Sunday, July 13, 2003

This and that

Just back from a sojourn in Ballarat - my home town, if I can be said to have one - certainly where I spend most of my childhood, from seven to fifteen. It was very pleasant to be out in the country, although I have become so urban that I can't imagine ever living there again. Mostly, besides eating, I looked at the bird life: wedgetailed eagles being harrassed by magpies, and blue wrens, and honey eaters, and kookaburras, and of course the crimson rosellas in their papally gorgeous raiment which come to the house each day to be fed. The most relaxed rabbits in Victoria graze on the lawn even at midday and in the distance you can see kangaroos. I always forget what big animals they are, almost as big as the cattle.

It is green, but not as green as it should be at this time of year; the dam is empty because there has not been enough rain for run off for 18 months. The train trip is kind of sobering. You run from the Pentland Hills, dramatic valleys carved by giant glaciers millions of years ago, south into the utterly flat land around Melton. Even in midwinter, it is clearly in the grip of drought: the paddocks look blasted, just brown squares littered with the rubble of volcanic rocks, where a few scrawny horses or apathetic sheep scrabble for a few blades of dead grass. The reservoir is literally a puddle at the bottom of a valley of dried mud, relieved only by the dead trees which are usually hidden by the water.

Just got a note from Sophie Levy, poet and classicist at large, commenting on my Memememe post on June 14. She says:

Incidentally, I've just been paging quickly through your blog and came across the discussion of the 'mes' and the bold, strong women they all are. Not being a subscriber to British Poets (I still have something of Groucho Marx' attitude about joining clubs that will have me) I didn't hear the furore, but I can imagine it, and I totally agree with you. Male/writing within the status quo: they're both default positions (as is whiteskin privilege), things that are presumed to be neutral and invisible. I've heard similar discussions about overt self-presentation after conference papers and job talks given by women (and by openly gay men) -- the academy, as you say in your talk, is a hall of fractured mirrors that throw back such distorted claims about identity. For the Cassandra paper I wore a dress dyed in overlapping bands dark red through yellow, like flames. Ankle-length, and yet still I felt vulnerable to being read as both feminised and overly sexual. And yet I've heard male professors commenting after a woman job candidate gave a talk wearing a fairly sombre, well-cut grey trouser suit that she was "butched-up to confront [them]" - despite her long hair and curvy figure.

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