BREYDON’s been reading

Thursday 11 August 2022.

Informal lit‐talk dating from late 2021, on.


Some potentially distressing content (within the notes below) is preceded with a hash symbol and quick statement as to its nature. So too is the occasional spoiler. But far from everything of concern is marked in this way.

Background to this document

The public face of been reading is automatically generated from a file that I use to keep track of library loans and which quotes or notes I have posted on social media.

The books among these are for my BookWyrm profile,; which is only loosely in synch.

Some of the borrowed items were assigned to me, rather being than of my particular choosing.

Neither reference nor quotation, and not even ranking, equate to endorsement.

Ratings, roughly

“F”s seemed almost pure harm and were poorly written. “E”s were slogs and wastes. “D”s I would have refused publication pending thorough rounds of redrafts, reframing, and/or reresearch. “C”s read neither fantastically nor awfully, or they did both just enough that it cancelled out — unless they delighted but I barely began, so couldn’t reliably say. “B”s held something, substantial, of distinct interest or especial enjoyment, which might richly reward a deliberate revisiting. “A”s may not ring perfect to me, but I would gift or receive with unhesitating gladness.

These designations were derived from an old podcast prioritisation scheme of mine, which asked:

How keen was I on this?

A ★★★★★
top priority
B ★★★★‒
fairly worthwhile
C ★★★‒‒
almost missable
D ★★‒‒‒
only bother if extremely convenient
E ★‒‒‒‒
F ☆‒‒‒‒
don't dare

The two systems don’t completely align. I often forget which one I’m using, and how they relate — so don’t trust small differences in grade to be meaningful! Especially when it comes to magazines and novels, these rankings are haphazard.

1. Svetlana ALEXIEVICH, translated from the Russian by Bela SHAYEVICH, Secondhand Time: the last of the Soviets (Melbourne: Text Publishing 2016)

  • Took notes in August 2022.

1.1. chase the catastrophe into the contours of the ordinary

I want to know about […] the myriad sundry details of a vanished way of life. It’s the only way to chase the catastrophe into the contours of the ordinary and try to tell a story. Make some small discovery. It never ceases to amaze me how interesting everyday life really is.

⸻ pg. 7, ‘Remarks from an Accomplice’

1.2. people no longer earned money

After perestroika, no one was talking about ideas anymore — instead, it was credit, interest, and promissory notes; people no longer earned money, they “made” it or “scored” it.

⸻ pg. 8, ‘Remarks from an Accomplice’

2. [B] Monica ALI, Love marriage (London: Virago Press 2022)

  • Took notes in July 2022.

2.1. of dried sage leaves

More than once Yasmin had witnessed an exhausted wife or husband or daughter slide into sleep and then onto the floor. The walls had the colour and texture of dried sage leaves, as if they might crumble at any moment.

⸻ pg. 52

2.2. telling us we have to go private

#body‐image, shaming

He’d told her about the fourteen‐year‐old girl he’d seen in the clinic that morning. The girl was worried that her privates looked funny and her mother agreed she didn’t look right. Women worried about their labia because they compared themselves to what they saw in porn. But this girl was fourteen! The GP hadn’t convinced the mother there was nothing wrong with her daughter. When Joe reassured them that the girl was perfectly normal, she definitely didn’t need an operation to reduce the size of her labia, the girl burst into tears and the mother said, You’re telling us we have to go private, that’s what you mean.

⸻ pg. 61

2.3. as if there was still a chance that he would never

#class, migration, anxiety

Whenever Yasmin thought about how her father’s life had begun she experienced a swell in her ribcage, pride of course, but also fear, as if there was still a chance that he would never escape the jaws of poverty, as if he might never embark on the long and difficult journey, or might travel but never arrive.

⸻ pg. 75

2.4. a false word she will know

The blank page is maddening. She raises her head and looks once more in the mirror. She has chosen to sit at her dressing table because when she writes a false word she will know it from the look on her face.

⸻ pg. 92

2.5. took hold and stood there uncertainly

‘Nathan!’ Harriet rose to greet a willowy young man, both hands outstretched. He took hold of them and stood there uncertainly, not knowing what to do with these dazzling gifts.

⸻ pg. 120

2.6. quite literally disintegrate, just deliquesce in his arms right there and then

She’d cried. Of course she’d cried. He held her and she thought she would quite literally disintegrate, just deliquesce in his arms right there and then. But soon she stiffened. Her ear pressed against his bare chest and the steady beat of his heart filled her with rage.

⸻ pg. 137

Someone’s read a bit of Rushdie back in the day; back of the mind, there it is seeping up.

2.7. a train jogged along

‘Adventure playground?’ said Rania. ‘Look, there’s nobody there.’

They veered left and stared down the far slope towards the pirate ship and the high walks and the orange climbing nets. A train jogged along the tracks at the bottom, a stubby Sunday train of four carriages, pausing a while, waiting for three fluorescent jackets to cross the tracks and signal the all‐clear. Bonfire smoke twised lazily from a back garden. A crow hopped ahead on the grass.

⸻ pg. 165

3. [A] Ed AYRES, Whole notes (ABC Audio 2021), audiobook download

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

3.1. as musicianship and earnest engagement in the trials of living deserve

Whole Notes imparts the cosiness and charm of a dream first formal lesson on an orchestral instrument.

This book also represents a profound reservoir of careful contemplation, speaking, though primarily of the Western classical tradition and midlife gender transition, quite broadly to how practical musical understanding applies across peoples’ lives. The surface is tickled with cheeky humour, always friendly. In the spaces formed around the contours of his manner, one could almost hear delighted young students’ laughter bouncing along strings, grazing their instruments’ f-holes, or see the tension pouring out of the nervous adult beginner as they ready to take up their bow.

But more importantly, Ayres communicates in waves of understated sensuality, sharing a wealth of pedagogical wisdom (from a variety of teachers-and-learners), quiet courage, and at times a light, resonant awe.

To the audiobook recording, he brings every last mole of his broadcasting aplomb and finesse (if, perhaps, along with an occasional tendency to sustain a pace just slightly more at home in music-radio–length segments — or should that be shortth?). The excellent standard of spoken performance leaves me uncertain as to whether I would like the book so much if it gazed silently at me in print. Nonetheless, I very much hope to leaf through a paper edition, at very least to better absorb a few standout remarks — and loan it on.

4. [C] Noam CHOMSKY, Failed states: the abuse of power and the assault on democracy (Allen & Unwin 2006)

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

4.1. the narrow US political spectrum

This stand has long been conventional, even at the liberal end of the narrow US political spectrum […]

⸻ pg. 87

That a statement such as this could be applied to so many issues constitutes part of the backdrop against which The righteous mind of Jonathan Haidt was doomed to incoherence.

Anyway in this case, Chomsky’s referring to the political elite of the United States of America asserting rights to unilateral exercise of power internationally.

4.2. therefore the damage

#Nakba, judicial justifications

[Akiva] Eldar and [Idit] Zartel also stress the “particularly sad harm caused by the judicial authorities.” They review shocking racist court judgements — among them very light sentences for the brutal murder of Arab children, and even court refusal to pass sentence on Jews by appeal to the saying that “you should not judge your neighbor unless you are in his place.” Such stands have been “destroying the entire basis of the judicial system,” Eldar and Zartel write. “It is only against this background,” [Reuven] Pedatzur adds, that one can comprehend the decision of occupation authority official Pliya Albek, who, with the support of the courts, rejected the appeal of a Palestinian man for compensation after the border police had killed his wife, on the grounds that he “only gained from his wife’s death because when she was alive he had to support her, but now he does not, and therefore the damage to him is at most zero.” Benny Morris writes that “the work of the military courts in the territories, and the Supreme Court which backed them, will surely go down as a dark age in the annals of Israel’s judicial system.”

⸻ pg. 188

A dark age destroying a basis, sure, that’s an angle… Courtesy of Reuven Pedatzur in Ha’aretz 21 February 2005, reviewing Akiva Eldar and Idith Zertal’s אדוני הארץ (Kinneret, 2005), and Benny Morris writing or speaking in who knows which of several possible attributions crammed into Chomsky’s messy endnotes. Adonei Ha’aretz was later published in English as Lords of the Land (2009?).

4.3. the boomers were once children

The propaganda image is that the retirement of “baby boomers” is going to crash the system; as repeatedly pointed out, their retirement had already been financed by the Greenspan‐led increase in payroll taxes in 1983. That aside, the boomers were once children, and had to be cared for then as well. And we find that during those years there was a sharp increase in spending for education and other child care needs. There was no crisis. If American society was able to take care of the boomers from ages zero to twenty, there can be no fundamental reason why a much richer society, with far higher output per worker, cannot take care of them from ages sixty‐five to ninety. At most, some technical fixes might be needed, but no major crisis looms in the foreseeable future.

⸻ pp. 248–249

The 0–20 and ~65+ are drawn from government stats comparing “dependents”, defined as of those ages, to “working people”. To me, late teens seems high for an assumed dependent status in that generation? But then what do I know of U.S. demography.

5. [B] Andrea Long CHU, Females (London and New York: Verso 2019)

  • Took notes circa July 2022.

6. [D] Craig CORMICK & Harold LUDWICK, On a barbarous coast (Allen & Unwin 2020)

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

6.1. bones bark bones crevice

These things won’t survive, and if they are our ancestors they need to remember our language, our lore and our hunting skills, or we’ll be carrying their bones in a dupal (basket) made out of bark to hold the bones of our people, which are placed into caves and rock crevices in the mountains.

⸻ pg. 50

Last paragraph of a chapter!

This is a novel in clunky prose, albeit often more subtly so than right here.

6.2. Gandhaarr hunting


Gandhaarr saw that the young mother was beautiful, and he wanted to take her as his dhiiral (wife).

Gandhaarr is the greatest hunter alive, and this time he was hunting a wife.

⸻ pg. 70

Gandhaarr is a crocodile, and the only Guugu Yimidhirr word so far (other than a narrator’s name) to eventually lose the intrusive inline translations.

Would you believe this chapter offers some reprieve from the sexist calamity of the storytelling elsewhere? Despite being a pretty egregious demonstration of it in itself?

(The novelists’ storytelling, I mean, not merely their narrators’).

6.3. bible‐line guns

#killing with firearms

There was another Bible line that I would have liked Sydney bloody Parkinson to explain to me. The one about man having dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. What good did our Biblical dominion do if we couldn’t even catch one of them to eat?

I asked Parkinson one day, as he was warming up for one of his prayers of thanks, if that Biblical dominion even applied here, seeing as the animals were so different from any that were named in the Bible[…]

Every time we heard a musket shot we imagined [the marines] had felled a goodly sized animal of the earth or air. If anyone had dominion over the beasts it was them. A gun gave you dominion over all animals, whether they were named in the Bible or not.

⸻ pp. 134–135

And on the third day, God created the Remington bolt-action rifle, so that man could fight the dinosaurs — and the homosexuals.

Mean Girls (2004)

6.4. miraculous intervention

[…] and we just followed the instructions given us, shooting glances at each other and wondering if some miraculous intervention might still suddenly save us from all this. Not recognising that this was the miraculous intervention itself.

⸻ pp. 258–259

6.5. skill of emerging

But he [Gandhaarr the crocodile] responded by telling me that I needed to understand the ways of Gandhaarr to better survive in this land. He told me that he could see all different futures and all different pasts and that he would share them with me if I came down to visit him in his underwater domain.

Again I told him he was a liar and that I did not believe him. But Gandhaarr told me that if I learned to burrow into the earth, or into the river, I could learn the skill of emerging into different pasts or futures. I could learn to go deep into the chill darkness and hold my breath for long hours and when I emerged again, the world would be different.

And some days I was sorely tempted to try this, if just to know how other this life might have turned out.

⸻ pg. 275

On a barbarous coast is not without awkward reference to its own historical altenativity jutting out now and then (much like in Ian McEwan’s Machines like me), but this passage surfaced with a smooth elegance.

6.6. British objection

[Joseph Banks] would resolutely intercept the shore party, regardless of the marines raising their muskets at him. He would not falter in his steps. He would raise one hand high and call to them, ‘Don’t shoot. I am a British object!’ — having lost his proficiency with the King’s English.

⸻ pg. 297

An oldie but a canny.

6.7. matters of fluency

Narrative, themes, and mood flow exceedingly well across the scale of the entire novel, while very frequently individual sentences disintegrate. Some short paragraphs are riddled with ridiculous quantities of parenthetical translations that could have been skimmed out, by way of ever so slightly more evocative wording around those terms written in‐Language. Instead, the Guugu Yimidhirr boy’s chapters sputter along, tiresome despite their brevity. Comic timing, for instance, pulls through the prose more intact within the chapters from the perspective of the co‐narrating white man.

And through that boy and that man storms the worst problem: not only does talk of people always wind up actually being of men and boys, but the authors’ extensive and careful planning is built on the same mistake. Women (let alone anyone else) scarcely exist in the worlds of this book, and primarily as leverage for expressions of machismo (or in sometimes backhanded authors’ acknowledgements at the close, where worth is granted to one research contributor only as a proxy of esteemed men???). This monogender may be plausible in the case of a shipwrecked crew of the Endeavour, but reads grossly conspicuous in the lives of the local clans. Even elders always always always denotes only men — what have they been doing to all the aunties?! It would not even take a particularly close reading to see that the excuse of a boy’s‐eye view cannot account for this exclusion. In general, depictions of sexuality and gender fail to come across as convincing, considered, or — frankly — researched. Maybe they were grounded in all that historical scouring the authors’ notes speak of, but there seems to have been no thought to checking for bias.

7. Marwan DARWEISH & Carol RANK (editors), Peacebuilding and reconciliation: contemporary themes and challenges (London: Pluto Press 2012)


7.1. Chrissie HIRST ‘How has the liberal peace served Afghanistan?’

Paternalistic perspective still. As a result, fairly low on insight.

7.1.1. post‐conflict transformation projects

Mac Ginty describes the ‘near hegemony’ of the ‘liberal democratic peace model’ applied to post-conflict states, arguing that the dominance of this model has had ‘a profound impact on the management of contemporary violent ethnonational conflict in standardising the core elements of peace initiatives and accords and reducing the space available for alternative (non-Western) approaches to peacemaking’ (2006: 33). In his review of the United Nations as one of the key institutions of liberal peace, Chesterman makes further references to colonialism, describing UN transitional administrations as ‘benevolent autocracy’ and post-conflict transformation projects as ‘modern colonial enterprise’. He argues that greater honesty about the motivation behind the international community’s state-building projects would be beneficial for all parties (2004: 47, 127).

Hirst is citing:

  • Mac Ginty, R. (2006). No War, No Peace: The Rejuvenation of Stalled Peace Processes and Peace Accords. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Chesterman, S. (2004). You, The People: The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-Building. New York, Oxford University Press.

7.1.2. negative incentives for peaceful approaches

The distribution of development aid is another vital component of the liberal peace model, and in Afghanistan another example of where external concerns, including military priorities, have taken precedence over longer-term development goals with dangerous consequences. Significant disparities exist in the geographical distribution of aid, often because aid is being used to achieve military or political objectives – rewarding allegiance or complementing the ‘hearts and minds’ campaigning of international troops in the area.[4] With insecure or strategic areas awarded far higher amounts of aid, these disparities have resulted in increased inter-ethnic tension, resentment and negative incentives for peaceful approaches. The establishment of military teams tasked with humanitarian or development activities and funding of ‘quick impact projects’ in key military areas compounds the problem.[5] Aid distribution according to security priorities has actively undermined progress towards achieving security, with communities outside the conflict areas seeing armed violence rewarded with resources.

Note 5 to this chapter reads:

A controversial approach pioneered in Iraq and Afghanistan, the creation of military ‘provincial reconstruction teams’ (PRTs) represent a mixing of security and development activities as military teams, sometimes including civilian advisors. They undertake humanitarian or development activities with the objective of gaining support and demonstrating an ‘instant peace dividend’ (often through ‘quick impact projects’) to the communities in the target area for the military units concerned. The PRT concept has been greatly criticized for contributing to the dangerous blurring of lines between civilian and military actors, and reducing safety for development workers and humanitarian space – as well as for providing poor-quality development programming (BAAG/ENNA, 2008). Subsequent assessments of development progress also point to the PRT model as problematic, noting the ‘fundamental tension’ in military-delivered development assistance (Saltmarshe and Medhi, 2011: 4).

7.2. Gëzim VISOKA ‘The obstacles to sustainable peace and democracy in post‐independence Kosovo’


7.2.1. states within states

Following the war in 1999, Serbs in Kosovo established parallel structures within the sectors of security, education, health and public services, which were supported by and relied heavily on the Belgrade authorities. Created initially to boycott the UN administration of Kosovo, their main function became to resist UN-created, Albanian-led, self-governing local institutions. Belgrade uses these structures to influence local Serbs, to manipulate and destabilize processes in Kosovo, and to retain bargaining incentives for Serbia’s own interests. This creates a volatile environment; the mayor of Mitrovica Municipality (South), Avni Kastrati, described northern Kosovo as a place where the lack of rule of law and the activities of parallel structures and criminal groups result in frequent violent incidents; bombings, attacks against non-Serb citizens and even murder (Gazeta Express, 2010).

As a predominantly Serb area, northern Kosovo is therefore under the de facto control of these Serb parallel structures, which substantially limits the capacity of Kosovar institutions to extend their authority in this part of the country. These structures also constitute a significant obstacle to the representation and participation of Serbs in Kosovar institutions; they constrain the functioning of these institutions within Serb-populated areas and therefore threaten the overall territorial integrity and internal security of Kosovo. In some respects the Serb parallel structures in Kosovo have the attributes of ‘states within states’; micro-entities that can emerge from a secession, protracted civil war or state collapse, which perform revenue collection and extraction, public and service-oriented activities, and challenge the legitimacy and authority of the central government (Kingston and Spears, 2004: 3–7).

What is Kingston and Spears’ work?

  • Kingston, P. and Spears, I. (eds). (2004). States Within States: Incipient Political Entities in the Post-Cold War Era. Basingstoke and New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

8. [C] Jenny DEAN, Wild colour: how to make and use natural dyes (Mitchell Bleazley 2018)

  • Took notes circa October 2021.

8.1. enthusiastic, but colonialistic

Though I was enjoying how encouraging the opening tone is, the mood and utility of this book suffer heavily from the presumption that all readers are in temperate zones of western Europe, and a treatment of the rest of the present‐day world as mere suppliers of raw materials. Easily mitigated had the subtitle been “A guide to natural dyes for [the intended audience]” or similar; near totally transcended by taking a more global view, in the manner of Susanna Lyle’s tremendous volumes on human‐edible plants. That neither approach was taken for Wild Colour even three editions in (over nineteen years!) makes for a particular disappointment.

9. [C] Reni EDDO‐LODGE, Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race (Bloomsbury Circus 2017)

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

9.1. if white extremism the bar

#racism in and ex extremis

Then there’s the glaringly obvious point — if white extremism really is the bar at which we set all racism, why and how does racism thrive in quarters in which those in charge do not align themselves with white extremist politics?

⸻ pg. 63

9.2. humanity coded as white; blackness considered the ‘other’

#racism of representation

When I was four, I asked my mum when I would turn white, because all the good people on TV were white, and all the villains were black and brown. I considered myself to be a good person, so I thought that I would turn white eventually. My mum still remembers the crestfallen look on my face when she told me the bad news.

Neutral is white. The default is white. Because we are born into an already written script that wells us what to expect form strangers due to their skin colour, accents and social status, the whole of humanity is coded as white. Blackness, however, is considered the ‘other’ and therefore to be suspected. Those who are coded as a threat in our collective representation of humanity are not white. These messages were so powerful that four‐year‐old me had already recognised them, watching television, noticing that all the characters who looked like me were criminals at worst, and sassy sidekicks at best.

⸻ pg. 85

9.3. like they all learn the lines from the same sheet

#racism in conversation

I was naive. We had resonated beforehand, so I had good faith in [a white acquaintance’s] humanity, I thought she might be able to accept the structural conditions that allowed a situation like this one to happen. So I tried to encourage her to consider the suspicion and anger of a person who has suffered racism their entire lives. I thought I might be able to persuade her to think outside of herself and question the wider context, but then every sentence she said sounded like every word I’ve ever heard from people defending whiteness. It’s like they all learn the lines from the same sheet.

⸻ pp. 90–91

9.4. race consciousness is not contagious, nor is it inherited

#racism in close personal relationships

In Britain’s biggest cities, mixed‐race friendships and relationships are now routine rather than controversial. But an increasingly mixed‐race Britain makes race relations more complicated, not less. Although nowadays people are much less afraid of living with and loving each other, the problems of racism aren’t going to go away. Despite all of the joys and teachable moments of living cheek to cheek, mixed‐race children are not going to end racism through their mere existence. White privilege is never more pronounced than in our intimate relationships, our close friendships and our families.

Race consciousness is not contagious, nor is it inherited. If anything, an increase in mixed‐race families and mixed‐race children brings those difficult conversations about race and whiteness and privilege closer to home (literally) than ever before. No longer can the injustice be quietly ignored by switching off the news or closing the front door.

⸻ pg. 102

9.5. politics strangled, stoppered, and hindered by whiteness

#racism in feminism

What does it mean for your feminist politics to be strangled, stoppered, and hindered by whiteness?


