White Noise Girl

White Noise Girl

Malenka keys in so rapidly they hardly realize, she’s got it down now, like a needle, she’s in and out of subcutaneous computer tissue, leaving no trace but a slight sting. She knows it’s the sting that will get her one day, the mainframe, Mantaray, has now got the best firewall the Bcrats and Technos can utilize. She has to key in, has to get it, its like being a junkie, get a fix, get out of town, leave your debts and your dead behind you. Only she doesn’t want to be tranked, she has to get the latest info. Newseeder fills the eyes and minds of the general citz, its not enough for her. She knows its crap, although she is not well educated and never finished Itzu school, she has ache in her for knowing shit, real shit.

Griffo is the same, he understands, there is bad fog of grey sludge in the city, it pollutes your head, gets in your cells, got to avoid it; Griffo is the only other person who feels like this that Malenka knows. They are both 15 and it’s the Mantaray shit that bonds them together. They both have an ache in them for knowing, not the stuff the Bcrats peddle. Its not the number of bytes you get, its whether you can put it together, decode the real thing that lies underneath; that’s what Griffo is good at, she’s just a mule.

Today’s bad, the fumes of the city stick to her like shit to a blanket and she’s edgy, got to get away, she’s always been able to read their surveillance, feels it scoping close; got to run. She’s always been like this, her mother was the same; Malenka reckons she ignored the warning sounds inside her head. She died for it. Accident or so they said. She was like the chick in the old story, destined always to tell the truth, and never to be believed.

Griffo is waiting for her way out the back of the city in the old pumphouse. It’s about as safe as they are going to get. He’s thin and nervous and he talks too much, way too fast like his words will run out if him before she can hear them. He is not paranoid for nothing. He’s dirty and always hungry, a natural born scavenger.

Someone’s following us, Mal; I can feel it, like its too easy, just too easy. What did ya get?

Mantaray’s gone up a grade fire proof, boy, it aint easy, anymore, it never was.

Don’t stay too long, Mal, I get the Goosebumps just thinking about you.

Griffo won’t touch a keyboard, he believes they’ve got DNA scopes and they’ll track him, He’s probably right. Mal wishes she could stay away, knows she can’t.

What you got, Mal, spill your guts. She gives him the barcodes, the other shit and watches him frown and then she waits.

Sitting in the old broken window frame her patience wearing thin, she watches the greasy sun slide down the sky. Night’s coming and she’s got to go.

Griffo?

Yeah, hang on its hard I gotta reconfigure

I got to go, Sophie is on my case, I promised her I’d be home before dark, and she worries.

Yeah, she’s got your number, ok, ok, this is not good, I reckon its climatology, its kind of arcane, like last century shit, need more data, Mal and that’ s not easy

I’ll get it tomorrow, but I’m dead meat if I don’t get home now

Alright, same place, same tomorrow, watch your arse, OK?

She doesn’t bother answering but sprints out; breathing hard she treks back in, leaving the night behind her.

**********************************************

Sophia Benjamin has been, and still is, a beautiful woman in all senses of that word. And time and pain have not marred that beauty or integrity, they have refined it. Her one regret is that she is living in an historical period of time that is degrading, it is a large regret she concedes. She was not made for this madness, she thinks, nor were any of us, she thinks. The house she had elected to live in after the Riots and the Burning had been basic, but with meticulous attention to detail and years of labour she has transformed a basic A-frame into as close a dwelling to an old Buddhist temple that she can make. For Sophia has memories and there is a splendid library of ideas and stories in her head.

She is completely aware that she has been allowed this privilege of individuality because she is the daughter of the legendary hero, General Ben or GenBen as they now call him. And she manipulates her status with a subtlety and flair that would have delighted the military mind of her father. She knows he would have been proud of her.

Waiting for her niece, Malenka, to come home, Sophia begins once more to catalogue the status of their current situation. The world has almost shifted on its axis, the planetary forecast is toxic; and men who once would have been classified as criminally psychotic govern her country. It is difficult for her, she has been trained by her father to detach from situations and reason through complex details, gaining an overview that would allow for pragmatic, yet ethical, decisions. It is so hard to hold fast to sanity with the collective unconscious of the people fragmented and terrorized. Nothing makes proper sense any more, she thinks, perhaps it never did. She hears the hiss of the back door slide shut and turns to see her niece, her pain is naked yet dangerous as if she is a broken knife, a half detonated bomb. Sophia opens her arms to her, she does this every night, but Mal is getting wilder every day, Sophia doesn’t know where she lives in her head anymore.

You’re late again Mal, its not safe out there

I know, Soph

I worry about you, small one.

I need a bath, Soph, I feel dirty, like the filth gets onto you, into you, I need a bath

And then Sophia holds her, stroking her trying to exude her own hard-won calm into this small and quivering girl.

Later, Mal, after a bath and food and after you smile just once, you and I are going to talk, girl.

Griffo had watched his friend leap down the path away to her family. He’s been so alone he’d forgotten humanity until he met Mal. All he had was his leathercat, Jinx, and the old man. He still doesn’t know about the old man who lives way up the mountain in an old shed, kind of like a cave, camouflaged. But he does know stuff, the old guy, lots of stuff about him is weird but Griffo can’t resist his stories. The old man told him about the city before the Burning, he knew who had built the Golden city, and Griffo suspects, the old man probably knew who really burn it. You can be mind razed for just thinking this shit, Griffo has a total fear of this; to not be him anymore, to have no memory, to lose all that data, the truth he is slowly building out of chips and barcodes. He freaks out just thinking of what the Bcrats would do to him if they knew about this stash of truth. He’s getting really anxious when Jinx finally climbs up on him, curls around him in foetal position and purrs into his head. Griffo whispers the old cat’s name, again and again, like a talisman against the dark He whispers his name into the cat’s fur.

