The dilettante gets bad press: Jack of all trades, master of none. No Universal Man is he, in a world made of interlocking expertise. Something is wrong with him. It is as though he has disassembled the jigsaw puzzle of reality and is trying to put it together a different way. You can’t do that, we say, it only goes one way. But why, he demands, why can’t we all make it the way we want it? Because that would be too messy, we say. It has taken a long time to make ourselves in the mould of the world as we see it, and no good will come of tinkering. The world was made, is made, by someone else, according to laws it is sensible to obey, and that’s that. But on that point, that myth, the dilettante cannot agree.
In his personal country the world is constantly reshaping itself within: if people believe only in obeying the law, the world is not made by law, but by submission; if there is strife, it is not caused by opposing laws, but by failure to share pleasure. Country is not an area on a map, but the experience of connection, and orientation must go hand-in-hand with recognition. The law does not demand submission, but personal sense, in accordance with instinct. The law must have a rhythm you can dance to. Without recognition of its origin in the personal space of communal dreaming, country is reviled for belonging to others, particularly venomously by owners and experts, lawmakers, high priests, scholars, ethnographers et al. who are qualified to annex and catalogue the minutiae of a grand plan.
But what of the country of those who seem happily to submit to the grand plan, who are entertained by diversity, who meditate away their instinct as the underlying cause of suffering, and who believe it prudent to have no country? Is it possible that country is an evolutionary phase of universal consciousness without borders and identity without individuality, that it appears at a stage of growth as a genetic template like ego which enlightenment gently but insistently eradicates? The dilettante has not found the way to such constant flight. He still gets tired and hungry. He meditates on the branch of a tree. He flies away when somebody chops it down. Is it possible that humanity will find a home in a Big Empty Country in which automatic ships plying the Tasman will not be haunted by the seaman’s sense of ocean heft and engine throb?
He looks around at the stars above him and scratches his head. There will be no stars when he closes his eyes for the last time. Will they still be haunted by memories and totems and bowels despite forgetting the names he has given them? So wonders the Third Mate as he returns to the haven of the bridge after looking due north at the Full Moon, at the precise moment the Milky Way was rising vertical through fern-shaped Aquila on the port side. Dabbler in astrology, namer of stars, humming a song which has popped into his head, he muses on the status of memory. Are the galactic signs of language and identity his delusions of reward, or placed in the right place at the right time by a healer? Are they evolutionary or dismembering? He becomes conscious of what the song is saying: these visions of Johanna are now all that remain. Does Johanna linger in some tropical zone of the Urmensch? Are relativity and Louise temperate zone phenomena?
He looks forward to his R&R with fellow-golfers Pru and Bob next week, but if the truth be known, he is still shaken by that strange encounter a few days ago in Brisbane, when total strangers had gathered around him affectionately, showing him photos and bringing him up to date about people he couldn’t remember having ever met. That parting comment from the freckle-faced redhead in the bow-tie who more than he seemed to have preserved some of his youth, chiding gently, “And at least I have a university degree, eh?” What will Pru, chair of Indigenous Studies, make of evolutionary cultural divides at the latitudes of the Galactic Poles? Talk about something they can eat?
His supposed area of expertise is safety, but he does not approach its regulation as of a set of rules like Deuteronomy, but rather as a negotiated settlement of dynamic entitlement. The cultural property Pru might accuse him of appropriating is itself an appropriation: few people alive belong to a community living beneath the Milky Way, and any offence to the instinct of the few ought to be weighed against its stirring up of the rationality of the many. In his heart he knows that for thousands of years the people of the Milky Way felt its beat as he does-–as the seaman feels the throb of the engines-–whatever meaning they gave it. He is trying to graft lost instinct into his intellect. He wills to be a descendant of his ancestors.
He believes that Aboriginal consciousness was saturated by the night, as is his, and that the people who saw the emu saw everything in the Milky Way’s vivid band. Furthermore, in their intimate connection with it, they orientated the horizon to it, that is to say their daily experience, and profoundly considered the zenith, into which they fell as they lay to sleep. To overlay on that consciousness a Western geometry which evolved erect, eyes looking out windows, in no way diminishes it, but rather reaches out a humble hand of recognition. He is the one in need of reconciliation.
The dilettante discovers in Bundjalung country the latitude at which the zenith of the warrior beat passes into Scorpio, if this most prominent constellation of Southern Australian winter nights is measured from its easternmost star. Further south, at the Clarence River boundary between Bundjalung country and Gumbaynggirr country, Pisces and Virgo are replaced at the extremes of the Prime Vertical by Aquarius and Leo, if the constellations of the Zodiac are measured by twelve equal divisions of the ecliptic, originating at the zenith of the Northern Rivers warrior, he who monitors the boundary between Northern and Southern Australia.
How is it possible to divorce the study of Aboriginal language from an intuitive grasp of the night sky? How can one conceive of an evolution of communication divorced from country? How much needs to be forgotten to create conscious order? And on that note, how is it possible to completely forget people who have obviously once known you well, to so utterly lose the memory of who you once were? The dilettante thinks again, as he clears away his charts, of those university days, studying languages, and all the turns his life has taken since. He searches his mind for an intuition of discontinuity but can’t find one. It seems that each new bearing has offered itself at the destination of the one before, and yet he can remember only the bearings. Was it really ever just too concise and too clear, that Johanna wasn’t here?