[White feminism] is a politics which insists that talking about race fuels racism — thereby denying people of colour the words to articulate our existence. It’s a politics that expects people of colour to quietly assimilate into institutionally racist structures without kicking up a fuss. It’s a politics where people of colour are never setting the agenda[…]

[…] White feminism can be conceptualised as the feminist wing of said political consensus.

⸻ pg. 168

“Said political consensus” seems to be referring to whiteness, (although the only other explicit mention of “political consensus” — which fell in the continuation of that middle paragraph — was to “a white‐dominated feminist” one, so I was not eight thousand percent sure about square‐bracketsing in an “[of whiteness]”, even if the alternative is unlikely).

9.6. true tolerance

#racism and assimilation

The children of immigrants have quietly assimilated to demands of colour‐blindness, doing away with any evidence of our culture and heritage in an effort to fit in. We’ve listened to our socially conservative parents, and educated ourselves up to our eyeballs. We’ve kept our gripes to ourselves, and changed our appearance, names, accents and dress in order to fit the status quo. We have bitten our tongues, exercised safe judgement, and tiptoed around white feelings in an effort to not rock the boat. We’ve been tolerant up to the point of not even mentioning race, lest we’re accused of playing the race card. Forget politician‐speak about Britain being a tolerant country. Being constantly looked at like an alien in the country you were born in requires true tolerance.

⸻ pg. 208

9.7. who want to skip are not really affected

#racism in a school forum

‘When do you think we’ll get to an end point?’

I’m at a sixth‐form college in south London, talking to a large group of teenagers about racism in Britain. The question is put to me by a seventeen‐year‐old girl. She’s echoed on this point by her teacher. They’re both white.

‘There is no end point in sight,’ I reply. ‘You can’t skip to the resolution without having the difficult, messy conversation first. We’re still in the hard bit.’

After my talk, a group of black teenagers crowd around me outside, talking excitedly. ‘I think the people who want to skip to an end point are the ones not really affected by the issues,’ says one girl. I’m impressed by her insight.

⸻ pg. 213

That could well be quote of the book, unnamed black teenager.

9.8. racism suffocates kindness, and generosity, and potential

#racism and agitation

So, a word to those who feel the weight of racism, who keenly feel the effects of how it suffocates kindness, and generosity, and potential[…]

[…] Rather than be forced to react to biased agendas, we should outright reject them and set our own.

⸻ pg. 223

The word is a fair bit bigger than this, of course; in this case, my singling out of these couple of sentences was purely for the distinctiveness of their phrasing.

9.9. broadly, fine


Truly, I was content to miss Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race, until someone included it in this month’s home library service bag. I appreciated the opportunity to read exactly what Eddo‐Lodge had had to say, although the book mainly echoes things that countless others already had.

The presentation is a hybrid of personal essay and long‐form journalism, which is fine. The standard of writing wobbles a bit, but it’s never inadequate. As a treatment of race and racism, it takes on a soft, popular quality — also fine.

Even necessary. The literature needed it, these sorts of things in this kind of combination. Five stars for canon‐readiness, though that says far more about public discourse of the time than any individual contribution.

There is an underlying sense of urgency siphoning precedence. The book in different respects dilutes and fortifies the blog post from which it begins.

While the extremely simple models of structural racism and white privilege that Eddo‐Lodge sketches out probably leave chunks of genuinely troublesome misconception among the assumptions of those freshest to methodically developing these concepts, presumably such an approach has plenty to offer overall.

Yet there is danger in the avoidance of delving into racism’s construction, and leaning too heavily on summation of its various façades and foyers. This becomes especially evident when Eddo‐Lodge braves a telephone call with Nick Griffin, former leader of the far‐right British National Party. Across the transcript, each participant holds a fairly cogent but almost completely unrelated interview (pp. 123–129). Again — Eddo‐Lodge’s approach to this delicate, treacherous engagement (through which Griffin learns her private contact details) — absolutely fine! Griffin’s — ghastly. Still, it is easy enough to imagine a reader (a variety of readers!) picking up this title, thirsty for an explanatory model of racialised politics, only to find in Griffin’s slime their charismatic first.

Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race is not a book of why is racism. That’s fine! It is more a book of racism is why, and racism is here, and racism is suffocating us.

10. [A] Bianca ELKINGTON, Moana JACKSON, Rebecca KIDDLE, Ocean Ripeka MERCIER, Mike ROSS, Jennie SMEATON, & Amanda THOMAS, Imagining decolonisation (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books 2020)

  • Took notes circa March/April 2022.

10.1. the act(s) of knowing

t’acts f’noeg (-T ABGTS -F TPHOEG)


My whānau have felt land injustices first hand. As a child, I grew up knowing that the Public Works Act had directly affected our whānau and whenua. I remember many years ago attending a hui as a young child in our nan’s house with an emerging Māori lawyer, to talk about the different options for beginning the process of reclaiming our whenua. I heard stories of how our land had been used by my koro and his children, and how, although the government of the day had supposedly taken it for state housing, it was never used by them for that purpose but was also never given back.

My auntie fought for more than twenty years and finally, just before she passed away, the land was offered back to our whānau, for a price – despite the method of government acquisition. We paid that price, and now have our land back, on which we will build a papakāinga for our whānau. This story of losing and regaining whenua is not just our story, but the story of many Māori whānau around the country.

The story highlights the intentions the government of the day had to redefine Māori and Pākehā relations. However, colonial influence continues to be felt via systems and legislation that are meant to help and empower Māori through the return of their land. There is much work to do, but when we know more we do more. That knowing to me is an act of decolonisation.

⸻ Bianca Elkington, pg. 12

In the instant of reading, my mind took a wary jump at the potential suggestion of awareness being so close to an end (of doing the “much”) in itself. But on a quick refocus, I found the idea of the act(s) of knowing to be a very interesting one.

10.2. reborrowed swimming cumulative cling

Reborrowed (last week)! Left off further through than I had assumed (even considering what a little book it is), so I might move through a tad more slowly this leg than during the isolated bursts of last time. Then again, I am swimming in loans this month and should probably get Imagining Decolonisation back available to other people by the end of this borrowing cycle, rather than cling for too many more cumulative weeks.

10.3. zoom mark

Or I will zoom through in two very short goes, but mark half the thing for revisiting.

11. [E] Mirrah FOULKES (director), Judy and Punch (2018), D.V.D. video

  • Took notes circa August 2022.

12. [A] Masanobu FUKUOKA, translated from the Japanese by Larry KORN, The dragonfly will be the messiah (Penguin Books 2021)

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

12.1. insects crossbreeding rice

After years of crossbreeding rice in my fields, however, I finally concluded that on a natural farm, people do not need to create new varieties by artificial crossbreeding at all, since the insects that most people consider as harmful were creating new varieties on their own.

In my rice fields, I noticed that after locusts and other insects had chewed round holes in the rice grains just as the heads were sprouting, slugs, snails, cutworms, and other creatures came along and crawled over the grains at night. They ate down to the stamens in the holes, after which windblown pollen from other varieties adhered and achieved fertilization. In other words, rice, which is said to be self‐pollinating, can also be pollinated by other plants, and in this way new varieties arise naturally.

⸻ pg. 33

12.2. why must people suffer so?

In the past, present, and future, the true disposition of nature is toward abundance for human beings and for all species. Therefore, the question should not be ‘Why are there too many people?’ but rather, ‘Who has created the scarcity into which they are born?’ And then, finally, ‘How can we heal the earth so it can support future generations?’ It is too simplistic to begin and end the conversation with a limited view of overpopulation. Better to ask: Why must people suffer so? And have we done all we can to alleviate the pain of the earth and the pain of the human race?

It is important to reflect on what has happened historically in regard to agriculture and medicine. We have seen huge advances in modern medicine, but there is little value in the advancement of medicine if the number of sick people continues to increase. It is the same with modern agriculture. How can we congratulate ourselves on the advances in modern agriculture, including greatly increased production, if the rate of starvation, scarcity, depletion, and disease increases even more rapidly?

⸻ pp. 40–41

12.3. pine forests in Japan

#forestry disaster and mismanagement, pollution

When natural scientists set up measures to counter desertification, they begin by investigating its causes and the apparent results. They conduct studies of the desert environment, the climate, the soil, and the ecology of the living organisms. Then they create a plan for reforestation. In other words, as with Western medicine, they devise a swift, localized treatment of the symptoms. But the causes they base their solutions upon are not the fundamental causes. Their countermeasures serve not to heal, but rather magnify the scope of the problem.

Let me talk for a moment about my own experiences with the pine forests in Japan.

⸻ pg. 58

Fukuoka goes on to describe the plight of these trees in the later decades of the twentieth century.

Pines were dying en masse. The Regional Office of Forestry responded by dousing forests with insecticide. The Office hoped to eliminate a particular species of beetle, which were reported to be infecting the pines with nematodes who would feed on fungi within the trunks until the nematodes were so numerous as to block the trees’ vascular systems, resulting in abrupt demise of the beetle‐afflicted pines.

However, Fukuoka’s research indicated that healthy pines were not nourishing enough for the nematodes to thrive within, and even when pathogenic fungi from the dying pines were introduced to the trunks of others, there was little health impact on the trees. Rather, pine physiology only became disrupted in the absence of matsutake. He hypothesised that acid rain was altering the soils, to the great detriment of matsutake for whom they had formed habitat, and that, deprived of their mycorrhizal partner, the pines lost such vigour they quickly succumbed to the onslaught of filamentous fungi who had hitched a ride to Japan on imported lumber.

‘The nematodes and beetles are not the original culprits. They are doing nothing more than clearing away the corpses of the dead and dying trees.’ he concludes ―


Of course […] there is room for error, but the point is, what the world sees as cause and effect can be deceptive. Although I speak of the cycle of cause and effect, no one really knows what is happening. Still, the Office of Forestry goes out and sprays insecticide all over the forests. Who knows what unforeseen and potentially more serious environmental disaster that may lead to?

⸻ pg. 61

13. [A] Amitav GHOSH, The nutmeg’s curse: parables for a planet in crisis (London: John Murray 2021)

  • Took notes circa April 2022.

13.1. mute resources metaphysical leap

#mechanistic philosophies and imperial violence

This was a radically new way of envisioning the Earth, as a “vast machine made of inert particles in ceaseless motion”. Even in Europe, the mechanistic vision of the world had only just begun to take shape, and that too, only among elites that were directly or indirectly involved in the two great European projects of the time: the conquest of the Americas and the trade in enslaved Africans. It was the rendering of humans into mute resources that enabled the metaphysical leap whereby the Earth and everything in it could also be reduced to inertness. In that sense men like Coen, Sonck, and their predecessors were not just colonists but also philosophers; it was their violence, directed at “natives” and the landscapes they inhabited, that laid the foundations of the mechanistic philosophies that would later be attributed to their contemporaries, like Descartes and Mandeville, Bacon and Boyle.

⸻ pg. 37

Regarding the Dutch East India Company’s take on the Banda archipelago.

The phrase “vast machine made of inert particles in ceaseless motion” is attributed to Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983), 226.

13.2. onslaught cooling

#European invasion of Americas decimating Indigenous population

That the planet went through a century and a half of cooling has long been known; this period, which was at its peak from the late sixteenth to the mid‑seventeenth century, is often referred to as the “Little Ice Age.” It is also well known that during this time there was a sudden drop in atmospheric carbon. But these anomalies are generally attributed to “natural” factors like variations in solar and seismic activity; it was long thought to be merely a coincidence that they occurred at a time when Europe was tightening its grip on North and South America. But recent research suggests another possibility: that the catastrophic decline in the population of the Americas that started with the European onslaught might have contributed in some degree to the drop in global mean temperatures that occurred in the Little Ice Age. So many Amerindians perished in the sixteenth and seventeenth century — estimates vary between 70 and 95 percent of the population of the two continents — that vast tracts of land that had once been used to grow food reverted to forest (which is why cities and temple complexes are still being discovered in the jungles of South and Central America). The hypothesis goes that the sudden burgeoning of greenery in the two continents created a reverse‐greenhouse effect, sequestering huge amounts of carbon dioxide and thus contributing to the fall in global mean temperatures.

⸻ pp. 52–53

13.3. invasion as structure

As Patrick Wolfe has observed, invasion was not an event but a structure.

⸻ pg. 69

Ghosh cites Wolfe’s “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native” from Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006): 387–409.

13.4. to which the whole creation

#genocide, ecocide, omnicide

> [a] far‐off divine event, > To which the whole creation moves.

This is Man’s final ascent, when all creation ends and he is united with God.

The violence contained in these ideas is almost beyond comprehension. Is it really possible, we can only wonder in disbelief, that the most prominent lyric poet of the Victorian age, envisioned the extinction of apes and tigers as a positive step towards Man’s evolution into a species that would be a “crowning race”?

What is puzzling about these ideas is that they are counter‐intuitive. Shouldn’t the theory of evolution, and the knowledge that humans are linked to other life‐forms by close ties of kinship, have created a sense of familial fellow feeling? Shouldn’t the discovery that all humans are descended from shared ancestors have created a sense of fraternal solidarity? While this did happen for some, for many others the idea of evolution did exactly the opposite: it reinforced a belief in the absolute exceptionalism and supremacy of one kind of human — White, Western Man. Evolution came to be seen as an inevitable process of elevating this “crowning race” over all other beings, human and nonhuman.

A belief in human exceptionalism is not by any means unusual. Premodern Christians, Muslims, and many others believed that Man was a species favored by God. Yet none of them ever embraced the idea that Man’s advancement should entail the wholesale eradication of other species, and indeed of most humans. Yet by the late nineteenth century these ideas were accepted as mere common sense by a great number of liberal, progressive Westerners. This was particularly true of the classes that happened also to hold the power to implement their beliefs and theories in the real world, through state policy.

It would be idle to deny that some of these ideas are still widely prevalent, and not just in the West. Underlying them is a conception of the world, and of historical time, that sees the Earth not as a nurturer or a life‐giver, but as a dead weight whose enveloping ties must be escaped if Man is to rise to a higher stage of being. It is a vision in which genocide and ecocide are seen to be not just inevitable, but instruments of a higher purpose. Indeed, this worldview goes much further than either ecocide or genocide: it envisions and welcomes the prospect of “omnicide”, the extermination of everything — people, animals, and the planet itself. The end of the world is seen, as Tennyson puts it, as the “far‐off event” that allows Man to realize his true self, as pure Spirit, disencumbered of all fleshly and earthly ties.

These ideas may appear deranged, but they continue to constitute a vital substrate of contemporary imaginaries […]

⸻ pp. 81–82

Pages 81–82, concluding an analysis of Tennyson’s 1849 poem ‘In Memoriam’.

13.5. kilowatts differing

[…] There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that capitalism and neoliberalism are powerful obstacles to an energy transition. But it is also clear to me that an exclusive focus on the economy can obscure certain obstacles to an energy transition that are harder to identify because they are not easily enumerable or quantifiable. In order to recognize these obstacles, it is necessary to step outside the framework in which fossil fuels are regarded as resources that are, in principle, similar to other resources that produce energy. In other words, it becomes necessary to identify the properties that make a kilowatt produced by fossil fuels different from the same quantity of energy generated by solar panels and windmills. For it isn’t only because they produce energy that fossil fuels have come to be established at the core of modern life: it is also because the energy they produce interacts with structures of power in ways that are specific to fossil fuels. In this lies their uncanny vitality.

⸻ pg. 101

13.6. liberatory potential of renewable energy for countries

#problems of fuel supply

The liberatory potential of renewable energy has a very important international dimension as well: if adopted at scale it could transform, indeed revolutionize, the current global order. No longer would countries have to be dependent on unpredictable petro‐states; no longer would they have to set aside huge portions of their annual budgets for oil payments; no longer would they have to worry about their energy supplies being disrupted by wars or revolutions in faraway countries; and, perhaps most importantly, no longer would they have to rely on superpowers to keep open the sea channels through which oil tankers must pass.

⸻ pg. 103

13.7. three‐million‐fold

In 1970 the total volume of international seaborne trade was a little over 2,500 tons. By 2008 that figure had risen to 8·2 billion tons — a three‐million‐fold increase. In 1973 ships transported 4 million standardized containers; in 2010 that figure had risen to 560 million.

⸻ pg. 114

  1. File under: numbers to affirm immense senses of change to.
  2. Considering the increasingly formulaic setting of ports, that seems as though there could have been some surprisingly low proportions of cargo volumes within shipping containers. (As distinct from how much sea freight may have been in them at earlier stages of its manufacturing/disposal/etc cycles. It would be interesting to quantify containerisation in figures more overtly acknowledging the nested, repeat nature of much carriage these days.) But I daren’t look into it, because I hate to think how much may have been piles of raw materials or in tanks.
  3. Three‐million‐fold.

13.8. militarisation of civil society skills

#militarisation of humanitarian response and of migration; disaster capitalism; global warming

The list of climate‐related security threats is very long, partly because it includes many issues that would not, until recently, have been considered military matters at all. Dealing with migrants and refugees, for instance, was once squarely within the sphere of civilian governance. Today, whether in the waters around Australia, or in the Mediterranean, or along the US’s southern border, or on India’s border with Bangladesh, migration is largely in military and paramilitary hands.

Dealing with natural disasters was also once largely in the realm of civil society. There was a time, not so long ago, when the people who were first on the scene after earthquakes and cyclones were volunteers from charities, religious organizations, and relief groups, and of course civilian officials and police officers. It is only in the last couple of decades that military and paramilitary personnel have come to be thought of as “first responders”. This has advanced to the point where civilian volunteers are sometimes explicitly barred from entering disaster‐hit areas in the US, as happened after Hurricane Katrina.

Not only do such disasters provide a rationale for military intrusions into new spaces; they also supply a new humanitarian justification for military expansion in general. Military planners have even begun to co‐opt the language and tactics of social movements, for purposes of recruitment and in order to expand their policy reach.

It may seem natural today that military and paramilitary personnel should lead the response to disasters. But there is no intrinsic reason why this should be so: civil society organizations like Médecins sans Frontières, Oxfam, and many others have all the necessary skills to act as first responders. If they lack aircraft and ships, it is only because no international mechanisms exist for making such resources available to them. It is because of a political choice, then, that disasters are being militarized, a choice that derives ultimately from a wider process whereby many societies have become saturated with militarism.

That disaster relief is increasingly provided by organizations with massive carbon footprints is more than an irony: it creates a chain of consequences whereby disasters will accelerate disasters. It also ensures that disaster relief will itself become an arena for military competition. This dynamic was already on display in 2013, during the world’s response to Typhoon Haiyan, when more than two dozen countries sent military contingents to the Philippines. The largest military presence by far was the American: the US Navy deployed an aircraft carrier, a naval strike group, 66 aircraft, and some 13,400 personnel there. This is, no doubt, a forerunner of things to come, especially in the Indian Ocean basin, with its dense concentrations of population and its susceptibility to disasters.

⸻ pp. 127–129

Before we forget (militaries’ gratuitousness).

Of course there is no legitimate place here for police either! (Other organisations and civil state responses can all introduce detrimental dynamics themselves. But their provisions caaan be “for” the place/people in a radically different sense to the intrusion of these inherently possessive and controlling bodies).

Worth comparing with trends towards commercialisation of help, in extension of privatisation of infrastructure, and scandal in news currently re: contracts without tender bypassing established modes of health crisis response.

I am thinking specifically of, among other things, the following scene from Four Corners on Monday 2 May 2022, ‘Profiting from the pandemic’:

LINTON BESSER, REPORTER: A significant part of Aspen Medical's business is providing health care in the world's hotspots. It ran a field hospital in war-torn Iraq, and in Timor Leste its physicians saved the life of president Jose Ramos-Horta. The company's work has won plaudits, but also raised concerns about the ethics of so-called disaster capitalism. This tension surfaced in 2014 when Ebola struck Sierra Leone.

TIM COSTELLO, CEO, WORLD VISION 2003-2016: The Ebola outbreak was just terrifying, not just in West Africa, but for the whole world. It was spreading so fast. There was just panic. Such was the fear of the spreading, that the Australian government were prompted to respond.

LINTON BESSER, REPORTER: Under pressure … the then prime minister Tony Abbott selected Aspen Medical … to provide Australia's contribution to the crisis.

TONY ABBOTT: My anticipation will be that Aspen will have some staff on the ground in Sierra Leone within days.

LINTON BESSER, REPORTER: The Abbott government overlooked the existing, taxpayer-funded team of emergency physicians called AUSMAT, instead paying Aspen Medical $15 million to do the job.

TIM COSTELLO, CEO, WORLD VISION 2003-2016: AUSMAT is the premier medical humanitarian response body that Australia has. Trained, resourced, ready to go with a great track record. All of us assumed that AUSMAT would be deployed. When AUSMAT missed out to Aspen, which none of us had heard of at that time, we were scratching our heads. It was very puzzling to any of us working in this sector. There was no tender. Aspen just got it. That's what was so surprising.

LINTON BESSER, REPORTER: Former Greens leader, public health advisor Dr Richard Di Natale inspected Aspen's facilities in Sierra Leone and was impressed.

RICHARD DI NATALE, FORMER GREENS LEADER & PUBLIC HEALTH ADVISER: I attended the Aspen site. The protocols looked to be entirely appropriate. The infrastructure looked to be appropriate. What was surprising though, was that Aspen didn't have a long history of experience in serious outbreak investigations.

