How Darwin and Einstein replied to letters

Kurt Kleiner in New Scientist:

Both Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein relied on pen, paper, and the postal service to communicate with correspondents around the world. But researchers have now found the pattern of their replies is the same as that of computer users answering email today, with both following the same mathematical formula.

The pattern could reflect some basic biological encoding that shows up in everything from humans at work to birds foraging for food, according to Albert-László Barabási, a physicist at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, US.

In previous work, Barabási looked at how long it took people to answer their email, and found a “bursty” pattern – most emails are answered fairly quickly, but a few sit around for a long time, and some sit around for a very long time.

To describe the pattern, Barabási created a mathematical model in which people prioritise their emails, then respond to the high priority emails quickly and the low-priority emails more slowly. When he crunched the numbers, his model fit the observed results perfectly.

More here.

Einstein on Science and Religion

Albert Einstein in Science & Spirit:

It would not be difficult to come to an agreement as to what we understand by science. Science is the century-old endeavor to bring together by means of systematic thought the perceptible phenomena of this world into as thoroughgoing an association as possible. To put it boldly, it is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of existence by the process of conceptualization. But when asking myself what religion is I cannot think of the answer so easily. And even after finding an answer which may satisfy me at this particular moment I still remain convinced that I can never under any circumstances bring together, even to a slight extent, all those who have given this question serious consideration.

More here.

A neural thunderstorm, titanic and glorious

Michael Chorost in Wired:

With one listen, I was hooked. I was a 15-year-old suburban New Jersey nerd, racked with teenage lust but too timid to ask for a date. When I came across Boléro among the LPs in my parents’ record collection, I put it on the turntable. It hit me like a neural thunderstorm, titanic and glorious, each cycle building to a climax and waiting but a beat before launching into the next.

I had no idea back then of Boléro‘s reputation as one of the most famous orchestral recordings in the world. When it was first performed at the Paris Opera in 1928, the 15-minute composition stunned the audience. Of the French composer, Maurice Ravel, a woman in attendance reportedly cried out, “He’s mad … he’s mad!” One critic wrote that Boléro “departs from a thousand years of tradition.”

I sat in my living room alone, listening.

More here.

Scientists Complete Map of Genetic Variations

From AP:

HapmapScientists have mapped patterns of tiny DNA differences that distinguish one person from another, an achievement that will help researchers find genes that promote common illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.

The map represents “a real sea change in how we study the genetics of disease,” said Dr. David Altshuler, a leader of the project that included more than 200 researchers from six nations.

Scientists want to find disease-related genes as a means for diagnosis, prediction and developing treatments. Such genes give clues to the biological underpinnings of disease, and so suggest strategies for developing therapies.

More here.

A Report from Earthquake devastated regions in Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy reports on relief efforts in earthquake devastated regions in Pakistan, in Z Magazine.

For me personally, there was a sense of dejavu. Nearly 31 years ago, on 25th December 1974, a powerful earthquake had flattened towns along the Karakorum Highway killing nearly 10,000 people. I had traveled with a university team into the same mountains for similar relief work. Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had made a passionate appeal for funds around the world, taken a token helicopter trip to the destroyed town of Besham, and made fantastic promises for rehabilitation. But then hundreds of millions of dollars in relief funds received from abroad mysteriously disappeared. Some well-informed people believe that those funds were used to kick off Pakistan’s secret nuclear program.

Shall the present government do better? This will only be if citizens, and international donors, demand transparency and accounts are available for public audit.

The clock is ticking. In barely two months from now, the mountains will get their first snowfall and temperatures will plummet below zero. There are simply not enough tents, blankets, and warm clothes to go around. Hundreds of tent clusters have come up, but thousands of families remain out under the skies, facing rain and hail, and with dread in their hearts.

contemporary art, not so bad really


Art changes along with the world, for better or worse. Some artists’ work is so caught up in a particular moment, so bounded by gossip, by articles and rumours and reputation, that it becomes almost impossible to look at it freshly. Opinion drifts into consensus and the orthodox official line, the lines of explanatory text on the museum wall. The artist gets caught up in all this too, and might spend all their energy trying to escape. This has happened with Damien Hirst.

