Wednesday, July 22, 2015


There is a certain position in our kitchen, near one end of an oiled-wood dining table, where in the darkness of night when the kitchen is backlit by the lights of the open-plan living room behind, you can see the grey-sky coloured kitchen cabinets reflected at an acute angle in the glass panes of the patio door. As you draw closer a furtive shadow appears and on turning slightly the shadow suddenly accelerates up the cabinet reflection leaving an unsettling sensation of an intruder outside the doors disappearing around the corner of the house. You then have to retrace your steps to be certain what you had seen was what it was: an inner shadow projected outwards like "Dark Matter" exerting a gravitational shift from timeless ambivalence to momentary anxiety.

The astrophysical allusion to the property of shadows is not accidental. I watched a television program recently which explored how astrophysicists first became able to determine the extent of “Dark Matter” shadows in our universe by mapping the distortion in the light transmission of dying stars, the supernovas, and then by using this determinative ability how they went about trying to confirm the theory that given the extent of “Dark Matter” in our Universe its gravitational effect would eventually cause an implosion of the Universe, in a reverse of the “Big Bang” i.e. not just the end of the world when eventually our own sun becomes a supernova but the end of all worlds.

However much to their astonishment the astrophysicists have found that our Universe continues to expand at an ever-increasing rate into the “Void”, a void that still lays way beyond our comprehension. This means that the closer we get to the “Dark Matter” and potentially consumptive shadows in our Universe, like those reflected in my kitchen windows, the quicker they accelerate away. At a universal level at least, momentary anxiety is once again replaced by timeless ambivalence.

It would be nice to theorise that this would also be the case at an individual human level. However, in a body and mind already subject to gravity, both physical and that of conditioned expectation, the increased effect of proximity to the shadows of self (the dark matter of our personal universes) do still hold an incredibly destructive potential.

Richard Flanagan, the Tasmanian writer who won the Booker Prize for his fictional novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a novel firmly rooted in his father’s war-time experience of being a prisoner-of-war and slave labourer on the Japanese building of a 415km railway through Burma and Thailand, has said that, despite the critical success (and likely Nobel Prize in the future) the experience of writing the book, something that had hung over him like a shadow since he was a child, had made him “less”. When asked what he meant by this he found it difficult to explain, and said that perhaps it was that he had reached the apogee of his writing, and in doing so it did not matter anymore. The “umbra” or darkest part of the shadow that appeared to have enveloped Flanagan in writing the story was the murder on the railway of a Sgt Haslam, a friend of Flanagan’s father, who was beaten to death with bamboo canes by three Japanese guards while watched by three hundred non-intervening Australian and British prisoners-of-war, including Flanagan’s father.

I am not sure, and perhaps we never will, what was the umbra that drove him on but David Duval the World’s No. 1 golfer in 1999, and the only person to perhaps have challenged Tiger Woods when he was at his best, said something similar to Richard Flanagan about becoming “less” after his game suffered a terminal decline following his winning of the British Open in 2001.

For Flanagan and Duval they had come too close to the “Dark Matter” or umbra of their beings and the gravity of those inner shadows had subsequently caused them to be “less”, in the “lessness” way of supernovas burning bright as they implode. Both of these men however are resilient individuals. They will find a way to accelerate away from the dark matter of that implosion and reinvent themselves in another part of the universe. Not perhaps ever again as a “genius” golfer or writer playing the “game” at the limits of its potential, but surviving to love, to feel, to respond.

This resilience, this movement to the fuzzy edge of the shadow where some light diffuses the bleak reality, is something I wish for in everybody. In my work as a Forensic Examiner for victims of sexual assault a recurring sensation particularly where older adolescents and young adults are concerned is that we have an incredible opportunity to somehow prevent the “Dark Matter” of being winning out.

In a recent case, and I will be circumspect for very obvious reasons, a young waiflike girl whose physicality and personality were so slight as to barely ripple the pool of perception, the particular circumstances of the case will mean that she will almost certainly become increasingly isolated, discarded by boyfriend, friends and family to a shadow world of existence, and all of the inherent dangers that that will bring. It is also likely to occur despite the injustice of it and our best efforts as carers to help her such as rape crisis intervention, social services support, etc.

You want to become the astrophysicist of being, to confound accepted reality, to pull her away from the gravity of "Dark Matter" despair and explain somehow that her inner Universe continues to expand and given a chance will accelerate away from the shadows. You want most of all for her not to submit. 

The nature of acquiescent submission in the face of applied dominance is complex, both at an individual and societal level. In both intimate and universal confrontations submission is generally seen as a survival strategy and unless one has truly experienced the disempowerment of that process it is difficult to fully rationalise what any individual will do in the circumstance. The submission volition however does engender in the survivor, or survivors enormous potential for feelings of guilt and even perhaps self-loathing. It is a liability that then often extends to family, friends and carers. Could we have done more? As a carer you do not want to be  a “submissant” allowing the “dominants” to rape a vulnerable girl or beat another human being to death with impunity and do nothing.

These are the bamboo shadows that all of us have to navigate in our journey through the Universe.

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