My Beauteous Bush

The Tarkine Wilderness: An Introduction

Nature is always value-less, but has been given value.
– Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 1974, section 301.

Tarkine (also spelt Takanya) is the name of the area given by the aboriginal people who inhabited the North-West area of the island of Tasmania located 240km south of the south-east coast of the Australian mainland. The name ‘Tarkine’ was adopted by the environmental movement in the 1960’s to refer to the large area of wilderness, whose boundaries are today given as enclosing about 490,000 hectares of wilderness, consisting of Australia’s largest area of temperate rainforest, extensive button-grass plains, and coastal areas with some of the country’s most significant Aboroginal archaeological remains. Since the 1960’s to the present there has been constant and increasing interest amongst inhabitants of the island, and spreading to the mainland of Australia, in conserving and protecting this region of wilderness as a world heritage site. Despite numerous efforts, business interests in mining and forestry have always held the upper sway and the government of Tasmania has ruled time and again against the protection of this gradually dwindling wilderness.

Gaining World Heritage Protection is a little like a beauty contest,

     where the given wilderness must appear unique throughout all of its dimensions. It is not the whole that is of significance, it has to be proven that the wilderness has a ‘national heritage value’ above and beyond the mere fact of it being amongst the last traces of wilderness in a tamed world. If the last existing Tasmanian tiger were to be discovered in the Tarkine there would be no doubt about cornering off a certain tract of land in which it might frolic away its terminal existence. But an entire eco-system, the likes of which are approaching their end of days in the world at large, that is less likely to get the judges vote. It is, of course, a farce. The discussion of heritage ‘value’ already alerts us to the predispositions and assumptions of the contest, placing wilderness into a world of valuation, where the raw material of nature has a determined use, price, cost, potential profit or loss. Surely no one is so credulous as to believe it is a question of beauty; there are far too many stakes involved to let a little aesthetic predilection sway the discussion. Of course, what is really being discussed here is the economic future of the wilderness, and though it is complex, the basic tenet is whether more profit is to be gained through the forests immediate annexation for its raw material, or whether it could be prostituted out over a longer period of time in the name of the eco-tourist industry. Now let’s not be naïve: any use of this land will cause it damage. The question is, how can we frame an argument for the wilderness as something without value, and therefore as something that can remain outside the market, and essentially, beyond the sovereignty of man?

But first, a summary description of what the Tarkine actually is:

     There is no doubt that its forests are beautiful, but then rusty reinforced steel can have its own particular beauty as well without our needing to put it in a museum. The difference is that a few rusty slabs of steel can be reproduced by the hand of man (though there is always the chance a woman would do it better), whereas a few thousand square kilometres of wilderness cannot only not be reconstructed by human technique, but nature itself struggles to recreate its equivalent even given hundreds of years; because a wilderness is not merely a work of nature, it is a living creation that alters the very workings of nature.
     The Tarkine contains the largest tract of cool temperate rainforest in Australia, but it is also largely undisturbed, flourishing for millennia without the intervention of European civilisation, which of its own is something extraordinary today. It was generated by times colder than these and now maintains an ecosystem so different to, so much wetter than the more common sclerrophyl forests of southern Australia. Like any rainforest, the Tarkine is composed of a canopy providing shelter from the harsh sunlight and trapping moisture, an understory, and a very important floor of detritus consisting of leaves, wood and bark decomposing and regenerating the soil by defusing it with oxygen. These broad categories of a rainforest not only serve one another, but they change the local weather conditions by creating a humid zone trapping water in the soil, enriching the soil and preventing both soil and water from running off into rivers. A rainforest creates its own environment, but it cannot be definitively estimated how long it takes to do so. We know that the rainforest found in the Tarkine is a remainder of a much larger rainforest that once covered the entire continent of Australia, dating back to the early Cenozoic period, some 60 million years ago, if not more. The Tarkine rainforest provides us with a rich abundance of fossils dating back to this period which tells us without doubt that this forest has been there for so long. 60 million years is a time scale the human mind cannot fathom. Are we really prepared to be held responsible for destroying something so far beyond our grasp?

However, the Tarkine is much more than rainforest:

     It has a highly varied vegetation, geology, geography and social history. It boasts one of the few archaeological sites of aboriginal settlement dating to the period preceding and during early European colonisation. Today it can also be argued that it has a peculiar significance as the object of a long-lasting social and political debate, spiralling into conflict, concerning the rise of the environment movement in Australia. The Tarkine has a geo-morphology unique throughout Australia, composed of the rare magnesite Karst formations. It has the most incredible variety of lichens, mosses and liverworts. It is home to some however many rare, threatened species. It provides a relatively safe home for a population of the increasingly threatened Tasmanian Devil. And it’s trees, it’s trees, they are so large it would take ten people to surround a single trunk… Ah, but we are back in the realm of the beauty contest, listing the wilderness’ easily applauded qualities.

The truth is, however, that it is only when the Tarkine is being appreciated for its aesthetic beauty that it is being considered not for its use-value, not as a means to wealth, but as an end in itself. This is where art, philosophy and nature coincide: their work is an end in itself. They allow us to contemplate universals, such as good, beauty, truth and justice. Of course, art and philosophy can both be bought, though purchase does not ensure understanding. They are however both works of the human mind, and therefore suffer the limitations imposed. A wilderness however, it works very differently. It is not there in order to be understood, there is no message conveyed. Like a slave it might be bought and sold, raped and put to use, but like the soul of a slave, something remains beyond our control; something that outlasts us, not one generation or two, but the human race itself. This beauty is not cosmetic. One might look at it, but can one ever know it? A changing thing, composed of millions of organisms, the wilderness is not beauty in any superficial sense: it is as much death, decay, fetid putrescence as it is birth, rebirth and becoming. If it is to be celebrated it is for these qualities, and the ongoing battle between life-giving forces and entropy. The beauty of the wilderness is awesome, fearful, Dionysian. In the words of Dylan Thomas;

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green agethat blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

Does Size Matter?

Forestry Tasmania will seek to identify, manage and protect giant trees in Tasmania’s Permanent Timber Production Zone. Giant Trees are defined as trees that are at least 85 metres tall or at least 280 cubic metres estimated stem volume. Based on current known examples, trees of this volume are generally at least 5m in diameter at chest height.
Under this policy, Forestry Tasmania will:
• Protect currently known Giant Trees;
• Periodically remeasure known Giant Trees;
• Undertake surveys to identify any Giant Trees within coupes in the Three Year Plan that have the potential to contain these trees;
• Maintain a register of all Giant Trees recorded in Tasmania;
• Promote with other forest managers a state wide tourism strategy for Giant Tree appreciation on all tenures and participate in its implementation
– Forestry Tasmania, October 2013

