Man as Machine 20 June 2014

man as machine banner 5

By Tarquin O’Flaherty.

Juvenal, the Roman poet and satirist remarked once that ‘…no man ever became utterly abominable, all at once.’  This is absolutely true, and particularly true when it comes to governments.

Following the revolutionary Reform Act of 1832 the newly elected MP’s were awash with reform fervour.  England was riddled with largely unregulated factories in which men, women and kids were routinely injured or killed.  A new Factories Act was needed.  This act would supersede the old 1819 Peel Act which though already amended twice, had been utterly ineffective because it had never been enforced!  This new Act (1833) employed inspectors to lay down the law.  Interestingly, the horrors uncovered by these inspectors led to several significant changes to factory practice.  Children under thirteen were restricted to an eight hour day and those up to the age of eighteen to twelve hours.  To attempt to regulate the amount of hours a man worked per day was seen as impossible.  Any Bill suggesting this would be rejected out of hand by Parliament because it would be seen as ‘infringing on a man’s liberty.’  To add to this, governmental industrial legislation didn’t sit well with some sections of the newly elected and largely middle class government, (some of whom might have owned a factory or two themselves…)

Another approach to factory reform was the ‘Ten Hours Committee’, and their strategy was a clever one.  Headed by Lord Ashley (later Lord Shaftesbury) they  agitated for all factory employees (excluding men) to work for a maximum of ten hours per day.  This reform, should it be successful, would mean the women and kids would go home having worked their ten hours, effectively stopping production.  Men, even in those days, especially in those days, were automatically granted the same privileges as women, so they would be ‘ten hour’ workers as well.

For the moment, the “Ten Hour Committee’ remained a pipe dream.  The new Factory Act  nevertheless, (as explained above) went some way to alleviating the shameful exploitation of children by factory owners.  The point should be made that when we speak about ‘factories’ we are dealing exclusively here with textile factories and that the new legislation applied only to them.  A general regulation of all factories was still some time off.

The male only enfranchisement of the new middle class dramatically reduced the level of political agitation throughout the country after the 1832 Reform Act.  This was in part because the new government was much less accepting of the old ‘born to rule’ tyranny of the King and his immediate cronies, and in equal part because the working class, convinced their vote was just around the corner, had reduced their level of political agitation.

The ‘born to rule’ mob, however, still exercised considerable force on their home turf in London and were about to demonstrate it.  Bear with me for a moment.

Henry Fielding, London’s Chief Magistrate in the 18th Century, held court at No.4 Bow St. from where, in 1749, he founded ’The Bow Street Runners’, London’s first ever police force.  This force, greatly expanded, continued for eighty or more years until overtaken by the ‘Peelers’, Sir Robert Peel’s new London police force.

As an aside, Fielding was and remains a very well regarded and successful novelist.  At least one of his books ‘Tom Jones’ was made into a very successful film in 1963   and starred Albert Finney and Diane Cilento.  As was the robust nature of much 18th Century entertainment, this fine book concerns itself almost exclusively with the more joyful and vigourous indelicacies involved in ‘making the two-backed beast.’

But back to our narrative and the year 1829.  Sir Robert Peel as Home Secretary, had done much to reform a prison system which was based less on justice than on vengeance.  He then proceeded, with others, to establish the modern London Police Force.  Unlike the ‘Runners’, Peel’s police were subjected to a military style training which included the use of batons and staves.  They were also provided with a recognisable uniform and were paid by the state.  They had the power to arrest pickpockets, burglars and robbers (who were the bane of people’s existence in London) and were also taught to target selected political agitators and ‘troublemakers’.  These officers of the law were almost instantly nicknamed ‘Bobbies’ or ‘Bobbie’s Men’ after Sir Robert Peel.  In Ireland the term ‘Peeler’ was commonly used.  Both of these nicknames have survived well into the 2Ist century, ‘Bobby’ being by far the better known internationally.  ‘Peeler’ however is still very well known in Ireland.

In 1833, Peel’s Peelers were called upon to attend a meeting of the National Union of the Working Class, in a small open space off the Grays Inn Road in North London.  Eye witness accounts at an inquest two weeks later told how the police sealed off each exit and then proceeded to beat people unconscious ‘…for an hour or more…’

A man, incensed by the brutality, took to a Peeler with a knife and killed him.

At the inquest two weeks later, and with the undeniable accounts of police brutality by witness after witness, the jury refused to bring in a verdict of murder.  In the end a verdict of justifiable homicide was arrived at.

