Today The Melbourne Flâneur comes to you from Sydney!
Well, the video above does, anyway. The footage—and the story contained in the brief essay I regale you with in the video—comes from a weekend stay in the inner-city suburb of Paddington some eighteen months ago.
I had just finished a housesit in Gosford. I had been invited to stay a couple of nights in one of those beautiful old terrace houses which are so common in Sydney, looking after a couple of dogs for the weekend before I booked back to Melbourne.
The terrace house was a couple-three blocks back from Oxford street, overlooking the Art and Design campus of the University of NSW, housed in an old brick schoolhouse. The terrace was two storeys and a sous-sol, one of those gloriously perverse constructions with Escher-like staircases, mashed in a block of similar houses on a slight slope.
When I have a housesit, I don’t usually go out at night. As a flâneur, the street is my home, and I feel like I spend enough time on it, spinning my wheels ça et là in search of romance and adventure.
But to be so perfectly placed in Sydney for 48 hours was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Night #1 I ambled up Darlinghurst road to Kings Cross for dinner. I was armed with my trusty Pentax K1000 and Minolta XL-401 Super 8 camera, both loaded for bear with Kodak Tri-X film.
My mission was to scout and clout some suitably seedy Sydney scenes on celluloid.
I chowed down in an Italian joint in Potts Point; took a tour of the lighted windows of the handsome homes in that part of town; dipped the bill on the terrace of Darlo as I scratched a dispatch to myself in the pages of my journal; and bopped back towards the pad.
My bowtie drew some comment as I crossed Oxford street, but I managed to make it to the other side without being assaulted. As I was mainlining it down South Dowling street, my eagle œil de flâneur clocked something curious in Taylor street, a narrow, one-way artery branching off the Eastern Distributor.
That’s the footage you see in the video above. My eye was caught by the gentle, teasing undulation of the verdant leaves veiling and unveiling the moon-like gleam of the streetlamp. I set up my camera on the corner to capture it.
I sauntered back to the terrace house and ambulated the hounds, first one and then the other, before we all reported for sack duty. The dogs were staffies, but the older one, Bella, was weak on her pins and only needed to go as far as the corner and back. Buster was young and vigorous, and I was under orders to give him a tour of the whole block before retiring.
I got him on the lead. The eerie, pregnant peacefulness of Paddington after midnight, an inchoate intimation of which I had scoped in Taylor street, symbolized for me in the striptease played by the leaves and the streetlamp, took hold of me as we passed the dark terrace houses.
I tried to imagine the inconceivable lives behind these elegant façades, the way you might take the front off a doll’s house to get a glim of the works inside. I couldn’t do it. The lives of Sydneysiders seemed too rich and strange.
We turned the corner into Josephson street, another narrow, one-way thoroughfare similar to Taylor street. Buster got the snoot down to do some deep investigating while yours truly lounged idly by, doing some snooping of his own.
I took a hinge on the quiet street, attempting to penetrate the poetic mood of this friendly darkness which was in Josephson street too. This ‘mood’ seemed to be general all over this part of Paddington. I patted the pockets of my memory. What did this place remind me of…?
It was then that ‘The Girl’ tied into us, and if you want to know what happens next—you’ll have to scroll up and watch the video essay!
It’s adapted from a couple of paragraphs I scribbled in my journal a couple of nights later, when I was on the train back to Melbourne, meditating on my weekend as a ‘Sydney flâneur’. As the familiar scenes unspooled beside me on the XPT, taking me away from that brief oasis of unexpected experience, a nice coda to my Central Coast ‘holiday’, I got some perspective on what that poetic mood—which possesses me in all my photographs and videos—might be.
Nothing refreshes the flâneur, that restless spirit perpetually in search ‘du nouveau’, more than a fresh city to test his navigatory chops on. My experience traipsing the streets of Paris has given me a navigatory nonchalance in any new urban environment which often astonishes—and sometimes even alarms—people. Put a map in front of me and I’ll betray my bamboozlement by turning it ça et là, but my sense of topographical orientation—the map I make of places in my mind—is very good indeed. I don’t have to be in a place very long before I’m naming streets to locals as though I’ve lived there all my life.
Sydney, however, still poses a challenge for me. One of my readers, James O’Brien, put me on to the trick. According to James, the secret to navigating Sydney is to think of it in terms of hills and Harbour: if you’re going uphill, you’re heading towards the Blue Mountains; if you’re going downhill, you’re heading towards Sydney Harbour.
It’s a neat trick. I wish I had known it during my 48-hour furlough in Paddington.
On the Saturday, I decided to test my mastery of Sydney in a walk which will no doubt leave my Sydney readers wondering how I managed to do it without map or compass, a tent and several days’ provisions, and the assistance of a sherpa.
And indeed, as I look at my parcours in retrospect on Google Maps, the rather incredible breadth of that expedition (which included a few wrong turns) does seem to show up the difference between a ‘Melbourne flâneur’, like yours truly, and a ‘Sydney flâneur’.
A Sydney flâneur, I dare say, would never have attempted it, because the main difference between Melbourne and Sydney is that the former is a much more ‘walkable’ city.
In Melbourne, you can walk quite a distance, if you’re inclined to. To walk from the city to Brunswick, or from the city to St Kilda, is not a wearisome proposition. The streets are logically arranged, the terrain is not fatiguing, and the experience is altogether a pleasurable one.
But to be a Sydney flâneur requires strategy rather than rugged endurance.
