Title: Taking Root

Author: Tim Corballis

In: Sport 29: Spring 2002

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, October 2002

Part of: Sport

Keywords: Literature

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Sport 29: Spring 2002

Tim Corballis — Taking Root

page 45

Tim Corballis

Taking Root

In 1994 I spent a week with A in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. Late one night we were walking arm-in-arm through the streets of the town when a man approached us, bleeding profusely from the head. Nearby, there were ruined houses, possibly still inhabited despite the gaping holes in their roofs and bricked-up windows. I still have a photo of the houses during daytime, with the conical turret of a church visible above and behind them, and white clouds sitting lightly in a deep blue sky; on the street in front of the houses, which we would walk past every day on our way from the youth hostel where we stayed, the photo has caught people walking, each of them alone, though they are too distant to make out features apart from a woman's blue skirt and the grey sweater or coat of a man. The photo was an attempt to record a feeling of decay which inhabits every detail of the city, including the fully intact building on the right of the image: the structures are the same yellow-grey as the street, and the intact house is roofed with the same tiles as the ruins. The church turret is hardly noticeable over the chaos of the shattered roofs, despite being in the exact centre of the image. I am still not sure whether the pleas which A and I made to the hostel attendant to call an ambulance were ignored, or whether we finally persuaded her. That is, I am not sure whether the man who approached us, delirious and staggering from his injury, lived or died. The hostel attendant, whom we had obviously woken from a deep sleep, was stony-faced and reluctant to do anything about the situation. She talked in English which was somewhat worse than A's, and did not understand, or refused to understand, when A spoke German to her. In the city there seemed to be a lasting hatred not only for the Russians, but also at times also for Germans: perhaps by this time in our visit we had already visited the museum which occupied the former KGB headquarters, in which the padded walls of one of the cells were stained with the blood of its inmates—our guide was an page 46 old man who, on hearing that A was from Germany, said only: ‘Deutschland, Deutschland, über Alles.’ I am unsure now whether the hostel attendant actually said, when we implored her to call for help for the man, that we didn't and couldn't possibly understand this place, meaning Vilnius, meaning Lithuania, or perhaps meaning Eastern Europe, or maybe in fact meaning the space within her own mind, or whether I had simply felt or imagined the implication in her words. I wondered, and still wonder, what a man with a cracked and bleeding skull had to do with the place, or with understanding the place—what he had to do with the falling-down buildings, the crowds in the market, the women on the side of the road selling food from formica kitchen tables.

Since that journey I have become increasingly suspicious of the need of New Zealanders to travel, a need which I felt myself and subsequently realised in my explorations of Eastern Europe and Scandinavia with A, as well as in various travels to other parts of Europe and North America with my family. That is, I am suspicious of the cultural need to define one's country by leaving it, travelling overseas and experiencing other places but always with an eye to home, quick to draw comparisons between nations or peoples. My experience of returning to New Zealand was one of returning to an unchanged place, with few memories of my travels except for a collection of inexpert snapshots which always failed to represent even the shadow of the idea which led to their creation. Perhaps this suspicion is because of an idea that has lodged itself in my head, though I can see the absurdity of such an idea, that in order to get a true perspective on home it is necessary to see as little as possible of the place you've travelled to, even to end up doing your best to destroy that place in the manner of an occupying army, reducing it to nothing: tastes, sounds, smells, the exteriors and interiors of churches, and smatterings of the language which fade within weeks of leaving. The attempt to be in two places at once, both at home and away, to both represent one's place and be open to another, is surely an impossibility. Conversely, the only way to truly see Vilnius and the other towns where I spent an even briefer time on my travels, I can't help thinking, would have been to ‘go native’, to forget my home country, or what I page 47 have become accustomed to thinking of as my home country, and make my return impossible.

