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Island 24 - Isle of the Travelling Hybrids (from Muse of the Long Haul)

Island 24 - Isle of the Travelling Hybrids (from Muse of the Long Haul)

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Published by Ian Irvine (Hobson)
This sample from Muse of the Long Haul: Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination by Ian Irvine (Hobson) addresses the relationship of creativity to travel experiences. The author argues that the peculiar poetics demanded of our era (postmodern poetics) is actually a poetics of hybridity and that travel experiences can facilitate opening up to such a notion of creativity. Italo Calvino's novel Invisible Cities is discussed, as is Brian McHale's book Postmodernist Fiction, and the Irish Imram Brain story (i.e. The Voyages of Bran).
This sample from Muse of the Long Haul: Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination by Ian Irvine (Hobson) addresses the relationship of creativity to travel experiences. The author argues that the peculiar poetics demanded of our era (postmodern poetics) is actually a poetics of hybridity and that travel experiences can facilitate opening up to such a notion of creativity. Italo Calvino's novel Invisible Cities is discussed, as is Brian McHale's book Postmodernist Fiction, and the Irish Imram Brain story (i.e. The Voyages of Bran).

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Published by: Ian Irvine (Hobson) on Jun 19, 2013
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10/18/2013

 
Island Twenty-Four
 – 
Isle of theTravelling Hybrids
(Extract from:
 
Muse of the Long Haul Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination 
)
Copyright
, Dr Ian Irvine, 2013 all rightsreserved. All short extracts from the textsdiscussed are acknowledged and used
under fair usage related to ‘review’ andtheoretical ‘critique’
contained ininternational copyright law.
 
Cover image
:
‘Marco Polo in a tartar outfit’
age and author unknown. Thisimage is in the public domain. All other images (in order):
Domestic Kali,Kathmandu
,
Spirit Houses
 – 
Lake Toba,Sumatra
and
Borobodur during the Fires
  by Sue King-Smith 1997, The last image
Hoi An Lanterns
is by Ian Irvine, 2007.
 Publisher
: Mercurius Press, Australia,2013. NB: This piece is published atScribd as part of a series drawn from thesoon to be print published non-fiction book on experiential poetics entitled:
 Muse of the Long Haul: Thirty-One Isles of theCreative Imagination.
 
 
Island Twenty-Four
 – 
Isle of the Travelling Hybrids
I read Italo Calvino’s novel
 Invisible Cities
in 1992 for a third year literature class at La Trobetaught by John Penwill. I recall I saw it as a short, puzzling and wonderfully poetic book. Themain themes are announced in the opening pages as the narrator describes Kublai Khan listeningattentively to the young Venetian explorer Marco Polo describe the many cities he had visited on
his travels. We are told that at the height of Khan’s triumph—i.e. the height of his Empire’s
 power 
 —he is experiencing a melancholy epiphany: ‘It is the desperate moment when we
discover that this empire, which had seemed to us the sum of all wonders, is an endless, formless
ruin ...’
 After reading the opening pages I prepared myself for a Realist novel with historicalelements
 —i.e. a fictionalised version of Polo’
s travels which included an early meeting with
Khan in the emperor’s summer pal
ace at Shangdu near modern day Zhangjikou around 1274. Hewas only three years into what turned out to be a twenty-four year trip that took him and hisfather and uncle to remote parts of China, Singapore, Sumatra, Persia and so on. Calvino,however, was more interested in the metaphoric value
of Polo’s travels
and seems to make anargument for the
ultimate impotence of ‘power’ (symbolised by Khan’s
only nominal power over an Empire he would never really be able to understand).In a tutorial for the class I recall a fellow student, a nineteen year old girl with frizzy dark 
hair, telling the tutor, ‘Look, I suppose there’s something postmodern going on ... with, like,
language
... but, like, I dunno know what
, I just don’t get it
 
