Island Ten - The

Geography of Things
Past
(Extract from: Muse of the Long Haul Thirty-One Isles of the Creative
Imagination)

Copyright, Dr Ian Irvine, 2013 all rights reserved. All short extracts from the texts discussed are
acknowledged and used under fair usage related to ‘review’ and theoretical ‘critique’ under
international copyright law.
Cover Image: ‘Farm House and Outbuilding’ Poplar Farm, Guisborough, UK 2010, by Ian Irvine
Publisher: Mercurius Press, Australia, 2013. NB: This piece is published at Scribd as part of a series
drawn from the soon to be print published non-fiction book on experiential poetics entitled: Muse of
the Long Haul: Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination.

Island Ten –The Geography of Things Past
I’ve read most of the works of literature and theory alluded to in this book cover to cover.
The book I want to talk about in this chapter, however, is a book I have never completed
reading. Indeed the psychic charge I associate with Proust and his opus Remembrance of
Things Past (here after referred to as Remembrance) is precisely the charge associated with
the incomplete, the fathomless, the enigmatic—if only enigmatic in this case because I can’t
seem to finish it!
Postmodernists love to talk about ‘lack of closure’ as a positive thing in a literary
work—though they usually come to such a verdict after at least reading the work in question.
You have to know a book inside out to be able to celebrate its ability to postpone ‘closure’—
i.e. an author’s refusal to stabilize, or set in concrete, a transparent meaning exchange
between text and reader. A book that refuses closure supposedly places readers in a liminal
zone—meaning remains in flux and authoritarian certainty is disarmed. So goes the theory.
As a French fiction writer influenced by psychological perspectives on life, a
postmodern aesthetic was far from Proust’s thoughts when he wrote Remembrance (or In
Search of Time’s Lost as the French would have it more accurately translated). His
microscopic fictional analysis of long lost details of his character’s lives is a modernist
classic precisely because it enacts a cultural zeitgeist evident elsewhere at the time. There is
something strangely scientific about Proust’s enterprise. The reams of materialistic detail that
piled up in so many 19th century Realist novels became, in the Modernist phase, reams of
psychological detail—the unabridged version of Joyce’s monumental work, Ulysses, for
example, is over 1,000 pages long and deals with the experiences, thoughts, memories etc. of
its characters over a single Dublin day. Writers like Proust viewed the novelist as a creative
scientist—though for him the science is a science of the mind. He was interested in the
phenomenon of ‘automatic memory’ and from such a perspective the novelist appears on the
verge of becoming a psychologist. There is also the sense that Proust was seeking to uncover
some kind of essential truth through his unique poetics of the mind—something not
ordinarily visible was assumed to be buried somewhere in the past. To write and to read
literature is to uncover, rather like an archaeologist, the true meaning of the past. This strikes
postmodernists, of course, as an attempt to create a literature of ‘closure’. How fitting then
that Proust could not complete Remembrance—perhaps this fact conceals the outcome of
Proust’s examination of memory. The work refuses ‘closure’ (is incomplete) because in the
‘process’ of writing it Proust perhaps discovered that the past can never be completely
captured and summarised—rather it bleeds into the present (and even the future) in response
to our efforts at observation, recollection, cleansing (as in psychoanalysis). According to
Quantum physicists like David Bohm, the past is always all around us, part of what he calls
the ‘implicate order’—perhaps only an atom’s length away from the fragile present so
treasured by ordinary consciousness.
I remember back in 1991 deciding that I was going to buy and read cover the cover
Proust’s huge book within a year. My decision stemmed from a challenge set students in class
one day by Clive Faust, the lecturer taking ‘Studies in Western Tradition: 3B Modernism’,
who, incidentally, is a fine poet. I acquired Remembrance—all seven volumes—from a friend
soon after and began reading it. Clive had suggested, somewhat casually, that none of us
would really be up to reading it—though it was a great piece of modernist literature the
reader had to be sufficiently versed in a great deal of other material to get anything out of it.
Wily old fox! He must have known that such a statement would act as a red rag to the class’s
small contingent of charging intellectual bovines. It still pains me to think that he may have
been right—indeed may still be right, for I confess I’m yet to finish Remembrance and not for
the want of trying. However, I’m not overly ashamed by my apparent laziness on this

