Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 32 — revisiting the 2002 HSC

This began when in seeking some of the underpinning of my attitude to (for example) Marxism I did a search for “grand narratives” and found this rather excellent note. On Facebook I remarked: An excellent explanation. And yes, I am very chary about all “grand narratives”….

That in turn made me think of the HSC Extension English Class I taught at Sydney Boys High from July to the end of 2002 — very much a catch-up exercise for a rather demoralised class. The topic was “Postmodernism” and the texts were Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (or rather the film of it) which I had never read or seen, John Fowles The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which I had read though years before, and David Williamson’s play Dead White Males. To say this was all a challenge is an understatement! The former teacher of the class had been forced through no fault of her own to take early retirement, and I was sent in to plug the hole!

It is bloody marvellous!
We were studying the novel, not this excellent movie…

So I did a lot of work in preparation and decided to harness my still rather new blogging skills for the task. The result may be found on my mothballed English and ESL blog! Workshop 06 — Year 12 Extension 1: pomo 2002. And on results — I should explain first  Extension subjects have four different bands: E4, E3, E2 and E1 — with E4 being the highest band. It represents (converting to %) a performance rated between 90 and 100!

Post HSC Entry:

Hey, congratulations!

Of the eight E4 bands given to SBHS we got 5!

14 of you got 40 or better out of 50!

The state awards for E4 amounted to 15.96% — SBHS attained 13.55%

OUR CLASS attained 22.72%!

I am happy; hope you are too.

Good luck to you all for the future.

Neil Whitfield December 2002

My first entry:

Entry 1


This is a special site for the 2002 HSC English Extension Class studying Post-Modernism. Today I will be putting in basic links for you. Hey, I found all this: so can you! Keep coming back as notes, questions, all manner of stuff will appear here–but not pics, though we may link to some if necessary.

Just for fun: The Post Modern Generator. You too can write meaningless but impressive post modern essays.

Unfortunately that PM Generator no longer exists! See our ABC though: “It’s essentially a website which generates random literary essays which sound good, but are actually complete bollocks. The essays come with sub-headings and plausible looking footnotes.” It was great fun!

All this was being done on the blogging site I then favoured: Diary-X. Well, we know what happened to Diary-X!

Links updated 2006

This is really quite an old site now, but it seems that there is still a demand for it. I put it up on Diary-X for a Year 12 English Extension class (2002) at Sydney Boys High. In February 2006 Diary-X crashed and burned:

February 24, 2006

Dear Friends,

There is no easy way for me to say this. Diary-X has suffered from an unrecoverable drive failure. Due to a combination of issues, the last backup (from December 2004) contained only configuration files and other non-essential files. We do not have any other backups for the site. All journals, user information, forum posts, templates, images, and everything else are all irrecoverably lost…


Stephen Deken

Thanks to Yahoo Search, I was able to recover cached entries.

You may like the “less conventional” practice questions I set for the students.

1. Write a parody script of a mainstream TV sitcom OR lifestyle program. Use character/presenter names and an appropriate program title to cue the reader in. Try to focus your parody on the identity/construct assumptions, or the positioning of the responder, on which the original program relies.

2. Choose a character from one of your set texts. Place this character in a different context, even perhaps one of the other set texts. This need not be a serious piece of writing, but should reflect some of the issues postmodernism characteristically addresses.

3. Write a self-reflective prose piece that aims from the outset to force the responder to confront his/her own cultural constructs.

4. Taking your cue from the use of Shakespeare in Dead White Males, write a dialogue OR a narrative in which one of your own favourite composers from the Western Canon (Dickens? Donne? Homer? Socrates? Sophocles?….but not Shakespeare!) encounters a “disciple” of Postmodernism.

5. Write a series of five short letters (minimum 50 words, maximum 200 words each) to the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald from people of various ages, gender and background who are advocates or opponents of the study of Postmodernism in Year 12. Make reference to at least ONE set text in the course of this series.

It turned out to be an extremely pleasing experience, that whole thing! But talk about pressure!

And I see at least one of the members of that class has found same fame since! Meet Phil Lesnie.

Phil Lesnie — I think he is the son of the late Andrew Lesnie, cinematographer. Now a great illustrator of children’s books.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 31 — reading and viewing

Way back in July in an earlier post in the lockdown series: Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 4 — talk to a Rabbit the subject was Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and the Visconti movie of the same name. There was also the recent documentary about the boy who played Tadzio in that movie, about how his life had been affected by being known as “the most beautiful boy in the world.”

Mitchell (The Rabbit!) and I compared notes on book and movie. I reread the book, which was in my eBook library, in the course of our discussion. The version I have is from Feedbooks.

