Australian Literature Final Summative Entry

 

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What insights has your study of Australian Literature and Art given you into the importance of creativity as part of human experience?

While trying to work out how to tackle this question I was struck by one of my own; what does it mean to be creative? Is it making something useful such as a table or a chair? Is it producing a work of art or literature that sparks the imagination of others? Is it designing and building a house or a machine? Can one actually create wealth? Does that count as being creative?

On our Australian Literature journey we first met the original inhabitants of this country. From reading their stories and poetry I discovered a unique way of seeing the world and it was most definitely creative. It was the art of blending in with and being a part of one’s environment. The indigenous people of this land did not feel an urge to conquer the land and pillage its resources for personal gain. They inter-mingled with their surroundings; they loved and respected the earth.

The Aboriginal writings told horrendous tales about the invasion of Europeans and the ensuing land theft and genocide. The concept of creativity held by the two peoples was at war. The European idea of creativity was the creation of wealth and empire. They saw the land as a resource to be plundered and exploited. They basked in their cleverness for finding new ways to control and utilise the land. The natives also used the land, but their relationship was closer to that of a child and a parent. Their ingenuity was in finding ways to adapt themselves to the land instead of vice versa.  The newcomers had long since lost their understanding of the sacredness of the earth and were unwittingly heading down a path of their own destruction.

Before moving on to other writers our class made a trip to the Art Gallery of NSW in order to connect the written word with the visual art of Australia. It was fascinating to see the art itself changing with the times. Art created by British newcomers showed the conflict the new arrivals felt with the harsh and alien Australian continent. As years passed and the artistic torch was passed on to people who were born and raised here I got a real sense of belonging and love for the country from some artists. The creations of the artists were reflecting not just the changing craft, but the changing attitudes of their times.

As we turned our attention back to the writers it was intriguing to discover that the same metamorphosis was happening with our language. The earlier writers used rather rigid English and seem to impose their British heritage onto the Australian culture. As the new generations emerged we got to see some real imaginative and resourceful use of the English language. The language was changing and developing to suit the new landscape and lifestyle of this strange southern land.

Sadly we ran out of time and only got a glimpse at the emerging talent of new Australians arriving from all around the world. I am sure the next chapter in Australian literature will be heavily influenced by the amazing melting pot of cultures and result in some truly original and dynamic creations. We all have so much to learn from and teach to one another.

Creativity in the form of art and literature is an attempt to share an idea or emotion with our fellow humans. We all need to feel connected and by sharing our creative efforts we are allowing others to see into a part of ourselves. Our writing or art can be an intimate part of our personality offered to others in order for us to share the human experience. This may hopefully alleviate the separateness that leads to loneliness and help create stronger bonds between us.

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Shakespeare Final Summative Entry

How has your study of Shakespeare expanded your understanding of human nature?

Well, it’s complicated… That’s what I’ve learned. Shakespeare, like life, is extremely complex and multi-layered. There are meanings beneath meanings and subtext where you least expect it. Am I talking about Shakespeare or just humans in general? Well, both. That is his gift; he captures our confusing complication so well.

In Romeo and Juliet he demonstrated the juxtaposition of love being expressed though hatred. For the Capulets and Montagues, to love one’s kin meant to bitterly hate the perceived enemy of your tribe. Romeo and Juliet, being struck by blind cupid’s arrow, challenged this belief system and payed a tragic price. Their death finally ended the blood feud between their warring families and to this day hopefully reminds readers and audience members that the path of hatred and war can only lead to one outcome: destruction. Love may seem weak in the terrifying face of violent malice, but love is a creative force, whilst hatred destroys both the hater and the hated.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream gave us a humorous look at the potential of love to cause chaos in the lives of us mere mortals. Again we met an unfortunate couple pursuing a forbidden love. In this play Shakespeare employs quarreling and mischievous spirits whose interference in human affairs help illustrate the unpredictable and sometimes absurd whims of the mortal heart when it comes to love. Where love is concerned we truly are at the mercy of some mystical influence that can overwhelm our reason and cause even the wisest of us to act the fool.

