Archive | December, 2015

Books. And empty shoes.

28 Dec

Buccholz. Book

 

I am culling books… 

When I come upon a collection of essays by J.M. Coetzee titled Stranger Shores, that I haven’t looked at in quite some time and so had forgotten that it was given to me by my late husband, Arnie, on my birthday, March 15 2005. It contains a piece on Rainer Maria Rilke that sent me gratefully back to the poet, in the way that good essays always invite you somewhere beyond themselves.

The sight of Arnie’s handwriting initially startles, then its power to evoke the man takes over and I’m again lost in that peculiar presence of absence I’ve become familiar with since his death eighteen months ago, in which his absence has an energy vivid as any presence, and more vivid than some presences can ever be.

I’m reminded here of a conversation between myself and a woman in which she confided, in distress and anger, that her husband of some decades didn’t know her. I thought I’d seldom heard anything so sad about a partnership, and how lonely it must be to live a life in which one is not known, a life in which interest and curiosity in a partner is supplanted by assumptions and projections, and the familiarity that breeds contempt.

Not that it’s possible to conclusively know anyone: it’s the desire to engage in the project of discovery that speaks to me of enduring love. I’ve written more about the difference between familiarity and knowing here.

On the first page of Stranger Shores, Arnie has written of his love and affection in Hebrew. At least I’m assuming it’s love and affection as I know little of that language, and there’s what I’m taking to be a translation below the Hebrew that speaks in English of “my beloved wife.”

On the other hand, knowing him, the Hebrew could say anything.

The next thing I think of as I gaze at his spidery handwriting, held in place in my chair by the strength of the presence of his absence, is the haunting image of the empty shoes in Paris.

Empty shoes in Paris. 2015

The empty shoes represent an event that could not be held because of fear of terrorist attacks. They represent the dead and injured victims of those attacks. They symbolise the death of species, and the dying of our planet. They represent loss, and absence of all kinds. They symbolise the grounding of humans on this earth, a major point of contact with the planet, and they are empty.

And they remind me of how the sight of my husband’s empty shoes brought me to my knees, when I finally understood that I would never again see him in them.

I don’t know why shoes apparently carry so much more poignancy than say shirts, or jackets, or trousers. Yet, I remember also when my sons were small and at school how I would pick up their scattered clothing and smell it, to evoke their presence in their absence, a kind of preparation for the time when they would leave for their own lives and loves, and that intense period of mothering, about which I was frequently ambivalent, would be over.

There are other books “For my beloved wife.” One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty. Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Which book I remember him lugging to the hospital on Christmas Day where I lay recovering from drastic cancer surgery, too weakened to even hold the heavy tome, so he showed it to me instead, and read bits that fed my morphine-induced hallucinations and after he left I saw Jesus by the window in shining light, telling me everything would be fine, no worries.

I’m beginning to understand that the people I love never leave me, if I can only learn to allow them to stay. There’s a psychological theory that when we know we can’t be with someone anymore, for whatever reason, we cut off from them and deny their significance, as a way of managing in the long-term the complicated and initially crushing pain of loss.

It’s a sweet sorrow to be sure, to feel the presence of absence, whether that’s the absence of the dead, or the equally irretrievable loss of the little boy who is now a man, and quite rightly does not have need of you in the same ways any longer. They live, those vanished ones, in the memory and the imagination, they live in the body and the heart and the mind. They live in me, though I can’t touch them anymore, and their shoes stand so very empty.

The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you. Rainer Maria Rilke

Courage and politics.

27 Dec

Quint Buccholz Five

 

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
― Anaïs Nin

If there’s one thing I’d like to have the power to give to the people I love, especially the little ones, it’s courage.

The courage to challenge cultural conditioning and social convention. The courage to allow oneself to see that “normality” is a construct and to ask, by whom is this concept constructed, for whose benefit, and how?

The courage to refuse the lazy tribal sense of belonging in order to embrace a more challenging sense of common humanity that does not require exclusionary practices in order to define a sense of who we are. I am not that therefore I am this, is a negative way in which to carve out an identity, yet the spoken or unspoken comparison that loads difference with moral value, or lack of it, serves as a benchmark for establishing who we are, singly and collectively.

