A Song of Welcome to a Darker Season

autumn streets

It is Autumn in Melbourne, and I am already revelling in the steely grey skies, leaf-strewn pavements and regular showers of rain. During Winter last year, I described the darker months as my personal peak seasons of creativity. Today has been relatively warm, but the skies are big over Carlton and they have, to borrow a phrase from The Orb, "little fluffy clouds". So here is a nod to the darker seasons that are coming upon us: I for one welcome them.

Christmas bustle in Melbourne Town

There is a good vibe in town today, it is really busy but not frantic, and people seem to be behaving decently. Makes a change for the Christmas period. Here are some men at work at David Jones, in the food court. I liked their hustle.

Oh, and ignore the Youtube suggested videos that show up after you have played the little movie - I don't know how they select them, but they are nothing to do with me!

Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat: A bleak but entertaining Melbourne

When we peer into the future of the cities we live in, the only one thing we can know for certain is that there will be change. Melbourne has changed markedly since I moved here in 1995, and the mind boggles to think of the transformations that longer time periods will unleash on the complexion of our fair city. In fifty years, who knows what Melbourne will be like?

One person who has allowed his mind to boggle in the aforementioned fashion is Andrez Bergen, ex resident of Melbourne, current resident of Tokyo, and author of the noir homage novel Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat. Andrez offers us one imagined future for Melbourne, and it has to be said that things don’t look so good. The dystopian Melbourne of TSMG, pitched at some distance into the future, has the unique distinction of being the only city left in the world. Unfortunately, things are not going terribly well in terms of civil liberties, the political climate or the environment. In fact, things are comprehensively fucked up on all fronts, and the portrait painted is of an overcrowded, polluted metropolis groaning under the control of a government vested in corporate interests and busy herding non-conformists and misfits into extramural death camps styled as ‘hospitals’.

Despite this undeniable grimness, the novel is also pretty amusing, and it mines the noir vein with gay abandon, to use an old-fashioned phrase. Andrez wears his pop-culture influences on his sleeve, and the result is a compote that mashes up a plethora of fictional frameworks into a believable, seamelss whole. Readers who know Melbourne will enjoy seeing the geography of the city rezoned and remapped, polarised by the presence of a dome over the CBD that shelters the wealthy elite. And god help you if you find yourself in Richmond, which Bergen transforms into a demilitarised wasteland; Abbotsford and other inner suburbs don’t fare much better.

I for one appreciate someone taking the time to imagine an Australia of the future, as it is a welcome change to the ubiquitous North American setting of much popular fiction, and science fiction. Nevertheless, that wouldn’t be enough to recommend it. Happily, TSMG is also a ripping yarn in the best dystopian, gumshoe tradition.

Oh, and on a final note, you will thoroughly enjoy the company of the protagonist, Floyd Maquina - he is ruggedly handsome and generally ruined; witty, self destructive and self-effacing with his air of gracious defeat. He has a weary charm that is impossible to resist. If only he were real...

A farewell to Winter

I wanted to revisit something that I have previously thought to be of great importance, and that is the concept of negative capability as defined by the poet Keats. This popped up in Orna Ross' blog on creative intelligence (http://www.ornaross.com/). While I am not really in sync with Orna's design aesthetic, or I suspect her fiction, some interesting things turn up in her blog from time to time, and I enjoy her regular email.

Recently Orna reminded her readers of the concept of negative capability, which Keats defined as being ’when a man (sic) is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts — without any irritable reaching out after fact and reason." I knew this quote well, and have long considered that negative capability is one of the most underrated and overlooked thinking concepts of the last few centuries. This is a powerful counterpoint to the searching, visually probing, post-enlightenment scientific gaze, a dissenting voice in a time where scientific thinking sought nothing more than a constant, exhausting and 'irritable reaching out after fact and reason".

Keats himself clearly understood the capacity of his concept to offend the man of science, when he said that 'what shocks the virtuous philosopher, delights the chameleon poet."

It gets better. I had never read the later part of the quotation, where Keats goes on to say the following: "It [negative capability] does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things any more than from its taste for the bright one, because both end in speculation." What a fantastic appeal to the aesthetics of the Gothic: to joyously relish the dark side of things. This is the essential nature of my love of the winter season, that it is the time of darkness and brooding fascination. Now, of course, Spring is upon us, and so we bid farewell to the darkness for another year. Nevertheless, it will be good to keep hold of Keat's negative capability as we enter the new seasonal cycle. This is a potent time of year creatively, when darkness turns towards light, and the days lengthen - and I look forward to the coming regeneration, hopefully without an irritable reaching after facts and reason.

Melbourne No. 1, but for the chosen few?

Collins Street, late WinterSo Melbourne is on the top of the list of the World's Most Liveable Cities once more, having pipped Vancouver (with its touch of rioting) from the top post. This is all fine and good, and certainly from the point of view of a person living in the CBD or on a tram route (like my good self), there is some truth in the rating. However, what if you spend two hours a day in a car, just getting to and from work? Is that one of the most liveable experiences in the world? After all, that is hardly a rare circumstance. I merely pose the question, for your consideration.