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King Lear took us back to the dark side of love and loyalty. This play seemed more concerned with the hollow declarations of affection and fidelity being used as a way of deceptively acquiring wealth and power. The foolish King Lear gives away his throne to two treacherous daughters in return for fictitious ego stroking and is left destitute and insane. The one daughter whose devotion was authentic and attempted to be honest with him was banished and despised by the king. This was a tragic lesson in the power of vanity and our need to feel appreciated by those closest to us. This can be used against us by unscrupulous, silver tongued manipulators who wish to take advantage of us. I guess the simple cliché that may help us all avoid this trap would be: “actions speak louder than words”

We ended our journey with The Tempest, another journey into the world of magic and wonder. However, this one, while having elements of humour, I believe had a rather more serious message for us. This play left me with questions regarding justice and redemption. Prospero had the power to destroy his enemies, yet he chose to forgive them; although he only did this when he was convinced that they were truly repentant for their deeds. I was not quite convinced that they were. I believe they were, like many criminals, only sorry that they were caught and punished. Shakespeare does not force his opinion on us, he merely facilitates the debate. Prospero was done wrong by his brother, but was he himself doing wrong to Caliban? The play like life has many ambiguous qualities.

My study of Shakespeare has been a wondrous and enlightening experience. The texture of the language and richness of the characters are fascinating. Analysing and brainstorming the text with the class gave many valid insights that I would not have discovered alone. Shakespeare’s writing has both complicated and simplified my understanding of human nature. If that last sentence makes sense to you then you may well be ready to immerse yourself into the marvelous world of the bard.

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Week 11: Thoughts sparked by Les Murray’s “The Cool Green”

A long, long time ago some very clever people came up with a way for people to trade goods and services. Previously it may have been simple enough for one farmer to use milk as trade for vegetables from another. It was more troublesome for the farmer to pay the people who built his house in grain. It was also ridiculous to carry your meat with you everywhere you went in order to exchange it for whatever you wanted or needed. Thus, currency was created. It was an easier way for people to trade. Its guise changed throughout the ages, but it eventually settled on money; the trusted servant of traders everywhere.

Money was meant as a means, not an end. Somewhere along the line we became confused and began believing that the accumulation of wealth was our sole purpose in life. We began to idolise people for their ability to take more money than they need. We celebrated those that fritter away money on ostentatious rubbish while others did not even have enough to eat. One person sits on a golden toilet bowl while another dies painfully from a treatable disease because they cannot afford treatment.

Many sacrifice their integrity in order to acquire this seductive stuff. They lie; cheat, steal and even kill just to get their hands on more of this thing. And it is just a thing, in fact is less than a thing, it is an abstract concept. It is a mere tool used for the exchange of goods and services. Yet somehow it has magically metamorphosized into the thing we find most precious. As Les Murray laments, many have surrendered their principles and very souls just to have more of a thing that was meant to serve us. The servant has become the master.

There are so many wonderful quotes on this subject but this one from Bob Marley is one of my favourites; “Don’t gain the world & lose your soul, Wisdom is worth more than silver and gold”

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I also couldn’t resist posting a link to this classic.

Week 10: Patrick White and Aussie Sporting Pride

Two points stand out in Patrick White’s rant about the Australian psyche from the Prodigal Son. “The Great Australian Emptiness, in which the mind is the least of possessions…” and “muscles prevail…” Growing up during the 80s and 90s in this “sporting nation” I can whole heartedly relate to these sentiments. Being an uncoordinated runt of a kid who enjoyed mental gymnastics rather than athletic competition I can also recall feeling very alienated and being almost ashamed of my traits. An old school friend recently introduced me to his girlfriend as such; “This is my mate Nige from school. He was smart, but he acted dumb and hung around with us”. So now here I am in my early 40s, stuck in a mind numbingly dull dead-end job, performing monotonous manual labour, accumulating aching joints and muscles and wondering how long my body will hold out. Fortunately, I have dusted off my old brain and am now nearing the end of my Bachelor of Arts.

