On Jack's archipelago
I wanted to thank Jack Ross for putting me on the same (web)page as that coolest of cool literary dudes, Hunter S Thompson. The inventor of gonzo journalism and I both decorate the blog that Jack has set up for the students of the Travel Writing Course he teaches at the Albanian campus of Massey University.
At the top of the page dedicated to the eleventh lecture of Jack's paper, the cigarette-slinging Thompson broods in black and white, during his expedition to a chemically enhanced Las Vegas; at the bottom, I peer through the windscreen of a 1994 Honda Integra at the rumpled green countryside west of Huntly. Hunter wears a hat because he's cool; I wear a hat because rain has blown in off the Tasman, and the roof of my vehicle is leaking. Jack presents us both as exponents of 'anti-travel', and brings Hackney perambulator Iain Sinclair and wannabe cosmonaut Daniel Kalder into the deal, as well.
With its pages of calm exegesis, its detailed but never pedantic bibliographies, and its carefully captioned illustrations, the blog for paper 139.326 will be useful to students inside and outside Massey. I hope that Jack's democratic spirit catches on amongst the academics who are still hiding their knowledge behind firewalls, and are thereby disenfranchising the communities they study.
Jack's travel writing site is only one island in an online archipelago that he has raised fussily but quietly over the past six years. As well as building sites for the various papers he teaches at Massey Albany - here's the blog for 139.123, or introduction to Creative Writing - Jack has recorded his own reading and writing on webpage after webpage.
When Nigel Cross was made a Burns Fellow at Otago University at the end of the '50s he set out to write a novel, and reportedly kept students and staff up to date with his progress by posting charts recording his daily and weekly outputs of words on the door of his office. Anyone who visited the blog Jack named Eva Ave could have read his science fiction novel EMO as it grew, one post at a time, into something big and complex.
On the blog he has named A Gentle Madness, Jack documents his library with the sort of austere zeal that would have pleased Jorge Luis Borges. Clicking on the hyperlink for 'Bookcase F', I find myself browsing shelf after shelf of 'Spanish and Latin American Literature', and coming face to face with half-famous, half-forgotten modernists like Vicentre Huidobro and Cesar Vallejo. Another section of the site lists books that Jack would like to own.
There are, it seems, limits to the democratic impulse that has led Jack to make so much of his academic and creative writing available for free. A note on the preface page of A Gentle Madness explains that:
Requests for the loan of any of the books or materials listed here will not be entertained seriously. It seems most unlikely you won't be able to find a nearby public library which can obtain the titles you're searching for.
Fair enough. We can't expect Jack to do everything for us, can we?
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]