Malouf and Maalouf: reading July 2005

Both worth revisiting!

On a bit of a Malouf trip lately…

07 July 2005

Because of Erwin, and Jenny, my new coachee. Rebadging my ex-Salt Mine site also means I can use it shamelessly for my own purposes too, so I have done so on Malouf and Wordsworth. Mind you, there are people at The Mine who will benefit from that.

The resulting entry is informative and very pretty, if I say so myself… As I do, as who else will? 😉

Mind you, I don’t mind being on a Malouf trip. Malouf isn’t only the best gay writer in Australia, perhaps closely followed by Robert Dessaix, but is arguably one of the best English-speaking writers today. So far as such grand statements of opinion mean anything, of course.

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Mind you, in the gay Aussie author stakes, Christos Tsialkos’s Dead Europe could be putting in a challenge. There is a book I am keen to read.

Amin Maalouf’s keynote speech… September 11 2004

07 July 2005

This is just wonderful. Amin Maalouf is one of the wisest people I have read since 2000! I have posted the text of this speech, delivered to PEN International in Oslo in 2004, on my Tripod English and ESL Site.

To save you time and trouble, I am pasting the entry here.

Last year (Tripod site) I said the most important book I had read in the previous five years had been Amin Maalouf’s In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong (2000), also known as On Identity. I still think so, but on checking the links on the entry on it, and on the links to the left, I experienced Net Rage: the link no longer works. Such a shame, as that link gave you the complete introduction to On Identity!

Fortunately the problem did prove temporary…

In the meantime I found the text of Amin Maalouf’s keynote speech during the farewell dinner, 11th September 2004, at a meeting of PEN Norway, so execrably presented that rather than refer you to the original I am reproducing it, cleaned but not edited, here. I find it extraordinarily wise and moving, but you must make up your own mind about what Maalouf says.

When my friend Kjell Olav Jensen, president of the Norwegian PEN, asked me to say a few words during this farewell dinner, I noted it was on Saturday evening, but I did not immediately notice the date…

When I finally realized our gathering would take place on September 11th, I was, understandably, overwhelmed by memories of that dreadful day. How did I learn the news? At what time precisely? What was my very first reaction? Whom did I call?

Then I remembered what my father used to say about a colleague of his — they were both poets, old friends but slightly rivals in literature: “This gentleman is so self-centred that if you ask him how did the Second World war begin, he would tell you: ‘I was shaving when my brother rushed in to tell me that Hitler had invaded Poland’ … as if the world war had been launched from his bathroom.”

On that September 11, I was not in my bathroom. I was already watching the news. I had been writing since early in the morning. Then, noticing it was almost 3 p.m. I had decided to listen to the news. I had heard on the previous day, or maybe on the day before, that there had been an attempt on the life of Ahmad Shah Massoud. There were conflicting reports; some saying he had been only slightly injured, and others saying he was badly hurt, and possibly dead. I switched on the TV, just in time to watch the breaking news signal: an unidentified airplane had just crashed into one of the twin towers.

Since I was a child, I had always listened to the news very closely. My father, apart from being a poet, was also a journalist. He rarely missed a news bulletin. I followed in his steps. Some of the greatest sorrows of my life were linked to international events. Some of my greatest joys as well.

The fall of the Berlin wall, fifteen years ago, was a personal moment of hope. After years and years of confrontation, which translated into many deadly local conflicts, and with the frightening Damocles sword over our heads — that pile-up of nuclear devices ready to destroy and overdestroy every living creature on our earth, now came the sigh of relief. The arms race had come to an end without even a gun being shot. It was almost a miracle. Our human species was such a wise brand of creatures! Now we could hope for the best! Democracy and freedom would now extend to cover the whole world. Humanity would get rid of its old ways, to enter into an era of reconciliation and peaceful competition. Ready, at last, to confront its true enemies, its common enemies: poverty, illiteracy, and disease.