LINTON BESSER, REPORTER: Though never revealed publicly, Aspen Medical made a substantial profit on the job. It originally expected to make a margin of about 13 per cent. The company made twice that profit – more than 3.7 million dollars.

RICHARD DI NATALE, FORMER GREENS LEADER & PUBLIC HEALTH ADVISER: We've got to ask ourselves when it comes to an outbreak or a natural disaster, do we want the people there so they can make a buck or do we want them there so that they can help the community? We should ensure that if we are delivering an emergency response, our primary focus is on helping people and a profit motive shouldn't exist.

LINTON BESSER, REPORTER: In a statement, Aspen Medical said it is reasonable to expect commercial entities to make a profit on contracts.

TIM COSTELLO, CEO, WORLD VISION 2003-2016: I think for-profits have realised that a disaster, it's a bit like a gold strike. You go plant your flags, say, "We're here." I saw Aspen, on its website said, "We helped stop Ebola". This is hype from for-profits. It's hype.

Can keep in mind Ghosh’s assertion that “not only is the military itself a major driver of the economy; it forms the protective outer shell that allows capitalism to function.” (The Nutmeg’s Curse pg 124).

Though “designed to be self-sufficient once they reach a disaster zone”, note that each AUSMAT (Australian Medical Assistance Team) is “deploy[ed] rapidly with Australian Defence Force assistance” (National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre, ‘AUSMAT’, 2022) — including to “the MV Solomon Trader oil spill in 2019” (Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, ‘Humanitarian policy and partnerships’, 2022). And if we accept the argument of militarisation being one of the biggest drivers of fossil fuel extraction…

Anyway, endnotes to the Ghosh passage above mention:

  • François Gemenne, Jon Barnett, W. Neil Adger, and Geoffrey D. Dabelko, ‘Climate and Security: Evidence, Emerging Risks, and a New Agenda,’ Climatic Change 123 (2014): 1–9
  • Solomon M. Hsiang and Marshall Burke, ‘Climate, Conflict, and Social Stability: What Does the Evidence Say?,’ Climatic Change 123 (2014): 39–55.
  • Sanjay Chaturvedi and Timothy Doyle, Climate Terror: A Critical Geopolitics of Climate Change (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 148
  • Kathy E. Ferguson, ‘The Sublime Object of Militarism,’ New Political Science 31, no. 4 (December 2009)

13.9. visibility within the circles that wield power

[…] those who are most attentive to environmental change are, more often than not, people who are at the margins, people whose relationships to the soil, or the forest, or the water are minimally mediated by technology. The farmer who is most likely to pay attention to a prolonged drought is one who cannot afford an electric pump or chemical inputs; the fisher who is most likely to observe changes in the marine environment is one who does not have sonar equipment to locate schools of fish; the woman who is most likely to notice rainfall deficits is one who does not have access to piped water and must walk to ever more distant wells. But such people are generally poor and do not have access to the networks through which information is disseminated; they are, in fact, located at the opposite end of the social spectrum from the majority of the world’s scientists and academics.

Experts are not at fault, of course, for the skewed way in which the world gathers information; they can hardly be held responsible for the social contexts in which they work. But it is nonetheless important to recognize that the reason our first messages about climate change came from scientists, rather than from marginal farmers, or women who fetch water, is not that scientists were the only people to notice what was under way; it was because scientists were more visible within the circles that wield power in the world. Sadly, they were themselves too much on the margins of those circles to be visible enough.

⸻ pp. 150–151

Particular types of technology, that is, though, isn’t it? Ghosh himself touches on the disjuncture between the predictions made by sophisticated technologies of Indigenous knowledge (systems of animals’ title over sites, oral calendars, and so on) and the world’s shifting embodiment as having been key to tipping off various peoples to climate change.

Whose “expert[ise]” is being denied? Why no responsibility? Whose precisely are “our first messages”, that they came so abstracted, when most of us live daily with the earth? And further, by that we, were these the first received or the first to be perceived, or even so late as first catalogued?

14. [A] Amitav GHOSH, Uncanny and improbable events (Penguin Books 2021)

  • Took notes circa March 2022.

15. [B] Julia GILLARD & Ngozi OKONJO‐IWEALA, Women and leadership: real lives, real lessons (Penguin Random House Australia Audio 2020), audiobook download

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

16. Priyamvada GOPAL, Insurgent empire: anticolonial resistance and British dissent (London and New York: Verso 2020)


16.1. all societies and cultures have radical and liberationist currents

But is it anachronistic to subject the Empire to searching criticism? This book is in part a response to that question and in part a very different take on the history of the British Empire to what is generally available in the British public sphere. In academia, a retrograde strain of making the so‐called case for colonialism is now resurgent. As a scholar whose previous work had been on dissident writing in the Indian subcontinent as it transitioned to independence, I was aware that all societies and cultures have radical and liberationist currents woven into their social fabric as well as people who spoke up against what was being done in their name: why would Britain in the centuries of imperial rule be an exception? At the same time, I also wanted to probe the tenacious mythology that ideas of ‘freedom’ are uniquely British in conception and that independence itself was a British ‘gift’ to the colonies along with the railways and the English language. The result is a study which looks at the relationship between British critics of empire and the great movements of resistance to British rule which emerged across colonial contexts. The case against colonialism, it will be seen, was made repeatedly over the last couple of centuries and it emerged through an understanding of resistance to empire.

⸻ pp. viii–ix

In ‘Acknowledgements’, which are unusually, refreshingly narrative.

16.2. ostensibly, conquering in order to free

Both abolition and decolonization — twin outcomes of Britain’s expansionary colonial project over three centuries — are all too frequently regarded as deriving chiefly from the campaigning consciences of white British reformers or as the logical outcome of the liberal and liberalizing project that empire ostensibly always was, conquering in order to free.

⸻ pg. 3

16.3. decolonizing the logic of modernity

[Walter] Mignolo is right to suggest that ‘emancipation’, as it was figured in European liberal discourse, is different from ‘liberation’ as it is conceived of in ‘decolonial’ discourse[…] At the same time, a disproportionate emphasis on radically different ‘categories of thought’ obscures the extent to which many ‘liberation’ struggles were committed to universalism — and not only because they were part of the dominant language or the colonizer’s categories of thought. Indeed, rather than offer sutured, self‐contained alternatives to the idea of universal freedom, resistance often deliberately showed up the colonizer’s version of universalism to be anything but universal. Universals had to be embodied through experience and resistance, not refused as ‘European’. This often entailed working with the ‘logic of modernity’, decolonizing rather than repudiating it, teasing out its revolutionary promises.

⸻ pg. 26

Late in a killer, long paragraph, through which Gopal disputes assertions of Walter D. Mignolo, ‘Delinking: The Rhetoric of Modernity, the Logic of Coloniality and the Grammar of De‐coloniality’, Cultural Studies 21:2 (2007), p. 453.

16.4. never in and of itself marginal

Dissent from regnant ideologies and discourses is, of course, never in and of itself marginal; it emerges as (often, constitutively) marginal/ized/ discourse that must articulate itself against the grain of the dominant.

⸻ pg. 31


17. [C] Phil GRABSKY (director), Matisse: from MoMA and Tate Modern (2014), D.V.D. video

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

18. [C] Green 78 (2021)

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

18.1. Tamsin O’NEILL ‘Editorial’

There is an element of conflict in publishing a magazine when we feel so strongly about the detrimental effects of overconsumption.

⸻ pg. 8

18.2. Zoe DELEUIL ‘Drift’

To its Traditional Owners the area is known as Mudurup, or place of whiting, and frequented through the Noongar seasons of birok and burnoru, or December to March, for spear fishing in the clear turquoise waters.

⸻ pg. 45

The article is on a house that Deleuil also describes as being in Cottesloe, Perth.

18.3. Karen SUTHERLAND ‘Permaculture Tips’

Get yourself a copy of the Seed Savers’ Handbook, the go‐to book for Australian conditions.

⸻ pg. 67

19. [B] Green 82 (2021)

  • Took notes circa June 2022.

19.1. Karen SUTHERLAND ‘Permaculture Tips’


19.1.1. after your legume seeds

After your legume seeds have dried on the vine, don’t leave them too long for hungry mice to eye off. On a dry day, pick them and put them into a paper bag, sitting it in a cool, airy place indoors for a few days. As soon as they are dry, remove them from the pods and put them into a recycled plastic bottle or similar, and pop them into the freezer for around 48 hours to kill off any weevils. The seeds can be left in the freezer if you have space or kept in sealed jars in a cool cupboard for up to four years for broad beans and three years for the pea family.

⸻ pg. 69

19.1.2. Atriplex nummularia

[…] it’s best to eat the larger leaf forms if you can find it, as the larger leaves are softer and more palatable. These can occur naturally, so if you’re wandering through an outback propert you may find plants with larger leaves growing alongside those with smaller, tougher leaves. If you’re buying a plant for your kitchen garden, look for larger‐leaf varieties such as de Kock. It has leaves up to 10 centimetres across, selected to be more palatable for livestock but also the best choice for humans! Old man saltbush […] can be kept to about a metre high with regular pruning. New growth tips can be nibbled on for their antiviral qualities, and larg leaves can be torn and added to salads for a salty flavour. Handfuls of leaves can be added to slow‐cooked dishes for some saltiness, and large leaves can be deep fried to make chips, crisped on pizzas, or added to sauerkraut or other pickled vegetables.

⸻ pg. 69

20. [E] Jonathan HAIDT, The righteous mind: why good people are divided by politics and religion (London: Penguin Books 2013)

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

20.1. parochial figure figures all parochial

It sounds a worthy idea, doesn’t it? In a volatile society, to draw on findings that promise to help ordinary people to coexist? If your idea of credible scientific methodology is for researchers to codify their own prejudices and then strive to promulgate and prove the resulting slapdash hypotheses through prematurely declared Theories and in unintentionally but laughably rigged experiments (rather than to test through attempts at disproving), the writing of Jonathan Haidt may be for you!!

Like Simon Baron‐Cohen is for him! “I do not want to suggest that utilitarianism and Kantian deontology are incorrect as moral theories just because they were founded by men who may have had Asperger’s syndrome,” writes Haidt, after invoking the spectre of Those Insensitive Autistics totally out of the blue for no other apparent reason, and while continuing to diligently lay out precisely the argument on which he claims not to want you to think he is relying (across pages 136–141, all‐inclusive). Presumably the key word was “just”, but it’s pulled tenuously thin by the masses of import that he makes it bear here.

Consistently full of a love to snap pathologise and shove aside whatever minds and whatever ethics to which Haidt personally has not come to relate, this book about humanity regularly betrays an intellectually fatal hypocrisy. Haidt is only at pains to insist that dedicated conservatism among voters (particularly within the United States of America) must not be considered misguided or malevolent. Policies of liberalism, he cautions, often undermine their own aims. Conservatives, he asserts, have a more sophisticated, complete grasp of human morality.

For instance, both ends of a left‐right spectrum dislike harm. We know this because chucking a tantie over not quite getting to possess everything you possibly can, is fundamentally equivalent to being upset about folks refusing necessities to anybody denied their society’s established survival tokens. This example also demonstrates that everybody values this other one same irreducible thing we all call fairness: the perniciously disadvantaged do not work nearly as hard as the hypercushioned, hence proportionate punishment and reward; every body is equal, hence uniform entitlement to all protections.

(Haidt may employ different phrasing, but the tenor of the logic remains. Does this parade of absurdity encourage people to take each other more seriously?)

But right‐wingers attend quantifiably more comprehensively to The conveniently prepackaged, shrinkwrapped foundations of morality — here’s some he prepared earlier! — which all things U.S.A. left neglect. By way of demonstration, we can presuppose what preachers of contrasting Christian denominations talk about (at page 188). Liberals wouldn’t be invoking concepts of sanctity more through words like “peace” than firey Baptists; they would just outright care less for the sacred.

It is immensely disheartening to read as over and over Haidt endorses dictionary‐definition rigidity, saucer‐shallow readings, and the misappropriation of mathematics to the most simplistic of measures in order to determine that an assumption aligns with itself. As though this supplants the work of genuine philosophical enquiry, literary analysis, theological examination, political study, or, heaven forbid, interview.

For most of its length, The righteous mind tries very hard to obfuscate its author’s political sympathies. Despite my criticisms, amicability and a kind of hopeful thoughtfulness do shine through Haidt’s words much of the time, but the caution can come off a touch manipulative. Haidt lowers his ineffectual guard in stages, where confident that reactive, partisan readers will have been pacified by his deliberate progression through dopey self‐help metaphors and naïve, self‐defeating anecdotes.

Finally, he pretends to legislative insight. Examples of where three partisan traditions ought to follow their opponents are given, along with a vague blessing of a Moral Science.

So take freely of such edicts as a libertarian moment (from pages 353 through 356), in which we (presumed Americans all, now) are asked to imagine a can of peas attracting a vertiginous price, after the fashion of basic medical needs in the U.S. Wouldn’t it be a preposterous burden, he steams, for “all of us [to be] paying” a 25% tax on income to cover a complete food insurance system! That getting even remotely adequate nutrition for such small portions of their money is currently impossible for many Americans does not, in this moment, occur to him. Indeed, he selectively forgets the notion of externalised costs and quite possibly has no clue whatsoever about, say, food deserts. That the wealth and ready thrift of those whose 25 percents constitute higher dollar figures has been subsidised by the actively imposed starvation of masses of unwaged, disenfranchised, and enslaved people across nonstop hundreds of years, just maybe affecting consumer and corporate expectations? No, no, the limited‐access cheap canned pea economy has all been effortlessly “arranged for [humanity’s] benefit”. Somehow he decides that the allegory of the grocery store has comprehensively destroyed the legitimacy of health insurance and not implicated the profit motive. “Success in the supermarket and insurance industries depend[ing] primarily on maximizing [businesses’ financial] yield” in a linear trajectory is cast as some kind of inevitable, innocent bystander, a byproduct very nearly implied to be specific to social security. Haidt redeclares Adam Smith’s invisible hand “miraculous”. By that standard, so’s poliomyelitis, but, look, me, personally, I don’t invite any old gobsmacking function to (a share in a platform of) ideological supremacy.

And to be fair, Haidt is doggedly against fundamentalism — at least as he interprets it. Unless that fundamentalism is rooted in the ultracompetitive killing field of evolutionary psychology.

Footnote to last para: Which is what it sounds like going off Haidt’s presentation of the contemporary literature.

21. Phil JAMISON, Hoedowns, reels, and frolics: roots and branches of southern Appalachian dance (University of Illinois Press 2015)


21.1. get going again


I keep getting surprisingly sucked in on sampling small portions of a chapter, tearing myself away, forgetting my place, and repeating the cycle months later. Time to give Phil Jamison’s history another, more concerted go?

22. [B] Micaiah JOHNSON, The space between worlds (London: Hodder & Stoughton 2020)

  • Took notes circa June 2022.

22.1. structurally and emotionally accomplished

I had wanted something to read where I did not feel obligated or compelled to take notes, but then there were so many phrases buttressing the plot worth noting down, that I quickly ran out of bookmarks — even despite abandoning a majority of Johnson’s sharpest constructions to the depths of pages read. So, by a third in, I guessed that regardless of how I was to find this novel in any other respects, The space between worlds was at least a four star piece for revisitability. The word‐to‐word texture remained more prosaic than I fully take to in fiction, but there is much to appreciate in what Johnson has built, and how.

23. [C] George M. JOHNSON, All boys aren’t blue (Penguin Random House Children’s UK 2021), audiobook download

  • Took notes circa June 2022.

23.1. spoilt by middle

Really great from the get‐go, but sagging several chapters in. The blithe affluence becomes grating, especially as Johnson repeatedly presents the showering of children with trendy consumer goods, televisions, video game consoles, amusement‐park– and hotel–filled vacations, resented summer camps, ongoing sports team expenses, college costs, and other eye‐popping luxuries as the epitome of Black familial love. Lauding a sibling for not being awful, and raiding private moments from the life of a deceased transfeminine cousin — after somewhat shunning her in life, forcing her to be refigured as inspiration porn for publication — complete the spoiling of a memoir that is otherwise imbued with transformative potential well beyond the bland story it relates.

23.2. one immense sigh

[/one immense sigh/]

⸻ Track 7 ‘Chapter 5: Honest Abe lied to me’, 06:56–06:59

Regarding a Thanksgiving poster hung in Johnson’s school.

23.3. and dancing to her

Although I couldn’t wait to escape New Jersey, her album gave me the opportunity to escape in my mind. I would sit in my car by myself and blast her. Every song spoke to me. Her femininity was everything that I was feeling inside of me. She was just so sassy, and sexy, and powerful. I wanted to be her. Well, not really be her, but I would daydream about her. I wanted to be me, in Virginia, and dancing to her. I wanted to be me dancing to her.

⸻ Track 17 ‘Chapter 13: Setting myself free, or setting myself up’, 07:04–07:34

On listening to Beyoncé’s first solo album while yearning to be gay away at college.

24. [A] David JONES & Barbara JONES, Native plants of Melbourne and adjoining areas: a field guide (Hawthorn, Victoria: Bloomings Books 1999)


24.1. through no fault of their own

We have included some species which are now rare or uncommon through no fault of their own.

⸻ pg. iv

in Preface on page iv

24.2. destruction and relicts

#destruction of ecosystems

[…] Even in the last 30 years we have witnessed the destruction of the fabulous wildflower gardens that proliferated on the red sandy areas to the east of Frankston. […]

In other areas significant samples of the vegetation remain in relict patches and reserves. This is certainly the case in some of the outer eastern suburbs and the Dandenong Ranges, although certainly the changes in these areas have been massive. Of strategic significance has been the loss of ‘hot spots’, those priceless parcels of land, often small, which supported tremendous local diversity, including an abundance of showy flowering shrubs, forbs, and large numbers of orchids. Were’s paddock, Greensborough, was one such site with which we were familiar, as also was the land adjacent to the railway station in Boronia, the railway reserve between Heathmont and Bayswater, the land around the Eltham football ground, and numerous patches of bush in Reynolds Rd, Donvale and Tindals Rd, Park Orchards.

Orchids are a special love of ours and on numerous occasions we have noted the close relationship that exists between an abundance of these special plants and a general health and diversity of the flora at a particular site. Thus in our lifetime we have seen the disappearance of numerous orchid‐rich patches of bush in such suburbs as Bayswater, Beaumaris, Berwick, Boronia, Braeside, Croydon, Deer Park, Diamond Creek, Donvale, Eltham, Ferntree Gully, Frankston, Greensborough, Heathmont, Langwarrin, Lysterfield, Mitcham, Ringwood, Rye, Scoresby, Seaford, Templestowe, The Basin, Warrandyte and others. Even Beckett Park, in the well‐established Melbourne suburb of Balwyn, contained five species of orchids in the early 1950s, as well as a host of other herbs and forbs.

⸻ pp. vi–vii

D & B Jones had been living in Melbourne from the mid 1960s to late 1990s, when they wrote this guide.

I have been really compelled by their tendency towards the word “relict”, since I started reading their book last night. Half‐pondering what it can even mean, in a period of mass extinction and such vigorously disturbed circumstances for so comprehensive a cross‐section of those remaining, in an almost “aren’t we all!” kind of way. Which does not seem to me to be a very helpful or even necessarily meaningful position in which to leave the thought —an arrangement readable from an anthropocentric angle to be a plain “humans are, in many settings, a relict species” statement— but that’s where distraction left it for the moment.

24.3. by attaching

Parasitic plant which forms large clumps of pendulous, fleshy stems on the larger branches of eucalypts and wattles. The stems, which are densely covered with yellowish‐green leaves, to 20 cm × 2 cm, carry drooping clusters of reddish, tubular flowers (some of which are stalkless), which have narrow spreading to recurved segments.


Cultivation By attaching seeds to a suitable branch.

⸻ pg. 17

This entry on Amyema pendulum made such sudden sense of many mildly confusing foliage encounters, and its last line is wonderfully helpful/unhelpful. I love it.

24.4. resembles a duck

Each reddish‐brown flower has the narrow segments recurved or swept back and the lip, which resembles a duck’s head complete with a broad beak, sits atop a thick springy band.

⸻ pg. 51

It’s kind of true what they say about Caleana major, as evidenced in several photographs of these orchids in the VICFLORA database.

24.5. bookmarked portrait @ page 53

I bookmarked facing pages 52–53 for taking a note on Callistemon sieberi or Callitris glaucophylla, but I am no longer sure which part in particular is why. Distribution? Rabbits? Woodiness of fruit? The glorious impression of a mature pair of C. glaucophylla holding court from their rural portrait?

24.6. widely distributed by Chinese diggers

A fast‐growing species which was apparently widely distributed on the goldfields by Chinese diggers.

⸻ pg. 60

Cassinia arcuata, everyone!

The flowerheads, “long, drooping clusters of shiny brown flower‐heads” look at least as intensely familiar as the association of a curry scent with a similar binomial, but Bun’s plant was much denser than the Jones photo depicts.

However, it was very frequently‐pruned, and I have a sense of growth reaching upwards in something like the manner of a trimmed magnolia branch. More research needed, then.

