Gone Farmin’

This blog served me well throughout my PhD as a way of working through my research, procrastinating and writing about things I was not allowed to write about in my dissertation. But it has been sitting dormant now for quite some time now. It feels a little bit like life has moved on and the blog is an archive of that time. I would like to keep blogging here, but I need to write for different forums now and my blogging now takes place more frequently over at Earlwood Farm. The farm blog was started by me and my partner Craig and it is about our share house farm in Earlwood. I don’t want to say this is the death of my beloved bicycleuser blog, because it served me so well, just right now I have other priorities. I wanted to record this here, so if you’ve stumbled upon my blog you aren’t totally disappointed that it is so out of date.  

Hugs!

Jen 🙂


Food Rainbow

The PhD storm is over (for now). I hope to take up writing in this blog again now. This food was picked in Alexandria Community Garden and it is the actual embodiment of all the sunny days I missed while finishing the thesis this year and it is symbolic of the sunny days I hope to enjoy in the garden summer!


Baby Love #2

Almost ten months on, the hodge-podge of incomplete thoughts that make up the post “Baby Love #1” seem quite distant to me. I remember writing that post. It was an interesting experience because I remember feeling clear headed and like I was going to solve all the problems of the world and produce an amazingly coherent theory about why mothers become obsessed with babies. But, when it came down to it, I couldn’t finish the post. I couldn’t finish the post, I guess, because I wasn’t convinced of the theory and also my using Rilke’s poem as a way of seeing the world was wrong. There was something missing in the poem and missing in my view of the situation.

The problem, I think, was that I thought Rilke was right. I believed that idea about love and creaturely openness, expressed in the Eighth Elegy, was what formed the basis of my reflection on those mothers’ interaction and obsession with their babies. But Rilke’s poem does not serve as a theory for how the world works, it is just one view. In fact, while I love the poem, I think in some ways Rilke expresses a fundamentally pessamistic idea: love makes you feel like you can do anything. But, he argues in the poem, the feeling of love is an illusion, love cannot truly open you up to the world, it makes you feel open but you are kidding yourself. You’re blinded by your lover and really you are caught in a narcissistic feedback loop with your lover, looking at the reflection of yourself eyes in his. Likewise babies only have this openness when they are tiny, before they have language; they are born open and the process of growing, aquiring language and social skills makes them close off. In other words experience this open wonderousness until their mother or father stops them from doing something in order for them to become social.

Rilke says:”A child, at times, may lose
himself within the stillness
of it, until rudely ripped away.”

I read this as, the child may lose himself in the wonder of the open, a pure imaginative space beyond politics and beyond laws but it is rudely ripped awhen a mother or father stops the child from doing whatever it is he is doing and, worst case scenario, shames him for doing it; “it” being something we may recognise as socially unacceptable like playing with himself, wearing a ballet skirt, wantonly breaking toys or pouring chocolate sauce all over the chesterfield.

But this does not take into account the experience of the mother or father marvelling at the child’s deviance and assumes the mother or father will always shut down the dream life of the child in an attempt to make them properly social. And, what’s more, that the shutting down of the dreamlife will always completely succeed and nothing of that daydream or open deviance will survive the force of the law of the father or mother. But the point is, I guess, that the child might not obey them. They might go and grow in all kinds of crazy directions, and they could remain open. Just as lovers may not necessarily just enjoy how they look in their lovers eyes and use that same gaze upon the wider world. Its all a matter of what we do with it and how much we are willing to risk. Getting completely and entirely lost in the lover’s eyes or clamping down on a child with an authority so airtight they can do nothing but grow up in the exact same way as the parent are only two of a range of possibilities here.

I worked at a chalk art festival in Parramatta last october. We had a large wooden snake, a bucket of chalk, a bucket of water and a large sponge on the street, specifically for kids to come draw all over. One kid, three or so, kept going to the bucket to get the sponge and his father kept stopping him. The kid kept going to the bucket and the father kept stopping him. Other kids would pick up the sponge and wash down their section and carry on, and this kid would go to the bucket and his father would stop him. On about the fifth attempt the father said to this kid firmly, all of three, ‘Do not touch the sponge. We all need rules and boundaries in this world and this is one of them. This is your boundary and you cannot use this sponge.’ I dreaded to think what would happen to the little boy if he even cast his eyes on a pink tutu. I also thought that in some instances yes, the experience of childhood wonder is broken by the parent but, even if the little kid didn’t get his hands on that sponge, he could in years to come. And, most parents didn’t stop their kids from picking up the sponge, getting completely covered in festy chalky water and making a mess everywhere.