Patrick White’s words reminded me of the first time I saw stand up comedian Steve Hughes and laughed so hard at his revelations on the Aussie obsession with sporting prowess. In one section Steve explained how when being asked why he didn’t want to play rugby league as a kid he replied “because it fucken hurts!” My thoughts exactly! But growing up in Sydney you could never say that. You had to be tough; you had to be interested in this game and be prepared to suffer personal injury in order to demonstrate your blokeyness.

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Returning to Australia after several years living in Europe, Steve was asked if he missed his homeland. His “no” reply was met with great curiosity, to which he replied “because I don’t like sport that much”. I’m sure I laughed twice as hard as my athletic mates. “Only in Australia can the sport be on both the front and back pages of the newspaper” he said. This act was inspirational for me; this bloke was saying stuff I had always mused over but never been able to put into words.

I don’t hate sport, but it holds very little of my attention. I am much more interested in film, books, philosophy, and theatre and of course stand up comedy. My sporty mates are mine by default of geography. We grew up together and have much in common. However, my geekiness and their competitive sportiness is definitely a divergence. They do not wish to discuss Akira Kurosawa or Plato and I do not wish to hold on to a ball and run full throttle at one of them so that they may smash their shoulder into my midsection and violently slam me into the turf.

Australia does seem to have a preference for sporting conquest over intellectual achievement. I have not lived anywhere else so I can only go on what I hear from other people who have, and imagine that these tales of far off places where the cerebral is celebrated actually exist. Of course, we have pockets of it here in Australia, but the bookish and artistic types are certainly kept in the shadow of the great sporting heroes. I don’t think we mind so much though, we prefer peace and quiet in order to nurture our creativity.

Week 9: A Letter to Gonzalo

It is hard to know if Gonzalo was joking or not when he described his ideal commonwealth. I get a sense of his yearning for a better society than the one he lives in, but I am sceptical as to how much thought he has put into what he presents in Act 2 scene 1 of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Dear Gonzalo,

After looking more closely at your description of your utopian kingdom I am convinced that you must be joking! You speak of a kingdom without a king and then proceed to place yourself on the non-existent throne and call yourself ruler. You spout nonsensical lines such as “All things in common nature should produce without sweat or endeavour” (2.1.51). Indeed nature can provide, but someone must hunt, harvest or forage in order for a large group to survive. Where will these people shelter? Production without labour! Surely you jest sir!  I see a kingdom of homeless, naked and starving wretches! A society where everyone does nothing is doomed to deprivation and possible extinction. If your people will not farm, nor hunt and gather, famine is sure to follow fast.

I certainly share your loathing of the inequality of wealth and opportunity among the people, but transforming the kingdom into a disorganised rabble would only end in chaos and tragedy. Inevitably, people need someone to plan and organise in order for any group to function effectively. The larger the group becomes the more leaders are required. I believe that one word holds the key to a more egalitarian society; “leader”. A true leader serves the people, they do not dictate. You my dear Gonzalo are still employing the word “ruler” whilst speaking of a free society.

Your Shangri-la holds too many contradictions to be taken serious and I must believe you are mocking us with its suggestion. I will take you at your word when you pronounced that you were indeed joking and merely offering empty words. The dream of a better and more equitable society is a noble one, but one that will not be achieved by haphazard anarchy.

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Oz Lit Peer Review 6

You said a lot in very few words and that’s hard to do! I believe you are saying that the title meaning stems from how it would be used in a sentence, such as “to measure up”, as in measure up to equality and compassion. Your message is not quite clear and I would have loved if you elaborated on it a bit more. I could not figure out what “The Measure” was, so well done for coming up with a theory.

https://julenaoliva.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/blog-review-5-1890s-in-australia/#respond

 

Shakespeare Peer Review 7

Awesome! It was so cool how you seemed to merge poetry and prose. The altered positioning of the words visually added to the  atmosphere you were creating. Very inspirational and creative. Running may not always be possible,  sometimes you may stumble and it is fine to slow it down a bit while you  catch your breath. Moving forward is moving forward. Always remember the hare and the tortoise 🙂

https://christinarujicica.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/eng-210-blog-entry-5/