I am Iestyn ap Griffith, ap Griffith, ap Griffith. As if that might bring his family back, but it soothes him, it always has. Griffo has learned to take shelter from the city. Sometimes he feels like the Bcrats broadcast white noise on a subliminal level but he doesn’t really know, and this annoys him, he needs to know this stuff, and so does Mal. He worries about her but she sure can cruise through that city water like a shark, she’s a predator, good for the kill, but somehow clean, not complicated with webs of lies and tricks. He needs her now.

Carmella McMahon and the Hairdresser

Giano Alpedro had not become the reigning emperor of the hairdressing world along the Eastern seaboard for no reason. His skills were legendary, and had nothing to do with the art of the bedchamber, as well as his reputation for exquisite taste and his mercurial temper. It was useful that, on his maternal side, his mother was genuinely Calabrian and his connections to a small town in that tiny island were impeccable. Even in the world of hairdressing, connection to a famous Mafioso family had a certain élan and, within the immediate Italian community, they had a whack of power. Giano had clawed his way to the top of his field in a milieu of high couture, anorexia, hysteria and sheer artistry. He was not without malice and he suffered from two obsessions: the vagaries of the human head and his love of his immediate family.

On Boxing Day he arrived early at his elegant studio in the city and mentally prepared for his post-Christmas annual ritual. He was normally available to his rich and famous clients only on request and after sufficient obeisances had been made. However every year, between 26th December and 30th December, he magnanimously returned to the people. He would take no agency appointments and no one had ever successfully rorted his system at this time of year. His only daughter, Marina, was his receptionist and had the awesome responsibility of ensuring that clients during this period were genuine and had no previous connection to the salon. It was often a very difficult time for her as she was directly in the line of fire if things should go astray. Indeed, like her father, Marina was meticulous in her tasks and almost impossible to fool. Alpedo’s idiosyncratic behaviour at this time of year was either abhorred or admired by the rich and famous.

Marina had taken a booking this morning from an aspirational concierge at an inner city hotel that had potential to become a player in the fashion and gambling world. Alpedro was pleased with her, she needed to refine a little, but in general she had the true spirit of her mafia antecedents and could smile like an innocent while she decimated with the social knife. His client was due at 10a.m. While waiting for his victim Alpedro effectively disturbed, enraged and soothed his devoted staff. Except for the colourist who was always difficult and tended to believe she was a second cousin to Vincent Van Gogh. She was actually a flawless technician so she had earned her boss’ grudging respect although not his forgiveness for failure to kneel at the foot of his enormous ego.

His client, this morning was called Carmella McMahon and Alpedro had decided he already liked her. He had a predilection for assessing people on the basis of their names and was, at times, positively superstitious about this, but in Carmella McMahon’s case he already thoroughly approved of the mixture of Italian and Irish heritage. This may account. He thought to himself, for her tardiness. He had no patience for persons who could not meet deadlines and arrive on time, so although he liked Carmella he was planning how to instruct her in the matter of keeping appointments on time. He was a very busy man. He remembered the time he had kept Nicole K. waiting for a good thirty minutes, revenge for her habitual lateness; he had cost her studio a small fortune that day for as it happened he had decided she needed many more and complex treatments than had originally been scheduled. He had his ways and it was considered wise by knowledgeable people not to cross him. He drank his coffee meditatively. Ms McMahon obviously had no idea who he was: Giano Alpedro stylist to the stars and visiting royalty. It was this last patronage that had built his fortune.

He smiled, sat back on a lush baroque chair and waited like a spider preparing for an unwary victim.

Carmella McMahon actually knew exactly who Giano Alpedro was; her delay had been caused by an unusual event that was causing her considerable distress. She was prevaricating. Decisive to the point of being dangerous at times, she never dithered. An all or nothing syndrome was practically structured into her genes, Once she decided to do something; it was done, short of intervention by a deity. So that morning she found herself extremely annoyed. She had been striding around the glamourous mall where Alpedro’s salon was situated in an ever increasing fury with herself. In her entire lifetime Carmella had her hair cut short only three times. She reasoned that the fist two haircuts had not been her decision but her mother’s, the third haircut was a decision made during pregnancy and so not subject to reason and this fourth haircut would be the first time she had made a logical choice. Much of this could be explained, she decided, because she had been the plaything of her older sister who had been a hairdresser and various and terrible things had happened in the hair department.

Her sister had decreed that only three people in Australia were allowed to cut Carmella’s hair, and in this matter Carmella was following instruction. So Carmella had resigned herself to Giano’s hands long before he knew about it. This would become a serious bone of contention. St last Carmella sighed, braced herself outside the golden archways of the Alpedro famous baroque salon, and entered the domain of the emperor, She knew enough about herself to realize that this haircut signified her last encounter with a number of her inner psychological demons. Not the least of these demons was the death of her dearly loved mother some six months ago. It is possibly lamentable that Giano had no access to this knowledge. The salon was humming with music, Pachabel’s Canon, the flutter of anxious apprentices and the rich smell of very good, very fresh coffee. Vases of flowers, Christmas gifts, lights and plants seemed to quiver in an environment that had been modeled on a famous baroque palace in Firrenze. Sitting in his chair, concealed from the public gaze, Alpedro recognized his new client. He assessed her immediately noting the uncomfortable body language, the natural red hair and a fine bone structure. Her dress was neither here or nor there, although she could become something quite special he decided, under the transformative power of his craft and the domination off his powerful psyche. Ah women, he thought, they were all vain, even the beautiful and the famous. They just needed him to reshape their image. But first this young woman must believe in him totally. This was the true secret of his phenomenal success. For he knew that belief creates a woman’s reality and although she could look like a horse, with enough faith, she could believe she was a gazelle. With these lofty philosophical delusions Giano considered the nature of what he would sculpt out of Carmella. He knew immediately that her primary colors were red; therefore she needed to be come far more sexualized, she needed to send that ineffable signal to the male species that was pheromonically irresistible. He smiled in anticipation.

