Golberg reflects on the history and fragility of organizing time @ The Smart Set
The evening of December 29, 2011 was a Thursday evening. Most of the citizens of Samoa — a mere 190,000 in total — came home from work, had their nightly meal, and went to sleep. But when they awoke, it was Saturday morning. Friday, December 30, 2011 had disappeared. More precisely, December 30 was erased from the routine progression of time. Those with December 30th anniversaries, lovers of Fridays, and people not quite ready for the next year were out of luck. The clocks had been turned forward, a full day forward. December 30, 2011 was a day no Samoan would know.
The government of Samoa had decided the previous June to move westward across the international date line, so everyone knew the lost Friday was coming. The Samoan government made this change because they wanted to better align Samoa with trading partners in the East: Australia, New Zealand, China, the rest of Asia in general.
Samoans had actually been on the Asian side of the date line before, back in the 19th century. Then, in 1892, an American business house trading in the region convinced the king of Samoa that slipping over the date line to the other side, facilitating trade with California rather than Asia and Australia, was in everyone’s best interest. At the time, it made sense to the king. San Francisco was proving to be a much more influential trading partner than Sydney, and American ships lined Samoan shores. So Samoa left its time zone, and was suddenly just three hours behind California. In a twist of diplomatic self-congratulation, Americans had Samoa perform the shift backward in time on July 4, giving Samoans the opportunity to celebrate American Independence Day twice. In herLetters from Samoa, Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson — the mother of Robert Louis Stevenson, who had emigrated to Samoa with her son in 1890 — described the double Fourth of July thus:
It seems that all this time we have been counting wrong, because in former days communication was entirely with Australia, and it was simpler and in every way more natural to follow the Australian calendar; but now that so many vessels come from San Francisco, the powers that be have decided to set this right, and to adopt the date that belongs to our actual geographical position. To this end, therefore, we are ordered to keep two Mondays in this week, which will get us straight.
For 120 years, America’s trading authority has been encapsulated in the Pacific island nation of Samoa. Now, Samoa is three hours ahead of eastern Australia rather than 21 hours behind it, and 22 hours ahead of California. You could say the ever-shifting time zones in Samoa are symbolic of the ever-shifting tides of geopolitical influence: then from East to West; now from West to East.International journalists, delighted by the story of Samoa’s latest dance with time, saw the symbolism, too. And yet, the headlines were not “American Drones Go the Way of British Naval Ships” or “Australia Leaves the West for Asia”, as one might expect. Rather, the headlines indicated an altogether different fascination:
Golberg reflects on the history and fragility of organizing time @ The Smart Set
Emily Bullock explores the ruins of a mental hospital in Tasmania @ Island
I stop in at the petrol station to fill up. The petrol attendant asks what I’m up to this afternoon and I tell him I’m taking a trip to New Norfolk. ‘Not a bad place,’ he replies politely. Less than twenty years ago, a trip to New Norfolk meant something very different. It was a trip to the mad house, the funny farm. Being only recently closed, the life of ‘New Norfolk’ is still within living memory. Mention the name and someone will tell you a story of someone in there or of someone who knew someone...
The abandoned site of the Royal Derwent Hospital – once Tasmania's only institution for the mentally ill – is inescapable as you enter New Norfolk from Hobart. An unruly collection of dilapidated, lacklustre buildings, the Royal Derwent is an arresting sight/site. As a kind of suburb in itself, the site occupies the fringes of the small and economically depressed town of New Norfolk, 35km north-west of Hobart. The asylum once served the entire state, housing up to 1000 patients in its sprawling complex. Patients included those with both mental illness and intellectual disabilities as well as those with a litany of other social problems; from schizophrenics to depressives, alcoholics to epileptics, psycho-geriatrics to the "criminally insane".In its working days, the Royal Derwent was simply known as "New Norfolk‟, a site so mythic that its own boundaries seemed to expand to take in the whole town. Here, the entire town of New Norfolk came to stand for the institution and, by extension, madness. "To go to New Norfolk", writes Peter Conrad, "meant, I knew, to go a bit funny; to lose your reason‟ (84). The Royal Derwent is the oldest asylum in Australia on its original site, but has remained neglected both physically and in public discourse since being shut down in 2001.In an article on the hospital‟s closure in Hobart‟s daily newspaper, The Mercury, the site was described as a "huge open sore" that could only be "healed" through re-development (Wood 37). However, the numerous attempts to re-develop the site have been thwarted due to lack of funds. Abandoned and derelict, the site straddles apparent divisions between public and private, interior and exterior, disgust and delight – the twin poles of abjection.read more
Simone Ubladi rethinks the rituals of Burning Man @ Meanjin. Burning Man is a raver Vegas, a sea of fireballs, glow sticks and laser beams spewed across a blistered prehistoric lake bed in Nevada. It is a week-long arts festival which has run for some 25 years, culminating each year in the burning of a hundred foot high neon effigy. It is a city, Black Rock City, built from the ground up by 60,000 active participants and disappeared just one week later, scorched or carted away with no trace left behind.
