Swan’s Unifying Theory of Individual Life

Is firstly dependent on isolating the Western tenets; Christianity, imperialism, humanism.
Takes as a given we’re dealing with centuries of theocracy, followed by quasi and/or appeased theocracy, and that the Abrahamic Christian death cult is unusual in its emphasis on human purity and the flawed sovereignty of the species (paralleled in its sibling Islamic mythologies), though the bigger themes are appropriations from older memeplexes. For all its many timeless, superstitious functions – the blessing of the newborn, the sanctifying of (ideally) exclusive sexual unions, the consecration of structures – perhaps the vast cult was at its most relevant when its clerics officiated English beheadings and fascist Spanish firing squads.

I was rereading Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Sunset Express’, which is concerns the symbolic, existential despair of a stridently atheistic white intellectual. His arguments for the logic of suicide boil down to the ruination of his Western optimism: “The things I believed in dont exist any more. It’s foolish to pretend that they do. Western Civilization finally went up in smoke in the chimneys at Dachau but I was too infatuated to see it. I see it now.” (sic)

A hard line to refute, if you hold the faith in the first place, and if you are tormented to a point that takes you beyond mundane, necessary concerns, i.e. when you place great value in post-Christian humanism (not unrelated to Christianity itself). Going back beyond the pseudo-scholarship of Protestantism, and back beyond the Catholic religious brand – i.e. in keeping with the definition of the word itself ‘broad ranging, widely encompassing’ – and you’re looking at subsumed tribes all over the place. Including those ancestors of the white Western world. We are able to look at the postcolonial experience of Christian conversion all over the world and acknowledge the ubiquitous latent ‘paganisms’. We openly acknowledge the Germanic paganism in our own major Christian festivals. But after all these centuries – theocracy, humanism, modernism, globalisation, the recent exponential surge in consumerism – we still, to varying degrees of faith and articulation, distinguish ourselves from the primitive.

This despite the apocalyptic wars waged by Westerners. Did the Ragnarok of WWI eventuate on some subliminal level, not merely geo-political, because the dispossessed native peoples of empire had not delivered the white tribes the kind of epic confrontation they all thought they wanted? Did the legions of tribal kin reconvene en masse to slaughter one another because, at the end of the day, they had always fought their own with the greatest zeal, on common ground? Somewhere in those trenches, blood-spattered and amazed and probably going mad, Hitler looked out across it all and when he wrote his planetary nightmare across continents, it was ways of old he invoked; the Nuremberg rallies recalled the pagan warrior cults; the sagas were recalled and warped and retold in frothing bloodlust. He was, perhaps, some appalling form of neo-pagan. There is no more sobering a title for a history book than: ‘Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century’, (Mark Mazower, 1999).

So what does that leave us with? Pre-Christian barbarity, Christian barbarity, post-Christian barbarity. Barbarity is not a Western failing, given there’s nothing to point to when ‘everything was alright’. As it unfolds, there is not point when a realist can say “we got it right”. Western thinking makes itself the big sister of the human species. Self-appointed, it gathers up the other children and bustles them around, hoping to win the approval of some parental figure who doesn’t actually exist. By definition, humanist Western thinking is set at an incline, 45% straight up. Lose faith in the mechanics of that escalator and you MAY be in trouble. Stay on that escalator and you may also be in trouble: a faith in the excesses of ‘leisure’ culture has delivered endless television and even vaster screens on which to watch the programming; non-nutritious ‘instant’ foodstuffs and hefty furniture on which to grow obese. I don’t think it is too subjective to suggest that this aspect of Western life seems notable for its genuine lack of DELIGHT. Leisure without delight IS something – undoubtedly it is relaxed, on some level – but it might be time to come up with a specific word for this familiar, alienated phenomenon.