matter—after all Proust died before he completed the book (1922). That was thirteen years
after he’d begun writing it (1909). I figure two decades to fail to read a book that the author
found too difficult to complete expresses a degree of camaraderie with the guy—I’m sure
he’d understand!
In truth I’m more interested in the stories around Proust writing Remembrance than I
am in actually reading the book itself. The idea of Remembrance is just as important as the art
object entitled Remembrance. This seems to be true for most writers and serious readers of
literature that I know—very few of them have read Remembrance though the fact of its
existence seems to mean something important to them. I’m fascinated, for example, by
descriptions of Proust’s last three years (1919-1922). Sick and dispirited he lay in his ‘cork
lined’ bedroom working on that monster of a book. By all accounts he’d been progressively
withdrawing from the social world some years before getting ill. I like the idea that he was
slightly misanthropic. His self-appointed task—i.e. to use fiction writing techniques to
examine in forensic detail the detritus of memory—is to me a good example of the way
Modernism encouraged ‘anti-literatures’—literatures designed to critique (and explode)
conventional notions of ‘Literature’. Throughout my life anti-literatures have interested me as
much as conventional Literature.
Remembrance is also a metaphor for how artistic obsessions (and in a way the
principles of psychoanalysis) can lead creative people to retreat from the present and the
future (especially from uncomfortable truths about the decisions/choices one needs to make
in the present) via total immersion in the labyrinth that is memory—the past can be
comfortable even though, as the psychoanalysts testify, childhood has its dark moments. The
major Modernist texts exploring childhood upended forever the sunny Romantic myths
surrounding that stage of life—myths that had dominated throughout the 19th century—e.g.
Wordsworth’s versions of childhood. Proust comes much closer to capturing the lived
experience of childhood and thus his work arrives as a breath of fresh air in among all the
Romantic advertising material (indeed the Modernists generally, taking a lead from Freud,
are refreshing on this score).
Thanks to the new global communications technologies it takes ten minutes or so these
days—depending on network congestion—to locate the global coordinates of most of the
places relevant to one’s childhood and youth. With the help of Google Maps or Google Earth
one can view satellite and even roadside images of these places using zoom and pan features
built into the programs. Metaphorically speaking one can soar above (like an eagle, aircraft or
space rocket), or touch-down in the midst of, the haunted landscapes of our memories with
incredible ease these days.
This Google Earth/Memory metaphor helps illustrate the main goal of this chapter,
which is to assess the value of memory—of the past generally—to creative people. Between
1987 and 1989 I became reacquainted with many of the landscapes of my past via Lionel
Exell’s ‘Primal-Transpersonal’ techniques. Some of the places I revisited mentally are
outlined below (with Google Maps reference coordinates where possible and relevant)—note:
Proust’s notion of ‘automatic memory’—which implies access to vivid, sometimes allencompassing, aspects of the past—is relevant.
I can view the town of my birth, Hyde, near Manchester, by first locating greater
Manchester then panning east, out past the Manchester City football stadium, following the
Old Ashton Road in the direction of our former home—the home I don’t actually remember
living in.
I can then ascend like a jet airliner and head north-east for a time before descending
over central Middlesborough, near the site of the home of my first memories. The street has
been pulled down now—only a motorway flyover above a blank stretch of tarmac and