To walk from Paddington to Green Square via Bourke street, then back up to Redfern via Elizabeth street, and finally across to Newtown, with no map and nothing but the sketchy guidance of the bicycle lane to orient you, probably strikes my Sydney readers as the flânerie d’un fou.
With time out for coffee at Bourke Street Bakery and diversions for the dispensing of dosh on vintage bowties and button suspenders at Mitchell Road Antiques, how on earth did I accomplish such a trajet in one day with hardly an idea where I was going?
Je ne sais pas. But it was a thrilling experience to walk a city which I don’t think any city planner ever intended to be seriously trod. You may be able to travel through Melbourne without a car, but Sydney?
Though I cheated on the way back, training from Newtown to Central, and bussing from Central to Flinders street, I wasn’t done filing down the heels on my handmade Italian shoes that day.
Night #2, heavily armed with cameras, tripod and paraphernalia, I attempted an even more ambitious nocturnal sortie for a flâneur who isn’t altogether au fait with Sydney. My plan was to make a massive foot-tour to Circular Quay and back.
I struck out along Oxford street and rambled through Hyde Park around dusk. I inhaled a digestif at Jet, in the Queen Victoria Building, while I unburdened myself to my journal. Then I went on the prowl, Pentax primed, tacking stealthily towards Sydney Harbour by way of George street.
There was some sort of to-do in George street between the QVB and Martin place—I forget what, but a lot of revellers and rubberneckers. My cat-like spirit bristled at the noise and lights and I was glad to get clear of them as I stalked north.
There was a full moon set to scale the sky over the Opera House that night. Having purchased a fresh cartridge of Tri-X from Sydney Super 8, I set up my Super 8 camera by Circular Quay, counting off a long timelapse of the Harbour under my breath and remembering how I had once, on a disastrous second date, walked past this spot, arguing about the comparative architectural merits of the Harbour Bridge vis-à-vis the Opera House with a French girl I had picked up at Darling Harbour two days earlier.
We had not been able to agree on that or on anything else that day, and I had been glad to get my luggage out of her apartment, get rid of her, and get on a train back to Melbourne.
It was getting on towards midnight. I retraced my way back to Town Hall via Pitt street, the lunacy of the high moon and the memory of past amours working their poetic powers upon my spirit, inspiring me to squeeze off a shadowy shot with the Pentax here and there.
I was too foot-sore to trudge on to Central. I had been on my dogs all day, so I saved some Tuscan shoe leather and shouted myself a trip on the Opal card at Town Hall station. On the short train ride, tired as I was, I had my senses sufficiently about me to admire the hard, shiny Sydney girls, hot and fast as the slug from a Saturday night special.
Once I had had it in me to cut across their frames and charm even the hardest chica, but I was beginning to think my days as a pocket-edition Casanova were over.
I thought of the girl in Josephson street. Was I getting fussy in my encroaching middle age? Or was I just developing belated good taste?
When I got back to the terrace around one a.m., I got the hounds out for their third and final walk of the day, but lightning did not strike twice: I did not see the girl in Josephson street again.
I hope you enjoyed this reminiscence of one of my flâneries. I received a lot of positive feedback from followers and visitors to this vlog saying that they enjoyed listening to me reading the audio versions of articles I wrote on the subject of the Coronavirus. So I decided to start releasing the soundtracks of my videos—like the one at the head of this post—for purchase via my Bandcamp profile.
For $2.00, less than the cost of a coffee, you can have my dulcet tones on your pod pour toujours. Just click the link below to support me.
As Coronavirus restrictions ease, today on The Melbourne Flâneur, I get out and about for the first time in two months, taking a flânerie to Bacchus Marsh.
Don’t be deceived by the boggy name: Bacchus Marsh is actually quite a nice place to visit, particularly at the start of winter, when all the trees along Grant street, leading from the station to the township, set up an arcade of red and yellow leaves for you to amble under.
At Maddingley Park, I take a breather at the rotunda to share with you a sneak preview of the manuscript for my next book—a 31-page handwritten letter to my seven-year-old niece, which I wrote during lockdown.
As soon as things got too hairy on the streets, your Melbourne Flâneur, that aristocrat of the gutter, folded up pack, shack and stack and got his handmade Italian brogues parked in more private and stable accommodation than he is used to treating himself to.
For two months, I was sequestered in a West Melbourne hotel room, my world reduced to a single window looking out on a narrow sliver of upper King street. If I crowded into the left side of the window and craned my neck, I could entertain myself by trying to work out on what streets all the tall buildings in the Melbourne CBD were planted.
To say (as I do in the video) that I felt like I was in a ‘gilded prison’ is not to deprecate the kind folks at the Miami Hotel, who I’m very happy to recommend to any visitors to our fair city, but rather to suggest what a strange and vivid time it was to be a writer of a peripatetic persuasion, one who finds his home in the crowd.
In Australia, in the early days of the lockdown, we saw scenes of people returning from overseas being bundled and bullied into suites at Crown, on the government’s tab, and exercising, like les bons bourgeois that they are, their privilege to grouse on Instagram that their confinement in palatial conditions was not up to scratch.
These people enjoyed little sympathy from me. As a writer, the argument that such palatial prison conditions were doing a permanent injury to their mental health cut no ice. Rather, if the mental health of people forced to enjoy such self-isolation at Her Majesty’s expense deteriorates, it is evidence of how little developed are the mental resources of a chattering class to whom every ease and privilege is given in a society that clamours after more and more leisure aided and abetted by technology.
