The Surveyed Vision: 36 Meditations on 3 Books by Barry Hill (Peacemongers, Grass Hut Work and Reason & Lovelessness)

By | 1 October 2020


a. Being mindful of dates.
b. A search for connections.
c. Hill shows in R the indomitable spirit of first Australians.
d. Those who believe in ghosts see ghosts.
e. The power that some people in authority think that a writer has, that a novel or a poem could change the status quo, let alone the world.
f. Juan Goytisolo once wrote that attacks upon a writer are often a sign that that writer exists.10
g. Cave as locus of discovery; cave as museum; cave as repository.
h. Nationalism that turns into terrorism: ‘Tagore retreated from the campaign in which he had played such an inspiring part. The distinctions he wanted to make—between violent self-sacrifice on the basis of nationalist ideology and allegiances to a greater common good—he would make in his fiction’ (P 96).
i. Hill writes at once in a personal and an intellectual language for his essays; the personal, often simple but always skilful, imbues his poetry.
j. ‘By a Zen master himself, [Bernard] Roling had the good fortune to be instructed in the slapstick and high-wire routines of Zen reason’ (P 442).


a. The power of language.
b. The father as a creation myth. He imposes his will. We ask that he does not destroy what he has created: ‘Probably we will never be able to determine the psychic havoc of the concentration camps and the atom bomb upon the unconscious mind of almost everyone alive in these years’.11
c. The myth of Daedalus, labyrinthian, terpsichorean, anfractuous; rivers, time, history, myth.
d. Cave art.
e. Language is a country, which is why Aboriginal languages were suppressed for so long.
f. Poetry as an act of freedom; freedom as the concentration of absurdity; freedom as emptiness.
g. Justice and freedom without the need of revolution.
h. Justice not simply being in the zeitgeist but being eternal.
i. The debunking of the American rationalisation that dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary to end the War in the Pacific.
j. Letters of protest are invariably archived; with computers, it is easier than ever before in the history of humanity to keep tabs on dissidents or anyone deemed a threat. Even letters written privately, who the writer thought the recipient was the only person ever to read them, are often read by third parties (I know this, for I worked as a paralegal in a law office), not all of whom will be sympathetic to the notions expressed therein.


a. Always the human.
b. Nothingness is human, too. And so is language.
c. ‘Writing outside the lovely circles of the ancient languages’ (R 463). ‘Poems are sketches for existence: one has to live them, for the sake of their truth’ — Paul Celan.12
d. ‘Celan opened his mouth in grief, his poem conceived, it is true, at the moment his mother was dragged from him’ (P 329).
e. ‘[Soh] Sakon[’s] poem flows and flickers like the napalm itself, all the way along the street as outward utterance, like a fire escaping from the nuclear self, a poem that keeps finding ways of fuelling itself, for all the world as if it has tapped into the source of creation’ (P ibid., where Hill is addressing Sakon’s ‘Mother Burning’).
f. The type of language is immaterial to ethics.
g. Hill reports that Strehlow often went to Aboriginal sacred sites only to find that they had already been plundered (R 240). In the case of Ancient Egypt, for example, the tomb-robbers were Egyptians themselves; in this case, the robbers were outsiders, invaders, racists, colonialists and profit-seekers well after colonialism had ended. There is a difference between the two.
h. Anaïs Nin should have been a poet. She explained in her preface to a Japanese edition of House of Incest that her prose poem ‘took its inception from the words of [Carl] Jung: ‘Proceed from the dream outward.’ ‘13
i. Anaïs Nin’s favorite word in later life was the Gaelic word ‘furrawn’, taught to her by a friend, which means the ‘kind of talk that brings strangers to intimacy’.14
j. Cathexis. ‘A house for a new life[ … Y]ou find it easiest to sit on the mat, in your own ‘grass hut’, as the reclusive old-timers here might have said—where meditation is easy!’ (P 412; ellipses added).


a. History as burden, which poetry relieves.
b. History as a distancing technique, which writing relieves.
c. A way of seeing.
d. The connection between bridges (pons) and monks (pontifex): ‘[Nichidatsu] Fujii arrived at the bridge, a knapsack of sutras on his back’ (P 302).
e. ‘For the first time in civilized history, perhaps for the first time in all of history, we have been forced to live with the suppressed knowledge that the smallest facets of our personality or the most minor projection of our ideas, or indeed the absence of ideas and the absence of personality, could mean equally well that we might till be doomed to die […] a death by deus ex machina in a gas chamber or a radioactive city’.15
f. Hill writes:

I came to another soldier writing from the Pacific—viciously, suicidally—cruelty both ways, two intimate enemies within. From Saipan, the island where they had one of their first horrible defeats. Rather than be captured, soldiers, followed by women and children, walked over the cliffs to their deaths in the hundreds. The Americans could not believe their eyes. What kind of people were they fighting? Yet the Japanese fear of capture by the demons was paramount, a fear we might dismiss as the product of their racist propaganda, but which nonetheless had some truth to it as the Americans were taking no prisoners either. The historian [John] Dower is very clear about this: there were atrocities on both sides. Each side fought a war without mercy that was driven by a race hatred symmetrically experienced: much of the fighting was murderous mutual encounter in a dark mirror [P 386].

g. Juan Goytisolo, in discussing his own problems, likes to think of a distant view, say from Patagonia or Australia (places as far away from the ‘action’ of Europe as possible).
h. Suspending the Racial Discrimination Act to ‘close the gap’ seems a wild thing to do.


a. A language that does not admit of lying, of such that Georg Christoph Lichtenberg conceived. (Is this Stendhal’s ‘Lichtemberg’? Like most writers, Hill has pet subjects, as Stendhal’s was class and hypocrisy, so Hill’s is fairness and justice.)
b. The warm embrace of one’s mother (goddess) — sympathy, lack of criticism, love. (‘Love is not a word I like to throw around, any more than the word spiritual’ [P 44]).
c. The myth of the father (hard) and mother (soft).
d. ‘Jesus says, Leave father & mother, house & lands & follow me. […] Each new mind we approach seems to require an abdication of all our past & present empire. A new doctrine seems at first a subversion of all our opinions, tastes, & manner of living. So did Jesus, so did Kant, so did Swedenborg, so did Cousin, so did Alcott seem.’16
e. The corpse resurrected.
f. Dogs or other animals a reincarnation of form in art.
g. Seeing (ways of seeing) a body (Lucian Freud) instead of an angel.
h. The son is often called an angel.
i. The symbolism of puppet and angel in Rilke’s Duino Elegies.
j. Instructions on how to commit suicide (ways of reading):

In 1943, with the suicide missions on the horizon, [Daisetsu] Suzuki wrote a stark disclaimer in the Buddhist newspaper Chugai Nippo.

Some people think that to die recklessly is Zen. But Zen and death are not the same thing. Makujikikozen does not mean to sit in the grip of the hand of death. It is deplorable to think of Zen as a purification right. The Zen understanding of human life is based on Mahayana Buddhism. Zen without this is not Zen. It isn’t anything at all … To regard the foolhardy and senseless sacrifice of one’s life as Zen is a mishmash idea. Zen absolutely never teaches one to throw life away [P 459; italics & ellipses in the original].

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