concrete that was once our home there.
From there I can follow ‘Middlesborough Road’ (the A171) as it wends its way out of
the city in the direction of the town of Guisborough. We travelled the A171 frequently in my
childhood on the way to or from Poplar Farm—the farm my grandparents worked and
managed from the early 1940s to granddads retirement in the 1970s. This is also the
landscape of my mother’s childhood and youth. To get to the farm one needs to turn left off
the Middlesborough Road just before Guisborough. After the turn-off I imagine myself as a
child running up a long gravel road to the farmhouse. I remember the potato fields—flat and
fertile. They’re on my left after entering the farm from Middlesborough Road. After running
for a while the trail rises steeply before entering the thickly treed gloom of Park Wood which
was full of deer, birdlife and foxes. A little further along and the forest retreats to open fields
on both sides—the left field was usually cropped, the right one was for pigs, cows and horses.
In my childhood this stretch of the road was lined with huge poplar trees—hence ‘Poplar
Farm’.
I loved the farm so much that it is very easy, even now, to dwell here among the
poplars and beech trees, the cedars and hawthorn. Nothing better than freezing the scene—
Ian the six year old boy runs through Park Forest after delivering a message to his
grandfather—who is working in the bottom fields with the tractor—from his gran concerning
afternoon tea. The two-storey blue-stone house my grandparents lived in—surrounded even
then by assorted outbuildings—was a magical place to all of the grandchildren. We populated
it with ghosts and other strange creatures and treasured its sometimes bizarre nooks and
crannies—to us kids it was a huge mysterious place full of things from ‘olden times’. Poplar
Farm still features often in my dreams—we never entirely leave behind the landscapes of our
past.
Returning to the A171 I imagine driving through Guisborough with its cobbled streets
and old Priory in the direction of the sea-side town of Whitby. Once again I’m back in my
childhood as the family crosses those snow heavy moorlands. Mum is feeding us polo mints
and Dad has to concentrate hard just to keep us on the road—and all the time watching for
vehicles up ahead (often obscured by heavy moorland fog). Upon arrival in Whitby we walk
to the old town from my cousin’s place on a hill to the north. When I think of Whitby I think
of the Abbey, of Dracula, of boats bobbing on the river in winter and of the pier and beach.
Part of me is still six years old and I’m wandering excitedly with my brother and parents
along the river bank, past holiday attractions on one side and boats of many colours on the
other. We’re heading in the direction of the pier. Perhaps we stop at a confectionary shop and
Mum buys Andy and I some ‘Whitby Rock’ that we want to gnaw on immediately, or maybe
an ice-cream. Or perhaps we stop for fish and chips bought close to the fishing boats.
As I put in a Scottish address the Google Earth camera might ascend rapidly providing
an upper atmosphere view of northern England and Southern Scotland before descending just
as rapidly east of Glasgow. We could follow any number of roads north out of
Middlesborough– we’ve driven them all over the decades. We’re heading for Glendale
Avenue, Airdrie—a suburb of Glasgow also not that far from Edinburgh. The Airdrie football
stadium is near-by. This is the street in which my Aunt Kathie and Uncle Frank lived for
most of their adult lives—it’s where they raised their three daughters (my cousins). All three
still live nearby, as does my Aunt Betty and her family. Not far away, in Coatbridge, lives my
Aunt Rita and her sons and daughter. Although I have many happy memories of these places
this is more properly the landscape of my father’s past—my less numerous memories layer
over the memories of his entire childhood and youth.
In the air once again I make use of the new media to travel to Cwmbran, South Wales.
Since 1977 my brother Pat and his wife have lived beside a football field not far from the
town centre and Cwmbran Stadium. The estates there are surrounded by hills and my brother