So where is the ‘Unifying Theory’? Jesus was probably a Buddha, an enlightened being. The white tribes got way too carried away with the erroneous death cult, and were no less savage for it. Eastern traditions do not preclude such savagery. Some contemporary adherents of Islam are dramatically indicative of such timeless savagery. Fuelled by interpretations, they enact medieval horror, dutifully. Older superstitions often have unspeakable outcomes. No mystical schema is guaranteed to inoculate the human animal against itself. I have not been taught disgust, not in every case, and neither have you. It’s just there, and if you can’t hold onto it then you might as well follow McCarthy’s tortured character, ‘White’, wilfully into the screaming path of the titular Sunset Express train. I have not been taught delight either. Men of all colours grin wildly back at each other in the pounding surf; I see that all the time. That raw celebration of existence. We’re communing out there, it is primordial. Delight is where you find it, but caution is required, or else false delight will devour you, and someone else will make a buck from it; consumerism, addiction, misplaced loyalty. Such are the mechanics of the capitalist West. Lust is grand and problematic but when it’s a source of automatic shame, you’re in trouble. Mating is calibrated through evolved human cultures but there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And an afternoon’s read of Alain de Botton’s status anxiety will reveal the absurdity of societal standards, ever in flux as they are.

The subjectivity of the ages will kill you if you let it. Our ancestors painted their faces and told stories around fires. Expression is as important as meat and air and sleep. Bang a drum; it’s your birthright.


the view from Darwin’s reserve bench

the reality: prone by sodium light
in the barracks of half-abandoned souls
blue sky boxer shorts, rudimentary modesty
two hundred millennia’s worth of ammunition
under Kmart cotton
all that time on the two-way range
all those firefights, those sieges
and I didn’t kill a thing.
if, as the Buddhists say, birth & death are the same thing
then I haven’t killed anyone.
but the assorted wars come back to me, each one
in visions of sweat and struggle, somehow illuminated
but not by light as we know it
only one vision per campaign, regardless of its breadth
the covert adventures, those hushed raids no different
from the great campaigns which elders blessed, where
streets went strewn in white flowers
and trumpets played from stereos.
but still only one battling vision each.
the arcing necks, the wordless attacks, the savage willing eyes
the darkness you can see through
suddenly startled by the plethora, beyond the banality of pride
all those many names
all falling away like a dropped deck of cards
dancing breeze-kicked out of sight
down market town laneways


the boys who like to have the girls writhe
at their feet – white Nike sneakers & baggy jeans in frame
who want to watch one another plunge it into her face and who
stack drinks on the staring cadavers
huddle for the overdone show of lesbian sex
the furtive clannish boys, lavished by parents
stoked by the cowardice of inclusion
will marry other girls, as man-faced mothers and mothers-in-law
lick teeth and moon like transvestites for gloss photos
then the boys will watch TV shows, breathe from within new furniture
fuck in metric blocks, generally sober
begat, take the congratulations et.al.
and when the booze haemorrhages through them
as the other man’s wife
they’ll do it again, the dirty old fearful way
banging her like beating out a blanket
without cohorts to gaze on in encouragement
and this may make them sad as
they will not account for the loneliness

badly unread, just like their parents, they do not
understand the double standard; they merely live it
and there is nothing more desolate
than a blank but traumatised mind
in the stinging grip of Evolution as they sit there silent
as a contestant weeps without expression again on a
reality TV show

a currawong transforms to a flying fox
a flying fox transforms to a man dangled in hangover
a man dangled in hangover transforms to a one paragraph job description
a one paragraph job description transforms to
a mind full of sex on a train’s evening flight
a mind full of sex on a train’s evening flight transforms
to a satellite reflecting the sun
a satellite reflecting the sun transforms
to words bubbling through a telephone handset
words bubbling through a telephone handset transform
to a green-black body bag
a green-black body bag transforms to mankind’s mouth of dirt
mankind’s mouth of dirt transforms to a revenant
a revenant transforms to a tale
a tale transforms to a gust of wind
that circles round a fire