 

Week 8: Judith Wright’s “The Surfer”

I had no intention of digging up another of my old clunkers, but Judith Wright’s poem took me right back to the moment I was trying to capture when I wrote my piece. I think it was the line “Turn home, the sun goes down; swimmer, turn home.” It reminded me of the rapturous joy that could overtake me when I was immersed in the thrill of being part of the ocean, not just in it. I would lose all track of time and the sun could very well set without me noticing. I never got past the beginner level of surfing, but riding waves, either on a body board or just body surfing, was an amazing experience on those occasions when I lost myself in it.

I have two vivid memories of sharing this experience with others. One was my cousin and I surfing at Cronulla beach. We were barely teenagers and had just mastered standing up and riding the wave all the way in. A sand bar meant that we could simply walk back out and catch another wave. It was almost pitch black before we finally wretched ourselves out of the water. I think the fear of sharks overtook the fun. I spent so many days at that beach, yet that one stands out as something special for some reason.

The other one was what inspired my poem. My summer holidays as a youngster were usually spent in a caravan park at The Entrance on the central coast. The poem is about the summer of 1989 (yes classmates I’m that old). Re-reading it I first noticed how clunky it was, but I also had the stark realization that this was the last summer of my life that did not revolve around alcohol. It’s fascinating how our focus changes through the years. Anyway, this enigmatic elation I am trying to grasp was shared by almost two dozen kids and teenagers. It was almost a kind of mass hypnosis. We were there every day after and I never felt it again; intriguing.

SUNSET AT TWO SHORES

 

The sun is going down already.

Can’t stop yet, too much fun.

Seems like every kid in the caravan park is out here.

An army of boogie boarders and surfers.

All desperately clinging to the feeling.

Friends, fun, freedom.

 

The surf isn’t even that good.

But something makes this great.

We’re all in this together,

And yet we all catch our own waves.

We all experience it differently.

But the smiles are unmistakeable.

 

No one on the shore now,

Except for the invading beach fishermen.

Slowly and reluctantly,

Kids head into the sand.

Night time now.

Getting hungry.

 

We’ll be back tomorrow.

We’ll keep coming back.

Looking for whatever it was.

But somehow we’ll never find it.

That special ingredient.

I still don’t know what it was.

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Week 8: Connecting with Shakespeare’s Sonnet 146

I suffer with depression. Many themes in this sonnet relate to some important ideas that I needed to help me when I was languishing at the bottom of that angst ridden pit. A lot of the negative emotions sprang from worrying about how I would be perceived by others. Would they see me as weak, stupid or a waste of space? The shame of being depressed compounded the problem. My desire to present myself as being “OK” was precariously held together by lies and a false smile.

Shakespeare’s sonnet urges us to let go of our ego driven need to look good according to the standards of others. Boasting and adorning ourselves with trinkets is a hollow and endless rat race. We need to nurture our souls and take care of our inner selves. Why compete with others when it is their love that you wish to attain? You do not need to be better than someone in order to gain their friendship. We need to help each other navigate the ups and downs of this troublesome thing called life.

I have recently looked back at some of my old poetry attempts and found a few relevant to what we are studying. This one I found was written while I was in the middle of a very bad episode. I find it fascinating to read now and can see many similarities with Sonnet 146. There is nothing like a severe bout of depression to teach you humility and get you searching for what is really important in life. I was in a very bad way so please excuse the language.

MY HOUSE

 

The walls are cracking.

I can see the gaps opening.

All the lavish extensions falling away.

They amount to nothing.

A futile attempt to cover the truth.

The substructure is fucked.

 

My house will crumble.

There is no stopping this.

I have built a mansion

On foundations of shit.

And no matter what I attach to the exterior,

The base support is disintegrating.

 

I fought it long and hard.

Desperately trying to conceal the feeble foundations.

But there is no escaping the simple truth.

I must let it fall.

I must start again.

I will rebuild a new and reliable structure.

 

One that is grounded in truth.

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