I moved to Wellington at the beginning of the year 2000. I have always found it difficult to put down roots in a place, and I have also always found it difficult to move away, or to pull up the roots I have worked so hard, with so little success at first, to put down. I moved to the suburb of Kelburn, where I still live—this suburb impressed me for the grainy quality of the air, and the smell of clay. My current flat has a view over a steep valley, whose sides are covered with bush which conceals or competes for space with the houses. At the bottom of the valley, where Glenmore Street runs, there must have once been a stream, now underground in a stormwater drain—in fact, the part of my neighbourhood that has the strongest smell, and the most deeply authentic-feeling (as if I can look up and see nothing but thick underbrush all around) is the point in the Botanic Gardens where the water emerges from underground and pools to allow sediment to fall, then passes through a grate and flows towards the duckpond. Close by, on the other side of a wide pathway, is a vehicle shed and work area for Gardens staff, dimly illuminated after dark by a weak light high above the garage door. This almost completely artificial environment is transformed by the flowing water into a primeval valley floor, and I become the first human to venture into it, leaving a trail of shattered plants in my wake. It is possibly this sense of exploration, or of becoming the lone pioneer, that remains with me when I sometimes jump at the presence of other people, or which makes me feel embattled against the ‘other side’ of the suburb: the fortress-like houses hidden behind walls and security gates; the armour-plated four-wheel-drive vehicles; the buildings which, despite the presence of the bush, can suddenly seem too close together. Where once I will look out my window to a view which is empty and serene, the next minute the same view will be teeming with traffic and the shouts of my neighbours. Then again, the top of the nearby hill will be hidden in cloud, in the manner of a far-off mountain peak. On my first morning walks around my central, bushy suburb, where civilisation borders on forested wilderness—the overgrown, the slipping, the moss of Kelburn, the walks under mature trees—I would suddenly get a glimpse down page 48 a steep hill to a street where I had never set foot and think: that is my place! Distant houses or letterboxes or parked cars would give me a sense of melancholy or even homesickness for the lives of the strangers who lived there. Then, looking again, I would see a completely foreign environment. Or, walking to a nearby store to buy bread and milk, all my feelings of alienation would be overcome by the simple transaction, and at once I would be living in a village where everyone walked everywhere (though still looking to the left and right before crossing the road).

While living here, the music for me has been the orchestral and chamber music of a number of contemporary composers, most notably Gavin Bryars. I was some years previously attracted to his cello concerto Farewell to Philosophy. It is probably only due to my own training that I found the title to this piece interesting, though it in fact denotes the referential nature of the work—sections of the piece consciously echo Haydn's symphonies the Farewell and the Philosopher. I was intrigued to discover that Bryars himself had, however, studied philosophy, as I had. I had often reflected that my philosophical career was doomed to end in self-destruction, engaged as I was in a thesis entitled The Desolation of Philosophy, an over-ambitious attempt to put an end to the discipline once and for all. I had come to believe that the philosophical project was empty, and that the best we can do as rational beings, as rational emotional human beings, is to strike a pose, or take a stance, or see the world in a certain way or by a certain set of (quite arbitrary) principles. Even that is doomed to failure. Since that time, I have become unsure now whether my thesis was an attempt to destroy philosophy or an attempt to stop philosophy from destroying me. This is, of course, overstating the case: the worst that philosophy would do to me was to take over my thoughts, my breath, and ultimately my identity, making me a philosopher, in much the same way that a place could ultimately take over my thoughts and my breath and my identity and make me, say, a New Zealander (or a Lithuanian).

Much of Bryars's music seems to be about the struggle to find a voice. The cello in Farewell to Philosophy has moments and even whole passages of lyrical beauty, but loses its way without warning. In Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet the recorded voice of a homeless man, played page 49 on an endless loop, is thin and fragile next to the orchestral accompaniment. Hadn't I heard of (or even engaged in) the struggle to find a voice as a writer? Even of the literary-historical struggle to find a characteristically New Zealand voice? But, then, isn't the real struggle more than just one of finding a voice, but of finding someone or something to listen to that voice, and to respond?