This Is Not A Love Song II

rehearsal studio Coca Cola machines &
hockshop bonanzas & shoals of busking coins
& red dust & snow & open mic nights & ‘Musicians Wanted’
& quiet conversation with bouncers, & mohawks &
badly broken hearts & other people’s bedrooms &
roadhouse lamb’s fry for breakfast &
broken strings like golden hair strands &
chalkboard signs & baggage retrieval &
the junkie’s glare, and the narcissist’s silly python face
& the lonely rain & the hissy fit &
the skull on the t-shirt
& the poisoned shakes & the mixing desk &
girlfriends on the merch desk
& the doubting, worn in like All Star sneakers
& the pointlessness of solitude
& the times that we hit it
& the schisms & the beer schemes & the long five-on-the-bill waits
& the sticker frescoes in the dunnies
& the will o’the wisp marijuana & the waspish networking &
the ears ringing & the chewy sugared carpet &
the goodbye to all that, & the here we go again &
the android bar staff
& the trams & the Guinness logos & the motel coffee
the pub mafiosi & the hardness of a lugged amp
the vulnerability of a tired man
the rose presence of a woman with dyed hair
the bistro menu, the anticipating stranger, the mountain mists
the lights of a city’s fire
the ballyhoo, the memory & maybe even,
now I think of it,
the love of the grit in the nostrils, the love of the edges,
the love for nearly half of you
little bastards.

The Gargoyles of Heaven

we were watching a movie, where the gargoyles of Heaven were
at war with the demons of Hell, and Frankenstein’s Monster, of all ‘people’
found himself in the middle. He didn’t want in, as such, and
the gargoyles told him that there was a war on
and that he, the simulacrum, was already a part of this war
but he didn’t want in; he wanted to do his own thing
the war was raging, wild divinities roared
and he didn’t want in, as such, although he still wanted
to kick some arse

and so there’s me, hunched, balanced atop
the Torre dos Clérigos in Porto (as good as anywhere)
or here, on top of the bridal shop at the front of my boarding house
(as good as anywhere)
looking at the war of life, appraising,
wondering if I want in, or if I’ll say
“a plague on both your houses”
because they’ve all got their motives
and I’m thinking that a lot of demons and angels
must have known one another, before the First War
and were probably once good friends, in some instances,
but that’s not the point. I’m like Frankenstein’s Monster
I don’t like dogma or faith or the pretzel-brittle crumbling words
of the didactic
and if I’ve gotta be involved in this fucking war
I’ll go with the other irregulars
not with the Swiss Guards or the SS or the Household Cavalry
I’ll go with the ones who shun the insignia and who don’t even
bother to demonize the enemy anymore
I’m tired of the enemy, I see them everywhere
wrenching their own heads off
spewing blood, screaming & blinded
we’ll take the enemy as a given, no regimental speeches necessary
not anymore, and the Commissars from ‘our side’
can go and fuck themselves sideways

Christ Almighty, to look at this war of life
you’d swear that most people had never read an original word
had never really seen all the comedies they watch
had never learnt even one contrary thing
maybe this is the case, maybe this is why they keep sewing
insignia onto their shirts, and making war
anyway, it’s on, this war
so I’ll just make a tight-lipped expression and go
with the other irregulars, hodgepodge
and if you’re an irregular, I’ll see you
in the pages of your books, the frames of your films
I’ll see you out there in the battlefields – the streets and the scrub
I’ll see you around the campfire for a smoke
or for a smoke out the back of the church, while
the rest are inside, praying hard to the gods of musketry

Sunday Morning Motel

motels in mornings, after general revelry
me in a doorway, like a slow bird in a church
none more acute than the people here – fat families, a cleaner
a jaunty manager, a hungover hero or two or three
all our mysteries still moving behind us, still crawling into shadow
we’re all in it together, as a hose sparks the walkway
as three ibis move in one scythe through the deep blue out there
as a long guitar run carries Purple Rain from the bar
due to open, maybe already open
two bikies land in the car park, astronauts made of leather cushions
I’m joined now, she forms in the doorway too
and we smoke disintegrated remnants
the cigarettes barely holding together, just like dead roses
and Purple Rain is the hymn this Sunday morning and
I can hear Hendrix singing it and playing it, although he
was gone when it was written, that doesn’t matter
Hendrix is playing Purple Rain now and all these families
and these day-now/sex night strangers and the good old girls
who offered me pot last night, who are
way beyond caring and get the most out of life
and the manager, who knows how to get the best out of people
all of us are gypsies, at this moment, and we all know it
all here, all gone, in this
world without end