I can’t see much of a future for humans without the kind of courage that is curious about difference, rather than fearful and hostile towards it. The former is expansion, the latter an arid shrinking, of the kind we’ve seen increasingly in Australia since our politics, both Labor and Liberal, have become more and more conservative.

Our courage, at least as it is expressed in our politics, has diminished alarmingly. Whether it’s asylum seekers in indefinite and tortuous detention because we will not resettle them; whether it’s our inability to recognise and adequately act upon our responsibilities towards the earth that is our only home; whether it’s increasing surveillance of ordinary citizens along with the deprivation of freedoms and human rights, the insidious creep of tyranny, wearing the mask of concern and wish to protect, is shrinking our lives, and we seem to lack the collective courage necessary first to acknowledge what’s happening to us, and second, to do something concrete about it.

I’m not the first to observe that without courage it’s hardly possible to be truthful, generous, realistic and imaginative, and without courage, it’s impossible to live a life of necessary self-examination, curiosity and fulfilment.

Lack of courage is what will destroy our species. It’s only a matter of time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Family.

15 Dec
Mabel Jane with her Great Step Grandfather

Mabel Jane with her Step Great Grandfather

 

The next little while is set to be somewhat frenetic in our household, as in many others, as we prepare for an early Christmas with my family’s little ones, and then a Christmas at the other end of life’s cycle with Mrs Chook’s ninety-year-old Mum and family.

Mrs Chook didn’t have kids and I don’t have a Mum, so we share.

There won’t be much on Sheep, except maybe some bleating about four-year-old Archie’s snoring, sleep talking and aggravated assault of his Giddy after he’s padded his way down the stairs from his bedroom to mine in the middle of the night  and in a stage whisper said “Giddy, can I get in your bed I promise I won’t pee.”

Well, he doesn’t pee, but he does thrash about and hit me in the eye.

A woman called Vicki once said to me, family is everything. I know she was talking about traditional heterosexual families. But for mine, that is a very narrow concept of family, and the fact that it’s heterosexual and traditional is no guarantee of it being any good.

It doesn’t matter how family is constituted: if there’s a group of people who love each other and share their lives, that’s a family. It’s about time this privileging of traditional heterosexual families came to an end.

My extended and blended family recently came together for the naming of our youngest babies, Mabel Jane, called after her late great-grandmother, and her cousin, Audrey Mae.

Mabel Jane & Audrey Mae on their naming day

Audrey Mae & Mabel Jane on their naming day

Mabel Jane brings the total number of grandchildren in this family to twenty. There are second marriages and ex partners and new partners and we all turn up for every wedding and naming and we all get on, regardless of our sometimes chequered histories, and we even get on when we’re pissed, so that’s some indication of how our family is everything to us.

 

Ted at his sister's naming day

Ted at his sister’s naming day

 

What astonishes me is the elasticity of the human heart, as it expands itself to make room for yet one more individual, adult or child, who through birth or commitment enters this family and becomes a member. We may not always like each other all of the time, and some of us wouldn’t want to spend our lives with some of us, but I doubt there’s any one of us who’d turn their back if someone  else was in trouble.

This is not to say some families aren’t shit. My family of origin was unspeakable, so there’s a dark side to the “family is everything” mantra: family can be everything in the worst possible way, haunting you for the rest of your life, and under those circumstances, Christmas is no fun.

If it’s awful I hope with all my heart that it passes quickly for you.

And no matter what combination constitutes your family, however big or small it may be, love one another the best you can, and put the all sharp implements in the high cupboards.

Archie at the party

Archie at the party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The heart of Cardinal Pell

12 Dec

Pell. Image by James Croucher

 

Cardinal George Pell certainly has a heart condition, one that has been apparent to even the most casual observer for some considerable time.

It could be thought of as heartlessness or a lack of heart in his attitude to survivors of sexual abuse by priests of Pell’s church. Pell has consistently placed victims and survivors second, third and fourth to the requirements and reputation of the religious institution that has fed, watered and lavishly nurtured him.

Yesterday, Pell’s lawyers advised the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse that Pell would be unable to appear before the Commission to be questioned as arranged, due to a heart condition that makes long-haul flight too great a risk to his health. Inquiry chair Justice Peter McClellan refused to accept Pell’s evidence via video link, instead postponing his appearance until March 2016 when it is hoped the heart of Cardinal Pell will have recovered sufficiently to allow him to travel from Rome to Ballarat.