Hopes were very high indeed. Although, in the nineties, came the internal conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, instances of religious strife and ethnic cleansing… Quite disturbing events, but, well, we said, this is the unavoidable adjustment period. We tried to believe that ethnic wars were the last song of the dying ghosts of the past. We could not imagine they were signalling the emergence of new ghosts that were coming to haunt our future.

Then came September 11th. Not an accident. Not a natural disaster. But a man-made disaster that seemed to be an ominous introduction to the new century.

What went wrong? Why were our hopes so brutally dashed?

Those who pinned hopes, like I did, on the end of the cold war, may have overlooked one or two significant features of the world of yesterday. Namely: that it was divided along ideological and philosophical lines. And that it had been replaced by a world divided along identity lines.

I am not fond of ideologies, especially when they have so often led to appalling practices. But when people define themselves through their chosen ideology, there is room for debate. When people define themselves through their inherited identities, there is no room for debate. Everyone states and overstates his identity, and that’s it, there is nothing more to say. In today’s world, there is no true debate. Only shouting, imprecation, condemnation, mobilization. Hatred and hatred, violence and even more violence.

And when there is no debate, when there is so much mistrust, so much hatred, democracy and freedom cannot expand. In fact, they are receding, and one could expect them to recede even more in the years to come.

Every morning, we get up to learn that another bomb has exploded somewhere, that another massacre has been perpetrated. And there seems to be no end to it. The aftershocks of September eleventh go on and on and on.

This is not the world we dreamt of fifteen years ago! This is definitely not the future we hoped for.

Our world has lost its way, it is heading backwards. The West is fast losing its moral credibility, and nobody else seems to be offering valuable alternatives for mankind. Certainly not the Arab world where I come from!

Let’s face it: this entire world is in total disarray. It desperately needs to be re-imagined, re-invented, in order to be rebuilt on sounder grounds. We need to overcome that sterile conflict of identities. We need to build a human culture which would include significant elements of each culture, so nobody would feel excluded. So nobody would indulge in hatred and self hatred, in destruction and self destruction.

Re-invent the world, re-imagine the future: that is not a task that should be left to political or religious activists. It is precisely the task of poets, essayists and novelists. It is up to the writers of the six continents to strike the right notes, to find the right balance between universality and diversity. Universality of fundamental human values, diversity of languages and cultural expressions.

It is ultimately up to us to determine whether our century will go down in history as the century of suicide or the century of imagination, the century of human folly or the century of human wisdom, the century of the bomb or the century of the pen.

At no time in History were writers more indispensable. At no other time in history was the burden of change so heavy on their shoulders.

NOTE: Now you can read chunks of Amin Maalouf — enough to get his drift — on Google Books: In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong.

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That number 75 again!

Hmmm. Best just repost Ninety years on – family thoughts.

The following telegram arrived from my father on 20th July 1943, my mother’s 32nd birthday. She was still in hospital in Hurstville recovering from my birth. The nurses called me “The Air Raid Siren”. I wonder why. They also called me “Dopey” after one of the Seven Dwarves. I still have the ears.

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I had a real name of course: Neil James. Later in Sutherland and among my Christison relatives I would routinely get the double version to distinguish me from my uncle, Neil Christison. You see my mother had promised her mother, Ada Christison (nee Hunter) that if I were to be born close to 6th July, Uncle Neil’s birthday, she would name me after him. He was then in the RAAF and it was a tense time. Neil was only 19 that birthday in 1943. And so I got his name.

Or the version everyone used.

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Roy and Ada Christison in Shellharbour 1929 or early 30s. He seems to be smoking—something I never saw him do!

My uncle’s actual given name was Nelson. You will see where that came from on this post – an inheritance from Grandma Ada’s side of the family. Her mother (1845-1925) was born Isabella Ann NELSON in Westmorland, England. My mother’s middle name was Isabella – a fact she often hid! The story goes Isabella Hunter died thinking she was back in the Lakes District. Homesick. “Nelson” however preferred Neil.