Carmella McMahon hated fake baroque, loathed overstuffed chairs, liked Pachebel and was not at all sure about the young woman behind the reception desk who appeared to be looking at her as if she was the next candidate for a Borgia feast. She enquired politely about her appointment and was ushered to a small anteroom equipped with chairs, coffee and a menu-type publication that listed outrageous prices for haircuts, colouring and diverse treatments. She had known it would be expensive but the overdone nature of the whole affair was beginning to irritate her. She had begun a rhythmic little tap with her left foot. Those who knew her would have become wary at this sign. She began to feel positively mutinous about the whole situation. As far as she knew no law had been passed declaring that she absolutely must have a haircut. Her mouth thinned.

Giano decided to make his entrance and with his definitive strut walked into the waitng room and pronounced his judgement. Holding what looked suspiciously like a notebook used by medical technicians, he asked

You are Carmella McMahon, si, and you want your haircut, prego, is past time, signorita, it is the time of the changing, si?

Without waiting for a by your leave he began to pull at Carmella’s hair in quite an alarming manner. Carmella McMahon was not known for tolerance, she rose, looked him in the eye, favoured his dress with a cynical glance and replied

I believe I have just changed my mind, I won’t be needing your services after all.

Few statements could have outraged Giano more, he glared at her, turned on his daughter and began to speak with clarity in a Calabrian dialect that was only used in dire emergency:

Marina, Questa donna e una cretina del cazzo?

Mio non dispachio Papa … the concierge insisted she was genuine

She is cretina o merda, come mai e qui nel mio negozia da parruchiere? Giano continued in a low mumble fury rising as the salon ground to a halt and customers and employees held their collective breath. Giano Alpedro’s temper was famous. It was perhaps unfortunate in the extreme that Carmella understood Calabrian very well. Giano could hardly have known that she had spent her childhood in the backyard of an immigrant Calabrian family. She rose to her full height an addressed a man who was obviously oblivious to the perils of dancing with the devil. Using her finest voice, trained to perfection by elocution and performance and pitched to resound from the ridiculous ceiling she began with her own version of Calabrian insult.

Si, Signor Alpedro, there is an idioto here and it is you. Va fungule, you cheap puta, bloated son of a thousand fathers, I shit on the face of your mother, peasante, vai e scavare la vai scavare la sua morta e trombarla!

And with that she stopped his bluster and moved towards the door. But he was not called the Emperor for nothing. In ringing tones he replied: You came for the hair, you stay for the hair, you are a disgrace to women, what man could look upon you and not despair. E! E! E!

Now it is true that Carmella loved nothing better than a bella borouffe and she was in sore need of a worthy opponent. Not many men had come to call had been able to stand up to her.

I would rather sleep with dogs in the street then let you touch me or my hair

Giano drew himself up and said very calmly and with a dignity that stopped her I believe that you are a coward Carmella McMahon, what is so scary, here, I am Calabrian, I cut hair very well, this is known, why did you come here if not for the hair?

This appeared to be such a logical statement from a man who was patently mad that it caused Carmella to rethink some of her earlier judgments. It was just possible that she was as difficult as Alpedro in the matter of hairdressing. With some attempt at grace she replied If you are prepared to take my desires into consideration, Signor, I will permit you to cut my hair.

Giano was both delighted and outraged and his face was a curious canvas of these conflicting emotions, however he was a man who loved a hunt, and clearly he had just won a major victory. He permitted himself to smile.

With some ceremony she was ushered to the basins where her hair was washed, rewashed, pulled and combed with respect from Giano’s daughters who were all impressed with her battle with their father, No even La Kidman had driven him to such a display.

Eventually Carmella arrived in front of the mirror with Giano slashing the scissors somewhat alarmingly about her head.

A moment, Signor, we will cut my hair according to my design if you please. I would like something very simple, I dislike women who attempt to conceal their age with cheap fabrications and fake hair dye.

At this Giano Alpedro screamed in outrage, flung the scissors on the floor and marched out of the front door of his elegant salon, shrieking curses and foul imprecations. His eldest daughter followed him and persuaded him it was unseemly to be seen exiting his own establishment in such a state. Giano took a huge breath and returned to his customer. He refused to be defeated by such obvious ignorance, by a woman who had no sense of propriety and no concept of an aesthetic.

Madam, he said in his very best ruling class English, I am an artist. What I do is transform woman, I use the palette of my craft to make them beautiful to behold, to turn heads in the street, to make them happy and confident in their body, I re-make age, I make beauty. If this does not suit you then you should not be here, you can go to any grubby little salon in the suburbs and get the cut and the perm. I will not lower myself to your faulty standards.

Now Carmella Mcmahon was secretly a romantic, since she had been an adolescent she had been an ardent fan of the Brontes and nourished a fantasy that one day Heathcliff would come striding across the moors and claim her as his own. In this scenario perhaps a little beauty would not go astray.

Oh alright she said rather gracelessly do your worst. And then she closed her eyes and resigned herself to her fate. Giano set to with a will, having subdued this difficult creature he had no idea when she would rise up again. After two hours of cutting, washing, colouring and various obscure devices being placed over her head Giano declared that his creation was complete. All through this exercise Carmella had kept her eyes defiantly closed. At last Giano begged her to open them.

Signora, please, you must at least glance at what I have done, if you truly hate it, we will begin again.

