On Mr Rudds multitude of policy positions, or syntax without semantics.


“ they exert every variety of talent on a lower ground…and may be said to live and act in a submind”……

VS Naipaul  “The Air Conditioned Bubble”

Writing in 1984 about the republican convention of 1984 (the triumphant beginning of Ronald Regans second term), V S Naipaul wrote of the language used at the convention as ‘computerlike’.  He wrote of his sense of a ‘hollowness’ at its core and he quotes a number of speeches by delegates to the convention. Naipaul then goes on to write about English as a living language, one growing and deepening by internal references, allusive, full of references to itself – Shakespeare, the bible, popular culture etc; a language capable of making statements about itself , language capable of awareness of, being aware. The language of the speakers at the convention by contrast had, to quote Naipaul: “the same tone, the same personality (or absence of it), the same language unallusive, cleansed sterile, nerveless and dead, computer language”: a language incapable of ironic awareness: mindless and empty.

At the end of the essay Naipaul returns to and reflects upon his sense of a vacancy and inertness at the heart of the convention. Reflecting on the “imaginative poverty” he sensed at the centre of the great occasion he quotes Emerson’s reflections on visiting Britain at the height of its imperial power, in the mid 19th century. For Emerson it was, “as if inspiration had ceased, as if no vast hope, no religion, no song of joy, no wisdom, no analogy, existed anymore”. Emerson felt that English intellectual life was being choked by its consciousness of enormous power, wealth, rightness (inevitability).  He wrote, “ they exert every variety of talent on a lower ground…and may be said to live and act in a submind”.  Naipaul’s essay concludes thus: “like Emerson in England, I seemed in the convention hall of Dallas ”to walk on a marble floor, where nothing will grow.” ”

The unease I feel is that we too, are walking on a “floor where nothing will grow”.  Emerson was writing about a society much like our own, dominated by technique and by instrumental reason. The unease is that, “as if inspiration had ceased, as if no vast hope, no religion, no song of joy, no wisdom, no analogy, existed anymore”, has come true, and that all we have to look forward to is is a endless:

“denying of the past, fearful of the future”..”endless present of endless panic.”

About john r walker

Have been exhibiting for 30 years . Utopia Art Sydney is my sole outlet. Apart from painting representations I have had a long interest in deep time , history in general and the representation of representation. http://johnrwalker.com.au/
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18 Responses to On Mr Rudds multitude of policy positions, or syntax without semantics.

  1. Mike Pepperday says:

    I don’t think we deny the past. On the contrary, I think we are looking back all the time. There are so many history programs on TV (every night there is something on WW2) and people are always re-creating some arduous voyage or trek of a century ago (with a satellite phone).

    What was eating Emerson with his complaint about the “submind”? In mid 19C the greatest days of the British Empire were yet to come.

    Fearful of the future? Maybe not fearful enough. It looks pretty bleak to me.

    But maybe I agree with you, John, Our society has no place to go. Until a century ago there was that proud empire to be built and maintained, then it was necessary to win a couple of mighty wars and then, with memories of the Depression, we could work toward a better society for the next generation. Until recently heaven also existed as a worthy goal. We could even fly to the moon. Varoufakis reckons 1970 was the turning pint. Seems right. By 1970 it was all over bar the shouting. The shouting was in the signs of pointlessness: unemployment, drugs, crime, divorce, suicide.

    After that, if a man wanted to:

    Strike for all that is true and strong, for all that is grand and brave,
    For all there ever shall be so long as man has a soul to save—

    what the blazes would he actually do?

    Well, we were distracted for another couple of decades by the Cold War and then we were totally adrift. An awareness that there was nowhere to go but downhill began to penetrate the public consciousness. A widened understanding of biological evolution (“selfish gene”) exacerbated the pointlessness. (As the song says: “Is that all there is?”) The rise of neoliberal economics reinforced evolution’s competitive principle until “society” came to mean the economy. Seems to me there is a widespread view of “might as well party” because there’s nothing else to do. And if the future’s hopeless then why not push that to “party while you can”?