Harsh words, I’ll admit, but as a writer, I found my more modest confinement at the Miami a unique historical privilege which reconnected me with the ancient heritage of my craft and profession.
As soon as I was undercover, as those of you who followed my commentary on the Coronavirus crisis know, fearing the worst, I went straight to work and tried to scratch out every idea and cobble together every piece of research I could find in an effort to make good sense of what the continental was going on outside my little room.
For reasons of historical precedent I’ll explain, I felt—and feel—that the moral responsibility of the writer in a time of crisis is to throw the skills of his profession at the task of collective sensemaking.
And so, while my confrères at Crown faffed and fapped on Facebook and engaged in other acts of mental masturbation with their mobiles, I wrote.
And in fact, apart from penning six long articles on the Coronavirus (which, collectively, could constitute a book on their own), I wrote an entire book—five drafts in two months—for my little niece, attempting to explain the situation to her.
The fifth and final draft takes the form of a 31-page handwritten letter to my niece. It took 25 hours to write, and you can see in the video what the entire manuscript looks like. When spread out in three rows across a table capable of comfortably seating eight people, the manuscript is still wider than the tabletop.
It was an extraordinary experience to ‘write a book by hand’. I thought, when I sat down to handwrite the final draft, that it was simply going to be a ‘copy job’, that I was not going to add anything new or creative to what I had worked up in the previous four drafts.
But when I got in front of the first page of my personalised stationery, when I had my two Montblanc Noblesse fountain pens (one filled with Mystery Black, the other with Corn Poppy Red ink) primed, the experience of committing myself to the words I intended to publish felt like no other book I have written.
Suddenly, the page became a ‘stage’ for me. I was on the stage, and this was the performance. The four previous drafts were mere ‘rehearsals’ for the Big Night, and having learnt my ‘script’, I felt free to improvise upon it, to add and change things as I spontaneously wrote the message of hope and support I intended to communicate to my niece.
Sometimes my eyes even filled with tears as I wrote.
If you know what a ‘Flaubertian’ writer I am, how much I bleed to get a single word onto the page that I am even provisionally satisfied with, you can imagine what an experience it is to write a book that is a ‘spontaneous performance’, where the words I ultimately committed myself to as the words I intended to say for all time to my niece about the Coronavirus, about the rôle of technology in human development, about the future of her generation, were as ‘humanly imperfect’ as only the words of a handwritten letter can be.
If you’re intrigued to know what I had to say to my niece, I give you a sample of the first few pages in the video above.
And it’s not simply the fact that the ‘spontaneity’ of a handwritten letter gives the book a sense of the ‘humanly imperfect’;—it’s in the fact of writing the text by hand itself.
It’s hard to remember, at our technological remove, that for most of human history, most writers have actually written—by hand. No typewriters, and certainly no computers. Truman Capote’s disparaging remark of Jack Kerouac—‘That’s not writing; that’s just typing’—could, regrettably, be applied to most so-called ‘writers’ of the 20th and 21st centuries.
This isn’t merely an élitist distinction. There’s a qualitatively different experience to writing a complex work by hand. The genius-level cognitive co-ordination of hand, eye and brain that James Joyce and Marcel Proust enjoyed would not have produced the greatest novels of the 20th century if these gents had been trained to peck out their thoughts—even at the touch-typist level of virtuosity—rather than guide a fountain pen fluidly across a page.
Moreover, I don’t think it’s coincidental that James Ellroy, who I regard as the greatest living writer, works a mano, has never used a computer, and reportedly doesn’t own a mobile phone. This is a man who eschews distraction and espouses deep focus. The density of his plotting and the inventiveness of his language are testaments to the profound cognitive relationship between writing by hand and the capacity to compass complexity through the abstract symbology of written language.
And though I often get compliments on my handwriting, when I look in awe at the handsome copperplate of some 18th- and 19th-century writers, so perfect-seeming and consistent as to appear to be machine-etched, I feel like the Queensland Modern Cursive of the words I have committed to the page for all time in this book are less ‘elegant’ than I should have liked my niece to read.
But, en revanche, writing a book where the final printed text will be ‘by my own hand’—in the most literal sense—gave me a feeling of reconnecting to the ancient art of my profession—dating back to those scribes whose elegant calligraphy has communicated such ancient books as Genji Monogatari down through ten centuries to us.
We’re too acclimatized to the profound revolution in writing which Gutenberg’s invention of movable type opened up for us nearly 600 years ago. We don’t remember that most books—the Bible or Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry—were handwritten, illuminated manuscripts. Our over-familiarity with type and font, the uniformity of letters and ‘standardization’ of print, has fundamentally changed the nature of what we mean, in the 21st century, by the word ‘writing’, forgetting that machine-printed words are not, as Truman Capote observed, writing at all (in the sense of creative human agency), but typing.
And so, although my handwriting in this book is less than consistent from first page to last, the letters being less ‘uniform’ and ‘standard’ than we are used to expect in a book made since Gutenberg’s time, I quite like the notion of having written a book for my niece which I hope will have the feel of an illuminated manuscript, like an ancient spiritual text, something that connects her, in this hour of crisis for humanity, with all the crises the generations of humanity have endured before her.
For it’s equally hard to remember, let alone imagine, in the 21st century, that most human beings have not known how to read or to write. The profession of ‘scribe’ has always been a noble one—at least until the failed experiment of universal education depreciated it.
If any subtle message might be shaken out of the long articles I wrote on the Coronavirus during lockdown, perhaps it is the conviction that, in the most educated era that humanity has never known, this unnecessary débâcle could—and should—have been avoided. That it wasn’t can be laid squarely at the feet of universal education, which has manifestly failed to realize its promise of making each successive generation more intelligent and engaged with the world than the last.