‘[P]erhaps musical modernity designates the moment when music renounces the endeavour to provoke the answer of the Other’1—so writes the psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek. Zizek writes, about Schumann: ‘With Schumann, the privileged link between melody and voice is broken: it is no longer possible to construct the full melody from the solo vocal line, since the melody, as it were, promenades itself between the vocal and piano lines.’2 The voice in Schumann's vocal music gradually becomes lost (according to Zizek). There is a progression from the disordered narrative structure of song 1 of the Dichterliebe and the ‘non-synchronization’ (Zizek's term) and ‘noncoordination’ (Zizek's term) between the piano and voice in that song; through song 8 where the poet's fury is expressed not by the voice, but by the piano (so writes Zizek); and through a number of other stages identified by Zizek, culminating in pieces for solo piano such as the Humoresque, which (according to Zizek) ‘is not a simple piano piece but a song without the vocal line’.3 Then, paradoxically, even the absent voice is lost (Zizek). ‘[T]he very formal structure of Schumann's music expresses the paradox of modern subjectivity: the bar—the impossibility of “becoming oneself” …—on account of which “infinite longing” is constitutive of subjectivity’4—so writes Zizek. ‘Romanticism is closely linked to the motif of melancholy’5—Zizek. ‘[D]esire's “natural” state is … that of melancholy’6—so writes Zizek. ‘That is the basic lesson of psychoanalysis: in our everyday lives, we vegetate, deeply immersed in the universal Lie; then, all of a sudden, some contingent encounter—a casual remark during a conversation, an incident we witness—brings to light the repressed trauma which shatters our self-delusion’7—so writes Zizek.

In any case, I had surely heard something of the lost voice, or the missing voice, or at least the faltering voice, in the music of Gavin Bryars. His minimalist precursors had rediscovered rhythm and the page 50 drone as a musical ‘background’—in fact, the drone, a constant bass note sung or played throughout a piece, resurrected from ancient and orthodox music where it represents the ‘voice of God’, or even the ‘silence of God’, seems (in context) painfully missing from some of Bryars's pieces. At the beginning of The Last Days for violin duo, the opening solo violin cries out for a droned accompaniment, or for a silence which is somehow comforting and not desolate—in fact the melody, which seems to have a destination then unexpectedly falters time and time again, cries out simply for a place to exist, a background such as a more straightforward minimalist repeated accompaniment. The second violin arrives for a painful single note, and then is silent again until late in the prelude (perversely entitled The Roman Ending—the piece moves on to The Venetian Beginning, through a pair of intermezzi to end on The Corinthian Middle, so echoing the confused narrative structure of Schumann's Dichterliebe song 1). When it comes in for the second time, the arrival is again even more devastating than the lack. Far from the desired accompaniment, it holds a few notes then is gone once again. Worse, the notes peel off from the melody, so the listener has no way of telling which violin is the second and which has been playing since the start—an ambiguity which is of course only possible listening to a recording, where the sounds are removed from their physical sources. The narrative is no longer just confused, but is also split in two (as is the listener), each half vying to push the other into the background. If minimalism has established the role of the repetitive or droned accompaniment as place, or as background (which is why minimalist music is often chosen for film scores), then Bryars's solo violin seems to exist nowhere at all, and when the view is suddenly opened up by the second violin entry it serves not to locate but to confuse: it is impossible to tell subject from place, person from environment. It is impossible to tell whether the voices are speaking or being spoken. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that in the background is another voice, and so the voice itself (my voice) is just part of the background.

What is missing in the violin duo format is, of course, the usual cello and viola of the string quarter. In his quarters, Bryars favours the extreme registers: the lower instruments play deep notes which simulate page 51 those of his own instrument, the double bass, while the violins tend to soar upwards to thin, piercing tones. The high notes have the manner of faint cries over the rumbling of tectonic plates. However, it is not the violins that unanimously carry the melody, leaving the lower instruments to provide the accompaniment—as often as not, the upper ‘human’ cries are repetitive, even monotonous, and eventually ignored by the listener, while the true movement is in the environment, in geology and history to which the individual voices above seem oddly irrelevant.

