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

By | 1 October 2020


a. Let us look at a photograph of Rabindranath Tagore and Albert Einstein (P 523).
b. ‘Time — what we make of it — rests on what all of us decide together’ (R 25).
c. Hill writes:

Communitas, to use the title of Paul Goodman’s great book of 1947, has a great tradition of affirmation, even in America, where unions as we knew them were being defeated more than a century ago [R 73 (italics in original)].

d. Japanese prints as adornment (read: text).
e. The dual nature of time and space.
f. The duality of Noh: the saying and the not-saying.


a. ‘[T]he consciousness of landscape’ (R 158), where text is alive, living and conscientious.
b. Hill interrogates himself: ‘Are you writing the same poem / or just getting older / forgetting the details?’ (G 23). Fear of repetition. Every artist fears this, even Dante.34
c. Clarity over difficulty, always (Bashô in preference to Zukofsky, etc.), excepting the difficulty inherent in koans. However, this does not mean inattention to technique or eschewal of complexity.
d. Interpretations of which perhaps even the author is incognisant. Interpretation as a form of decoding. Leaving no stone unturned, as a kind of Lévi-Strauss anthropology.
e. Different laws for different strata of society. Actually, the law may be the same, but someone with power, wealth or influence is more likely to avoid a day in court for misdemeanor than you know who. It has to be a massacre, or a rape or murder, or an assassination of a prominent figure (in most, if not all, cases, white) before we middle-class people pay attention.
f. Interpretation as a kind of archaeology, valuing dead civilisations over living. Art as a way of communing with civilisation.
g. Hill’s books become living texts, a rhythm linking them.
h. Yeatsian turnips.


a. Using the pronoun ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ (an old trick): ‘The cicadas rattle their way / into the root of your skull’ (G 61).
b. Grammar as a season.
c. ‘There are no eyes, no ears, no tongue, no body, no mind’ (P 506; italics in original).
d. There are more Aboriginal words in Australian English than Aborigines in Australian literature.


a. Perhaps we need more Australians in exile before conditions will improve for the marginalised. Until then, ex-colonialist, white Australia is nothing more than a hollow shell.
b. For too long Australia has not faced international opprobrium and sanctions, like South Africa did.
c. Language as a means to violate a taboo.
d. Bamboo, chrysanthemums, lotus ponds, frogs, cherry blossom, cicadas, carp.
e. Picture sages in a bamboo grove.
f. ‘Gate, Gate, Prajnaparamita Gate’ (G 106; italics in original).
g. Rashômon — the Rashô Gate.


a. Dogs are not lowly creatures for Aborigines as they are for Dante, for instance.35 Consider the front cover of R, with its Dogs in Camp painted by Rod Moss. Instead, they are noble and loyal. (Although Hill cannot resist a riff on the joke of ‘two dogs fucking’ in P [76].) Hill first mentions dogs in R in his essay on Australia Day, ‘The Mood We Are In’, in a discussion on hope where he mentions that John Berger set his last novel, King, in a rubbish dump with a dog, that is, a scavenger, as the main character (R 74). A Eurocentric view again of the dog as a lowly creature. His second mention, in an essay on Raimond Gaita, is closer to the Aboriginal view of the dog as protector and comforter: ‘The dog warmed him’ (R 87). In the same essay, he simultaneously explains the Western and sceptics’ view: ‘A philosopher’s dog, obviously, a benighted creature deserving of admission to a higher place, a heaven, of sorts, whatever Gaita would like to call it’ (R 92; Gaita published The Philosopher’s Dog in 2002).
b. It is not until much later in the book that Hill mentions dogs again as animals in their relation to humans, a subject with a long and noble history in the West that modern painters like Lucian Freud, a subject of Hill’s, exploited. In his essay on D H Lawrence, Hill exploits this theme further, where Lawrence believed that ‘modern man’ had dissociated from his ‘animal self’, where the former was ‘tertiary’ while the latter was ‘primal’: ‘There is a tendency, in some of Lawrence’s animal poems, to categorically undervalue human kind. This is not what I would call balance’ (R 294).
c. The book as mandala, a map of the universe.
d. ‘To be of heaven is to be in Tao’ (LZ 130).
e. Etymologically, ‘utopia means ‘no place’. But the alternatives continue to exist in our imaginations’ (P 262).
f. The Indonesian word for silk is sutera, which must surely have its etymology in the Sanskrit word for thread (like the Buddhist sutra; the largest Buddhist temple in the world, Borobudur, is found in Indonesia).
g. Hill’s quest for knowledge mirrors his quest for justice.
h. Remnants of mysticism: chance, change, choice, fate, illusion, irony.


a. ‘Evil’ is not a word Hill uses lightly. In the Notes for ‘Eyes All the Way Down’, he gives us the full inscription on the cenotaph at the Peace Park memorialising the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by the Americans: ‘LET THE SOULS HERE REST IN PEACE FOR WE SHALL NOT REPEAT THIS EVIL’ (G 124).
b. ‘Buddhists colluded with the homicidal wars of invasion and cruel conquests, the bombings and the torture, the chemical attacks, the medical mutilation of the living’ (P 432).
c. Philosophy is a kind of prison, a burden, a necessity.


a. These ancient stones — they stand spiritually in the past, the present and in the future. A prehistory (the Stone Age) that extends to now. The timelessness of stones.
b. To inscribe in stone is human.
c. Osip Mandelshtam’s Stein.
d. Cause and effect. Greer writes:

A caged animal will reject its young and even kill them. A man prevented from defending his rights and dignity may attack his wife, his children and himself. Most people think that people commit suicide because they are very sad; suicide is more often an act of terminal rage. The rape and murder of one’s own children is an elaboration of this profound aggression towards oneself. The process begins very early when Aboriginal children defy their parents and chase oblivion by sniffing glue or petrol. It goes on when they start driving, in unsafe vehicles, on roads that never see a grader, much too fast for the conditions, deliberately risking life and limb. Their Aboriginal great-grandparents could express themselves forcefully and accurately in several languages; today’s children can neither speak nor write a single language. Often homeless, jobless, illiterate, with neither driver’s licence, birth certificate or Medicare card, the young Aboriginal male has virtually no chance of staying on the right side of the law. Lawless behaviour is the nearest he can come to resistance.36

e. Hill describes Australia in a unique way. He understands this land, its first peoples. I do not want to cover the same ground on which he has so eloquently written. I am amazed at how he can turn his hand equally to memoir, poetry and essays; he is simply one of Australia’s finest writers.
f. To paraphrase Voltaire, we should cultivate our stone garden.

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