It’s a measure of Pell’s character that this news has been greeted with scorn, derision, disbelief and contempt. If he is indeed seriously ill, nobody much cares, and few are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Pell is between a rock and a hard place. If he doesn’t appear before the Commission to answer hard questions, his guilt will be assumed and he forfeits an opportunity to exonerate himself. If he does appear, his alleged guilt may well be exposed as real. Either way, public opinion has so turned against the Cardinal that he has become a despised figure, of whom even some catholics are deeply ashamed.

All of this is as nothing, compared to the destruction and pain wrought upon children by priests of Pell’s church, some of whom he publicly supported. Beside this, the Cardinal’s mental, emotional, spiritual and physical discomfort is as nothing.

It seems to me that a person’s character is defined by their willingness to front up and be accountable for their actions and inactions; never an easy experience, but what are we if we can’t or won’t do that?

Oh, and Pell was also confessor and mentor to failed Prime Minister and failed priest Tony Abbott (Just saying). (Not that it means anything). (Unless you want it to). (I’m done now).

 

Reist, porn and sexualisation.

11 Dec

Porn-Its-Cheaper-than-dating

 

For a long time now, I’ve wondered how Melinda Tankard Reist is able to conduct her extensive and lengthy campaign against the “sexualisation” of girls, without addressing the sexual abuse of children.

I can think of no more powerfully destructive act of “sexualisation” than childhood sexual abuse, and yet Ms Reist goes nowhere near it, choosing instead to shame various outlets into withdrawing whatever product she currently believes is causing the “sexualisation” of children.

As the Royal Commission into CSA continues to demonstrate, the sexual abuse (and inevitable real sexualisation) of children was occurring long before there was an Internet, long before there was anything like the licentious climate Reist claims exists today, and long before the creation and availability of any of the clothing, toys, music clips and magazines that she currently holds responsible for “sexualisation.” What child victims wear had and has no bearing on a paedophile’s decision to molest her or him.

I continue to maintain that if an adult sees a child dressed in a “sexual” manner and assumes an invitation, there is something seriously awry with that adult’s perceptions. A dressed-up child is still a child, not a sexualised being, “sexualised” implying that the child’s purpose has become to provide sex by virtue of her appearance. Only a dangerously perverted thinker would make such an assumption.

Popular sexual culture is like the hydra: as soon as Ms Reist chops off one head another one grows. Which will, of course, guarantee her a career and an income. Popular sexual culture might be a symptom, but is never a cause, and sexuality is always a reliable source of fuel for moral indignation and the impulse to ideological control.

However, what has brought Tankard Reist to mind is her appearance on an ABC 2 program on pornography the other evening. In anticipation of the program, activist and academic Caroline Norma published a piece on ABC Ethics and Religion, castigating the ABC for giving a platform to the dirty business of pornography. You see the common motif: porn is dirty, and morally wrong like “sexualising” clothes and raunchy music videos, and shame on aunty for giving it airtime because we know how well repression, censorship and prohibition work for us.

One of the things that disturbs me about Reist’s opposition to porn is her definition of that genre. She and her followers are wont to wax eloquent about “true intimacy,” and “real loving relationships” etc, which to me suggests Reist considers she has somehow acquired the right to define what is “true” and “real” in sexual relations and is compelled to foist her definitions on the rest of us.

“True’ and “real” seem, in this context, to require marriage, or at the very least long-term commitment, with the qualifier that it only applies to heterosexuals.

Another aspect that disturbs me is Reist’s penchant for lumping together all kinds of porn, from snuff movies to amateur and everything in between, as being equally destructive and harmful to health, well-being, and intimate relationships. It’s like saying all food is harmful because Macca’s burgers don’t get the Heart Foundation tick of approval.

There must be no porn of any kind, and we must not have sex with anyone unless we are willing to commit our lives to them.

Personally, I would not enjoy being fucked to camera by some dude whose only asset worthy of note was a long schlong. The reasons why women engage in the manufacture of porn are many and varied, and how much choice or freedom is involved is as variable. I can’t for the life of me see how any of these variables can be addressed and redressed by forcing Coles to withdraw a Zoo magazine.