At this appeal Carmella opened here eyes, stared at herself in the mirror and then burst into floods of tears, speechless with grief she wailed and moaned in a quite uncharacteristic manner for she was a woman who valued self control almost obsessively. Giano was nothing if not a creature of intuition; it was part of what raised him to be a truly great artist.

Ah, ah he said knowledgably Now I understand, at last, you are mourning a death Carmella McMahon, that is the cause of all this trouble.

How did you know that? Oh I feel like such a fool!

In Calabria we have a saying, young lady, that until you cut the dead from your hair, you cannot begin to truly heal. And the first haircut is the most painful for the dead are entwined in the hair of the living. Now dry your eyes and drink the coffee, it is really very good. Today you are beautiful again.

It remains unclear whether Giano’s magical acts were responsible for the subsequent changes in Carmella McMahon’s life. However within two weeks of her battle royale with the Emporor of hairdressing, it is true that she had met her Heathcliffe and within six months she had married him. Although her husband was darkly and enigmatically handsome he had a sweet temperament and spent his days studying the vicissitudes of cane toads and their ecological relationships.

Together they had four beautiful daughters, and Giano Alpedro happily claimed credit for all the good fortune that attended his difficult client. His one regret was that he was never to meet her equal in battle again. This remained the case until Carmella’s youngest daughter undertook her hairdressing apprenticeship with her mother’s mentor. Alpedro’s family were delighted for Carmella’s daughter could swear in four different dialects of Italian and her daily struggles with her oppressor returned his failing vigour to its former glory. The Emperor reigned supreme again.

Kate McNamara

The Writer in Cyberspace: Navigating the Colliding Cultures bewteen Meat Art and Machine Art

The Writer in Cyberspace:

Navigating Colliding Cultures

Between Meat Art and Machine Art

Kate McNamara April 2008

When I began writing this paper I was trying to use the old Socratic Method for a definition of Art. So I trawled back through Aristotle and Plato (who really did not like the arts at all) and then it occurred to me: what on earth am I doing? Art: It’s a big word. Anxiety, that’s easy. It’s how I feel right now. In a po-mo world, as you all know, art can mean anything, whether it be cans of tinned excrement, signed toilet seats or galleries that exhibit nothingness, well lit nothingness, but blank walls just the same. It’s in the spaces between artist and viewer that post-modernism insists that we can make our own meaning; and that meaning is the product of art.

I like Post Modernism a great deal; it’s like a huge wrecking ball that smashes into centuries of reified discourse and conflated theory. Nothing is sacred. The problem with Post-Modernism, and this makes me slightly anxious, is that it doesn’t really postulate what to do with the wreckage of the past or possibilities inherent in new work under construction.

English playwright Harold Pinter once remarked that silence is the fitting voice of our time. This is not an easy statement for me to accept from Pinter even though I love his plays. I suffer fatally from a belief in the profound power of language, whether it is written or spoken. The re-invention of power within language is, I believe, the new labour of any creative writer. So much language has been lost to newspeak, the world that Orwell predicted in 1984 (1) and that Don Watson describes in Death Sentence(2)

I believe that writers and artists today here in 21st century are investigating new cartography in an exploration of the shape, texture, practice and exposition of art across a range of contemporary forms. That we are exposing the boundaries which are now forming across the interstices where art, science, philosophy and the manifold languages of new technology are currently coalescing, merging and then casually individuating into other forms.

It will challenge its readers to re-visit and re-view the underpinning values that constitute our notion of meaning derived through cultural expression in all its manifestations. As Carl Jung once remarked, it is the artist who is condemned to be the instrument and the representative of the spirit of his age.

We live in an era where the traditional and normative perimeters that once distinguished discrete disciplines in both the domains of art and knowledge are increasingly less applicable. It is an age rich in possibilities, a potential for wild prolific growth, it will not be easily contained. And the practitioners of art, the technicians of new cultural experiences are already prowling these uneasy horizons. Part of our inheritance has always been this ability to exist and transcend the narrow confines of the status quo of our respective cultures.

Some time ago it was fashionable in the upper echelons of certain artistic milieus to categories art as a moribund and decaying corpse upon which one performs an autopsy and then conducts a public coronial inquest. This was described as new performance art. (Don’t quite know what happened to the old performance art, but anyway…)This type of attitude is an appropriation of certain aspects of post-modernism which may be interpreted as both nihilistic and anti-creative. The discourse of post-modernism is difficult and ambiguous at the best of times and it is always easier to adopt its negative aspects than to confront the depths of its possibilities as a philosophical system.

I continue to believe that art is fundamentally generative, resilient, vigorous and it can erode constructed boundaries as it feeds into experience of mortal existence .But we need to develop a rigorous critique of the many contexts in which art flourish whether in the real world or in the Ethernet of Cyberspace, because we must be clear about the nature and the function of insidious dictates imposed by the dominant elite and the imperatives of mass media cultural saturation. Art is flexible, it absorbs and it transforms.

This attribute of flexibility (or biodiversity as I have sometimes described it) has a quality of creative possibilities that are limitless. If we have the courage to pursue new ideas and new art forms.

But neither theory nor philosophy is in any way essential to making art; some artists have called art theorists parasites, vampires and worse. It does not really matter in the final analysis to a practicing artist. We are normally too busy working at the coal face to get involved in a discourse that may or may not be relevant. Art’s a dirty business and believe me, it is hard, unforgiving labour.

I want to speak today about the language arts. About speaking and writing within language forms. But first let me acquaint you with my anxiety about language, from Leaves

Words have histories, genealogies, families, friends, they become corrupt, they transcend their original etymology, they change. They are fantastically unstable and we who trade in them, as we must lacking another form of communication, we are always at their mercy. Perhaps in some almost unimaginable future when our species has translated the database of genes, cloned its own organs, manufactured all manner of hybrid species and interbred with cybertechnics we will communicate through a sophisticated set of sequenced barcodes and visual display units. There will be no virtual reality for we will all live there. Cyberspace will be conquered and we will be seeking new terrains of conquests. We will have forgotten philosophers such as Leibniz who maintained that there was an innate alphabet of human thought and the many semanticists and philosophers who argued over time about obscure propositions such as how the mind thinks in language, and what relationship this lingua mentalis had to the act of speaking. Leibniz also believed that language was the best mirror of the human mind.

