The Event 009

My original aim was to complete 13 sets of the 13 exercises that make up the 7 Minute Workout. This neatly square result appealed to me. I imagined a grid with ticks in all 169 boxes (I was determined to place a tick each time I completed an exercise). However, after the fifth set I realised that I had little chance of maintaining a consistent standard for the 8 notionally remaining sets. So I decided to complete just 7. That figure is square in the sense of being 7 sets of 7 minute workouts. Altogether I completed 91 x 30 second exercise intervals. Allowing for a 10 second rest between each exercise and a one minute rest between each session of 3 sets, the overall time was 61 minutes and 30 seconds – or roughly an hour. My performance deteriorated markedly in the pushups over the final two sets, so I think that an hour was enough. Despite its gruelling nature the experience produced no sense of illumination. It provided a sense of structure and purpose to a largely wasted day, but offered no broad prospect of redemption.

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The Event 008

I have not abandoned the event.

I am still in the event, even when unaware.

In referring to ‘the event’ I am not referencing relevant currents of philosophy – Badiou, Derrida or Heidegger, etc. – or not referencing them strongly.

I have some sense, for instance, that Badiou discusses the event in terms of novelty. The event is the eruption of the unknown and the unknowable. It forces things in new directions.

But this is not my concern.

I am thinking of the event in more literal terms – as, for example, a sporting event. The event calls for endurance and commitment, but always with an overall sense of artifice. I could just as well be lying in bed on Saturday morning, but instead I’m at Parkrun trying to beat my best 5k time.

The event is pointless, but prompts dedicated effort. The event represents a structuring of space and time to lend life an arbitrary sense of purpose and meaning.

The event is superstitious. I cannot help but commit to it. In committing to it I cannot help but think that this will somehow make a difference, that will earn me some kind of credit, that it will make me a better person, that the suffering it entails is worthwhile. But none of this actually follows. The event is ultimately empty and it redeems and fails to redeem precisely through its emptiness.

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The Event 007

I am still conceiving the route I will follow up and down the escarpment.

In the meantime another event takes shape within the larger event.

It seems that walking from my house to Luna Park would take exactly 15 hours and 59 minutes – the same amount of time it would take to walk from Halfeti to Kobane.

Halfeti was never my home. Only a sick irony relates Kobane to Luna Park. No kind of adequate correspondence can be opened up between currents events on the Turkish-Syrian border and the contrived event of walking from Wollongong to Sydney, but the latter is oddly tempting.

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The Event 006

There is the known event and the inexplicable event.
There is the inexplicable character of the known event.
There is the known character of the inexplicable event.
There is the genuine event.
There is the experience of the genuine event.
There is the dream of the genuine event.
There is the artificial event.
There is the event that I am determined to pursue despite its unreality.
There is the determination to make the artificial event.
There is the visible and the imperceptible event.
There is the silent event.
There is the event that does not register.
There is the non-event that suddenly becomes eventful.
There is the event that dissolves into nothingness.
There are events.

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The Event 005

I read today that the leader of the secular Kurdish People’s Protection Units, who are struggling to defend Kobane from well armed ISIS forces, is a woman, Mayassa Abdo. Her nom de guerre is Narin Afrin. She is 40 years old and described as ‘cultivated, intelligent and phlegmatic’ (Mustafa Ebdi). Knowing nothing of her as a person, I imagine her sitting up late and night, tired and dealing with all manner of pressing matters.

I hope she and all the others manage to somehow escape.

Fifteen years ago (1999) I spent several weeks in the small Turkish town of Halfeti, which is only 78km from Kobane. Halfeti is an Armenian-Kurdish town on the banks of the Euphrates. Abdullah Öcalan, founding member of the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) was born nearby in the village of Ömerli. I visited Halfeti just as it was about to substantially disappear beneath the waters of a new hydro-electrical project, the Birejic dam. I produced an extensive, navigable portrait of the town, in the style of the computer game, Myst, but composed of photographs, video interviews and real ambient sounds. After I had returned home it took me over a year to put the whole thing together. In the end I felt I knew my way around Halfeti better than almost any place in the world.

Looking at Google Maps I realise I could have almost walked from Halfeti to Kobane.