What’s more, the capacity to marvel at how kids both break rules and love each other was what those mothers were captivated by (see previous post); they were captivated by how they had told the kids not to do something and then they had promptly done it anyway and also they marvelled at how they also had not explicitly told the kids to be kind to each other and love each other, and they were kind and loving anyway.

So, what am I saying? Well, rather than the mother’s marvelling striking me as frustrated, stifled and myopic, I now see it more as something quite amazingly open itself: the gazes of the child, mother and lover very similar in this respect. The trick is, I guess, to get it off those discrete objects and to spread it wider and further and to not feel pressured to shutdown by those whose gaze is not as open as your own. The trick is, basically, not to be like the mother in Black Swan and instead to remember the opennness you felt as child, or the joy you feel when a child remembers to break the rules or the pleasure you divine from looking at a lover, and see those feelings as the foundations of how we can look out at the world as a whole. And, what’s more, the very fact that Rilke became a poet is proof that such a gaze is possible.

 

[Correction: Thanks to CMJ for proofing my posts! I wrote baby, lover and mother are verisimilar in this respect. But I meant “very similar”!)


Baby Love #1

This post was drafted on the 5th May, 2011. It is incomplete. I need to revise my thoughts on this a little bit and will write a follow up post soon…

Once upon a time I was sitting in a cafe in Newtown and a group of three women were talking loudly about their toddlers. Their conversation was relentless. They described in extraordinary detail how the toddlers behaved. For me, who knew neither the women nor the kids, the conversation had no intrinsic meaning. I couldn’t understand what held their interest in the conversation because I did not know who they were talking about. I found the conversation tedious and repetitive, but also incredibly distracting; I could not concentrate on what I was reading and I could not help but eavesdrop. For the brief time I was within earshot of their conversation, I became obsessed with their obsessive conversation, and their attention to detail in recounting what the toddlers had done. Their interest in/love for/obsession with their kids had manifested into an extraordinary photographic/filmic memory of their behaviour. The crux of their interest, however, was not in the kids’ actions themselves (she did a poo, he blinked his eyes), but rather in how their kids’ behaviour was becoming socially and culturally meaningful. That is, the kid was told not to do something and she promptly did it, knowing it was going to get in trouble, as if courting the attention. Or, the kid saw another kid in distress and he went over to her and gave her a hug. This interest, the memory, the detail, the knowledge of the becoming-social person at once enlivened me and caused incredible despair.

On the one hand I thought ‘it is amazing that these women can recall all this information and are so specifically interested in its social meaning’, and then on the other hand I thought, ‘why is their interest so myopic, fixated not on this little blob of barely self-conscious flesh in front of them?’ or, to put it another way, ‘why do they have this effortless interest in their toddlers and not in the military-industrial complex, climate change, the obstacles to saving the whales/world peace?’. Now, for all I know this group of women were highly politically engaged individuals. But the focus or passion for the toddlers had a unique quality about it; there was an enviable clarity and enjoyment in these toddlers’ actions.

I had sort of forgotten about this moment and also about my short-lived side project of trying to figure a way to bottle that focus re-sell it to consumers it in a way that would make them attach to different objects, more objects, in the same way (ecstasy? acid? magic mushrooms?) and then I read a poem that stirred my memory.

*********

A few weeks ago I read a poem that had three effects upon me: it diffused a general malaise, it began my research for the final chapter of my thesis and brought this moment with the mothers and toddlers back to the front of my mind. The poem is Rainer Maria Rilke’s Eighth Duino Elegy: click here to open it in a new window.