James Hillman postulates in his erudite and compelling work The Blue Fire that language signifies our relationship to the Divine that Man is half angel because he can speak…the more we distrust speech…the sooner the archetypal barbarian will stride into the communication ruins of a culture that refused eloquence as a mirror of the soul. These odd ideas continue to obsess me: the structure of language, the sounds that vibrate in the larynx; where words were first born, who shaped them, chose them, invested meaning or are they actually a secret organic life form? Why do some words have a carapace and others are soft to the touch? What happens to a word when we forget it? It is one of my jobs to think like this, it is part of the territory of writing. I never sleep unless a dictionary is by my bed and I know of no cure for what can only be described as a compulsive-obsessive disorder.

Occasionally I construct a whimsical future in which language has become practically obsolete but for odd groups of antiquarians who gather together on Saturdays and read to each other from hard copy books. They will be rather quaint people with the faint air of elitism that now characterizes clubs devoted to Chess, Croquet or the propagation of African Violets. These eccentric individuals will attempt to lovingly recreate a past made romantic with hindsight. Hard copy books will be so rare that they will be forced to use gloves to touch them but the smell of knowledge, of arcane secrets encoded within a primitive society will be well nigh irresistible. They will debate interesting peccadillos such as concepts of grammar and vocabulary but in what language they will conduct these discussions I cannot imagine. Perhaps they will speak in tongues. Language will have changed its perimeters entirely and the origins of words will be lost in the anagrams, the meaningless buzz words, the abbreviations we now use.(3)

Anxiety: it’s another big word. Let me attempt to define what I mean by meat art as opposed to machine art, or to put it in a less brutal way: the dichotomy between the real and the Hyperreal that Baudrillard described, the depthless screen that now dominates our collective unconscious and conscious culture through concrete example.

Art in real time: may I introduce a colleague and actor BJK will perform for you a work I wrote some time ago entitled:

Dialogue with Bach’s Cello Concerto in G Major

O dark-brown, velvet wings of music, your feathered notes gather in my heart like the prelude to a storm. Were you, too, God-born in Hades, craving light and air, carving skin back to bone, muscle, nerve, screaming, soaring across skin and ears, trembling with memory, the ache of sound and perfection. The viscera of dreams drawn from the arch and fall of the daemonic bow.

You sang through trees once, heard the ancient beat of the gnarled heart, the smooth-rough surface of tree-skin, warm bark, transgenic; we communicate you and I; me with my tangled roots and hair furled through branches in the green-grey gloaming; I was leaf-blood, photosynthetic, reaching for light and the thin rain of spring; reaching for strung notes in the canopy beyond the sky, beyond the stars as Venus sets beyond the mountains and evening drops like a carapace. In that place of Dryads and ancient spirits, you were shaped and orchestrated from aged wood.

In the warm bowl of your music I become, again, the original primitive, protogenetrix of a thousand years, my genes will span the planet like lei lines, splitting and arcing and re-configuring in the surging of music as we dance under fat moons and stars that curl on the edges of the cosmos; we will feed on leaf mould and magic as the echo of each note vibrates in the viscous marrow of our bones, in the hush of blood, on the lips of the last lover; night shining in his eyes, the warm-wet flesh of endless conduits of communion; windows of lace and lust, champagne and cognac while in the whorl of eardrums the music traces the shell-shaped spiral of melody and tears. Beneath all the wasted tumescence of lovers’ words, music roamed, searching and unsatisfied.

Sound lingers on my skin, like salt slick from sea foam and then you leave but only for a moment, silence, the Concerto waits for the beginning of the world, for the beginning of a breath, in the stasis before the beat of a heart, it gathers itself inward. Tidal pull, the flesh of old moons as the music curls and circles, leaving me empty with longing, speechless, husked like a seed pod and then grows as luscious as a sea-anemone and the opalescent gleam of squid, as endless as the ocean coiled, one note flowing through another, flooding the holes that are torn in succulent, restless nights and in a thousand bruised tears or stars hung like crystals, strung beads amidst the bones of the white ghost gum. Reverberating through the tomb of Orpheus, pulsing and unfulfilled amidst shades and spirits and the majestic presence of Persephone, unable to yield to life or the living song of breath. (4)

What we have n just now experienced can never be repeated; it existed in this space for this time and somewhere between you, the audience and BKJ, together with Bach’s incredible concerto and my words: we were all engaged in a dialectical exchange of energy. It is truly holistic: the observer changes the observed; and vice versa and a fundamental, yet incremental amount of energy is exchanged in what could be described as the poetic equivalent of a function of Quantum physics.

And all of our collective experience was a real time experience.

Spoken languages in theatrical forms is alive it changes form with patterns of syntax, stress, melodies of space and phrasing; it moves through emptiness and delivers something else to birth. It can slay dragons this stuff. You cannot pin one word of it down forever; as you would mutilate a butterfly in the palette of a collector. The word dies there before it is given breath. And this experience, the one you just shared, cannot exist in cyberspace, on screen, in film or even on the printed page. It is the distillation of ephemeral experience. Existing only in its time.

All truly great orators know this, they read their audience with something like an emotional Geiger counter before they roll out those sonorous cadences, those rhythmic patterns underneath repetition and thus they beguile us to their point of view.