    • john r walker says:

      MIke, Naipaul’s essay was originally part of a larger body of work called ‘Amongst the Republicans’ (it can now be found in a book of essays called, ‘The Writer and the World’). Naipaul was writing about contemporary American political language and Emerson was simply a telling analogy. As far as 19th century UK goes, between about 1840 and 1900, Britain had a huge navy. However, in that whole period only 5 men managed to get from below decks to an officer position. It was a system of rigid, arbitrary privilege that inevitably gave rise to meritorious mediocrity – in G&S terms ‘knob polisher’. I would contend that since the 1970s the level of entrenched arbitrary privilege has increased enormously in most Western countries and goes a fair bit of the way to explain why things are nowhere near as good as they supposedly are. Greece is far from the only Western country where most of the welfare went to people with special privileges.

      • Nicholas Gruen says:

        I doubt there’s much to be said about privilege and social mobility and this kind ennui that’s being described by Mike. Or in the Naipaul piece really. Do Scandinavians have more to live for than countries with lower social mobility? I think it’s something quite different.

    • john r walker says:

      Mike should have added that the quote at the end Re “endless panic” , from Manning Clark… Can’t remember exactly where I got it.

    • john r walker says:

      Re H Lawson, this bit of WB Yeats somehow seems apt:

      Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.

  2. Mike Pepperday says:

    Well, Lawson was a lefty – though my quote of him is out of character in that respect.

    It wasn’t “arbitrary” and it wasn’t only privilege. The officer class had the education for command. To call it rigid is anachronistic. It was probably among the least rigid. Captain Cook was a farmer’s son.

    Whatever – they had a soul to save and we haven’t.

    • john r walker says:

      Cook was some time before the UK won a, sail driven, unchallengeable monopoly over the waves at Trafalgar.
      It wasn’t until the battle of Tsushima in1905 demonstrated that allmost all of the UKs battle fleet ( and tactical assumptions) were obsolete, that modernisation really began. HM Dreadnought, 1906, marked a new approach that focused on building and training for machine (not sail) era warfare .

    • john r walker says:

      “Whatever – they had a soul to save and we haven’t.”


  3. Mike Pepperday says:

    Nothing like cogent argument!

    I made the case that our civilisation has been going downhill since 1970 and that there is nothing to look forward to.

    If you have a pertinent response I’m all ears. I don’t think there is one.

  4. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I had an amusing afternoon where I had lunch with someone and had a long and interesting conversation. He ended up saying that Woodstock was the high point, with all that peace and love and that it was all downhill after that. Then I went with a walk with a good friend immediately after the lunch and, unprompted he said “Of course Woodstock showed how there was no hope. As all the radicalism of the 1960s was parlayed into a bit of celebrity rock and roll”. I felt a lot more sympathy with the latter assertion than the former one.

  5. hammy says:

    our civilisation has been going downhill since 1970

    Why do you call it a civilisation? Australian aborigines are far more civilised than non-aboriginal society. By comparison we are barbarians.

  6. Mike Pepperday says:

    A bit of celebrity rock and roll was the peak. Good image of the soullessness I am talking about. How pathetic: after Woodstock there was nowhere to go.

    Those baby boomers had had the best upbringing of any generation of humans. They then spent their adulthood in the most prosperous society that ever existed and their political muscle in the representative democracies is going to ensure them an old age of unprecedented comfort. Après moi le deluge!

    Just consider the social indicators and the coming environmental collapse. What a f-up.

  7. john r walker says:

    Actually if you were born in 1954, you grew up in a time of expanding expectations but reached adulthood in 1975, pretty much exactly when the party ended. And its been paradise postponed ever since.

  8. hammy says:

    The Catholics used to have a doctrine called “Limbo”, now officially abandoned. The concept still lingers on in Troppo, hence my being in that place for over 24 hours. (It’s now called “awaiting moderation”).

    • john r walker says:

      hammy sorry , re limbo we are putting togethr a john r walker website, it was almost there and… it crashed… and we had not done a backup :-)

  9. Mike Pepperday says:

    I wasn’t defining a word, Hammy. I’d have called it The Decline of the West but Japan is about the most severe case.

    Which reminds me that I forgot to mention what the modern “Spengler” calls demographic suicide. I wonder that Abe bothers to gee up the economy. Surely they’d have enough capital just to party on till they die out. Well, maybe he thinks nationalism will reverse the loss of confidence.

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