24.7. pollinated by male thynnine wasps

[/Chiloglottis reflexa/ flowers] are pollinated by male thynnine wasps which attempt to mate with the lip.

⸻ pg. 63

I would like to know who thynnine wasps are, please.

[/Chiloglottis valida/] is pollinated in a similar way to C. reflexa, but by a different species of wasp.

⸻ pg. 64

By the by.

24.8. feathery seed‐heads

[/Clematis microphylla/ flowers] are borne in small clusters. On female plants these are followed by greyish clusters of feathery seed‐heads.

⸻ pg. 68

For looking out for in the latter half of the year.

Also, I should plant some more?

24.9. themselves to form bushy clumps

[/Comesperma volubile/ stems are] sometimes twisting around themselves to form bushy clumps.

⸻ pg. 70

Ooh. I wonder how to encourage that.

Love creeper!

24.10. leafless terrestrial, cultivation impossbile

Leafless terrestrial orchid with a thick subterranean rhizome […]


Cultivation Impossible to grow.

⸻ pg. 117

This is pallid brown Gastrodia sesamoides, flowering around bushfire season in the hills and eastern suburbs, smelling of spice, from up to half a metre above the ground!

24.11. delicately hinged

The lip is delicately hinged and trembles in the slightest breeze.

⸻ pg. 119

A warm round of applause, please, for Genoplesium morrisii!

Aside: the photo on facing page 118 of G. despectans, with ruddy purple flowers genuflecting from their blue‐green spike against a hazy mauve and blue background, is an eye‐catcher. And it’s nice to be stuck.

25. [D] Hayley KATZEN, Untethered: a memoir (Sydney: Ventura Press 2020)

  • Took notes circa January 2022.

25.1. focused

An impressive degree of focus held through the text.

26. [A] Robin Wall KIMMERER, Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants (London: Penguin Books 2020)

  • Took notes circa February/March 2022.

26.1. if people believed the earth loves

I sat once in a graduate writing workshop on relationships to the land. The students all demonstrated a deep respect and affection for nature. They said that nature was the place where they experienced the greatest sense of belonging and well‐being. They professed without reservation that they loved the earth. And then I asked them, “Do you think that the earth loves you back?” No one was willing to answer that. It was as if I had brought a two‐headed porcupine into the class‐room. Unexpected. Prickly. They backed slowly away. Here was a room full of writers, passionately wallowing in unrequited love of nature.

So I made it hypothetical and asked, “What do you suppose would happen if people believed this crazy notion that the earth loved them back?” The floodgates opened. They all wanted to talk at once. We were suddenly off the deep end, heading for world peace and perfect harmony.

⸻ pg. 124

26.2. sense place nutured supported understand know knows


I once knew and loved a man who lived most of his life in the city, but when he was dragged off to the ocean or the woods he seemed to enjoy it well enough — as long as he could find an Internet connection. He had lived in a lot of places, so I asked him where he found his greatest sense of place. He didn’t understand the expression. I explained that I wanted to know where he felt most nurtured and supported. What is the place that you understand best? That you know best and knows you in return?

He didn’t take long to answer. “My car,” he said. “In my car. It provides me with everything I need, in just the way I like it. My favorite music. Seat position fully adjustable. Automatic mirrors. Two cup holders. I’m safe. And it always takes me where I want to go.” Years later, he tried to kill himself. In his car.

⸻ pg. 125

27. [B] Robin Wall KIMMERER, Gathering moss: a natural and cultural history of mosses (Allen Lane 2021)

  • Took notes circa April 2022.

27.1. landscape intimacy

Just at the limits of ordinary perception lies another level in the hierarchy of beauty, of leaves as tiny and perfectly ordered as a snowflake, of unseen lives complex and beautiful. All it takes is attention and knowing how to look. I’ve found mosses to be a vehicle for intimacy with the landscape, like a secret knowledge of the forest. This book is an invitation into that landscape.

Three decades after my first look at mosses, I almost always have my hand lens around my neck. Its cord tangles with the leather thong of my medicine bag, in metaphor and in reality.

⸻ pp. ix–x

“Another level in the hierarchy of beauty” really steps you down there, hey?

28. [C] Hervé LE TELLIER, translated from the French by Adriana HUNTER, The anomaly (Michael Joseph 2022)

  • Took notes circa August 2022.

29. [C] Cixin LIU, translated from the Mandarin by Ken LIU, The Three‐Body Problem (Leicester: W F Howes Ltd 2016)

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

29.1. ideological theory

Yang [Weining] hesitated and finally revealed his real concern: ‘It’s easy to make ideological mistakes in theory.’

⸻ pg 51

29.2. frightened sparrow taking refuge in your jacket pocket

‘Imagine another set of results. The first time, the white ball drove the black ball into the pocket. The second time, the black ball bounced away. The third time, the black ball flew onto the ceiling. The fourth time, the black ball shot around the room like a frightened sparrow, finally taking refuge in your jacket pocket. The fifth time, the black ball flew away at nearly the speed of light, breaking the edge of the pool table, shooting through the wall, and leaving the Earth and the Solar System, just like Asimov once described. What would you think then?’

⸻ pg 89

The character speaking is Ding Yi, a theoretical physicist; to Wang Miao, nanomaterials researcher.

29.3. only curious, if not appropriate

‘That was truly an incredible project. I used to think it was just made‐up rumors.’

‘Not rumors. If you want, I can tell you some of what I experienced.’

The offer made Wang a little worried. ‘Professor Ye, I’m only curious. You don’t need to tell me if it’s not appropriate.’

‘It’s no big deal. Let’s just imagine that I’m looking for someone to hear me talk.’

⸻ pg 198

Wang Miao and astrophysicist Ye Wenjie.

29.4. what little of European history

Wang realized that the game displayed a distinct world for each player. This world, based on the European High Middle Ages, was chosen by the software based on his ID.

‘You’re late. The meeting has been going on for a while,’ the gold‐crowned, red‐robed man said. ‘I’m Pope Gregory.’

Wang tried to recall what little he knew of European history in the Middle Ages so that he could deduce the level of advancement of this civilization based on the name. But then he remembered how wildly anachronistic historical references could be in the world of Three Body and decided the effort wasn’t worth it.

⸻ pg 239

29.5. maintenance measures with respect to faulty components

#treating people as expendable mechanical units

‘System lockup!’ a signal officer called out. Shortly after, the reason for the malfunction was determined: There was an error with the operation of one of the gates in the CPU status register.

‘Restart system!’ Von Neumann ordered confidently.

‘Wait!’ Newton stopped the signal officer. He turned with an insidious expression and said to Qin Shi Huang, ‘Your Imperial Majesty, in order to improve system stability, you should take certain maintenance measures with respect to faulty components.’

Qin Shi Huang grasped his sword and said, ‘Replace the malfunctioning component and behead all the soldiers who made up that gate. In the future, any malfunctions will be dealt with the same way!’

Von Neumann glanced at Newton, disgusted. They watched as a few riders dashed into the motherboard with their swords unsheathed. After they ‘repaired’ the faulty component, the order to restart was given. This time, the operation went very smoothly. Twenty minutes later, /Three Body/’s Von Neumann architecture human‐formation computer had begun full operations under the Qin 1.0 operating system.

⸻ pp. 288–289

29.6. one‐dimensional proton


A tenth of a Trisolaran hour later, the science consul held his earpiece to his ear and listened intently. Then he said, ‘Princeps, unfortunately the unfolding failed. We reduced the dimensions by one too many, and the proton became one‐dimensional.’

‘One‐dimensional? A line?’

‘Yes. An infinitely thin line. Theoretically, it should be about fifteen hundred light‐hours long.’


[…] due to friction from solar winds, pieces of the string fell back into the atmosphere[…] Even though the string was infinitely thin, it produced a field that could still reflect visible light. It was the first time people had ever seen matter not made out of atoms — the silky strands were merely small portions of a proton.

‘These things are so annoying.’ The princeps brushed his hand against his face over and over. He and the science consul were standing on the wide steps in front of Government Center. ‘My face always feels itchy.’

‘Princeps, the feeling is purely psychological. All the strings added together have the mass of a single proton, so it’s impossible for them to have any effect on the macroscopic world. They can’t do any harm. It’s as if they don’t exist.’

But the threads that fell from the sky grew more numerous and denser. Closer to ground, tiny sparkling lights filled the air. The sun and the stars all appeared inside silvery halos. The strings clung to those who went outside, and as they walked, they dragged the lights behind them. When people returned indoors, the lines glimmered under the lamps. As soon as they moved, the reflection from the strings revealed the pattern in the air currents they disturbed. Although the one‐dimensional string could only be seen under light and couldn’t be felt, people became upset.

⸻ pp. 484–486

29.7. professional play

Much of the novel assumes a tone of gossamer fantasy, still with the heft of a folktale. Think of fabric draping a central space into being, over a solid floor.

There is video gaming (along with rally and militarism) as theatre, perhaps most overtly, but the whole story is almost palpably sited within in staging containers — which mostly stretch or are transcended rather gently, in contrast to the claustrophobic violence possessing and constricting the gap in the crowd, the logged woods, the cramped room, the retina, the battered biosphere, the rigid formation, the traumatic shared memory, the laden canal, the proton.

For its themes, The Three-Body Problem is a very comfortable read. The “hard sci‐fi” elements are good fun, silly (or playful and open) without committing to ridiculous abandon. Although, on occasion, explanatory dialogue felt condescendingly conspicuous, on the whole, Liu’s devices moved smoothly enough. There are some beautiful scenes. The storytelling is both generous and measured; hospitable.

30. [A] Nic LOW, Uprising: walking the Southern Alps of New Zealand (Melbourne: Text Publishing 2021)

  • Took notes circa Q1 2022.

30.1. there’s a name for that

I remembered that famous photo. It contained no people. Few of New Zealand’s iconic landscape images do. We all grew up surrounded by books and calendars and billboards depicting virgin forests and untouched peaks. We followed the ethos of no‐trace camping, passing through the mountains like ghosts. We longed for postcard views so pristine they could be from before, or maybe after, civilisation itself. What we craved was a landscape without history, untrodden by humans.

There’s a name for that: terra nullius. The legal fiction of unoccupied, unclaimed land. A name that hides what’s underneath.

⸻ pg 6

30.2. old people places

In the old days, people didn’t discover places. They created, became, are, the land.

⸻ pg. 7

30.3. reading is moving through the landscape

Built over decades from oral histories, maps, books and manuscripts, the Cultural Mapping Project has over six thousand original names so far. What it shows is the opposite of wilderness. From major peaks to minor streams the landscape was named, known, owned. More than a map of place, it’s a map of history. In an oral society the land is the book, and the place names are the writing. Reading is moving through the landscape, recalling the stories as you go.

⸻ pg 13

30.4. too precious to rush through @ page 54 of 384

I think I should reserve Uprising again, to be with across a later few weeks, because it is too precious to rush through.

30.5. cleave to the land

Toitū te whenua, you often hear —  translated as ‘leave the land undisturbed’. How could you, when you were going to be part of the land yourself? The better sentiment is ‘cleave to the land’. I dug into the loam, looking for bones, gathering history in dirty half‐moons beneath my nails.

⸻ pg. 28

The end notes attribute the cleaving perspective to Tā Tipene O’Regan in “personal communication, 15 March 2021”.

30.6. faced with the landscape itself

I looked up the riverbed towards the Main Divide: shattered mountaintops and reefs of intimidating cloud; nothing to suggest a pass. Yet Raureka was meant to have wandered up that way and accidentally discovered the only viable route in the area. Faced with the landscape itself, the story made little sense.

⸻ pg. 30

30.7. near Nōti Raureka visibility dropped

Near Nōti Raureka, Raureka’s pass, visibility dropped to a couple of metres. Small cairns of stacked stones guided me through the whiteout, emerging a few steps in front, disappearing a few steps behind. There was no sign of Whakarewa, the lake at the pass. Then I felt a rushing sensation all around me. The mist blew away and I was suddenly looking straight at the water, only metres in front of me.

Whakarewa was more vapour than liquid: a silver arc lifting away into smoke. Again, that hurtling sensation, and the fog closed back in. It started to rain. I removed my pack and bent over, rummaging for my jacket. When I straightened to put it on, I looked up and the world had disappeared. Entirely.

‘What the fuck?’

One minute I’d been walking through a misty sub‐alpine landscape. The next, I felt like I’d been swallowed by a black hole. Impossibly large dark curves filled my entire field of vision, shading from grey to black, surrounding me on all sides. I turned my head and the void was everywhere, seemingly inches from my face, yet stretching off to infinity. I reached out a hand like a blind man and met no resistance. There was nothing there. Vertigo shot through me. There was no sky, no earth. I blinked hard in the rain, swearing aloud.

In another heartbeat the mist burned away. The distant snow‐covered peaks of Tau‐a‐Tamateraki snapped into focus, and I saw huge lenticular clouds immediately overhead — long, smooth UFOs, thunderous and silver‐black. They were harbingers of the worst storms, and almost close enough to touch. I grabbed my camera and fumbled it to my eye. The battery died. I shook my head in disbelief.

I must have been swallowed by one of those clouds. Or maybe it had passed inches from my face, and I’d seen its underbelly reflected in the lake. Shreds of mist continued to stream past. The light flickered between dawn, noon and dusk. It felt like time was running at a different speed.

⸻ pg. 34–35

30.8. some thickening of time

There was some thickening of time, some concentration of force in those waters I felt acutely but couldn’t articulate beyond — power?

⸻ pg. 50

I appreciate this take on the outflow of a hydro plant…

30.9. scrambled raw matter


With food in my belly and a shifting sense of Raureka’s story, I should have felt more at peace. But I was still freaked out by that headland above the river. An empty cemetery filled with moa bones, lightning strikes, the power‐station outflow: the place felt wrong. It was mauri, life‐force. Boiling away down there was all the rain that had fallen on the ranges standing over me in the dark. It was hundreds of side creeks, dozens of rivers, the Waitāwhiri, the story of Raureka and Kāti Wairaki, and a thousand years of whakapapa, forced into a pipe. What came out the other side was scrambled, just the chaos of raw matter sent on to the ocean without history or name. New origin stories took over — the settling of the land by my Pākehā ancestors, the coming of electricity, the birth of modernity: new claims to authority and power.

⸻ pg. 52

31. [B] Robert MACFARLANE, Underland: a deep time journey (London: Hamish Hamilton 2019)

  • Took notes circa December 2021.

31.1. Exclusionary assertions, blooming narratives

Periodic, tedious assertions built of an exclusionary “we” cluster beneath exhilarating blooms of micronarrative.

32. [D] Stefano MANCUSO, translated from the Italian by Gregory CONTI, The nation of plants: a radical manifesto for humans (Profile Books 2021)

  • Took notes circa February 2022.

32.1. We disagree to agree

I disagreed with virtually every rhetorical invitation — but nonetheless: great game plan!

33. [E] Sarah MARQUIS, Sauvage par nature: 3 ans de march extrême en solitaire de Sibérie en Australie (Paris: Pocket 2015)

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

33.1. pour ses pattes

#leaving a pet

Mon cœur se serre. Je ne peux pas imaginer ne pas le revoir à mon retour. J’ai tout mis en place, des rendez‐vous vétérinaires aux séances d’ostéopathie pour ses pattes arrière qui lui font mal. Je vais aussi laisser mes odeurs dans ma chambre avec des habits que j’ai portés, comme cela, il n’éprouvera aucun stress et sentira ma présence, pendant quelque temps du moins. Je suis triste.

⸻ pg. 19

Not sure I want to go on this book‐walk, now, personally.

33.2. avec élégance et sans un bruit

À mes pieds, une rivière profonde sans courant et d’un noir opaque emprisonne le grand rocher que j’ai repéré de loin. Je me déshabille et me glisse dans l’eau froide. Si vous entrez dans l’eau progressivement, le corps s’adapte et la sensation de froid en est diminuée. Sans un mouvement, je m’enfonce petit à petit jusqu'à ce que ma tête seule reste hors de l’eau. C’est une expérience simple d’abandon ; il me semble que je ne suis plus qu’une tête à la surface de cette eau noire, mon corps a disparu, l’eau froide l’a endormi. Soudain, un mouvement attire mon attention de l’autre côté de la rivière. Mes yeux s’écarquillent : je n’y crois pas ! C’est un magnifique cerf ! Il s’avance doucement, s’immobilise, écoute puis, après un long moment, s’élance avec élégance et sans un bruit. Il nage, opération qu’il maîtrise étonnament. Je n’ai toujours pas bougé, le dessus de l’eau est un vrai miroir. Ces bois majestueux semblent se déplacer à la surface sans corps en dessous. L’eau noire stagnante accentue cette impression. Sans aucune peur, le cerf passe juste là, à côté de moi. Il rejoint la rive à quelques pas seulement de mes habits secs, puis disparaît en sautillant élégamment dans la forêt sombre et humide.

⸻ pg. 29

So far I am finding this book a weird mixture of rather dull, faintly baffling, and intermittently captivating.

This encounter is in the U.S.A. on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2002.

33.3. lorsque votre mission est accomplie, faites une sieste

La troisième technique est ancestrale et utilisée aussi par les animaux. Cela se passe dans le lit asséché d’une rivière sablonneuse. Vous allez peut‐être pouvoir trouver de l’eau sous cette surface sèche et molle. D’abord, il faut « lire » la rivière. Un peu comme un descendeur à skis s’imagine chaque contour et chaque bosse mentalement avant de s’élancer. Vous allez vous représenter la rivière qui est sous vos yeux avec de l’eau, et trouver ainsi l’endroit où l’eau était ralentie avant que la rivière s’assèche. Donc on cherche une courbe, ou un obstacle comme un gros rocher. Si vous avez trouvé cet endroit et que vous êtes certain que cela vaut la peine de dépenser de l’énergie et de votre sueur pour creuser un trou d’1 m de profondeur au minimum, alors commencez à creuser. Lorsque votre mission est accomplie, faites une sieste. Lorsque vous rouvrirez l’œil, si votre évaluation était juste, vous apercevrez une petite quantité d’eau au fond de votre trou.

Il existe bien d’autres techniques, mais chacune d’entre elles ne vous permettra de récolter que quelques centilitres. Il est impératif de se poser les bonnes questions et d’évaluer la quantité d’eau qui va sortir de votre corps durant l’opération de creusage ou d’installation de piégeage à eau.

Mais avant tout, je dois dire que ce n’est pas tant la technique qui compte que la capacité à lire le décor.

⸻ pp. 31–32

Cue yet another flashback within a flashback…

33.4. la plainte de bambou

[…] Durant la nuit, la température à cette altitude est descendue bien en dessous de 0 °C. Mon bonnet est enfoncé sur ma tête, mais mes oreilles sont intentionnellement dégagées. L’ambiance est glaciale, brouillardeuse, mais étonnamment silencieuse. Soudain une mélodie fine et presque imperceptible semble flotter dans l’air. Cela ressemble à une poignée de notes aiguës qui se bousculent. La mélodie me semble bizarrement fragile. Je cherche sa provenance, sans succès. J’en profite pour ingérer une autre gorgée de mon thé. Au même moment, une brise isolée remonte à nouveau de la vallée, faisant retentir la mélodie juste derrière moi, cette fois plus vive et cristalline. Je me retourne et m’aperçois que les feuilles de bambou au‐dessus du chemin ont la blancheur de la porcelaine. Elles sont gelées à outrance. Le souffle venu du fond de la vallée a atteint les feuillages qui, en s’entrechoquant, créent cette mélodie aux résonances plaintives mais élégantes…

Une chaleur monte en moi et trouble tous mes sens et mon être en entier. Je viens de recevoir l’une des nombreuses leçons de vie que Dame Nature m’a enseignées… Je remercie et, les yeux fermés, j’écoute avec mon cœur la plainte du bambou…

⸻ pp. 157–158

Unconvinced by the lesson, in among all the contempt Marquis has been showing for just about all of the people whose land she keeps tramping over, I do though have a soft spot for bamboosong.

33.5. durant trois jours dans son sac

#venomous snake (this is both a spoiler and a content warning!)

C’était lors d’un après‐midi d’été, il venait d’arriver à la petite plage paradisiaque de William Bay, sous le campement. C’est une section du trek qui suit la côte. Il y a là une petite plage protégée par de magnifiques rochers ronds. L’eau est d’un bleu cristallin et fraîche : le rêve après une journée de marche… Il s’est donc baigné et, même, y a dormi. Amoureux des plages, il s’y attarde souvent et, selon la saison, il y dort volontiers. Le lendemain, il s’est réveillé tôt et a continué son chemin le long du Bibbulmun. Et cela s’est produit trois jours plus tard : il était au camp avec un autre marcheur qui n’avait malheureusement plus de pansement pour ses cloques, alors il a proposé de lui en donner. Tout en papotant, il a plongé sa main machinalement au fond de son sac pour y prendre sa pharmacie, et sans réaliser tout de suite, en a sorti… un serpent de près de 1,5 m qu’il a lâché dans un mouvement de terreur silencieuse. Ce n’était pas n’importe quel serpent, mais un western tiger snakes (Telescopus semiannulatus). Une espèce que moi je trouve magnifique avec sa robe noire mate et son ventre jaune. Mais il est aussi très venimeux.