Tasmanian Oak is the common name used to refer to the timber of up to eight different species of Eucalypt that are all marketed collectively. The three main species, E. regnans, E. obliqua and E. delegatensis are all hardwoods that are highly favoured for floorboards, furniture, veneer and plywood. Although these three species are not only found within Tasmania, regnans and obliqua are generally more successful down on the island. The problem is their sourcing. Although they are used in plantations, particularly in New Zealand where there is a high rainfall, anyone buying these products must exercise extreme caution in order to evade the use of trees that have been logged from Old Growth forests in Tasmania. That is harder than it sounds, as so often Old Growth forests are logged, or partially logged and then the tract is used for regeneration for the purposes of logging. Prompting the question, when is a plantation not a plantation?
Eucalyptus regnans is the second tallest tree in the world, second only to the insanely huge American Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). That said, it has been suggested that E. regnans could possibly reach if not exceed the Redwood given its history of being logged before it attains full maturity. The tallest American Redwood has been measured at 115.5 metres, while in 1881 the surveyor George Cornthwaite measured a regnans that had been felled in Victoria at 114.3 metres. Found in Victoria in 1871 or 1872 the Ferguson Tree was claimed to be the tallest discovered, at 132.6 though this record is disputed as unreliable. Yet, there can be no doubt that such heights are plausible, given that in 1888 Al Carder offered a 100 pound reward for anyone that discovered a tree measuring more than 122 metres. That the reward was never claimed suggests, however, that such trees were not so easily found. While the American redwoods take thousands of years to reach their height, the Eucalypt lives fast, dies young, with a lifespan of 350-400 years. Tasmania has at least 140 such trees taller than 85m. On the island these giants are known on a first name basis, under such grandiloquent titles as Centurion, Damocles, El Grande, Gandalf’s Staff, Icarus Dream and Medusa.
Known more commonly as Mountain Ash, Swamp Gum, Stringybark, E. regnans prefers high rainfall areas on deep, fertile soils. In Tasmania it can be found in the northeast and the Huon and Derwent Valleys. The most controversial and sensitive areas of its growth are in the highly logged Styx and Florentine Valleys. But it occurs throughout the North of Tasmania, and, as old growth is logged and plantations crop up, its presence, or at least the presence of its fellow pseudonyms is on the increase along with the faster growing E. nitens and E. globulus, taking precedence over the other rainforest trees native to high rainfall areas.
E. regnans is the tallest flowering hardwood in the world and, absurdly given its monstrosity, develops out of a tiny seed no bigger than the following full stop. Its seeds are pyramidal, its buds obovoid, fruit obconical,

operculum rounded, often apiculate, stamens irregularly flexed, anthers reniform to cordate, versatile, dorsifixed, dehiscing by confluent slits (usually), style long, stigma blunt or tapered, locules usually 3, the placentae each with 2 vertical ovule rows.

Its flowers are white. Not that you’d see them, unless, of course, you were practising your skills on the trapeze. Its bark is rough and is shed in long ribbons, often up to ten metres in length. Underneath, the trunk is smooth and white, but up the top it becomes a bright green when it gets wet. According to the poetic license of Murray Bail the term ‘tall timber’ is used locally ‘to render male flesh abstract’ (Murray Bail, Eucalyptus: 73). And truly, there is something about the regnans that is somehow intensely masculine. As if whatever is so tall, so upright can’t help representing the megalomaniacal hyperbole of a phallic protrusion. But more than merely phallic, the tree signifies the phallocracy, the top point of a hierarchy, regnans, the ruling monarch; a hierarchy that doesn’t even exist for the other trees. A singular king, isolated in his grandeur, sticking out all on his own above the forest, like the proliferation of lunatics recorded by doctor Félix Voisin, believing themselves to be napoleon in the mid 19th century.
In unpretentious contrast is the communal Messmate. Common names, Messmate, Stringybark. E. obliqua, also bearing the trade name Tasmanian Oak, nonetheless has its claim to fame. The first eucalypt species described and named, it was among the specimens collected in 1777 by collector David Nelson at Adventure Bay in Bruny Island, Tasmania during Captain James Cook’s third Pacific expedition with the HM Ships Resolution and Discovery. It was subsequently described by the botanist L’Heritier in 1788. L’Heritier (full name, Charles Louis L’Héritier de Brutelle) used the Linnean system of nomenclature and corresponded with the English botanist Joseph Banks, to whose expansive library of botany L’Heritier’s was said to be second in the world. It was L’Heritier who coined the generic term Eucalyptus, combining the two Greek roots eu and kalyptos, meaning ‘well’ and ‘covered’, in reference to the prudishly hidden reproductive structures, covered by an operculum during the development of the flower bud until the pressure of the emerging stamens causes this casing to be shed. Interestingly, the publication of this name coincided with the first official European settlement of Australia, reinforcing the idea that the first step in claiming ownership is the act of naming. According to Genesis man is the namer:

All nature, insofar as it communicates itself, communicates itself in language, and so finally in man. Hence, he is the lord of nature and can give names to things. (Benjamin, On Language as Such and on the Language of Man, 65)

The Judeo-Christian tradition is a massive authority to come up against, and there by the prerogative of His word made flesh, God says ‘Let there be’ and ‘He named’, blasting into later thought not only the creative omnipotence of language as the beginning, and the resolution of what is created into names, but also the authoritative, signatory assumption of the act in writing. This tyranny of language, which is also over language, is passed on to man (‘As man should name all kinds of living creatures, so should they be called.’). Only woman remains to be named, given to man as the object of man’s transferrable skill: his knowledge of His creation. No feminine pronouns in the nominative here. First he calls her woman, then, he names her Eve. Woman and nature thus suggest a similar position in the hierarchy of naming, justifying later practises which simultaneously make woman and nature objects for study as well as accounting to them both an anarchic spirit, in that they are both, from the very first, one step removed from the logos of creation. (see Anne Carson)
God called him Adam, putting Adam in a position of servitude, raising himself to the position of omnipotency. Names belong to God, but for men they are a matter of knowledge without content. Why is a tree called a tree? We can have knowledge of a tree, but any identity between signified and signifier, according to the Biblical tradition is in the mind of God alone. To name is a simultaneously naïve and overweening human project, Babelian. Naming is tyrrany, it is man’s despotic weapon pointed at containing the world around him. By giving it to Adam to name the natural world Adam is put in a similar position of supremacy to God, one rung down the ladder, but still above the objects of his naming game. This is the proper heritage for the phallologocentric orientation of Western Culture; man and word as the origin of all things.
How this act of naming was transferred into the enlightenment project of taxonomy is obvious: naming as creation, as ordering, naming as power. Taxonomic systems, with nomenclature as its strongest cladus, have as their aim the transformation of what is chaotic in nature into a system of control, something that man can get his tongue around.

The fundamental codes of a culture – those governing its language, its schemas of perception, its exchanges, its techniques, its values, the hierarchy of practices – establish for every man, from the very first, the empirical orders with which he will be dealing and within which he will be at home. (Foucault, The Order of Things, xxii.)

Trees are named and put into relation with one another, where, except for similarity of genus, no relation exists, or they put out of relation where no similarity in genus exists despite their essential symbiosis. Taxonomy severs and divides the relations of nature transforming the world according to a code entirely manufactured by humans, alphabetical, a species based etc. In our minds we are able to peel the moss off the rock, lift the leaves from the ground, consider each item as an independent unit, where no such unit exists. A wilderness is the totality of its forms and species. Perhaps it is our linguistic and mental abstractions that allow us to carve up the land in a more than linguistic way, chopping down the trees, razing the scrub and digging deep into the soil and rocks.
In this sense I can’t help but feel sympathy for poor Regnans, twice, thrice cursed in name. If names do affect the nature of things, this tree must suffer severe alienation; bearing not only the variety of names that mark its taxonomic point of reference, but also its common, trade, and even personal names for the giants. Naming the tall trees means further separating them off from the others, marking them as exceptional and making them the exceptions, those that are named are therefore saved. So that naming is saving, the grace of having a name, bestowing grace as name giving. The ‘Giant Tree Policy’ is Forestry Tasmania’s divine intervention.
In 2016 Forestry Management Plan, the Giant Tree Policy was revised:

Tasmania’s giant trees are among the largest hardwoods in the world and are of national and international significance. Giant trees are not protected by legislation in Tasmania or covered specifically by the Forest Practices Code. However, Forestry Tasmania recognises the cultural value of these trees…

On a more positive note, though in the past tense, there have been exceptions to the rule that size does matter: in a United Kingdom High Court ruling in 2009, relating to a dispute concerning a tree preservation order imposed in 2005 on woodland in Kent, the judge, Mr Justice Cranston declared:

There is no statutory definition of a tree…I conclude that with tree preservation orders there are no limitations in terms of size for what is to be treated as a tree. In other words, saplings are trees.