I can't help wondering whether Bryars applies the same violence to the drone—the ‘silence of God’—or the rhythmic or environmental accompaniment, that Schumann takes to the narrative voice (according to Zizek), challenging its place in music and its distinction from the melody. That is, while Schumann forces us to desire the missing voice (even to ‘hear’ it) then takes his melancholic turn, removing even the absence which allows for desire, Bryars forces us to desire the missing background, then (in the prelude to The Last Days) provides us with a background that destroys the very voice it was meant to accompany. He takes the roles of voice and place and begins to blur the boundaries, suggesting that, when we speak, we speak our environment, or that our environment speaks louder than us, or our environment speaks through us, and that our environment speaks us, and that we are nothing more than our environment, or that the best we can do is struggle (impossibly) to be separate from it. The accompaniment is often louder than the melody, or moves faster, or has more interesting variations, and intrudes on our consciousness in an unwelcome manner (or worse, in an alluringly welcome one). In the String Quarter no. 2, an uncharacteristic section of pulsing strings (reminiscent of minimalist pieces such as Reich's Different Trains or Adams's Shaker Loops) is slowly transformed into a melodic line by the gradual introduction of the cello on Bryars's favourite low registers—the melody has had to fight against the minimalist-style rhythm, as though fighting for breath, even for its very identity.

During my time living in Kelburn I began to see the view out my window through this music, and only after some time would I notice the tui on the branches outside. In fact, I sometimes wondered whether page 52 my interpretation of the music was not absurd, brought on by the sense of bombardment I felt on occasions from billboards, advertisements, shop windows, labels, magazines and broadcast media, which had me reacting even to trees or other natural phenomena as though they were trying to persuade me of something. If the music for my living environment was that of Bryars, then the music which I heard in my head on forays into the central city was the most up-to-date electronic music—which has made the same discoveries about repetition and about space as have the minimalists. In an advertisement for a popular brand of portable stereo, a brand found, surely, in every corner of the globe (to the point where those parts of the globe where it isn't found are simply forgotten altogether, considered empty in the way early European settlers must have regarded New Zealand as a hitherto empty space in which to move), a young person of indeterminate gender lies on a park bench wearing the stereo headphones of the advertised product—the park bench is shallowly submerged in water, into which the tips of the listener's fingers are also dipped, and this flat ocean stretches otherwise uninterrupted to the horizon. The advertisement, one of a series along such lines, speaks of the power of music, and especially (or so I imagine) electronic music, to transport the listener to another place altogether, to transform the listener's very environment into, for example, something more serene and less beset with conflict and meaningless noise than the real world. The person shown in the advertisement is clearly travelling, not in actual physical space, but within him-or herself, perhaps having taken advice from Marcus Aurelius: ‘Men look for retreats for themselves, the country, the seashore, the hills; and you yourself, too, are peculiarly accustomed to feel the same want. Yet all this is very unlike a philosopher, when you may at any hour you please retreat into yourself. For nowhere does a man retreat into more quiet or more privacy than into his own mind, especially one who has within such things that he has only to look into, and become at once in perfect ease …’8 The emperor Aurelius wrote this injunction to himself, probably during his imperial lucubrations while on a military campaign against the tribes of Germany, and far from his own city of Rome. I find it difficult not to be as sceptical of this sort of internal voyaging, page 53 the endless searching of one's soul, as I am of actual travel, though at the same time I am just as strongly attracted to it. My scepticism has the same root in either case: if the traveller to another country ends up, in his or her own way, simply emulating the violence of an invading army, then surely the internal traveller does just as much violence to his or her own psyche, plundering the depths for whatever trinkets can be found within and brought back to the world of appearances. Isn't one of the main attractions of seminars or books on mind-power or meditation that they promise, not self-knowledge, but success and financial gain and the achievement of whatever you set your sights on? Whatever the value of such seminars and books and movements in helping us to cope with the trauma or just the boredom of everyday life, the same disappointment has always struck me on returning from my internal travels as on returning from a trip overseas: the familiar world of my everyday life remains the same, and I immediately re-enter my old, repetitive routine. At the same time, I wish that the comfort of my internal world, my imaginary world (which is surely the same as the exotic world I anticipate when stepping onto an international flight), might last forever.