When you master written language, your capacity to verbally reason, to accurately perceive and interpret the pattern within chaotic events, is increased. If you can write, if you can corral your thoughts in words, you become profoundly dangerous.
Is it any wonder that writers are always the first folks to be housed in the hoosegow when some authoritarian jefe comes to power?
It’s for this reason that the art of the scribe was kept out of the paws of the plebs for so many centuries. To write—to really write—is to think, and I look with disgust—for my niece’s sake—upon a world where people are increasingly put through sixteen to twenty years of formal education and yet are still peasants in their thinking, giving no more evidence of being able to marshal and master their thoughts in a coherent, complex, logical argument than our magickal-thinking forebears.
As I say to my niece in the book, we are no more ‘advanced’ than our earliest ancestors. It is simply that we are habituated to more complicated conditions of life.
The lockdown was a period when it was easy—too easy—for people to succumb to boredom and ennui, to indulge digitally in the lassitude and laziness which is the Shadow of our speed-mad species. Prey to ‘the vultures of the mind’, undistracted by our manifold distractions, and oppressed by the very leisure that we clamour for, most people probably tried to drown themselves all the more in the delusive fakery and shallow abyss of screens during their ‘holiday from life’.
But—thank God—I am a writer, which means I was not wigged out at being locked in a hotel room with only my thoughts for company for two months. Like William Blake, through my self-isolation I had mental health and mental wealth to sustain me. Instead of seeking distraction, I was able to pour out the very resources of thought as ink onto paper.
Most writers, I realized as I stood at my window, looking, it seemed, at an invisible tempest swirling through the streets of Melbourne, have lived in times of profound chaos and unrest. The privilege of education, the noble calling of their profession, enjoins upon them the moral responsibility to be ‘a witness to chaos’.
Whether natural disasters have disrupted the times they live in, or whether their societies have undergone enormous upheavals due to war or political division, the writer is the ‘journalist’, the faithful witness and reporter on ‘what life was like’ at these moments of history.
If you can write, by which I mean, if you can really think; if you have mastered, through the long apprenticeship of education, the abstract symbology of written language to the point where you can make dexterous calculations in the algebra of verbal reasoning, you cannot stand idly by at these moments, but the capacity to think, to reason, to explore ideas through language, and ultimately to shed some clarity on chaos by writing down the formula, the pattern of order you perceive in the disorder swirling all around you, is a moral mission arising from the competency of your professional cognitive skills.
As I stood at the window of my cell, I felt connected, in some spiritual way, with some of the great writers of history whose lives have passed in the midst of chaos. Somehow their handwritten words have survived earthquakes, wars and plagues to guide humanity because some clarity in their delicate perceptions was worth preserving, despite the rending chaos which could easily have torn their words in shreds and scattered them to the winds.
Particularly, I felt a connection to that writer who is one of the most astute calculators of chaos in human affairs, il gran’ signor Machiavelli. Many a time I stood at my window in those two months, blind, like Mr. Kurtz, to what I was looking at as I meditated on the horror of our time and the fears I have for my little niece’s future, and I felt like the divine, diabolical Niccolò avidly surveying the carnage of Florence as it continually changed hands.
He, I knew, would have loved to have been alive in this moment of global upheaval and naked power grabs.
This is not a situation I would wish on my niece. But just as I feel privileged to have lived through such a crisis myself, I also think it’s a good thing for her to have experienced a world-historical event like a global pandemic so early in her life, and I hope the words I am going to give to her shortly will equally stand as an experiential guide for her going forward, something that will help to orient her as this event has done.
I am now at the design and layout stage, so the book will shortly be available for sale in the Dean Kyte Bookstore. If you would like to register your interest in purchasing a copy when it becomes available, you can do so by dropping me a line via the Contact form, and I’ll be sure to get in touch with you as soon as it is ready for release.
Today on The Melbourne Flâneur, I take a flânerie around Bendigo, pausing only in my perambulations to breathe some poetic airs upon your ears in beautiful Rosalind Park.
The good burghers of Bendigo named their green space after the heroine of As You Like It, but as you can see in the video, there is something otherworldly about this ‘emerald isle’ in the midst of the city, such that it reminds one of the enchanted island of The Tempest.
It’s the perfect locale for a little poetry-declaiming, and with the rather Parisian skyline of Bendigo’s Pall Mall mansard-bristling at my back, I read you my translation of Charles Baudelaire’s sonnet “L’Idéal”, from my book Flowers Red and Black: Love Lyrics & Other Verses by Baudelaire.
There’s always an erotic edge to my writing, and like a pendulum, I oscillate between the sublimely romantic and the frankly pornographic, so it should come as little surprise that I am such an admirer of Baudelaire, or that I have translated so many of his love poems.
Though I had some slight acquaintance with M. Baudelaire beforehand, it was as a flâneur in Paris—the city of flânerie, the city of Baudelaire—that I really got to know the divine, diabolical M’sieu.
As I perfected the art of wandering the streets of Paris, the Latinate rap of Baudelaire’s high-flown rendering of low-brow subjects was a constant cicerone in my ear, directing me towards the tawdry tableaux which Paris flashes like her undergarments at the voyaging connoisseur of voyeurship.
‘Parisian life is abundant in poetic and marvellous subjects,’ Baudelaire observed. ‘The marvellous envelopes us and suckles us like air, but we cannot see it.’
