Prefatory Notes
Section numbers for 1992-1994 entries are from Steps, an unpublished volume.

The following, while perhaps initially confusing (the reader entering, as it were, a conversation that has already been going on for some time), should also in some respects be self-explanatory. It is a set of entries from notebooks kept by the author between 1992 and 2005, with some parenthetical additions made in preparation for this publication. I have preserved the numbers and dates of the entries as an indication of the time, distance and change/development between them. The option exists to ‘work them up’ into a more familiar essay form, but – with the editor’s gracious support – I am resisting this. The essay form has its own rules and own mind and to conform to it would mean either that I wrote a very long piece indeed, a book most probably, and I am not inclined to do that, or that, because I did not have room to follow them up, I edited out a great many things I do not wish to edit out. All this, of course, is along the lines of Gilles Deleuze’s explanation of Nietzsche’s epigrammatic style in ‘Nomad Thought.’ If we accept that the essay form is a form of the social, this resistance could be said to address the very situation which the entries themselves address. My frequent use of the slash (‘/’) and reluctance to choose unnecessarily between terms stems from similar concerns.

103. 27.XI.92

Better informed, more sceptical, perhaps we have to come back to intention? Beginning to read a new book on this morning – and with the knowledge in mind that I have committed myself to writing on him shortly – I am unsettled, disturbed by the writer’s determination to keep the man out of it (or, rather, the ‘personal’ man, there being a kind of man, or sign, established as, and that is, an amalgam of acceptable philosophical and textual positions, a sort of prefabricated intellectual equation), which seems now, to me, this morning, like a keeping the body out of it, a kind of covert abjection, and analogous to – or a part of – the churlish patriarchal retreat from presence that is an attempt to deny the very existence of the ground claimed by feminist critique.

I know that there is a direct link between the poet/writer’s life as lived and the positions taken in the writing itself. That this relation is mercurial, elusive, perhaps even impossible to define, does not mean that there is any the greater virtue in ignoring it. Ignoring it, in fact, is, consciously or unconsciously, one of the strategies for avoiding change. There are myths of creativity. Writers – not all, perhaps, but many – justify their lives, their actions within them, by their work, and the work in its turn responds to (and often to its own effect upon) the life.

There is, for example, what I call/have called the Mechanism of Shame, the work used as a place to justify, explain and explore one’s own reasons for behaviour which is outside the social norm, a kind of confession that is also a kind of propelling oneself, by and through one’s non-normative behaviours, into a position beyond that norm, so as to make one particularly conscious and critical of those norms, their exigency, their fragility.

24.X.99: ‘Western man has become a confessing animal’, I have just been reading (in Foucault’s History of Sexuality), ‘one admits to oneself, in pleasure and in pain, things it would be impossible to tell anyone else, the things people write books about’ (emphasis mine).

149. 22.IX.94

Once again the attempt to gather up something here even while it is sliding away, in this case reflections, 20/IX, while I was having lunch with . Re . and what I’ve earlier called the Mechanism of Shame, though not so much the poetics here as the biography, and the barriers put up to the biographer. The strange dynamic or interrelation between the desire for intimacy, confession and the things to be shared or confessed, the way the one breeds or multiplies the other in the very process of thwarting it. That the desire to be open, meeting its inevitable frustration, creates at once a further thing one will wish to be open about, and a further thing one cannot confess. A kind of impossibility of intimacy is at the heart of this. But is intimacy impossible – this kind of whole, open intimacy – or it is only impossible for some? And what is its connection with that full intimacy, that full opening or exposure of the self that Poe says, could it be done, would amount to/produce a masterpiece?1 Shame, seeking its opposite, creating more shame, keeping the artist outcast… The constant desire, throughout one’s adult life, for someone one can be truly, uninhibitedly honest with, up against the discovery that one is inhibited, seduced into falsehood by tenderness, desire not to wound, the (apparent) need to mask truth in order to sustain the friend-ship/love in the first place. As if these things – friendship, love – are almost by definition incompatible with full disclosure.

152. 8.X.94

How much of literary history, as of any other history, is lubricated by – floating on a virtual sea of – semen, vaginal secretions, blood, the way that desire, their ether, lubricates the mind, imagination, intellect, of the scientist as much as the writer, the politician as much as the poet or the metaphysician. And how much commentary upon it dare not look this in the face? How much new theory exists to suppress it, every bit as much as – more than – the old, theory which, on the other hand, extols the textual body. And what toxins are preserved – never identified – as a consequence?