Google provides a full description of the route:

Walk 78.0km, 15 hours 59 minutes (use caution – may involve errors or sections not suited for walking)

  • Halfeti, Turkey
  • Head south-east on Orta Cd (92 m)
  • Turn left towards Söğütlü Sk (39 m)
  • Turn right onto Söğütlü Sk (50 m)
  • Turn left onto Çakıllı Sk (18.0 km)
  • Turn right towards Haydarahmet Köyü Yolu (22.3 km)
  • Continue onto Haydarahmet Köyü Yolu (4.1 km)
  • Turn left (850 m)
  • Turn right towards Gaziantep Şanlıurfa Yolu/D400/E90 (5.7 km)
  • Turn right onto Gaziantep Şanlıurfa Yolu/D400/E90 (1.6 km)
  • Turn left onto Kayıcak Yolu (2.7 km)
  • Kayıcak Yolu turns slightly right and becomes Yağışlı Köyü Yolu (4.6 km)
  • Turn left at Harmanalan Köyü Yolu (2.7 km)
  • Turn right onto Yaylatepe Köyü Yolu (67 m)
  • Turn left (2.0 km)
  • Turn left (40 m)
  • Turn right at Küçükova Köyü Yolu (1.6 km)
  • Turn left onto Balaban Köyü Yolu (76 m)
  • Turn right (2.5 km)
  • Turn left at Yumurtalık Köyü Yolu (5.3 km)
  • Turn right onto Gaziantep Şanlıurfa Yolu/D883
  • Entering Syria (1.5 km) * Continue straight (31 m)
  • Turn right (94 m)
  • Turn right (20 m)
  • Turn left (96 m)
  • Turn right (69 m)
  • Turn left (500 m)
  • Turn right (69 m)
  • Turn left (450 m)
  • Turn right (450 m)
  • Turn left (10 m)
  • Turn right (9 m)
  • Turn left (350 m)
  • Kobanê, Syria

These directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, weather, or other events may cause conditions to differ from the map results, and you should plan your route accordingly. You must obey all signs or notices regarding your route.

I expect other events have indeed made conditions differ. What kind of event would it be now to walk from Halfeti to Kobane, particularly to walk the across the border between Turkey and Syria? The Kurdish defenders of Kobane will need to escape along this route if they have any chance of survival. ISIS is focused entirely on taking this road and preventing any escape.

I can see precisely the ground that needs to be covered – such a small, straighforward distance. If only it could be carelessly traversed. If only the walk was completely uneventful.

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The Event 004

Vaguely thought of attempting the first stage of the event early this morning (3-4am) but lacked sufficient resolve.

Spent far too much of the day doing nothing. Another way of saying that I spent far too much of the day immersed in the terrible spectre of the event – which awaits me, which demands my participation, which is already here.

Late in the afternoon, far too late in the afternoon, I found the energy to get moving. Getting moving is much easier that laying still. This paradox lies at the heart of the event, which is never so palpably present and demanding until it is deliberately avoided. I am most embroiled in the event when I struggle to withdraw from it.

So actually starting out the door – all in navy blue – to run up a rough track to Broker’s Nose is very easy. It occurs to me that I find the resources to explicitly prepare for the event and the event – inasmuch as it is defined my unpreparedness – is lost.

Nonetheless I do indeed run up to Broker’s Nose and back. I drive to the back of Woonona, park my car and set out up the steep track to the Lower Escarpment road.

I wear a GPS sports watch that measures aspects of my performance.

It shows the terrain that I covered:

The details of my pace and elevation:

As well as a range of interesting statistics:

I cover just under 10km at fairly slow pace, climbing just over 450 metres.

There is a tree across the steep track at the bottom that slows my progress. There is a couple in a car that questions me just as I am approaching the end of the walk/run. They prevent me from going under an hour and fifteen minutes. At least now I have an easy target to aim for next time – under 75 minutes.

I am blindly beginning to feel my way into the event.

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The Event 003

For some reason – most likely because the Kurds have consistently resisted Turkish authority – the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is unwilling to intervene in the ISIS assault on the northern Kurdish-Syrian town of Kobane. The Turkish troops are stationed right there at the Syrian border, but all they do is fire tear gas at their own citizens – large groups of protesting Kurds who are compelled to simply stand by and watch a major Kurdish town fall to well-armed ISIS forces.