Certainly I feel the same way when I set up my camera to capture those little vignettes of Bendigo, shots of rien de tout, which bracket the video above. Statues, street art, architectural details, empty vistas:—Bendigo (which bores the Bendigoans) is fecund in that surreal quality of the marvellous, the poetry which hovers behind the banality of things much-seen.
Baudelaire’s ambition was to make the Parisian see this invisible air in which he ambulated, to turn the exquisite flâneur experience of the ephemeral into a flâneur poem. In the same way, if there is any ‘poetry’ in the shots of nothing I insist on boring you with in my videos, it is the poetry of the ‘boring’ urban life which Baudelaire, lover of novelty and ennui, both wanted to escape from and escape more fully to.
Flânerie is an ‘altered state’ which reveals the invisible poetry of the visible city. Baudelaire, as the père of flâneur philosophy, was an inveterate chasseur after artificially-induced altered states which liberated the surreal poetry that is the resident spirit of the banal.
He praised the state of drunkenness as the essence of the poetic experience, and wrote a scholarly treatise on the poetic effects produced by hashish. And of course, Baudelaire was an amateur of that other intoxicating, protean substance which produces a poetic effect on men: la femme.
As a flâneur, he was a Daygamer avant la lettre, as may be witnessed by his ode to an anonymous passer-by. It’s one of Baudelaire’s most delicate and evanescent love poems, ineffably romantic and yet unmarred by any effeminate sentimentality whatsoever.
In a handful of lines, Baudelaire perfectly conveys that ephemeral experience which all men of the city know:—the lightning-flash moment when you see a woman you desperately want to approach surge forward from out of the crowd; the single second in which you clearly see a whole parallel existence with her; and the second afterwards when, jostled on by the crowd, you decline to embrace the destiny with her which you so clearly previsioned:
A bright light… then the night! Fugitive beauty
In whose glance I have been suddenly reborn,
Will I never see you again in all eternity?
Elsewhere, very far from here! too late! perhaps even never!
For I know not where you fly, and you know not where I go,
O you who I might have loved, O you who knew it!
Translating Baudelaire is not easy. As Alan Ginsberg remarked, if you can’t read him in the original, you have to take the aggregate of all the translations in English to get a sense of what he is saying.
It’s not that Baudelaire’s French is particularly difficult, although he does some vexing things with tense that English is not supple enough to elegantly convey. It’s rather that the images he manages to paint by combining a lofty, distant tone with the startling incorporation of things deemed ‘unpoetic’ produces a remarkably lucid effect with remarkable compression.
As with Shakespeare, there’s quite an unusual ‘range’ in Baudelaire’s language. He’s equally at ease with the most recherché classical allusions as he is with the slangy argot of the Parisian gutter, and he demands not only a requisite range from his English translator but a sense of how to convey in modern English the quality of ‘shock’—and even of ‘offence’—produced by this admixture of tone.
Few translators who have ‘tried their hand’ at Baudelaire have a good sense of him, methinks, for with the grotesquerie of his subject matter, it is too easy to make a schlocky parody of Baudelaire in English.
One requires an exquisite sensibility for the sublime horror (or horrific sublimity) of everyday life to approach Baudelaire on his own terms of unquiet desperation with normal, bourgeois existence. In fine, one requires an ample dose of that quality which he himself defined (finding no better word for it in French) as good old-fashioned English ‘spleen’.
In Flowers Red and Black, the poem which most conveys this choking, stifling sense of sublime horror (or horrific sublimity) is “The Jewels”, my translation of “Les Bijoux”.
It’s the most sensual, erotic poem in the collection, and the one I am always asked to read at poetry gatherings because it’s almost like a short story: in the space of a few minutes, people feel as though they have been completely transported into the small, stuffy chamber, lit only by firelight, in which Baudelaire and his Creole mistress, Jeanne Duval, are engaged in foreplay.
The heady incense of the smoke, the play of weird lights rising from the fire, the music of Jeanne’s ‘chiming jewels’, and the way she undergoes a metamorphosis before the bard’s eyes, changing into a tiger, swan, slutty angel and classical catamite by turns, always gives people the hallucinatory sense, sans drugs, of the ‘altered state’ which Baudelaire experienced in sexual love.
And yet, because the banality of this everyday scene takes on a heightened potency and is attenuated to such an exquisite degree, there is a stifling, almost suffocating sense of sublimity into which an erotic horror enters, like the almost painful pleasure of the ‘petite mort’.
As romantic as his love poems are, there is nothing wilting and effeminate about Baudelaire, which is perhaps why women like this book. His voice is forceful and potent, and it seems to combine well with my own style as a writer, such that we make some ‘beautiful music’ together.
I’m thinking of publishing a second edition of Flowers Red and Black, revised and expanded, even including some of Baudelaire’s prose poems. But that project is some way in the future.
In the meantime, I have a very limited stock of the first edition on hand—about a vingtaine. It makes an original St. Valentine’s Day cadeau, and the dames do grok it. As I say in the video, I’ve been reliably informed (regrettably post facto) that ladies have regaled one another with my verses in bed.
I’ve also had a friend rip off my translation of “Les Bijoux” and try to pass it off as his own poem to placate a squeeze who wasn’t in the mood to be squeezed. (She saw through his play at once, which only served to further inspire her ire.)
You can purchase a copy through the Dean Kyte Bookstore, but if you want to buy a copy from me directly, you can do so either by clicking this link, or by registering your interest with me via the Contact form.