153. 14.X.94

I feel my life compartmentalised, the sections and compartments of it needing to open on to one another, needing to communicate, but unable to do so, and the sense that, were it not for writing, which is the place of their encoded communications, their tentative, dreamt unifications, I would very probably eventually split apart somehow, be unable to hold my life together (and thinking at the same time that it is this precariousness, its nervousness, its anxiety, that gives me what energy I have to probe the edges, when I can see them, of what makes and motivates us/these realities; this precariousness, this anxiety that has riddled, written itself through, my body. (Or has it been written by my body, in the only language/economy the mind of me knows/is allowed? This massive, labyrinthine interaction that is very like destiny.) The sense is that this is not so for me alone, but the/a secret of many authors’ writings. The secret that is rarely, if ever, from the outside, brought to them, to explain their deepest mechanisms, what need or capacity there is for ‘understanding’ being placated instead, as almost all literary history testifies, by half-truths, social truths. (What do they say about Wyatt, for Godsake?) This line of speculation motivated not only by night-thoughts after recent discussions of , or finding myself at a restaurant last week just down-table from his old lover, one of them, knowing the plastering, the retouching they both have done over the decades, the danger of ever speaking the actual connections, peeling open the metaphors, the images, elaborate fables in which and by which was able perhaps at once to confess and to keep himself whole – to make simulacra of his wholeness; not only by this, as I said, but by the sudden realisation, this morning, mid-traffic on the way back from the airport, that something like this was the secret of ..’s powerful new writing, the way that in her recent trilogy she has been able to speak out, to work more openly – if not in utter openness – with the truth(s) that in all her earlier writing she has had to disguise, twist, displace in a way that gave one always the feeling that it was not living within itself. But now, you see – the unmentionable? – the person she might most have hurt with it is dead to her, to memory, to any such hurt, and she is freed, by him and by her own advancing age, her own passage past the kinds of current, active sexuality and relation that might earlier have forced silence, discretion upon her. Who would have thought it, and that, almost as if in proof of Poe’s dictum, she would become so widely loved for it, as if she somehow spoke us, and in her age, her paradoxically ingenuous wisdom, her serenity (thin veneer for the great arrogance, the great selfishness), gave us an absolution we so deeply need that we will not hear her remorse for what she has done, for what hurt she has caused, even when she shouts it at us [again, the greatest of paradoxes of the reading process: that what is said most clearly and most plainly will so often be one of the last things heard or understood].

154. 8.XII.94

‘The Mind has no neighbours, and the unteachable heart…’2: we are all utterly alone, until we give ourselves over, which is a little like the relinquishment of weapons during an amnesty. But then, after that, we are not this, we do not have ourselves – we have left the stage, the field of the question, not answered it.

177. –.XI.96

There is an essay I have been trying to write for some time now, some years, but have been unable to, on a poem that I think it important to discuss. But the poet is still alive. And I know too much. The problem has to do with a personal tact, but not only that. It is also a problem with criticism itself. Poststructural theory has dismantled most of the walls the New Criticism set around the text, but it has left the highest and perhaps most obstructive one standing. When I look atthis (Attis!! the beauty of typos) poem, and think of the things that I cannot say, the questions I cannot pursue beyond the text that provokes them, it seems to me I see not only the whole problematic of poetry and dismemberment spelt out before me, but the central and crucial problem of criticism, that it will not engage with the body, that it is involved in – has involved itself in – this deep and ridiculous hypocrisy, pretending as it does that the text is or must be sufficient unto itself, that it has no body, no integral relation to the life which produced and probably necessitated it – because, it claims, if it considers the question at all, that these things cannot be known, because they cannot be specified with any certainty. As if the text without them can be more certain! As if the poets/writers themselves – the generators of these texts – were themselves conscious of keeping, or were able to keep, their own vital and swirling, chaotic, aching, fleshly circumambient worlds, their vast and tumultuous coenaesthetic, out of their writing, as if they were capable or inclined to separate, to bisect, themselves entirely, merely because criticism/critical theory/Theory/philosophy – whatever we call them – cannot handle so messy and complicated a problem.

It is surely time that criticism, in order to perform its task more authentically, more convincingly, got its hands dirty (if it is dirt at all: another intriguing question) – time that it entered this ancient and complicated and difficult space, and weathered the arguments and embarrassments and bewilderments and unresolvable ambiguities, irreconcilable contradictions that will of course be found there, time that it made the errors inevitable there, and progressed by them, and overcame its Manichean text/world division; for if the sudden, shocking realisation that language and the world are not the same (‘Der!’ as my daughter would say) – that the one is rather less transparent than it thought – has stymied it, it is only, after all, one of the base and most ancient problems of human existence, and one that poets, conceivably since poetry began, have known about, negotiated, overcome with the simplest necessary leaps of faith, or simply barged through. (If, according to Zeno, time being infinitely divisible, I will never be able to reach the door, or the arrow its target, that never stopped the arrow, or me.)

Because, amongst many other things, some of the blindnesses, the self-deceptions, the convenient silences and over-passings, that have been allowed to slip in to this chasm, this purported uncrossable gap between world and text – Warren and Wellek’s pathetic Intentional Fallacy3 (ergo Phallacy?)! – have been dangerous silences indeed – have dismembered more than poets, and more poets than these.



Remembering Rimbaud’s implicit ‘If there is a rule, break it,’ or at least Robert Adamson’s adaptation of Rimbaud’s ‘long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses’4 (long, immense et raisonné dérèglement de tous les sens) in that direction (e.g. ‘Lovesong from Across the Border’5): There can be few laws more fundamental to human (inter)relationships than that against lying, the insistence that one be as good as one’s word, and all the nobility to which that is attached, or that is attached to it. (Immediately, for example, it raises the question of the fidelity of – the correspondence of – words to things.) It is so universal, one suspects – this law – that it is in some ontological way in the vicinity of the incest taboo, or at least of Lévi-Strauss’ account thereof.6 But is it also, as Lévi-Strauss might have put it, a scandal?

Ontologically, that is, it sits, as does the incest taboo, on the cusp of the social contract, that other face of the nature/culture brisure/hinge, in that it imputes/evokes/establishes/
rides upon a sense of communally understood and recognised truths, and insists that one’s being (that one’s being-in-culture) supports this structure; that one places one’s being at its disposal/service; that one makes oneself transparent to/to serve it. If one does not lie then one is – at least potentially; at least as far as one is questioned in the first place – open to/prepared to be open to, being known. Whereas if one lies – is prepared to lie – then one is declaring that one desires or is prepared to hold oneself back from this contract. The person who lies, in this sense, may be not only holding him/herself back from, but may be protecting him/herself from, this contract.

Don’t trust the person who lies? But surely there is also a problem with trusting the person who doesn’t, because one can’t be sure of the extent to which there is a person there in the first place, for if the person has not contrived even to protect him/herself / his/her self

If there is not something to be contracted, not something to make the contract, then what is the point of talking about it as a contract at all? In this sense it might almost be argued that, in as much as it protects – helps us to identify the horizon of – the self, it is lying that serves ironically to guarantee the contract, and that an absolute absence of lying, an absence of this horizon, means that the self has been totally subsumed by the social.

He/she who lies declares that there is still some part of him/her to be known, and that is withheld from knowing/being known. We might think, in this regard – rehearse, for an essay on lying, before we argue anything else – Said, in Orientalism, re being known and being colonised.

The obverse of this is that one also lies – to a certain lies to oneself, or about oneself – in order to enter the social: that one is rewarded within the social to the extent that one serves its purposes, gives it the answers that it wants, supports its idea of ‘truth’ (street-vision, of crowds of the young, preparing the ‘right’ answers, whether or not those answers accord with their own senses of what is ‘right’, or of themselves…). [The idea of the ‘right’ here goes back to an idea of the ‘right’ in the conversation with in which this train of thought started: i.e. saying, this day (28.X.05), a propos something that for the moment I cannot remember, that she doesn’t lie, and my adding ‘except when it is the right thing to do,’ and she ‘Yes, except when it is the right thing to do’: the first logical question stemming therefrom being of course ‘Yes, but how do you define – whodefines – ‘right’?’ (Getting the ‘right’ answers for a job interview, a promotion interview, etc.)


The word ‘lying’ itself. The connection between lying (verbally) and lying down; to lie to someone, and to lie down, or perhaps, as an extension/application of the letter, to lie low, as in to hide, to protect oneself, to withhold oneself from view, a connection within the English language that is almost certainly not there in other languages, but which nonetheless reflects one aspect of the term, the mendaciousness, just as other connections, potentially, in other languages, might reflect/draw out other aspects.