What does this have to do with the event? What can this possibly have to do with the event that concerns me? The attack on Kobane is not after all an event that I participate in. However, it is an event that I follow. Arguably it is a very distinct event. Yet inasmuch as my doubly distant vantage (watching Turkish Kurds watch an assault that is absolutely close and distant from them) occurs within the contours of my own event then the two event spaces are unavoidably drawn into limited correspondence.

But can I really refer to an event space in the case of my own event? Nothing much has happened. Nothing seems even very likely to happen.

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The Event 002

What is the event? How did I come to it? What does it involve?

I conceived an event which began at the park at the end of Foreshore Rd, Pt Kembla. Very early in the morning – 3 or 4am. A cool breeze blowing from the ocean, gulls hovering in the lights of the car park below. I envisaged a single participant, myself, who would set out slowly in the direction of the steelworks and then over to Figtree and up into the escarpment. One or two major roads would have to be crossed, hence the early start. The event would then snake northwards back and forth between the escarpment and the sea. It would skirt the summit of Mt Keira and ascend Broker’s Nose and Sublime Point. It would pass through industrial areas and suburbs. It would follow sections of beach – North Wollongong to Towradgi, Woonona to Austinmer, Burning Palms to Garie. It would be intolerably long and hard. It would conclude in the Royal National Park at Wattamolla.

The notional start at the end of Foreshore Road, Pt Kembla

But the event is elusive. The route I describe above is unclear when I reflect upon it closely. It changes. It is not yet susceptible to being traced on a map.

Furthermore, this is only a portion of the event. The limits of the event are undefined. I must be prepared for whatever eventuates, but this also demands that I be unprepared.

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The Event 001

It would seem preferable to begin training prior to the event, but I only entered the event at the last second, so I will have to incorporate my training within the context of actual participation. Somebody recommended the Scientific 7 Minute Workout, so I downloaded the relevant app and gave it a try this morning. Seemed to work quite well. All the timekeeping and exercise order was handled by my phone so I just had to scurry from one position to another doing 30 second bouts of intense exercise.

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The Event 000

The event begins here with this image of the full moon (or nearly full moon) seen from my bathroom window. I meant to take the image a bit earlier when the sky was still pink and red, but a friend phoned me just as I got out of the shower. Hardly in a position to prioritise the image, especially as I had no idea whether or not I would persist with my commitment to the event. By the time I took the photograph, night had fallen and the event had begun.

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It seems I have not written anything for close to 6 months. What is it to slip in to silence? Or to recline into silence? Or to find oneself all at once silent? It is to find myself here – considering the need to speak, but also the inevitability of silence (I am bound eventually to fall permanently silent).

My aim here is to try to convey some doubts about the necessity to say something – to produce something to be heard (or seen).

I think of the old philosophical conundrum, “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it fall, does it make a sound?”. Similarly, if an artist (for want of a better word) produces something and it is never exhibited, does it exist as a piece of art?

The suggestion now is that it does not exist as art until it enters into social exchange. This is very much linked to the effort – at least within universities – to conceive artistic practice as a mode of research. Just as the researcher is obliged to publish the results of his or her research so the artist must produce work to be publicly exhibited. This is something like a moral duty. Thou shalt go forth and exhibit and only in exhibiting and in the assurance of public and peer reception shall your work properly exist as art and you yourself properly exist as an artist.

Of course this makes pragmatic sense. There has to be some means of assessing our productivity and our cultural standing. We cannot simply say we are artists – and we certainly can’t say nothing and be artists.

So we are compelled to be as productive as any other sector of the economy, to keep churning stuff out and offering it up for public consumption. No possibility of being intensely productive but, due to shyness or a complete lack of business acumen, choosing to leave our work in private journals or cupboards, completely out of the public eye. No matter that we may enjoy producing the work and even occasionally poring over it and sharing it with friends – none of that is in anyway sufficient. The rule is quite explicit – exhibit in a peer-reviewed public venue or cease to exist.

Yet does exhibiting guarantee that anything is indeed seen or heard? Does it actually ensure some moment of adequate public communication? Does it necessarily summon and reach an audience? No doubt in many instances, but none of this is assured. How often have I sat minding one of my own exhibitions in a 3rd class public venue to experience only the odd street person and drug addict wandering in to get out of the cold or use the toilet. No problem with street people or drug addicts, but they are scarcely dropping in to see my work.

