But Why Am I Telling You this? You Are Not Even Here: Against Defining the Suburb

By | 1 February 2018

Cul-de-sac 5

Not long ago, I was wondering why people used the phrase ‘dolewave’ – a gimmick term that started off as a joke, coined on Australian music website Mess+Noise message boards to describe a fresh range of bands – because it is so flat a phrase; dry, self-aware and self-mocking. There is a Dick Diver song lyric that finishes on the title of this essay, that I drowsily connected – via suburban early morning mind tides – to John Ashbery’s ‘This Room’. That Dick Diver song, ‘Private Number’, runs:

Now there's more light coming from my screen
Than light from outside
I see myself as if from the street
And I turn on the light

The Ashbery poem does this:

The room I entered was a dream of this room. 
Surely all those feet on the sofa were mine. 
The oval portrait 
of a dog was me at an early age. 
Something shimmers, something is hushed up. 

We had macaroni for lunch every day 
except Sunday, when a small quail was induced 
to be served to us. Why do I tell you these things? 
You are not even here.

A suburban poem knows these things. Here I am on the couch of my life, and ‘Why do I speak?’ is wondered aloud in that speaking without impeding it. I speak because you are not here, and never could be in your life so that this seeing might be felt. It would not have been otherwise. Too, I find this liminal ennui, and the devices that administer this sensation, in the poems of Sweatshop’s anthology, Big Black Thing: its contributors engaging it throughout while maintaining the political, ethical and social dimensions inherent in a suburban seeing that I worry my analysis here has skipped over. This collection enjoys a dearth of any requirement to prove that the suburb is a stable or necessary subject. The absence of itemised heroism and dot-connecting feels central to me, in trying to seek the knowledge of home comfort, and intrinsically heroic for demonstrating what it is to belong instead writing from and of it.

Walk with me around this suburban place, and I’ll try to speak as if we are absorbing the same thing without defining it. What will appear before us are the infinite questions of travel that do not require a space to be more than imagined, that do not require more than the doorstep and the light and the certainty that this necessity is both true and important.

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