Firstly, a confession. I don’t know Rilke’s work very well. But anyway, I encountered this elegy in the first chapter of On Creaturely Life, a book that was recommended to me recently. I am interested in the idea of human exceptionalism, or ‘what separates us from the animals’. Generally the idea of human exceptionalism is framed in the positive: humans are different from animals and better, smarter, more productive. Why? Well, we have reason, language, technology and, an example after my own heart, cooking. But the flipside of human exceptionalism is that we are different from animals and worse, lesser, lacking. We are different because we are not fully formed, all those elements that separate us from the animals–reason, technology, language, cooking–are compensation for that lack. We can understand this as a kind of negative exceptionalism. I am interested both manifestations of this distinction but especially in the latter: what we lack and how we compensate for it or, to put it another way, why cats, dogs and birds are better than us and the weird ways we over compensate for our crapness.

For me, Rilke’s poem came some way to articulating an aspect of the human condition that is closed, myopic, fixated, that orders the universe and in doing so misses out on so much of the potential joy and wonder of that universe. And certainly this is how that was framed in On Creaturely Life:

“Man is forever caught up in the labor of the negative–the (essentially defensive) mapping and codification of object domains that allow for certain sorts of desire and possession but never what Rilke posits as the unimaginable enjoyment of self-being in otherness manifest by the creature.”

The example that struck me most powerfully was how love comes close to this experience of a self open to the world, yet falls short:

Lovers are close to it, in wonder, if /  the other were not always there closing off the view….. / As if through an oversight it opens out / behind the other……But there is no / way past it, and it turns to world again.

When in love with another, one experiences ‘self-being in otherness’, the loved object dissolves ones sense of self and opens their world up. Beautiful, right?  But this is a very specific version of love and certainly depending on your point of view, could be read as narcissism and projection. But, to take Rilke seriously is to believe that the self can be open and that the experience of love gives us a glimpse of the open. But, tragically, our fixation on the object of love means this openness is not generally applicable. We open up to our object and that is all. While I feel like there’s a kernel of truth in it for romantic lovers, I feel as though the same can be said for parents and children. The parent sees a world of open possibility in the baby or toddler, finds incredible joy and interest in this world, but in the world beyond the child that the child has to learn to live in, thwarts the possibility of that child remaining open forever. Why I think the poem stirred my memory is that I think the interest that those mothers took in their kids’ becoming-social behaviour was right at the edge of the open and the closed: a world of possibility in the child and a world destined to tragically repeat itself in the child learning how to be social in the same way everyone has learned to be social before her.

… and there I left it. Open ended. Life’s different now. There is more to say on this topic. BRB.


Galileo versus The Galileo Movement

I call on the resting soul of Galileo: king of night vision, king of insight‘ – The Indigo Girls

It is with great reluctance that I write about The Galileo Movement: a conservative protest group targeting Australia’s carbon tax because anthropogenic climate change is a fallacy. The founders were inspired by Lord Monckton (the entirely discredited climate skeptic whose other claim to fame is the ‘Eternity Puzzle‘). I do not like to give oxygen to such groups, but I need to make comment. The group have chosen Galileo as their namesake because he is one of the ‘fathers of modern science’, but their reasoning is so completely bogus I cannot let it lie. They explain in more detail on their website why they selected Galileo as the figurehead:

“Taking his name, we honour his integrity and courage in championing freedom and protecting science. He replaced religious doctrine with solid observable data. His outspoken defence of truth is a rallying cry to all people valuing freedom and objective understanding of the world. His spirit guides us to ensure that we and future generations continue making the world a better place to live — by protecting the environment and making honest decisions based on factual scientific evidence.” [1]

Yesterday, in an article on The Galileo Movement and Australia’s ongoing carbon tax debate, New Matilda point out that the analogy between Galileo and Climate Skepticism is ‘clumsy, unwieldy … and the claims that (the founders) make for it seem, well, more suited to their opponents’ [2]. Clumsy and unwieldy is to say the least. It is clumsy because it doesn’t really make sense historically and I agree with this, but I think there is a much more salient reason why the analogy between Galileo and this Climate-Skeptic movement is entirely wrong-headed, historically inaccurate and tragically perverse. Galileo was a paradigm buster and The Galileo Movement are the opposite (and not in that annoying paradoxical way where ‘opposite’ actually means ‘the same’. I mean they are not even really related they are so totally opposed).

