of us, just as many were offended by von Trier’s Nazi references, and the sight of vulvas.  However, politicians cross the lines because research has told them that below those lines dwell the voters for whom there are no lines beyond their own self-interest. There is no innocence or even stupidity left in such border crossings. It is cold and it is calculated. It cares not what havoc it might wreak. It wants only power.

Politics. Melancholia. And, vulva vulva vulva. It’s magic.

Black dog

10 Aug

She feels as if she’s walking through treacle, that is, she feels the effort of pushing her body through a thick, sticky substance whenever she wants to move from one place to another. This isn’t anything like she usually feels. Usually she moves effortlessly, through friendly light air, like a dancer, with grace, as she was taught, a being responsive to music even when it’s only in her head, a being on good terms with the element that supports her life.

In the mornings, she wakes to find she’s crying. She’s detached from this crying. Nothing of her is involved in it. There’s no sobs. There are no physical convulsions. There’s just tears down her cheeks, an overflow. She wipes her face on her sheet. She gets out of bed. She goes into her bathroom. She avoids looking at herself in the mirror. She sits on the toilet. She pees, her elbows on her knees, her head in her hands. She feels like really crying but she won’t. This is her goal for the day, the same goal as yesterday and the day before and the day before that. She will not cry.

She puts on pyjama pants, socks and the dressing gown hanging on a hook in the bathroom. It’s chilly, in what passes for winter in northern NSW. She looks in the mirror. Her hair is wild from the night. She pushes it off her face, behind her ears. She looks into her eyes. I don’t even know who you are, she thinks, without emotion.

She goes into the room where the dogs sleep. There are two dogs since she inherited Little White Dog from her son. Her own dog, called Big Dog now, is old and can’t accompany her on the long walks she likes to take on the beaches and through the forest. Little Dog, though, has proved fearless and inexhaustible and follows her over all kinds of difficult terrain, and though she has never been drawn to fluffy white dogs, she is fond of this one.

She goes into their room and they greet her joyously, as if they’ve been separated from her for months, not one night. She strokes them, tells them they are beautiful, and urges them out into the garden. Then she goes upstairs, into the kitchen, puts on the kettle, finds the teapot, puts bread in the toaster, by which time the dogs have peed and are lined up at the kitchen door waiting for breakfast.

She has learned that things will remain fairly manageable if she takes one small task at a time. If she attempts too much, she’ll be overcome by despair and a crippling sense of incompetence. She’s usually very good at doing a lot of things but since the air turned to treacle and since she’s had to spend so much time making sure she’s not crying, her energies and her attention span have diminished. If she gets this toast and tea made and served up to Mrs Chook and feeds the dogs, that’s a good early morning.

She makes an extra piece of toast for the dogs. She used to share the crusts from her own, but with two of them she doesn’t get any. She hears Mrs Chook waking up. She takes the tea and toast into the upstairs bedroom where Mrs Chook is struggling to fight her way out of sleep and the mountain of doonas, books, scarves, papers, socks, pillows and various other detritus littering her bed. She sets the tea and toast on a minute space on the cluttered bedside table, mutters good morning and quickly leaves, because talking just now is way beyond her capabilities and besides, she can’t think of one single thing to say.  Language is leaving her, at least in its spoken form. It’s still present in her head, her own words, the words of others, poems, lyrics, conversations. But the effort of getting it from her mind to her mouth is beyond her and anyway, she thinks, what’s the point? Talking was always over-rated, wasn’t it? I would like, she thinks, to sit with someone, with him perhaps, in absolute silence. I would like, she thinks, with him perhaps, to simply gaze and be gazed upon. Then I would like, with him perhaps, to touch, just fingertips. I would like, she thinks, with him perhaps, to let the bodies and the hearts have their moment, released from the obligations of the spoken word. I am, she thinks, too tired for speech. Too tired for the enunciation. Too tired.

She takes her tea back downstairs to her domain, and turns on her computer. There’s mail. Stuff in which she has no interest, and a video from her daughter-in-law of her toddler grandson laughing. Mrs Chook says Archie laughs like his grandmother. If you look at photos of grandmother, son and grandson you can see they share the same full-faced grin, showing their teeth, joyful beings engaged with life, the three of them. She’s always loved it, that they share her laugh.

Archie, in the video, is beside himself with laughter. It seems to be inspired by a game his dad is playing with him. The child laughs with his whole body. He shivers, and prances with delight. He holds up his little hands and shrieks. He doubles over, clutching his belly and his hair flies out around his head, electrified with joy.  She watches the video over and over again. She isn’t crying, but the tears are running down her cheeks again quite without any input from her. She wipes them away with the sleeve of her dressing gown, and wipes her nose while she’s at it.  She turns up the sound. Archie’s laughter fills her study. She wants to be with him. She wants to hold his squirming body, catch his small hands in her own. Last time she saw him he was sick with a cold. He languished for long periods in her arms, and let her love him. He hadn’t been so long in her arms since he was a tiny infant, when she never wanted to put him to sleep in his cot where he ought to have been, even though his parents told her not to spoil him.