Ce qui a le plus terrifié mon voisin, c’est le fait qu’il avait trimballé ce serpent durant trois jours dans son sac sans le savoir. Tout aurait pu se passer durant ce laps de temps. « Oui, dis‐je, y compris qu’il sorte du sac dans votre tente… ― Avant je n’avais pas de tente, mais depuis cette histoire je dors toujours sur la plage dans ma tente… Il a sûrement dû grimper dans mon sac durant la nuit parce qu’il fait plutôt frisquet la nuit sur la plage où j’étais. »

Je bois mon thé et le regarde : il est encore troublé.

⸻ pp. 245–246

33.6. tu sais bien que j’en ai envie

[Ma maman] est venue avec mon frère qui était responsable de mes ravitaillements durant mon expédition australienne de 2002–2003. Le premier matin, elle avait disparu ! Avec mon frère, très inquiets, nous étions partis immédiatement à sa recherche. On l’a trouvée à plus de 2 km du camp, assise sur une chaise en plastique à l’extérieur d’un petit shop, un café à la main. Je lui ai demandé ce qu’elle faisait là. « Tu ne vois pas, je bois mon p’tit caf’ ? Tu sais bien que j’ai envie d’un p’tit café le matin ! » Fou rire général… « Eh bien dis‐moi, juste pour rire, comment tu l’as commandé, ton café ? » (Elle ne parle pas un mot d’anglais.) […]

⸻ pp. 247–248

Author essentially takes the same approach, though, on a larger scale.

33.7. je suis de retour, darling

Je ne quitte pas mon petit arbre des yeux, comme pour me concentrer mais, rien n’y fait, des larmes coulent sous mes lunettes de soleil. Je suis arrivée ! Je touche l’écorce de mon arbre de la main droite : « Je suis de retour, darling. » Je m’assieds. Et je laisse les émotions sortir de mon cœur.

⸻ pg. 258

Okay fine that’s cute.

34. [D] Ian MCEWAN, The cockroach (London: Jonathan Cape 2019)

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

34.1. tapers to tepidity

Fun at first, but steadily soured by sexist tropes and the gradual falling away of creativity and cleverness in general.

34.2. warum

It was at this point that the chancellor interrupted him. With her elbow on the table, she pressed a hand to her forehead and closed her tired eyes. ‘/Warum?/’ she said, and followed this word with a brief tangle of others. And again, ‘/Warum/ …’ and a longer tangle. Then the same again. And finally, still with her eyes closed, and her head sinking a little further towards the table, a simple, plaintive, ‘/Warum?/’

Tonelessly, the interpreter said, ‘Why are you doing this? Why, to what end, are you tearing your nation apart? Why are you inflicting these demands on your best friends and pretending we’re your enemies? Why?’

Jim’s mind went blank. Yes, he was weary from so much travel. There was silence in the room. Across the river a line of schoolchildren was forming up behind a teacher to go into the museum. Standing right behind his chair, the British ambassador softly cleared her throat. It was stuffy. Someone should open a window. There drifted through the PM’s mind a number of compelling answers, though he did not utter them. Because. Because that’s what we’re doing. Because that’s what we believe in. Because that’s what we said we’d do. Because that’s what people said they wanted. Because I’ve come to the rescue. Because. That, ultimately, was the only answer: because.

Then reason began to seep back and with relief he recalled a word from his speech the evening before. ‘Renewal,’ he told her. ‘And the electric plane.’ After an anxious pause, it came in a rush. Thank God. ‘Because, Madame Chancellor, we intend to become clean, green, prosperous, united, confident and ambitious!’

⸻ pp. 88–89

Not to say this reflects my overall assessment of the work, but to demonstrate the feel of McEwan’s approach. Peak voice, here too.

35. [E] Ian MCEWAN, Machines like me: and people like you (London: Jonathan Cape 2019)

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

36. [B] Maggie NELSON, On freedom: four songs of care and constraint (London: Jonathan Cape 2021)

  • Took notes circa March/April 2022.

36.1. tentative, curious nestle

This was one of several books chosen by the people of the home library service for my book bag of a couple of months ago. I was wary about Nelson, based on vague remembrance of trusted circles’ wry response to The Argonauts, but a tentative, curious nestle into On Freedom on the return date proved immediately inviting enough that I reserved a copy for trying again this round.

36.2. means

On Freedom will not argue that mindful breathing will immediately deliver us social equity and justice, or reverse the course of global warming. But it will propose that, if we want to divest from the habits of paranoia, despair, and policing that have come to menace and control even the most well intentioned among us — habits that, when continuously indulged, shape what’s possible in both our present and future — we are going to need methods by which we feel and know that other ways of being are possible, not just in some revolutionary future that may never come, or in some idealized past that likely never existed or is irretrievably lost, but right here and now. This is [David] Graeber’s point about “acting as if one is already free.” and while this sometimes means more protest and puppets (as is Graeber’s wont), it can also mean the development of more understated practices by which one develops a greater tolerance for indeterminacy, as well as for the joys and pains of our inescapable relation.

⸻ pg. 17

36.3. art as transmission

But how can one sort out which works “encourage connection” and which don’t, when the one thing all art does […] is transmit a signal, put forth a communication, which is by no means ontologically invalidated as a transmission if it expresses misanthropic, opaque, or antisocial elements?

⸻ pp. 21–22

36.4. giant corporations in disguise

As [Jennifer] Doyle and others have made clear, if we do not want the neoliberal university (or the museum or the publisher, many of which are arguably giant corporations in disguise) to turn the demands of social justice into an excuse to consolidate and exert more power, if we want to make structural changes without simply hardening the system in ways that can and will be used against us […]

⸻ pg. 50

36.5. calcified conviction of power

Power shape‐shifts and travels — as nearly every effective activist knows, asserting it goes a long way toward its actualization. Letting go of a calcified conviction of what and where power is and how it moves can be a crucial part of instigating its redistribution; acknowledging and feeling what power we do have — not to mention analyzing our own will to it — invites us to investigate what we want to do, or are already doing, with it.

⸻ pg. 57

36.6. analogising mothers

#sexism re: motherhood

The problem with this analogizing is that it continues a long tradition of relying on the maternal as an idealized model for selfless care provision without contending with the experience of actual mothers themselves, who complicate the picture by having their own needs, not to mention an understanding of caregiving as historically and psychically interwoven with disintegration, failure, inequity, and coercion. To question the use of the mother as a model of selfless care provision and a priori obligation means facing the psychological and political repercussions of having feminized this labor for thousands of years, as well as the vexations that such a model has produced for those presumed felicitously to embody it.

⸻ pp. 68–69

36.7. disorienting intergenerational conversation

#AIDS crisis (by limited definition)

Teaching college for the past twenty years has taught me that the AIDS crisis — at least as it was before antiretrovirals — has disappeared almost completely for those born after its peak. This is in many ways a natural, arguably welcome effect of the passage of time and medical treatment. But it has also had a disorienting effect on much of the intergenerational conversation going on about sex positivity, pleasure, and danger, a conversation that makes far less sense when the influence AIDS had — indeed, the formative crater it made — in so many of our lives has fallen out of the picture.

For many who came up in the 1980s and ’90s, forging a commitment to sex positivity was not about downgrading the feminist or queer liberatory missions of the ’60s and ’70s to a tinny, neoliberal version of empowerment. It was about insisting, in the face of viciously bigoted moralists who didn’t care if you lived or died (many preferred that you died), that you had every right to your life force and sexual expression, even when the culture was telling you that your desire was a death warrant, and that if it killed you, you deserved it […] As Amber Hollibaugh, a self‐described lesbian sex radical who founded the Lesbian AIDS Project (LAP) of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in the 1990s, described this time: “While being made into sexual pariahs, gay men and drag queens and dykes and queer men of color and their sisters and brothers, and other communities of sex and racial justice warriors, spoke up and spoke out for sex, struggling to claim the right to desire even in the face of an epidemic and a virus transmitted through sex. We refused to be shamed or disowned because of our desires or our antibody status. This was a truly terrifying time. But through it all — although we were frequently wrong — we were also brilliant, and we were brave.”

⸻ pp. 89–90

36.8. porousness to people

#drug addiction

[Paul] Preciado’s frustrated desire to become attached to a “substance without will” […] also likely has to do with the instability of the subject/object dichotomy itself […]

[…] Whether it makes sense to talk about vibrant matter or nonhuman people as having agency or liberty of their own is a subject of long‐standing scientific, philosophical, and spiritual debate. But if, as feminist physicist Karen Barad puts it, all matter “feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers,” there may truly be no such thing as “an object that has no wish” — which is another reason that Preciado’s desire for such fails.

For those accustomed to humankind asserting its will and power over nature, with the latter conceived of as a collection of inert, mute objects, the experience of grappling with “demands” made by those objects can be disorienting and chaotic […]

[…] For [Michael W.] Clune, it’s the “white tops” on certain heroin vials that act as the source of fixation[…] Clune has expressed interest in recent neurological research demonstrating how cues alone (e.g., the sight of a white top) can occasion dopamine surges in the brain, creating, for the addict, a troubling assemblage of vibrant matter.

Knowing that we respond physically to things we’ve neither ingested nor touched need not reify or magnify feelings of powerlessness or unfreedom. Like the discipline of phenomenology, which asks us to consider phenomena such as intention, orientation, and proprioception as structuring our experience of the world, such knowledge can help us fathom the mysterious nature of our enmeshment, which does not stop at our skin or the human. From here, we might see that the pathos of drug addiction isn’t necessarily that it displaces a natural love for other human beings with an unnatural love for a cold, mute object, but that it reveals our porousness to nonhuman people — our appetite for them, and our vulnerability to them. […]

We may root for Clune to “turn off [the] goddamn game” — and, later in life, to leave behind the white tops and all the damage they’ve caused — but we aren’t exactly rooting for him to exchange altogether his uncommon aliveness to the nonhuman for meaningful relationships with other people. We’re rooting for him to find some way to respect the power of the former without pretending at its mastery, or exposing himself to further suffering. Sometimes, this means learning to let certain nonhuman people be.

⸻ pp. 162–165

Pared back to a core of a thread relating to Preciado’s Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, and Clune’s White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin and Gamelife: A Memoir. I have skipped some allusions and references to interesting perspectives that did not appear to me as well represented in Nelson’s treatment of them.

Further, though, in an endnote (number 17 of chapter 3, on page 248) to the vibrant nonhuman matterpeople:

Though Barad coined the phrase “agential realism,” she prefers not to speak of matter as “having agency” per se; her research has instead led her to believe that “agency is not held, it is not a property of persons or things; rather, agency is an enactment, a matter of possibilities for reconfiguring entanglements.” See also, [Fred] Moten’s point at the opening of In the Break, when Moten takes up [Karl] Marx’s notion of the commodity that does not speak by reminding us that there have existed commodities that speak, namely, slaves. In terms that evoke Preciado’s writing about T, Moten writes, “While subjectivity is defined by the subject’s possession of itself and its objects, it is troubled by a dispossessive force objects exert such that the subject seems to be possessed — infused, deformed — by the object it possesses.”

hashtag Physics and Dance

36.9. wherein waving to others is somehow irresistible

#carbon culture

And yet, here I am, watching my son faux‐conduct the quiescent train, admiring his beautiful face, his mouth agape at the machines he so adores, about which he knows nothing save what a human creature alive for barely three years can know: they’re sensationally large and powerful; they make loud noises; they belch amazing clouds of black smoke; and when they get going, they impart a feeling of freedom — of speed, transformation, leave‐taking, escape, anonymity, rush — whether you’re riding or watching them speed by. (You can feel this weird reciprocity via the ministeamer ride that encircles the park, wherein waving to others is somehow irresistible, whether you’re a passenger or pedestrian.) Here I am, still feeling the unprecedented (in my life, anyway) sensation of simple, total happiness in witnessing another’s simple, total happiness, of beholding a new beginning in this world, while the words The end of the world has already occurred tick by under the scene.

⸻ pg. 173

Yes, that “weird reciprocity” of steam rail, expressed in the wave. There’s a lot of something(s) to that, surely?

“The end…” is a quote of Timothy Morton (though which particular work goes unspecified).

The park is Griffith Park, Los Angeles; and the play at the Travel Town Museum.

36.10. deep‐time–burning movement freedom

#fossils fuelling

To date, we have all thought modern freedom with oil, whether we aimed to or not. Carbon powers the very equipment by which our thoughts and voices and bodies reach one another[…] The awe my son felt at Travel Town was justified: we should feel awe in the face of the energy we’ve generated by burning deep time in no time. Our own bodies have been shaped by this power, through the speed of planes, trains, automobiles, and cybercurrents, all of which have become integral to our conception of freedom. We often take freedom to mean freedom of movement — be it the freedom to leave behind a bad scene for a (hopefully) better one; the freedom to leave behind cramped origins and forge new kinships in a bigger, more anonymous, place; the freedom to choose the unknown over the known. Capitalist, abolitionist, queer, and revolutionary consciousnesses alike have depended on such dreams and desires[…]

⸻ pp. 186–187

36.11. dropping story

As much as I understand these calls for us to invent or safeguard stories that might help us reflect and comprehend our circumstances with compassion, imagination, humor, solidarity, and dignity, I also think it valuable to “drop the storyline” as [Pema] Chödrön has counseled: all story lines, including “progressive” ones, which pin their hopes on the arc of history moving toward justice. For at some point in our lives, if we live long enough, we begin to feel in a visceral fashion what we’ve always known intellectually to be true: our life spans will not allow us to take in the whole story. Indeed, there may be no whole story. Maybe there’s no story at all. Our brains may be hardwired to produce story as a means of organizing space and time, but that doesn’t mean that story is the only mode available to us in experiencing our lives.

⸻ pg. 208

In counterpart to calls from Amitav Ghosh, Isabelle Stengers, the Dark Mountain Project, Paul Kingsnorth, and Roy Scranton, for various literatures responding to climate disaster.

Curious to me that Nelson should say an intellectual awareness would emerge (much!) earlier in life than the visceral.

36.12. what kind of body

One benefit of riding the blinds, or dropping the story line, is that other senses of time can become more palpable, including the feeling of folded or intergenerational time — what feminist scholars Astrida Neimanis and Rachel Loewen Walker have called “thick time”: “a transcorporeal stretching between present, future, and past.” “Thick time” is neither repo time nor queer time per se, though I admit to feeling it most often when I look at my son, and behold all the selves and ages he has passed through folded atop one another. (My mother once told me that, when she would go to pick me up from our town’s square, she would sometimes get momentarily confused about what kind of body she was looking for — a toddler body? A teenager body? A preteen body? At the time I thought she was a little nuts, but now I realize she was just touching the kind of thick time I experience all the time these days[…])

⸻ pp. 209–210

37. [C] New Scientist 3357 (23 October 2021)

  • Took notes circa June 2022.

37.1. Jonathan O’CALLAGHAN ‘Venus’s surface may always have been too hot for oceans’

Martin Turbet at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and his colleagues[…] found that Earth was only able to condense water early in its history because the sun was about 25 per cent dimmer, seemingly solving a problem known as the faint young sun paradox where Earth was thought to have been too cold to support liquid water. Had it formed today, our planet might well have been a “steam Earth”, like Venus.

⸻ pg. 18

37.2. Christa LESTÉ‐LASSERRE ‘Penguins tell each other apart by sight and sound’

The penguin left in the enclosure always responded to the audio by looking at the door. But if the call came from a randomly chosen penguin, the tested penguin looked at the door more than twice as quickly as it did when the audio recording was from the penguin that had just passed through the door.

⸻ pg. 22

Research on a captive colony of African penguins Spheniscus demersus, by Luigi Baciadonna and his team, through the University of Turin.

37.3. ‘Scan can ID you via unique brain signal’

Each of us has a distinct brain activity “fingerprint”, and this can be spotted after someone lies in an MRI scanner for just 100 seconds. This identifying pattern of activity is known as the “connectome” because it shows how different brain regions are in sync (Science Advances,

⸻ pg. 23

Makes sense. / Fascinating!

37.4. Adam VAUGHAN ‘Good COP, bad COP’

There is also a separate ongoing branch of the talks, the Warsaw International Mechanism, which is exploring how to address the financial hit faced by countries dealing with climate change’s impacts. “We are now in the era of loss and damage,” says [Saleemul] Huq, referring to recent floods, famines and wildfires. It still remains to be worked out how vulnerable countries could get more help or money to cope with everything from extreme weather to longer‐term threats such as sea level rise. Huq says COP26 should make the Warsaw International Mechanism an annual high‐level agenda item at climate talks.

⸻ pg. 39

Huq is with the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

37.5. Carrie ARNOLD ‘Speed trials’

In the early 1980s, Robert Bartlett, a surgeon at the University of Michigan, wanted to test whether extra‐corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machines could be used to do the work of the heart and lungs in premature babies. Until then, the machine had only been used in adults. Bartlett used an unorthodox trial design that borrowed from game theory. The first infant enrolled would receive the standard kind of ventilation at the time, which involved a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine. If it survived, the next would receive the same standard care. If it died, the second enrollee would be hooked up to an ECMO. The first baby died. The second received ECMO and survived. So did the third, the fourth, and all the rest up until the 12th baby. Given that nearly all similar premature babies had died without ECMO, Bartlett felt it was case closed.

Bartlett’s peers thought the trial was too small, however, and the design too unorthodox, to accept ECMO as the new standard of care. According to clinical statistician David Robertson at the University of Cambridge, the reception of Bartlett’s work put others off trying out new kinds of clinical trial for years to come. ECMO wasn’t accepted until 1996, when a group of UK scientists assessed the machine using a full‐blown RCT that involved 185 babies. As in Bartlett’s trial, ECMO easily proved superior to regular treatment. For Edward Mills at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, though, it was a pyrrhic victory. As a father, he says, all he can think about are the babies who didn’t make it. “Did all those kids really have to die just to prove a point?”

⸻ pp. 43–44

“RCT” = “randomised controlled trial”

38. [C] New Scientist 3373 (12 February 2022)

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

38.1. Clare WILSON ‘Implants let people who were paralysed walk with support’

The idea is that the stimulation makes the remaining nerves more excitable and so amplifies the weak signals from the brain to the legs[…]


[Implant‐recipient, Michel] Roccati[…] now uses the implanted device for 1 to 2 hours a day, including for going for walks on his own. He can also stand up for 2 hours, cycle in an adapted wheelchair and even swim by choosing different stimulation programs. He finds walking or standing helps relieve pain caused by sitting in a wheelchair all day.

⸻ pg. 9

38.2. Laura SPINNEY ‘Views Columnist’

And today, in Albanian villages depleted of men by endemic blood feuding, you can still find “sworn virgins” — women who dress as men, assume male roles and are buried as men.

⸻ pg. 28

In paragraph paraphrasing “archaeologist Timothy Taylor at Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia”. Going by the article’s framings generally, neither Spinney nor Taylor are necessarily the most insightful sources to go to for more on this.

38.3. Joshua HOWGEGO ‘Waste not… want not?’

Magnets, ubiquitous in modern electronic gadgets[…] are often made from a witch’s brew of rare and exotic elements that are fiddly to separate out again.

⸻ pg. 39

Recycling these would involve chemically separating the metals, a difficult and energy‐intensive process. This is why many advocates of a circular economy say that, if we are serious about ending the throwaway culture, we will need to use simpler materials and redesign processes so that these separation problems are more tractable[…]

⸻ pg. 40

By far the biggest driver of material use is construction.

⸻ pg. 44

Based on Circle Economy’s Mark de Wit and colleagues’ Circularity Gap Report of 2019.

BMW, for instance, recently unveiled a concept car called the BMW i Vision Circular that is designed according to circular principles and can be built from 100 per cent recycled materials. Among other things, the car’s metal body is given a “brushed” finish instead of being painted, which avoids use of some chemicals and allows easier recycling.

⸻ pg. 45

I have been wondering if such an approach to metal finishings couldn’t be used more, especially when looking at assistive tech.

38.4. Alex KESHAVARZI ‘The muon wrangler’

New Scientist: Why are we so sure that there must be some “new physics” out there to be discovered?

Alex Keshavarzi: In physics, there are four main unknowns. There’s the dark energy problem and the dark matter problem, these two things which we can see by their effects but can’t identify. There’s the need to amalgamate gravity with quantum mechanics. Then there is the funny something that went on in the first 3 minutes after the beginning of the universe, which somehow created an imbalance between ordinary matter and antimatter. Everything we know about physics suggests that matter and antimatter particles are always created in equal proportions, so we expect this happened at the big bang. The problem is that every constituent of matter that we see around us — ourselves, the sun — everything is made almost completely of normal matter. In the time it takes to make a cup of tea, all the antimatter in the universe disappeared and we have no idea why.

⸻ pg. 48

What exactly are you studying at the Muon g‐2 experiment?

The muon has this quantum property called spin, which you can think of as like its own internal bar magnet. If you put that in a magnetic field, it will precess — like the way a compass needle turns if you are at the north pole. At the same time, ordinary empty space can, according to the rules of quantum mechanics, have what we call virtual particles pop up quickly out of nothing and then disappear. It’s because empty space has a tiny amount of energy and this can be briefly converted into these virtual particles. It turns out that the rate at which the muons’ spin precesses is determined by these virtual particles. We can calculate to incredible precision what that number should be.

⸻ pg. 49

If the result is real, what would it mean?