This flagrant display, this witless demonstration of contempt by the law for the law was not just one of police exercising their new found power.  The police were not there merely to represent the forces of law and order.  They were there primarily to represent the old order’s blind refusal to accept that following the political revolution of 1832, the world had  irrevocably changed.  Having ruled unchallenged for so long, having beaten and flogged, imprisoned and murdered any upstart who had had the temerity to stand up to them, it was difficult for the old nobility, (and those who aped them) to accept that what they thought of as their divine right might actually be a philosophy in need of examination.  It was also gallingly difficult for the old order to accept that the world had, inexplicably, not only begun to dictate to them, but that those doing the dictating were not (oh horror!)good chaps and fellow aristocrats. Instead they looked appallingly, more and more, like the great unwashed. 



Poetry Sunday 29 June 2014

Our poetry editor Ira Maine continues his series on Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village” with the third part.

One of the important things to understand about this poem is the pace.  The poet is remembering his home village, not only as it was in his youth, but how it will be when he comes to retire there.  Villages in the 17th and 18th century, tucked well away in spectacularly beautiful parts of the countryside, hardly changed from one century to the next.  The poem is written deliberately to match this unchanging pace and demonstrate the unhurried nature of village life.

I have chosen random lines and phrases here to show how the poet  remembers his boyhood village.  To get the full flavour of this account, a proper reading is essential.

Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain…
Seats of my youth, where every sport could please…
How oft have I paused on every charm…
The cultivated farm…the brook…the busy mill…the decent church…
The seats beneath the shading hawthorn bush…the bashful virgin…the reproving matron…
The sport…the singing…the dancing…  

Then quite suddenly,the poet introduces a darker, less Elysian, much more forbidding tone.

But now the sound of population fail,
No chearful murmurs fluctuate in the gale,
No busy steps the grass-grown foot-way tread,
But all the bloomy flush of life is fled.
All but yon widowed, solitary thing,
That feebly bends beside the plashy spring;
She, wretched matron, forced, in age, for bread,
To strip the brook with mantling cresses spread,
To pick her wintry faggot from the thorn,
To seek her nightly shed, and weep til morn;

What on earth has happened here?  Who is this ‘matron’, this ‘..widowed, solitary thing…’  forced to sustain herself by her wits, by scavenging, in the ruins of what had been a thriving village?

In the wake of whatever calamity consumed the village, she appears to be, on the surface just another penniless casualty of that calamity.  On the other hand, I suspect the poet intended much more for her.  The matron is surely intended to represent the spirit, the very essence of the village itself, and her paupered condition, her ruined circumstances, reflects exactly the present state of that village.

The village of Auburn has ceased to exist.  The animals, the barking dogs, the blacksmith, the wood-men, the farmers, the geese, the women and children, the barber, everyone, all gone.

There was no famine to kill them, no plague, and no war.  At least not in England.  There was however, the American War of Independence, which was followed closely enough by the Napoleonic Wars.  Soldiers needed bread and the demand for flour was insatiable.

Land in England, as little as 200 years ago, did not belong to anyone.  The idea of ‘owning land’ simply didn’t exist.  You couldn’t buy it and you couldn’t sell it.  However, industrial cities were growing and their workforces needed food.  Enterprising industrialists, like the famous Coke of Norfolk, seeing an opportunity, took wire and fence posts and enclosed thousands of acres of land to grow wheat.  These ‘Enclosures’, when they enclosed villages, gave the encloser the right to consider the inhabitants of these villages as his property!  He could then demand a percentage of every scrap they produced!

The government of the time consisted of the King and a few of his aristocratic cronies.  The King essentially didn’t care what industrialists got up to as long as he got a cut.  Landowning, not industry, was the mark of a man, and peasants didn’t matter.  So when the same Coke of Norfolk in the 18th century, infected as he was with the fashionable notion of a Great House, needed not just a stately home, but hundreds of acres of well manicured ‘grounds’ to boot, he enlisted one Joseph Paxton who promptly littered the place with hunting lodges, fountains, parterres,and lakes, not to mention statuary, waterfalls and spectacular ‘vistas’.

