Lost in Translation

Clearly I have too much time on my hands: I spend all my time lying by the pool conjuring up names for new rock ‘n’ roll tribute bands – Fake That, Not the Hoople, AD:BC, You Too, and so on. My very favourite is one I heard from a UK comedian expressing her undying devotion to a Welsh Boy Band with strong eco-credentials called Boy-o-Zone. Do you think I can convince the Chair of the University Sustainability Committee to get them to open next year’s Sustainable Living Festival?

When I’m not being so wickedly creative as a wordsmith, I’m busy travelling. I’ve been in Singapore and Vietnam visiting our fabulous offshore campuses, though much of the time I spent rooted on the kerbside in Ho Chi Minh City, gathering enough nerve to step into the multi-directional mayhem that passes as a traffic system in that crazy city. It’s an act of utter daring combined with blind faith and robust fatalism – rather like being a PVC.

We left Hanoi just as the US President landed. It was not that I was keeping the bed warm for him, but that the city was strewn with leagues of secret service security men and their sniffer dogs. I even found one lurking in the wardrobe of my hotel room – I don’t know how long he’d been there, but he could have had the decency to iron my shirts.

I encountered only one street demonstration while I was there – hundreds of serenely cycling protesters chanting a phrase that I struggled to interpret – the effect was impressive, despite their message being lost on me.

So, in the meantime here’s a picture of me with the inestimable Gretchen Wilkins, a member of staff from the School of Architecture and Design who has been ‘embedded’ in the Saigon South campus in Vietnam to develop a new Masters program. She’s making great progress and her recent presentation to a very senior team of visitors was described as one of the clearest presentations of program design ever heard. Nice one Gretchen, not a word lost in translation.

Paul Image Whiteboard


Cut & Thrust: the delicate demands of debating

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When debating, it’s always a neat idea to namedrop Chomsky, even if you can’t quite recall or even pronounce his first name*:

 ‘The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.’

Unfortunately the audience at NGV’s Art & Activism Debate last week were not that passive, nor that obedient, but my, were they lively! Armed with green and red voting cards, they had to decide which of the two teams made the best case. The topic: should artists have a social responsibility? I’d been cajoled into being on the ‘against’ side, which was not an easy gig. But we took to the task with gusto, and slugged it out in front of an attentive crowd of 100 potential voters.

Perhaps we should debate more often at RMIT – I mean serious debate – not just ‘we need to correct this semi-colon in Minute 2.3.’. Academic Board is livelier now than it’s ever been, even in the acoustically challenged debating Chamber, and I’ve had the mixed fortune of participating in some rather animated Town Hall meetings of late, including one address to 270 careers officers from across the state. I was sandwiched between two extraordinary students: a prize-winning bio-health scientist who when he didn’t have the crowd in uproar, had them in stitches, and a youthful games technologist who’d created his own company at about the age of 7. I was the rather (unful)filling meat in the sandwich.

A few hours later I was on another panel for a very special Golden Key Gathering of RMIT alumnus, talking about the keys of success. Drawing on my vast reservoir of brainiac one-liners, I was glad to remind the very large crowd that the only place you’d find ‘success’ before ‘work’ was in the dictionary. Boom Boom. How they laughed.

Meanwhile back at the NGV, I eschewed Chomsky and quoted Theodor W. Adorno, for slightly more kudos. I admonished my debating adversaries for being hand-wringing pinko liberals, or something equally rude, which was a tad unfair even if one of them was a lawyer. Ever a lover of alliteration I opened by declaring that, ‘the proposition is preposterous – it would reduce artists to lackeys of the state, handmaidens of mediocrity, and vassals to venality,’ and so forth.

However, according to the venerable Desmond Tutu, the art of debating relies on this dictum: ‘Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.’ It’ll be broadcast on ABC at some point, so you can hear for yourself whether I achieved either. All you really need to know is that when the votes were cast, the ballot boxes opened, and the hanging chads discarded, the reds won hands down. Be magnanimous in victory, said Napoleon, and we were just that, if slightly embarrassed by having to argue a case we weren’t quite convinced by. What would Noam or Theodor make of it?

* Noam, pronounced as in ‘Gnome’. Perhaps readers can remind me what the W in Theodor W. Adorno stands for?