It would mean that there are some virtual particles out there that we don’t know about yet. I should add that our experiment is sensitive to virtual particles, but any particles that appear in this way would also exist independently, out there in reality. Our experiment won’t tell us what those new particles are. It could be perhaps a candidate dark matter particle, maybe mediated by a new force, or some new particle that could explain the asymmetry between matter and antimatter. Other experimentalists would then need to take our data and go and make more specific searches for the particles. But it would be the first time we could say, OK, we’ve definitively discovered new physics.

⸻ pg. 50

39. [C] New Scientist 3382 (16 April 2022)

  • Took notes circa June 2022.

39.1. Leah CRANE ‘Astronomers have spotted the most distant galaxy ever’

Fabio Pacucci at the Harvard‐Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts and his colleagues[…] found that HD1 is about 33·4 billion light years away[…] This is possible, despite the universe being only about 13·8 billion years old, because of the accelerating expansion of the cosmos.


We are seeing HD1 as it was just 330 million years after the big bang[…]

⸻ pg. 9

Rude, frankly.

39.2. Chris STOKEL‐WALKER ‘Mobile phones as weapons’

“Anyone who has access to the tower information can obviously triangulate positions, and with integration ISTAR [intelligence, surveillance, target aquisition, and reconnaissance] systems today, it can be a matter of moments from detection to launching a missile or firing a shell,” says [Alan] Woodward [from the University of Surrey].

Communication breakdowns and flawed plans mean the Russian army’s secure communication systems have been unreliable since its invasion on 24 February, forcing it to rely on mobile phones, believe military analysts. And many members of the Ukrainian army, which is made up of considerable numbers of volunteers, may be unaware of the dangers of having phones in a combat situation.


[Device] metadata, such as a caller’s and recipient’s phone numbers, can also be used to bombard troops with propaganda. “We’ve seen many examples of both sides getting calls and threatening messages,” says Yevgeniy Golovchenko at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. “We’ve also seen family members getting calls as a way of intimidating and demoralising the other side.”

A similar method was used against NATO troops stationed in the Baltic states, according to Golovchenko, as well as against coalition forces in Afghanistan. Relatives of members of Danish forces stationed in Afghanistan received messages incorrectly telling them that their relatives were dead, waging psychological warfare designed to turn public opinion against the occupation of Afghanistan, he says.

⸻ pg. 10

Horrifying how to dangers so obvious, general publics have been made this oblivious.

40. Jason OM, All mixed up (ABC Audio 2022), audiobook download

  • Notes taken circa July 2022.

40.1. the suburbs spoke

All around us, the suburbs spoke with a constant [/fizzes tongue against top teeth/] of electricity and the distant [/exhales forcefully yet evenly through open mouth/] of traffic.

⸻ Track 2 ‘Chapter One’, 12:37–12:45

On growing up in Oakleigh in the 1980s. Both quotations of suburbia produced at (perfectly just uncomfortable) length.

41. [B] Olivette OTELE, African Europeans: an untold history (New York: Basic Books 2021)

  • Took notes circa April 2022.

41.1. Black fame as exceptionalism

#anti‐Black racism, slavery

Black abolitionists and other black men and women have been looked at in relation to their roles as models in well‐known paintings or as servants who feature in travel writings and other artistic productions. When examined as individuals, these men and women are generally perceived as exceptional characters whose lives were transformed by complex encounters with Europeans. In such accounts, the notion of exceptionalism is used as a plausible reason for their fame. Some of their stories are believed to have survived because of the extraordinary nature of their contributions to European societies. Little, however, has been published about further aspects of their lives, such as the close connection they might have had with other people of African descent. Some histories have been forgotten or their importance underestimated. For example, African resistance to enslavement on African coasts or the fight against the transatlantic slave trade in Africa are scarcely mentioned in volumes about enslavement in European colonial history.

⸻ pp. 1–2

41.2. fascinating, crawl

Otele’s work is fascinating!

After a long crawl through the first chapter, between dozens of consultations of a dictionary of proper nouns (for all those geographic features, retired place names, and assumed‐famous figures and offices), it feels that this text would be even better for readers who are not already versed in more dominating European and “Ancient” histories, if the excellent writing were either slightly expanded here and there, or presented with frequent, simple maps. I have also been wishing for plates to look to of the cited artworks.

I guess, for me, this chapter might want rereading soon!

41.3. Juan Latino’s social commentary

[…] fifty or studies have analysed the work of Juan Latino. What is remarkable is the constant shift between his work as a poet, as a humanist and as a narrator of stories of his time. Latino’s work, which encompasses literature and what would now be considered social commentary tells us about Granada’s views on the foreigner and the non‑Christian, and about the fate of those who were perceived as a threat to the narrative the city was trying to create.

⸻ pg. 56

41.4. clumping off‐balance

Annette Ivory notes that of the 429,362 inhabitants of Seville in the sixteenth century, about 14,670 were black people. She contends that competition for jobs was exacerbated by the availability of black labour. It was also at this time that black characters were ridiculed in plays. The portrait of the black buffoon was aimed at relieving social and economic anxiety. In sixteenth‐century Granada, until the Morisco rebellion of 1568–71, most enslaved people were of African descent. During the years of the rebellion, 90 per cent of enslaved people who were sold in Granada were Moriscos. It was also in the sixteenth century that the term negro, or black, appears in legal documents instead of esclavo, or slave. Emily Weissbourd provides a striking example of such changes through documentation from 1559 to 1576 which refers to ‘his majesty’s blacks [negros]’ instead of ‘his majesty’s slaves’ in relation to people enslaved in silver mines near Seville.

⸻ pg. 62

Many of this (second) chapter’s paragraphs seem to have formed by clumping, leaving them off‐balance.

41.5. to limit the number of black people in France

#anti‐Black racism, migration policing, slavery

The number of legal cases involving black people led the [French] authorities to suggest that a special unit should be set up. In 1777 the Police des Noirs, or ‘police for black people’, was created. Soon after, it became compulsory for black people to carry a cartouche (an identification card). Between 1777 and 1789, in Paris only, 765 people were registered. The aim of the Police des Noirs was to limit the number of black people in the country. It was not named a ‘police for enslaved people’, so the assumption by then was that all black bodies were also enslaved. Masters who had enslaved domestic servants in their service had to register them or risk paying a heavy fine. Enslaved people were to stay in detention centres for the duration of their master’s stay. The costs would be the master’s responsibility.

Outside Paris, many port cities resented the initiative, as it curbed the freedom of planters who had up to that point enjoyed the services of their enslaved servants. In Bordeaux, for example, authorities argued in 1788 that the prison was the only adequate space to serve as a detention centre, but enslaved servants incurred the risk of becoming ill or being corrupted by prison life. Some people urged the authorities to find safe and clean spaces for their enslaved servants. The authorities’ preoccupation was not with cleanliness. It was, they argued, with finding ways to avoid any collusion that would lead to an insurrection in those detention centres. Masters could have used white servants in France, but that necessitated paying them wages. The predicament was that planters visiting family and friends wanted their slaves with them, but the rest of the population and the French authorities did not want to see them on their streets. They also resented the fact that they had to contend with a wealthy group they would rather leave on the fringe of the empire. Consequently, all free black men and women from the colonies who arrived after the new laws had been passed were to be sent back to the colonies. A series of laws was also passed which aimed to discourage unions between black and white people. Marriages were forbidden but, as [Pierre H.] Boulle notes, Article 13 of the 1777 bill was redrafted. Instead of making such unions illegal, it stated that children born from them had to wait four generations before they could hold office. In the end, however, Article 13 was removed from the bill altogether.

⸻ pp. 84–85

Emphasis mine, for comparison to erosions of (pathways to) citizenship since and elsewhere.

The Boulle citation is for ‘Racial Purity or Legal Clarity? The Status of Black Residents in Eighteenth‐Century France’ in Journal of Historical Society, vol. 6, no. 1 (2006), pp. 19–46.

This passage also draws on Sue Peabody, ‘There Are No Slaves in France’: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

41.6. Joseph Boulogne continued to charm

#passing references to oppression and prejudice

The Chevalier de Saint‐Georges, as [Joseph Boulogne] was then known, continued to charm most people he met[…]

[…] and earned further approval from most elite women in Paris. Joseph had played in a theatre that was dear to Madame de Montesson, a playwright with influence. She took Joseph under her wing and put him in charge of concerts at that theatre. Madame de Montesson, a marquise who had married the Duke of Orléans, was going to introduce Joseph to her husband. Shortly after that the two men became inseparable. The Duke, a freemason, introduced Joseph to freemasonry, and he became a member of the Lodge of the Nine Sisters. Joseph is believed to have been one of the first black freemasons in mainland France. In 1778, Mozart was in Paris. The Chevalier de Saint‐Georges was the best composer and musician of the kingdom, but Mozart, despite his father’s orders, refused to attend one of his concerts and meet him. Not all famous eighteenth‐century musicians reacted that way, however. In 1787, Joseph asked composer Josef Haydn for six pieces of music. Haydn provided them and Joseph directed them at an exclusive and highly praised concert. In 1785, the Duke of Orléans died. Joseph lost a dear friend and a powerful protector. This rapidly resulted in a severe loss of income for Joseph.

Joseph had been very fond of English history and culture. The passing of the Duke prompted a need for a change of scenery and a search for a new income. Despite his charm, the Chevalier de Saint‐Georges had always earned an income by working very hard and devoting his time to a variety of activities. He made several trips to London, where his reputation had preceded him. In 1787 he fought an organised duel with another fencing master, the Chevalière d’Eon. The Chevalière, or Chevalier, had earned a reputation as a skilful spy and a fantastic fighter. By the time she crossed swords with Joseph she identified and lived as a woman. The Prince of Wales attended the duel. Joseph was inspired by his encounter with the Chevalière d’Eon. On his return to Paris, he wrote a two‐act comedy entitled La Fille garçon, or The Girl Boy [sic]. The piece was extremely successful, and a positive review appeared in the Journal de Paris in 1787.

The Revolution started in 1789. Joseph appears to have taken the new Duke of Orléans to safety. The duke, later known as Philippe Égalité, had got involved with the Jacobin Club and Georges Danton in particular. Joseph decided to return to France to help the revolutionaries. His mission was to find people of African descent who were ready to support and take up arms for the revolutionaries. He managed to find a few of them, including the son of a planter and an enslaved woman, Thomas Retoré Dumas, later to be father of the author of The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas[…]

⸻ pp. 90–91

When Otele covers so much, so swiftly, with such fluidly, it is a joy.

Joseph Boulogne references she gives include:

  • M. La Boëssière, Traité de l’art des armes: à l’usage des professeurs et des amateurs, Didot, 1818, pp. xv–xxii
  • Alain Guédé, Monsieur de Saint‐George: Virtuoso, Swordsman, Revolutionary: A Legendary Life Rediscovered, trans. Gilda M. Roberts, Picador, 2003
  • Lionel de La Laurencie and Frederick H. Martens, ‘The Chevalier de Saint‐George: Violinist’ in The Musical Quarterly, vol. 5, no. 1 (1919)
  • Claude Ribbe, Le Chevalier de Saint‐George, Éditions Perrin, 2004
  • Emil F. Smidak, Joseph Boulogne, Called Chevalier de Saint‐Georges, Avenira Foundation, 1996

At the close of Otele’s account of Boulogne’s life, posthumous erasure, and eventual memorialisation, she brings in broader social analysis from Crystal M. Fleming, Resurrecting Slavery: Racial Legacies and White Supremacy in France, Temple University Press, 2017.

42. [A] Shelley PARKER‐CHAN, She who became the sun (London: Mantle 2021)

  • Took notes circa June 2022.

42.1. the world gripped your body

That was the world of greatness, out there an that distant plain. As Zhu gazed at it, she felt a pull in her middle. It was different from the feeling she’d had as a child of twelve — the abstract curiosity of what it would feel like to jump. This was the feeling of having jumped. After the jump, but before the fall: the moment the world gripped your body in preparation for bringing it back to where it belonged. It was the feel of a force that couldn’t be overcome by will, that belonged to the world itself. Fate, Zhu thought abruptly.

⸻ pg. 73

Metaphysics and dance.

42.2. the cleanest and hottest of the emotions

Loathing, shame, and anger rushed through him as a series of escalating internal temperatures. The anger, when it finally came, was a relief. It was the cleanest and hottest of the emotions; it scoured him of everything else that might have lingered.

⸻ pg. 123

42.3. the promise of difference, made real

#spoiler; sex‐and‐gender, vulnerabilities

[Ma’s] anger was punctured by [Zhu’s] unexpected honesty. Or what seems like honesty. With a flash of pain she realized she wanted to believe it. She wanted to believe he was different; that he was the kind of man who saw his own flaws, and who needed her as much as she needed him. “You want me to believe you’re different,” she said, and to her shame her voice cracked. “That you can give me something different. But how can I trust that? I can’t.”

To her surprise a wrenching look passed over Zhu’s face. Vulnerability and a shadow of fear, something she had never seen in him before, and it unmoored her more than anything else that had passed between them. “I can see how it would be hard to trust,” he said. His voice had that odd inflection of understanding in it again, and Ma had absolutely no idea what it meant.

He set aside the book and rose, and started to untie his shirt. It was so bizarre that Ma found herself watching with a floating feeling that seemed half paralysis and half acceptance, as if she were a dreamer borne along by the strangeness of the dream. It was only when Zhu’s bare shoulders slid into view that she came back to life with a jolt of embarrassment. She jerked her face away. It was hardly the first male skin she’d seen, but for some reason her face was burning. She heard his clothes fall.

Then his cool fingers were on her face, turning it back. He said, “Look.”

Their bodies were so close, the clothed and the unclothed, and with that same sense of dreamlike acceptance Ma saw in the other her own reflection as seen waveringly in a bowl of water.

Zhu watched her look. Her face had a flayed vulnerability, something so raw and terrible that Ma flinched to see it. It made her think of someone baring a mortal wound they dared not look at themselves, for fear of the reality of it undoing them in an instant.

Zhu spoke calmly, but beneath the surface Ma sensed a shivering horror. “Ma Xiuying. Do you see something you want?”

I’m a woman, Ma had cried to Zhu in despair. Now, as she looked at the person standing before her in a body like her own, she saw someone who seemed neither male nor female, but another substance entirely: something wholly and powerfully of its own kind. The promise of difference, made real. With a sensation of vertiginous terror, Ma felt the rigid pattern of her future falling away, until all that was left was the blankness of pure possibility.

She took Zhu’s small, calloused hand and felt its warmth flow into her until the hollow space of her chest blazed with everything she’d never let herself feel. She was yielding to it, being consumed by it, and it was the most beautiful and frightening thing she’d ever felt. She wanted. She wanted everything Zhu was offering with that promise of difference. Freedom, and desire, and her life to make her own. And if the price of all of that was suffering, why did it matter when she would suffer no matter what she chose?

She said, “Yes.”

⸻ pp. 253–254

Attention bookclub.

42.4. so so so somatic

The writing is sharp; honed and clear. The setting is profoundly inhabited, in a way quite unusual among fictional composition. An awesome meeting of characteristics.

43. [D] Bruce PASCOE, Dark emu: black seeds: agriculture or accident (ABC Audio 2017), audiobook download

  • Took notes circa April 2022.

43.1. tedious and mean

#the settler-colonial project etc

My opinion of Dark Emu, based on several flicks in and out a few years ago, amounted to grave disappointment in each of raving book-lender, skilled story-teller, and exciting publisher.

The second of the three, Bruce Pascoe, achieved the most monumental feat — especially for such a practiced raconteur and fierce devotee of his thesis — of rendering the inexhaustibly rich and intricate an aching bore. Extruded from a staunchly colonial corpus, observations (and more so their concomitant filters) were massed so carelessly over the argument of the book as to homogenise, beyond any real remnant intelligibility, the author’s representation of the pre-Invasion world(s) that he sought to (of all incongruous, unnecessary things) exonerate.

Shockingly, throughout each of the fumbling passages that I read, Uncle’s own framings and phrasings were disparaging and elitist; colluding in the task of replicating Western empire’s wrenchings of cultures into its dehumanising hierarchy, perpetuating the same ideological enormity upon which the lie of terra nullius fed, feeds. Rather than challenge the chauvinisms of British-cum-Australian occupation, the text sought to reposition the continent’s Aboriginal civilisation (including, on the odd moment he remembered, that of Zenadth Kes) more prestigiously within reinforced models of those. Scant to no understanding was demonstrated that one might celebrate, say, achievements in urban planning, without belittling those engaged in nomadic practices; or that farmers and foragers might both be respectable, deserving of self-determination in relationship with land/waters, or in no way fair game for genocide. (Being in selective quotation), citations even from settlers known to have gone in for overt massacre often came across the milder.

Yet as a speaker, Pascoe has the benefit of some charisma, the invocation of his more dependable and thoughtful — choice — public insights. It becomes easier to tolerate the dry and the spiteful, melded into the patient delivery of a casually cruel character who burbles on with or without the listener’s collaboration; where to read print (for meaning) is to necessarily engage in the cognitive manifestation of oncoming ideas, judgements, conceptualisations in a more immediate way, which (in such lifelessly skatable writing especially) can leave them overwhelmingly raw. But the audiobook is in, mostly, the kind of dreary Reading Aloud Voice that seems to take any attention for granted. Forty anorak-modelling minutes between structural thrusts can soften a text. As can ambiguity of quotations’ extents.

Still, in speech too, Dark Emu is worded to make its distance by the white, outmoded, institutional (even quasi-assimilationist?) book and throw societies under the bus. It serves as a project of pandering, a betrayal, a rejection of solidarity, robbings of validity, shoring up of shonky-scientific supposition, and a push to gamble entire peoples’ standing on a single proposition: an all too eager appeal to racism and its mechanisms of oppression.

44. [C] David PEARSON Books as history: the importance of books beyond their texts (London & New Castle: The British Library and Oak Knoll Press 2011)

  • Took notes circa June 2022.

44.1. starting reading

Four months after first starting to seek out a copy of this to borrow, I have forgotten who it was who piqued my interest in it. There was a bookish conversation on BookWyrm crossing my feed some intriguing titles came up in, but when is there not? Anyway, thanks, people!

44.2. patterns of ownership

[…] we learn a lot more about [books’] historical influence and reckoned worth when we have copies which have been through the hands of successive owners. Books develop their own individual histories which become part of our wider historical heritage and evidence base. We have a series of values in our minds about the relative worth of authors of the past, influenced by the standards of our own age and layers imposed by previous generations; if we wish to truly understand their impact and standing among their contemporaries, we should look at patterns of ownership and the ways in which books were treated. Today, we regard John Donne’s poems as his major achievement, but seventeenth‐century catalogues show that in his own time, his sermons were more likely to be found on library shelves.

The possibilities of this approach to books have been demonstrated by Owen Gingerich, who carried out a detailed survey of all known surviving copies of the first two editions of Copnicus’s De revolutionibus. By recording the ownership, annotations and other physical features of over 600 copies, spread around the world, Gingerich was able to show how quickly the book was acquired by sixteenth‐century astronomers across Europe, how that network of experts shared and communicated ideas, and how receptive (or otherwise) those first generations of readers were to Copernicus’s heliocentric theories. There is a growing industry in this kind of scholarship, looking closely at various kinds of copy‐specific evidence in books to gain a better understanding of their impact on earlier readers. The history of reading, and of marginalia and other marks in books, have all become flourishing areas of study.

⸻ pp. 24–25

44.3. to the framework within which meaning is constructed

The meaning or interpretation of a text is not something absolute, but is endlessly recreated through the experiences of successive readers; typography, layout, physical format and everything surrounding the words themselves all contribute to the framework within which meaning is constructed.

⸻ pg. 34

44.4. the codex format

The book, in its physical manifestation with which we are so familiar, is a highly functional piece of design which is pleasing to use and to look at, to hold in the hand and to turn the pages. The idea of putting text onto double sided pages, and sewing leaves together — the codex format, the shape of the book as we know it — emerged in the Near East in the first few centuries AD and the subsequent longevity of the design, which has yet to be superseded by anything that can match it for portability and all‐round usability, testifies to its success. Books are effective, as well as satisfying, objects.

⸻ pp. 34 & 39

I might have some bones to pick, but this is an okay starting point for assessing utility of the format.

44.5. imaginative book art

The Livre d’artiste, the Artist’s Book, is a concept generally agreed to have begun in France around the beginning of the twentieth century, with the creation of works like the Vollard edition of Verlaine’s Parallelement (1900, overleaf), bringing graphic artists and creative writers together in order to produce something which is meant to transcend a mere illustrated book. It is since the later twentieth century that more imaginative book art has really flourished, as artists have sought to begin not so much with the idea of words and images, as with the physical form of the book itself, and create works that spring at least as much from the concept of book as that of text. Aunt Sallie’s Lament by Margaret Kaufman is, at one level, a poem about making quilts; it is presented on multishaped pages, reflecting a patchwork quilt, that can be opened in different sequences to present various combinations of words. In this case the impact of the words on their own, without the physical form in which they are presented, would be much diminished. Nicanor Parra’s Antibook comprises a series of short poems which in codex format presents snatches of text in erratic patterns; the pages have to be taken apart and folded into a 3‐D polyhedron in order to see the text complete, and joined up. Perhaps the ultimate step along this road is the creation of works like Keith Smith’s String Book, which has textless blank pages with varying numbers of holes, through which string is passed; turning the pages produces an experience which is visual, tactile and aural. It is an artwork which depends primarily on the physical form of the book for its effectiveness and concentrates the mind on the book as an object. Can a book be a book without words?