But perhaps a full return is never possible, and I have in fact ‘gone native’ to some degree in every city I have visited, and stayed partially immersed in my own thoughts, meaning I am never fully in my own home, my own suburb. I sometimes wonder whether I have ever, in fact, arrived in this country at all. I spent my first years, up to the age of six, in Montreal, and I imagine myself still wandering in that city, to which I have returned since as a citizen in name only—perhaps it is my real homeland, though also a place of extreme temperatures whose streets are a grid forced onto the landscape, and which is in truth completely unknown to me. Seeing myself in that place, two images come to mind: the face of the woman who repeatedly spoke to me in French as I was entering a Métro station—when I finally understood that she was desperately asking for money I walked on, too embarrassed by my incomprehension to give anything—and, on a sidewalk near the centre of the city, the man whose skin was coloured a deep, metallic gold. I looked at his hands, which were the same colour, then back at his face to meet his look. We passed each other without a word, and I page 54 never discovered whether the strange colouring was the result of an illness, the side effect of a cure, or had some other explanation. He attracted no more attention than did any of the other pedestrians.

There is a watercolour in the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library, almost certainly the work of Charles Emilius Gold, of a rata tree in Wellington, dated 1849.9 The tree is hanging with broad-leafed epiphytes and surrounded by tree-ferns and other plants, the flora in general having the foreshortened effect common to representations of New Zealand bush from that time, which give the impression that the trees are crowding and leaning forward to touch the viewer. Visible beneath the branches of the rata, and above the crowns of the other trees, the hills and islands of Wellington harbour fade into the distance. The trees are clearly on the edge of a road or clearing, probably the Karori Road, part of which is now known as Glenmore Street, and it is therefore likely that the rata once stood in or near the suburb of Kelburn. It is one of few representations I have seen of dense bush in the area. Another painting, by William Mein Smith, shows a road through bush which might have been in my suburb, but is more likely to be in the Hutt Valley.10 However, the two human figures in this painting attract my attention, and make the Gold painting all the more desolate by comparison: one seems at home seated against the road embankment which has been cut into the hill, while the other, standing, looks over his shoulder into the nearby foliage. The road that the figures are travelling, presumably resting for a while, the standing one anxious to walk on and escape the claustrophobia of the dark spaces amongst the undergrowth, the seated one caught in a forgetful bliss brought on by exhaustion, seems to be an unsightly wound in the landscape, its edges curling slightly as they pull away from each other. A painting of the harbour from Kelburn by Charles Decimus Barraud, made in 1870, shows a grassy rural landscape of the sort familiar to all New Zealanders, where the bush is hidden in gullies and other inaccessible places.11 The peaks of the Tararuas are visible on the horizon, under a darkening bank of cumuli. In the harbour, two tall ships are at anchor. Here, what looks like (but presumably isn't) the same road as that painted by Smith winds around page 55 the side of the hill, now safely distant from the bush on either side. Far from claustrophobia, the sense of the environment leaning in on the viewer which is present in the paintings by Gold and Smith, there is here a new feeling of space, as though at last the landscape is empty and may be entered and settled safely. There is an altogether new landscape, freshly invented, in fact stretched tight, the new landscape of our country, and the seam, in fact the falsity of the landscape, only shows in the road which trails away towards the water. It even appears possible to step into the picture: we are no longer presented with a wall of vegetation which forbids entry, a formless mass of bush threatening to consume us if we pass the all-too-obvious boundary (or perhaps we can pass it safely only by ‘going native’). Already Smith's road is a breach, running nervously through the bush, while Gold's had shown the bush by the side of the road, something we can only pass by but not safely enter—looking at Gold's painting, we thankfully do not get the feeling of more bush behind us, but of an open space into which we can escape. Barraud's painting solves the problem of the bush, or rather by the time he painted it the problem was solved for him, by the removal of the bush altogether.