He went so far as to state that preservation orders extend to all trees, ‘even if not in existence at the time.’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the very next year after L’Heritier’s historically consequential and far-reaching act of authoritative nomenclature, the French Revolution broke out, leading to the ultimate execution of the monarch (Regnans), and the subsequent rise of all those short pseudo-Bonapartes.


Save The Tarkine (Excerpt)

The flower is the poetry of reproduction. It is an example of the eternal seductiveness of life.– Jean Giraudoux, The Enchanted

           John Lennon said that ‘love is a flower’. Speaking literarily he is not far off, but he is certainly not quite on the mark. Perhaps he was exercising an unsurprising symbolic prudery common to the latter half of the 20thcentury. From Shakespeare, through Manet and even to Robert Mapplethorpe (though he claims innocence) flowers have stood as symbols of supreme eroticism. On a superficial level this can be accounted for by the similitude between human erotic organs and the appearance of flowers. But there is more to this literary history of representation than meets the eye. Or is there?

        Flowers are often associated with women, but this is facile, and is more likely due to the larger compendium of poetry written by men about women than women about men, or men about men etc. A flower could just as easily be representative of a man, given the erectile, obtruding stamen or stamens. But it is not exactly, or at least, not only the similarity between flowers and sexual organs that is being raised throughout the canon of Western literature. It is rather the transitoriness of the flower that bears symbolic significance, the momentary blossom. As in the following quote from the Book of Job(ch.14,v.1.):

Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down.

Of course we can read more into this if our mind is so inclined. Nonetheless the chief significance is the motif of the life short-lived. The same sentiment, now addressing the beauty of woman, occurs in a poem of Samuel Daniel from the 16thcentury:

Men do not weigh the stalk for that it was,                                                                                When once they find her flower, her glory, pass.

Or again, still more explicitly put, in a poem of George Peele from the 16thcentury:

Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;                                                               Duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green.  

          Youth and beauty, obviously, are fair subjects of comparison; youth that blooms, beauty that fades. In ancient Greek the word for youth is the selfsame word as that for the bud of a flower. Presumably the comparison between youth and beauty and the brief lifespan of a blossom can be carried over ages and continents. It must be noted, however, that the above quote, blatantly contradicting John Lennon, places love beneath the ground, in the sodden dirt soaking up nutrients to maintain the whole life process of the plant. Here we are getting closer still to the root of the problem. But let us remain with the 16thcentury for a time. If we know anything of the 16thcentury, from our reading of Shakespeare at the very least, it is that the period was not one to gloat in the naivety of its populace. The works of Shakespeare abound with double entendres, with lewd inferences and comic crassness. Pretty much anything from a pipe to a baldrick can stand as a veiled reference to sexual organs. Here, then, there would be nothing special about a flower, just another instrument of sexual symbolism.

           But there is a further signification clutching to the flower. It is not only life that is brief, or beauty or youth; indeed there are other experiences within the tapestry of life that are notable for their blossoming brevity. A love affair, perhaps: an all too brief affair that must be enjoyed while it lasts like the ‘flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la’ (Gilbert and Sullivan, The Mikado). Or something still more specific?  in the words of Honore de Balzac: “A young bride is like a plucked flower, but a guilty wife is like a flower that had been walked over.” Virginity? Perhaps, but that is perhaps a little too specific. What about the buzzing attraction of the bee to the flower? Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. What is brief, short-lived exultation, as much tainted by death as life, sometimes elusive, mystifying for men when it belongs to women, and as sought after as youth, beauty and strength?

        To borrow the frame of Deleuze and Guattari, we could say that ‘flower’ is not a metaphor, but an assemblage: an assemblage of representation with sex infiltrating every aspect, organs, emotional investment, reproductive potential and so forth all included. And also death, little and big. For the significance of the flower, just as for orgasm, is its very finitude. It is something that will not endure; it is plucked, ravished, savoured for its fragrance only for us to see it droop and wither. We wonder at its sweetness because the one sure thing is that it will shortly fail and cease to be the wonder we experience it as.

          On that anticlimactic note let us revise the two questions that have been left hanging. Are all these insinuations to be discovered in the mere appearance of flowers? And, besides the obvious, what precisely does a root have to do with the maintenance of life? To these a third can be added: what has this to do with the Tarkine?

Epacris Glabella and Micrantheum Serpentinum

          These two species have one or two things in common. They both boast tender little white flowers, their populations are rare and highly at risk, and they are both endemic to Tasmania where they are found only in very few locations of unusual serpentinite geology in the North-West of the island.

          Serpentinite is a metamorphic rock which is presumed to be very widely spread in the earth’s mantle, i.e. deep beneath the earth’s crust. It is less commonly found in the upper parts of the earth’s crust (ultramafic). For this reason, the habitat of these two bushes is highly restricted. For the same reason their limited habitat is under significant threat from mineral exploration and extraction, as well as the ongoing threats of mismanaged fire, regulation of river flows, the construction and maintenance of roads and power easements, all of which introduce weeds and the risk of infection by exotic soil-borne pathogens, such as Phytophthora cinnamomi.Obviously human disturbance is the key danger to these rare little plants. The few areas where they have been found are within reserves, which are however subject to mining exploration and extraction, including the profound disturbance that comes with open cut mines and quarries. Their preservation argues in favour of the expanded Tarkine area as a national park protected from adverse human activity.


          A brief introduction to these little known bushes might begin with Micrantheum serpentinum and its family. It is a member of the unflatteringly named ‘spurge’ family, otherwise known by the scientific name Euphorbiaceae, in the order of Malpighiales. The spurges are a family of plants that are highly useful for their waxes and oils as sources of food and medicinals (e.g. castor oil, candlenut oil and rubber). This species is a rare native shrub known only in a few areas of serpentinite geology in western Tasmania. I said their flowers were white, but they are more a yellowy white, like nicotine-stained teeth. The narrow oblong leaves are arranged in threes, suggesting the common name trident bush, of a sub-glossy, dark green above, paler below, with the tiniest of microscopic hairs on the edge of the upper surface. The bush is scrubby with lots of straggly branches crisscrossing one another and grows to a maximum of two metres in height. They are monoecius, which means separate male and female flowers occur on the same plant. The male flowers have six stamens and a vestigial ovary, and the female flowers have three styles. The fruit is a tiny yellow-brown oval-shaped capsule with three locules, each with two ovules. Its seeds are pale, creamy- brown, oblong. Their flowering season is from September to early November, with fruit ripening by mid-January.

          Similarly, Epacris Glabella flowers around mid-spring and also reaches a maximum height of two metres. It is, however, marginally more elegant than its neighbour, with slender branches and long, ovate-elliptical flat leaves of a smooth lighter forest green, giving rise to the pretty name Glabella, which means smooth, hence the common name Smooth Heath. In Latin the Glabellais more particularly the soft, smooth surface of the forehead above the nose and between the eyebrows, reminding one of a beautiful woman or a young child’s pure soft skin. The noticeable aspect of the heath is its flowers, which are ivory white with five, geometrically placed petals opening out to form an attractive bell shape. Floral characters are prominently exserted anthers and stigma, a funnel-shaped corolla tube, and a long style that reaches to the anthers or beyond.