Project Gutenberg has just released the very first English language edition, as published in The Dial, VOLUME LXXVI, January to June, 1924, translated by Kenneth Burke. “It is now considered to be much more faithful and explicit than H. T. Lowe-Porter’s more famous 1930 translation.” Which I don’t have. Let’s compare the opening of the novella in both:

Martin C. Doege 2008: Gustav Aschenbach, or von Aschenbach, as his official surname had been since his fiftieth birthday, had taken another solitary walk from his apartment in Munich’s Prinzregentenstraße on a spring afternoon of the year 19.., which had shown the continent such a menacing grimace for a few months. Overexcited by the dangerous and difficult work of that morning that demanded a maximum of caution, discretion, of forcefulness and exactitude of will, the writer had been unable, even after lunch, to stop the continued revolution of that innermost productive drive of his, that motus animi continuus, which after Cicero is the heart of eloquence, and had been thwarted trying to find that soothing slumber which he, in view of his declining resistance, needed so dearly. Therefore he had gone outside soon after tea, hoping that fresh air and exertion would regenerate him and reward him with a productive evening.

Kenneth Burke 1924: On a spring afternoon of the year 19—, when our continent lay under such threatening weather for whole months, Gustav Aschenbach, or von Aschenbach as his name read officially after his fiftieth birthday, had left his apartment on the Prinzregentenstrasse in Munich and had gone for a long walk. Overwrought by the trying and precarious work of the forenoon—which had demanded a maximum wariness, prudence, penetration, and rigour of the will—the writer had not been able even after the noon meal to break the impetus of the productive mechanism within him, that motus animi continuus which constitutes, according to Cicero, the foundation of eloquence; and he had not attained the healing sleep which—what with the increasing exhaustion of his strength—he needed in the middle of each day. So he had gone outdoors soon after tea, in the hopes that air and movement would restore him and prepare him for a profitable evening.

I think I prefer Burke!

Of course Death in Venice has been rendered as a stage production in 2013, as a ballet in 2003, and as his last opera by Benjamin Britten in 1973, and has been transformed in other ways as well. See Wikipedia.

And the ballet:

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 4 — talk to a Rabbit

Not just any rabbit. This rabbit: At the end of December 2002 Mister Rabbit drove me out to Sutherland… Mister Rabbit wondered whether I would be writing up our day in Sutherland (and Sans Souci) beyond what I had to say on the day… Mr Rabbit was 20 at the time, and had his say as well:

We passed my father’s old school, which has a great view (“The Catholics know how to buy land”), and the place of N’s early religion, which looked, I thought, not unlike a scout hall. And then an unexpected surprise: N’s childhood home, which he hadn’t been inside since 1952, was completely empty (on account of being ready for auction), and its front door was wide open. We ventured in and had a good look around. N pointed out the many structural changes, including the removal of fireplaces; thankfully, the house itself can’t be knocked down: built in c. 1913, it is heritage. It is, however, being encroached upon by medium density housing, of which there is much in Sutherland these days. But if I had a spare $400,000 in the bank, I’d buy the house tomorrow. N was glowing afterwards, and I was very happy too.

Only $400,000? You would need maybe THREE TIMES that these days, Rabbit!

Anyway, after an absence Rabbit has reappeared on Facebook. He is no longer 20 just as I am now much nearer 80! He is also a very experienced High School English teacher — indeed Head of English somewhere in the Blue Mountains, where he currently lives.

Our latest conversation was conducted via Facebook comments. I had posted a link to the following quite disturbing story in The Guardian, which certainly raises interesting ethical and aesthetic issues.

Björn Andrésen was just 15 when he walked straight into the lion’s den, being cast as Tadzio, the sailor-suited object of desire in Luchino Visconti’s film Death in Venice. Its release in 1971 made him not merely a star but an instant icon – the embodiment of pristine youthful beauty. Sitting alone in Stockholm today at the age of 66, he looks more like Gandalf with his white beard and his gaunt face framed by shoulder-length white locks. His eyes twinkle as alluringly as ever but he’s no pussycat. Asked what he would say to Visconti if he were here now, he doesn’t pause. “Fuck off,” he says.

No one who sees The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, a new documentary about Andrésen’s turbulent and tragic past, will be surprised by that answer. Visconti, he tells me, “didn’t give a fuck” about his feelings. He wasn’t alone in that. “I’ve never seen so many fascists and assholes as there are in film and theatre,” says Andrésen. “Luchino was the sort of cultural predator who would sacrifice anything or anyone for the work.”…

The Rabbit began:

Rabbit: haven’t seen the film but recently listened to the audiobook.

Neil James Whitfield: The book is very good.

Rabbit: It is. Shorter than I had realised too.
Neil James Whitfield: The movie is magnificent too — it is reading what it did to the boy playing Tadzio that gives me pause.