Perhaps one of the best artists at dealing with this impasse has been Bruce Nauman. Working between sculpture, performance, film and sound, neon works and drawings, he has made both one of the most varied and consistent bodies of work since the 1960s, while remaining somewhat aloof from the tides of fashion. Everyone else is left trying to catch up, as many students, leafing through the Nauman back catalogue, soon discover. But how many artists are conscious of their own range, the richness of what they do? Mostly, Nauman reacts to the difficulty of not knowing what to do next, and working through the condition of creative emptiness. Looking at his new work can make you think of things he did more than 20 or 30 years ago, and throw them in a new light. Lesser artists, meanwhile, just repeat themselves. Nauman’s kind of digging-in is more than persistence or doggedness.

more from The Guardian here.



My favorite image of Rosa Parks, who died Monday at the age of 92, is of the confrontation between her and a policeman on that auspicious afternoon of Dec. 1, 1955, when she refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala. After the officer had instructed her to “make it light on yourself” and give up her seat to a standing white man, she later said, she asked him, “Why do you push us around?” And he had given an honest answer: “I don’t know.” But then he explained that he had to arrest her anyway (even though she was not in technical violation of the city’s segregation laws, but that’s a whole other tangent of this rich saga). And so did history turn. In support of Parks’ defiance, the black citizens of Montgomery boycotted the city buses until segregated seating was abolished, one whole year later. And so was born what is still known as the modern civil rights movement.

more from Slate here.

The Detached Cool of Andy Warhol

From The Village Voice:Warhol_3

May 6, 1965
Andy Warhol makes movies with the same unruffled objectivity that he looks at life. His usual procedure is to set up the action—often a group of people interacting—point the camera at them, turn it on, and step back. The camera makes the movie: whatever happens, planned or not, is the film. Sometimes in the studio (which he refers to as “the factory”) there will be interruptions: telephone calls, people going up or down in the elevator, somebody dropping something or walking inadvertently in front of the camera. All is recorded. No trace of surprise or annoyance registers on Warhol’s face. He is totally cool or very uptight, depending on your point of view. The latter school says: “Andy’s been trained in Madison Avenue. He’s like a high-powered executive who doesn’t show his feelings, but he’s seething inside.” Personally, I think it the height of coolness to regard everything with a detached eye and rely on intuition to make instant decisions. Warhol’s intuition is usually correct.

More here.

Cinema Veritas: Harvard’s unique film program shines anew

From Harvard Magazine:Dani

The history, theory, and analysis of films as cultural and aesthetic “texts” became a legitimate academic field in the late 1960s, leading to a 1970s boom in cinema-studies programs across America — but not at Harvard. Although the College ventured into film studies through a General Education course and subsequent courses at the Carpenter Center, there was no degree program. In the film-studies program, students learn how to “read” films as complex historical and aesthetic artifacts. D.W. Griffith’s Civil War epic, The Birth of a Nation (1915), might be analyzed as a cinematic masterpiece of framing, continuity editing, mise en scène, and narrative structure, as well as a palimpsest of U.S. racial history: its positive depiction of the KKK was highly controversial but didn’t extinguish its popularity. Students examine national cinemas, film theory, and special topics such as film and philosophy, or the human body, or architecture.

More here.

God save the heretic

Christopher Hart in the Times of London:

Jonathan Swift observed that the problem with religion was that there wasn’t enough of it around: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Three centuries on there is even less of it around and we still hate each other.

The difficulty, at least for the scientifically educated but spiritually malnourished, is not the idea of religion itself, meaning some system of ritualised worship that helps us to make sense, if only symbolically, of the human, natural and supernatural worlds. The difficulty is rather that all the religions on offer are so patently preposterous, if not downright unpleasant.

More here.

origins of color photography


Over the past few years, the art world has rediscovered color photographers–such as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, and Joel Sternfeld–who, in the 1970s and early ’80s, helped push the medium from the confines of commercial magazines into the realm of high art. At first glance, the vivid depictions of American life in “Bound for Glory,” on view at the Library of Congress through November 26, might be mistaken for works by one of their contemporaries. Familiar scenes from the American vernacular abound–gas stations, bars, store fronts, churches, home interiors–all rendered in the characteristically rich hues of then-popular Kodachrome slide film. The images, however, are more than 60 years old, created between 1939 and 1943 by photographers working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Despite the establishment’s past condescension toward color photography, these pioneering works are anything but facile.

more from TNR here.

thoughts from rome II

Here’s a thesis to try out on friends: The anti-war movement, in its current form, is an unwitting complement to US government policy, not an opposition to it. It will enable a cowardly premature withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, an event that will be a horrendous betrayal of the Iraqis we promised to “liberate” and a complete failure of political imagination, and which both the Bush administration and the anti-war movement will claim as a victory. . . .