Philip lives close by. From his house I can make out Chepstow, with its amazing Medieval
castle, as well as the Severn Bridge. We are close to the England-Wales border. The
countryside around Cwmbran is always lush and green. Whenever I return there for a visit I
usually spend a lot of time visiting Roman monuments, old churches, castles and the like. The
region’s history is rich indeed.
The next ‘Google hop’ was originally taken with passenger jets—DC-10s, Jumbos etc.
It’s 1971 and the British Airways jet has taken off for Sydney. It flew over France and Italy,
over the Mediterranean and the Middle East, then over India and South East Asia on the way
to Australia. We could visit the East Hills Hostel (renamed later) where all the 10 Pound
Migrants were welcomed and put up on arrival from overseas. It sits beside a river on the
outskirts of Sydney and we lived there for six weeks before renting a flat in Auburn—which
not far these days from Sydney Olympic Park. Later my parents bought a white HR Holden
from a dealer on Paramatta Road and in 1972 we drove over the Blue Mountains, through
Victorian and New South Wales border country, in the direction of Adelaide, South Australia.
The Adelaide to Sydney drive was epic given we were used to British distances. Dad
had flown to Adelaide some months earlier to buy a house in the migrant suburb of Salisbury
Downs to the north-west of the city. In those days our home at 22 Wicklow Street was
surrounded by flat, dry paddocks—these days the whole area behind it, almost to the saltpans of the nearby coast, is suburbs. Our primary school was just down the street as was the
Salisbury Downs Oval where my brother and I and friends spent all our spare time playing
cricket, soccer and Aussie rules. Huge car factories hungry for migrant labor dotted the
landscape in the early 70s and the suburbs of Elizabeth, Salisbury, Para Hills, Smithfield etc.
were consequently growing at a phenomenal rate.
I remember the heat of the South Australian summers. I remember holidays and
weekend trips inland to towns along the Murray River to fish—Barmera and Renmark,
Tailem Bend and Murray Bridge or to coastal towns like Ardrossan, Port Augusta and Victor
Harbour. I remember a six foot brown snake curled up in a riverside toilet near Murray
Bridge—I saw it as I opened the door for a visit and felt it slither past my ankles at pace. I
remember soccer in the winter and cricket in the summer. I remember overnight bus trips,
through Naracoorte and Ballarat, or Mount Gambier and Geelong to Melbourne to play
against suburban teams in Essendon, Sunshine and Keilor. Again, the road trips were epic but
by the mid-70s no longer unusual. I remember a representative cricket trip to the west of the
state as a 12 year old. We played on concrete pitches in bone-dry paddocks. I was billeted in
Penong further west along the Eyre Highway—the last town before the Western Australian
border. A truly remote community the kids had an hour and a half bus ride each morning just
attend school in Ceduna (where most of our cricket matches were played).
I remember all these things and I remember us losing our house in Salisbury Downs
in 1975 after Dad got injured at work.
Google works its high tech magic once again. It is 1977 (I’m aged 14) and we’ve returned to
Australia after a 3 month holiday in the UK. We fly over the Tasman Sea from Melbourne to
Auckland, New Zealand—more specifically to the North Shore suburbs of Browns Bay and
Mairangi Bay. Upon arrival in Auckland we stay with Mum’s cousin, Anne, and her husband,
Kem, at their house on East Coast Bays Road. Six months later we buy a house near-by.
To get to central Auckland from the ‘Shore’ you have to cross the Auckland Harbour
Bridge. In my mind the Shore is dominated by that bridge, as well as by many attractive bays
with sandy beaches. Out in the Hauraki Gulf we notice the second major landmark of the
region—Rangitoto Island, with its large cone, product of an extinct volcano. It’s a great place
to visit by boat and there’s always the option of climbing the mountain.
I remember my first school days at Rangitoto College—I didn’t like the fact that we