Rabbit: the Polish boy was played by a Swede?

At which point I posted the music from the movie.

Rabbit: well I think I will watch it during this lockdown

Neil James Whitfield: So I am rereading “Death in Venice” right now as it is in my eBook library.

Rabbit: The theme of pestilence seems relevant.

Neil James Whitfield: Parts of the last chapter seem very relevant. Yes, I have finished it now. That final paragraph really is something.

Rabbit: well I just watched the film. It’s quite something. They nailed the casting of Tadzio.

Neil James Whitfield: Yes, I was absolutely speechless when I first saw it — and I hadn’t read the book at that stage. The boy really IS Tadzio, and Dirk Bogarde is very good too. The cinematography, the music, everything — all so good. That’s why that Guardian article really does raise interesting questions.

Rabbit: visually such a beautiful film. [Referring to my comment.] Yes very true. I want to watch the new film about the boy actor and also other films with Bogarde who I don’t know much about.

Neil James Whitfield: Wikipedia as usual is a good intro — Bogarde was in some great films and had a very interesting life. What Wikipedia says about his sexuality is very true.

Rabbit: the film Victim is on YouTube and I’ll start with that.

Not all Facebook time is wasted!

Nor is listening to great music and viewing great movies a waste of time. Thanks, YouTube! Not so long ago we could not have had this pleasure.

NOTE: I am replacing the final video I had earlier as I see its maker has produced something even better, and more relevant to The Guardian article.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 3

Things have not improved significantly. Hopefully my on-line order (see yesterday’s post) arrives this morning, keeping me in food and such necessities!

Now one thing you can do in lockdown is read. As well as my few library books, I have the vast eBook library I have posted about before. That now stands at 2,830 books! One recent acquisition — and 99.9% of my eBooks are freebies — is E M Forster, A Passage to India. I would say it has just emerged from copyright, as it was not available from Project Gutenberg before.

Now of course I had read it before, first while a student at Sydney University around 1961-2, and again later on. Naturally I also saw the movie.

All sorts of interesting things can be said about the book and the movie! We perhaps need to be reminded of three things: 1) E M Forster was a closeted gay man 2) the book appeared in 1924 3) the emphasis on the Muslim in India was one with the way the British tended to think about the “natives”. The novel, while not autobiographical, is rooted in Forster’s own experiences in India and with Indians. Much has been said, and fair enough too, along the lines of post-colonial critique; the first and still most famous example of that is Edward Said.

But what struck me most as after all this time I read the first few chapters is what absolutely brilliant writing it is. Also, that it really is better than any movie or other adaptation. Let me close by indulging in a long quotation from Chapter 1.

I quote the entire chapter!

Except for the Marabar Caves—and they are twenty miles off—the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. There is no painting and scarcely any carving in the bazaars. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.

Inland, the prospect alters. There is an oval Maidan, and a long sallow hospital. Houses belonging to Eurasians stand on the high ground by the railway station. Beyond the railway—which runs parallel to the river—the land sinks, then rises again rather steeply. On the second rise is laid out the little civil station, and viewed hence Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place. It is a city of gardens. It is no city, but a forest sparsely scattered with huts. It is a tropical pleasaunce washed by a noble river. The toddy palms and neem trees and mangoes and pepul that were hidden behind the bazaars now become visible and in their turn hide the bazaars. They rise from the gardens where ancient tanks nourish them, they burst out of stifling purlieus and unconsidered temples. Seeking, light and air, and endowed with more strength than man or his works, they soar above the lower deposit to greet one another with branches and beckoning leaves, and to build a city for the birds. Especially after the rains do they screen what passes below, but at all times, even when scorched or leafless, they glorify the city to the English people who inhabit the rise, so that new-comers cannot believe it to be as meagre as it is described, and have to be driven down to acquire disillusionment. As for the civil station itself, it provokes no emotion. It charms not, neither does it repel. It is sensibly planned, with a red-brick club on its brow, and farther back a grocer’s and a cemetery, and the bungalows are disposed along roads that intersect at right angles. It has nothing hideous in it, and only the view is beautiful; it shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky.

The sky too has its changes, but they are less marked than those of the vegetation and the river. Clouds map it up at times, but it is normally a dome of blending tints, and the main tint blue. By day the blue will pale down into white where it touches the white of the land, after sunset it has a new circumference—orange, melting upwards into tenderest purple. But the core of blue persists, and so it is by night. Then the stars hang like lamps from the immense vault. The distance between the vault and them is as nothing to the distance behind them, and that farther distance, though beyond colour, last freed itself from blue.