But to return to my angst about writing in cyberspace. I should have realised a long time ago that my fascination/repulsion complex about the impact of new technologies on all forms of cultural product would need to find another manifestation in my life. As both a writer and a teacher I have an obsession with language and literature that tends to border on the extreme.

Some four years ago I wrote a course entitled Literature on the Internet which rapidly became a vast, sprawling and complicated set of paradoxical arenas that encompassed not only an investigation into new and traditional texts and genres but ultimately required a re-examination of the nature and function of language itself. The sheer magnitude of available material is overwhelming. However, it was the ability of this seething morass of conundrums to mutate, inexplicably disappear or be reshaped in another text that proved to be truly debilitating.

One cannot work in cyberspace without a high tolerance for the ephemeral and knowledge that one is doomed to an encounter with Fatal Error 404. It appears to be an implicit assumption in many facets of this medium that process is far more important than finished product. Part of this may well be the product of the rapidity with which ideas, genres, software programs and systems proliferate and then become superseded. Nonetheless, there appears to be a definitive code of practice that specialises in a lack of closure or resolution and places an almost fetishised value on the unfinished. This is perhaps best exemplified by Ted Nelson’s famous law regarding the technology and practice which specifies that

… everything must change every six weeks (5)

The most extraordinary artistic example of this law remains William Gibson’s legendary poem, Agrippa: A Book of the Dead which had been deliberately designed with the intent to

Permanently erase itself as it scrolls across a computer screen, endowing writing with the fragility of memory. (6)

Given these parameters I had a need to start my exploration from a reasonably safe harbor. Therefore I began threading a path through the electronic maze by utilizing the resources available essentially as research tools. But even this facile and cowardly approach yielded surprising and often unpredictable results. Once we have ready access to authors’ sites, interviews, message boards, critical forums and interactive capacities they are far closer to interfacing with the origins of text and creative processes than other forms of literary encounters. Equally my students in this course had little time for the mythology of new media as a free and democratic cyberculture that guarantees access and equity to all. Their recognition of the power of e-commerce as a driving force in this culture was almost reflexive.

In the second part of the course I had decided that it was essential to study emerging literary genres that could have been spawned only on-line. This genre is generally described as hypertext and includes sub-categories such as soft and/or kinetic poetry, e-lit, ezines and other hybrid art-form areas that are language inclusive. To understand what hypertext is one must seek its origins in form and content in the philosophical waters of Post-Modernism. Critical thinking in this area abounds with astonishing phrases such as incubating in the docuverse or non-linear multivocality. To the uninitiated such language is both disturbing and impressive. It was therefore with some trepidation that I introduced my students to the works of philosophers such as Roland Barthes (the reader is the author of the text), Jacques Derrida (the author never knew what they were writing about in the first place) and Baudrillard (intertextuality: art as a misch masch of anything). Not surprisingly chaos was unleashed in our theoretical sessions and passions ran hot over the nature and validity of our inherited ideas of what constitutes literary merit.

In desperation, I returned to the works of the Ancient Greeks and we had lengthy discussions about Aristotle’s theory of unity in literature (or more specifically, theatre). The abiding idea that a good story, regardless of its cultural origin, requires an exposition, catharsis and denouement became a literary and philosophical battleground. While some students ardently embraced the idea that literary merit can be found anywhere, even as labelling on canned pet food, there was also a subtle acknowledgment that perhaps literary merit required something more. Aristotle’s ideas were resurrected; an emerging critical appraisal of the deceptive surface of Post-Modernism began to arise. We all returned to cyberspace with new critical perceptions.

Although few theorists would care to define hypertext as a specific genre one could describe it as a literary form that is limited only by an ever expanding technological horizon. It can exist only in a multi-media format and there are almost infinite numbers of ways in which text can be viewed/read dependent on the abundance of links. It is characterized by its non-sequential and non-linear narrative structure. In certain hypertexts it may be impossible to rechart a first reading of a poem or narrative due to its programming features. Poetic text is normally constructed through the use of lexias, and meaning can be dramatically changed by the readers’ choice of link to a different part of the overall construction. The medium itself and the use of colour, moving images, language blocks, animation and sound all mediate the way in which we understand and interpret meaning.

This concurs with Barthes original vision of the infinity of language and of an ideal text in which

the networks are many and interact without any one of them able to surpass the rest; this text is a galaxy…it has no beginning, it is reversible…the codes it mobilizes extend as far as the eye can reach, they are interminable. (7)

For myself, personally, I admit that I still rather like words that stay in the same place, on the same page and in a hard copy text. There is, I suspect, a significant difference between the imaginary world that the reader enters, and essentially constructs, when reading a traditional hard copy literature, and the experience of reading literary text on screen. It would be interesting to study what level of cognitive functions are involved in both processes.

For example, when I first read Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn, the experience was so powerful that it is imprinted in my memory complete with a range of tactile and almost sensual associative memories and experiences. I remember the colour of the day, the place I was sitting, the emotional world I was then living in. Perhaps more importantly I constructed a mental image of the figures on the Urn that are completely individual to me. My mental construction of the world within that poem, including visuals is unique to my associations and my experiences. The visual image of the young woman poised on the edge of womanhood, that still unravished bride of quietness, contributed to my understanding of and empathy with the poem. Interestingly when I read the poem again despite the passing of years and experience, my reading of it is still partly textured by that first reading.

It is difficult to imagine therefore what my reaction would actually be if I read the same poem on screen for the first time. Nevertheless, I shall attempt it. One can imagine a beautiful site dedicated to Keats’ work which features Ode to a Grecian Urn printed in a particularly charming Victorian style of font, overlaid on a picture of the original urn that inspired Keats. There is no need for the reader to construct an image, it is already prefabricated and is more likely to be an authentic replication of Keats’ vision than any individual imaginative perception. This image functions to effectively co-opt interpretation on a number of levels. It pre-empts all other visual speculations and colours all levels of meaning, preventing the reader from a spontaneous act of imaginative construction.

