Gabriela Bourke reviews Lucida Intervalla by John Kinsella
by John Kinsella
Reviewed by GABRIELA BOURKE
Can art make things happen? John Kinsella says ‘yes’. ‘Poetry functions more directly in cultures at different times, but it is part of most things we do. Consciousness of poetic language informs reading the newspaper as much as it does listening to songs on the radio.’ (Watts 2013) Kinsella’s most recent novel, Lucida Intervalla, is set in a frantic and failing world almost indistinguishable from our own, except that the things we fear happening – coastlines that are no longer coastlines, fire hail raining from the sky – are already happening. Lucida Intervalla might be read as a deliberative novel, one intended to provoke discussion and inform change, or it might be read as a novel resigned; to climate change and climate denial, to fallen cities and interminably displaced refugees, to an end ‘…without style. So bland. So fated.’ (233)
The world may be plummeting ever closer to self-destruction, but Lucida grants it little attention. As a child, she creates self-portraits in vomit and menstrual blood, the latter for which she is expelled. References to rising temperatures are rife and the planet seems on the precipice of collapse, if not already there. If this novel is a bildungsroman describing Lucida’s trajectory from troublesome child to super-celebrity; it is also one reflecting the gradual and uncomfortable movement of humanity toward accepting what is has done: to the earth, to the animals, and to ourselves, ‘…drowning and choking on its own goo and efflatus’ (219). This is unsurprising from Kinsella, a self-proclaimed anarchist pacifist vegan (link to Kinsella’s blog provided below) who coined the terms ‘pleasurism’ and ‘leisurism’ to describe acts of environmental degradation for, you guessed it, the purposes of pleasure and leisure. Uneasy and destructive relationships between humans, other species and the natural environment appear often in this novel. Wildlife is synonymous with road kill and forests only exist in conjunction to bulldozers. Young Lucida keeps mice as pets, one of which aggressively procreates and then eats its own offspring (32). Although mice are identified as herbivores and it is true that they can exist as such, they are opportunistic eaters who feed on what is available, much like humans. The incorrigible Pinkie, then, with the blood of his own and others’ infants on his snout, is the harbinger of society in this novel as in life.
This is the battle that rages between the old and new world in Lucida Intervalla, foregrounded by measured references to Aristophanes’ The Clouds. Lucida’s big break comes in the form of a trip to interview an aging and reclusive artist who has rejected the brave new world and retired to Centralia – a state which thus far does not exist, but is borne from the tentative idea raised by former Territory and federal MPs to merge parts of South Australia and the Northern Territory into one state. This move is touted as being a significant opportunity to reinvigorate this part of the country by taking advantage of its relative proximity to Asia, but Centralia as represented by Kinsella is as weary and shrivelled as the artist who has taken up residence there.
‘He is an artist and he should be in his prime…but his brushes dried with the wet and he’s not even done a sketch. It’s gone, whatever he had and whatever he hoped for. In the open, he is confined. In the open, and the blue sky, he is isolated. The birds are thoughts flitting by, or pecking at their stems. The heat haze shimmering within a few metres is the mirage he’ll never reach, never have.’ (50)
Centralia is hot, dusty, uninhabitable but for the regular delivery of water and other resources. The earth will not provide, not for aged celebrities nor ‘stray cows with calves, nibbling at the thin sheen of dead grass soon to be skin and bones…’ (54) yet it is from this dead earth that Lucida mines her fortune, capitalising on the fame that comes with proximity to celebrity. ‘Industrialism, consumerism, greed and general rapacity seem universal wrongs to me,’ says Kinsella (Watts 2013).
Lucida is an anti-heroine in that she actively profits from these things. At one point, envious of an author’s success, Lucida along with her team of managers and creators put together a book branded with her name which is published ‘…in a first print run of three million copies which took out a large chunk of forest’ (173) while the e-version ‘ate the energy from a dozen power stations around the world’ (173). Trapped and unable to cope with a conversation concerning indigenous land rights, she interrogates the speaker about the ways in which rodents are poisoned on his farm (183). This refusal to participate in imperative discussion concerning the future or lack thereof of postcolonial society repeats often throughout the novel, as each reference to climate change is followed by the increasingly desperate responses of deniers, each person willing to make positive changes stymied by the raising of a separate topic that successfully halts progress of any kind. This distraction away from imperative discussion of indigenous land rights toward an altogether unrelated – and comparatively unimportant – topic is an apt example. These kinds of unproductive conversations where significant issues are countered by irrelevant rejoinders abound in the media. Perhaps Kinsella, a vegan of many years, has participated in fruitless discussions with those claiming that the growing movement toward rejecting animal agriculture is pointless when rats continue to be poisoned in the process of wheat production.
Passivity is a violent act in Lucida Intervalla. Pro-Green artwork is funded with mining magnate dollars, activism is inefficient and often tainted with that which it seeks to reject and overall, things seem fairly hopeless. The characters are frogs sweating in water fast coming to the boil, unable or unwilling to leap out. And yet, perhaps Kinsella’s forlorn imaginings are deliberative. Perhaps the call-to-action is to jump from of the pot as quickly as possible, in any way possible. Lucida is an antonym to John Kinsella. He notes ‘[Lucida] …doesn’t like me much, and would disagree with most of what I have to say. She determines her own paths, many of which I find frightening.’ (Acknowledgements) Lucida is not a likeable character, but she is painfully familiar to anyone who has chosen to circumvent the difficult conversation and engage in behaviours we probably shouldn’t. She’s familiar to us all.
Humans should leave well enough alone, according to Kinsella. ‘People don’t have to occupy every square metre of the planet. Some places should just be left to do their ‘own’ thing.’ (Watts 2013) Reading is to be enjoyed, and books don’t need a takeaway to be satisfying, but if Lucida Intervalla is to continue to be speculative fiction rather than contemporary fiction, we need to do better.
Ryan, Tracy, and John Kinsella. 2019. “Mutually Said: Poets Vegan Anarchist Pacifist”. Poetsvegananarchistpacifist.Blogspot.Com. http://poetsvegananarchistpacifist.blogspot.com/.
Watts, Madeleine. 2013. “Interview With John Kinsella”. Griffith Review. https://griffithreview.com/articles/interview-with-john-kinsella/.
GABRIELA BOURKE is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at USYD