Author: Geoffrey Lehmann

Identity but Not as a Straitjacket

Identity can enrich and also limit a writer’s repertoire. Who she is and where he comes from matter, but should not be an end in itself. In particular, works of art born out of identity politics may seem like significant artistic statements when they are made, but may quickly become dated. What lasts is where the personal becomes universal. In pursuing these points, I shall contrast the lives and works of the African-American writers Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston, then go on to discuss the experiences I had co-editing a 1090 page anthology of Australian poetry, when my co-editor and I serendipitously discovered the work of a poet Tricia Dearborn. *   *   * The African-American writer Richard Wright has been credited with helping to change race relations in the United States. This is not a small achievement. Wright’s Native Son (1940) was the first novel by an African-American to be selected by the Book of the Month Club. The following year his play of the same name opened on Broadway with Orson Welles directing. …

a Chemical Garden

Where Did We Come From? An Astonishing Hypothesis

“Where did we come from?” Nick Lane’s The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution and the Origins of Complex Life tries to answer this question. He looks back to two moments in time: 1. When bacteria/archaea appeared on Earth about 4 billion years ago. 2. When complex life (eukaryotes) appeared about 2 to 1.5 billion years ago. Lane discusses both of these events. This article will restrict itself to Lane’s hypothesis about the first of these events: the likely emergence of simple cellular life (bacteria and archaea) from an alkaline hydrothermal vent located near a mid-ocean ridge. I shall also discuss recent research about the likely evolution of viruses. This indicates that the ancestors of modern viruses were independently replicating virocells that co-evolved with the bacteria and archaea, and all three of them – virocells, bacteria and archaea – had a last universal common ancestor (LUCA). Lane’s book does not have a detailed discussion of viruses. Nor does the virocell literature discuss where virocells may have evolved. But if Lane and virocell theory are both right, the first …

Music and Language, Cultural Identity and Fame

In this essay I hope to cover all the topics above – an ambitious ask – and suggest why some great composers are forgotten and then revived. In particular there is the mystery of J. S. Bach. Why was Johann Sebastian highly regarded during his lifetime, but only as one good composer among many, then forgotten, and now regarded as one of the great geniuses of all time, ranking with Albert Einstein, Michelangelo and Shakespeare? In 1846 a group of “Ethiopian Serenaders”, including a New Yorker, my great-grandfather John Cragin Rainer, performed for Queen Victoria, their faces painted black and lips white. The jokes were suitably toned down for the royal family. While on tour in the United States Rainer’s forehead was grazed by a bullet from a man in the audience, who presumably thought the black faced minstrels were black. In 1852 he arrived in Sydney from the Californian goldfields with his group, “Rainer’s Original Ethiopian Serenaders”. If his would-be assassin had been a better shot I would not be writing this article now. …