by GLEN MARTIN
I have 2000 words waiting to go on objects of significance should anyone require them – the flight from coherent thinking that many of us experience in a guitar store, say; or the multi-layered process by which we construct ourselves, or our idea of ourselves, via our interactions with the stuff of late modern capitalism. But objects don’t drive my intermittent and haphazard writing life.
The brief here was to investigate ‘items, tangible and non-physical, that keep you engaged, intrigued and curious about the world around you and writing about it’, but some reflection on the premise has revealed that items in and of themselves don’t really do it for me. I find the world endlessly engaging, but also utterly chaotic and often impossible to understand. Writing, for me, is a path toward understanding, by disassemblingdissembling the parts and attempting to piece them together in a different way. The end result can appear Frankensteinian, but sometimes the new creation makes more sense than the original.
The work that I’ve done for an oddly eclectic collection of magazines, newspapers, journals and sites has always started with a shard, a piece of something, that seems to rub against a piece of something else.
My writing life has been an enjoyable mix of high and low culture. I’ve written features on television personalities, in-depth critiques of ceramicists, record reviews of albums that seem to exist only to make the listener mourn the time they spent listening, exhibition catalogue essays, think-pieces on sportspeople and club culture, technology, urban planning, so on- whatever has been placed in front of me or occupied so much of my thinking time that a pitch and a piece has burst forth.
Each of these pieces starts with a simple proposition, but they only become interesting once that proposition has been taken from its initial context and rubs against another. I’m asked to profile an internationally feted singer who is being put forward as an ‘ambassador’ for a luxury brand- why? What is ambassadorial about the process? The terminology rubs me the wrong way, and a kind of curious petulance informs the approach. The brief is for a puff piece, but there’s plenty to explore in this conjunction of luxury and desirability and authority, so the piece I write details that confusion. Sure, I’m not asked to write for that magazine again, but it was published, and the pay check felt a little less dirty as a result.
Currently I’m in the middle of some chapters on the false equivalencies located within the culture wars. They detail areas such as the confusing conundra of men’s rights groups, or the Blue Lives Matter response to the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. In these, a group emerges in response to another. It uses that original organisation as a model and a kind of counterpoint counter-point (“Hey, black lives do matter, but we Police don’t always get the run of the green either!”)
But that initial group or collective was a response to an inequality. Black Lives Matter grew from several documented cases of violence, many committed by the Police, against African-Americans. Feminism in its many guises is a response to systemic and ongoing inequality. For the perpetrator of an inequality (the men’s rights group that calls for the return of ‘traditional values’- i.e. ones that affirm their power, or the aggrieved Police that equates a uniform with skin colour and protests in the face of crushing video evidence) to claim inequality for themselves is where the whole show becomes maddeningly circular. The bully claims he is being bullied by his victim. The media personality claims an assault to his freedom of speech via his television show and daily newspaper column. The climate denier speaks of conspiracy as 98% of climate scientists disagree with him in concert. Facts become alternative facts. Truth and truthiness. Spin rules the day.
Confused? Me too. That’s why I write. It’s not so much writing about something as writing a way through it, to draw attention to the tiny pieces that bump against one another and create the conditions within which we live. To draw the attention of a time-poor reader back to an issue they know and suggest another look. A less arch and perhaps pretentious way to describe this might be to say, for me, writing ends up being a flawed but honest attempt at a kind of anthropology, a record of what has happened and who we are in response to the elements.
That 2000 word piece on the flight from reason in guitar stores (something I’ve seen and experienced) would deal with how that object, the guitar, ends up becoming a kind of cipher for hope and perception, subjective taste and the market forces which have propelled dominant ideas of the ideal. I don’t know who’d take it on, but I’m willing. The object can be a character, or a starting point, but its path in the world and the elements it bounces off and careens into, pinball-style, are what force me to wrestle words into some attempt at a coherent shape. Like many, I find the process of writing deeply annoying. But there’s value, I hope, in the process.
Glen Martin is a PhD Candidate at the ANU Centre for Art Theory and Art History, a professional Communications expert and a freelance writer who has contributed essays, journalism and fiction to publications such as Australian Art Monthly, BMA, Going Down Swinging, Creative, Homer, Vive and more. He writes for and sings in the rock band Waterford and live in Canberra.