Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s novel Retrospective

It was a day of clear skies and Sergio saw the land through the little window with an insolent clarity: the portions of every shade of green in the world, the water of the rivers glinting like machete blades, the whole country where so many had done so much harm, where he had harmed as much as others. When the plan flew higher and clouds covered everything and the land was no longer visible, Sergio could only think in words of farewell.

— translated by Anne McLean, p. 453

… saw the land through the little window with an insolent clarity…

That’s why I chose this brief excerpt. It’s not exemplary or illustrative. It has this word, insolence, for the clarity with which another nation than this but also of the global South impinges itself on the consciousness of one born there. Insolent, like the challenge of a child’s eyes, their challenge being the clarity with which they look back and see you. And you through them see yourself no more or less included in what they see. A clarity of the South cutting out of light what rises, a freshly butchered vision but every shade of green in the world or like a net full of fish splintering the light here, machete blades, rivers. The Green Ghetto and the violence under the surface upholding it.

trawling through Nz Aa painters to illustrate this post… Michael Smither in mind, Rita Angus … too much figuration, too little abstraction … kitsch and kitsch again, the abstract without, the figural without pathology… no risks, too much judgement …perhaps Kate Boswell… perhaps Mike Glover … or Diana Adams … looking for the Francis Bacon of landscape painting. Fierce spiritual landscapes. Colin McCahon. Someone raising the landscape in bleeding heaps. Disinvesting it of painterly cliché, getting its disinterest. Not Colin McCahon. Ralph Hotere. Still man’s judgement. Doris Lusk. Gretl Barzotto. The graphic tangent that goes to Fiona Rae. Theatre. Fomison. Washes. Kathryn Carter. Shona McFarlane. …Peter Lambert skies. Gerda Leenards. … something made me look at Bice Lazzari, beautiful and Nothing to do with what I’m looking for... Rose Strang gets me to where I was going but in another landscape, a cooler palette. And perhaps this is what’s wrong with the South, its every-shade-of-green in the world. The paint should remain dripping and never dry, like it does in Bill Hammond’s backgrounds. It makes me think it’s all a paysage moralisé that the colonists and conquerors came to contemplate their guilty consciences here.

Paysage Moralisé 

Hearing of harvests rotting in the valleys,
Seeing at end of street the barren mountains,
Round corners coming suddenly on water,
Knowing them shipwrecked who were launched for islands,
We honour founders of these starving cities
Whose honour is the image of our sorrow,

Which cannot see its likeness in their sorrow
That brought them desperate to the brink of valleys;
Dreaming of evening walks through learned cities
They reined their violent horses on the mountains,
Those fields like ships to castaways on islands,
Visions of green to them who craved for water.

They built by rivers and at night the water
Running past windows comforted their sorrow;
Each in his little bed conceived of islands
Where every day was dancing in the valleys
And all the green trees blossomed on the mountains,
Where love was innocent, being far from cities.

But dawn came back and they were still in cities;
No marvellous creature rose up from the water;
There was still gold and silver in the mountains
But hunger was a more immediate sorrow,
Although to moping villagers in valleys
Some waving pilgrims were describing islands…

'The gods,' they promised, 'visit us from islands,
Are stalking, head-up, lovely, through our cities;
Now is the time to leave your wretched valleys
And sail with them across the lime-green water,
Sitting at their white sides, forget your sorrow,
The shadow cast across your lives by mountains.’

So many, doubtful, perished in the mountains,
Climbing up crags to get a view of islands,
So many, fearful, took with them their sorrow
Which stayed them when they reached unhappy cities,
So many, careless, dived and drowned in water,
So many, wretched, would not leave their valleys.

It is our sorrow. Shall it melt? Then water
Would gush, flush, green these mountains and these valleys,
And we rebuild our cities, not dream of islands.

-- W.H. Auden, 1933

— Paula Rosa, Human DK