Galileo was one of several key sixteenth and seventeenth century scientists–along with Nicolaus Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, Francis Bacon and Isaac Newtown–whose discoveries were fundamental in instituting the great ‘The Paradigm Shift'[3] and creating the modern world. The development of scientific method was an important aspect of the paradigm shift in which Western humanity was (or still is) transported from a predominantly Religious worldview to a Secular-Scientific worldview. The cosmological and ideological implications of Copernican Heliocentrism are key to understanding Galileo’s particularly important contribution to modern science: Copernicus’s maths and Galileo’s telescopes, among other things, shifted our cosmological worldview from a closed geocentric classical world to what would eventually become the open infinite modern universe. Copernicus deduced that, due to irregularities in the position of stars in the sky, it is was more likely that the earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around. Galileo’s telescope, among other things, helped make Copernican theory an observable reality.

It is difficult to overestimate the scale of the shift instituted by discoveries like these. They changed the entire Western world. The explicit reason why Copernican mathematics and Galilean astronomy was so totally radical and dangerous is because it quite literally destabilised the institutional authority of the Church and State. And even if it was not his explicit intent, Galileo was arrested because his discoveries fundamentally undermined all institutional authority. Classical Ptolemaic geocentric cosmology undergirded the Church and State in Italy in the seventeenth century; these institutions were literally thought to be a reflection of a divine God-given natural order. The basic tenets of Helocentrism undermined this entire political worldview.

Galileo and and men like him are often championed as great heros who believed in Scientific Truth rather than God. But, in fact, these men were all quite religious and pursued their lines of enquiry despite the clear ‘conflict of interest’ between what they believed about the world a religious sense and what their discoveries revealed about the world in a scientific sense. Both Copernicus and Newton, for example, went to great lengths to translate their discoveries into a scriptural paradigm [4]. There is great debate about whether they did it subversively to allow the ‘truth’ to triumph and avoid arrest, or whether they believed so totally in both paradigms they could not understand how the two could be distinct. Either way, these thinkers were deeply troubled by the discoveries and they contended personally and politically with the incommensurability between what they believed and what they discovered.

Here we find the radical difference between Galileo and The Galileo Movement. The Galileo Movement is a conservative movement and it is aimed at preservation and protection of the current worldview. There is no great space between what these people believe about the world and what they know about the world. In fact they have built their movement on keeping the two as close together as possible. They say they are operating in the name of truth, fact and science but fundamentally the protection of their worldview is what is at stake here. They do not want their vision of the world to change, they aim to protect it at all costs. Their mandate quite clear on this issue. To quote from their website:

The Galileo Movement seeks to protect Australians and our future in five areas:
– 
Protect freedom – personal choice and national sovereignty;
– 
Protect the environment;
– 
Protect science and restore scientific integrity;
– 
Protect our economic security;
– 
Protect people’s emotional health by ending Government and activists’ constant destructive bombardment of fear and guilt on our kids and communities.“[5]

They seek to protect not only science but the nation, our emotions, our economy and our environment. There is no protective impulse in the mathematical equations of Copernicus, and there is no protective impulse Galileo’s telescopes. While The Galileo Movement invokes science in the name of a protecting an established worldview. Galileo’s discoveries instituted a radical destabilisation of worldview. The Galileo Movement is in this sense summoning a mutant version of the Galilean spirit in name only. It is in this sense that the analogy between the Galileo Movement and Galileo is clumsy and unwieldy. And it is in this sense that the name Galileo may be better suited as the ‘Spirit Guide’ for the progressive side of the debate.

******

What is complex here is that the ‘discovery’ of anthropogenic Climate Change institutes a similar kind of paradigm shift in our world today. Climate Change creates a radical fissure between how we generally conceive of the world and how it is. The current political paradigm is radically undermined by the discoveries of anthropogenic climate change. And it is very disturbing and challenging to try and contend with what this means for humans and our existence in the world. The Galileo Movement do not contend with our current difficulty like Galileo and Copernicus and Newton contended with theirs. They avoid it, they recoil in fear. Naomi Klein explored this precise issue back in March on Democracy Now. I quote her at length because she is so clear as to how and why this is the case:

“Why is climate change seen as such a threat (by right-wing ideologues)? I don’t believe it’s an unreasonable fear. I think it is … unreasonable to believe that scientists are making up the science. They’re not. It’s not a hoax. But actually, climate change really is a profound threat to a great many things that right-wing ideologues believe in. So, in fact, if you really wrestle with the implications of the science and what real climate action would mean, here’s just a few examples what it would mean.