⸻ pg. 71

Paging zine club.

44.6. multiplicity, and uniform identity

Printed books — the physical artefacts we hold in our hands — are manufactured objects. At the broadest and simplest theoretical level we can think of their creation as a production line that starts with raw materials and churns out multiple copies of essentially identical artefacts. Multiplicity, and uniform identity, are important concepts here; this is what the invention of printing brought about, the ability to mass produce lots of copies of a particular text, set in metal type and impressed onto paper, so that many readers can have the same thing all at once. It is an important distinguishing feature between printed books and manuscript books, written by hand […]

There are in fact all kinds of reasons as to why this generalisation may be an oversimplification, as things can happen either deliberately or accidentally during the manufacturing process to introduce variety.

⸻ pg. 77

Opening of chapter three, ‘Individuality within mass production’.

44.7. errata slips and cancels

Mistakes that were felt to be unacceptable could be dealt with by printing small errata slips with the correct reading, to be pasted over the offending passage, or by printing whole new leaves of text which would be substituted for the originals when the book came to be bound up. These leaves, known as cancels, are usually readily detectable by the stubs left when single sheets are inserted into the folded gatherings of a book[…]

These are all manifestations of variety which result from things that happen in the printing process. Some of them are trivial, others less so […] Cancelled text can be more significant, by revealing authorial intentions or changes that had to be made in the light of contemporary political sensitivities[…] This kind of thing happens with modern books as well as old ones, which may have to be changed at the last minute for legal reasons[…]

⸻ pp. 80–81

44.8. handle on the vagaries

Bibliographers developed the concept of ‘ideal copy’ to try to get an intellectual handle on the vagaries of book production processes. It rests on the idea that for every edition of every book that was printed as a distinct project within a printing house, there is a perfect version which represents what the author and the printer intended to produce[…] In recent years, the validity of ideal copy has increasingly been questioned, as people recognise that texts, and the way they were perceived by early readers, were more fluid things than can be encompassed in such a theory.

⸻ pg. 81

44.9. surrogate‐irreplaceable

Libraries have typically assumed that the interest in their books lies solely with their texts, and they have focused their activities accordingly. Library catalogues have traditionally concentrated on authors and titles, with scant attention given (until recently) to copy‐specific information on owners and bindings. Repair work has been directed first and foremost on the need to have a sturdy vehicle for the reading of texts. These kinds of values are turned on their head by the new ease with which texts can be circulated in digital or other facsimile. A sixteenth‐century edition of Chaucer in a twentieth‐century binding, with no annotations and all traces of previous ownership removed through rebinding processes, is still a historic object, but what it has to offer to readers and scholars is often equally well provided by the multitude of electronic and paper‐based surrogates which are now available. It also has little that distinguishes it from another copy which has had similar treatment. Gabriel Harvey’s copy of the 1598 Chaucer, on the other hand, with his inscription and copious notes on contemporary poets, including the earliest known reference to Hamlet, is clearly a unique and irreplaceable object.

⸻ pp. 94–95

Breaking his own argument here, I fear*, is Pearson.

*I don’t fear; I find neither the elitist hoarding mode of curatorship, nor the presupposition of universal and permanent availability of institutionally compatible electronic computers to be sympathetic stances.

44.10. sequence of squib and counter‐squib

Annotations in books may be important not only because of what they can tell us about the annotator and his views on the world, but also because they may contain significant information about the text and its publication, which may not be available elsewhere. George Thomason (1600?–66), a bookseller in London during the Civil War, assembled a unique collection of about 23,000 of the pamphlets, tracts, handbills and news‐sheets which poured from the press during that period of political upheaval. Their value as texts for historians is enhanced by Thomason’s habit of noting the actual day of publication on each item, so the exact sequence of squib and counter‐squib can be established.

⸻ pp. 120–121

44.11. they may mark for editions which may not have come

Author’s own copies of the books they publish can be particularly interesting if they use them to record their later thoughts on the texts which become frozen and unchangeable once the printing press has done its work (unlike texts we write today and hold in electronic form). They may note corrections, additions, or changes of their ideas, or they may mark them up to become the copy text for later editions which may or may not have come to publication.

⸻ pp. 121–122

Hm, grammatical mood and tense.

44.12. commonly issued in a range of binding choices

If you gather together twenty copies of a sixteenth‐century book, or an eighteenth‐century one, from different libraries and collections, the chances are that every one will have a different binding, with its own set of historical messages. Multiple copies of a twentieth‐century book will probably be uniform as regards bindings (subject to wear and tear and the possible loss of the dust jacket), but twenty copies of a nineteenth‐century book are likely to show some variety. Until quite late in the century, books were still commonly issued in a range of binding choices, including different grades of quality and various colours and patterns of cloth.

⸻ pp. 152–153

45. [D] Michael POLLAN, The botany of desire: a plant’s‐eye view of the world (London: Bloomsbury 2002)

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

45.1. noughties surprises hanging @ page 86

Between this and Noam Chomsky’s Failed States (both noughties surprises among my assigned loans this month), I cannot quite get over the library’s still hanging onto select books for more than five years. I had the impression that this lot turfed everything within a decade, nowdays, but… these aren’t even reprints.…

45.2. genes are archives of cultural information

After ten thousand years of coevolution, [domesticated plants’] genes are rich archives of cultural as well as natural information. The DNA of that tulip there, the ivory one with the petals attenuated like sabers, contains detailed instructions on how best to catch the eye not of a bee but of an Ottoman Turk; it has something to tell us about that age’s idea of beauty. Likewise, every Russet Burbank potato holds within it a treatise about our industrial food chain — and our taste for long, perfectly golden french fries.

⸻ pg. xv

Introduction, pg. xv

45.3. artificial as in artifact: a thing reflecting human will

[Charles] Darwin devoted the first chapter of The Origin of Species to a special case of natural selection called ‘artificial selection’ — his term for the process by which domesticated species come into the world. Darwin was using the word artificial not as in fake but as in artifact: a thing reflecting human will. There’s nothing fake about a hybrid rose or a butter pear, a cocker spaniel or a show pigeon.

⸻ pg. xx

‘Introduction’, pg xx

45.4. the redemptive American ground

In the process of changing the land, [John ‘Johnny Appleseed’] Chapman also changed the apple — or rather, made it possible for the apple to change itself. If Americans like Chapman had planted only grafted trees — if Americans had eaten rather than drunk their apples — the apple would not have been able to remake itself and thereby adapt to its now home. It was the seeds, and the cider, that gave the apple the opportunity to discover by trial and error the precise combination of traits required to prosper in the New World. From Chapman’s vast planting of nameless cider apple seeds came some of the great American cultivars of the nineteenth century.

Looked at from this angle, planting seeds instead of clones was an extraordinary act of faith in the American land, a vote in favor of the new and unpredictable as against the familiar and European. In this Chapman was making the pioneers’ classic wager, betting on the fresh possibilities that might grow from seeds planted in the redemptive American ground. This happens to be nature’s wager too, hybridization being one of the ways nature brings newness into the world. John Chapman’s millions of seeds and thousands of miles changed the apple, and the apple changed America. No wonder Johnny Appleseed has shaken off the historians and biographers and climbed into our mythology.

⸻ pg. 46

Was it though? Can faith be retrospectively injected?

45.5. Lâle Devri imperial gardens

#animals as fixtures

Each spring for a period of weeks the imperial gardens were filled with prize tulips (Turkish, Dutch, Iranian), all of them shown to their best advantage. Tulips whose petals had flexed too wide were held shut with fine threads hand‐tied. Most of the bulbs had been grown in place, but these were supplemented by thousands of cut stems held in glass bottles; the scale of the display was further compounded by mirrors placed strategically around the garden. Each variety was marked with a label made from silver filigree. In place of every fourth flower a candle, its wick trimmed to tulip height, was set into the ground. Songbirds in gilded cages supplied the music, and hundreds of giant tortoises carrying candles on their backs lumbered through the gardens, further illuminating the display. All the guests were required to dress in colors that flattered those of the tulips. At the appointed moment a cannon sounded, the doors the the harem were flung open, and the sultan’s mistresses stepped into the garden led by eunuchs bearing torches. The whole scene was repeated every night for as long as the tulips were in bloom, for as long as Sultan Ahmed [III] managed to cling to his throne.

⸻ pg. 90

In the Lâle Devri.

Would Pollan write like a damped‐down colonial travelogue about a modern Western expo? Quite possibly, the book’s a drowsy revel in unprompted questionable literary voice.

I’ve picked one of the subtler examples, because it was all too wearisome.

45.6. tulips as commodities, color breaks destroyed

The virus [responsible for broken tulips] works by partially and irregularly suppressing the anthocyanin, thereby allowing a portion of the underlying color to show through. It wasn’t until the 1920s, after the invention of the electron microscope, that scientists discovered the virus was being spread from tulip to tulip by Myzus persicae, the peach potato aphid[…]

By the 1920s the Dutch regarded their tulips as commodities to trade rather than jewels to display, and since the virus weakened the bulbs it infected (the reason the offsets of broken tulips were so small and few in number), Dutch growers set about ridding their fields of the infection. Color breaks, when they did occur, were promptly destroyed, and a certain peculiar manifestation of natural beauty abruptly lost its claim on human affection.

⸻ pg. 97

45.7. American jurisprudence, medieval animism

#war on drugs

[…] according to the somewhat magical reasoning of the federal asset‐forfeiture laws, my garden can be found guilty of violating the drug laws even if I am not. The titles of proceedings brought under these laws sound rather less like exercises in American jurisprudence than medieval animism: United States v. One 1974 Cadillac Eldorado Sedan.

⸻ pg. 136

45.8. forgetting is a mental operation

Don’t be so sure that forgetting is undesirable, [Raphael Mechoulam] suggested. ‘Do you really want to remember all the faces you saw on the New York City subway this morning?’

Mechoulam’s somewhat oblique comment helped me begin to appreciate that forgetting is vastly underrated as a mental operation — indeed, that it is a mental operation, rather than, as I’d always assumed, strictly a breakdown of one[…] Think how quickly the sheer volume and multiplicity of sensory information we receive every waking minute would overwhelm our consciousness if we couldn’t quickly forget a great deal more of it than we remember.


‘If we could hear the squirrel’s heartbeat, the sound of the grass growing, we should die of that roar,’ George Eliot once wrote. Our mental health depends on a mechanism for editing the moment‐by‐moment ocean of sensory data flowing into our consciousness down to a manageable trickle of the noticed and remembered. The cannabinoid network appears to be part of that mechanism, vigilantly sifting the vast chaff of sense impression from the kernels of perception we need to remember if we’re to get through the day and get done what needs to be done. Much depends on forgetting.

⸻ pg. 175

Elided is an inventory of the author’s observations in a given moment at his desk.

It seems to me that this chapter of Pollan’s (‘Marijuana’) tends to jumble ideas about qualia, short‐term memory, long‐term memory, sensory capacity, sensory perception, attention, and awareness more than always works for the specifics he is trying to get at.

However, his vague universalising does inadvertently invite various interesting questions about neurodiversity.

45.9. jealousy guard the borders

Even so, the use of drugs for spiritual purposes feels cheap and false. Perhaps it is our work ethic that is offended — you know, no pain, no gain. Or maybe it is the provenance of the chemicals that troubles us, the fact that they come from outside. Especially in the Judeo‐Christian West, we tend to define ourselves by the distance we’ve put between ourselves and nature, and we jealousy guard [sic] the borders between matter and spirit as proof of our ties to the angels. The notion that spirit might turn out in some sense to be matter (and plant matter, no less!) is a threat to our sense of separateness and godliness. Spiritual knowledge comes from above or within, but surely not from plants. Christians have a name for someone who believes otherwise: pagan.


The fact that witches and sorcerers were the first Europeans to exploit the psychoactive properties of cannabis probably sealed its fate in the West as a drug identified with feared outsiders and cultures conceived in opposition: pagans, Africans, hippies. The two stories fed each other and in turn the plant’s power: people who smoked cannabis were Other, and the cannabis they smoked threatened to let their Otherness loose in the land.

⸻ pp. 186 & 188

“The two stories” are of Hassan ibn al Sabbah’s Assassins and of witches using cannabis in the place of the Catholic Eucharist’s wine.

45.10. short‐circuits the metaphysics of desire

#drugs, religion, medicine, & consumerism

Paracelsus’ grand project, which arguably is still going on today, represents one of the many ways the Judeo‐Christian tradition has deployed its genius to absorb, or co‐opt, the power of the pagan faith it set out to uproot. In much the same way that the new monotheism folded into its rituals the people’s traditional pagan holidays and spectacles, it desperately needed to do something about their ancient devotion to magic plants. Indeed, the story of the forbidden fruit in Genesis suggests that nothing was more important.


Christianity and capitalism are both probably right to detest a plant like cannabis. Both faiths bid us to set our sights on the future; both reject the pleasures of the moment and the senses in favor of the expectation of a fulfillment yet to come — whether by earning salvation or by getting and spending. More even than most plant drugs, cannabis, by immersing us in the present and offering something like fulfillment here and now, short‐circuits the metaphysics of desire on which Christianity and capitalism (and so much else in our civilization) depend.

⸻ pp. 189–190

Which each include a footnote — respectively, one on the quest to ‘pharmaceuticalize’ medicine…

[…] that doctors can prescribe, corporations patent, and governments regulate. Whenever possible, Paracelsus’s lab‐coated descendants have synthesized the active ingredients in plant drugs, allowing medicine to dispense with the plant itself — and any reminders of its pagan past.

…and another expanding on an economic reading of highs:

David Lenson draws a useful distinction between drugs of desire (cocaine, for example) and drugs of pleasure, such as cannabis. ‘Cocaine promises the greatest pleasure ever known in just a minute more … But that future never comes.’ In this respect the cocaine experience is a ‘savage mimicry of consumer consciousness.’ With cannabis or the psychedelics, on the other hand, ‘pleasure can come from natural beauty, domestic tasks, friends and relatives, conversation, or any number of objects that do not need to be purchased.’

45.11. for every ecological niche

#cultural imperialism

The Incas figured out how to grow impressive yields of potatoes under the most inauspicious conditions, developing an approach that is still in use in parts of the Andes today. A more or less vertical habitat presents special challenges to both plants and their cultivators, because the microclimate changes dramatically with every change in altitude or orientation to the sun and wind. A potato that thrives on one side of a ridge at one altitude will languish in another plot only a few steps away. No monoculture could succeed under such circumstances, so the Incas developed a method of farming that is monoculture’s exact opposite. Instead of betting the farm on a single cultivar, the Andean farmer, then as now, made a great many bets, at least one for every ecological niche. Instead of attempting, as most farmers do, to change the environment to suit a single optimal spud — the Russet Burbank, say — the Incas developed a different spud for every environment.

To Western eyes, the resulting farms look patchy and chaotic […]

Since the margins and hedgerows of the Andean farm were, and still are, populated by weedy wild potatoes, the farmer’s cultivated varieties have regularly crossed with their wild relatives, in the process refreshing the gene pool and producing new hybrids. Whenever one of these new potatoes proves its worth — surviving a drought or storm, say, or winning praise at the dinner table — it is promoted from the margins to the fields and, in time, to the neighbors’ fields as well. Artificial selection is thus a continual local process, each new potato the product of an ongoing back‐and‐forth between the land and its cultivators, mediated by the universe of all possible potatoes: the species’ genome.

⸻ pp. 207–208

Much of the framing here and throughout the book irritates me. Part of it is that although Pollan periodically acknowledges that his own present culture’s dominating interpretations of the world aren’t universal, he still writes as though they apply everywhere and furnishes them positions of supremacy: No monoculture could survive… so the Incas developed a method. What’s inauspicious about country optimised to support a fantastically diverse crop? Which “Western eyes”, even, are these, considering that even among Western traditions of food production there are more than the regimes of vast uniformity Pollan suggests? (Would that better be “the Westernised”?)

Further nuisances: Talking up the value of involving wild potatoes but making their own “worth” select. The obsession with inviolate species. The stubborn maintenance of dichotomy. And so on. Perhaps the more flagrant turns prime the hypersensitivity in me?

45.12. thoughtlessly chalking


One sultry afternoon I watched the bumblebees making their rounds of my [Monsanto NewLeaf] potato blossoms, thoughtlessly chalking themselves with yellow pollen grains before lumbering off to appointments with other blossoms, other species.


The [/Bacillus thuringiensis/ (Bt)] toxin, which is produced by a bacterium that occurs naturally in the soil, is generally thought to be safe for humans, yet the Bt in genetically modified crops is behaving a little differently from the ordinary Bt that farmers have been spraying on their crops for years. Instead of quickly breaking down in nature, as it usually does, genetically modified Bt toxin seems to be building up in the soil. This may be insignificant; we don’t know. (We don’t really know what Bt is doing in soil in the first place.) We also don’t know what effect all this new Bt in the environment may have on the insects we don’t want to kill, though there are reasons to be concerned. In laboratory experiments scientists have found that the pollen from Bt corn is lethal to monarch butterflies. Monarchs don’t eat corn pollen, but they do eat, exclusively, the leaves of milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), a weed that is common in American cornfields. When monarch caterpillars eat milkweed leaves dusted with Bt corn pollen, they sicken and die. Will this happen in the field? And how serious will the problem be if it does? We don’t know.

⸻ pp. 226–227

How cute an opening to a horror story can you get.

46. [A] Nina Mingya POWLES, Small bodies of water (Canongate Books 2021), audiobook download

  • Took notes circa June/July 2022.

46.1. distribute notations

Listening to the spoken recording now, and have been offered a read of a print copy soon too. Not sure how the BookWyrm software will react to attempts to distribute notations across multiple editions of the one title. Hope it works!

46.2. salon talking‐bookery

Powles commits to the reading — deft and soft — as though performing poetry, expertly.

47. [D] Leah PURCELL, The drover’s wife: the legend of Molly Johnson (Hamish Hamilton 2019)

  • Took notes in August 2022.

47.1. annoyin’

It’s annoyin’, when anythin’ and everythin’ endin’ in a particular syllable cops one of them blasted needless apostrophes slappin’ right into it.

You can just stop at the n, people!

48. [A] Rob SCOTT, Neil BLAKE, Jeannie CAMPBELL, Doug EVANS, & Nicholas WILLIAMS, Indigenous plants of the Sandbelt: a gardening guide for South‐eastern Melbourne (Melbourne: Earthcare St Kilda 2002)

  • Took notes circa March/April 2022.

48.1. plants as expression of geology

To appreciate the character of local plants it is worth considering them as an expression of the geology of the broader region which has been sculpted by nature over millions of years.

⸻ pg. 6

48.2. ferns of Swamp Scrub

In very old stands of Swamp Scrub ground ferns[11] and even tree‐ferns[12] can be present.

⸻ pg. 19

Footnotes: “11. Blechnum species, Calochlaena dubia, Gleichenia species, Pteris tremula, Hypolepis rugosula 12. e.g. /Dicksonia antartica/”

I would like to make visits to some of these Swamp Scrub tree‐ferns!

48.3. cliffs removed

The Little Red Bluff cliffs at Point Ormond were removed in ‘beautification’ works in the early 1900s.

⸻ pg. 25

/Un/believable — by which I mean, look, I do believe…

48.4. salt‐prune dependence

[…] Cushion Bush and Coast Atriplex[…] depend on the salt wind to prune them[…]

⸻ pg. 38

48.5. nutrients‐ soils

Indigenous plants have adapted to thrive in soils that are typically low in nutrients. Some species are fussier than others; for example, banksias, hakeas, acacias, daviesias and pultenaeas are sensitive to, and will not tolerate, high phosphorus ('P') levels.

Some species will grow to a larger size in more nutrient‐rich soils. For example, Blackwood growing in the richer soils of Victorian rainforests can become large trees, while specimens in the nutrient‐poor soils of the Sandbelt usually grow no larger than a tall shrub.

⸻ pg. 39

That Blackwood sort of detail I find so awing, given the species’ at‐homeness in both settings.

48.6. mulch–weed edge‐over

The main disadvantage of organic mulches is that they can add nutrients to the soil as they decompose and give weeds an edge over the local species[…]

Mulch is not used by some experienced indigenous plant gardeners and in certain revegetation projects where renewal of plants through natural self‐seeding is actively encouraged.

⸻ pg. 40

Worth a think about, when I have more time for weeding.

48.7. difficult choice need

Without the balance of a diverse and complex ecosystem as found in good quality natural bushland, some native animals, including insects, can be a nuisance. Possums and sawfly larvae can strip young eucalypts of their foliage, sometimes fatally. If the native animal is going to kill your desired plants the difficult choice needs to be made between fauna and flora.

⸻ pg. 47

Without case studies to consider, I am sceptical of this conclusion. For instance, possums could be obstructed from such struggling young trees until their preferred intensity of foliage‐stripping may be supported, and provided with other options in the interim.