This allows me to get in touch with you to arrange payment and delivery details. It also enables me to get some particulars from you so that I can write a thoughtful, personalised message on your behalf to the lucky person you want to give the book to.
Plus, I will flourish the magic wand of my Montblanc Noblesse over the flyleaf and affix my personal seal in wax to it, so your first edition will be doubly exclusive.
They say that every person has a book in her—a painful state of affairs which, if you happen to be a writer, often feels like nursing a mental gallstone.
I’m working on my sixth book, and believe me, the process of writing and self-publishing your own books does not getting any easier after the first one. It doesn’t get any easier after the fifth, even.
But, as I say in today’s video, what sustains you through the years is the knowledge that, if you persevere, a day will come when you can literally hold your thoughts in your hands.
There’s a certain magic—which I can only equate with holding your newborn child—in the sensation of being able to weigh your words in your hands when you at last see your thoughts, the lightest and most ethereal of things, crystallized in a beautifully bound book.
I’m dreaming of that day with my next book, my sixth mental child, but maybe you are dreaming of experiencing the soul-deep satisfaction of giving birth to your first one.
You’re nursing the book within yourself and you would like to get it out. Maybe you even write in secret, but you dare not knight yourself with the holy title of ‘writer’. For you, writing is a hobby, and you feel shy about even sharing the fact that you are ‘writing a book’ with family and friends:—for everyone knows how hard it is to write a book, and you know that, behind their polite smiles of encouragement, your nearest and dearest are doubtful of your staying power.
As I say in the video above, writing and publishing a book is like ‘climbing a mental Everest’, and most of the time that you are climbing it, you still feel as though you are pottering around base camp.
The writing life is more than simply putting words on a page—and what if the words you do manage to put down are no good?
Probably the better part of writing is not writing at all but dealing with rejection—the rejection we make of our own bad writing; the slighting sneers with which our grand ambitions to write a book are greeted by family and friends; the politely deprecating rejection slips which dismiss our entire efforts.
Paradoxically, writing is a rather introverted activity, and yet it is one of the most self-exposing activities an introvert can perform—and therefore one of the most fraught with potential rejection.
But despite its introverted nature, there’s a certain ‘performative’ aspect to writing. Indeed, being a published ‘author’ is the performative side of a writer’s life.
Your book is the stage upon which you enact all the parts, so it’s perfectly reasonable that you should feel a little ‘stage fright’ when you turn up to the blank page. If you’re feeling ‘writer’s block’, it’s simply the writer’s stage fright, the dread of giving a bad performance.
Fortunately, self-publishing allows you the greatest latitude to control your stage and your performance. In the video I state my earnest belief, which has attended me since my earliest days as a writer, to wit:—that the book (to borrow Richard Wagner’s term) should be the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’—‘the total work of art’ of its author.
To continue the Wagner analogy, self-publishing allows you the scope to make your book your Bayreuth—not just a stage, but a whole theatre devoted to you, one in which you can control every aspect of the production.
But the problem with having such scope for total control is that most writers don’t have the requisite skills to handle it well. Despite its venerability, the printed book is still the most technically complex analogue knowledge technology humanity has ever produced. As any writer who sets sail on the hazardous seas of self-publishing for the first time will attest, the number of things you have to consider, the number of choices you have to make when publishing your own book is intimidating.
There’s the editing and revising and proofreading, the layout and formatting of the text and illustrations, graphic design and typesetting. Dealing with the vexing issue of the cover alone will take you almost as long as writing the book—and is just as important as the words behind it.
Indeed, the two categories of problem which the virgin authorpreneur typically faces may be filed under two heads: ‘words’ and ‘images’.
As an Associate Member of the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd), I can handle the words, bien entendu. But what makes the Artisanal Desktop Publishing service I provide to my clients original is the instinct I have for the visual, for the ‘readability’—(as important as the legibility of the words on the page)—associated with good graphic design.
It would seem in life that one is either more orientated towards words or towards images, but rarely are the two combined. Yet the ability to think about a book visually, in terms of its graphic and material design, is key to the successful communication of its ostensible content—your writing—to the reader.
As I explain in this video, I’ve been making books since I was a little boy. It’s what I always wanted to do, so it’s perhaps natural that I should be able to think in both dimensions. And certainly sharing your work in a supportive environment with an editor who is not just a fellow writer, but is someone who understands the total process of self-publishing your book thanks to long experience of his own, gives you confidence that all aspects of your performance will ultimately do you justice.
I’ve been to the summit of that mental Everest five times now, and I’m slogging my way up the slope for a sixth pass. As a genuine introvert and someone with a reputation for being a ‘perfectionist’ when it comes to grinding out diamond-cut words, what I find the most ‘performative’ aspect of being a writer is releasing my inner Flaubert momentarily, swallowing my stage fright and allowing you to see inside my Artisanal Desktop Publishing process in some of my videos.
In Brisbane and at Docklands I shared with you a couple of excerpts from my current work in progress, words which are less than perfect by comparison to future versions of same I may share with you in revised drafts. But I think it’s interesting as a document, particularly in the video format, to see how those impalpable and ethereal things, words, evolve into a plastic object you can hold and weigh in your hand. I plan to bring you a third instalment shortly, exposing yet another sin-tillating aspect of the erotic (mis)adventure I’ve been tantalizing you with.
What do you think? Do you find it hard to share what you are working on? Do you feel as though you will never get to the summit? Or are you looking forward expectantly to the day when you can finally hold your thoughts in your hand?
I look forward to hearing how you’re going with your own writing in the comments below.