          But there is something else of interest about the Epacris Glabella, and that is its familial relations. Up until very recently it was classed among the family Epacridaceae. However, in the year 2002, five formerly recognised distinct families (Empetraceae, Epacridaceae, Monotropaceae, Prionotaceae, and Pyrolaceae) were all included as subfamilies within the now larger family of the Eraciceae. This move considerably increased the morphological and geographical range of the family Ericaceae, extending the number of genera within the family to 124 and of species to the huge number of 4250. The root name Ericawas used and the plants described by Linnaeus in the 18thcentury, but the name itself dates back to Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor at the lyceum in Athens in the 3rdcentury B.C., and was the name given even then to bushes of the heath variety. Now, the full taxa for our little flower is the following:

Order: Ericales

Family: Ericaceae

Genus: Epacris

Species: Glabella

          The genus Epacris was first formally described in 1797 by the Spaniard Antonio José Cavanilles, who had himself never approached the shores of then Van Dieman’s Land. Cavanilles used the system of taxonomy introduced by Linnaeus in the middle of that century. In 1983 Edward Groesbeck Voss (no, not that Voss, this one’s much later, and besides, he’s American) nominated Epacris longifloraas the lectotype, that is something like the representative species, for the genus Epacris. Every genus has a lectotype and oddly enough it is not Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alcibiades or even Claudia Cardinale but Carl Linnaeus who is the lectotype for homo sapiens. The genus Epacriscontains about forty species of flowering plants, native to eastern and southeastern Australia, New Caledonia and New Zealand. This alteration in taxa is actually more unusual than one would think. Although new plants are constantly being added to the list of known plant species (Australia being among the few places on earth that contribute still unrecorded species to the annals of botanical reference), it is less likely that entire families are removed from one class to another, and any change in the naming of plants only occurs under the supervision of the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (a code whose name itself changed from ‘the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature’ during the International Botanical Congress in Melbourne in July 2011). Although the authority for the definition, description and understanding of the 374,000 different species of plants in known existence today belongs to any number of different botanists, taxonomists, hobbyists whose activities in the realm of name-giving can assumedly be traced back to Adam, there is a certain obvious juncture in this evolution of botanical nomenclature dated to the middle of the Enlightenment and attributed to the aforementioned Swede, Carl Linnaeus.

          Carl Linnaeus’ main claim to fame in the plant world (though he no doubt would bid for more) was his introduction of the binomial system. This system organised plants into the taxa we know today, and had the advantage of requiring merely two words to designate any plant, their genus and their species. For the most part this was and is such an effective mode of organisation that all plants are designated as such, and with little necessary variation. Prior to the publication of his Fundamenta Botanica, then more widely distributed in the 10thedition of his Systema Naturae,plants were referred to according to their description, which could easily contain as many as seven or eight different words or more. Of course, this was not linguistically economical, and had botanists performing tongue twisters every time they wished to convey the name of a plant. Needless to say, the common populace also had any number of different names for the same plant, which varied according to locality and dialect. So the binomial system really took off quickly, even assuming the help of Linnaeus’ 17 apostles travelling the world to spread the word, and Cavanilles’ use of it within a half century of the first publication was not terribly remarkable.

          And yet binomial nomenclature was not what Linnaeus himself considered his most noteworthy contribution to the science of botany. When he first left Sweden for the hallowed halls of Oxford, it was not his Species Plantarum or his Philosophia Botanicathat he had tucked under his sweaty armpit, but a manuscript with the arousing title of Praeludia Sponsaliorum Plantarum, a ‘prelude (literally foreplay) to the betrothal of plants’. This was what he himself termed his systema sexuale, wherein he outlined a system of tabulation for plants according to the sexual parts of their flowers. Illustrated by George Dionysius Ehret, one of the most esteemed botanical illustrators of the 18thcentury, the system reveals a grouping of plants according to the variable quantities of pistils (female) and stamens (male) in any given flower. Of course botanists had long explained flowers in regard to their male and female parts, their reproductive organs, as it were. But nobody had explained it with quite so much lurid candour. He referred to pistils as wives, stamens as husbands and their arrangement in a flower as a ‘marriage’. As he noted, in some plants, the ‘bridal bed’ became rather more crowded than the civil morality of Georgian England could handle, and he managed to offend even the sensitivities of other botanists.

          With Linnaeus, what was symbolic about the flower is no longer its simple power of representation, as a symbol. It is as if he was searching within the flower for the cause of the flower’s symbolic value, and with his systema sexualeit is as if he has found the hidden clue to the flower’s power of erotic representation. It is not merely on account of the flower’s similitude with human sexual organs, it is not merely that the flower, otherwise neutral as a signifier, represents or symbolizes the erotic because of its similarity with something that is itself intrinsically erotic. No, the erotic meaning or the power of the representation clings to both sides. It belongs as much to the flower as to human sexual organs, which is to say that the flower is not only symbolically erotic, rather it is in a flower’s nature to be erotic. The flower itself becomes an erotic subject, and a controversially non-monogamous one at that.


          In the second volume of his Systema Naturae, dealing with the vegetable world, he names and describes the variety of sexual anatomy in plants, giving all the combinations of male and female parts. A flower with two stamens and a single pistil he names Diandria, which he describes as mariti duo in eodem conjugio, ‘two husbands in the same nuptial bed’. Well and good, but then the number of husbands increases until we arrive at the scandalous Polyandria, ‘twenty husbands or more in the same bed chamber with a single woman’. The names are all highly suggestive, such as Polyadelphia, which refers to cohabitation of ‘brothers’, Polygamia‘many wives’, and my favourite, Cryptogamia, a ‘clandestine marriage’ in which the pistils and stamens are concealed. The Adonis flower is therefore characterised as a mass orgy with a hundred of each sex. ‘The actual petals of a flower contribute nothing to generation,’ stated Linnaeus, in uncompromising terms, ‘serving only as the bridal bed which the great Creator has so gloriously prepared, adorned with such precious bedcurtains, and perfumed with so many sweet scents, in order that the bridegroom and bride may therein celebrate their nuptials with the greater solemnity.’ It was this language more than the anatomy that was therein expressed that seemed to be problematic to some, and enticing to others. Among those who warned of the potential misapprehension of Linnaeus’ licentious terminology was the Bishop of Carlisle who was concerned that ‘a literal translation of the first principles of Linnaean botany is enough to shock female modesty. It is possible that many virtuous students might not be able to make out the similitude of Clitoria.’ On the other extreme, Charles Darwin’s father, Erasmus Darwin was so impressed by this sexual system that he composed a poem ‘the Botanic Garden’ in a Dantesque style, based upon the system. The first canto is titled ‘The Loves of the Plants’ and even includes a preface outlining Linnaeus’ system and a table of illustrations of the various flowers.

Sweet blooms Genistain the Myrtle shade,                                                                                  And ten fond brothers woo the haughty maid…

The freckled Irisowns a fiercer flame,                                                                                            And three unjealous husbands wed the dame…

With charms despotic fair Chondrilla reigns                                                                               O’er the soft hearts of five fraternal swains;

And so forth.

          As to the question posed earlier, whether there is more to a flower than meets the eye, according to Linnaeus exactly no. The very appearance of a flower is its erotic being. That said, Linnaeus got in just in time before anatomy really took off, when flowers, plants, animals and humans were still to be judged by their appearance to the naked eye. Not by dissection, which was to become the main tool of the science of anatomy over the next century, but by observation, i.e. using what nature itself made visible to us, or as the 18thcentury botanist would describe as observing god’s creation. Linnaeus, in his writings at least, claimed to be god-fearing in this respect. Though of course that didn’t stop him from the Babelian task of fabricating a new botanical language, an aspiration that didn’t seem to trouble scientists of the 18thcentury as it would have those of the 17th. But they were still reticent to delve deeper into the natural world than the human eye permits. The microscope was used, but it was used to observe the parts of the species’ that were already available for observation, using the microscope in a more limited function than it is today. And as to his search for the hidden language of plants, Linnaeus conforms to the tendencies of his time, pulling a significant number of names from his Ancient forebears and remaining with the Greek and Latin tradition of name giving. But then, what’s in a name?

O Rose thou art sick.                                                                                                                         The invisible worm,                                                                                                                          That flies in the night                                                                                                                          In the howling storm:                                                                                                                       Has found out thy bed,                                                                                                                        Of crimson joy:                                                                                                                                   And his dark secret love                                                                                                                  Does thy life destroy.