I have no doubt, however, that Ms Reist and her followers get a lovely warm glow when they do force the withdrawal or banning of one thing or another. While they are glowing, sex trafficking continues unabated. Child sexual abuse continues unabated. Sexual assault continues unabated. They are, as my first husband would say, pissing against the wind.

There are very real and very frightening and certainly criminal acts of sexual expression in which there is no consent, that no society ought to tolerate. If we are raising boys who believe they have the right to demand from girls sexual acts girls do not wish to perform, then we are raising misogynistic male supremacists, and Zoo magazine is an expression of that culture, not the cause. You can burn all the lads mags you want: it won’t stop those particular lads wanting to forcibly sexually subjugate girls.

“Sexualisation” and “pornification” take place within a context: the context of the inequalities of patriarchy, the demands of capitalism, and religious notions of what is and isn’t sexually moral. It’s only by tackling these impositions on humanity that we’ll ever make inroads into exploitative and non consensual sexual practices.

But hey, if it’s band aids you want, Reist’s website provides you with a long list of what not to buy for Christmas, and where not to buy it. But there are other ways to get a nice warm glow…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Matilda furore dangerously misses the point

10 Dec

Victim blaming

 

The point of the Jack Kilbride article published in New Matilda earlier this week, is that women are responsible for adjusting our behaviours so that we do not incite male aggression and violence against us.

The website has since published three reactions to Kilbride’s piece, one supporting him, one attacking him, and one likening Clementine Ford’s experience to that of Adam Goodes.

Obviously nobody has read this Guardian piece, titled Victim-blaming rampant in Australians’ attitudes towards violence against women – study.

Read it. Read it and don’t even bother talking to me if you haven’t read it, because when you’ve read it you will see everything that is wrong with Kilbride’s piece, and any opinion that supports his position.

Overwhelmingly, according to the study, in Australia women and girls are blamed for male aggression and violence towards us. Our tone, our appearance, our failure to pay attention to a male, our attitude, our provocation: we must have done something or not done something to make him do it.

It is sickening to read the attitudes of apparently “ordinary normal” people to women who dare to report and protest violence against us. If you’ve experienced these attitudes you’ll know it’s like being violated all over again. The accusatory questions addressed to victims of violence: why did you/didn’t you? You should have/you shouldn’t have. All making the victim the focus of reprimand and disapproval, placing the onus on her, and not the perpetrator.

What these victim-blaming attitudes do is enable violence against women in all its forms. In shifting the responsibility from perpetrators to victims, the former are relieved of the necessity and the responsibility of owning their violence, instead taking comfort in the erroneous assumption that they were provoked in some way or other into acting aggressively towards us.

Until these attitudes change, there will be no lessening of violence against women. The depth to which these attitudes inform our society is painfully apparent in Kilbride’s piece. I have no doubt he is a nice, well-meaning bloke who wants a better world. Victim blamers aren’t necessarily overtly hostile. Indeed, women who complain about their frustration with victims complaining are engaging in yet another form of victim blaming.

The question that most urgently needs to be asked and answered is, why do we find it so necessary to blame a victim?

 

On what Clementine did

8 Dec

Online Abuse

 

I’ve read two opinion pieces today on how Clementine Ford handled the online aggression and threats against her by  naming and shaming the individual responsible, and publishing a compilation of the obscenities fired her way over a period of several months.

There’s this one by Helen Razer in the Daily Review, and this one by Jack Kilbride in New Matilda.

Razer argues that the significance of public commentary is lately at risk of being measured by the amount of hate the author is subjected to, rather than the work the author produces.

Kilbride argues that if women only handled it better the nasty trolls would stop trolling, which is roughly the linguistic equivalent of telling us not to dress provocatively because if we do we’re asking for it, and I can’t be bothered with the man just now.

Razer’s perspective on publicly revealing personal trauma is an interesting one. Her piece is titled, Why violent threats don’t make you an important commentator, so obviously she’s working from the premise that there’s an audience daft enough to measure the significance of one’s work by the amounts of threats one receives, and their degree of severity. This makes me absolutely negligible, as I receive practically no threats, and barely any abuse, except I did for a while cop a fair bit of upsetting reprimand, public and private, from Razer.

Razer writes:

The idea is not important. The trauma victim becomes important. The claim that “Clementine Ford is important for women” should be made about the growing body of this writer’s work and not about the threats she has received. The violent attention of barely literate misogynists has become the register of a good thinker. 

