We are all so election-obsessed at the moment that when a flock of 42 (yes, readers, forty-two!) yellow-tailed black cockatoos materialised in the sky over my neighbourhood one morning last week, it was tempting to think that this must be A Sign of something.
What if, methought, watching them as they milled about in my suburb's skies for ages before wheeling off in the direction of The Lodge and of Parliament House, their pageant was a mystical invitation to us to put our planet and its creatures great and small first when we vote on Saturday, May 21? What if their display was a kind of supernatural election advertisement (a kind of corflute in the sky) for those precious candidates whose policy emphasis is on the plight of our warming planet and its species' extinctions?
It was just as well, the human mind superstitiously disposed to go giddy like this, to look for omens, portents, messages in Nature, that I had just read an intellectually sobering new online essay warning against this very thing.
In his Nature Does Not Care - too many nature writers descend into poetic self-absorption instead of the sharp-eyed realism the natural world deserves, Richard Smyth mildly and forgivingly rebukes all of us who ever imagine that the natural world is all about us, engaging with us, entertaining us, serving us, imparting mystical wisdom to us.
"When we speak of nature we are always, always speaking of ourselves, of what we observe at our end of the telescope, what we see in ourselves, what passes between us and not-us," he diagnoses.
He forgives us all this trespass while urging us to at least try to look at nature unselfishly and unsentimentally. Until we do that, he's sure, until we realise nature doesn't give us a thought, we won't see the natural world clearly and won't appreciate it fully. He gives lots of examples of tree-hugging, dolphin-worshipping wetness in nature writing and nature thinking.
He is right about this but it is not always easy for us to relate to nature so dispassionately, to stop talking to the trees (sure they're listening attentively to us) on our walks in the National Arboretum, to be sure the aforementioned cockatoos were not drawing human Canberrans' attention to something of great planetary importance.
And if there is a temptation to think of the aforementioned cockatoo extravaganza as a kind of green and planet-supporting election advertisement (with God or Nature as the mystical advertiser) of course this tendency is prompted by the fact that election advertising is presently all around us and on all our minds.
But much as one welcomes this election tide's decorations, the corflute portrait posters now festooning the federal capital city are all lacking a certain something. And I have at last been able to put my finger on what that something is. It is that all-smiling faces on the corflutes all lack mystique.
I might have gone on being unable to put my finger on the candidates' posters' elusive failings but for just reading a new piece, Silver Screen Sphinxes - How Greta Garbo and Buster Keaton Invented Celebrity Privacy.
Christina Newland's essay for The Baffler reviews new books about the two legendary film stars and discusses their mysterious and enduring allure. A lot of that allure, Newland says, had to do with their famous stock facial expressions in their movies and in their publicity material, "their features aloof, and their gazes distant".
For Newland "Garbo radiated mystery because she was genuinely mysterious: self-possessed and private in a way that bordered on the compulsive. It only added to her mystique."
And there was mystique galore in Garbo's face, Newland says, reporting one film theorist's belief that Garbo's beauty was "a beauty of suffering ... her brooding glance comes from afar and looks into the endless distance".
Yes, one looks in vain in the host of corflute faces, in that galaxy of the cheery faces (so suggestive of the shallow, frivolous, tongue-lolling simple-mindedness one sees on the faces of Irish setters) for a single brooding glance suggestive of any depth of candidate character.
One looks in vain for a single pair of candidate poster eyes looking up and above and away from the froth and bubble of electioneering populism and instead philosophically peering into the existential endless distance.
Where oh where are the candidates with some sphinx-like, some Garboesque mystique?
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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