          In the 18thand 19thcenturies when lues venerea was rife, a cankerous weed may well have been the symbol for these sexually transmitted diseases so direly affecting the fond blooms of a loved one. Today however, in Australia again, when we see a weed we call it a weed. No need for symbolism here. These proliferating and predominating noxious infestations of Ulex europaeus(gorse), Cytisus scoparius(english broom) and Rubus fruticosus(blackberry) are dogging our steps wherever we humans trail our muddy boots and drive our dusty cars. The poor little Micrantheum Serpentinumand Epacris Glabella are particularly at risk from these noxious weeds.  At and close to the Tunnel Hill quarry on the western side of the Murchison Highway you can see the proof of the dangers to the Serpentine Hill subpopulation of the spurge.

          Unlike his other contributions to botany, Linnaeus’ sexual system hasn’t lasted the test of time, discarded by 1830 in favour of other systems of classification. Interestingly enough and despite his fame during his lifetime, Linnaeus’ scientific endeavours were not sufficiently lucrative to maintain him and his young family, so he also practised as a doctor, unsurprisingly specialising in the treatment of gonorrhoea and no doubt on account of which he was appointed physician to the Admiralty.

But if that flower with base infection meet,                                                                            The basest weed outbraves his dignity:                                                                                         For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;                                                                       Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

–Shakespeare, sonnet 94.

“The Compleat Naturalist: A Life of Linnaeus” Wilfrid Blunt, Frances Lincoln Publishers Ltd; 3rd edition (2002)

Christenhusz, M. J. M. & Byng, J. W. (2016). “The number of known plants species in the world and its annual increase”. Phytotaxa.

Micrantheum Serpentinum, Tasmania: Threatened Species Link

 Epacris Glabella, Tasmania: Threatened Species Link

Epacris Glabella, Australia: Species Profile and Threats Database

Caroli Linnaei, Systema naturae per regna tria naturae :secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis.Holmiae : Impensis Direct. Laurentii Salvii, 1758-1759.Volume 2, p838ff. (available to read on line in the original Latin at: Biodiversity Heritage Library

Save The Tarkine Campaign


Recipe for a Pornographical History


          As a boy growing up in the late fifteenth century Pietro Aretino witnessed a riot in his home town which erupted upon the visit of a Florentine tax collector. The little town of Arezzo was thrown into turmoil as the burghers proceeded toplunder the houses of the rich, mainly supporters of Florentine policy. Houses were burnt to the ground, apriest was dragged onto the street from where he was cowering and butchered,

“other pro-Florentines were hanged from the balconies or tortured as “sodomites” by having a lighted torch thrust between their naked buttocks… finally, the castle, the symbol of Florentine rule, was destroyed.”

The symbolism of such violent unrest was not lost upon the Florentines, who sent in the army, sacked the town andcarried off thirty important citizens as hostages.

Debauch and Scandal

    For whatever reason, Pietro Aretino left his home town and moved to the nearby Perugia where he was apprenticed to a book-binder. While there he became close friends with Agnolo Firenzuola, who later became an abbot. Although accounts of Aretino’s early life are spiced up – he was a prodigious liar – there are scandalous stories of the two friends’ debaucherous and drunken antics. Once, the two lads presented themselves in their window naked to the outrage (and presumably pleasure)of the local women. Aretino also undertook his own artistic renovation upon a statue of Mary Magdalene, which he vandalized by painting a lute in her hands (and presumably other more explicit additions that have not remained on record) therebytransforming her back into theprostitute she was before conversion. After this artistic intervention, it wasdiscreetly explained to him by the powerful citizens of the town that unless he made himself scarce, the Inquisition would come to play a potentially crucial part in his life. Aretino legged it to Rome.


           Meanwhile, in Rome, the artist Giulio Romano was working as apprentice to Raphael, with whom he contributed to the paintings inthe Vatican. Romano is responsible for some preliminary sketches of a series of tapestries based on The Acts of the Apostles, he designed a series of some 50 scenes from the Old Testament. He worked onRaphael’s later religious art, such as The Ascent to Calvary (Prado), The Holy Family of Francis I (Louvre),The Stoning of St Stephen (Church of S. Stefano, Genoa). Although the subject matter of his paintings under the tutelage of Raphael waslargely religious, he also completedsome of his master’s works with pagan and historical themes, such as the frescoes of The Battle of Ostia and The Story of Psyche on the ceiling of the Villa Farnesina. Upon Raphael’s death, Romano took over the completion of his master’s works, notably Raphael’s Coronation of the Virgin and The Transfiguration in the Vatican.


           About this time another artist, Marcantonio Raimondi, having received his training as an engraver in the workshop of ‘Francia’ (Francesco Raibolini, the famous goldsmith and painter of Bologna), had begun to make copies of Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut series The Life of the Virgin. The woodcut was still a fairly new innovation in the late fifteenth century in Europe and there was no doubt a high demand for this new and easily reproducibleart form. Although most woodcuts were relatively crude, those of Dürer were exceptional both in skill and theme. It is unsurprising, then, that Raimondi chose Dürer’s works to copy and sell for a good profit. As these were the years before copyright laws, when it came to copying the work, Raimondi also included Dürer’s famous AD monogram. Dürer, in response, made a complaint to the Venetian Government, which gave him legal protection for his monogram, but not his compositions. Raimondi continued copying and selling Dürer’s works, without the monogram.

Muscular Nudes

          Around 1510, Marcantonio Raimondi also moved to Rome, to become part of the circle of artists that surrounded Raphael. With adexterous reproduction of Raphael’s Lucretia, Raimondi so impressed Raphael that he undertook to train the aspiring engraver personally. Other works of Raphael that Raimondi reproduced as woodcuts were The Judgement of Paris and The Massacre of the Innocents. It could be said that Raimondi’s favourite themes were taken from Pagan mythology, though that doesn’t meanthat he neglected the rich imagery of the Old and New testaments. His works reveal a predisposition toward full-bodied, muscular nudes, such as The Climbers which reproduced part of Michelangelo’s Soldiers Surprised Bathing. Under the tutelage of Raphael, Raimondi opened and became master of a school that taught the art of engraving, largely but not exclusively copying and disseminating the works of Raphael. This art of engraving would be to art what lithography had been for literature. Henceforth, both word and image were reproducible and available to a public beyond the wealthy privilege of the elite.


          In the 1520’s Giulio Romano, having devoted himself day by day tothe painting of Raphael’s works in theVatican, obviously suffered a bout ofartistic enthusiasm, of spiritual revolt, of inspired genius. Chances are he left the vatican, the site of his holy work-place, abandoning for an afternoon his work of holy reproduction, satdown at the local taverna, or better, in the pleasant not-too-solitary solitudeof his bedroom and dashed off somesixteen sexy sketches. Sometime later, in 1524, Marcantonio Raimondi had completed the woodcuts of the same images and had successfully publishedthem as a set in an illustrated pamphlet called I Modi, ‘Postures’. Although the originals have not survived, there is a later 18th century version of the work which suggests the same idea- sixteen different sexual positions, ranging from missionary to wheelbarrow. What makes this work so special is not that it is an artistic reproduction of the variouscontortions of the body of a prostitute available to the paying customer as advertised on the walls of brothels in Ancient Rome, or the various positions a wife can take with her husband, as illustrated in the Kama Sutra and other ancient erotic texts which were individually produced by the skilled hand of painters. What was significant about the pamphlet as it was produced by Raimondi, was that it was the first edition of an illustrated text that was reproducible, making it available to a public beyond the wealthy elite. For a small fee anyone could have access to it, take it home, gape over it in the local taverna, take it to bed in solitary pleasure or enjoy it in a crowd, and all this without the immediate prospect of sex with a prostitute. That is to say that if this work is an advertisement, it is an advertisement for the pleasures of sex alone, made for the sole purpose of getting off on. No strings attached.

           It was this, the accessibility of the work that made it dangerous. It was the first work, as far as we know, that depicted such erotic scenes in amedium that was easily reproducible.A single woodcut could make one thousand copies before it began to suffer a loss of quality, while the copper engraving technique could make even more. Previously, works of erotic art were available only to the wealthy, to those who could afford it, or to those who were privileged to have a friend dextrous enough to sketch a simple outline on the back of the toilet door. But this pamphlet was much more easily consumable and it was publicly available. No doubt it sold like hot-cakes. That is, until Pope Clement VII ordered all the copies destroyed and imprisoned Raimondi. Interestingly enough, Romano, who was the original artist and whose sketches were identical, was not imprisoned, on the logic that it was Raimondi and his art of engraving that had made the images publicly available. It was the reproducibility of the work that had the papacy quivering in its boots and shaking its spear. (Oh and by the way, Romano is the only artist of the renaissance to be mentioned in a work by WilliamShakespeare, though he is mentioned in his capacity as a sculptor – which he was not – in A Winter’s Tale where the Queen Hermione has a statue made of her by ‘that rare Italian master, Julio Romano,’ Act V, Scene II.)


          At such a moment of crisis – the man with the wood in bonds, the erotic images sequestered by the church- a hero of sorts is required, or, at the very least, a man with the power toreverse the classical positions of power,of turning religion on its head, or giving the odd monk or two a spicy spanking. Pietro Aretino was just such a man. He had already earned himself the name ‘scourge of princes’ with his bitter parodies of people in positions of power and caused quite a stir by publishing a document titled The Last Will and Testament of the Elephant Hanno. The circulation of this document followed promptly upon the Pope Leo X’s commissioning Raphael to paint a life-sized portrait of an Elephant inspired by a reference to an elephant loved by the Pope in the letters of the German humanist Ulrich Von Hutten. Aretino’s Last Will and Testament was a parody that ridiculed the most powerful cardinals of Rome. It was an act intended to provoke, and yet it must have been very well researched, as rather than having the obvious side effect, i.e. a stake through the heart and happily roasting flames licking his ankles, Pope Leo X actually took to the impertinent little twerp Aretino, and adopted him into hisservice. Apparently Leo X sympathised with the Florentine-born Aretino, was disgruntled by his power-hungry cardinals and was quite satisfied to see them taken down a peg or two. Inany case Aretino found himself in thePope’s favour and on a longer leashthan ever before, not only wealthy butalso powerful.

So, when he heard of Raimondi’s arrest, Aretino intervened and had the man released. Then he wrote a poem to accompany each image and had it republished in the year 1527, this time as a work of poetry and art. But, once again the papacy destroyed every copy it could find.And the censorship was so strict that no complete editions of the original printings have ever been found. The text and images that we have today are merely a copy of a copy, discovered 400 years later. But at least this second time Raimondi escaped prison.

         This publication is considered to be the first appearance on the market of a literary-artistic coupling in a work of pornography. It is this that makes I Modi famous as the first piece of pornography. The poems present a dialogue between a woman (presumably a prostitute, but not necessarily) and a man, where they prompt each other with a raunchy vocabulary towards penetration. Some of the characters are even attributed with the names of political men, or those in positionsof power (unrelated to the artistic depiction). These are poems of foreplay- they induce the act, andadvertise or remind its readers of the wonderful breadth of positions theycould adopt. Its intent is arousal,though it wasn’t commissioned by a house of ill-repute, rather it could be used by anyone anywhere. And yet it was also political, or the poems were, and with their accompaniment the images became so too. They were crude and were supposed to make fun of men in power.

          They did this quite successfully, and one of those men, the Pope’s Datuary, Giovanmatteo Giberti saw his own representation arrive in a parcel on his desk and found himself in a compromising (though no doubt exceptionally pleasant) position. He ordered Aretino’s arrest. However Aretino had already got wind and fled Rome.


          ‘Pornography’ means, literally, the writing (γραφή) of prostitutes (πόρνες). Some sources suggest that this word harks back to a time whenprostitutes would advertise their skills with the images of possible positions and activities they were willing and able to undertake. The word first appears in Athenaeus of Naucritus’ The Deipnosophists, where it is used twice in the same context, the word appears once again in a fragment of Polemon which is a direct quote ofAthenaeus. Athenaeus’ 3rd century AD work tells us that certain painters of antiquity, Aristeides, Pausanias andNikophanes were also quite successful pornographers (πορνογράφοι). It is assumed that such painters took it upon themselves to decorate the inner walls of brothels with various licentious scenes that were designed to prompt even the most frigidcustomer to spend an obol or two onthe more animate examples of house specialities. As is the case with so much about the ancient world, the meaning of this word, and the assumption that it came into being on account of these images, is assumed on the basis of this single literary reference of Athenaeus. It’s a circular argument. But this self-justifying logic where we can’t help but come back to where we began, joined with a certain capitalist spirit (money for head and so forth) and a bit of tail-chasing, should alert us to an impregnable, but by no means impenetrable logic in the word ‘pornography’, especially if it began as an advertisement. Even the word porne, ‘prostitute’ has an etymology linking it back to the Indo-Europeanroot *per- ‘to traffic in, to sell’, (but note sanskrit cognate, aprata ‘without recompense, gratuitously’). A ‘porne’, a prostitute, was simply the woman subject to being bought and sold in the most explicit sense (the others were bought and sold non- explicitly, i.e. you were also buying progeny, you had to pay more, waitmore, or risk your life in battle or in the salon of the in-laws).

         One thing is certain if we accept this archaic etymology, pornography was always connected with money, exchange (intercourse not withstanding) and with an artistry of advertising and publicising. This is a significant fact to keep in mind, given that today such images of ancient sexual activities are said to be ‘erotica’ whereas those that appear in the little windows of your web-page are ‘pornographic’. The difference, in this case, is negligible, with or without the presence of negligee. We should not forget this aspect of art as publicisation and advertisement in the following, regardless of how much we get off on it.


          After its antique and momentary appearance in Athenaeus, the word then recedes into the dark alleywaysof history and, as far as I can discover, only reveals itself again in the middle of the nineteenth century. One Charles Anthon, in his Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (New York, 1843) lists it among his references:

“Pornography, or obscene painting, which in the time of the Romans was practiced with the grossest license, prevailed especially at no particular period in Greece, but was apparently tolerated to a considerable extent at all times. Parrhasius, Aristides, Pausanias, Nicophanes, Chaerephanes, Arellius, and a few other [pornographoi] are mentioned as having made themselves notorious for this species of license.”

I don’t know where he gets the other names from, but presumably they were known as painters of the explicit, without the particular title ‘pornographers’ being applied to them. Obviously, Anthon is relying upon the same source as us. His great achievement, however, was to put the word into circulation. Henceforth, the word gathers in popularity to describe pretty much any image or writing of sexual obscenity. That’s the history of the word, yes. But it doesn’t mean that the object itself, that is, any work of art or literature depicting the activities of prostitutes (and thence, dare I say it, the rest of us) was scarce in the ancient world, in abundance today and absent in between times.

          The 1960’s may well stand today as a time when art and literature took a sexual (today we would say ‘erotic’) turn with indiscreet politicalintent. However, the 18th century also witnessed a flurry of sexual (today we would say ‘pornographic’) iconography directed against the powers that be and the monarchy (think De Sade, and all those images of Marie Antoinette with dildos). If we go back even further, we could say that the trend of pairing politicalinvective with descriptions of erotic extravagance was at its acme during the late Roman Empire (Horace, Petronius, Seneca the Younger). And then, from the period of the renaissance, the papacy, the monks and nuns all become the butt of the joke. Literally.