Well, it would mean upending the whole free trade agenda, because it would mean that we would have to localize our economies, because we have the most energy-inefficient trade system that you could imagine. And this is the legacy of the free trade era. So, this has been a signature policy of the right, pushing globalization and free trade. That would have to be reversed. You would have to deal with inequality. You would have to redistribute wealth, because this is a crisis that was created in the North, and the effects are being felt in the South. So, on the most basic, basic, “you broke it, you bought it,” polluter pays, you would have to redistribute wealth, which is also against their ideology. You would have to regulate corporations. You simply would have to. I mean, any serious climate action has to intervene in the economy. You would have to subsidize renewable energy, which also breaks their worldview. You would have to have a really strong United Nations, because individual countries can’t do this alone. You absolutely have to have a strong international architecture.

So when you go through this, you see, it challenges everything that they believe in. So they’re choosing to disbelieve it, because it’s easier to deny the science than to say, “OK, I accept that my whole worldview is going to fall apart,” … Imagine actually contending with that. It’s a lot easier to deny it.” [6]

The Galileo Movement are not choosing to accept that their worldview is falling apart, on the contrary Galileo rigorously pursued the tensions between the the competing world views [7]. The Galileo Movement are choosing to ignore the widespread scientific consensus or the ‘proof’, Galileo invented the telescope in order to prove Copernicus’ heliocentric theory [8] The Galileo Movement is stubbornly attatched to an old worldview, Galileo was a pioneer of a new one.

What I want to say to conclude this long post is that I think that the important thing to remember is that Climate Change is a political issue. While often you hear that Climate Change is beyond politics, what Galileo can show us is that modern science has been, from the beginning, a politically charged issue. No scientific fact is impervious to politics. And the only way to talk about Climate Change today is to talk about it in tandem with the enormous and radical political paradigm shift required in order for us to do anything real about it.

[1] galileomovement.com.au/

[2] http://newmatilda.com/2011/05/18/roll-over-galileo

[3] The term coined by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of the Scientific Revolution

[4] (Isaac Newton was also a total babe with amazing hair).

[5] galileomovement.com.au/

[6] http://www.democracynow.org/2011/3/9/my_fear_is_that_climate_change

[7] Galileo published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in 1632

[8] It’s worth noting here that Galileo wasn’t exactly right either. He did not get as far as infinity. His universe was still closed, it is just that the earth was not at the centre. This, of course, has interesting implications for how we understand ‘truth’ in a scientific context.


Bacon

With a full moon on Friday, with the end of summer nearing, with the death rattles of my Saturn returns knocking me around the ears, with my capacity to mix metaphors, and with an amazing sunset tonight to round out the weekend, it seems that, both psychologically and cosmologically, it is a time for reflection. Not only that, the two lovely people I played with this afternoon were going home tonight for a beer and some good ol’ fashioned reflection time. But that seems a bit like hard work for me right now. So instead, it is time to spend some time writing about bacon. I discovered a little while ago that there’s a group on Flickr called “Bacon“. Where ordinary human beings post pictures they have taken of bacon. It is both intriguing and perverse, and so I shelved it for a rainy day; or a day when it might not be raining, but when writing seems both difficult and necessary. Here we are. It’s Bacon Day!

Bacon is the omnivore’s breakfast meat of choice. The cured and salty back or side slices of the pig. Bacon is also a key ingredient in many other meals–pasta sauces, potato bake and salads–and, if you’re really lucky, it may also be used to wrap or stuff other meats. Bacon is essentially the chocolate of the meat world; one generally eats it for pleasure, rather than for sustenance.[1]

And, bacon comes from pigs. Cute little Charlotte’s-Web-Babe-and-Babe II:-Pig-in-the-City pigs. But, if bacon is the chocolate of the meat world, which I am pretty convinced it is, it is also important to note that pigs are essentially the whipping boys of the factory farm. Many pigs have a rough time living and dying as farm animals. In Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer saves his most gruesome material for the final chapter, just after deconstructing the myth of the Thanksgiving turkey and explaining how we can re-imagine Thanksgiving dinner [2], Foer takes us to the kill floor of a piggery and describes, with all the gory details, how the the lil’ pigs get taken down for one’s eating pleasure (and 184 other things). Its not nice at all.