The sky settles everything—not only climates and seasons but when the earth shall be beautiful. By herself she can do little—only feeble outbursts of flowers. But when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The sky can do this because it is so strong and so enormous. Strength comes from the sun, infused in it daily, size from the prostrate earth. No mountains infringe on the curve. League after league the earth lies flat, heaves a little, is flat again. Only in the south, where a group of fists and fingers are thrust up through the soil, is the endless expanse interrupted. These fists and fingers are the Marabar Hills, containing the extraordinary caves.

I just revelled in that!

Inspiration point

It is very tangentially related to the above, if you give yourself enough leeway! But in fact it is from our local Wollongong news, and is a marvellous example of human kindness and also of Australian multiculturalism at its best.

You may have read here in the past about one of the favourite restaurants of my friend Chris Turner and myself — Samara’s. See for example Munching against the fear of “the other”…

On Facebook I remarked by way of introduction:

Samara’s is such a great restaurant, and such wonderful people. Their restaurant is halal.

If that worries anyone, then those worriers have the problem, not Samara’s.

Chris Turner and I were meant to do Friday lunch at Samara’s when the signs of what we are now going through became apparent — before Gladys actually called it.

Screenshot - 24_07_2016 , 8_40_05 AM

Now see what they are up to in the current lockdown.


The grocery order arrived! Early, in fact!

Danny Boy rejigged to suit a re-imagined 1937 Shanghai — The 800

And the result is very impressive.

It may occur to some that the warlike imagery — rather beautiful imagery too — speaks of the current positioning of China in the world, and perhaps it does. But as a Chinese commenter on YouTube notes:

As a Chinese, I have to correct some unfair comments here: This event happened in the Battle of Shanghai in 1937, which is part of Sino-Japanese war (or called War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression). The Sino-Japanese war is probably one of the most important battlefields of WWII on the east side. Japan started his full scale of planned invasion into China since 7 July 1937, Marco Polo Bridge Incident (七七事变) , and Japan actually invaded and occupied Northeastern part of China since 1931! The WWII is not only a war between Germany/Italy/Japan against USA/UK/France/СССР, but involve many other countries in the world. The WWII also did not only start from Pearl Harbour or German invasion to Poland, but much early!!! People should remember the history in a correct way so we can avoid WWIII.

I have left his/her English uncorrected, as the opinion expressed is clear enough, and certainly not wrong. One might also recall what I think is one of Spielberg’s best movies, Empire of the Sun (1987) the opening scenes of which deal with the same period. Much of that movie was actually filmed in Shanghai, without CGI.

Back to the “Danny Boy” video. When I posted it on Facebook I said:

This is Danny Boy as you have never heard it before — and it is extraordinary!

‘”The Eight Hundred” from Director Guan Hu is released on August 21, 2020. The highly-anticipated closing track “Remembering”, adapted from the well-known Irish folk tune “Londonderry Air”, is released worldwide on August 11, 2020 featuring global superstar tenor Andrea Bocelli and Chinese pop diva Na Ying who perform together for the very first time. The single was produced by Bocelli’s long-time collaborator Bob Ezrin, together with film music producer Yu Fei, intertwining vocals and orchestra to create a poignant and moving piece of music”.’

Part of my f*** demonising China and Chinese people series too…. Say no to the beaters of drums on all sides!

The imagery in that video really is beautiful — documentary but also surreal. Remembering those days in China seems to me no different from us here in Australia remembering Kokoda, or English people remembering the Blitz and the Battle of Britain.

It is not especially warlike or excessively jingoistic, though I note in the trailer below the reference to China not being humiliated….

It is interesting to note that the emblems one sees on caps here and there are those of the Chinese Government in 1937, that of Chiang Kai-Shek.

Here is a trailer for the movie, which apparently was made for IMAX screening.

And here is a review from The Hollywood Reporter.

The story unfolds shortly after the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Under siege for roughly five days, a vastly outnumbered 524th Regiment of NRA defended the strategically located Sihang Warehouse to provide cover for the retreating forces and serve as a buffer for Shanghai’s foreign concessions across the Suzhou River. The motley crew of veteran soldiers, civilians and so-called deserters totals just over 400, rather than the 800 they allow everyone to believe. The numbers dwindle as the siege carries on and the soldiers are mowed down by Japanese.

The Eight Hundred rivals Dunkirk and 1917 for mud-soaked, blood-splattered gruesomeness expected of a war epic, some of it realized with assistance from international heavy hitters. Visual effects came courtesy of Tim Crosbie (X-Men: Apocalypse) and Jason Troughton (A Bigger Splash), and veteran action coordinator Glenn Boswell (The Hobbit) chipped in with battle choreography. Brit Rupert Gregson-Williams (Wonder Woman) wrote the theme (reminiscent of “Danny Boy”) to complement Andrew Kawczynski’s (a contributor to the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick) score, which sidesteps both excessively inspirational and on-the-nose.