However, erotica as political satire is very different from erotica for personal pleasure. Or is it? No doubt there is a certain sadism involved when it comes to seeing your enemy fucked, fucked over, fucked up, especially if it’s personal. And then you can experience it for yourself, even at the same time, first-hand so to speak, if only metaphorically, or voyeuristically. The pleasure ofseeing another suffer is still pleasure, just as there can be a certain pleasure in suffering or a pain in being pleasured…

          In the sixteenth century, when the first ‘pornographic’ images were published there is no doubt that, despite the absence of well-known political or religious figures, the work appeared as a challenge to thestatus quo. The problem is that it was exactly the means that challenged thestatus quo, the same means that give pornography its dubious meaning,such that what it means to us today, or at least so many, is the mechanisation and objectification of the human body and its most basic pleasures.


          The rise of pornography follows swiftly upon that of information technology. They could be said to come together. The printing press meant that literature, the sordid as much as the sacred, was more readily available to a wider public, given that they could read, or someone nearby could. The woodblock and later engraving methods made art available to a wider audience, and subsequently meant that a piece of literature could be accompanied by an image. The combination was perfect for the distribution of what might be the mostsought after material for humanity’s spiritual well-being: porn (the Bible has always been a big seller I admit, but it too has got some pretty hot stuff in there- Noah with his beasts in the ark for how many years?, Mary riding the donkey, Lot with his daughters, Judah and his daughter-in-Law, David raping Bathsheba, without saying a word about M.M and her hair…). However, this correlation between technology and pornography continues (photography, film, video,internet, web cams, skype) making

pornography more and more widely available and simultaneously more and more the subject of discussions about social responsibility and so on and so forth on the one hand, and on the other pretty serious censorship laws that just can’t seem to keep up with technology and hackers’ abilities and the audience’s desire to bypass them.

        It’s pretty much indisputable that pornography has ceased to be politically challenging. But it would appear that the origin of pornography, namely ‘the writing of prostitutes’, where it begins as a form of advertising, and leads to the objectification of the body, the mechanisation of our basic instincts and so on for profit (and not so much to the profit of the prostitutes individually anymore than that of industry- besides no prostitute ever made a profit for the simple reason that what she gives is priceless), has overwhelmed the possibilities that were only later suggested by the radical nature of mass distribution. And yet, who can say? Maybe we’re all getting it on better because there’s a bit more information around, positions in the air, conversations on the radio, signs, advertisements on buses, television. The distribution of pornographic information is massive and largely horrendously reifying, conservative, objectifying. But if you can still get it on, despite and in spite of all this flurry perhaps there’s hope yet. There is without doubt, if not a revolutionary, certainly the potential for revolt (sic!!!) in sex.

Because who wants to go work for the man when you’ve got the most exquisite example of manhood/womanhood/whatever-floats-your-boat lying on your bed/ sofa/kitchen floor?


        By 1525 Aretino had made it to Mantua, where at 2am out of the morning frost a man attacked him and stabbed him twice, once in the chest, once encountering his right hand raised in defence. But Aretino didn’t die. And after some days, when Aretino was still too weak to move, and could barely speak, a manapproached his bedside and confessed wholeheartedly for the crime. Aretino knew the man, he was Della Volta. Both he and Aretino had been lovers of Lucrezia, one of the maids of Giberti, the same Datuary who had been ridiculed in the I Modi, the same man who had ordered his arrest.Della Volta showed Aretino a letter:

“Did you write this?” he asked. It was a sonnet addressed to or about the pretty Lucrezia. “Of course,” Aretino replied “Could anyone but I have written so excellently?” “It’s certainly a decent enough piece of work,” the boy admitted, rather sourly. “But you couldn’t expect me to ignore it, could you?” “Oh, I don’t know,” groaned the wounded man “I don’t keep your conscience, do I? Go see your confessor.” “I have done so,” Della Volta retorted sullenly. “He sent me to you.” “To me?” “To you, to beg your forgiveness for stabbing you that night.”

Della Volta’s confessor was none other than Giberti. Although it appeared that the three men of power, in this case, the Pope, Giberti his Datuary and Aretino the satirist were at a stalemate, Aretino decided that even Mantua was not safe and relocated to the Republic of Venice where everything was permitted andwhat wasn’t allowed was also permitted if you did it quietly.

          In Venice Aretino proceeded to perfect the art of pornography, writing The School of Whoredom and other dialogues that are basically educational treatises about how a simple prostitute could fuck over a rich man, both literally and metaphorically. Explicitly, this particular dialogue presents the various means available to a prostitute, but also a courtesan to get by in a world dominated by men. There is a logic here: it reminds women that the world may well be dominated by men, but men are dominated by their desires, and since women have in some cases the exclusive role of satisfying certain of these desires, certain women have the power to dominate men.


         Against a pretty brutal reality (at this time the punishment for a disobedient prostitute was the ‘thirty-one’, named after the number of men who were to rape her vaginally and anally), Aretino posed the prostitute as a woman who could not only survive, but also manipulate the powerful. Although his poetry was not radical, it did have an effect upon the influenceand public standing of powerful men. If we take Aretino’s works as an example of pornography – whichwe can do, but he certainly never used the word to refer to his own writings – then suddenly pornography becomesan essential part of the power game.

Pornography, here, is a manual for the repressed, the down-at-heel; it reveals the power of manipulation, influence, pandering and petting until you’re the one who comes out on top.

‘Flattery and deceit are the darlings of great men,’ says Aretino’s character Nanna, ‘and so with these men spread the butter on thick, if you want to get something out of them, otherwise you’ll come home to me with a full belly and an empty purse.’

Revolting Porn

The city goes about its work. Suited men and women stream along the cobbled streets, ants attracted to sugar.

Shopfronts flash and jingle. The stark light of wealth gleamsoff the teeth of over-keen saleswomen. A boy places a pamphlet in your hand recommending a new bath-cleaner, Spanish lessons, the latest model of Mercedes Benz.

The dull hum of cash registers keeps the heart beating and the electric whir of receipts printing circulates the blood. We shit to the sound of automatic tellers spewing out cash. We choke on our credit cards and swallow harder.

The city is constructed on the myth of exchange, a giving taking without gift, an infernal intercourse without flesh. Every desire can be gratified except desire itself.

           Desire remains eternally unsatisfied so that the organs of pleasure, hands, mouth, arse can take more.

Consuming goods without respect to the good. A massive-scale machine of impersonal self-gratification, the old inout inoutdevoid of the challenging gaze of the other, the slick of sweat on

rippling flesh, the rich whiff of bodily humours. There is nothing like the sanitised sex of the market.

But into this white fantasy of glitter and light creeps a wave of upraised voices.

A dark mob weaves its way along the parallel streets, broken calls,sweat, tears, hands clasped and burning. In its wake the light turns to fire, machines splutter their last, goods are weighed and made common. Use is the only measure and need the

only good.

The blood is hot and boils, spilling over into the immediate

gratification of anger and love, filling the ruts of the street with the desire for a better tomorrow.

Exchange erupts into a relation that binds hands, an intercourse that unites body with body.

Revolt seduces

           the city-streets, passersby merge with the throbbing horde, cars upset themselves to reveal bare underbellies, the sidewalks shudder and shake off their stones, the buildings strip themselves of

their cladding as ammunition for their own downfall.

The naked spectre of revolt penetrates the city and succumbing to the pleasure of the moment the city rolls over again and again.


From The Barbarian Review

Criticism Deflowered

…Or, “If religion is the opium of the people, critique is intellectual porn” or “The Pleasure of Marx on Hegel”

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. 

-Marx, Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.

Her naked body cast an alluring shadow against the dull metallic hull of the hovercraft. Kneeling over the body prostate before her she unclipped the remote control from the man’s aluminium belt and with an awed calm pushed the small grey button. With a whisper the thin silver bars around her wrists, ankles and neck protracted and fell to the floor.