A photograph taken in 1902 shows a view similar to Barraud's painting, of Upland Road, the bare hillside, the western shore of the harbour fading into the haze, and against the water and misty background the silhouettes of introduced conifers.12 The only houses visible are those at some distance, at the foot of Tinakori Hill on the left of the image. The road cutting, at the lower right of the image (as it was, in fact, in Smith's painting and in Barraud's painting) dominates the view: the fresh appearance of the exposed clay and the excavated dirt which spills in long stains down the side of the hill seem to indicate that the excavations are recent, giving the sense (along with the bare earth and the gloomy quality of the photograph) of an open-cast mine—of a plundered land, ruthlessly stripped of its assets. Another photo from two years later shows a steep hillside which is still possibly covered with its original bush, being too steep for any reasonable use.13 It is also taken, apparently, from Upland Road, and shows the intersection of Glen and Ngaio Roads, the latter running under the foot of the steep hillside. The intersection forms a cross in the lower page 56 middle section of the image, and from this point the roads radiate in straight lines across a desolate, possibly swampy valley floor, and their overall appearance reminds me for some reason of the windswept runways and taxi lanes of an airport. There is already, by this time, a line of houses on Marire Road, which runs along the top of the ridge above this sunken area.

Other views from the end of the same decade show a suburb already with a somewhat crowded appearance, no longer from native bush but from newly built houses. The spaces between the houses have the same taut quality as in Barraud's painting, and it is easy when focusing on them to imagine that the truth of the land is its rural or pastoral character, and that the increasing tide of houses is an afterthought. The scars of Upland Road are still visible, even from a distance, and there are other clay embankments exposed to allow the passage of other roads. The old viaduct over Glenmore Street rests on wooden scaffolding whose lines do not appear quite parallel, giving the strained impression of a structure designed, not to allow the easy passage of freight and passengers through a difficult landscape, but to hold the hillsides together—to stop them from crumbling into the valley in which, in a postcard of the area from 1908, entitled ‘Karori Electric Tramway’, the new electric tram labours with its excited passengers up the hill towards Karori.14 Perhaps the new technology was a welcome distraction from the vague feeling that the rural landscape—whose only inhabitants had been the wind and the livestock, neither of whom would complain at the ongoing claims, subdivisions, purchases, housing and road projects taking place—was itself not the natural state of an empty land waiting for settlers but an all-too-recent replacement for another landscape. The apparent effortlessness of the new tram, moving without a separate steam engine or team of horses, seemed (or so I imagine) to herald a time finally free of the costs and difficulties of transport, and indeed free of resistance, as if the wires installed overhead were final proof of the right to keep moving ahead, to claim the places that had surely been lying empty since the beginning of time.

