The last few weeks, in Melbourne, Australia, have clearly been about showing the dogs for the dogs, and the humans for the humans. I have long been suspicious of the Australian habit of back-patting; of praising our courage, our simple and wholesome practical-mindedness and readiness to help in need. Of saying, we have been brought to our knees, but we will stand again. Now, though, I think it may be not at all different from the Croatian method of digesting catastrophe, which is fierce and unforgiving awe at the senseless cruelty of the world. Sense of not so much injustice, but the magnitude of suffering. Because both are, deep down, just different takes on the same basic truth of life. Terrible things happen; people suffer and die; life continues. We learn nothing but the depth and breadth of our own selves.
(As an urban planner, I am able to simultaneously have another angle on the events, one slightly more outcome-oriented. However, that is a different story, and I am not going to bore you with public policy discussion.)
Sad, sober and toughening-up few weeks. The best thing we can do, as always, is show Hemingway’s grace under pressure, in other words courage. Make sure we find out we are humans, not dogs.
It remains a theatre hiatus for me. Instead, I will offer a couple of reading recommendations. Zadie Smith, always the brilliant essayist, writes Speaking in Tongues for the NY Review of Books, a deep and personal meditation on Barack Obama, language, and difference:
It’s amazing how many of our cross-cultural and cross-class encounters are limited not by hate or pride or shame, but by another equally insidious, less-discussed, emotion: embarrassment. A few minutes later, I was in a taxi and heading uptown with my Northern Irish husband and our half-Indian, half-English friend, but that initial hesitation was ominous; the first step on a typical British journey. A hesitation in the face of difference, which leads to caution before difference and ends in fear of it. Before long, the only voice you recognize, the only life you can empathize with, is your own.
On the other side of the world, the new edition of Plotki is dedicated to Airports. Among many pieces of striking citizen journalism, it is worth singling out Lucie Dusk’s Leaving Nowhere, on the 100-odd residents of Heathrow, thus temporarily not homeless. In Eurozine, Slavenka Drakulić explains Why she has not returned to Belgrade, discussing personal and political responsibility.
While his speech clearly aimed at evoking sympathy from the audience, I must confess that I did not feel any sympathy at all. I was angry at his anger. Speaking on their behalf he somehow suggested that the new generation does not deserve such a treatment from “Europe”. The implication of his argument was that because they are young they must also be innocent.
Proving that serious writing has not disappeared from Australian mainstream media, Guy Rundle, in Winds of change, discusses the past and the future of our economic crisis:
The entire productive capacity of the West has been hollowed out, largely under the tutelage of an economic theory so oriented to consumption that its value calculations could not distinguish between $1 billion of GDP expressed as a steel mill and the same amount as represented by the sale of pet care products. As long as money was moving around, everything was all right.
Finally, fiction. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, Donald Antrim pens Another Manhattan, an exquisite short story that does the most wondrous kind of the short-story magic: changes colour and shape with every paragraph, ending quite a different thing than it began.
But we should always end sad weeks with a music number: