Not A Single Presupposition, Except My Ignorance

“The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way”- Lao Tzu

Here you are in your chimerical disposition
creeks shallow and simple to follow.

Here one cannot create, or find conclusion;
there is no system.

Though you have bequeathed all arrivistic tendencies
for omnipotent bliss and ubiquitous rest

and can dance upon snake-scale
sage-like through a honky nut,

attempts to broach your most genuine
masquerade fall in a heap.

In this language
I struggle to see your limbs.

Non omnes omnia pussumus:
we cannot do everything.

Supremely patient beside rapids
I observe the clouds in me change

easy metamorphosis, easy
our only gauge of time is


Poem by James P. Quinton
Thanks to Westerly, 2005

Experiences Relating to the Western Australian Herbarium

Part One: Sardonic

For uni, we’re to examine a particular species of Western Australian flora. Typically, the species is rare, endangered and endemic. Our mission is to go to the WA Herbarium, find the particular specimen(s), examine, document and find as much information on the plant as possible. The point of all this is to produce a series of botanical illustrations to prompt us to think about bio-regions at a local level of detail.

more here

The Great Thing About A Hypothetical Self

It’s a cosmopolitan sky
For now, a boat is moored
The lips of the wharf kissing its side
All the while I’m thinking this in lieu of you:

When I’m pressing my face in your welcome mat
Your neighbour licks a light post
She says it tastes like exhaust fumes whisked in
With pancakes & honey –
                                        (I’m none the wiser)

I sit all day, asking myself
Is this it?
Cigarettes and muesli don’t amount to much
That’s the great thing about a hypothetical self
Courageously he runs out in the drops
Of milieu, feeding your addiction

& you, the beggar, plead hopelessly for more
Salvaging every lampshade and cupboard
From the side of the road –

It’s chuck-out week & your youth punishes you like a milkless fridge

Poem by James P. Quinton

Thanks to Westerly, 2002

Essay on Life

Essay on Life

Car hits woman
on five-star horoscope day,

her copy of ‘That’s Life’
flying through the air.

The girl I love, loves
someone else who loves

another; it’s like preferential
voting, even Condorcet would

be proud. Or the turbulent
cryptic cross-word puzzle

that asks for the generalisation
Ned Kelly, our phys. ed. teacher said,

echoing from the megaphone
mounted to the front porch

of all country stations – J.J. Cale’s
Cocaine jumping softly in the background.

poem by James P. Quinton

also available here:

50 Safety Matches Film Clip

Michelle Lord, category of champions, made this film clip happen and editted it. We went to channel nine studios to record the beast. Had some pizza, beer and a few laughs. The introduction is by Dixie Marshall, the news reader for channel nine with a nice smile. Special thank you to Paul brown & Toni Riseley for their camera expertise in the film.

Plato and Poetry

by James P. Quinton

In Plato’s ideal state, The Republic, there is an attempt to eradicate the poets because “poetry has no serious value or claim to truth.” A startling claim that; if accepted, could’ve possibly been the death of poetry. However, Plato announces in the same chapter that if anyone can prove to him that poetry has a place in a well-run society he will allow the poets in. Almost two thousand years later, the English scholar Sir Phillip Sidney wrote A Defence of Poetry (1595). Shelley’s essay of the same title (1821) consolidated much of what Sidney had argued.

Due to the unrivalled craft of poetry, it did have a valid place in society. Why then, in 1996 did Penelope Murray revisit Plato’s ideas on poetry? I think to remind us of the intellectual and economic pressures poets work within. This essay will discuss the arguments from Plato to Murray and provide examples of poetry that reflect its status throughout each period. I will conclude by citing and discussing a contemporary Australian poem that signifies the position of poets and poetry in modern society.

Overall, it appears that intellectual arguments may be driven to the point of being arbitrary, since the act of poetry has never ceased. However, there is a divide between those who believe in poetry’s validity and those who think it is wishy-washy hedonism.

Integral to Plato’s argument attacking poetry and art is the concept of representation or mimesis. Plato claims that reality can be categorised in three ways: the ideal, the real and the representation of the real. The gods create the ideal, for example what everyone understands as being a bed… the IDEA of a bed. The real is what is actually materialised in the object. Hence, the mimesis of the object is twice removed from the ideal: “what [the artist] makes is not “what a bed really is”, but something that resembles “what is without being it.” Here, Plato argues that artists and poets, using the technique of representation, create a false understanding of reality and are therefore decadent to civil society.

