“Let any man lay the map of Australia before him, and regard the blank upon its surface, and then let me ask him if it would not be an honourable achievement to be the first to place foot at its centre. Men of undoubted perseverance and energy in vain had tried to work their way to that distant and shrouded spot.” Charles Sturt.
”Just before our love got lost you said
I am as constant as a northern star and I said,
Constantly in the darkness
Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar.” Joni Mitchell, “A Case Of You“, Blue.
“Understanding the past as a place crisscrossed by the tracks of numerous people and creatures is crucial if we are ever to glimpse futures beyond blank spaces.” Samia Khatun, Australianama (p. 105), OUP, Kindle Edition.
Sometimes it seems that life is expanding faster and faster into nothing, and sometimes simultaneously it seems like the view from the panorama lounge in the last carriage of the super-fast transcontinental. It is probably true to say that polarities unite rather than divide us, when we are aware of them. We can tolerate in one room the multiplicity of interpretations of time because each is experienced by us all at some hour. As we emerge from winter such thoughts arise because spring is activating the dormant, and complex stories are beginning to ensnare us in an understorey of bewildering urgencies. That’s Leo, and there will always be one in the bar. Just because the possum is invisible, don’t imagine that’s rain falling on your bicycle helmet.
In my short life I have been mad with lust, mad with doubt and anxiety, mad with grief, and at its end I may well be mad with death. Madness is an experiment with being, a quest of subjectivity, like Chinese nationalism, the survival of indigenous cultures and the entire history of Western Civilization, and I hear its voices loud and clear, as the universe saying, in any language available, “I am.” Say it yourself and it rings hollow. Finitude laps around it like a rising tide, and the whole of philosophy, psychology, sociology and anthropology cannot convincingly clothe the emperor. However, if you venture into solitude, extending your awareness to the vast panorama of the property which has disclosed itself to you, and you imagine it in your absence, say it then and those two words will be thunderously true, as true as the call Abraham heard to sacrifice his son, as true as the sacredness of a birth-tree.
Is it too mystical to suggest that each of us is not only the universe but everyone in it saying, “I am”? It was not disclosed to the early explorers that the heart of the land downunder had been pierced countless times in the 60,000 years of human habitation—call it property—prior to European arrival, but Sturt was nevertheless giving voice to the universe in the quote above. You can leave “I am” to the experts, and most of us do, and how democracy works is through the regular information of our experts by our voices, but we should recognize that most of the time voices are just noise: talking shit, putting a not-too-fine point on it. Chinese nationalists or no, we seem in equal numbers to be loud exploiters or exploited. However, in the category of legatee we must never fall silent, sharing with dead people, animals and plants, social and other institutions, even the weather and the universe itself, a primal voice: we are the Subjective.
Is it ironic that the voice makes noise? “Make them both confess,” as Joni said. (“The Priest”, Ladies Of The Canyon, 1970.) Subjectivity was everywhere in 1970, in case you were not present. One man’s memory just got a prelate objectified and destroyed by popular consent to the voice of outrage. I have always wondered about the permanent injury caused by, and the apparently universal horror of questioning the damage of, the loving touch of someone of the same gender. Perhaps “I am” might be less noisy, or nosy (no ‘I’), if we weren’t commuting for hours a day, blinded by speed to the country beyond road or rail, digging our gardens in subdivision fill and submitting to evening barbecues bathed in artificial light, never venturing from the raft we have earned on the ocean of other voices.
Reality is emergent; disclosure is its enjoyment in time, gossip its narrative; the world is a subject. Whether you can identify with the tree as a physical shape, a system of responses or a set of materials, whether you regard your Self as a work in triumphant or shameful progress, a victim of circumstances or an impediment to enlightenment, the world enjoys you, because you confirm it. You may be an accident, though a probable one, but you will never happen again! Once upon a time, there was no accidence, coincidence, synchronicity or probability: there is now because the world which enjoys you invented them and you confirmed them by giving them back as passion, spontaneity, free will and unpredictability. Are you present, in this auditorium screening your History?
Oops, oh dear, you seem to be absent in me: I am your Thou; I and Thou are the subject of creation, the disclosure of the I of the universe. Whether I was a wave, a fish or a seawall, my time is near, but it will remain absent in yours, and absence in the universe has lasted forever, as disclosure will always have it. Disclosure is a two-way street connecting presence and absence, but across town with all those traffic lights it can seem interminable. If you have not already done so, you must imagine in the charts above the absence of the Earth you are standing on and looking through. In such exercise I sprout wings to join voice with the glorious equanimity of the grey butcherbird apparently confronting its finitude with its vigorous resistance to objectivity punctuated by the mournful refrain, “I am”, outside my window where our tracks intersect.