Extracurricular and curricular activities

In one of my other lives, the one that doesn’t blog about writing and reading or do design projects at an urban scale, I am a teacher. This semester I am teaching design to architecture students at RMIT University here in Melbourne, Australia. The theme for our semester-long design studio Is the ‘uncanny house’, a theme that is close to my heart. I love the sense of the uncanny even more than the sense of the sublime; it is a state of mind and aspect of our internal landscapes, and external world, that sparks my imagination.


The uncanny is a sense or state of mind given much thought by Freud, who wrote a significant essay on the topic. I won’t confess to my students (some of whom might find me confessing in this blog anyway) that I have not yet read the full text of Freud’s essay. It’s on my to-do list for the State Library, which will undoubtedly have a copy; I might go there this weekend. Writing and reading in the La Trobe reading room (pictured above) is a wonderful experience; cool air, silence and such wonderful light in a soaring volume. 

My students will be designing an uncanny house for a client who was a historical figure near the site, which is out in the forest northwest of Melbourne - a Dr. Gweneth Wisewould. Dr. Wisewould is a fascinating woman who died in 1972; she will be our client for the house design, represented by me in her posthumous absence. Dr. Wisewould liked to wear men’s clothing, and was something of a bohemian in Melbourne before moving to the country in 1938. All things considered, she is a fitting and robust figure to base a design exercise around. I suspect she will be a demanding client, as well.

Some time in the midst of all the work and teaching, I will have to find time to write - in the usual haunts, which now include a rotation in the library of the RACV Club on Bourke Street. I have become a member of this private club, and they have a delightful library, a nice high space filled with books and light. I confess I have been writing there more than in cafes in recent times. Never mind!

Love and Devotion

This morning I had the privilege of viewing the State Library of Victoria exhibition entitled Love and Devotion - From Persia and Beyond, which focuses primarily on illuminated manuscripts of Persian poetry. A gallery of images can be found here. These works are on loan from the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, and they are truly remarkable. 

While I was looking at the works, I tried to imagine their first owners and readers, and I attempted to look at the exquisite illustrations and spiderweb-script with fresh eyes. I imagined that the far-off (and now long dead) reader would have felt they were at a pinnacle of refinement, and their civilisation at a peak to produce such extraordinary works. This made me wonder about our own civilisation. 

We produce some amazing things, no doubt, but they are almost exclusively machine made, and the qualities of the objects and documents I come in contact with are somewhat pixelated and crude when compared to these rarified hand-illuminated plates. The works in the exhibition are impossibly fine - and entirely without pixels. The only thing in our contemporary world that compares is, perhaps, the impossible filigree of a printed circuit board, which can strangely bear a passing resemblance to some of the more abstract illuminated panels in the exhibition. 

A life without pixels is something to consider. I was put in mind of this recently, as I have purchased and begun using an electric typewriter. I am still astonished at the clarity and crispness of a page of typed text; with its faint debossing, each character is razor sharp, and computer printed pages look slushy by comparison - even those that have been laser-printed. The beauty of the typewriter is that it is now old technology, and it has been more-or-less perfected. It is like having my own printing press. 

Of course, these may not be original observations, but it doesn't really matter - they were prompted by a fleeting impression gained from the exhibition, a strange sense that we are not as 'advanced' in the developed nations as we persist in thinking we are. Who knows: if media devices such as the typewriter cease to exist, perhaps we are going backwards.