In Plato’s, “The Effects Of Poetry And Drama”, he expands upon his argument that poets have no valid role in an ideal state. Plato places primacy on reason and intellect. He accuses the poet of inciting emotions that are normally disallowed in the public domain. Consequently, poetry corrupts the mind whereby “pleasure and pain become your rulers instead of law and the rational principal commonly accepted as best.”

Plato maintains that poetry has two crippling qualities: it represents reality falsely, and it corrupts the minds of the poet’s followers. However, Plato makes the concession that if “poetry written for pleasure can prove to us that they [the poets] have a place in a well-run society, we will gladly admit them.” The implications of Plato’s philosophy in regards to art and poetry were broad and lasting. Critics such as Aristotle, Sidney and Shelley have taken up the challenge of defending poetry as a legitimate craft.

The physical act of poetry continued despite Plato’s attack, but it was the intellectual framework developed by the critics that determined the way people valued poets and poetry. Plato demoted poets to a position lower than servants. Poets had to argue for the legitimacy and value they deserved.

I will now briefly discuss the arguments presented by Sidney and Shelley and provide examples of the sense and style of poetry that existed alongside these arguments at the time.

Sidney begins his defence of poetry by describing that throughout history poets have been ill considered. He points out that many examples of influential literature, such as the Psalms are in-fact poetry. Sidney’s position is stated thus: “I seem to profane that holy name [God], applying it to poetry which is among us thrown down to so ridiculous an estimation.” It is implied that if literature like the Psalms can have a remarkable influence on human behaviour, synthesised with the idea that these examples are poetry, realistically there is nothing to defend. As makers, Sidney then compares poets to other scientists concluding that poetry has value as a thing-in-itself. I shall focus on these two latter points because they relate directly to Plato’s arguments.

Sidney proclaims life to be a learning experience, wherein someone’s chosen field of study or career serves to indicate his or her temperament. He regards the moral philosopher and historian to be the poet’s greatest competitors and then attempts to show that the poet is the “prince over all the rest.” Sidney describes moral philosophers as having contempt for outward things, that they are driven by vices, ignore passions and teach virtue as a duty, rather than a pleasure. His treatment of historians is similar, he complains they are concerned with the past, using “old mouse eaten records”, which are at odds with philosophy and are concerned only with setting an example. Here Sidney concludes that the poet is the moderator of both historian and philosopher within the life-school of learning. What emerges is a picture of the poet whose craft draws from all the other sciences. The poet is capable of describing the present, the future and the past through empirical judgement or through the divine intervention of his or her muse. According to Sidney it is because of the poet’s rare skill and power that he should be considered worthy of the highest regard.

In context, Sidney’s defence of poetry delivers newfound confidence and reverence to all those who attempt the craft. The value of poetry is not only cemented in his critiques, but also in his poem Astrophil and Stella:

Loving in truth, and faine in verse my love to show,
That the deare She might take some pleasure of my paine:
Pleasure might cause her reade, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pitie winne, and pitie grace obtaine,
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe.

Here we see Sidney not only articulating the foundations for the rest of the poem but also making reference to the value of poetry as a thing-in-itself. The double meaning of the line ‘reading might make her know’ is a strong example of this. Moreover lines such as this serve as subtle indicators of the intellectual framework that Sidney is working within. Hitherto, he defends poetry through prose and poetry, which is more than Plato required (a defence in prose). Nevertheless, Sidney’s conclusion is not as convincing as one would expect. He asks us to believe him rather than constructing his defence as a waterproof argument. An example of this sentiment is where he says: “I conjure you all that have the evil luck to read this ink-wasting toil of mine.”

Shelley’s argument has the luxury of standing against the background of Sidney’s defence and therefore carries a greater sense of confidence. After announcing that all those who speak are in effect poets, through the use of language, Shelley clarifies and simplifies Sidney’s message when he states: “but poets, or those who imagine and express the indestructible order, are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting; they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts of life, and the teachers.”

Evidently, there is no question of the worth of the poet, it is said succinctly and confidently. In the tone of Shelley’s argument, Plato’s claims seem removed to the point of being irrelevant.

At this point Shelley argues for the significance of poets throughout the world. Redefinition of the word poet is a necessary stimulus in the context of every society due to the dynamic nature of the society and therefore of the art form. Shelley outlines a direct relationship between poet, the community and nature, a relationship that is integral to the intellectual and spiritual advancement of mankind. “A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth.” Based on these claims, the ideological formulation of poet as a truth bringer directly contrasts Plato’s position, it outshines Platonic ideas of reality: the position of ideal, real and mimesis. Here’s an example of the aforementioned intellectual paradigm from Shelley’s poem Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things

Evident immediately is the interconnectedness of man (society), lands and deserts (nature) and passions expressed (art/poetry); a shift from the three fold Platonic sense of reality. The final line exemplifies the importance of poetry as an immortal craft or eternal truth. Shelley shapes the functionality of poetry in two ways; it creates new materials of knowledge, power, and pleasure; and it engenders in the mind a desire to reproduce and arrange these powers in a positive manner.

Shelley’s conclusion rebuts not only Platonic ideas of poetry as decadence and false knowledge, but also serves as an uplifting reminder of the beautiful possibilities of poetry during times of social decay. Quality poetry according to Shelley is not subsumed within periods of social decay, that is, it does not subscribe to the present contextual drama without imagination. It is the quality crafting of imagination that provides the reader with an avenue to transcend all present dramass and therefore understand the principles that give rise to meaning and to look with hope towards the future.

These last points, I contend, are the reasons why we need reminding of the importance of poetry, not necessarily in a milieu of decay, but in a rapidly dynamic age susceptible to confusion. This is the where Penelope Murray’s re-evaluation of Plato’s arguments (concerned primarily with mimesis and poetic inspiration) takes on greater significance. Her essay, Plato On Poetry, not only serves as a medium to redefine Platonic ideas within the context of modern scholarship, but also as a reminder of the arguments of Sidney and Shelley lightly touched upon within this present study. Let me now briefly discuss Murray’s argument.

Murray confines her study to the ancient Greek notions of mimesis and poetic inspiration. In regards to mimesis Murray concludes that Plato defines it “either in terms of the object imitated (whether they are good or bad), or in terms of the quality of the imitation (how good the likeness is).” Either way poets corrupt the mind of the listeners and should therefore be banished. Murray, argues that if the oscillating rationality of Platonic ideals is accepted then this would be “the death of poetry as we know it.” In this light, it appears that poets will always be forced to defend their craft as intrinsically valuable.

If the value of the poet in a social hierarchy is questioned, the craft of poetry itself must necessarily come under scrutiny. A poets writing is based on instinct and inspiration, it does not contain the rationality demanded by Plato in The Republic. Murray concludes therefore “P.’s reluctance to grant poets the status of even skilled craftsmen… must surely be seen against the background of the increasing professionalism of the poet’s vocation in contemporary society.” Why? In part because of the existing economic pressures and the shift in rationale from religious, moral, or pure reason to economic value. In order to determine the craft, skill, technique and overall worth of poetry means to develop a clear understanding of mimesis and poetic inspiration. The inability to gauge the value of the creation and craft of poetry (regardless of the outcomes it produces) means that those allocating funding to poets must decide whether or not mimesis and poetic inspiration are as valuable as the techniques of other professions for instance. It is possible to argue that the value of a poet can be registered in regards to sales, but the subjective nature of poetry renders this problematic. An example of this problem can be seen in the John Forbes poem, Monkey’s Pride:

‘Soon’ the grape goes on
‘new technology will detach me
& I’ll be employed on a rowing boat
mounted in a park,
the one the avenues lead to
because society has elected me / to decorate
its falling apart
with a useless panache
& I will,
despite my vocation
to become a labour-saving device, opening
cans by remote control
in the kitchen of your heart / bottling the vegetables
you grow in your own backyard.

This extract beautifully typifies the plight of a ‘professional poet’ in today’s world. The line, “society has elected me to decorate its falling apart”, conjures Shelley’s ideas relating to the role of poet in times of decay. Stylistically and knowingly, Forbes allows himself to be caught in the drama of the times, although he reaches out of it through the use of imagination. Forbes questions the role of the poet as someone who generalises the collective emotions of individuals within society. He believes it to be presumptuous to attempt to uplift people in the confusing milieu of the present. The poem ends by alluding to the way most poets of today are forced to live: through a combination of manual labour and writing.