If you allow for the fact that these vast land enclosures were like small countries then you will understand why the great ‘landscapers’ of the period, Joseph Paxton and ‘Capability’ Brown amongst others, much more than occasionally found villages, hamlets and whole towns inconveniently situated amidst their grand plans.  Now and then, a little compensation was offered.  Sometimes a whole new village was built and the people moved en masse.  Much more often the peasantry were simply driven both out of their homes and off the land then left to fend for themselves.  Their houses were pulled down to stop them coming back.  This is why to this day we have people on the roads in Europe called “tinkers’ or the ‘travelling people’, as distinct from gypsies or Romany, who took up this peripatetic existence as a result of the notorious ‘Enclosure Acts’ or later, in the 19th century, because of famine.  Enclosure drove people off the land and into the industrial cities, where so many of them died of disease it became a national scandal.  Thousands more died en route to Canada, America and Australia on what were referred to as “coffin ships’.  The usual ever present exploiters dispatched their desperate passengers on overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels.  Some of the vessels simply sank, drowning everybody, while others made it to their destinations, overloaded and weeks behind schedule, with no food left, disease conditions rife, and many passengers already consigned to the sea.

I feel we might stop here. Nothing I’ve said is untrue. Every example of callous exploitation I’ve used here may be verified.

Oliver Goldsmith was appalled that the wholesale destruction of an entire, wholly self-sufficient country way of life was allowed, indeed encouraged, in order that a handful of men could become fabulously rich.  This was at the expense of almost the entire rural population of the British Isles.

Is it any wonder that the workers who remained fought for over a hundred years thereafter to be allowed form unions?  To form societies to protect themselves against this band of murderous curs?

I shall continue next week when my equanimityis restored.  In the meantime,beware; these same murderous curs are with us still.

Ira Maine, Poetry Editor.


MDFF 28 June

This post was first published on 21 November 2010.  The racist Intervention continues with white Australia’s complicity.

Góðan daginn vinir mínir

Pat DodsonOn May 28, 2000 more than 300,000 people walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of Indigenous Australians and reconciliation. More than a decade later, Patrick Dodson, one of Aboriginal Australia’s better known deep thinkers made a speech at UNSW entitled: “Can Australia Afford Not to be Reconciled?”.

The speech included:

“The strategy for assimilation of our peoples is not a mistake made by low-level bureaucrats on behalf of successive governments who didn’t know better. It was and continues to be a deliberate act orchestrated at the highest levels in our society, and no amount of moral posturing can hide that reality. This Assimilation I talk of has not been evidenced by equality, but by further control, incarceration and subjugation to norms and values without our consent.” and,

“Think about it. Right now, today, some of our greatest living artists, philosophers, spiritual leaders and their families remain subject to the racially inspired Northern Territory National Emergency Response – The Intervention. Against that backdrop, any notion of reconciled peoples is a farcical concept.”

For those that can spare the time and effort, I attach (a link to) Patrick Dodson’s whole speech – Click Here

The Aboriginal owned Yuendumu Mining Co has set up accommodation facilities (we call it the “Yuendumu two-star”) and a few days ago a group of contractors moved in. I showed them the ablution block and kitchen and their rooms. One of the men asked me “Do coons walk around here?”

I thought I’d misheard so I got him to ask again : ”Do coons walk around here?” “We don’t call them that here, maybe they do in Alice Springs, and yes they do walk around here, this happens to be their home”

Is that what it’s come to? There have always been and always will be racists, far more than I like to imagine, but at least I thought that “multi-cultural” Australia had driven them into the closet.

Many disagree when I blame the likes of John Howard for destroying what those people crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge dared to dream. A decade of dog-whistling politics, when such as “political correctness” became a dirty word, as “socialism” did under the Global Economy/”Privatisation” onslaught. Have you stopped to ponder what the opposite of “political correctness” is? Or “socialism” for that matter? Yes folks: “political wrongness” and “anti-socialism” …. so there!

Now they’re coming out of the woodwork. “Do coons walk around here?” It’s not so much that he said it that is the problem, it’s that he saw nothing wrong in saying it.

So just as Australia is again seriously considering legalising euthanasia and gay marriage and paid maternal leave and releasing asylum seekers’ children out of detention. Just as we once again strive to justify that self congratulating label we’ve given ourselves “the land of the Fair Go”, the politics of empathy and compassion, it’s suddenly OK again to ask “Do coons walk around here?”

Libertad o Muerte! Venceremos! A luta continua!

