with his mind ...

a meditation
on a paragraph from Rimbaud's poem
"a season in hell"
helmet 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 Sidney Nolan, Kelly
[imagined detail], 1955,
ripolin enamel on hardboard
1
While still a child, I admired the obdurate convict on whom the prison gates always close. I visited the inns and furnished rooms he hallowed by his stay. With his mind I saw the blue sky   Rimbaud
  
Theworld is filled to suffocating...
Every word, every image, is leased and mortgaged.
We know that a pictureis but a space
in which a variety of images [and other signifiers],
none of them original, blend and clash.
A picture is a tissue of quotations
drawn from the innumerablecenters of culture ...
We can only imitate a gesturethat is always anterior ...
The viewer is the tableton which all the quotations
that make up a painting are inscribed ...
A painting's meaning lies not in its origin,
but in its destination.
Sherrie Levine
Rimbaud's words intertext with Australian historiography and Australianartistic responses to that historiography. Ned Kelly was both a bushranger and aconvict. Australia was full of transported convicts who looked through windowsin penitentiary walls at blocks of blue sky.

Kelly's helmet becomes a windowthrough which we look at slabs of blue sky as if from Kelly's point-of-view. Inorder to create or imagine the blue inside Kelly's helmet, however, each readerintertexts an assortment of virtual (inter)texts that play around that textualsite, even and especially, of course, if they have no idea about the Kelly myth.

Paintings are traditionally painted onto rectangular boards or canvases,simulating windows onto other textual planes. Jane Clark says of Nolan's Kelly[as centaur], 1955 that, "as Kelly invades the landscape, so thelandscape and the sky -- pictorially and metaphorically -- invade him" (118). This comment can equally be made of Kelly [as centaur], 1946.

Nolan's images continually play with landscapes, moving without care frominternal to external spaces. Rimbaud's poem resonates into both Nolan'spaintings of Kelly [as centaur] (figs. 40 & 46), and Nolan's images intertextback into Rimbaud's poem (Rimbaud 179).

"Unhelmeted" looks behind the mask, inviting readers to intertext with its substance the four Nolan images that depict Kelly outside his helmet. Because I studied intertextuality and the Nolan oeuvre, the oval "frame" around the young Kelly's jail record, inter-images for me with Nolan's depiction of Eliza Fraser (an English woman shipwrecked in North East Australia in the 1900s). In this painting, Nolan paints Mrs Fraser as if being seen through binoculars or the telescopic lens of a camera, or down the barrel of a gun.

In "mesh.html" I quote Deleuze and Guattari writing about maps as metaphors for reading. I repeat their description here, out of context: [What is it that] can be torn, reversed,adapted to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group or socialformation. ... [What is it that] can be drawn on a wall, conceived of as a work of art,constructed as a political action or as a meditation ... A map has multipleentryways, as opposed to the tracing, which always comes 'back to the same' ...

Can memories be torn, reversed, adapted ...
Their author/reader must work to construct them into political action ...
Both writing and reading are activities that spring from the entity inside: the multi-faceted identities which are always being reworked, reformed: which may have been shattered and reshattered in a cyclical fashion. Deleuze and Guattari imagine that they are opening up the activity of reading to wild new spaces -- and well they may be -- but the map reading the map may be so fluid as to resist the notion of map which suggests that somewhere is something that can be mapped: the metaphor needs to shift afresh to one of a continually refreshing digital image, to shifting filmic matter which is not even interested in somewhere from whence it may or may not have come. It is evolving into eddies that are now upon water, now in a poem, now any of various novels.

The word eddy appears throughout Australian novelist, Patrick White's oeuvre. Undoubtedly it is a word liked by the writer, but after having read The Twyborn Affair, Eddie Twyborn intertexts with White's uses of the word eddy, drawing earlier White novels and stories (and texts written by other writers) together in a kind of collagic way:

'[s]o that Palfreyman and Miss Trevelyan were reduced to a somewhat dark eddy on the gay stream of trite encounters and light laughter that had soon enveloped them' (Voss 107); '[o]r, suddenly, they would lose control, whirledaround by unsuspected eddies. But willingly. As they leaned back inside theslippery funnels of the music, they would have allowed themselves to be suckeddown, the laughter and the conversation trembling on their transparent teeth'. (Riders in the Chariot 29)
Both these passages intertext with the burning house in Malcolm Lowry'sUnder the Volcano, '[a]nd leaving the burning dream Yvonne felt herselfsuddenly gathered upwards an borne towards the stars, through eddies of starsscattering aloft with ever wider circlings like rings on water' (337). What can be written in words, authored in html by incorporating digitally reworked images and or moving images, made into either video or films, however, does NOT equate to what takes place when any conglomerate intertextuality interacts with the virtual intertextual realms inhabited by readers and the complex identikits therein. There is a continual movement between that which is inside and outside intertextuality in every way in which that phrase can be read.

swinging
Because "Unhelmeted" visits the embodiment of a young child with great anguish as other flesh and as other eyes enmeshed with her personal space, the meeting together of several texts within the body of the poem, "Unhelmeted", then seems appropriate. The fragmentary nature of the poem's assemblage is also an attempt to embody the shattered-ness, which is never fully restored, it seems.

The blue sky seen through Nolan's empty visor, even though a body is present (albeit a headless entity), represents for me the "splitting" that takes place during great pain, especially that associated with violation of one's body.

Wanting to see with "his mind" is perhaps a sub-conscious cry to understand the perpetrator's situation.

Wanting to see with "her" mind is a double-edged cry for the writer of "unhelmeted" because although she wants to see again with the eyes of a child (with her own eyes), one of her perpetrators was female and so, again, there is that strangely child-like desire to "understand" the person behind the mask: that entity which eddies ever outwards and away.

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Diane Caney, 1998
© all rights reserved
 
 

References

  • Clark, Jane, ed. Nolan: Myths, Landscapes and Portraits, 1942 - 1964. Melbourne: Lauraine Diggins Gallery, 1987.

Notes

  • 1. Sidney Nolan, Kelly [as centaur] [imagined detail], 1955, ripolin enamel on hardboard, 81.5 x 100 cm, page 118 of Nolan: Myths, Landscapes and Portraits.