page 57

Some time after thinking and writing about the above ideas, I walked with H on a route which took us into one of the top entrances to the Botanic Gardens and down a steep path through a hillside of mostly native bush.15 I talked about the ubiquitous kawakawa, the layering of whose leaves in the dappled light of the understory always fills me with a calm which I can't explain. Then, in a terraced garden where we each took a few photos—H of the flowers of primulas and foxgloves, myself of the branching trunk of an ornamental maple—H talked about the impact of recording technology and the recording industry on our experience of music. Where, for example, she said, traditional calypso music had been firmly rooted in its setting and its time, with new songs and variations emerging by the week and, presumably, just as often lost to memory, with each experience, each performance being different and in fact unique, the recording of such music had made it possible to repeat the experience, and for the same experience to be common to all listeners, the world over. The music became frozen in time, and frozen in a strangely perfected state, a state which would never be heard in performance, certainly not on stereo headphones which, she said, reproduced the experience of a hypothetical listener perched atop the high-hat cymbals. Furthermore, a ‘recording’ was often composed of the best parts of a number of separate recorded events edited together, and the instruments which so seamlessly accompanied each other would usually in fact have been recorded separately. The recorded music we listen to is something that has never happened, she said, and could never happen, and the places it transports us to are mythical or ideal places, each of us in our own separate headphone worlds but at the same time together an identical, mass-produced auditory landscape. In a curious reversal or perversion, which she said was known as the ‘recording aesthetic’, the ideal in performance had now become one of reproducing the experience of recorded music rather than the other way around, and with this ideal came the death of whatever initial intention existed whereby recording technology would be used to document a single performance. We walked further, out into Glen Road and Ngaio Road and up a path to Upland Road, where the trees had reasserted themselves over the last century. I had asked H to point out and tell me about some of the page 58 weeds growing in this area: I knew that the lush green layer closely covering whole hillsides was ‘Wandering Jew’ or, as H informed me Tradescantia fluminensis. In addition, she said, periwinkles or Vinca major grow everywhere, and wherever one looked, she said, there are the fine purple inflorescences of a species of Lineria. She stooped to pick a bouquet of ‘gallant soldiers’ or Galinsoga parviflora, and added to it the pink flowers of the false valerian or Centranthus ruber, then the common vetch (Vicia sativa), a long stem from a member of the goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae, probably a Chenopodium sp.), and finally a single flower of a Tangier pea (Lathyrus tingitanus), which she thought, probably does not originate in, or bear any special relationship to, the Moroccan port of Tangier, which was a neutral international zone, and as such a kind of placeless place, between the years of 1923 and 1956. As we walked along the main road, H fondly carrying this small collection in her hand, then turned off to the point where the old wooden viaduct had once emerged from the side of the hill like a jetty testing its faith in the space beyond and below it. Expensive cars and four-wheel-drives passed by, their edges shimmering in the late-afternoon sunlight. The forearms of the drivers were visible, their hands tightly gripping the steering wheels, the vehicles themselves pushing relentlessly onwards. Pedestrians walked quickly in either direction, looking away from each other as they passed and yet somehow avoiding collisions. My mind was on the transformation of the land, the images of this area whose past forms had disappeared but whose rich vegetation was once again fighting to emerge, and on the exotic plants which were also forcing their way through the cracks in the pavement and claiming the slopes, and it occurred to me that the pedestrians, the drivers, the people in their rooms hidden behind walls and security systems all had their battles to fight, that each one was engaged in some small war, and as H and I walked I was aware that my own battles were no different: I would tear at my surroundings, level them and bombard them for the sake of creating a space in which to breathe. For a moment it seemed as though the gleaming cars, walkers and joggers who squinted into the light and even the houses with their blinding walls formed a caravan which was moving, in a single long procession, across some mythical wasteland under a setting sun.

1 Slavoj Zizek, The Plague of Fantasies, London: Verso 1997, p. 192.

2 Ibid., p. 197.

3 Ibid., p. 203.

4 Ibid., p. 205.

5 Ibid., p. 195.

6 Ibid., p. 81.

7 Ibid., p. 130.

8 Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (tr. Farquharson), Oxford: OUP 1990, iv. 3.

9 Alexander Turnbull Library reference B-103-003.

10 ATL reference B-009-013.

11 ATL reference D-022-006.

12 ATL reference F 21865 1/2.

13 ATL reference PAColl-5800-46.

14 ATL reference Eph-B-POSTCARD-vol-6-100.

15 I would like to thank Helen Cain for her assistance in this section.