Perfect Blue
Kona Macphee
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Commentary: The assessment

This poem is a petulant swipe at certain kinds of academicism. One of the aspects of academic life that most depressed me was its not-infrequent tendency towards knee-jerk dismissiveness of ideas or works outside of the approved academic/intellectual canon - or, in my perception of it, the pervasive belief that one loses less face by sneering at something that one's peers subsequently praise, than one does by "naively" liking something that everybody else then decides is crap. (The best scholars and scientists think independently and trust their own careful judgement, but that strength of character is by no means universal - especially amongst yet-green students and younger academics still jostling for status and jobs).

Melbourne, the city where I grew up, has an extensive tram network. When I was a kid, the trams were lumbering, rattly single carriages with loud one-ding bells used to chivvy recalcitrant pedestrians and cars to get out of their way - not unlike crusty and irascible, long-sinecured professors. I have a bit of a grudge against trams because their metal rails, embedded in the road, are a major hazard for motorbikes; cross them at too shallow an angle and you're almost guaranteed a skid, particularly in the wet. The worst altercation I ever had with the tarmac, which involved sliding down the road in a shower of sparks and almost breaking my wrist, was due to a skid on those infernal tramlines.

One side effect of being a computer geek is that I do all of my writing in a simple monochrome window known as a "command-line terminal", using a somewhat esoteric techie text editor known as 'vi'. When I open a terminal window on my main server, it gives me a tasty opening quotation (known in geek parlance as a "fortune", short for "fortune cookie"). One morning it spat out the aphorism used in this poem, "The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it," which it assured me is a "Chinese proverb". Whether or not the attribution is accurate, I thought it was a wonderful admonition, a great antidote to negativity and dismissiveness (academic or otherwise) - just the sort of thing I'd like to find in a real fortune cookie. (If you've never been lucky enough to meet one, a fortune cookie is a deliciously crispy, thin, sweet biscuit shaped like a hollow half-moon. When cracked open, it reveals a little slip of paper containing an instruction or prediction for the edification of the eater.)

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