In the struggle against that state of affairs, criticism is no passion of the head, it is the head of passion. It is not a lancet, it is a weapon. Its object is its enemy, which it wants not to refute but to exterminate.

She looked down at him, his gun hanging flaccid under his belt. She had that effect upon these androids. Once her feline curves came into perceptive range, their powers of penetration turned against themselves, until occupied obsessively wih themselves, any offensive was useless. As fervently as they grasped their weapons and repeatedly pulled the trigger, one after another they all fell subject to her force, until, ammunition spent, their defence systems drained and exhausted, with a gasp they lost consciousness in a swoon of self-conscious delight.

The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter. But, for man, the root is man himself.

She glanced over at the other one. He too had let his gaze wonder too wide and was now slumped against the neoprene- lined skirt of the craft. His hands were beginning to twitch out of their arthritic frigidity, but his eyes still stared down glassily to where he had tossed his gun. She strode over to him, stripped him of his fine chain-mail bodice and slipped it over her head. The light metal caressed her skin and gave her a renewed sense of immunity. The androids would wake soon from their convulsive stupor and then they would be a danger to her. Though made man they were not yet free of the seductive power of the machine. Although her initial effect was to turn them upon themselves, investing in each a self-critical desire to grasp himself, once the android had demonstrated the radical nature of his manhood, the consequent void in his desire would bring him into an ethereal identification with the surrounding mass. And then he would arise with a greater force, all too willing to abandon himself entirely to the idea that she was the root that had been lacking.

Meanwhile, a major difficulty seems to stand in the way of a radical German revolution. For revolutions require a passive element, a material basis. Theory is fulfilled in a people only insofar as it is the fulfilment of the needs of that people. But will the monstrous discrepancy between the demands of German thought and the answers of German reality find a corresponding discrepancy between civil society and the state, and between civil society and itself? Will the theoretical needs be immediate practical needs? It is not enough for thought to strive for realization, reality must itself strive towards thought.

But even she was not capable of gratifying their every need. She might offer an android time to reflect, she might even suffice to strip him of his presumptions, but the truth was that if he was to do more than just free himself from the role he believed himself constructed to play, he would have to test his metal and draw from deep within himself a beastly, visceral core. With this as her aim she stalked over and reached to open the pod hatch, her chain-mail clinking with her steps. Although she had succeeded in immobilising the craft she was yet to discover how to get the thing air-born. This would be no small task in itself, and yet the undertaking was complicated by the fact that it would require an ascent in the absence of a pilot. As she raised the hatch she felt a strong, almost fleshy arm close around her waist. The first stage of the metamorphosis was completed, and yet, his lust for her was still less than his desire to take control of the machine, to feel the cold hard metal of the thruster in his hands and soar up alone beyond the clouds.

But no particular class in Germany has the constituency, the penetration, the courage, or the ruthlessness that could mark it out as the negative representative of society. No more has any estate the breadth of soul that identifies itself, even for a moment, with the soul of the nation, the geniality that inspires material might to political violence, or that revolutionary daring which flings at the adversary the defiant words: I am nothing but I must be everything.

          Without a second glance he threw her aside. Unperturbed she leapt on him, twisting his head round to face her. Their gaze met and immediately, doubling over he knelt down under the burden of his freshly inspired breadth of soul. Taking the opportunity, and using all her force she jammed the thruster to full and began the launch sequence, ingeniously stripping herself of the chain- mail to provide the weight that would substitute for the pilot. With a surprising dexterity she then swiftly removed herself as the hatch automatically sealed closed. The hovercraft shuddered slightly and then with a decompression of air and a pulse of heat it rose and sped upward. Startled from his masturbatory convulsions, the man looked around and reflected upon himself as the craft’s negative representation. In its absence he had no choice but to identify himself wholly with her. And yet, standing naked before him, she offered him nothing. How could she then be the positive possibility of his emancipation?

Answer: In the formulation of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong, but wrong generally, is perpetuated against it; which can invoke no historical, but only human, title; which does not stand in any one-sided antithesis to the consequences but in all- round antithesis to the premises of German statehood; a sphere, finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society, which, in a word, is the complete loss of man and hence can win itself only through the complete re- winning of man. This dissolution of society as a particular estate is the proletariat.


[ORIGIN mid 17th century: from Latin proletarius (from proles ‘offspring’ ), denoting a person having no wealth in property, who only served the state by producing offspring.]

Now that he was freed from the machine, his universal character became apparent to her. She looked upon him as he stood bewildered before her, the muscles on his biceps taut, the hairs on his chest prickling in the fresh air. His hips slim and melting into the luscious curves of his thighs. Suddenly, the struggle which she had so long fought in the negative focused upon him with the material admiration and fantastic delight that can only end in the production of a revolutionary daring. More than anything she desired to fling herself upon his every estate and caress his spheres into a particular emancipation. Delving into his receding memory he remembered her enchained and then revelled as he imagined the two of them bound together in an all-round antithesis of more than radical chains.

Philosophy cannot realize itself without the transcendence [Aufhebung] of the proletariat, and the proletariat cannot transcend itself without the realization [Verwirklichung] of philosophy.

No longer mere voyeur, no longer the purely negative urge of theory, Criticism was herself transformed and overcome by the pleasure of every adversary, not only stripping man of his chains but allowing him to throw hers aside as well. With the subtle poetry of a revitalised imagination, they sought consolation in one another, plucking the living flower in a free act of mutual transcendence.

When all the inner conditions are met, the day of the German resurrection will be heralded by the crowing of the cock of Gaul.

From The Barbarian Review

Philosophy stands in the same relation to the study of the actual world as masturbation to sexual love.

– Karl Marx, The German Ideology


Riot Porn (Dedicated to Lovers of)

           The demonstration approaches its desired end. Now the true face of the opposition is revealed, and the throng must come to grips with the brutal force of the law. Metal bars, pistols, shields, emblazoned armour; the sado-masochism of power. But the body of demonstrators vibrates to its own rhythm, writhing and arching with the flexible elegance of a cat, seduced by the will to stand beside their fellow man and love for the beauty of the streets.

           The first stone is thrown. Rigid with the craving for resistance, the stone curves through the evening air, heavy with the yearning impulses of a thousand frustrated youths. The stone pounds the earth, raising a soft billow of dust. Heavy boots shudder and evade it only to be concealed by a quick blast of flames. The shattered bottle lies spent as flames lick and tease the softened plastic shield. Gasps echo and are consumed.

          A canister rises and covers the space between force and violence; pausing erect in the air it plunges too early, just missing the gathered, swarming mass. Swathed in the veils of Salome, she takes the pulsing canister in hand, hot and hard it bruises her eager palm. She lifts it from below, avoiding the tender spitting head and thrusts it forward. It describes a thin arc of acrid opacity and explodes as it breaks into the ranks.

          Another canister penetrates the dark mass, and as pulses of white steam surge it fills the gap. The dense masses surround it and close in upon the fertile throbbing clouds. Deep inside the hooded mass, the last tears trickle and are wasted upon the broken marble. Coursing in their infatuation, the crowd becomes one and absorbs the spectre of inflated capital which sinks below the crest of wave after wave, the damp shards cutting into the fibrous stakes of its neck. The perversive gas is forgotten amid the turbulent rapids which swell and rise, flowing through carved passages and changing course with the ease of a discharged pearl, loose upon the ocean’s floor.

           Filled by the pleasure of its own movement the body of demonstrators perforates into a multitude of different sensations, overflowing with the teeming abundance that spreads from core to extremity; finally to dilate and reform into a single entity whose scalding determination challenges the very heat of the stars and can do nothing but press forward… Athens burns.