Category Archives: Time and Space

unremembered love

We belong to the world and are of the world because our formative experience was one of relation and involvement – with the maternal body, and through it, with the world. It is from that primary relation that we derive our ability to love, to feel loved and to be with. But we don’t remember it. We don’t remember the oneness of the womb or our infantile intertwinning with our mother’s bodies because memories belong to subjects and this foundational love was laid down before we became identifiable subjects [bounded subjects before an objective world].

Memory is about parts, separated and put back together. Member, dismember, remember. It is the job of the subject to undertake that ‘recollection’ of discrete events and experiences and forge them into a coherent narrative. But the primary experience I am describing happens to a self that doesn’t have parts, in a world that is without separations. Continue reading unremembered love

Everyday Mystery

18th May 2016
18th May 2016

The film Smoke centres on everyday mysteries and on the friendship between Paul Benjamin, a novelist with writer’s block, and Auggie Wren, the manager of a Brooklyn cigarette shop. One day Paul is surprised to discover that Auggie doesn’t just sell cigarettes. He also has a vocation. He takes photographs. More specifically, he has taken a series of four thousand pictures, each of them shot at the same time of day and of the same place: the corner of Third Street and Seventh Avenue, where his shop stands. He cannot explain why he does this. “It just came to me”, he says. “It’s my corner, after all. It’s just one little part of the world, but things happen there, too, just like everywhere else. It’s a record of my little spot.” Continue reading Everyday Mystery

Sitting with Failure

Earlier this year, I was invited to speak at a humanities postgraduate symposium held at Macquarie University. The organiser, who used to be a student of mine, asked if I would share some of my experiences of the PhD. Thinking back to my time as a student, I realised that among the most formative and character-building moments of the dissertation process were those that involved some form of failure. The periods when the research and writing progressed smoothly didn’t stand out. Instead, the most memorable points were when things weren’t going to plan and the process felt out of my control. Continue reading Sitting with Failure

Meeting Bunny Dawn (Why Fieldwork Takes So Long)

Anthropological fieldwork is currently under threat from university administrators who assume it is simply inefficient and wasteful to spend 6-12 months in the field. So why does fieldwork have to  take so long? I think I know the reason but I don’t think the administrators will like it. It is because the researcher needs this duration to ensure the person they are at the beginning suffers, and fails, and dies to themselves, so that they can see the world anew. I think that fieldwork is slow because it requires an element of mourning and grief. These, I notice, are themes that are also in Demelza’s and Michelle’s blog posts!

So here is the argument as a story. I began my PhD fieldwork in 1980, in the coalmining town of Kurri Kurri, in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales. Continue reading Meeting Bunny Dawn (Why Fieldwork Takes So Long)

A Photo in a Wallet

image_2794When my father-in-law died, after many years of sickness and many months in hospital, his wallet was in the drawer of the bedside cabinet. And in this wallet was a photo of his two daughters. Aged around 5 and 3, their hair in ribbons and pigtails, Anita and Ina are sitting side by side on a bench in a Sydney park, their feet unable to reach the ground. Continue reading A Photo in a Wallet

The time and space of childhood

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On my recent visit to Sicily and Crete I was reminded repeatedly of the place, in South Australia, where I grew up. Looking at a hillside of olive trees in Sicily, I would find myself in a primary school geography lesson, lost in pictures of ‘the Mediterranean’. I couldn’t now say if my fascination with ‘the Mediterranean’ had been a fascination with places in the Mediterranean or with South Australia’s classification as ‘Mediterranean climate’. But, while in Sicily and Crete, I had an overwhelming feeling that these seemingly faraway places were somehow inextricably connected with the place of my childhood. Continue reading The time and space of childhood

Belongings, Adelaide, June 2015

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My father has recently died; and my mother died 10 years ago. So, my siblings and I are now engaged in the process of ‘going through’, ‘sorting out’ our parents’ belongings. I have trouble finding the right way to describe this activity, emotionally complex as it is, for we are now having to make decisions about things that have had significance in our parents’ and our past shared lives. It is a difficult and painful process, but one that brings with it moments too of lightness, surprise and joy. One way or another, this experience feels meaningful.  Continue reading Belongings, Adelaide, June 2015

The hottest July day on record

The Mirror warned that Britain yesterday was to be hotter than Barbados and the Sahara. The Telegraph offered readers a range of alarms and advice:

• Stop staff travelling in rush hour, health officials urge
• Britain braced for hottest day in a decade
• Heatwave could buckle train tracks and melt roads, travellers warned
• What men should wear to work during a heatwave
• UK heatwave in pictures: Scorching weather sears Britain Continue reading The hottest July day on record

This Child: The Unknown Soldier

© Commonwealth of Australia 2012
© Commonwealth of Australia 2012
Can I know the unknown soldier?

I started writing this on Anzac Day, 2014, and the Sydney Morning Herald was carrying a story entitled ‘On a foreign field a girl remembers the fallen’:

An Australian schoolgirl unexpectedly wells up with tears over a nameless Fromelles gravestone. Zoe Bell, 17, of St Leonard’s College in Melbourne, isn’t usually like this, her teacher tells me. This isn’t hysteria or histrionics. Just history.
Here in northern France, the numbers and politics and clichés of a century-old war fall away, and the reality of it rises from the ground like the thick local fog. Its meaning chills you so sharply that it can force water from the most cynical, surprised eyes.
All those dead. On this soil, it doesn’t take a supernatural imagination to sense their presence.
There are a multitude of Zoes on the Western Front right now. Swarms of coaches buzz from one cemetery to the next.
(Joe Barton, SMH 25/4/2014, pg 7)

Continue reading This Child: The Unknown Soldier