Friday, October 24, 2014

A Fable, Fabulous, of Oesophagus.

Or, a Nightmare on Arden Street.

Bondi Poster circa 1930
You finished your lunch. On the table, a plate with the remains of your meal and a crumbled paper napkin on top; next to it, lie a cup of black coffee and a little plastic tray, with a tip for the friendly young waitress. It's a sunny day; across the road lies the park and beyond it, the beach, full of people.

For you, a modest man of modest means, that's as close as bliss as it gets.

Your bliss, however, is cut short when a fashionably unshaven, twenty-something man suddenly takes one empty chair and sits next to you, an intense gaze in his eyes: the kind of expression one finds on street preachers Friday nights, corner of George and Park, opposite Town Hall, zealously announcing the Good News of Jesus to uninterested pedestrians.

Before you say a word, your unexpected companion, short-breathed, excitedly starts: "I've proved it! I did! The Pythagorean Theorem is false!"

Startled, you barely suppress an emerging "Whadda!?" And maybe it was a good thing: truth is, you don't know what to say. Again, you try to open your mouth as he grabs the napkin from your plate, but are impatiently shushed by your new friend, anyway. After a quick attempt to smooth its surface, he draws a square with a pencil that came apparently from nowhere.

While the youth, in a trance-like state, is distracted scribbling feverishly, you try to leave. No luck: unexpectedly, he grabs your arm, forcing you to sit back.

After a few seconds, evidently satisfied with his work, the young chap finally looks up from the napkin.

As he shoves it in your direction, stopping an inch from your nose, he quickly says, his voice full of passionate contempt, pointing to half a green pea stuck in the middle of the drawing: "If you add the square of the 4 sides of this triangle, there's no way you can get the square root of the hypothalamus. See? See? See?" he asks, stabbing repeatedly the napkin with his index finger. "Pythagoras, that old fool, was a shabby Hegelian!"

Somewhat recovered from your surprise, for a moment you pretend to study the doodles on the gravy-stained napkin, while desperately trying to figure a way out of the ordeal.

Nothing comes to mind, however; so, you give up trying. You say to your unblinking companion, defiantly staring back at you:
"Mate, I am no mathematician, but I believe the Pythagorean Theorem is about right triangles. That's not a right triangle; that's not even a triangle! That's a square."
Unexpectedly, your companion, suddenly frozen, says nothing; you could almost hear the half green pea, which fell from the napkin, hit the table.

Choosing your words ever more carefully, you add hesitantly:
"If memory serves, the theorem states that the square of the hypotenuse…" you say, pausing for emphasis, "…is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two…", again, a pause, "…sides. So, before discussing the theorem, maybe it would be best to understand the basics…"
At the middle of that sentence, it dawns on you: the young fellow may be momentarily silent, but he isn't listening. Instead, he is getting livid by the second; livid as in "ka-boom livid".

The moment he slaps the table, you jump to your feet, suddenly free from his grip; the precious napkin falls to the floor, and you leave hurriedly, every head in the pub turning your way in alarm.

As you hastily walk to the nearest bus stop, the last thing you hear is the young man shrieking angrily behind you:
"But, but… You people never listen to your critics. Circular reasoning!!! Listen to me! … Fuck you, Pythagoras! … Metaphysics… The Mahatma Gandhi this, Nietzsche that… Epistemologically correct asshole… Lacan and Roth's K√≤jeve's Hegel all agree: E=m*c^2 is a sexed equation… Wet fish… Veblen… Veblen! VEBLEN!!!"

It may not be the open gates of Heaven Friday night street preachers say Jesus promised, but for you, right now, that bus with its front door open, just waiting there, comes a close second.


The story, characters and incidents portrayed are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, bloggers, places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.

Image Credits:
[A] "Poster promoting Bondi Beach circa 1930". Source: Booth, D. "Australian Beach Cultures", Author: Unknown. Image in the public domainWikipedia.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Casting the First Stone on Bigotry.

Barry Spurr (Australia's first Professor of Poetry and Poetics in 2011 and Personal Chair in Poetry and Poetics, University of Sydney, link) has had a distinguished career, including his role as a consultant to the Review of the Australian National School Curriculum, ordered by the Liberal/National Coalition government ("centre-right, conservative, libertarian".)

More recently Prof. Spurr's own literary output has gained exposure, as New Matilda published "The Partial Works of Professor Barry Spurr" containing private emails allegedly "sent to friends and colleagues at the University of Sydney over a two year period, from September 2012 to late 2014".

To cut a long story short, Prof. Spurr's opus apparently includes rants against Abos, Mussies, Chinky-poos, fatsoes, harlots, whores, "worthless sluts" intent on ruining the lives of "poor chaps" whose only mistake was to put their penises in the sleeping sluts' mouths.

For New Matilda and a host of liberal, middle-class, educated commentators (see here, here, here), this behaviour is unforgivable; for Prof. Spurr perhaps not so much: he "has maintained that the emails were a 'whimsical linguistic game', and that they were largely restricted to a bit of 'oneupmanship' between himself and an old friend", according to New Matilda.

Be that as it may. I have no dog in that hunt.

Besides, even if the allegations are true, that kind of expression is not unheard of in Australia, which is precisely what makes me write this.

You see, in the past, when this kind of thing happens, involving people lower in the social ladder, middle-class, progressive, educated commentators characterized the behaviour as exclusive of bogans (as in caravan park, poor white trash). See below.

So, members of their own caste are free of sin, right? The educated middle class is immaculately innocent, only the white rabble has to answer. That's why they can cast the first stone.


Incidentally, PM Tony Abbott, a former Rhodes Scholar, apparently hasn't -- yet -- threatened anybody involved, even though he was allegedly described as an "Abo lover". Credit where credit is due.