Some Prose Pieces

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With the time afforded by enforced leisure this year, I’ve been trying my hand at some creative non-fiction. Here’s an extract from an essay, ‘Creative Frailty: some thoughts on global catastrophe, the gift economy and the third age‘, which will appear in the online journal Axon in late 2020 (https://www.axonjournal.com.au/about-axon):

… it is impossible to know what the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic will be, especially on the environment, as humans urgently re-build their societies and economies. Because there is evidence that the chain of virus transmission involved bats, pangolins and ‘wet markets’, there will no doubt be talk about the need to remake our relationship with animals; but whether and how far this will translate into large-scale action on behalf of the world’s fauna and flora is doubtful. What is clear is that the climate crisis and its associated harms are primarily a political catastrophe: anthropogenic climate change and other environmental damage have been known about, reported on and campaigned against for at least four decades. The current scale and pace of destruction and the despair it trails in its wake have been brought about because governments and big business have so far taken little or no action proportionate to the need. What to do? I have no answers beyond the obvious, that a sea-change is needed in our politics and economics as well as in our policies…

And here’s an excerpt from an essay, ‘A Guest in My Own Home?‘, which will appear in an anthology edited by colleagues at the University of Lisbon. The collection is provisionally titled Representations of Home, and will contain short fiction and creative non-fiction on the topic of ‘Home’ and the challenges of belonging; each essay and short story will appear in English and Portuguese.

… Our bodies are dark to us, dark matter; dark meat. We cannot see the inside of ourselves except by the intervention of machines or weapons. We cannot see the microbes that live on our skin, in our gut; we cannot see the bacilli and viruses, the gamma rays and neutrons, the toxic microparticles in lingering smoke, that make us ill. We cannot even see our own faces, features, expressions of surprise, joy, terror, agony, without the help of mirror-glass or still water. And yet our bodies are where we live. They send us pain and pleasure from the invisible interior, they bring us flavours and fragrances from beyond. We sweat and shiver. Tickled, we giggle; tortured, we scream; in ecstasy, we sigh and moan. So we must imagine and speculate; we palpate our lumps and bumps, pinch the flesh on our waists – how much more body we’ve acquired these past few months of confinement – scrub the skin off our hands, take our temperatures and smell our breath behind our face-masks. In times of widespread contagion, the commonality of our corporeal being makes us sympathetic and fearful, public-spirited and selfish; heroic and timid. ‘Viral’ describes psychological as much as physiological pathogens: we have learnt about collective hysteria, panic disorder, acute stress disorder and pervasive hopelessness – the miasma of disquiets and despairs. We do the dance of ‘social distancing’ with grace or silent disgruntlement. So far, so animal…

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