My doubts began the week before, at the meeting to plan out the banners called by Stormin’ Norman the Doorman. “Norm,” as he’s known around here, is a former Marine who did two tours of duty in Vietnam. This gives him a certain grave authority, though he keeps his war experiences at a distance which leaves whatever horrors he saw or did buried under gruff bad jokes: “I was shot at and missed and shat at and hit.” But Norm’s past is less worthy than his present. He’s the man who lets you into the building every time you reach the gate, who sells you laundry tokens and tells you where the buses go, who governs his post with the perfect sense of a good tyrant, knowing just when to enforce the rules and when to let them go (and there are rules aplenty here). He tells us that the sign is supposed to read “All troops out of Iraq” in English and Italian. “What about ‘All troops out of Iraq, all terrorists out of Iraq’?” I ask, wanting both to be even-handed and to voice my feeling that whoever caused the death of thousands of Shiites on a bridge, whoever killed Steven Vincent, whoever has been kidnapping girls who won’t wear veils—these people shouldn’t be part of the new Iraq either. Later, our resident poet will propose a sign: “Everyone out of Iraq.”

more from Marco Roth’s second dispatch from Rome at n+1 here.

Writers Side With Google In Scrap

From Wired News:

Google’s plan to scan library book collections and make them searchable may be drawing ire from publishers and authors’ advocates, but some obscure and first-time writers are lining up on the search engine’s side of the dispute — arguing that the benefits of inclusion in the online database outweigh the drawbacks.

“A cover does sell a book to a certain extent, but once you’re intrigued by a cover you want to dig deeper,” said Meghann Marco, whose first book, Field Guide to the Apocalypse, was published in May.

Marco said she wanted to include excerpts of her book in the search tool, but her publisher, Simon & Schuster, refused to allow it. Adam Rothberg, a spokesman for Simon & Schuster, said many of its authors do participate in Google Print’s opt-in program for publishers, and didn’t know why Marco’s book wasn’t included.

Simon & Schuster is one of five publishing houses that jointly filed a lawsuit against Google last week. The suit charges the search company with willful infringement of copyrights for its Google Print Library Project, which involves four university libraries and the New York Public Library. Google wants to scan all or portions of their collections and add the text to Google Print’s searchable database.

More here.

The Science of Hurt

From Harvard Magazine:Pain

Those who suffer the devastating effects of chronic pain may fantasize about a life that is completely pain-free. In fact, such a life is far from idyllic. People who are born with congenital insensitivity to pain, a rare genetic disorder, chew their tongues and lips to pieces, burn their flesh, and fracture their bones without realizing the harm they are doing to their bodies. Lacking a warning system to protect themselves from dangers in the environment, they tend to die young, often in their twenties. Nociceptive or somaticpain — a normal response to noxious stimuli — is essential for life. It tells you to pull your hand away from a flame or withdraw your mouth from a cup of hot coffee. If you break an ankle, the pain keeps you from walking around on it, so the bone can heal. Nociceptors are sensory receptors, or nerve endings, that react to mechanical, thermal, and chemical stimuli that may damage tissues. They relay nerve impulses — electrical messages from the site of injury in peripheral tissues such as skin, muscles, and joints — to the dorsal horn, an area in the spinal cord that acts as a switchboard. There, different chemicals determine whether these electrical messages reach your brain, where you actually perceive pain.

More here.

Brain Images Reveal Menstrual Cycle Patterns

From Scientific American:

Aunty For the first time, scientists have pinpointed an area of the brain involved in a woman’s menstrual cycle. The research, reported online this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows contrasts in activity over the course of a month and provides a baseline for understanding the emotional and behavioral changes that 75 percent of all women report experiencing before, during and after their period. For any woman who has found herself becoming inexplicably angry or sad during her menstrual cycle, the possibility that her “time of the month” may be responsible is not news. But although a great deal of research has looked at the influence of hormones on nerves, very little work has delved into the role a woman’s menstrual cycle can play in the emotions.

More here.