It is also a philosophy of being, a strange hybrid of hedonism and humanitarianism, environmentalism and anarchy, extrapolated into the 365 day grind of the ‘real world’ through newfound sexual liberation or ongoing creative community, through charitable work or a vague but passionate intention to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. People don’t just go to Burning Man, they convert.I was a determined non-believer when I hit Black Rock City, an intrepid cultural tourist with an armour of quiet cynicism, strictly interested in seeing large-scale sculpture in the middle of the desert. That’s what a cursory Google image search for Burning Man reveals: monumental artworks under a blinding sun. But scratch the surface of the interweb and the earnest heart of the festival explodes, the hippy underpinnings of the event reveal themselves and the likelihood of widespread public nudity becomes apparent. If, like me, you are not a hippy and generally dislike seeing the penises of middle-aged men, this is problematic.
John Kinsella records a year in the country @ Overland.
When Tracy and Tim arrive, I’ll go up and close the double gates behind them. At this time of evening it would be usual to see roos, but none show. Their numbers are down. People have been shooting illegally in the reserve, and earlier in the day I noticed a strand of fence-wire cut where a hunter has stepped over, chasing roos onto our place. Our property. I reject the notion of property. Custodianship sounds too appropriative, and for a non-Indigenous resident, all too convenient. Really, that’s the issue that burns below the surface of all I write about this place. Proudhon is only halfway there with ‘property is theft’.
Some theft is more theft than others. He fails to investigate the nature of such theft: that’s more the key to understanding the implications of surveying, gifting, selling, claiming.Right across the block – its six acres, and an adjoining reserve twenty times that size – there are the tunnels of wolf spiders. They wait in their lairs and pounce. There’s one that lives under a rock near the 90,000-litre rainwater tank. I have been watching it for weeks. It sits under the ledge with its multiple eyes scanning its domain, then strikes out at insects that cross its path. If it gets alarmed, it disappears into a tunnel at the back of the rock – its cave under the ledge.
|Paul X Johnson @ Paper Darts|
Sheila Fitzpatrick reflects on the reliability of memory @ Griffith Review.‘Every historian should write an autobiography,’ wrote the historian AJP Taylor, introducing his own, A Personal History (1983). ‘The experience teaches us to distrust our sources which are often autobiographical.’ In other words, it teaches us humility about the basis of the story we are telling – not that humility is a quality particularly evident in Taylor’s work. The main danger, he thought, was that the historian-autobiographer might exaggerate his successes or, more likely, his failures and humiliations. But that was easily corrected: ‘the experienced historian ends by striking out the more fantastical episodes, even if they happen to be true.’ This should produce the uninteresting personal history that Taylor, as he assures us, set out to write.What Taylor called autobiography most theorists would call memoir, the difference (as expounded by Karl J Weintraub, in a classic article in Critical Inquiry in 1975) being that memoir is a record of external fact while autobiography is a reflection on the inward realm of experience, an attempt to find the meaning of a life. A historian can easily tell the two genres apart by the rule of thumb that if something lends itself to being used as a source, it’s a memoir, and if it proves strangely recalcitrant, it’s autobiography.The American writer Mary McCarthy wrote both, starting with autobiography. Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (1957), written in her mid-thirties, was an effort to give a meaning to the pain of her harsh upbringing in a great-aunt’s house after her parents’ death, and the resentment she felt about it. Returning to the subject thirty years later, in the memoir How I Grew (1987), she retreated from the intense emotion of the autobiography and submitted her memories to a rigorous critical review (‘On reflection, I see that I have been exaggerating’; ‘But stop! That cannot be true...’). The imaginative writer, in other words, had become a historian of the strictest, more fact-oriented kind.read more