Nokkur góð tónlist 

þar til við hittumst aftur

Frank Marinussen
(Decode: Google translate Icelandic to whatever language you fancy)

Spontaneity, Creativity and Imagination

To conclude our series Passive Complicity links to a couple of TED talks by US resident  British born educator Sir Ken Robinson. (His biography is worth looking at, and, like Keith Johnstone (who featured in the first four posts on this subject) has a strong arts background) He talks of education’s growing ‘culture of compliance’, of its mechanistic structure, that it is bases on the wishes of the non student stakeholders – industry (as the future employers), and the voting public.  He argues that education should be about creating a ‘climate of possibilities’ for students, rather than having the current deterministic model.  While accepting that centralised testing (NAPLAN here in Australia) it should only be used to support education, not to drive it.

His talks are interspersed with little gems like this one: “If a man speaks his mind in the forest, and no woman hears him, is he still wrong?”

Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? from 6 January 2007

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley from 10 May 2013

33. Standard White Sausage

Spontaneity, Creativity and Imagination 4

Today, in Part 4, Keith Johnstone writes more on how our society and education in particular inhibits creativity.

Many teachers express surprise at the switch-off that occurs at puberty, but I don’t, because first of all the child has to hide the sexual turmoil he is in, and secondly the grown-ups’ attitude to him completely changes.

Suppose an eight year old writes a story about being chased down a mouse-hole by a monstrous spider.  It’ll be perceived as ‘childish’ and no one will worry.  If he writes the same story when he is fourteen it may be taken as a sign of mental abnormality.  Creating a story, or painting a picture, or making up a poem lay an adolescent wide open to criticism.  He therefore has to fake everything so that he appears ‘sensitive’ or ‘witty’ or ‘tough’ or ‘intelligent’ according to the image he is trying to establish in the eyes of other people.  If he believed that he was a transmitter, rather than a creator, then we’d be able to see what his talents really were.

We have an idea that art is self-expression – which historically is weird.  An artist used to be seen as a medium through which something else operated.  He was a servant of God.  Maybe a mask-maker would have fasted and prayed for a week before he had a vision of the Mask he was to carve, because no one wanted to see his Mask, they wanted to see the God’s.  When Eskimos believed that each piece of bone only had one shape inside it, then the artist didn’t have to ‘think up’ an idea.  He had to wait until he knew what was in there – and this is crucial.  When he’d finished carving his friends couldn’t say ‘I’m a bit worried about Nanook at the third igloo’, but only ‘He made a bit of a mess getting that out!’ or ‘There are some odd bits of bone about these days.’  These days of course the Eskimos get booklets giving illustrations of what will sell, but before we infected them, they were in contact with a source of inspiration that we are not.  It’s no wonder that our artists are aberrant characters.  It’s not surprising that great African sculptors end up carving coffee tables, or that the talent of our children dies at the moment we expect them to become adult.  Once we believe that art is self-expression, then the individual can be criticised not only for his skill or lack of skill, but simply for being what he is.

Schiller(Friedrich) Schiller wrote of a ‘watcher at the gates of the mind’, who examines the ideas too closely.  He said that in the case of the creative mind ‘the intelect has withdrawn its watcher from the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does it review and inspect the multitude.‘  He said that uncreative people ‘are ashamed of the momentary passing madness which is found in all real creators . . . regarded in isolation, an idea may be quite insignificant, and venturesome in the extreme, but it may acquire importance from an idea that follows it; perhaps in collation with other ideas which seem equally absurd, it may be capable of furnishing a very serviceable link.’

My teachers had the opposite theory.  They wanted me to reject and discriminate, believing that the best artist was the one who made the most elegant choices.  They analysed poems to show how difficult ‘real’ writing was, and they taught that I should always know where the writing was taking me, and that I should search for better and better ideas.  They spoke as if an image like ‘the multitudinous seas incarnadine’* could have been worked out like the clue to a crossword puzzle.  Their idea of the ‘correct’ choice was the one anyone would have made if he had thought long enough.

*  The multitudinous seas incarnadine
Macbeth Act 2, scene 2, 54–60

[Knocking within]
Whence is that knocking?
How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me?
What hands are here? Hah! They pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

“The multitudinous seas incarnadine” is understandably confusing to modern readers, but Macbeth explains his meaning in the following line. Shakespeare makes a verb out of “incarnadine,” a sixteenth century adjective meaning “pink.” (The Latin root carn-refers to flesh, and thus, in its derivatives, to flesh color.) “To incarnadine” is thus to turn something pink or light red—what Macbeth imagines his bloody hands will do to Neptune’s green ocean [see A SORRY SIGHT]. After Shakespeare, the verb and adjective have both come to refer to the color of blood itself—crimson—rather than to the light red of a bloodied sea.