The value of the craft of poetry is, and perhaps always will be, brought into question by the economic and intellectual mechanisms of those in power. In an Australian society driven by sport and business, the intangible worth of poetry means that it will always be required to defend itself. A defined approach to the defence of poetry beyond the value systems of economic rationalism and Platonic rationalism must be sought. Governments may avail themselves of Platonic arguments concerned with the validity of mimesis and poetic inspiration. The arguments by Sidney and Shelley go some way to show the intrinsic worth of poetry as a thing-in-itself. However, as Murray’s study shows, we need reminding of these historical arguments in order to gain a greater understanding of the pressures exerted on a modern poet to subvert them. There is no doubt that poetry will continue, whether or not poets are given the freedom and legitimacy under the dominant thought system remains to be seen.


Forbes, John. Collected Poems, 1970 – 1998. Sydney: Brandl and Schlesinger, 1998.

Leonard, John. ed. Seven Centuries of Poetry in English, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 4th edition, 2001.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. A Defence of Poetry, English 340 Course Reader: UWA, 2002, pp60-69.

Sidney, Sir Philip. A Defence of Poetry, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966.

Murray, Penelope. Plato On Poetry, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Plato. The Republic, London: Penguin Books, 1987.


Polemic on Architecture and Landscape Architecture

The Architecture of Thought: A Naturally Pleonastic and
Bathetic Polemic Against Architecture and Landscape Architecture

Data: the gateway to our own realities; performing the substratum of structure and superstructure of consciousness. The latter is perceived as differential, referential and reflexive. Via procreativity, data provides definitions, boundaries, similarities and differences. Understood visually the latter becomes spatial, that is, architectural. The way architecture is: moment to moment design and redesign of the way we live, chose to live and will live. As Churchill said: we shape our dwellings and then our dwellings shape us. Architecture is therefore substantively real. It is prone to erosion and is developed in the mental both internal and external.

The term architecture is not as encompassing as the term ‘space’. Architecture is a subcategory of the synthetic a priori concept of space. The most fervent designers are most attuned to space. They realise that the built project spells disaster at every juncture. Since space exists virtually within consciousness, any built project means one less possibility, one less paradigm of construction. To take space seriously means to be precious about it. Therefore demolition is an architectural manoeuvre.

Sub-architecture is as numb and nonchalant to temporality as the sub-conscious. Is sub-architecture close to the datascape? If so, is datascape synonymous with bodily sense? Schopenhauer’s Will? The thing in itself? We already know through philosophy that these explanations are inadequate. They merely provide precise momentary explanations. The identification and explanation of suffering, (the corollary of need and desire) may provide a glimpse out of it, but only fleetingly. One type of food will always taste better than another type of food, regardless of its nutritional value.

The program or traditional conception of design in architecture can be viewed as the final symptom of the subarchitecture emerging to the fore. Sub-architecture is blind to the single reification. The single solution is mendacious. Sub-architecture ignores single design solutions. This is in contradistinction to the article of architecture that purports the most appropriate answer. The most suitable solution is that which reflects the code or language of our brains, informed by emotion. That solution may be reached by playing fifty-two pickup with site data/information, despite the stroke of the designer genius.

Design must organically reflect the distilled philological pattern in the brain. Distillation equals poetics nodding ominously to wisdom; the servant of simplicity. Simplicity acts as the foreground to collectivity; the archetype. In mathematical terms; the average interpolation of a number set. Simplicity is also the talented governoress leading the charge to greater, more loaded symbols, representations and therefore new metaphors. Simpli[city] is the arch-enemy of the convolution. But abstraction and compli[city] are also enemies of simplicity. These latter concepts work closer together; testing, interrogating and generally acting critical of poetics and wisdom. In this act, they continuously reexamine simplicity and wisdoms’ timelessness. Here design in the traditional sense, (the individual, muse inspired, artistic innovator) has privileged access to timelessness: sub-architecture. Nevertheless in context of ecological sustainability this is becoming rarer and rarer. There simply is too much information for one single consciousness to process.

