More on fifteen years of blogging

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE YEAR 2000

1. Being in Sydney for the Olympic Games. Although I only saw a few things “live” it was just great being in this city at that time. I apologise again to Ian Thorpe for allowing my little infatuation with that Dutchman to divert my support from Ian–and then Ian lost that race!
2. M’s return from overseas–even with the ups and downs since.
3. Yum Cha Sundays–especially one that led to the Chinese Gardens and all that has followed–a truly precious friendship. Thanks especially to the Dowager Empress, who inspired this regular event. Quote: “What’s Cantonese for sixteen screaming queens sitting in the corner?” (Note: We rarely screamed, and quite often there were non-queens present: but always there was at least one Empress.)
4. Doing a few useful things at work, summed up in a card I just received: “If you only know how much your support is valued, if you could still see how grateful I am, then you could feel the warmth of my ‘thanks’. Thank you for being such a great teacher! Your student X. 19. 12. 00.” 🙂
5. The fact that the movement for reconciliation between Aboriginal Australians and the rest of us has gathered such momentum that even the Prime Minister has moved forward (a little).
6. Surviving the year more or less in one piece.
7. The success of PK’s “Gifting Tree” which generated much interest and a very satisfying quantity of food for the Luncheon Club Larder, a Sydney HIV/AIDS charity–especially in the context of PK’s own difficulties. He has been a good friend for many years.
8. Making friends on the Internet–especially Johnny Wu (the first one!), Atakan Ali, and various others through ICQ and chat.
9. Starting and developing this website. Thanks to G. who made it possible in the first place, to MTC and others for their encouragement, and to the many people all over the world who have visited–especially those who have left comments on my guestbook or by email.
10. The privilege of continuing to live in Surry Hills, thereby breaking my record for being in one place. 🙂
Happy Holiday Season all my readers…

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Sometime in the early 2000s I discovered animated gifs. The one above is more tasteful than some were!

May 6 2001: Confessions of a bibliomaniac; another long Sunday rave

This continues the major theme of the past few entries–in a way 😉 “It’s my diary and I’ll stray if I want to!”

I have always loved books it seems: the feel of them, the look of them, the smell of them–not just what’s in them. I have been known to buy books when down to my last few dollars, and sell them to raise money for such trivia as rent and food!

When I shuffle off this mortal coil (to recycle a bit of Shakespeare so that my English teacher cred is established) my heirs can have as many books as they want–first pick going to the one who gets the academic gown. Money? Well, that is another matter.

I was with a fellow bibliophile in Berkelouw’s (an excellent bookshop) the other day; someone who can be entertained for hours just by letting him graze the shelves in a bookshop 🙂 To my delight I found the very book (or a copy anyway) that was given to me on my seventh birthday–a Collins Illustrated Encyclopedia, late 1940s edition. I found in it the picture of the half-naked Native American boy that had a mysterious power over me back then; sad to say he didn’t look half as cute to me now! My companion that day was lost in an eighty-year-old world of Boys’ Own Papersand imperial iconography.

My friend Graham Little (Re-Viewing English, eds Wayne Sawyer, Ken Watson and Eva Gold, Sydney, St Clair Press 1998: vii) has written: “I don’t know when or how I learned to read, but do remember skipping first grade after Miss Lamont found me reading under the desk instead of attending to her phonics lesson.” I had a similar experience, but in my case it was writing “Sydney Morning Herald” and the date on the board when in kindergarten; I was supposed to do meaningless squiggles like everyone else.

The precocious intelligence evaporated though, I fear.

In other respects I was a total klutz, though: in craft my lack of common sense and coordination frustrated me so much I just ate the raffia instead of weaving it; it tasted rather salty, I recall, and I seem to remember having my knuckles rapped over that.

A few years ago I read a rather nice but little known monograph on the psychology of reading–Lost in a Book: The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure by Victor Nell, a South African (New Haven, Yale University Press 1988.) Let me quote:

Reading for pleasure is an extraordinary activity. The black squiggles on the white page are still as the grave, colorless as the moonlit desert; but they give the skilled reader a pleasure as acute as the touch of a loved body, as rousing, colorful and transfiguring as anything out there in the real world. And yet, the more stirring the book the quieter the reader…

These are the paired wonders of reading: the world-creating power of books, and the reader’s effortless absorption that allows the book’s fragile world, all air and thought, to maintain itself for a while, a bamboo and paper house among earthquakes; within it readers acquire peace, become more powerful, feel braver and wiser in the ways of the world…

Pleasure reading is playful: it is a free activity standing outside ordinary life; it absorbs the player completely, is unproductive, and takes place within circumscribed limits of space and time… [It] is at root a play activity, intrinsically motivated and usually paratelic, that is, engaged in for its own sake.

Nell takes play seriously I should say. “The pleasure of the text”, as Roland Barthes said. Often forgotten.

A very different book on reading that delights me is Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World by David Denby (NY, Touchstone, 1997.) Denby is a film critic who, given the controversies in the United States over the “Western Canon,” decided to enrol in Literature Humanities at Columbia University, thirty years after he had done it in the early 1960s. He concludes that both sides of the “culture wars”–radical and conservative–get it wrong.

Here he is on John Stuart Mill, paired with Marx in this course; the instructor found Mill platitudinous and dull, but to Denby “we read Mill not only because he articulates what many of us believe about freedom in an open society but because Mill’s arguments encompass the ethical condition of our believing things at all.” Mill, Denby says, “demands that we accept uncertainty. He wants us to live…with the assumption that life is neither stationary, nor easily understood. No single idea–religious, economic, political–will organize everything, interpret everything, unify everything. We’re condemned to change and complexity, and only reason and debate will produce knowledge and even progress.” Such ideas, as Denby says, please neither the Christian right nor the cultural left. (pp. 352-255)

So there we have two perspectives: reading as play (Nell) and reading as mind-altering substance perhaps (Denby)– and both are right, yet incomplete.

One text on the very long list of HSC options (where Shakespeare is compulsory pretty much at the same level it has been since the 1970s) is a third good book on reading: Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading, London, Flamingo, 1997. This is a bibliomaniac’s delight: I wonder if Barry has read it? He probably has, even though it hardly fits his parameters for what “English” should be about.

Another book (not on the HSC) that demonstrates how a “canonical” text grows in changing contexts and with diverse readers, is Jonathan Bate’sThe Genius of Shakespeare (London, Picador, 1997): very good.

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Here is where I live (2003) –a view towards the City over Surry Hills from approximately where M now lives. Glad to see you here 🙂
The odd-looking individual just below is Ninglun.

3 October 2002: Vermont Street 1


At Vermont Street Monday to Friday at 5 pm without fail I would listen to the ABC Children’s Hour, a habit begun the previous year as my sister was a listener; she became an Argonaut and then so did I. I was Leda 37 (each member was allotted a “ship” and given a number), but I only ever won one Blue Certificate. Many quite prominent Australians have testified to how significant this rather odd radio program was in their lives.

Can I remember the Argonauts theme song? Let’s try:

Row, row, merry oarsmen row
That dangers lie ahead, we know, we know–
But bend with all your might
As we sail into the night
For wrongs we’re bound to right,
Jason cry–
“Adventurers,
Argonauts, row, row, row.”

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