had to wear uniforms since they hadn’t been required at Para Hills High (near Adelaide). I
also felt very working class—most of my fellow students were middle class, their parents had
professional jobs and all their homes seemed larger than ours. For a long time I was critical of
Shore people’s general conservatism, as well as their white middle class values. Conformity
and consumerism dominated. More recently, however, I’ve become more very grateful of the
schooling and life opportunities I received on Auckland’s North Shore.
Between 1978 and 1984 I remember long days playing cricket at grounds across
Auckland—also around New Zealand. I remember sports trips (for soccer and cricket) to
North Island places like: Kerikeri, Rotorua, Taupo Gisborne, Upper Hutt, Wellington,etc., as
well as to the South Island cities Christchurch and Dunedin. I remember the radicalness of
Auckland University life in the early 80s where I attended anti-nuclear and anti-Springbok
protests. I recall walks down town to cinemas, art galleries etc., as well as nights spent at rock
concerts to the West of the city (The Police, David Bowie, Neil Young). I also remember the
University’s amazing bookshop where I encountered many of the thinkers and writers
discussed in these first ten ‘Islands of creativity’. It is also the place I stumbled across NZ
poets and writers such as Sam Hunt, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell and Janet Frame.
As I visited Lione Exell’s ‘Primal room’ at Curnow Street (in Bendigo, Central
Victoria) on and off between 1987 and 1989 I explored, in microscopic detail—as Proust
does via his characters in Remembrance—memories from many periods of my life. British,
Australian and New Zealand landscapes flashed before my eyes at dizzying pace—vivid
backdrops to the more emotional explorations I was undergoing.
In the journey described above the narrator was mostly situated above the earth, like an
astronaut or an old time polytheistic god (Hermes perhaps) observing, firstly, entire regions
before gradually zooming in (and down) toward particular locations.
It’s an interesting metaphor for how memory interacts with consciousness. In ordinary
life our past presents itself to consciousness in summary form—I lived here, I did this
between these years. This mechanism is how consciousness stops the past from
overwhelming us—it’s also the means by which we falsely presume mastery over our past.
Most of us spend our lives in this safe place, let’s call it the rarified upper atmosphere of the
self—though we all experience moments of Proust’s ‘automatic memory’, reminding us just
how close, vivid and strangely alive the past actually is.
Developing the metaphors associated with Google Earth still further we could say that as
we descend and zoom in on specific locations—i.e. on our past as lived details—we begin to
lose our reified perspective. With it may go our sense of control. Immersion in vivid
memories, in the detail of the past, can feel threatening, true, but ‘detail’ is also full of life,
vitality, colour etc. (i.e. elan, or what Freud called libido and eros, i.e. psychic energy).
Most of the psychoanalytic approaches we’ve been discussing these past few chapters
relentlessly drive the ‘client/seeker’ deep into the detail, the specifics of their history
(specifically their childhood experiences) in order to generate insights, epiphanies,
perspectives that facilitate healing, transformation, positive change. The upper atmosphere
(the ego) is deemed negatively reified, i.e. in need of being reanimated by earthy,
unconscious ID energies. What we see from high up on a Google Earth image
(metaphorically, the preferred position of the ego) is seen as a delusion generated by
defenses.
One of the critiques of psychoanalytic approaches to ‘problems with being’ is that they
often leaves clients stuck in the past—stuck also with ready-made excuses for current
‘problems with being’. There is always someone or something in the past to blame for clients
not making the right life choices in the present. From a humanistic/existential perspective

being mired too much in the details of problematic past experiences can lead to a kind of
paralysis of the will—the client may evade the responsibility of making the right
decisions/choices in the present.
Though I don’t entirely agree with this critique it does have some merits—we all have to
retain a balance between the past and the present, even whilst in the depths of intense
experiential explorations of the past.
In my case the ‘Google Earth’ metaphor is particularly relevant. Given the
circumstances of my childhood and youth, i.e. constant movement, change, adaption (to
different geographies, social circumstances, etc.), at some point I had to confront the impact
of migration and what I’ll call ‘relational distance’ i.e.—distance from significant others e.g.
grandparents etc.—on my internal life. I’d lived in three countries, five cities and eight
different homes by the age of 14. Even now I’m not entirely sure how this adventurous aspect
to my early years impacted on my emotional life and overall personality—though the
negative outcome was clearly ,by the age of 20 or so a sense of ‘fragmentation’. By the age of
23 I had an identity ‘dispersed’ across the various landscapes discussed above. Much of my
later adult life has probably been an attempt to guard against the almost acidic identity
‘dissolution’ that comes with ‘too much [change] too young’ (to quote from Aussie rock band
The Divinyls) leading to insecure ‘roots’ and connection to place and people in place. It’s one
of the main reasons I’ve lived in Bendigo for the past quarter century—despite numerous
trips overseas. In today’s global world my childhood experience is becoming more and more
common—a number of books have even been published on the topic.
Stepping outside the purely psychological perspective for a moment and looking at the
impact of those early travel experiences on my creative development I find quite a few
positives. I didn’t really acknowledge these positives until 2007—specifically whilst flying
over Malaysia on the way back from a five week family holiday to Vietnam. The airline was
experiencing severe turbulence at the time.
I had an epiphany of sorts 34,000 feet above Malaysia. In a nut-shell it involved
acceptance of my lot—acceptance of the pros and cons of dispersed identity. Sue and I had
been treated to a lunch in Hoi An with a number of Vietnamese writers, poets and editors
several weeks earlier. During the delicious meal we’d been asked a number of questions
about how it was that we could travel around the world so easily. I was asked: ‘Are
Australian poets rich?’
At the time it seemed like a slightly absurd question—of course we’re not rich! In fact
Western world poets are usually at the bottom of the income barrel—by Western standards.
However, this seemed like a strangely lame thing to say to a group of famous Vietnamese
writers because it was immediately obvious that by global standards we did appear rich that
day—if only because teaching poetry, fiction writing, literature etc, in Australia is a middle
income vocation.
On the jet home, with the plane pitching and rattling, I was still thinking about that
question. It occurred to me that for better or worse, childhood migration experiences had
opened me up to the world—even as it highlighted the importance of ‘long-term
relationships’. Aboard the jet, I felt moved to accept in particular the creative positives
associated with having been exposed to so many ‘landscapes’ in those early years. The trick
for any creative person coming into adulthood with experiences similar to mine, is to process
one’s ‘dispersal’ experiences as early and effectively as possible.
These insights lead us back to Proust’s Remembrance and a question I had about why I’ve
been unable to complete the book all these years.
I suspect one response might be that I didn’t want the past (my past?) to become a
static neo-Freudian ‘thing’. In my experience there is no once and for all revelation regarding