So it seems to me that a great deal of exhibition is fairly empty. One runs through the formalities of having one’s work publicly acknowledged as art, but it is more for the benefit of establishing the pathetic bona fides of one’s own marginal artistic career than of genuinely obtaining a public.

My cynicism and romanticism run deeper. Why must art engage with wider social agendas of productivity? If it has any scope at all to project a space of freedom, however compromised, shouldn’t this be in terms of not being subject to any specific ontological, epistemological and ethical imperatives? Why can’t I produce art for whatever goddamn reason I like and without any sense of it producing a profit? Why can’t producing work be an inexplicable, mishapen imperative out of phase with the rest of the world? Not that it has to be out of phase – not that it has to adopt the shape of alienated loss – but why can’t it be this way? What if you are sick of the struggle to build professional peer esteem and just want to spend your time in a particular way – perhaps making some things?

What is wrong with the amateurism that doesn’t call for onlookers or acclamation, that is justifiable in and of itself as an activity that has meaning for the artist but possibly to nobody else (or just a few others)?

My father is 87 and has mild dementia. He has recently started producing small collages. He makes a few each day. He keeps them in a stack in his wardrobe. He took some of them out and showed them to me the other day. They are actually very good, but he has no wish to do anything more with them. He is happy making them and happy that I like them, but that’s it. Here is one (in the hope that this will reach friends (or strangers who become friends)).

In some ways wouldn’t this provide a model for a mode of art-making that is not about fashioning publics (and artistic careers), but instead about fostering a more general culture of practice, with only the most humble endeavours at showing? In this small, unrecognised manner, showing may actually project new social relations and genuine possibilities of reciprocal exchange.

There is perhaps a politics of silent, unexhibited art.

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I started with the following rules:

  • Must be written at my kitchen table.
  • Must begin with the specific things that lie before me.
  • Must regard nothing as unworthy of consideration.
  • Must take shape as a single prose paragraph.
  • Must write 100 altogether (although I have now written 101 because of the full moon which appeared on day 50).

This quickly led to more rules:

  • Must begin with no sense of what will be written.
  • Must each be eleven lines long when displayed on my blog (this means in practice that they must be between 145 and 190 words long). [The 101st is an exception. It is twelve lines long.]
  • Must be completed in a single sitting. No false starts permitted.
  • Must not stray from the table unless the table permits me to stray.
  • Must write an average of at least two per day.

[I must confess that there were a few, additional, privately determined rules. I will make no effort to describe them here. Very briefly, they indicated the ultimate failure of all my perverse efforts at communication and silence.]

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Full Moon

Tonight, the fiftieth night, the night I had no need to write, the night beyond the limit of what was required, I cannot help but notice that I have not hung out my washing. It is there on the chair, wet inside a white laundry basket. Earlier this evening, I looked across the IGA car park towards a wooden fence and some trees. The moon was already above them. I wondered where it was heading. Last night, before the moon was quite full, I imagined an endless series of Christians being thrown to the lions. No matter their terror, no matter their sad composure, their little heads exploded inside the jaws of the lions. They were gone like grapes. And those left were mercilessly slaughtered with barbaric weapons thrown from the crowd. Only when all the Christians were dead – every doomed group of adults and children, every lone individual – did the audience come to recognize the terrible wrong that had occurred. At that point the dead were offered a legal reprieve and the moon rose above the stadium like the fantasy of real estate.

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The nights are not innumerable. It is just that I cannot count them. Streams of molten tar pour down the road. I am stripped of all illusions. I would like to describe the table again. I would like to find adequate words to register this experience – which is also the negation of experience – but I can only make false starts. I have a heavy heart. My heart is laden with things. Each thing is itself laden with memories of neglect. I have received another letter for the former owner of this house, Geraldine Harrison. It is a superannuation statement. Seems about time that I received a superannuation statement myself. A friend sends me a photograph of another place. I am relieved not to have to go there. Apart from anything else, my car needs a service. I am hoping to get some sleep. I welcome the darkness that approaches on all sides. I welcome the new moon that I cannot see. I lean forward and then sit back in my chair.