Transcendental idealism, manifest by Copernican metaphors, leads to and supports the anthropocentric. Anthropocentricity, in its benign state, seeks to incorporate every datum possible via epistemology. When the threshold of anthropocentricity is penetrated, all new data and information falls either to one side or the other; the anthropocentric or the nonanthropocentric. If no new data is discovered, the knowledge slips unnoticed, untraceable into the ‘thing in itself;’ the unreachable inorganic; phenomena’s nemesis: noumena. It is not that this information is valueless. Instead, our systems, driven by imagination, are not yet ready for this newdata.

New concepts, combined with new experience feed the imagination that culminate in fresh concepts. The system: the architecture of consciousness, stands in perennial attention waiting for these concepts. The irony is that if a system is waiting for new information or is designed so that at some point x in the future it can incorporate new data, it cannot be a system. In other words, a system missing a part of itself, is not a system. This is perhaps the failure of epistemology and architecture. It is definitely the end of the ‘holistic.’ The hermeneutic circle highlights the relationships between the whole and its parts; individual parts of text cannot be understood until the whole is read and vice versa. Mereology and architectonics have close ties here. Mereology is clearly incorrect, because, unless trapped in an Orwellian nightmare, 1+1 can never equal more or less than 2.

Scepticism aside, it is possible to conceive our knowledge as all encompassing. If the non-anthropocentric is inexhaustible then its constitution maintains agnostic attributes. The nonanthropocentric is secure when and where the anthropocentric is also secured.

Our phenomenological disposition invests infallible trust in the validity of the data. The more epistemology fails the less range the anthropocentric can stretch. The world is not defined by the definitions of philology. Language is only one part of reality. Botany and taxonomy examine scientific elements of kingdoms that are not, and cannot be purely human. Furthermore, it performs these feats without appeal to the non-anthropocentric. The latter is acknowledged as part of a wider ecology. It is possible to consider the non-anthropocentric as a part of the spheres of taxonomy, a purely human endeavour.

This may seem harmless and even obvious. But the moment where a part of the organic or inorganic nonanthropocentric is labelled, it falls into the anthropocentric and is swallowed up by the all important, omnipotent attributer of value: language. Define or be defined, so the saying goes. I do not know personally, but have heard, that indigenous Australian cultures either consciously refrain from or feel no compulsion to label what Europeans call ‘land’. (Interestingly, as if in an minimalist art experiment, Eskimos have approximately fifty words for snow.) Architectonically, no label means no existence. No existence equals no value. Without value it eludes that human vacuousness, regulated capitalism. First the name, then the value, then the owner. Obstinantly unidentifiable, the non-anthropocentric has no pecuniary value to us. Anthropocentricity requires less empathy. Here I [cynically] suggest the less empathy, the easier its commodification, the faster its future is secured. Ensuring the existence of rare specimens for the enjoyment of future generations must surely mean an anthropocentric disposition. From a non-anthropocentrical point of view, words like erosion and weathering are meaningless. There is only movement and displacement.

The greatest landscape architects in Australian history have been operating for at least two hundred years. Complete with institution and union support they remorselessly pursued their self-defined brief day and night, year round. In fact they invented and redesigned new machinery in order to apply their program with the greatest efficiency. These holders of the torch commanded grandiose respect via the wealth and prosperity they watered down through communities. These landscape architects still work today, around the clock. They are called farmers and miners. Their architecture can be read in the standard topographic, elevation, sectional diagrams. The main apparent difference between these types of architects and our common understanding of architects is that the great ones swap artistic merit for profit. What these architects do to the landscape is carve their design to the point of ridiculousness; until resources are bereft. Why is nobody suing these people for negligence or accountability? Money. As a colleague once uttered: welcome to the real world.

Nevertheless, the scale of their efforts must be commended. Their cross and inter-disciplinary strength knew no bounds. In a way, members of the Eldorado Exploration Expedition were the first post-post-modern designers. They shared a universal understanding; feeding and supplying the world. They came from all walks of life. More importantly and characteristically, they were able to design the way they designed their design. That is, they were in control of their sub-architecture. They were able to transcend all disciplines. They were not concerned with the application and maintenance of labels and associations. That is, they didn’t care about what architects do and don’t do. They had a job to do.