Good thinkers have always been the targets of abuse, and injury, and not infrequently death, since long before there were internet trolls. Online attacks are merely the most recent manifestation of hatred for good thinking: with the Internet haters have discovered an opportunity they’ve never had before to globally spew their bile, and so of course there are more visible victims.

Being the target of abuse doesn’t make anyone an important commentator or a good thinker: Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine cop their fair share of threats and abuse and nobody capable of thinking straight could call either of them good, or important, or even really thinkers, to be honest.

Razer links to this interview with Yasmin Nair, titled The Ideal Neoliberal Subject is the Subject of Trauma, in which Nair makes the claim that everyone must identify as a trauma victim to be considered a legitimate subject:

It just seems like trauma has become a requirement. I’ve been writing recently about how I am sick of being on panels where everybody starts to confess to their rape, or to their sexual trauma, and I just want to walk out on them! I just want to say “if you cannot think about critiquing policies and the state without having to assert how and why you have been a victim, then let’s end this conversation. Does everybody have to be a victim in order to gain sympathy, first of all? And what does it mean to have to constantly reconstitute yourself as a subject of trauma? What happens to people who don’t do it? Are they to be seen as traitors?

There’s this weird kind of culture of confession which is also something I write about: this constant imperative to confess, and this imperative to reveal oneself as the wounded subject, that I find very disturbing…There’s a kind of demand for authenticity in all of this that I find particularly vexing. And I know for a fact that many people who have a critique of trauma and of violence and of the state may well have been sexually abused, but just don’t talk about it. And does that make them less authentic?

Is the narrative of personal trauma obfuscating the bigger discussion of context, policies, and the state? Or are the two narratives  more compatible than Nair (and Razer) argue?  And after thousands of years of silence on the subject of our trauma, who, after a mere couple of decades of public discussion, has the right to suggest that the traumatised are silencing another, more important conversation? Hasn’t this always been said to women?

Does revealing personal trauma make one more authentic? Or does keeping silent about personal trauma add to one’s authenticity? Does revealing personal trauma detract from the value of one’s work? Or add to it because experience complements abstract knowledge?

I am more interested in the fact of those questions than I am in any answers. In speaking and writing about my own traumatic experiences, I’ve never once thought to ask myself, will I seem more authentic if I say this, or if I don’t say it? This could well be a grievous oversight on my part, however, I’m not in the habit of wondering whether or not I seem authentic, and it seems to me a tortuous thing to have to ask oneself before writing and speaking, the kind of core self-doubt that can do little other than reduce me to quivering silence.

Why should a woman have to ask herself before she writes, will writing this make me more or less authentic?

In her piece on Ford, Razer links to this earlier post, written in 2014, in which she writes at length about her own experiences of being stalked, threatened, and extremely frightened, and the long-term effects these experiences have had on her life. It hurt me, I think irreparably, she writes. I don’t think any the less of Razer’s body of work because she reveals this about herself.

Indeed, she has apparently written a book on the subject, and I don’t think any less of her intellect because she’s written a book on her personal trauma. I am, however, more than a little irritated by the apparent double standard at work here. Razer has confessed her suffering and revealed herself as a wounded subject, yet seems to be arguing that others should not.

Thinkers are at times simultaneously wounded subjects. It seems to me an admirable goal to enable us wounded subjects to contextualise our experiences of wounding in terms of the systems and regimes that govern our lives. If we do not speak about our trauma in the first place, we have no hope of contextualising it for ourselves and others.

If you are exasperated by the sheer number of victims using their voices, perhaps it is wiser not to blame them for your exasperation, but rather go to the source, and hold the source accountable. As I noted earlier, women have been silenced for thousands of years, and it is only in the last three decades we have begun to speak. It would seem a little early for exasperation.

As far as I’m aware, there is no guide-book for how a woman should react to trauma. Each of us does it in our own way and nobody has the authority to police that. Ford does it her way, as does Razer, as do I.

Each one of us who confesses herself as a wounded subject does it in a way that can have significance for somebody else, because there is no one way, and there is no right way, and there is no time limit.

The idea is important. The trauma victim is important. It isn’t either or.

This is authenticity.

 

 

 

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