You will recall that Uncle Neil didn’t quite make it to 90, but had he done so I would have marked the occasion – as I would since I carry his name. See also Christison on my previous blog, and my 22 May 2014 post Another gathering of the clan – and Sutherland draws me back… 2.

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In Canberra 1955. I am looking across the path at my Uncle Neil and Aunt Fay. The other woman is a friend of theirs whose name may have been Judy, if memory serves.

Fun repost: Revolutionary new experiences in The Shire 1967 to 1968

Ten years ago I posted the following referring to — gulp! — what is now 50 years ago!

Posted on June 10, 2008

Such a time it was of social change when I was 24, even in The Shire — where one Beth Kimball, an American teaching at Cronulla High School, introduced me to the following hitherto unknown exotica. Well, maybe not to the rose wine or the cappuccino, but they were new to me around that time.

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Hobbits

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Banana cake and carrot cake: both seemed quite odd things to do at the time…

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You would be surprised how hard it was for Beth to locate this piece of exotica. What was wrong with Bushells or LanChoo anyway?

My Beautiful Laundrette after 30+ years!

I was supposed to be going to yumcha with M in Sydney yesterday, but he rang the day before to postpone until next week, the weather here and in Sydney being so bad. So I got to see My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) on SBS Viceland.

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Gordon Warnecke and Daniel Day-Lewis

Fantastic particularly was Saeed Jaffrey (1929-2015) as The Gordon Warnecke character’s uncle. The movie scores 97% positive on Rotten Tomatoes.

I first saw My Beautiful Laundrette in 1986 (I think!) at The Dendy, then in Martin Place, which closed in 2003.

It opened in 1981 with Chris Noonan’s Stepping Out and had early success with other documentaries, including the anti-nuclear film Backs to the Blast and the Aboriginal music film Wrong Side of the Road.

“It was a real leftie cinema,” said Sarfaty, who added that the MLC Centre above the venue and the underground railway below made addition of more screens impossible.

The cinema’s heyday was the mid-1980s to the early 1990s when audiences queued down the street for Zentropa, Truly Madly Deeply, Like Water for Chocolate and My Beautiful Laundrette.

I can’t believe that over thirty years have passed since I saw the movie there! I recall the woman sitting in front of me walked out in disgust long before the scene pictured above. At that time I was revelling in that top class I had for HSC English at SBHS, living in Chippendale, and a regular at Beau’s Britannia Hotel. All of those are documented in my various blogs.

For example:

And on Sydney High, especially 1986, I have posted a lot. Just a few examples: Class of 1986 please note: you’re getting old! (2011), More “Neil’s Decades” –8: 1956 — 1, and Expedition to Surry Hills – 3 – Sydney Boys High.

See More “Neil’s Decades” — 1: 1986 – thirty years on since the Class of 1986! See I return to teaching — 1985.

I have mentioned the class of 1986 several times – for example Philip Larkin 1922-1985.

Indirectly, as often happens, I found myself passing from a rather good blog post by J R Benjamin — What Kipling’s “Recessional” Means for Todayto the poems of Philip Larkin. I had not looked at Larkin’s work all that often since memorably teaching it to the Class of 1986 at Sydney Boys High – memorably for me as well as for them. Hence the cryptic remarks on the card accompanying the bottle of Veuve Clicquot that wonderful class gave me at the end of 1986.

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Back in June 2010…

The only time I have ever had this:

Venison in Bondi

A very special Sunday Lunch today, in part in honour of Lord Malcolm who dined here with Sirdan a few years back.

Penny, B and I were treated to oysters (well they were), venison and a killer dessert. We had Zuppa Inglese.

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It was here that we had lunch:

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This happened too in June 2010:

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Finally:

Watch me age!

Dear me, time cannot be denied, can it?

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1955; 2000

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At SBHS — 2000

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2002-3

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2010

And 2018?

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