Friday, May 25, 2007

Exit points


I know it's a cliche, but I've been trying to keep a dream logbook lately. Here's a recent entry - any allusions to real people and events are, as always, completely accidental and reliable. If you're interested in Philip Clairmont, then Martin Edmond's superb biocritical study is the place to go.

Dream (23/05/07)

Philip rolls himself a joint on the second-floor balcony of Auckland Trades Hall, then turns his back on the view of Freeman's Bay's renovated slums. A short, extravagantly bearded man is shouting silently on the other side of the glass door. As he shouts the man waves his arms wildly, so that it looks like he is trying to catch flies in his fists. Behind him, at the back of the improvised stage, AOTEAROA MARXIAN POLITICAL ECONOMY ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE 1981 is painted in gold on a large red flag. Philip pulls a piece of paper from his jacket pocket and runs down the schedule. 5 pm: Owen Gager, Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production and Contemporary Polynesian Struggle. 5.30 pm: Philip Clairmont, Art and Activism in Aotearoa Today.

Philip blows smoke away from his face and squints at the banner behind Gager. Just off the centre of a deep, rough, almost undulating field of red paint - mid-period Matisse - a black fist grasps a gun. A Kalashnikov, most likely. The weapon of freedom fighters, of Mozambique and Nicaragua. Of Baader and Meinhof. The painter blundered - the barrel and handle are almost at right angles. Perhaps he or she was stoned. Perhaps the conference wants to catch up with Braque and Malevich, and reject the laws of perspective along with the law of profit. Is the fist holding the gun aloft, or crushing it? Is the gun sprouting out of the fist, like the crosses that grew out of the opened palms of Tony Fomison's student paintings? A young man wearing spotless dungarees and a summer holidays beard steps onto the balcony and reaches for the roach of Philip's joint. 'You're on, comrade. I'll finish.'

Philip begins slowly, scratching his beard and thumbing his notebook. Some of them have seen him at Palmerston North. Some of them have seen him on the barbed wire at the edge of Auckland airport, on the last day of the Tour. Some of them have seen him in their weekend paper, on the page between the racing tips and the TV schedule, two inches tall, in black and white, next to The Crucifixion Triptych, reproduced in black and white and grey, three by four inches. Upside down. Both painter and painting trapped beside a review, two hundred and fifty words, written by the subeditor of the paper's sporting pages.

'History is not consecutive', Philip hears himself saying. 'History is not a golden arrow, travelling inexorably toward one target, but a flock of wild birds flying and thrashing about in a storm, moving in every direction at once.' Gager and a couple of other Trots are nodding in the front row. 'Space and time have many exit points. One exit is drugs. Another is painting. A third is music. We must venture outside, and return -'

'Hippy bullshit. You've been on the wacky baccy, comrade.' That's Don, the Don who sold Philip a soggy newspaper outside the rugby game in Palmy. On the masthead of the paper, above the words RED SUN - OPPRESSED PEOPLES OF THE WORLD UNITE, the granite heads of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao rose in turn. A panel of experts. A range of mountains. The sun rose, or set, behind Mao's glowing dome. Because the print was smudged, one of the sun's beams seemed to emanate from the Chairman's ear. 'You're trivialising Marx, his view of history. Iron laws -'

The Don who had spent their two hours in the lockup at Palmy police station explaining that history followed iron laws, that feudalism, capitalism, socialism, communism, followed each other automatically, inevitably, like - what was the analogy, the image Don used? 'It's like the seasons - one leads to another. Like Marx leads to Lenin leads to Stalin leads to comrade Mao.’ One of the Trots is sighing loudly. Gager coughs and begins to pick his nose.

'Not true, comrade.' Philip hates the way his voice jumps an octave whenever he is nervous, or angry, or both. 'Marx travelled through Russia disguised as Tolstoy in 1880 and saw everything. The peasant communes about to be enclosed, like the Commons of Wimbledon and Jarrow and Parihaka. Black clouds of factory smoke ready to burst over thatched cottages and collective gardens. Ploughshares hollowed and straightened into rifles. History straightened into an axle. Marx wrote to Vera Zasulich to disown Plekhanov, Kautsky, the traitors -'

Don isn't listening. Don is out of his seat, marching down the aisle in a blue trenchcoat, a blue Kraut helmet, a plastic visor. He is Sergeant Wolfkamp, the man whose baton bounced Clairmont off the shiny new wire on the edge of the tarmac at Auckland airport on the 13th of September. 'The law -'. Wolfkamp swallows, stares into the misted plastic, tries to deepen his voice. 'The law must be enforced.' A column of Blue Squad cops fills the aisle behind him. The benches on either side are empty, except for a couple of piles of soggy newspapers. 'Draw your batons, comrades.'

Philip turns to run. The wall is three feet away. The banner hanging over the wall is trembling. Its fist uncurls into an open palm, then dissolves to show a table, a bowl of pears, and a window opening onto the hills behind Mangamahu. Two stars ache in the sky, and moonlight lies on the highest hills, heavy as lead. Mangamahu, No Tour: Moonlight Night Window, acrylic on board. Painted in July, exhibited in September, at Dennis Cohn's little gallery. Sold, to a thin lady in a fur coat, for six hundred and eighty dollars.

Philip half turns his head in the direction of his pursuers, then slowly, carefully, lifts first one leg then the other into the painting, into the room with the open window, the room filled with thick moonlight. The room, the window, the moonlight, and the hills of Mangamahu disappear with him, a moment before Sergeant Wolfkamp's baton strikes a badly painted black fist.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Mike B said...

Hey, that is fantastic. No way did you dream that though!

1:17 pm  
Blogger maps said...

It's that obvious huh? I pinched the idea of a dream logbook off Jack Ross, who put some of his own specimens on his blog, but I've been finding it hard to log the dreams without adding adornments, and hard to tell the difference afterwards.

I guess that I could make the same defence used for historical writing that veers a little from the strict facts: that it's necessary to add a little here and subtract a little there to draw out the essential matter of the thing you're writing about. Sounds like a rationalisation, huh?

The stuff about Marx and Russia is based on Teodor Shanin's 'Late Marx and the Russian Road', a book which should be compulsory reading for all sentient beings on the left. Clairmont (in the dream at least) is right; Don is wrong (though he may have had a point about excessive drug use ;).

11:15 am  

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