The difference in mediating meaning appears at first to be deceptively small, but the level at which the imagination operates in making total worlds out of any reading experience is cognitively complex. Nor is it a simple task to distinguish between what the brain actually does in the process of making meaning, and the power of the function of association. This ability of the mind to associate is not clearly understood. However, it is demonstrable that the role of one’s life experiences, and the function of memory and the subconscious, work to colour and shape our final understanding and appreciation of any written text. (8) This reaction to on-line text and its hard copy equivalent may all be a product of incipient recidivism on my part, but I remain convinced that there is a qualitative difference between these two reading experiences.

Despite these reservations, I have conceded to a growing critical fascination with the concepts and ideas that underlie the construction and architecture of new genres that are specific to the culture of the Internet. I have also conceded, somewhat fractiously, to the idea that serious hypertext has as much to commend it, in terms of literary merit, as other significant forms of literature. One has only to spend sufficient time in Robert Kendall’s word circuits site to conclude that the new genre is not to be dismissed or relegated to the obscure and too difficult category. (9) Kendall’s strength in using the medium lies partly in his discretion. His choice of interactive elements is meaningful, rather than gratuitous, and his choice of media components functions to create a holistic construct within which the poetry is powerfully and delicately placed. Unlike many other writers, Kendall views the new genre as beautiful because

it satisfies strong artistic needs…Electronically endowing poetry with a graphical quality entices the reader to discover the poem’s least accessible places. This may help poetry regain some of its long lost popularity. (10)

It was in the third facet of this unit, however, that my students and I parted philosophical company. It is not possible to study the cultural products of new media without undertaking a serious examination of the function of language.

The new languages that this media has engendered may be categorized into technical, technical vernacular and metaphorical, and not one of these rather loose categories could be described as a discrete entity. The technical jargon used by technicians and programmers share disturbing characteristics. Primarily, they use language as a set of deliberate constructions that function to exclude. In this they remain consistent with the privileged languages of medicine, science and law. In the case of the technical vernacular I am, of course, referring to the amazing proliferation of technical languages, a world of: werkzeuz debugger in django (one of my favourites) or planetubuntu widjets, dojos, ajax, dijit URL, AOL and any number of equally mysterious terms. But I am also referring to a far more interesting vernacular that is evolving as I write.

All of my students had spent serious real time in chatrooms, Myspace, Facebook Flickr, Youtube, they visit second life, hangout in crack sites and are appeared endlessly involved in an exchange of cyberspace communications. They live in Web two land now and being of difficult cast of mind I decided I would track both them and their new dialects down. Like hunting a rabbit in Wonderland.

The issue that still has many outraged is my suggestion that they were not using language to communicate in these fabulous pleasure domes at all. Rather they are using different dialects of Globish and much of what they use is not language based at all. It is code.

Meaning. I based some this outrageous assertion on the extensive work of the linguist, Noam Chomsky and his exhaustive study of grammar, the function of context in speech and writing, his work in lexicology and his particular interest in the role of oral tradition and vernacular as a shaping force in human self-perception across cultures,

An early linguistic precondition for a definition of language is that it must be able to be spoken, otherwise it remains a code. Most musicians can read a musical score but no one has ever been able to speak it. Personally, I have never been able to even decode a knitting pattern, let alone master the ancient art of knitting. Like Chomsky, I believe that there is a significant difference between language and communication and equally a difference between knowledge and information

Perhaps this fascination with the sub-human is reflected in our current obsession with the technological machine, the symbiotic relationship that we fantasise about in relation to cyborgs, robots and other reductionist perceptions of humanity. In the genre of science fiction there is a growing level of metaphorical exploration that posits humans as meat and the machine as clean, logical and intellectually sophisticated far beyond our simple meat dreams. (11)

But to return to the distinction between code/communication and language, the problem is best described by Nadine Gordimer in an essay entitled The Unkillable Word in which she describes human evolution in terms of

Man became man not by the use of tools, but by the use of words…Language has now been degraded into communication, as if it were nothing more than the human variety of an exchange between bees, whales or computers. (12)

Finally there is the linguistic complexity of a more formal and metaphorical language that is evolving to meet the needs of our existence and activities in cyberspace. We speak confidently of inhabiting this space as if it were a physical reality and not a conjunction of cables and satellites. In this world people meet, chat, cohabit in chatrooms, indulge in cybersex, travel extensively and stop at roadside businesses. It is a world in which gender is mutable and fabrication and fantasy are acceptable mediums for defining on-line identity. With the assistance of certain CD ROM programs one can form relationships with avatars, shamans and deep magicians as if they were concrete entities. The language we use here has become far more powerful than a set of mere descriptors. George P. Landow has described our collective experience here as a fascination with the new media screen as a

Simulation of a depthless surface which allows for no play between metaphor and the world it represents. (13)

As a theorist his work reflects much of Baudrillard’s early pioneering work in the philosophy of new media, for it was Baudrillard who first formulated the distinction between the hyperreal and the real, and the way in which this distinction was becoming blurred and indistinct. He remarked in an early essay that

The Internet is encompassing the globe. But it does more than just network the globe…it creates a metaphorical world in which we conduct our lives.

(14)

It is precisely within this metaphorical world that we can locate the fragmentation of the boundaries between once discrete bodies of knowledge. It is in this world that new concepts of literacy, literary merit and complex ideas about the nature and function of language are emerging and challenging views that were once held as sacrosanct. It is more than possible that students and teachers may navigate new pathways towards knowledge and empowerment. But in order to undertake this navigation, one must embrace the spirit of the explorers who preceded us, and be prepared to have the intellectual courage to re-evaluate old maps and to foster the passion and dedication required to design new maps. (15)

Let me conclude with a poem: Nijinski (16)

I am Nijinski, I am the one who dies when he is not loved.