Do you crave the personal, intimate experience of curling up with a good book? How much does the tactility of a book, the pleasure you get from turning its pages, wafting their peculiar perfume, add to the intimacy of hearing its author’s voice whispering in your ear?
How much more connected do you feel to the author when you see his signature on the flyleaf and a personalised message to you in his handwriting? This book—your personal copy—has passed directly from his hands to yours.
Suppose you knew, moreover, that, in addition to all this, not just the words you are savouring, but the very book you are holding—right down to the choice of the fonts, format and layout—was the effort of one mind and one pair of hands:—How much more intimate and authentic would the experience of enjoying that book be?
Well, when you purchase a book by Dean Kyte, you experience this additional frisson—the delicious knowledge that you are purchasing an ‘artisanal book’ directly from its author, one that comes with an implicit guarantee of ‘artistic authenticity’.
As a writer, my approach has always been to work by hand: as I explain in the video above, I not only write my books by hand, but in my Artisanal Desktop Publishing service, I transform the self-publishing process into a handcrafted one—the craft of making books.
It’s as close as you can get to owning a ‘bespoke’ book, since I do all the work by hand, and there is only one imagination, one pair of eyes, and one pair of hands doing all the work associated with writing, illustrating, designing and publishing the book you hold in yours.
When something is ‘bespoke’, it’s made for one person alone. Our richest reading experiences feel like this:—it’s as though the writer is crafting a bespoke experience for you alone, fashioning a rich article which clothes your vision to such an extent that when you look up from the page, for a moment you seem to see the world within yourself draped over the world without.
Why is the artisanal approach so important for me as a writer? Books have always been luxury items. For centuries, bookcraft was artisanal production, whether the book was a Medieval manuscript illuminated by monks or a Japanese scroll calligraphed by a scholar.
Writers are the noblest mastercraftsmen in that they fashion two objects simultaneously: an abstract æsthetic object, such as a novel or a poem, which also has a tangible, æsthetically pleasing form which human beings have enjoyed for centuries. Books are perfectly designed to hold words the way a vase holds water.
If you’re a Melbourne writer who wants to know how to publish your own book in an æsthetically pleasing way, I can give you the benefit of my experience, bespoke to your needs, with my Artisanal Desktop Publishing service.
A few months ago in Brisbane, I shared an extract with you from the book I am writing. This week on The Melbourne Flâneur, I flâne around Docklands, taking advantage of the warmer weather to sit by the Yarra and read you a new extract.
At this stage, I am approximately 60 per cent of the way through the second draft of the book—which is where the ‘real writing’ occurs. I don’t write so much as rewrite.
I use a lot of metaphors to describe my approach to writing. Sometimes I think of it as ‘architectural’, other times as ‘musical’, or even ‘painterly’. But oftentimes when I think about my process of writing and publishing a book, I compare it to ‘sculpting’.
As demonstrated in the video above, ultimately I am writing thought. The action of the scene is simple enough: walking downhill at night. The thoughts that take place on that flânerie, however, are not simple to describe or make intelligible to the reader.
Michelangelo (some of whose sonnets I have translated), said that ‘every block of stone has a statue inside itself’, and that ‘to free the captive / Is all the hand which obeys the intellect may do.’
It is as though I am ‘hewing’ my thoughts out of a block of dense fog in my mind, and it takes several passes with the chisel and the file over successive drafts to sculpt those thoughts into their final, perfect form in words.
If you work from a plan or outline for your book (and you always should), this is like a sculptor’s maquette: it is a skeletal, bare bones structure which represents all the parts of your book and their relations to each other.
Writing your first draft is like modelling in clay: it’s a time to get your hands dirty and play. I always write the first draft by hand because it allows me to explore the lineaments of my thought, probing and shaping its first vague outlines.
The second draft, as I said, is where the ‘real writing’ takes place. It is the longest and most difficult part of the process because you have to ‘carve out’ what is vague and implicit in the first draft.
The second draft is about maximal amplification and clarification, so I rewrite my entire book, carving out every detail that I passed over lightly and summarily in the first draft until I’m satisfied that my thought is fully explicated.
In the extract I share with you in the video above, this is the point you find me at with regards to that walk downhill: all the implicit thoughts in back of that simple action are now explicit.
It’s perfectly acceptable to ‘overwrite’ in your second draft: as Michelangelo said, sculpture is the art of subtraction, of ‘taking away’—but you can’t take away words you haven’t written to begin with.
The third draft is about subtracting the inessential, and if you are writing a book for the first time, this is the point where you may consider engaging a professional editor to help you decide what to take away.
All editors have different methodologies, but as you might imagine, with my Artisanal Desktop Publishing service, I tend to regard your words as though they formed an object in space, something I can see ‘in the round’, like a sculpture, and I’m very good at discerning what is inessential and what is core to the structure of your book.
If you enjoy this video and would to see more ‘episodes’ in the future, as I update you on the progress of my next book, taking you inside my Artisanal Desktop Publishing process, I’d appreciate it if you like the video on Vimeo or leave an encouraging comment. You can also share your own steps to writing a book with me in the comments below.
I want to thank all my friends who have accepted the invitation to follow my adventures on The Melbourne Flâneur vlog. As I commence my enterprise, offering a bespoke, artisanal approach to document preparation, it means a lot to me to have your support.
It’s also an honour and responsibility to produce online content for an audience who has committed to watch it.
In thinking about how to produce online content that is meaningful, engaging and valuable without bombarding or overwhelming you, I was influenced by Jasmine B. Ulmer’s article, “Writing Slow Ontology” (2017).