48.8. first metre or so retained

Tree hollows provide important shelter for a range of animals, but are relatively rare in urban areas. You may have one or more mature trees on your property that from time to time may require the removal of an old or dead limb. When the time comes to have this limb removed you could arrange to have some of the hollow limb or dead wood (say the first metre or so) retained on the tree, thus making it safe and retaining value as habitat.

⸻ pg. 56

Gonna spend my travels peering hopefully at all big loppings now!

48.9. imagine you are the sun

Imagine you are the sun at midday in winter. Looking into your garden from the north, which area is most exposed to your gaze yet offers, or can be provided with, safe refuge immediately adjacent? Once you’ve identified this site your remaining design decisions can be fitted around it. This sunny spot may also be a good place to include some paving or seating, not only can it provide a place for skinks to bask, but like lizards, humans like to catch some rays in winter.

⸻ pg. 57

Echoes of Physics and Dance!

And yeah, humans too be wildlife / to attract to gardens.

48.10. ‘pests’ best

The impact of some ‘pests’ may only be short term, and simply tolerating them for a while can be the best solution. For example, the larvae of sawflies will often strip the foliage from 2–4‐year‐old eucalypts leaving the young tree looking bare and unhealthy. Typically the tree bounces back quickly with a flourish of new growth. Other ‘pests’ may be an important source of food for insect‐eating animals. For example the sugar secretions (lerps) produced by sap‐sucking psyllid insects are commonly found on the leaves of indigenous eucalypts. White‐plumed Honeyeaters regularly feed on lerps, as do some ant species, which go to the extent of tending and protecting the psyllids to maintain the supply.

⸻ pg. 58

Thank you.

48.11. 600m in a morning

This 600m stretch of Coast Saltbush at Point Ormond was planted in a morning by the community. It has halted soil erosion and provided habitat for Blue Wrens.

⸻ pg. 59


48.12. arthritis centella

Leaves from this plant [/Centella cordifolia/] are used widely to treat arthritis.

⸻ pg. 68

Tell me more!

48.13. untidy falling

[/Elymus scaber/] has an untidy habit of falling over and may not suit the formal garden[…]

⸻ pg. 95


48.14. karawun

Spiny‐headed Mat‐rush Lomandra longifolia


Useful for weaving mats, basket and fish traps, this plant was an important Kulin resource. The Wurundjeri name for the plant is Karawun.

⸻ pg. 99

48.15. interesting Philydrum

Woolly Water‐lily Philydrum lanuginosum


This is an interesting plant, which is in its own family. Unlike true lilies that have flower parts in threes; this plant has two petals. It can die back in dry periods but re‐shoots if it is not dry for too long. This is a good container plant. Used for Chinese medicine. A few plants were discovered in 2001 after not being seen locally for 80 years. Germinates prolifically from seed.

⸻ pg. 100

Just in time for inclusion in this guide!

48.16. a lovely grass

[Poa] morrisii Velvet Tussock‐grass is softer and can have greyish foliage — a lovely grass.

⸻ pg. 101

A lovely fondness.

48.17. Themeda emerald

The volcanic soil of South Melbourne supported this grass [/Themeda triandra/], giving the name Emerald Hill.

⸻ pg. 103

It was only recently I learnt that the name Emerald Hill was in reference to plant‐life, but I believe I heard it about a different family altogether.

48.18. climbers grown together

Many of these climbers can be grown together to create a more colourful and longer flowering mix[…]

⸻ pg. 104

Sure can.

48.19. Cranbourne Local‐Tragic

[/Epacris impressa/] is a beautiful plant best shown off in groups. A form from Cranbourne with double white flowers whose only known habitat has now been destroyed, is sold as ‘Cranbourne Bells’. Not available in large numbers.

⸻ pg. 111

“Not available in large numbers” is used in these listings to describe species as a whole. Anyway, more dotting of this friendly gardening guide with the Local‐Tragic.

48.20. Cassinia arcuata curry scent

Was Cassinia arcuata the “not long‐lived” shrub whose “flowers and seeds have a strong curry scent when crushed” [pg 120] who our Bun loved resting under? Sounds the right size, though I’m not sure about the form. And the leaves were saturated with the scent, too.

48.21. acacia‐gum glue

Easily grown, this tree [/Acacia mearnsii/] is relatively short‐lived – around 15 years. It provides good insect habitat and is useful for out‐competing weeds. Few plants will survive under its canopy. The Kulin people used the wood for making weapons; the bark provided twine and medicine; and the gum was a source of food, drink and an adhesive when mixed with ash. Be sure to allow plenty of room for this tree.

⸻ pg. 125

First glue of the volume?

48.22. bursaria‐leaf sunscreen

[/Bursaria spinosa/] leaves contain a natural sunscreen.

⸻ pg. 127

And how could this be the first sunscreen of the volume?

48.23. Sandbelt Eucalyptus camaldulensis limbs

River Red Gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis

[…] There is a common perception that Red Gums drop limbs, but the local form does not exhibit this tendency.

⸻ pg. 130

48.24. mature Eucalyptus melliodora specimens

Yellow Box Eucalyptus melliodora

[…] There are few remaining remnant trees in the local region, however mature trees can be seen near the Moorabbin railway station and at Alma Park, St Kilda.

⸻ pg. 131

48.25. detecting vegetation community

You will need to do some detective work to identify the most likely vegetation community that occupied your site, including its species composition, relative species abundances and distribution, and the structure of the vegetation. Nearby patches of large, old trees, natural vegetation, historical sources such as old photographs and local historical accounts, hydrological and geological records will provide clues to the nature of the original community[…] When determining the vegetation community that you will try to recreate, it is also important to consider the extent to which the site has been altered from its original state. Prior land use may have severely altered the soil profile and drainage patterns of your site, making it practically impossible to recreate particular communities of vegetation.

⸻ pg. 133

From an appendix [pp. 133–140] on revegetation.

48.26. staging densities

Ideally, your aim is to create a community of plants with a similar composition of species occurring in similar proportions, densities and distributions to what exists in natural vegetation. However this does not necessarily mean that initial planting densities should be the same as the plant densities found in mature vegetation. The plants are usually quite small when planted, meaning they would be widely spaced with large areas of bare ground in between. This bare ground is very open to colonisation by weeds that could quickly become time‐consuming and/or costly to control. Alternatively, planting at densities higher than your desired final densities, and allowing natural thinning to occur as the plants mature, will result in greater competition for weeds, but requires more plants and more labour to plant them.

Staged plantings may also provide benefits in terms of weed control (see below), spreading the costs, and increasing diversity of plant ages.

⸻ pg. 135

As you’d expect.

48.27. layer‐delaying

Ongoing weed control after planting also requires careful planning. One strategy is to plant trees and shrubs but delay the groundstory planting until subsequent years when the shade and competition for moisture and nutrients from the trees and shrubs is likely to have reduced the number of weeds.

⸻ pp. 135–140

48.28. shared Heathy Woodland / Sand Heath strata

Heathy Woodland has a very similar species composition to Sand Heath but has a greater abundance of trees.

Consequently the shrub, groundlayer and climber lists for the two communities have been combined here to illustrate the species richness of these strata in both communities.

⸻ pg. 136

A generous, apt decision.

48.29. native fauna interacts with weeds

An important consideration when planning weed control is the existing use by native fauna of weeds on site. A process of staged weed removal with subsequent replacement of alternative habitat may be necessary. To do this you will need to identify what fauna is using a site and how it interacts with the vegetation.

⸻ pg. 140

What a relief they do mention this.

48.30. revegetation supplement, not substitute

Although the quality of recreated vegetation communities is developing and improving all the time, they will never fully attain the complexity and functioning of the original communities they are modelled on. Therefore revegetation needs to be viewed as a supplement to, rather than a substitute for, the protection and improvement of existing remnant vegetation.

⸻ pg. 140

48.31. friends of the urban forest

Interesting to note the publication, in a list of community environment groups, of something with the term “urban forest” in it: “Friends of George St Reserve and the Urban Forest (Sandringham)” [pg 146]. I am curious as to who named it, when they did, and how it rang at the time.

49. [A] Azfar SHAFI & Ilyas NAGDEE, Race to the bottom: reclaiming antiracism (London: Pluto Press 2022)

  • Took notes in July 2022.

50. [A] Rubika SHAH (director), White riot (Smoking Bear 2019), D.V.D. video

  • Took notes circa April 2022.

51. [D] Merlin SHELDRAKE, Entangled life: how fungi make our worlds, change our minds, and shape our futures (Vintage 2021)

  • Took notes circa March/April 2022.

51.1. open questions agoraphobia

I have tried to find ways to enjoy the ambiguities that fungi present, but it’s not always easy to be comfortable in the space created by open questions. Agoraphobia can set in. It’s tempting to hide in small rooms built from quick answers.

⸻ pg. 15

Not something that I have been finding at all with the fungi, but an intriguing metaphor.

51.2. chemical bodies

The eighteenth century French physician Théophile de Bordeu asserted that each organism ‘does not fail to spread exhalations, an odour, emanations around itself … These emanations have taken on its style and its demeanour; they are, in fact, genuine parts of itself.’ A truffle’s fragrance and an orchid bee’s perfume may circulate beyond the flesh of each organism, but these fields of odour make up a part of their chemical bodies which overlap with one another like ghosts at a disco.

⸻ pg. 33

Almost touching some of my favourite concepts of body!

51.3. speculation in bodily form

Mycelium is a living, growing, opportunistic investigation — speculation in bodily form.

⸻ pp. 57–58

51.4. differently

Most plants – from a potted snapdragon to a giant sequoia – will develop differently when grown with different communities of mycorrhizal fungus. Basil plants for example, produce different profiles of the aromatic oils that make up their flavour when grown with different mycorrhizal strains. Some fungi have been found to make tomatoes sweeter than others; some change the essential oil profile of fennel, coriander and mint; some increase the concentration of iron and carotenoids in lettuce leaves, the antioxidant activity in artichoke heads, or the concentration of medicinal compounds in St John’s wort and echinacea.

⸻ pg. 148

Sheldrake often heavily uses “different” words (but not so many different ones).

51.5. involutionary momentum

The anthropologists Natasha Myers and Carla Hustak argue that the word ‘evolution’, which literally means ‘rolling outwards’, doesn’t capture the readiness of organisms to involve themselves in one another’s lives. Myers and Hustak suggest that the word ‘involution’ — from the word ‘involve’ — better describes this tendency: a ‘rolling, curling, turning inwards’. In their view, the concept of involution better captures the entangled pushing and pulling of ‘organisms constantly inventing new ways to live with and alongside one another’.

⸻ pg. 158

‘Involutionary momentum: affective ecologies and the science of plant/insect encounters’ on pages 74–118 of Differences 23 (2012) is the article Sheldrake cites of theirs.

51.6. may sound radical

These may sound like the delirious musings of someone buried up to their neck in decomposing wood chips, but a growing number of radical mycologists think exactly this.

⸻ pg. 196

Such is the determination with which this writer strives to present himself as so much wackier than he actually ever does come across, that I wonder how much it is a (subconscious?) recruitment tactic: see, Readers, radical mycology is not so strange to you, is it!

51.7. brewing a text on decomposition

Whatever their effect, I was fascinated by the process of brewing a historical text into being[…] Ultimately, these recipes were stories that made sense of how substances decomposed.

⸻ pg. 229

51.8. tell us delicious light coma depends physiology physiology

The ways in which we try to make sense of fungi often tell us as much about ourselves as the fungi we try to understand. The yellow staining mushroom (Agaricus xanthodermus) is described in most field guides as poisonous. A keen mushroom hunter with a large mycological library once told me about an old guidebook he owned, in which the same mushroom was described as ‘delicious, when fried’, although the author did add as an afterthought that the mushroom ‘may cause a light coma in those of weak constitution’. How you make sense of the yellow staining mushroom depends on your physiological make‐up. Although poisonous to most people, some are able to eat it without ill effect. How it is described will depend on the physiology of the person doing the describing.

⸻ pg. 233

Please, cull your manuscripts if they turn up like this, editors.

52. [F] Max TEGMARK, Life 3.0: being human in the age of Artificial Intelligence (Allen Lane 2017)

  • Took notes circa February 2022.

52.1. author as fuckwit @ page 38

tha z fuct (THA STKPW TPUBGT)

I never would’ve chosen this myself, but did hope to get a trashy sci‐fi buzz out of it at least! Sadly, that seems impossible in something this abysmally written and erroneously reasoned.

Willing to call it early: a staggering failure of a work, unless one considers the true object of it to be author as fuckwit.

(This overwhelming theme far surpassing singularity within a chapter).

52.2. kept losing

kept lose g (KEPT HRAOUZ G)

Burgeoning upstart companies typically weren’t publicly traded, with the justification that profit‐making share‐holders would block their massive spending on community projects. Thus the global stock market kept loosing value, threatening both finance tycoons and regular citizens who’d counted on their pension funds.

⸻ Max Tegmark, pg. 19

Here were the limited kicks’ best chance to be had. Tegmark awkwardly wedges in a dry fictional treatment he labels, with characteristic pretension, the “Prelude”. Oh what could have been! Now what was…

Shocker forthcoming: I am not a fin‐fiend – allowing this select plot point to spring from the page to me as a modest revelation. Back in the real world (i.e. outside of Tegmark’s billionaire‐buddies’ dinner‐party drivel), there’s been worry of late that a private take‐over of the local casino monopoly (hitherto share‐held) will frustrate efforts to sustain regulatory oversight and kill off a swathe of its accountability. So my mind had ventured to this territory. But I had never thought to consider… well, essentially, the size of stock markets relative to their surrounding economy affecting the size of stock markets relative to their surrounding economy. So thanks, gross book! You did me a learn!

52.2.1. kept losing [comment]

Perhaps the true failure was the reading we had in our hearts all along.

52.3. manifest destiny @ page 161

manu fest destn y (PHAPBL TPEFT TKEFPB KWREU)

There’s something ringing rather “manifest destiny” throughout this.

53. [D] Márcia TIBURI, The psycho‐cultural underpinnings of everyday fascism: dialogue as resistance (Bloombury Academic 2022)

  • Took notes in July 2022.

53.1. murky slowing @ page 95(?)

Dipped around about a month ago, then launched in a week or two later, but in so‐often murky writing, the going is slowing.

54. [C] Miriam TOEWS, Women Talking (London: Faber & Faber 2018)

  • Took notes circa March 2022.

54.1. to be seen not to

I replied that I came from a part of the world that had been established to be its own world, apart from the world. In a sense, I told her, my people (I remember drawing out the words “my people” ironically, and then immediately feeling ashamed and silently asking to be forgiven) don’t exist, or at least are supposed to be seen not to.

And perhaps it doesn’t take too long before you believe that you really don’t exist, she said. Or that your actual corporeal existence is a perversity.

⸻ pg. 9

54.2. perpetrated by or against

#violence, religious victim‐blameiness

By staying in Molotschna, she says, we women would be betraying the central tenet of the Mennonite faith, which is pacifism, because by staying we would knowingly be placing ourselves in a direct collision course with violence, perpetrated by us or against us.

⸻ pp. 103–104


55. [D] Jeff VANDERMEER, Dead Astronauts (London: 4th Estate 2021)

  • Took notes circa May 2022.

55.1. intricate garden combat

Moss against Moss, when it happened, rare, was like intricate garden combat. Between plants. Between obstinate weeds. Pugnacious. Sped up, slowed down. First one in retreat across a dusty yard full of skeletons and then the other. Add a third, a fourth Moss, drawn to the same reality, and there was in the confluence, the flux of outspread filaments and curling grasp nothing but the bliss of tiny flowers and exploding spores.

Until, finally, there was no difference between attacker and attacked, and no shame in cease‐fire, because Moss could not tell herself from her self.

⸻ pg. 69

I don’t think this is brilliant, but have been thinking of collecting some more of these sorts of passages.

55.2. for the world to be so up against you


You don’t know where to look now, after the encounter with the salamander. You don’t know what to do. The eye of the salamander confronts you. Challenges you. The words it spoke to you in the language you’ll never understand. You can never ask it what it wants or what it needs. All you can do is try to understand what exists in the body. Try to feel what it’s like to live in water. What it means for a body to communicate with the world so intensely, so directly, for the world to be so up against you that you and it are the same thing.

If you’re born to it, if you’re like the salamander, it must be like heaven, as if heaven were on Earth. The hell must be that no one will leave you alone here in heaven. That people hunt you and people kill you and people just cannot be still in their own bodies and listen and watch and hear but must somehow escape the beat of their own hearts by ever being in motion, even when they come to rest.

⸻ pg. 192

55.3. most pride in

And I believe it was a test for all of my days — that the Company wanted me to sacrifice the thing I had the most pride in, that I might no longer have pride and that I might obey the Company in all things.

⸻ pg. 243

This would have been a spoiler, I suppose, had the text made clear that that pride was unparallelled outside of this sentence.

55.4. the desert gives way to the ghosts of trees, of streams

#animal cruelty

[…] They killed us with traps. They killed us with poisons. They killed us with snares. They killed us with guns. They killed us with knives. They strangled us. They trampled us. They tore us apart with hounds. They baited steel‐jawed traps. They starved us out. They burned us alive. They withheld water. They killed all our prey. They slit our throats. They filled in our burrows. They drowned us. They trampled us under horses’ hooves. They bred us for fur and bludgeoned us to death. They kept us in cages so small with so many we burst apart. They suffocated us with poison gas. They strangled us. They put us in sacks and beat us with clubs. They cut out our tongues so we bled to death. They skinned us alive. They detonated rock and stopped our hearts all unknowing. (Everywhere we walk, the desert gives way to the ghosts of trees, of streams.) They swung us by our tails and smashed our skulls against stones. They murdered us in each and every year. They murdered us on each and every day. They killed us with traps. They killed us with poisons. They killed us with snares. They killed us with guns. They killed us with knives. They strangled us. They trampled us. They tore us apart with hounds. (We walk forests like you walk a room you built). They baited steel‐jawed traps. They starved us out[…]

⸻ pg. 273

Five and a half pages of this, and it was very effective, very affecting.

It is the second of three times in the book that a chapter is filled with one cycling assertion like this. The first did not do much for me, but this and the final were very readable… Definitely some of the best pacing in the whole novel.

55.5. absurd of foxes

#deforestation, death by chainsaw

How tiresome it became too, for other reasons. Oh, how these dead people who lived in houses on lots where they had cut down most of the trees loved trees. How they loved to be out in the trees. The tales they told about the trees and how they loved them. Perhaps because trees did not resist. Trees fell over of their own accord, sometimes, as if to prove their love of the ax. The chain saw that felled most of them just completed a tree’s own inevitable thought.

The proof — that trees never turned chain saws against the ones that wielded them. The chain saws, which were even named, as if they were as alive as a tree, had a personality. Greta. Berta. Charlie. Frank. Sarah. So some we killed with chain saws, to remind them of what it really meant to be a tree. A messy business. Difficult for them and for us.

Absurd of foxes to do all of this. We had no hands. We did not walk upright. We were not made to use human tools. Yet still we did it, and did it well and with vigor.

⸻ pg. 285

55.6. we lived in joy

We lived in joy, the joy of living without interference, without persecution, without unnatural threat. The joy of running. The joy of digging. The joy of hunting earthworms through the dirt. The joy of the wind against fur. The joy of muddy paws. The joy of sleeping next to mate and kits. The joy of climbing trees. The joy of swimming in streams. The joy of mating and raising children. The joy of digging burrows. The joy of playing in meadows. The joy of snapping at fireflies at dusk. The joy of napping on smooth stones, on moss, on beds of ferns. The joy of the warmth on fur. We lived in joy, the joy of living without interference, without persecution, without unnatural threat[…]

But, in the end, joy cannot fend off evil. Joy can only remind you why you fight.

⸻ ‘iii. to the children i loved’, pp. 203–301

What welcome respite.

56. [C] Raynor WINN, The Wild Silence

  • Took notes circa November/December 2021.

56.1. crumbly for recitation, dulled contours

Many of these are crumbly sentences better suited to recitation, being shored into sense through practiced emphasis or author’s own knowledge, than to quick reading at a remove. (Not exactly a complaint).

The text in general is repetitive, making the big anxiety‐dulled plot pivots all the more frustratingly redundant to trace up close, as they each gouge the same contour.

But can Raynor Winn describe a sky!

57. [A] Tyson YUNKAPORTA, Sand talk: how Indigenous thinking can save the world (Bolinda Publishing 2022), audiobook download

  • Took notes circa April/May 2022.

57.1. while reading these to

A couple of years have passed since I initially wrote this book, and a lot has changed since then, in my voice and in my knowledge. I stay true to the original message in this book and save the new messages for the next one. However, while I’m reading these pages to you, I may not be saying every word exactly as it is written, because I’m trying to honour a sense of intimacy and an us‐two, you‐and‐me connection/relationship from what I imagine that may be. So, it might be that in several places throughout this book, the words are not exactly as they are written in the print version — but I think that makes it a hell of a lot more exciting.

⸻ 5%

I have been hoping for (all of) this!

57.2. yarn up a little bit more

I can only describe a few of those threads in printed text, and it can never be more than a limited translation. I also can’t continue modifying and growing a print text after I’ve written it, or negotiate its meaning through feedback loops with other people, or termite mounds, or beefwood trees. Unless of course we’re doing an audio book, in which case I can yarn up a little bit more.

⸻ Track 12 ‘Displaced Apostrophes’, 25:03–25:29