Ice has carved my bones out of light. I dance. I am black-hearted, I am implacable. My blood aches to dance.

I am only a shrine in which the Universe dances.

I thought I was alive, they said I was insane. I did not want to live and death came. I did not live long.

I am the dancer in the heart. I had not peace, peace will it never come?

Ease, the flow of muscle, tissue bone. An end, o an end to love and mourning. Death dances me.

I have been mad and yet I understand the truth and in that I stand alone: pure, beautiful, beautiful, incorruptible.

I burn and yet I can still dance.

To me, the earth is one single state.

It is God, the fire in the head, in the heart. My pulse is like an earthquake. I dance the stars, my body is the wind.

I know an infinite range of intricate torment.

I will not scream, I will not scream.

I am Nijinski: I know who moves behind my eyes, the self from whom no secret hides.

I am the child conceived by trees, foretold in the hissing leaves of song, under the moon in the valley of desire. Ah the liquid glance of trees.

I am the child of the dryad. Tell me then if I am not mad.

I cannot dance this pain, I have a heart full of tears.

I will not cry.

And I yearn for the dance of trees, the wind calling me into the grove. So much light, so green, so light.

I live in a great darkness.

Mankind makes merry and God mourns, he weeps, he is in agony. I have nothing and I want nothing. They say I am a magician, I am not. I am God in a body.

I cannot dance this pain.

It is a song that will not sing, I cannot give it movement, colour, voice.

I am Nijinski.

I am the one who dies when he is not loved.

I am love.

I am mad.

I dance.

I am ice, once I was fire. I am not calm, I am like a storm, storm. I am electric. I am an artist who loves all shapes. All are beauty. Beauty is harmony, the breath of God. I like hunchbacks. I like freaks. I am one.

I can dance like a hunchback, feel the twisted muscle,

the throb of the hump, the beast clawing to regain me.
I am a creature of hunted nights. A winged hawk in a cage, a creature in a forgotten zoo. People stare at me and cry.

They do not know that even in these cages I am feeling beauty.

I cannot be silent

I must speak

and when I speak

they will deny me.

They will put me in an asylum.

Butterflies.

I will speak with the insane.

I will dance them.

They will know me.

I am God’s problem.

I am his fool.

Kate McNamara

April 2008


Footnotes

1. Orwell, George, 1955, 1984 Penguin, London

2. Watson, Don, 2002 Death Sentence, Random House, Australia

3. McNamara,Kate 1999, Leaves, Canberra Aberrant Genotype Press,

4. op.cit McNamara, p 122

5. McNamara, Kate(2008)Convocation of Archo Anthropology http://kate.mcnamara.wordpress.com

6. quoted in The Digital Dialectic ed.,2000 Peter Lunenfield,

MIT Press, New York .

7 Writing for the New Millennium (on-line)

hhtp:www.wordcircuits.com.kendall/essays/pw1.htm

8 Roland Barthes and the Writerly Text (on-line)

http://landow.stg.brown.edu/cpace/ht/jhop/writerly.html

9. Steven Pinker, 1999 How the Mind Works, MIT Press, New York

For a particularly interesting discussion on the construction of visual

images see Chapter 4, The Mind’s Eye

10. For example Kendall’s poem Dispossession in

hhtp://www. wordcircuits.com (on-line)

11. The Birth of Electronic Literature (on-line)

http://www.wordcircuits.com/kendall/essays/pw1.htm

12. Chomsky’s works are far too numerous to cite. One could begin with:

Noam Chomsky Rules and Representations, 1980, CUP, New York

13. James Hillman, 1996 The Blue Fire, New York, Harper Press

See his essay on Language and the Poetic Basis of the Mind

14. Here I am referring specifically to the works of William Gibson and

J.G. Ballard.

15. Please see Nadine Gordimer, 1988, in The Essential Gesture: writing, politics and places. Penguin, New York for further discussion on language and creativity

16. McNamara, Kate op cit pp33-34

Other Sources

Convergence of Critical Thinking, George P. Landow (on-line)

hhtp://landow.stg.brown.edu/cpace/ht/jhup.html

Baudrillard in Cyberspace: Internet, Virtuality and Post-Modernity

(on-line) http://www.dc.peachnut.edu-mnunes/jbnet.html

.

Bibliography and selected readings

Barthes, Roland Ways of Seeing and Roland Barthes and the Writerly Text (on-line) http://landow.stg.brown.edu/cpace/ht/jhop/writerly.html

Baudrillard, Jean The Ecstasy of Communication, Semiote(x)New York, 1988 and Baudrillard in Cyberspace: Internet, Virtuality and Post-Modernity (on-line) http://www.dc.peachnut.edu-mnunes/jbnet.html

Chomsky, Noam. Rules and Representations, 1980, CUP, New York

Deleuze, Gilles Cinema1: The Movement Image 1986 University of Minnesota, USA

Gibson, William Neuromancer 1986 Harper Collins USA

Gordimer, Nadine (1998) The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics and Places, Penguin, New York

Hillman, James1996 The Blue Fire, New York, Harper Press

Keats, John

Landow, George Convergence of Critical Thinking, George P. Landow (on-line) http://landow.stg.brown.edu/cpace/ht/jhup.html

McNamara, Kate 1999, Leaves, Canberra Aberrant Genotype Press and http://kate,mcnamara.wordpress.com

Pinker, Stephen, 1999, How the Mind Works, MIT Press, New York

Orwell, George, 1955, 1984 Penguin, London

Watson, Don2002 Death Sentence, Random House, Australia