the true meaning of any particular childhood experience (positive or negative). The
epiphanies associated with childhood—with any aspect of our past—are never final, never
static and closed off. One can never exhume once and for all the Modernist corpse labeled
‘my childhood’. Rather the early events of our lives, even if partially analysed or catharted
into relative harmlessness, go on resonating in countless unexpected ways throughout our
lives. Childhood never ends—as a realm of being it constantly permeates the present. It
amounts to a psycho-organic layer in the psyche that endlessly invites our re-engagement, our
re-assessment, etc. throughout life. Even obvious negative experiences can suddenly reveal
unexpected positive dimensions later in life.
Certainly, I believe it is important for creative people to approach the Islands of
Memory with the twin goals of stripping away idealizations, and airing traumas and repressed
emotions. It is equally important, however, to balance exploration of the past with a
determination to face the present as a human being with free will. I suspect (probably
unfairly) that Proust’s gradual withdrawal from society in later life was in part fuelled by the
notion that the past is fundamental to understanding the real meaning of a life. In the
labyrinth of personal memory Proust perhaps sought the ‘Philosophical Balm’ cherished by
the alchemists. There are treasures there, I have no doubt, but the present and the future also
have their treasures.
In the late 1980s, after a prolonged period of navel gazing, I gradually became more
optimistic about the future—even as my ‘present’ situation became increasingly neglected.
The time for decisions and choices in the present was fast approaching.

Without Abstract Geography
(Poplar Farm, Guisborough, June 2010)
In the insect hum,
the jumble of foliage
(under-story and canopy)
in the dodging
of thorns
and nettles
in the acerbic aroma
all-engulfing
of livestock
There is a slow telescoping
of time
so that I walk once again
past poplars and stone walls,
animals and outbuildings
In the prattle of birds
the rustle-flutter of
green-gold pheasants,
in the shade to sunshine
romp of a simple errand
down the road
to the potato fields
There is a circling to time
a thickening of the senses
until the early days
without abstract geography
murmur the afternoon.
Author Bio (as at May 2013)
Dr. Ian Irvine (Hobson) is an Australian-based
poet/lyricist, writer and non-fiction writer. His work has
featured in publications as diverse as Humanitas (USA),
The Antigonish Review (Canada), Tears in the Fence
(UK), Linq (Australia) and Takahe (NZ), as well as in a
number of Australian national poetry anthologies: Best
Australian Poems 2005 (Black Ink Books) and Agenda:
‘Australian Edition’, 2005. He is the author of three
books and co-editor of three journals and currently
teaches in the Professional Writing and Editing program at BRIT (Bendigo, Australia) as well as
the same program at Victoria University, St. Albans, Melbourne. He has also taught history and
social theory at La Trobe University (Bendigo, Australia) and holds a PhD for his work on
creative, normative and dysfunctional forms of alienation and morbid ennui.

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