A further obverse. If lying is an attempt to render the self opaque, to establish and maintain a border or horizon for the self, a limit to the incursions and/or territory of the social, then a refusal to lie, whatever else it may be (and one must consider/accommodate the other constructions), is a willingness to make oneself transparent, which could either be a loss/sacrifice/effacement of the self or could stem from a different subjectivity, a version/aspect of the self-without-borders being elsewhere bruited. [{21.ix.2007} This whole account and critique of lying, after all, has been predicated upon a conception of integrity, a word which itself bifurcates, meaning at one and the same time that moral virtue that is perhaps best described as being as good as one’s word, and the state itself of being one, an integer, something – or someone – that/who is the same in two instants of time, ignoring and in despite of Fernando Pessoa’s assertion that the pressure to be one,7 to cohere, is one of the madnesses of our time – an ignoring which is itself part of a deep contemporary schism in that, while the proscription of lying hold as firmly as ever, contemporary theory and our purported postmodern environment encourage in so many other aspects an acceptance of the multiple, the schizoid and the (unavoidably) inauthentic. (But this, I am sure, is a line being taken up by multitudes…)


(But the hydraulics, as usual, are far from clear. A desire not to be known, not to be possessed, beneath which is a longing to be known, possessed? – to be sought out, pursued, known not because one is there but because one has been searched out, the ‘social’ horizon crossed in pursuit of some deeper horizon: perhaps, in this manner, a means of challenging and extending the social horizon…) [{21.IX.2007} But here, Uroboros-like, the snake encounters its own tail, and this line of argument re-enters the personal – the intimate – from whence (in 1992) it seems to have eventually emerged.]



1 In Graham’s Magazine of January 1848, Poe wrote:

If any ambitious man have a fancy to revolutionize, at one effort, the universal world of human thought, human opinion, and human sentiment, the opportunity is his own – the road to immortal renown lies straight, open, and unencumbered before him. All he has to do is write and publish a very little book. Its title should be simple – a few plain words – ‘My Heart Laid Bare.’ But – this little book must be true to its title.

Now, is it not very singular that, with the rabid thirst for notoriety which distinguishes so many of mankind – so many, too, who care not a fig what it thought of them after death, there should not be found one man having sufficient hardihood to write this little book? To write, I say. There are ten thousand men who, if the book were once written, would laugh at the notion of being disturbed by its publication during their life, and who could not even conceive why they should object to its being published after their death. But to write it – there is the rub. No man dare write it. No man ever will dare write it. No man could write it, even if he dared. The paper would shrivel & blaze at every touch of the fiery pen.

2 Citing A.D. Hope (1955).
3 The reference to Warren & Wellek is actually one to Wimsatt & Beardsley (1946).
4 Rimbaud (1871).
5 Anderson (1977).
6 Lévi-Strauss (1955).
7 Cf. Fernando Pessoa (1935).


Robert Adamson (1977). Cross the Border (Sydney: New Poetry for the Poetry Society of Australia)

Gilles Deleuze (1972). ‘Nomad Thought,’ in The New Nietzsche: Contemporary Styles of Interpretation, ed. D.B. Allison (New York: Dell Publishing, 1977)

Michel Foucault (1978). The History of Sexuality, tr. Robert Hurley (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986)

A.D. Hope (1955). ‘The Wandering Islands,’ in The Wandering Islands (Sydney: Edwards & Shaw)

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1955). ‘The Structural Study of Myth,’ in Structural Anthropology, tr. Claire Jacobson & B.G. Schoepf (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1967), pp. 202-228

Fernando Pessoa (1935). ‘Letter: Origins of Heteronyms [Extracts],’ at:

E.A. Poe (1848). ‘Marginalia – Part X,’ in The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, 1997-2007, at:

Arthur Rimbaud (1871). ‘Letter to Paul Demeny, 15th May 1871,’ in Complete Works, ed. & tr. Paul Schmidt (New York: HarperPerennial, 2000)

E.W. Said (1978). Orientalism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul)

W.M. Wimsatt & M.C. Beardsley (1946). ‘The Intentional Fallacy,’ in W.K. Wimsatt, The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (London: Methuen & Co., 1970), pp. 3-18