...’ As she spoke her hands
flappedabout in the air as though she were drowning. I have to admit, at the time I empathised with her sentiments, and though the tutor did his best to patiently explain the postmodern mysteries of 
 Invisible Cities
via the theory-speak of Saussure, Derrida and friends, I ended up feeling just asfrustrated as the frizzy haired girl. My frustration however was partly due to creative despair. If 
this was an archetypal ‘postmodern novel’ finely tuned to the historical moment (and heavily
influenced, I found out only later, by Oulipean writing techniques) I felt I had no hope in hell of adapting its techniques to my own fiction. I came away with the mistaken belief that every postmodern novel was more or less formally unique (and thus original in its technicalinnovations).
I maintained this belief until 2000 or so when I read Brian McHale’s excellent book 
 Postmodernist Fiction
 — 
a critical study of postmodernist literary techniques founded on thenotion that the major shift from Modernist to Postmodernist literature involved a shift from the
question of ‘What can we know about the world?’ (an epistemological question, in terms of traditional philosophy,) to ‘What world is this?’ (an ontological question). McHale’s book 
 catalogues the many innovative postmodern writing techniques that have been used to explorehis second, for him epoch making, question. Retrospectively, I realised that McHale was sayingthat postmodernist novelists (and their adventurous readers) were deliberately placing themselves
in ‘a place between worlds’, an ‘
interzone
’ (
i.e.
William Burroughs) or just plain ‘Zone’ (
i.e.Thomas Pynchon in
Gravity’ 
 s Rainbow
)
 — 
a place where one reality or paradigm clashes withanother. McHale was also saying that travellers between paradigms, i.e. occupants of theZone/
interstitium
, experience something called
‘ontological flicker’
. One moment the worldmakes sense according to Paradigm A, the next moment Paradigm B or C makes more sense. For some reason the postmodernist aesthetic favours writers and thinkers willing to countenance a
 psychic life founded on degrees of ‘hybridity’— 
i.e. writers willing to occupy the precarious zone
 between ‘clashing’ ontologies.
 
A question arose as to why postmodernist writers would want to put themselves in such a place
 — 
rather than, for example, writing from the secure centre of a particular paradigm or version of reality? The answer was obvious enough to me
 — 
 post-World War II the humanspecies developed weapons capable of destroying all life on earth. A nuclear holocaust wouldmost likely occur due to clashes between political blocks espousing
exclusivist ‘version
s of 
reality’. The ‘postmodernist’
creative solution, one aimed squarely at the goal of speciessurvival, was to dissolve the foundations of all exclusivist paradigms thus undermining their social and political power. With this realisation,
and armed with McHale’s book,
I began tounderstand the link between a range of previously enigmatic
‘post
-
modern’
writing techniquesand post-modern culture and society.To return to
 Invisible Cities
, for a moment, specifically the relationship between Khanand Polo. Khan sits in his summer palace at the centre of the Mongol Empire (metaphorically: at
the centre of a ‘paradigm’ or ‘version of reality’ he’d like to see as
universalist) listening toMarco Polo. Polo, however 
 — 
ever the merchant traveller, in short: a creature of the
interstitium
 (or zone between political blocks)
 — 
espouses an expansive vision of the world for he hasseen/will see many landscapes, cities, Empires, etc. (metap
horically: many ‘paradigms’ andversions of reality’).
It is no su
rprise then to learn that the ‘cities’ Calvino wants
Polo to describeare as much the cities of the mind as they are the cities Polo likely visited on his travels.For example, we are told t
hat Isidora is a ‘City of Dreams’ (p.8) and that Zaira is a cityconsisting of ‘relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past’
(p.
10). We also encounter, Anastasia, a city that ‘awakens desires one at a time, only to f 
orce you
to stifle them ...’ as well
 
Tamara, a city that ‘says everything you must think and makes yourepeat her discourse’. We encounter these strange ‘unreal’ cities throughout the book and
aremade to understand that something more is at stake than descriptions of different geographies.
Polo’s ‘cities’ are metaphors for deeper 
 problems, puzzles and questions related to theontological foundations of experience. We note also that many of the cities Polo describes are
‘impossible cities’, at least fr 
om the perspective of modern scientific paradigms.For me, three consequences accompanied these realisations: 1) I became more positiveabout
‘postmodernist’ literary innovations. The ‘ontological flicker’ encountered
when readingmany post-modernist novels symbolised an invitation to readers to become anti-authoritarian,tolerant and internationalist hybrids
(i.e. ‘citizens of the world’
opposed to all forms of oppression).
2) I understood the connection between my own ‘dispersed across the planet’
history and certain aspects of postmodern culture as discussed above. Childhood circumstances(i.e. migration experiences
) guaranteed that I’d become an international ‘hybrid’
due toimportant relationships existing across a number countries and places. 3) I began to seeoccasional travel to Majority World countries as a necessary facet of being a creative artist in our 
age since one task of the creative artist is to remain open to ‘paradigms’, ‘ontologies’, ‘worldviews’
etc. that question, maybe even threaten our own.The Land of Promise (also known as
Tir Tairngire
and
 Emain Ablach
) is a place visited by manyseafarers in the old Celtic wonder stories. Mortals are attracted to this uncanny land despite itsmany perils
 — 
not least of which is the difficulty of returning to family and friends after a visit.For example, in the 11
th
century Irish tale,
‘The Voyage of Bran’ (
Ir.
 Imram Brain
), Bran and hismen visit the Land of Promise but later experience problems returning to the mortal world due todifferences in the way time flows in the two worlds. Another 
Irish ‘
Land of Promise
story, onevery relevant to the themes of this chapter,
is ‘The Conception of Mongan’ (also in the 11
th
 century manuscript containing
 Imram Brain
). The narration details the childhood of King

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