Sunday, January 20, 2008

The flame of civilization

I've just finished reading Tropical Truth, but Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso. It's an extremely contentious, but inspiring witness to the creative energies around the nexus of art and music in 20th century Brazil.

Like many other Brazilian artists, Veloso's work seems borne of the struggle against the exoticisation of the south.  Rather than present the South as primitive other to the rational North, he advocates a continuity of the rationalist project, albeit with a detour:

The great movement that carried the flame of civilization from the globe's warm regions into the cold of the northern hemisphere - thence on to Japan and the neocapitalist Asian tigers and neocommunist China - this movement is ripe for a detour. And it may have as its horizon a myth of Brazil - the American, Lusophonic, mestizo giant of the southern hemisphere.
Caetano Veloso Tropical Truth: A Story of Music & Revolution in Brazil New York: De Capo Press, 2002 (orig. 1997), p. 324

There's a reasonable quota of Lusophone mysticism in the book. But it results in a dense creativity, woven in the dialogue between musicians and artists and through samba, Bossa Nova and Tropicalismo. How can we connect this to other creative energies in the South?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Where is a Melbourne of the north?

The Age editorial (7/1/2008) advocated for Melbourne's position as the next UNESCO City of Literature by seeing that the city could be a mirror of the north:

In this respect, Melbourne has all the qualifications to be the Edinburgh of the south: our rich literary tradition, nourished by support from writers and readers but also from government and local government, sets the stage or builds the shelf (pick your metaphor) for this city to be a national and international centre for literature and all its offshoots.
Melbourne: city of literature and literacy - Editorial - Opinion -

This phrase 'x of the south' subscribes to a model of the world where the origins exist on the north, and it is left for those cities in the south like Melbourne to aspire to be like them.

I like Fergus Hume's citation, in the world's first detective novel, set in Melbourne.

Some writer has described Melbourne as Glasgow, with the sky of Alexandria; and certainly the beautiful climate of Australia, so Italian in its brightness, must have a great effect on the nature of such an adaptable race as the Anglo-Saxon… Climatic influence should be taken into account with regard to the future Australian, and our prosperity will be no more like us than the luxurious Venetians resembled their hardy forefathers, who first started to build on those lonely sandy islands of the Adriatic.
Fergus Hume The Mystery of a Hansom Cab Melbourne: Sun Books, 1971 (orig. 1886)

While Melbourne aspires alternatively to be a Glasgow or Edinburgh of the south, is there a town in Scotland that is one day hoping people will call it the 'Melbourne of the north'?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The limits of mateship









An enduring image of the last-minute Australian victory over India in the second Test was the wild celebrations by the triumphant cricketers. While excited to embrace and cavort with their 'mates', none of the Aussies sought a sportsmanlike handshake with the Indian batsmen who had contributed to the exciting finish. This has caused outrage in not only in the sub-continent, but Australia as well. It highlights the paradox in the value of mateship, which brings together white men in a bond of camaraderie, though casts a shadow over those who are considered foreign. It includes by excluding.

It's the same kind of mistake that occurs in the Australian colony in Paraguay. Though built on the ideal of a fellowship of man, it cast the darker man as an enemy.

The assumption that Anglo-Saxons were inherently superior to Hispano-Indians was as much a part of the colony's creed as teetotalism, a principle which had also been made explicit in the New Australia articles of association, but was now an unwritten law. The racial attitudes the colonists had brought with them from Australia were revealed by some of the facetious advertisements in Evening Notes: 'Boycott the Chinkie and save yourselves from the Yellow Agony by buying your vegetables from white gardener -- John Wilson'; 'Baxter's shoes - Nigger tickler clogs.'… this was not gracious, for on the whole Cosme fared well in its deadlings with the Government of Paraguay.
Gavin Souter A Peculiar People: The Australians In Paraguay Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1968

But this is clearly not representative of all Australians. Counter-balancing this xenophobic mateship is a 'fair go' egalitarianism that assumes all are equal. Let's hope this value is encouraged by the conflict between Australia and India, rather than deepening trenches.