Macbeth has come to recognize that his guilt can never be washed off, even if the blood can be washed from his hands. Instead, his guilt will poison the world around him, which he compares to an ocean. He has already begun to hallucinate: here, he imagines hands plucking out his eyes in retribution for the murder of Duncan.

Spontaneity, Creativity and Imagination 3

Today, in Part 3, Keith Johnstone elucidates on being an artist.

Most children can operate in a creative way until they’re about eleven or twelve, when suddenly they lose their spontaneity, and produce imitations of ‘adult art’.  When other races come into contact with our culture something similar happens.  The great Nigerian sculptor Bamboya was set up as principal of an art school by some philanthropic American in the 1920’s.  Not only did he fail to hand on his talents, but his own inspiration failed him.   He and his students could still carve coffee tables for the whites, but they weren’t inspired any more.  (Look here for examples of Nigerian sculptures – sorry, no coffee tables)

So-called ‘primitive painters’ in our own culture sometimes go to art school to improve themselves – and lose their talent.  a critic told me of a film school where each new student made a short film unaided.  These, he said, were always interesting, although technically crude.  At the end of the course they made a longer, technically more proficient film, which hardly anyone wanted to see.  He seemed outraged when I suggested they should close the school (he lectured there); yet until recently our directors didn’t get any training.  Someone asked Kubrick if it was usual for a director to spend so much care on lighting each shot and he said, ‘I don’t know.  I’ve never seen anyone else light a film.’

You have to be a very stubborn person to remain an artist in this culture.  It’s easy to play the role of ‘artist’, but actually to create something means going against one’s education.  I read an interview once in which Grandma Moses was complaining that people kept urging her to improve her snow scenes by putting blue in them, but she insisted that the snow she saw was white, so she wouldn’t do it.  This little old lady could paint because she defied the ‘experts’.  Even after his works had been exhibited in court as proof that he wasn’t in his right mind, Henri Rousseau still had the stubbornness to go on painting!

We see the artist as a wild and aberrant figure.  Maybe our artists are the people who have been constitutionally unable to conform to the demands of the teachers.  Pavlov found that there were some dogs that he couldn’t ‘brainwash’ unitl he’d castrated them, and starved them for three weeks. Teachers If teachers could do that to us, then maybe they’d achieve Plato’s dream of a republic in which there are no artists left at all.

Many teachers think of children as immature adults.  It might lead to better and more ‘respectful’ teaching, if we thought of adults as atrophied children.  Many ‘well adjusted’ adults are bitter, uncreative, frightened, unimaginative, and rather hostile people.  Instead of assuming they were born that way, or that that’s what being an adult entails, we might consider them as people damaged by their education and upbringing.



Spontaneity, Creativity and Imagination 2

Today we continue with our exploration creativity, imagination and spontaneity.  Here Keith Johnstone shakes the foundations of our education system.  From his 1979 work ‘Impro’ published by Faber and Faber.  (In parts of Germany students are still inquisitive)

Most schools encourage kids to be unimaginative.  The research so far shows that imaginative children are disliked by their teachers.  Torrance gives an eye-witness account of an ‘exceptionally creative boy’ who questioned one of the rules in the textbook: ‘The teacher became irate, even in the presence of the principal.  She fumed, “So!  You think you know more than this book!”’ She was also upset when the boy finished the problems she set almost as quickly as it took to read them.  ‘She couldn’t understand how he was getting the correct answer and demanded that he write down all of the steps he had gone through in solving each problem.’

When this boy was transferred to another school, his new principal telephoned to ask if he was the sort of boy ‘who has to be squelched rather roughly’.  When it was explained that he was ‘a very wholesome, promising lad who needed understanding and encouragement’ the new principal exclaimed ‘rather brusquely, “Well, he’s already said too much right here in my office!” ‘ (E.P. Torrance, Guiding Creative Talent, Prentice Hall 1962)

One of my students spent two years in a classroom where then teacher had put a large sign over the blackboard.  It said ‘Get into the “Yes, Sir” attitude.’  No doubt we can all add further anecdotes.  Torrance has a theory that ‘many children with impoverished imaginations have been subjected to rather vigorous and stern efforts to eliminate fantasy too early.  They are afraid to think.’  Torrance seems to understand the forces at work, but he still refers to attempt to eliminate fantasy too early.  Why should we eliminate fantasy at all?  Once we eliminate fantasy, then we have no artists.

