Perfect Blue
Kona Macphee
 
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Commentary: Plague

In addition to this "Book of Diseases", I contemplated a sequence called "The Book of Synopses" - a series of vignettes presented as synopses of imaginary movies (as per, for example, Borges' reviews of imaginary books). The poem "The detour" was originally titled "Synopsis 1" and was to be part of this sequence, and this poem "Plague" might easily have been another. It's deliberately mysterious, hinting at a story more than telling it; I like to imagine all the different fleshed-out versions of events that readers might come up with.

Here, "plague" and "vector" (as in "disease vector") are used for the social ailment of a spreading cult, rather than anything biological, but there are obvious parallels. (The scientist in me would love to see some diagrams of the way that cults spread within and between communities, and see if there are similarities with the spread of individual viruses).

I've always been aware of a certain ingenuousness in myself, springing from a thwarted need "to belong" in some all-absorbing way, a wish to shed the lonely burden of individuality, to suborn myself within some external framework of higher meaning. It's a pretty common - but dangerous - tendency that might easily have been exploited by a cult or guru in my younger days. This poem's aristocratic young man, persuaded or brainwashed into shedding his cushy existence for some irrational but passionate crusade, is probably a cipher for my younger self.

I had a lot of fun with the sound-play in this poem, particularly in the first stanza. As something of a minimalist/simple-lifer, I'm parading my schadenfreude with "dysphoric millionaires", and I relish the sharp "malfeasance of angles" and "inhuman mien" of the plague-spreading protagonist. I think he may have been inspired by the song "The Disillusionist" (from the 1992 album "priest=aura") from the wonderful Australian band, The Church:

  He alights from the platform
  In his usual uniform
  His skin looks like he slept in it
  Or had something rotten kept in it

The phrase "the fervour of the novice damned" captures for me the driven earnestness of recent converts of all kinds, whose desperate desire to co-opt you to their cause is driven as much by their need to stave off any awkward doubts as by their wish to further that cause. (One might, of course, argue that the writing of these explanatory notes, in the hope of helping people enjoy poetry, is a symptom of the same condition....)

The mildly paradoxical phrase "to fall redeemed" reflects the inadvertent glamour of the seedy, the romance of poverty when viewed from outside. As a desperately frustrated, independence-craving 16 year old, I was captivated by the 1986 Australian film "Dogs in Space" and the shambolic bohemian lifestyle it portrayed (which I took to the stalker-style limit of actually tracking down the house in which it was filmed, in a narrow Melbourne back-street). That vision of the world seemed to provide a genuinely redemptive alternative to my stressed-and-depressed, middle-class, academically-driven existence. The young man in the poem has been similarly bedazzled.

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