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

By | 1 October 2020


a. Patriotism as primal as lust or passion.
b. Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay write that ‘it is not enough to add other philosophical approaches to the field one wishes to decolonize. Postcolonial Theorists insist European philosophy must be entirely rejected—even to the point of deconstructing time and space as Western constructs.’17 This is not Hill’s approach. He achieves a synthesis, not a holus-bolus devouring of another culture. Anaïs Nin wrote in her diary after a friend, who had spent seven weeks in a Zen monastery in San Francisco, visited: ‘Pathetic how in 1973 the Westerner can only imitate another culture, another religion, rather than turn to the healing power of psychology. Zen did not heal her.’18 Psychology as Western religion. Hill is not looking to be ‘healed’; that is not why he pursues Chinese, Indian and Japanese thought or poetry.
c. Transformation.
d. Transformation as colonial problematics, painting transposed from a European light to Antipodean: ‘[T]he legend of William Buckley begins. At this point he becomes the Wild White Man, Australia’s own Robinson Crusoe’ (R 35); ‘Buckley as Robinson Crusoe’ (a subtitle, R 41–).
e. The colonialists in Australia were not building their own version of the Garden of Eden; its genesis as a White Australia was not as an earthly paradise but as a prison. The goal was transformation so that the continent would be unrecognisable to its original inhabitants.
f. Disappearing into nature, losing one’s individuality.
g. For Hill, nature is not something to be conquered, as a mountain is often viewed. The naturalism of painters he admires, such as John Wolseley (‘a compulsive naturalist since he was a boy’ [R 142]), Lucian Freud (‘Very occasionally, Freud has led us outdoors’ [R 267]), Rod Moss (R, whose cover is a manipulated version of Dogs in Camp, is dedicated to him), etc. Representation (painting as text).
h. ‘Robinson Crusoe, the romantic myth of the solitary individual who would look neither critically at his own society nor sympathetically at anyone who did not belong to it’ (R 55).


a. ‘In another kind of overview, one not burdened by the reified term ‘Culture’ ‘(R 229).
b. Not Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’, but Fay Zwicky’s ‘Song of Myself that she is, implicitly, singing’ (R 110).
c. One could never accuse Hill of not thinking before writing; I imagine it is much the same for speaking. He is not on a mission to teach or ‘improve’ anyone, but he lays bare our humanity and lets us judge.
d. Our culture (especially television) bombards us with words persuading us one way or another. Advertisement is more important than education. News is filled with meaningless politics and sport, haranguing, yelling, false umbrage, bad behavior, scandal. Politicians try to sway us this way or that, using moral or immoral techniques of persuasion. Social media is filled with so much ego. There is so much white noise. Hill’s essays provoke thought and meditation, while his poetry, often like diary entries (or are — poetry as lived experience), also often thought-provoking, is nevertheless a thankful place of tranquility.
e. ‘[The Eastern Buddhist: New Series] includes the original [1965] editorial, which reveals so much about the culture of Buddhism before Japanese culture fell into the clutches of its militarism’ (P 442).
f. For Paul Goodman, one of Hill’s favorite poets and thinkers, speech is a thing, not necessarily the truth in all circumstances.
g. For Hill, the crab is a foodstuff (‘Still with the taste of crabmeat’ [G 49]); the Crab, however, in Dante is purely astrological.19


a. ‘FU, GETSU, HANA. Music. Moon. Flower’ (G 41).
b. ‘Under the Carpet’: ‘The moon is on its back’ (G 15).
c. ‘Cruel all moons and bitter the suns’ (AR 101).
d. As Tom Griffiths said in his Introduction to R (xiii), Central Australia has been a seminal experience for Hill. Outback Australia has in many ways shaped who he is as a writer (‘For a second I thought of Ernest Giles, in the middle of his explorations of Central Australia, reading Byron over breakfast’ [R 142]). Just as much as Japan or India (Buddhism).
e. The indigenous attitude toward country, the painter’s landscape as opposed to land ownership.
f. Myth-making: ‘[A]fter its battle at Gallipoli, Australia was a nation in the process of mythologizing its honour out of defeat, making a cult out of self-sacrifice that exulted in war for Empire’ (P 134).
g. China more than Japan is evoked as exotic (orientalism). Even invasion may be romanticised (colonialism).


a. Climbing mountains as a kind of walking (Raimond Gaita in R 93). Hard climbing as ‘hard thinking’ (ibid., a favorite expression of Gaita’s, as ‘mental atmosphere’ was for George Orwell or ‘construct’ was for John Chilcot, but Hill remains silent on his).
b. The difference between the mask and reality (‘the poetic key to reality, as W. F. Stanner put it’ [R 397]).
c. Reality destroyed by a metaphor.
d. Arthur Koestler writes:

The new territory opened up by the impetuous advance of a few geniuses, acting as a spearhead, is subsequently occupied by the solid phalanxes of mediocrity; and soon the revolution turns into a new orthodoxy, with its unavoidable symptoms of one-sidedness, over-specialization, loss of contact with other provinces of knowledge, and ultimately, estrangement from reality.20

e. In talking of Fay Zwicky, linking criticism to walking, Hill says it is ‘[b]est [to] walk out with her a while, the better to gauge her resistance as well as her measure’ (R 110).
f. Inspiration. Arthur Koestler liked to quote an essay by A. E. Housman, where he described going out for a walk, ‘thinking of nothing in particular, […] there would flow into my mind […] sometimes a line or two of verse, sometimes a whole stanza at once.’21
g. Susan Sontag writes in her diary that ‘[Jean] Racine is more foreign than the Kabuki plays—emotions are externalized, mathematical.’22 Anaïs Nin, among others, called this approach ‘abstract’, and gendered it to male writers. The opposite of ‘furrawn’.
h. Gaston Bachelard revels in inhabiting spaces poets offer him.23
i. The romanticism of travel, of another religion.
j. The joy of nature, a garden, the cultivation of plum and persimmon trees, rainfall, bees and birds, the sky — to be alone there.


a. When aesthetics take priority over aesthesis (Hill is never guilty of this).
b. ‘The poem, then, is a kind of natural offering outside the self’ (R 404).
c. The fusing of memory and imagination. Anamnesis.
d. Illusion as a way out. Hill’s politics puts paid to this.
e. Hill’s favorite anti-war poem was scrawled on a latrine wall in the Second World War (R 463: ‘Soldiers who wish to be a hero / Are practically zero / But those who wish to be civilians / Jesus, they run into millions’).
f. Not the kind of silence as in SILENCE = DEATH. Not falling silent. When one falls silent reading a poem or even an essay, this is a kind of meditation. As Henry Miller said, standing still like the hummingbird.
g. The ambiguity of silence; art depends on it.

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