It’s all right, she thinks. Hold on. You can still want, so it’s not too bad. The worst time is when she can’t want. When all desire slips away, out of reach, and she can’t even remember how desire feels.

She turns off the video. She makes a plan. Shower. Dress. Take the dogs for a small walk, one that won’t exhaust Big Dog. Come home. Domestic tasks. One at a time. Then write. She must write. She must not give up writing.

Go out again, this time for a long walk with Little Dog. Take music. Stay out all morning. That way she won’t have to talk to anyone. That way she can concentrate on getting through this day the best she can.

It occurs to her that the only thing she knows how to do is to keep on keeping on.

She loads the dogs into the truck. The sun is shining. It’s warm now.

She can only write about herself in the third person. It’s better than nothing, she thinks.

Let’s talk about trust.

9 Aug

Faith-Trust-Pixie-Dust_6E9B819CFor reasons that escape me, this election is,  I’m told every time I listen to analyses, being fought on the issue of trust.

It isn’t being argued on the grounds of which party the voter ought to trust, but which man. And so we find ourselves with our feet in two incompatible electoral systems: on the one hand Westminster, bequeathed to us by the colonisers, and on the other, a Presidential system that we have voluntarily adopted from the US. Our election is to be fought presidentially between Tony Abbot and Kevin Rudd and more specifically, on the trustworthiness or otherwise of these two men. However, we are governed by the Westminster system, in which either party can replace its leader without recourse to the opinions of voters.

It’s difficult to imagine a more advanced state of political lunacy.

Leaving aside the matter of which man is more worthy of our trust, or perhaps not entirely leaving it aside, because I can’t help but observe that there’s a bee’s dick of difference between them, and neither of them ought to be trusted as far as I can spit, but be that as it may, what is this thing called trust that will determine who will govern the country for the next three years?

The dominant paradigm for trust is generally accepted as the relation held between two morally mature people, although the trust of a child is the exception to this. For our purposes, I’ll stick to the morally mature. It’s almost impossible to will oneself to trust: a cause is required, in other words, what is the justification for trusting this person?

Trust inherently involves risk, and there are arguments made for trust as the very basis of morality. Moral integrity is required for all trust relationships: when I trust you I make myself vulnerable to betrayal so I want to know before I embark on that hazardous course that you have integrity, and that the risk I’m taking, while never entirely absent because human beings fall and stumble, is minimal.

There’s a great deal of difference in the distress one feels when betrayed by a politician, and that felt when betrayed by a lover, or friend, or someone in close relationship. I hope there is, anyway. If not, that gives a whole new meaning to the term political tragic. Indeed, I wonder if the term trust is  even appropriate when it comes to our relations with politicians. Perhaps there’s an argument for replacing it with reliability. When I only rely on someone, as opposed to trusting him or her, I’m not going to feel betrayed when he or she lets me down, I’m only going to feel disappointed. Trust and betrayal. Reliability and disappointment. Yes, trust does sound entirely too intimate to be applied to the political relationship.

However, trust is a powerful word, evoking powerful emotions, compared to which mere reliability carries little emotional weight and appeal. The very fact that  politicians choose the word trust is evidence of their desire to emotionally manipulate, and therefore good reason to be wary of trusting them.

If we were asked to judge and compare Rudd and Abbott on their reliability most of us would laugh like drains and that would be the end of the campaign. When we’re asked to trust them that’s a whole other ball game, and because of the emotional power of the concept, a far more serious one.

When I Googled “trust” I encountered such gems as “Loving someone is giving them the power to break your heart, but trusting them not to.”  And “Trust starts with truth and ends with truth.” And my personal favourite from Twitter: “Truly falling in love with you is not one of the greatest mistakes of my life but trusting you madly is one of the biggest mistakes of my life ever.” Trust, then is generally perceived as belonging in the private, not the political domain. The betrayal of trust is rather a serious matter, and has consequences, most of which are very unpleasant. Once lost, it’s hard to recover.

It seems to me that fighting this election on which of two politicians is the most trustworthy is a sign of our escalating political insanity. The records of both men demonstrate their lack of integrity, and their wavering moralities. There is no justification at all for placing trust in either of them.

How much better to focus on the policies espoused by both major parties and ignore their leaders.  I need a good deal more than the faith, trust and a little pixie dust offered by Rudd and Abbott in their presidential race to win government. Gentlemen, neither of you cut the mustard in the trust stakes and you aren’t that reliable either. And if I consider a final Google gem: “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved”, well, chaps, forget it.

Abbott Rudd


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