Intelligence is proportional to population, but talent appears to not be related to population numbers.  I’m living in a city at the edge of the Rocky mountains; the population is much greater than it was in Shakespearian London, and almost everyone here is literate, and has had many thousands of dollars spent on his education.  Where are the poets, and playwrights, and painters and composers?  Remember that there are hundreds of thousands of ‘literate’ people here, while in Shakespeare’s London very few people could read.  The great art of this part of the world was the art of the native peoples.  The whites flounder about trying to be ‘original’ and failing miserably

You can get a glimmer of the damage done when you watch people trying out pens in a stationers’ shop.  they make feeble little scribbles for fear of giving something away.  If an Aborigine asks us for a sample of Nordic art we’d have to direct him to an art gallery. Klee Tree No Aborigine ever told an anthropologist, ‘Sorry, Bass, I can’t draw.’  Two of my students said they couldn’t draw, and I asked, ‘Why?’  One said her teacher had been sarcastic because she’d painted a blue snowman (every child’s painting was pinned up on the walls except hers).  The other girl had drawn trees up the sides of her paintings (like Paul Klee), and the teacher drew a ‘correct’ tree on top of hers.  She remembered thinking ‘I’ll never draw for you again!’  (One reason for filling in the windows of the local schools here is that it’ll make the children more attentive!)

Tomorrow Keith will give us more on being an artist.

Spontaneity, Creativity and Imagination 1

Keith JohnstoneThis week we take a look at spontaneity, creativity and imagination through the eyes of Keith Johnstone a British and Canadian pioneer of improvisational theatre, best known for inventing the Impro System, part of which are the Theatresports. He is also an educator, playwright, actor and theatre director.  The following is an extract from his seminal work on Improvisation in theatre “Impro” from 1979.  It starts with a lengthy quote from ‘The Gift Horse’ by Hildegarde Knef.

‘I was given the part of poor Armgard, so I stood in front of the class and as I began with “Here he cannot escape me, he must hear me”, I suddenly noticed a warm friendly feeling in the region of my stomach, like a soft hotwater bottle in a cold bed, and when I got to “Mercy, Lord Governor! Oh, pardon”, I was already on my knees, tears streaming from my eyes and nose, and sobbing to such an extent that I could only finish the passage “My wretched orphans cry for bread” with supreme difficulty.  The fishhead was in favour of a more restrained performance and her cutting voice dro0ve me to the back of the class with words of “Un-German hysterical conduct”.  It was a nightmare.  I almost died of shame and prayed for an earthquake or an air raid to deliver me from the derision and shock …. apart from the nagging voice all went still, the others stared at me as though they had unwittingly harboured a serpent in their midst.  The rest of my days with Weise were torture.  I was afraid of the others and myself for I could never be certain that I wouldn’t again throw myself down in tears because of the orphans…..’

It’s possible to turn unimaginative people into imaginative people at a moment’s notice.  I remember an experiment referred to in the British journal of Psychology – probably in the summer of 1969 or 1970 – in which some businessmen who had showed up as very dull on work-association tests were asked to imagine themselves as happy-go-lucky hippy types, in which persona they were re-tested, and showed up as far more imaginative.  In creativity tests you may be asked to suggest different ways of using a brick; if you say thins like ‘Build a house’, or ‘Build a wall’, then you’re classified as unimaginative – if you say ‘Grind it up and use it for Diarrhoea mixture’, or ‘Rub off warts with it’, then you’re imaginative.  I’m oversimplifying, but you get the general idea.

Some tests involve picture completion.  You get given a lot of little squares with signs in them, and you have to add something to the sign.  ‘Uncreative’ people just add another squiggle, or join up a ‘C’ shape to make a circle.  ‘Creative’ people have a great time, parallel lines become the trunk of a tree, a ‘V’ on its side becomes the beam of a lighthouse, and so on.  It may be a mistake to think of such tests as showing people to be creative, or uncreative.  It may be that the tests are recording different activities.  The person who adds a timid squiggle may be trying to reveal as little as possible of himself.  If we can persuade him to have fun, and not to worry about being judged, then maybe he can approach the test with the same attitude as a ‘creative’ person, just like the tired businessmen when they were pretending to be hippies.

Tomorrow in Part 2 Keith shows how we belt the creativity out of school kids.

Poetry Sunday 22 June 2014

Our poetry editor Ira Maine continues his series on Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village”

Both the parson and the school teacher in Oliver Goldsmith’s poem ‘The Deserted Village’ are described as ‘sentimental’ characters by modern scholars, as if this were a fault.  It very well might be, had not Goldsmith deliberately intended to  create easily recognizable, sympathetic stereotypes to set against the monstrous reality of the day.  Goldsmith, in the manner of Shakespeare, uses a wholly recognizable conceit to win his audience over.  Do these same critics regard it as ‘sentimental’ when Prince Hal, in Shakespeare’s ‘Henry 1V’ (Part Two) rejects Falstaff and Ancient Pistol (who symbolize Hal’s youthful dissipation) in favour of the crown which will make him Henry V?