I am intrigued by the flickr group because I am interested in why people would take pictures of bacon and post them proudly on the internet. I think that it is fact that factory farmed pigs live and die in such wretched conditions is what makes the group seem especially perverse to me (and not in a good way). Herein lies the substance of this blog post.

Take, for example, this image “Bacon in my sights” (in a decidedly un-friendly gesture has “All Rights Reserved” so I can’t post the image here). But essentially it is an image of  cooked bacon, taken from the point of view of someone looking down the barrel of a shot gun. Aside from the fact I think someone needs to tell this guy that the pig is already long dead, there is something especially sinister about someone who would get their handgun out just to take a photograph of themselves pretending to shoot bacon. It’s like that Simpsons episode when Homer gets a shotgun and starts to use it to turn on the TV. Just what is the impulse behind it?

WIFE: “Hon! I went to Safeway and picked up some Bacon, I’ve cooked it for us.” HUSBAND: “Oh wait wait wait wait, I’ll just get out my shotgun in order to take a POV shot of me pretending to hunt the bacon before I eat it, then i’ll post it on Flickr with the title ‘Bacon in my sights’. The guys’ll love it. It’ll be a gas.”

In one sense the photographer is parodying himself. The cliched masculine desire to be the hunter, to “bring home the bacon” (so to speak), here represents our alienation from that process by means of the contemporary food industry, and that particular relationship is captured for us in this image: the shotgun aiming at the store-bought bacon rashers. Trouble is, I don’t think that our bacon-lover is parodying anything at all. I read the photograph as a response to his indirect emasculation by way of the factory farmed animal and the supermarket goods; he no longer needs to hunt, but this photo assures us that he still is the hunter. It is intriguing because he is proud of this. It is perverse because of its wilful disregard of the possible method of production, the strange legacy of the hunter/gatherer myth seems to elide any need to consider how the pig actually came to be bacon.

There are plenty of other images on the Bacon group, over 5000 in fact. Mt Bacon is basically Mt Rushmore meets the Moon landing meets some kid with a camera saying “check out the massive pile of bacon”. The cooked and uncooked bacon Christmas trees are probably taken from some 70s entertainment book of nifty ideas to spruce up the table at Christmas. And, in between these highlights there are literally hundreds of photographs of BLT sandwiches.

The group is so powerfully banal I am struggling to stay awake writing this. And yet, the collective love of bacon has bread the phenomenon of “bacon mania“. It turns out that people are really passionate about bacon. The more I think about this, however, I think the thing that really gets me is actually the flickr group, more so than the love of bacon per se. We all know that meat and nationalism and masculinity have a strange and terrifying relationship. But the fact that it can be turned into a spectacle and infinitely reproduced for anyone, by anyone, is what this flickr group seems to suggest. That bacon lovers around the world can share their passion with the click of a button. To me this flickr site is like a car crash: horrible to look at and yet impossible to look away. In other words, this bacon group is the perfect material to distract me from introspection and reflection. And has delivered me, unscathed, to bedtime. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night…

[1] So, when you type “chocolate covered bacon” in inverted commas in google, it yields over 62 000 hits on the images tab alone. It is a brave new world out there people.

[2] I am not American, but I totally got into how Foer framed his “target audience” in Eating Animals. It was very much addressed to the American middle class, the omnivorous consumer and I was happy to pretend I was being addressed by him in order to try and understand what he was doing with the argument. So although I’ve never eaten a thanksgiving turkey, and the one Christmas I spent in America was with a completely vegetarian family, I choose to imagine I knew what he was talking about. Which, of course, I do. The chapter on Thanskgiving was basically about important shared meals. How do you take the meat out of important shared meals and still make the meals feel special and like a meal? I guess the equivalent in Australia would be the Australia Day BBQ. Can one eat Vegetarian Sausages on Australia Day and still claim to be Australian?

[3] I mean, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s several books – Seduced by Bacon, and Bacon: A Love Story, (the tagline of which is: “a salty survey of everybody’s favourite meat”) plus a blog Bacon: Unwrapped.


Pictures

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bicycleuser/