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The sky is blue. I am definite about that. A strong morning blue. Huge orbs of soft, white water in the tree tops. The slow flight of a lone bird. I am trying to find my way through a forest, but it constantly disappears. This is not a forest of shade. This is not a forest of trails. This is not a forest to emerge from. I seem to be ascending a smallish, sun-drenched hill. The trees are scarcely trees. They have no branches or leaves, just towering, spear-like stems. I speak of spears, but cannot see the sharp tips. There is just the confusion of variously angled stems, the high glare from the hanging sacks of water and the relentless sound of birds. I cannot get to the top of the hill. I look up at the pendulous spheres. I try to make sense of them. I try to continue walking through the forest. I try to make each step count. Yet I am stuck within the motion of each step. If only the day were less bright. If only I had prepared properly for this.

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This Place

I have looked forward to leaving this place for so long. In consequence, it has no loyalty to me. I may as well have left already. Still, some urgent red scribbling on a piece of paper catches my eye. I also notice the perfect alignment of a wine glass and an empty bowl of ice cream. But these observations instantly withdraw. They grow obscure and impregnable. I am forced to look away, if only to demonstrate some measure of decency. My easy relationship to this place is gone. I would like to object. I would like to insist that nothing essential has changed, but I know this is untrue. While everything remains scrupulously still, every aspect of this stillness is different. It is unhinged and shakes with rage. It is unimpressed by everything that I say – most of all by my insincere expressions of love. Clear enough, after all, that nothing can make me stay, that I am leaving on my own accord, that I am already looking elsewhere.

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In the confused depths of the evening, beyond any of my childhood thoughts, beyond any of my adult aspirations, beyond anything determinate, I once again find my way here. Only here. The night exhales until all air is gone, until the moon itself is extinguished. Two chairs face toward the window, toward the garden, toward the the sense that nothing whatsoever will ever happen – that fashioning an event is unlikely and impertinent. And all the gates are closed. And only one window is ajar – my bedroom window, which opens on to the clouds and the memory of the sea. And cars still travel past – even at this hour. If only I could find my way within any of this. If only things were less scattered. If only less time had passed. I hear rushed voices in the midst of silence. I see figures meandering about in the darkness outside. The time descends. It plummets down an endless mineshaft, past flickering lights, past the limits of dug systems.

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Tidying Up

I have gone through all my books and stacked them in two orderly piles towards the far end of the table. The most distant pile is roughly double the size of the other. I have also gone through all my letters, removing all the bills and placing them together in one place. In the process of tidying up, I discovered three pens – red, black and blue – beneath the various bits of paper, also a few coins, which together add up to 85 cents. Neither of the two bowls have moved. There is a pineapple and a large banksia seed pod in the wooden bowl. The ceramic bowl contains small, easily lost things, as well as two bereft pieces of fruit – an apple and an orange. I expect that I will eventually eat the orange, but the apple, despite its proud sticker, will almost certainly be discarded. I had expected to clear my table completely, but that would be pointless. The contents of my table undermine the abstract possibility of surface.

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A remaining pear – perfect, with pink and red blushes on yellow, unblemished skin. Wide hips and buttocks, narrow curved shoulders, thin, elegant neck. Leaning like an odelisque against an unassuming mandarin. The pear is heedless of its various admirers – encircled by books – Hegel, Baudelaire and Perec. All manner of marginal things are drawn towards its bright and compelling presence. They jockey for position. They struggle to be close and, in being close, gain a muted capacity to appear. While the pear itself is relaxed and indolent. It is completely unconcerned. It has no sense that it risks becoming over-ripe, that its luxurious existence must soon end. Instead it meditatively gazes across a wide open bay of towels and coats towards a dark and obscure hinterland. At the same time, it looks inward towards its own perfection. It experiences this perfection, without reflecting upon it or seeking adequate ways to articulate it. The pear is increasingly swollen. It pulses with beauty, darkness and putrefaction.