Elizabeth the First didn’t think so.  The Virgin Queen and her court loved the down to earth reality of Falstaff so much that, when Shakespeare wrote off Falstaff and his cronies as unsuitable companions for a King (they are almost wholly absent from Henry V) Elizabeth demanded of Shakespeare that he write entirely new plays which had to include all of the discarded old favourites, like Moll Tearsheet, Mistress Quickly, (both ladies of somewhat forward reputation) Justice Shallow, Ancient Pistol and Falstaff himself.  The Merry Wives of Windsor was the first of these.

You might have gathered by now that I am averse to critics.  I am not.  I am however, averse to bad ones.

But back to the plot.

Here is the parson from Goldsmith’s village, his sins set out  like diamonds.

Near yonder copse, where once the garden smil’d,
And still where many a garden flower grows wild;
There, where a few torn shrubs the place disclose,
The village preacher’s modest mansion rose.
A man he was, to all the country dear,
And passing rich with forty pounds a year;
Remote from towns he ran his godly race,
Nor ere had changed, nor wished to change his place;
Unskilful he to fawn, or seek for power,
By doctrines fashioned to the varying hour;
Far other aims his heart had learned to prize,
More bent to raise the wretched than to rise.
His house was known to all the vagrant train,
He chid their wanderings, but relieved their pain;
The long remembered beggar was his guest,
Whose beard descending swept his aged breast;
The ruined spendthrift, now no longer proud,
Claimed kindred there, and had his claims allowed;
The broken soldier, kindly bade to stay,
Sate by his fire, and talked the night away;
Wept o’er his wounds, or tales of sorrow done,
Shouldered his crutch, and showed how fields were won.
Pleased with his guests, the good man learned to glow,
And quite forgot their vices in their woe;
Careless their merits, or their faults to scan,
His pity gave ere charity began.

[here we skip a few lines, stay with the parson and find him about his sacred duties;]

Beside the bed, where parting life was layed,
And sorrow, guilt, and pain, by turns dismayed,
The reverend champion stood.At his control,
Despair and anguish fled the struggling soul;
Comfort came down the trembling wretch to raise,
And his last faltering accents whispered praise.
At church, with meek and unaffected grace,
His looks adorned the venerable place;
Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway,
And fools who came to scoff, remained to pray.
The service past, around the pious man,
With ready zeal each honest rustic ran;
Even children followed with endearing wile,
And plucked his gown, to share the good man’s smile.
His ready smile a parent’s warmth exprest,
Their welfare pleased him and their woes distrest;
To them his heart, his love, his griefs were given,
But all his serious thoughts had rest in Heaven.

As with the school teacher, Goldsmith’s parson, a selfless man, is an essential member of village society.  This village society, down to it’s last man, woman and child, believes absolutely in God.  God’s representative in the village is the parson.  It is important to be aware how strongly people believed both in God and the afterlife in the 18th century, especially when it came to dying.  You were born into the village, christened, baptised and taken to regular church services as a child, long before you were aware of what was happening.  You believed in God before you even knew what God might be.  You grew up in the village, raised a good, christian family in the village, and died in the village with the parson in attendance because,

………………………At his control,
Despair and anguish fled the struggling soul;
Comfort came down the trembling wretch to raise…

People were terrified of death, the unknown, of being whisked away by the Devil, and derived great comfort from their absolute belief that the parson had God’s power vested in him when he administered the Last Rites.

The parson baptised and buried babies, comforted the sick and dying, gave succour to vagrants, tramps, and crippled soldiers, and every Sunday welcomed his flock into his church, where they might all rejoice together.

There were, of course, the usual suspects who inevitably arrive at any gathering to mock the proceedings.  At least, (according to Goldsmith) they arrived with this attitude.  But they soon discovered that they’d reckoned without the parson and his persuasive oratorical command;

Truth from his lips prevailed, with double sway
And fools, who came to scoff, remained to pray…

How glorious to come across an oft quoted familiar line like this, but have it take you by surprise!  The pleasure is in the unexpected… there is another stoutly quotable line in the poem describing the Parson’s character which again must not pass by unremarked;

‘…More bent to raise the wretched than to rise…’

The parson saw it as his duty to help the wretched, the halt, the sick and the lame, rather than pursue advancement for himself.  He neither wanted to ‘..change his place…’ [move to another, more influential town] or indeed ‘…to seek for power…by doctrines fashioned to the varying hour…’  To take to philosophical doctrines, ‘fashionable’ doctrines, which, though he might not believe in any of them, might get him noticed.