When Hemingway and Dos Passos went to war

George Packer in The New Yorker:

There was a moment, in April of 1937, when the Lost Generation of nineteen-twenties Paris reunited in Madrid. The occasion was the Spanish Civil War, already in its ninth month, but the regular shelling of the Hotel Florida and other privations of the Fascist siege didn’t prevent Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Josephine Herbst, and Hemingway’s latest distraction from the thought of suicide, Martha Gellhorn, from living well. Though the Hotel Florida wasn’t the Café des Amateurs, Hemingway managed to procure, thanks in part to impeccable connections with the Spanish government and the Russian general staff, the best food and brandy in the city. Every morning, the other guests woke up to the smell of eggs, bacon, and coffee being prepared by a Hemingway flunky in Room 108, courtesy of the Communist International. The moveable feast had crashed the Red decade.

More here.

Stronger Than Steel, Harder Than Diamonds


NanotechbuckypaperbgWorking with a material 10 times lighter than steel – but 250 times stronger – would be a dream come true for any engineer. If this material also had amazing properties that made it highly conductive of heat and electricity, it would start to sound like something out of a science fiction novel.

Yet one Florida State University research group, the Florida Advanced Center for Composite Technologies (FAC2T), is working to develop real-world applications for just such a material…

Buckypaper is made from carbon nanotubes — amazingly strong fibers about 1/50,000th the diameter of a human hair that were first developed in the early 1990s. Buckypaper owes its name to Buckminsterfullerene, or Carbon 60 — a type of carbon molecule whose powerful atomic bonds make it twice as hard as a diamond.

More here.

A market for ideas

“Intellectual-property protection can be good for the technology industry as well as for its customers, says Kenneth Cukier (interviewed here). But it requires careful handling.”

From The Economist:

In information technology and telecoms in particular, the role of intellectual property has changed radically. What used to be the preserve of corporate lawyers and engineers in R&D labs has been speedily embraced by the boardroom. “Intellectual-asset management” now figures as a strategic business issue. In America alone, technology licensing revenue accounts for an estimated $45 billion annually; worldwide, the figure is around $100 billion and growing fast.

Technology firms are seeking more patents, expanding their scope, licensing more, litigating more and overhauling their business models around intellectual property. Yet paradoxically, as some companies batten down the hatches, other firms have found ways of making money by opening up their treasure-chest of innovation and sharing it with others. The rise of open-source software is just one example. And a new breed of companies has appeared on the periphery of today’s tech firms, acting as intellectual-property intermediaries and creating a market for ideas.

More here.

2,000 years of bizarre sex advice

From the London Times:

The tradition of bestselling love guides goes back to the Ancient Chinese. Our earliest known manuals were first written in 300BC and buried in a family tomb at Mawangdui, in Hunan province. Recent translation reveals the timeless nature of the subjects they tackled.

Written as Cosmo coverlines, they would look like this: Four Seasons of Sex — and Why Autumn is Hot, Hot, Hot; Wild New Positions; Tiger Roving, Gibbon Grabbing and Fish Gobbling; Aphrodisiacs to Keep You Up All Night!Plus Exclusive! Your Love Route to Immortality.

As ever, it was all nonsense: home-made Viagra recipes involved ingredients such as beetle larvae, wasps and dried snails. The books also promised that any man who had sex with a different virgin every night for 100 nights without ejaculating would live for ever (albeit rather uncomfortably).

More here.

Poetry and Culture

Australian poet and author Peter Nicholson writes 3QD’s Poetry and Culture column (see other columns here). There is an introduction to his work at and at the NLA.


Poetry and limitations of the ironic mode in the new millennium, Part 2

[The first part of this essay can be found here.]

The composer subsequently explained that he saw the work of Lucifer at work in New York, an entity without love, as the negative force in the struggle to create artwork—but the whole tendency to aestheticise experience, and then theorise that experience, shows how stillborn the expected revolution had turned out to be. With claims that language  had been liberated from the old paternal, sexist past, yet another regime battened down the hatches and enforced its own perverse brand of ideological correctness. It was clear that there was a disconnect between what the language theorists said could be done and what had actually been achieved. Rather than wringing the neck of rhetoric, which the modernists were over-fond of quoting as a devoutly-wished consummation, they had invented a Byzantine rhetorical mode all their own, with its arcane, intangible poetry-speak that simply baffled those who didn’t fall for its nostrums and blithe indifference to the actual act of communication. Having missed out on real revolutionary fervour, soixante-huit and all that, they seemed to think artistic change could come about through substitute barricading of printing presses and metaphorical shouting from digital rooftops. Thus their naive nostalgia for Left Bank subfusc Marxism or Greenwich Village groove as they imagined themselves following on in the tradition of Bakunin, Tel Quel, the Situationists, or whoever.