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The high pitched whine of my washer’s spin cycle. Descending, as though a plane coming in for landing – then taxiing quietly along the tarmac towards the terminals. In this gentle, rumbling lull, Mr Airplane Man’s album Moanin starts up. The occasional slosh from my washer in the gaps between songs. I pause to answer an email from a friend. The sun shapes angular patterns on my grass. I realise that the white wall is not consistently white – that all sorts of shadows and fields of intensity play across its surface. The blue wall is harder to differentiate. There is a dark upper section – a kind of stratosphere and a more yellow, middle level troposphere, but none of this associates the blue wall definitely with the sky. If anything, I associate it with the depths of the ocean. Recently a large passenger jet – MH370 – disappeared from the sky and descended into the sea. Or at least this is the assumption. No traces of it have been found.

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Tonight I decided that I had seen enough of the sea, so I took a stroll through the suburbs. I wandered along the tree-lined Chenhalls St, with its old wooden houses and distant view to the steelworks. I turned left towards the lights of Woonona Bowling Club and then veered right along the flat towards Hollymount Park. In the darkness, I could scarcely see the knee height cable that had to be crossed to continue on to the cricket oval. A long white cloud was visible just above the horizon to the south. It appeared speared on a tall and unlit playing light. The moon was surrounded by an oily haze. Crossing several ovals, I found my way back to the Princes Highway. I followed Hale, Albert and Alfred St until I reached Chenhalls and Gray St. Then I was home. I’d left the front light on, so my house looked bright and hospitable. I walked up the blue steps to the small landing, opened the door with my key and entered a place curiously mine.

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I loom over the table. I look down upon it. A blue gym towel gives birth to a yellow and black screwdriver. My keys point in all directions. A black cloth shopping bag resembles an incinerated giant clam. More books. I am piling up more books, just as I am piling up more unopened envelopes. What do the two piles have in common? They both contain items that are unlikely to be read. I am listening to Turkish folk music again. I can remember the surprise of looking off towards distant snow-capped mountains on the bus trip to Mardin. The town stood on a rough desert escarpment above the Syrian plain. To tower over one’s neighbour. To render the other country visible to the horizon. Just as the table grows more determinate as I stand at one end. Yet it is not another country. It is my only home. The glass door is ajar. I can hear the chicken sizzling on the barbeque. I sit down for a while.

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In the woods behind the schoolhouse was a narrow track that wound off towards the near hills. I had followed it many times before until it became obscure. Unable to determine a viable route forward, I’d turn around, only to discover the route out itself branching and confused. At that point, I had no sense what path led into the woods and what path led out of them. But despite this, each day I would find myself back again at the schoolhouse and walking full of hope into the woods. I felt certain that I would find my way through to the near hills. Even when the path broke down, even when I was hesitant and unsure, I expected to rediscover the proper way at any instant. The repetition made no difference. It scarcely touched me. I was convinced that nothing could prevent me from walking where I intended. Now that I appear to be actually elsewhere, I realise that I was completely mistaken.

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There are sets of things – four oranges, two candlesticks, a tree full of partially ripe lemons. There are also isolates – the single pear, the ageing apple, the plastic cover of a small container of picture hanging fixtures. Then there are the things that are distinct without joining a larger collection or withdrawing into singularity. The various bits of paper seem to manage this best. Although roughly associated, they refuse to form a neat pile or a properly common kind. There are envelopes and the letters within. There are notices, sheets of a guitar tablature and even an essay on the ‘cybernetic view of cognition.’ But without more effort on my part – more sorting, discarding and arranging – none of these bits of paper discovers a social reality. Finally, there are those things that are neither collective, singular nor loosely arrayed, but that instead act as a media for other things to appear – the table, the blue wall, the glass door.

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Rushing flow of white envelopes – unopened letters from the NAB and NRMA. My keys spread across them – a doomed and glittering squid. The black plastic tops are closely aligned and the silver keys trail down as tentacles. The metal loop that holds the keys together is pressed back by the sense of inadequate propulsion forward. Despite its maximum effort, expelling water, sand and milky internal fluids, the squid cannot dash off. It is transfixed – eyes rolling in its silky, black sockets. Suspended in the foamy torrent, it grows limp and unconscious. The instant that it expires, the foam recedes and the supporting envelopes become hard. The squid gains a frightening clarity. It is borne aloft on white planks. It becomes a solid thing with no relation any longer to water – no capacity to escape into the depths. It must be conceived entirely differently, but nothing can be said of its new identity.

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