Oh dear.  My enthusiasm may very well have outstripped your patience.  It would appear I have expended much too much time on the parson.

Next week another entertaining episode!

Ira Maine, Poetry Editor.



MDFF 21 June 2014

Qu’est-ce que cela veut dire mes amis ?

That someone can put symbols on paper and several centuries later someone else half a world away can decipher the symbols and burst out laughing or crying, is nothing short of miraculous.

Much has been discussed about the comparative merits of books and films. The main advantage of books it is often asserted is that readers can use their own imagination when ‘visualising’ and interpreting what is written on the page. Readers can deduce their own meaning which may not always be what the writer intended.

One of the most impressive books I’ve read, has to be ‘Catch 22’. The book’s delicious irony of what is a rather dark and depressive subject is rarely surpassed. It is not surprising that the phrase ‘catch twenty two’ has been incorporated into colloquial English. I was thoroughly disappointed when I subsequently saw the movie. The script writers seemed obsessed with blood and gore, which in my opinion seriously missed the point of what is a very funny yet deeply meaningful book.

Carl Zuckmayer’s play ‘Der Hauptmann von Köpenick’ was first staged in 1931. As I remember it (having read the publication) the protagonist Wilhelm Voigt, on being released from gaol, can’t get a place to stay because he hasn’t got a job, and can’t get a job because he hasn’t a place to stay. Catch 22.

Several movies have been made about Der Hauptmann. I didn’t see any of these.

Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’ was published 30 years later.

A Warlpiri friend of mine having reached an age greater than 65 applied to have his accumulated Superannuation funds reimbursed. A message for him to phone the Super Fund about his application was prompted by the fact that the Driver’s Licence he’d lodged a certified copy of, to prove his identity, had expired. I fail to see how the Super Fund can conclude that the expiry of my friend’s right to drive a car means that his identity has also expired.

One of the most impressive films I’ve seen, has to be ‘Babette’s Feast’ based on Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen)’s novel. I didn’t read the book and don’t feel a need to.

As for Gabriel García Márquez’s surrealistic metaphorical novel ‘Cien Años de Soledad’, set in the oppressive tropical climate of Macondo, should a film be made of it, I wouldn’t feel a need to see it.

When I read Yann Martel’s allegorical Life of Pi, I could never have imagined that it could be rendered on film. Yet director Ang Lee’s cinematographic triumph is nothing short of miraculous. In the film nothing of the book’s deep meaning is lost.

The words in Bob Dylan’s songs are deceptively ‘simple’, yet are imbued with deep meaning.
…and he hands you a dime
And he asks you with a grin
If you’re having a good time
Then he fines you every time
You slam the door….

Recently on TV, I saw David Suchet’s retrospective on his 25 years of portraying Agatha Christie’s Poirot. David Suchet kept switching from himself to his Poirot persona. At one point he quotes Poirot in his Belgian/French accent: “I hear what you say, I listen to what you mean”

If only the multitude that have descended on remote Aboriginal Australia to impose Stronger Futures and Close the Gap would follow Poirot’s example. They come and organise endless meetings at which they push their agendas. If only they didn’t just hear what is being said, but listened to what is meant.

…..Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
Daß ich so traurig bin…..
(I don’t know the meaning of my sadness)
(Je ne connais pas le sens de ma tristesse)

When a Warlpiri child continues to do something they have been told repeatedly not to do, the parents say that “He can’t listen, he can’t learn”. In other words he takes no notice.

The Warlpiri verb ‘purda-nyanyi’ means both to hear and to understand.

I’ve often heard Warlpiri people say of those that come and organise meetings and workshops and farcical so called ‘consultations’ that “they couldn’t listen”.

Listen to your heart…..

In other words they took no notice.

For this they are highly paid.

It is an important part of their job… to take no notice.

(I don’t know the meaning of their meanness)
(Je ne connais pas le sens de leur méchanceté)

All my people right here, right now
D’You Know What I Mean? Yeah Yeah
All my people right here, right now
They Know What I Mean? Yeah Yeah

A bientot

Yuendumu 20 June 2014