What developed in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century as a suspicion of feeling, never mind the antithetical examples near to hand of Tennyson and Keats, was ironised beyond recognition in the States where the experimental became a due process, then a status quo, institutionalised by academe and magazine. Of course, there were exceptions—Crane, Frost. Philosophy provided a convenient  resource for those who were growing wary of their own emotions. When Wittgenstein said that words should be distrusted as agents of truth, poets should have rebelled with every fibre of poetic being, since that is where poets find their truth, such as it is. Swathes of poetry read as if they had been cauterised. Burnt verse offerings were mute testimony to the divided self that wanted at all costs to be seen as Modern, echoing on the shores of publication the surf of their rebarbative white noise.

September 11 was a signifier like no other. We had been alerted before by the bloodbaths in Vietnam, Rwanda, Cambodia, East Timor, the Balkans, the Palestinian struggle, world without end. But it took the destruction of the prime symbol of Western capitalism to give the ultimate wake up call to the West. Was our civilisation worth fighting for? Of course it was, but some couldn’t see the writing on the Western wall. The land of the free and home of the brave resided in everyone who honoured parliamentary democracy. Democracy bestowed on us the virtue of citizenship, the citizenship that gave us not just rights, but obligations too. Just what those obligations should be for the artist, the poet, was a piece of hard thinking not done by those undergoing their compulsory fifteen minutes of fame in the moronic inferno (Bellow’s phrase). The sound and fury could turn out to be an insubstantial pageant faded. The long haul across a lifetime of creative endeavour had to be centred in truthfulness, beauty and fidelity to the Muse, Nietzschean scorn notwithstanding, if it was going to thrive once the iron lung of praise was switched off. Time had a special way of sending down to darkness strident pronunciamentos already fading to uncertainty.

Kant said that Hume aroused him from dogmatic slumber. A large swathe of the poetry world is yet to awake from its own dogmatic slumber, so pleased is it with its own enervating, inward-directed gaze. The rest of the world may very well be passing it by: to those manning the approved poetry portals the view looks good—calm seas and prosperous voyage ahead! Semiotics, deconstruction, bricolage, the age of mechanical reproduction, Lacan, Derrida, the uncertainty principle—these were the constituent elements of the postmodern sensibility which had pirated the good ship Romanticism. The ship sailed on through uncertain, nihilistic seas, but almost everyone was happy to be on board. ‘Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find’ Whitman had intoned. But that was no good anymore. Was it now just ‘Sail forth’ because there was nothing left to find, motion for the sake of motion, language for the sake of L=A=N=G etc. However, being a pluralist did not mean accepting the validity of all that was offered, since a great deal of what was offered was mediocre. The receding tides of imperial might still drew in minorities clinging to the coattails of the deceased as a mountain of books and ezines were launched into bulimic oblivion.

A new humanism is certainly needed, but it cannot be the kind that uses the terminology of race winning—art says more than science; science reaches further, and explains more, than art. A poet has a tremendous amount to learn from the scientific and technological revolution. But a poet is not a scientist, a few professionals aside, and it is our job to use language to describe the world, and our feelings, not try to make language the metaphoric adept of quantum mechanics, string theory or fractals, as much as language might reflect aspects of those subjects in its verse technique.