In the spirit of the ‘Slow’ movement (as in Slow Food, Slow Cities, etc.), I want to propose a ‘Slow’ approach to producing online content, one that does not bombard you with volume or overwhelm you with fast pace, one that is, as Ulmer says, ‘not unproductive’ but ‘differently productive’.
As opposed to the consumptive and disposable model of online content production that predominates, I won’t spam your inbox with clickbait. You won’t hear from me often, but I hope that when you do receive notification of a new post, you will look forward to the content I offer.
To my mind, online video should open a space in which to breathe for the viewer, not fill a hole hungry to consume. In line with the bespoke, artisanal value promise of my enterprise, I want whatever leaves my hand to be the best that I can make it.
I called my vlog The Melbourne Flâneur because I wanted to bring a more ‘pedestrian’ pace to producing online content, introducing Paul Schrader’s notion of the transcendental style in film to online video.
In the video above, you’ll notice my love of ‘leveraging boredom’—holding on shots of ‘nothing’ at the beginning and end, moments of ‘ventilation’ which encourage you to pause, breathe and observe with me in my flânerie.
The fast-paced, high-volume approach to content generation is opposed to the bespoke æsthetic of the handcrafted, artisanal products and services I promote. To write and publish even a slender volume like Brazen Gifts for Gold took more than a year of my life.
Writing is a true ‘manual labour’, but, as Ulmer observes, it is also a labour of time and being in which we don’t just ‘do’ writing but ‘live’ writing. To be a writer is to live an artisanal lifestyle.
Value emerges from this condition of artisanship: all the being and ‘life/time’ of the writer is imbued in the bespoke, handcrafted book, not merely in the words he sweats over to make perfect, but in the total ‘livery’ of his libello.
Likewise, in the video content I offer you on this vlog, in which places are allowed to be and breathe, I hope you enjoy a vicarious oasis of valuable respite from the overwhelming pace of our amped-up existence.
How does a ‘Slow’ approach to creating online content resonate with you? Do you agree that we could benefit from a more thoughtful, deliberative pace to online video production? I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
As an emerging writer, you gain valuable experience by networking with other writers. Their fresh ways of seeing the world open exciting new directions for your own writing.
As he demonstrates in this prose poem based on the ‘flânograph’ above, Dean Kyte doesn’t just see the world differently, he hears it differently too. And the poetic way in which he describes his personal experiences is idiosyncratic to say the least.
For the Melbourne Flâneur, even moments of banality, loitering in Melbourne at night, waiting for the perfect shot, are freighted with epiphanic mystery…
If you want to take your writing to a new level of mastery, it pays to network with an editor rich in literary experience, one who shares your passion for le seul mot juste because he happens to be a fellow Melbourne author.
And if you’re a writer in French seeking to make yourself perfectly compris dans la langue de Shakespeare, Dean Kyte can provide editorial assistance bespoke to your needs with his Bespoke Document Tailoring service.
Enjoy the augmented experience of this ‘amplified flânograph’. To connect with Dean and experience his bespoke approach to your editing needs, drop him a line via the Contact form.
Melbourne transforms itself into a foreign wonderland at night. Armed with my Pentax K1000, I venture forth after-hours to capture ‘a Brassaï moment’—the moment when Highlander lane, between Flinders street and Flinders lane, reminds me of the square Caulaincourt in Paris—the setting of my first book, Orpheid: L’Arrivée (2012).
As a writer, I move from obscurity to clarity. For me, writing is a flânerie through the chiaroscuro of consciousness and unconsciousness. I enjoy the frisson of venturing into dark places which are foreign to me—like alighting from a taxi in a cosmopolitan European locale late at night, not sure where you are, barely speaking the language, some menacing silhouettes in the milieu to greet you.
Before I was ever a Melbourne Flâneur, I was a flâneur in Paris, the Mecca of flânerie. In L’Arrivée I wrote about my experience of feeling both fearful and fearless, arriving alone, late at night, in a small Parisian square in Montmartre. Despite barely speaking the language, I had a strange sprezzatura, a strange confidence in myself—in my mission and message as an artist—going forward.
Do you speak the language of the land? If you are a writer in French, Italian or Spanish, can you make the obscurity of your message clear to readers in English, combining the formal and the vernacular with the bravura of the native-speaker?
With my Bespoke Document Tailoring service, I can help you translate the complexity of your experience into words which allow you to feel heard and understood by your readers.
To explore how I can help you communicate your message with a bespoke approach which complements your literary voice in your native tongue perfectly, go to my Contact form to arrange a discreet and private measure with me.
Persuading a client or investor to share your vision is like seducing a woman: you have to paint a clear picture by using vivid and evocative language which appeals to the emotions of your reader.
In this video, Dean Kyte demonstrates how to paint a vivid picture with words as he reads an extract from his latest work in progress. Still in Brisbane, the Melbourne Flâneur paints an impressionistic snapshot of his thoughts and feelings before Rupert Bunny’s Bathers (1906) in the Queensland Art Gallery, making the painting come vividly to life.
As Dean demonstrates, by tailoring the language of your message precisely to your intended reader, you can make even a restricted format like a text message as vivid and evocative as haïku, striking your reader with an emotional impact which allows her to enter into your experience and share your vision in a way which provokes her to enthusiastically respond.
To find out how Dean can help you distil your message to the same point of vivid clarity with his Bespoke Document Tailoring service, fill out the Contact form to arrange a discreet and private measure with him.