If we were wise, we would envy the relationship of a Nietzsche and a Wagner. Not wearing the mendacious rose-coloured glasses of Heidegger/Arendt, Sartre/de Beauvoir, here was a relationship based on aesthetic venturesomeness and passionate intellectual confrontation that took no hostages to fortune. There was the inevitable falling-out, as is often the way with heroic minds, and mistaken enterprise on both sides, but what gold was deposited in the artistic and philosophical bank vault along the way! How unsatisfactory seem our poetry schools with their frigid theoretical totemism. Groucho Marx: I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member. Australians were a bit too proud of their ability to make a joke of everything and everyone; a savage irony and sarcasm was waiting for anyone who got above themselves. The trouble was, art required getting above yourself since art reached beyond what could not be grasped. Here was a conundrum for the Australian artist. Would they play up to the ideology inherent in convict history and just laugh at the world, or would they willingly choose the ostracism waiting down the pathway of seriousness—laconic Australian speech with its concern for the pragmatic quotidian being somewhat at odds with the demands of memorability and expression of complex feeling. Well, the punishments were duly handed out: Margaret Sutherland lived a life of virtual exile in her homeland; Francis Webb’s Brucknerian confrontation with land and spirit was all but ignored, Joy Hester’s tormented vision waited for the six-feet-under years before people started to look at what she had given*. Here were some of the artists who took the hard choices. They were ironic about themselves, but not about their art. Feeling, contradictory and complex, and intelligence, disturbing and antithetical, was evident when artists chose to challenge themselves, not with the technological tools at hand, but with artistic solitude, the rigours of the Muse, the uncordial and unlovely, unfunded and often unacknowledged hard slog sparked by the visionary gleam. An ironic homunculus is always at work in art, and is always a part of any useful artistic enterprise, but when that ironic component has come to dominate the sensibility of an art form, then the capacity of that art form to respond to the complexity of the world is vitiated. What can follow in the wake of terminal irony but sterility and irrelevance.

I remember the first time I saw Lucian Freud’s work, and I didn’t like it at all. Only experience and a greater knowledge of figurative painting brought me to the realisation that here was an admirable artistic seriousness and consummate technical skill. Freud made absolutely no accommodation to the -isms and -ologies of the twentieth century, and paid a price, in the interim, for doing so. To look at Freud seriously is a forbidding experience, a truthful, liberating experience. When I look at his paintings and etchings, I also intuit the presence, and influence, of Rembrandt, Constable and Ingres, and know that I have a great deal to learn from being confronted in this way, lessons I once was not ready to receive. It seems that some artists now believe that they have no need of an inheritance. And some poets think they can make language over again. Their knowledge of history is so slim that they haven’t come to the realisation that it is given to very few writers to remake language in that transformational way. It would be a supreme irony if the future decided that these attempts to revolutionise language had reduced the status of poetry to that of a kind of esoteric language game. Irony as stimulus, in Kierkegaard’s terminology, certainly. There could be no greater exemplar of this kind of irony than Shostakovich who enclosed within a satirical and tragic doubleness an entire emotional and intellectual cosmography, an irony capable of quoting both Rossini and Wagner in its last symphonic confrontation. Sachs tells Walther at the end of Die Meistersinger to honour the masters, the mastersingers—Walther has said he has no need of them. Wagner says it is essential to have a knowledge of the art that has brought us to the present moment. This has nothing to do with burying one’s head in the sand—being a classic Stuckist—and everything to do with knowing the good that is not interred with bones, the art that stands as a challenge to everything we achieve and which it is our duty to honour—or what will be left that that will be worthwhile? Here should be the joy, not the anxiety, of influence. We cannot invent the world again; this is the same world that brought forth Aeschylus and Euripides, Newton and Einstein, no matter how enticing the technological marvels, with their intimations of transformational experience, now laid out before us. If a poet believes with John Cage that the goal should be to show there is no goal, that is an irony that will be of little interest to future readers. But that is a choice we make, with the language we use, with our poetics and aesthetics.

Poetry embodies the gold nerve of our condition, the impulse that circumnavigates our world, sewing up in vowels and syllables the extraordinarily vulnerable yet tenacious human condition. We may well feel an overwhelming irony confronting the task of producing art in an era that seems, in some respects, to trivialise art and the ideal of art—that has always been the lot of the artist. But in poetry, and I should say the rest of art too, that irony will never be enough, unless one has given up on civilisation. We must move on from the ironic mode, and from the nihilism and scepticism inherent in the ironic mode of discourse, to a more exploratory and expressive aesthetic. The feeling that comes after irony—this is what we must grapple with, as we work our way towards the source that has led us from amphora to cyberspace. To be worthy of that impulse is the duty of the poet.

*Margaret Sutherland, Francis Webb, Joy Hester: respectively, Australian composer, poet and artist.



That flickers,
After reels
Collect facts
In an air-conditioned room;

Which fills
With gristle of tongue,
Beginnings and endings

Whose weight
By the fold
Of computer digits
And printouts;

This word,
Beautiful, true, free,
We hold.

Written 1990 Published 1997 A Dwelling Place 82