She even plants an entire alley of poplar trees leading up to Cobham Hall. None of the English plants thrive in the Australian climate. The poplar trees become little more I'd have to agree with your assessment. The novel, The Secret River, explores the destructive conflict of civilizations during the colonization of Australia. The initial encounters between the Aborigines and the white settlers, as well as their The Secret River study guide contains a biography of Kate Grenville, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
The Secret River essays are academic essays for citation.
The Writer’s Craft
We know we should be doing something, and we even know what we should be doing. But we don't do it. How many of us have solar panels on our roofs? Or pay the premium for totally green power? There's an area of psychology devoted to working out why we don't do the things we ought to do: the study of heuristics and biases.
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There are many ways in which we kid ourselves that everything is going to be okay, and that our judgement about where things are headed can be trusted. When I first started thinking about this business of behaviour, I thought the reason we can't turn the heater down is because we are hardwired for amelioration. We're always looking for ways to make our lives better: better than they were before, and better than the next guy's. If we weren't, I thought, we'd still be living in caves eating the occasional raw trilobite.
In that case, it's easy to see why so little is being done to deal with climate change. It's hard to turn down the heater if you're hardwired to want to be more comfortable, and hard to turn down your heater when the other guy might not be turning down his.
And with every improvement we make, our notion of the tolerable shrinks.
The idea of living in an unheated house in Hobart, or an un-airconditioned house in Darwin, is harder to see as a possibility. Then I remembered a story told to me by a filmmaker friend. She was making a documentary about the Afar people in Africa, who live in the hottest place in the world. Every day at 1. The filmmakers were running late, so they asked the people if they would take the goats out at two o'clock. No, that was impossible. The goats go out at 1. They'd always been taken out at 1.
Taking the goats out at 1. For the Afar, the margin for error is zero.
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Over generations, taught by who knows what disasters, they worked out that the safest time to take the goats out is 1. Innovation — and the attendant risk of failure — is a luxury that their environment doesn't allow them. What we're hardwired for is not one kind of behaviour over another. We're hardwired for learning from experience, and then setting it firm with the glue of culture. And this is exactly what neuroscience is discovering: there's a mechanism at work in the brain that rewards correct predictions, and another that gets excited when expectations are wrong.
Whatever has worked for us in the past — well, that's what we're going to keep doing. Trouble is, learning from experience is a luxury we're not going to have this time. Nature, that conscientious engineer, has made sure there are redundancies in our design. We have two kidneys, two eyes; we can store glucose in the muscles as well as the liver. So we might ask: Did nature know there'd be times when learning from experience wouldn't save us? Did she provide us with some other hardwiring as well? Like many people, I was once a smoker. I knew about lung cancer, but I went on smoking.
Information, cognition, intellect: these weren't enough to stop me lighting up. I don't smoke now, and I remember what changed.
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I rather fancied a young man, a bit of a hippie and health fanatic. We were getting on famously until the day I lit up in front of him.
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I can still see the look on his face: surprise, puzzlement, disgust. He took a step back, and I saw him recalibrating his idea of me. What happened in those few seconds was powerful enough to make me do something that no amount of information had enabled me to do: that afternoon I chucked away the packet of Drum and started running instead of smoking. I had seen myself through his eyes. I felt his disgust as my own. That broke through the walls of resistance I'd constructed around the idea of quitting. It gave me a new perspective: not a cognitive one, but an emotional one — one of empathy.
I think this means that nature has given us another mechanism for impelling change; and that mechanism works through emotion. She's also given us a tool for harnessing that emotional response, and the people who are experts at building just that kind of tool. The tool is art, and those people are artists. I came across an artwork: a line of many white poles of different heights.
I walked closer, where the poles weren't a line but in fact doubled back on themselves to enclose a space — and in order to read a second sign, I stepped into the space. The exact dimensions are outlined by these 42 poles. I was standing in the middle of the boat that had somehow contained four hundred people, all but forty-seven of whom had drowned.
My throat closed, and I wasn't sure I could go on breathing. Something happened around my middle, something tremulous and frantic. My eyes seemed to darken; the colours of the morning bleached into black and white. I felt my face lengthen as all the muscles loosened and my jaw sagged. The sun was still shining but I was cold. I wanted to lie down and roll into a ball and howl. All this was an effect that hadn't been achieved by reading the numbers, or the worthy words about kindness.
As I stood on that patch of Canberra grass I went through an experience beyond my control.
In that moment, when art takes us into a place where normal thinking is suspended, it feels like the brain is turning from one mode to another: as if a switch is thrown and understanding finds another path; not the path of cognition, but some other more concealed one.
Neuroscientists are discovering that we're hardwired for language, but not for reading, so when we're first confronted with that challenge our brain has no ready-made path for it. The brain makes use of existing circuitry designed for other purposes. It cobbles together the functions of many different parts of the brain and combines them in new ways, to process this new thing: reading. Once we learn to read, we no longer have to use bits and pieces of circuitry from all over the brain: we make a new path, a short cut.
In the most literal way, learning to read creates new brain circuitry. The neuroscientists I've read don't extrapolate that idea to the art experience, but I'm prepared to. Confronted with a rich piece of art — oblique, original and surprising — the brain has no readymade circuitry to process it. Just as it did with the challenge of learning to read, the brain will put a whole lot of pre-existing circuits together in new ways. If I'm right, experiencing art can create new circuits, new ways of thinking, new tools that the brain can then use for other purposes.
That feeling we have, that a work of art has flipped the switch over to some new kind of thinking, is genuine. Operating below the level of conscious thought, it can change the brain. As Kafka famously said, a book is an axe for the frozen sea within us. The rising of the spring stirred a serious, mystical excitement in him, and made him forgetful of her. He would pick up eggshells, a bird's wing, a jawbone, the ashy fragment of a wasp's nest. He would peer at each of them with the most absolute attention, and then put them in his pockets, where he kept his jackknife and his loose change.
He would peer at them as if he could read them, and pocket them as if he could own them. This is death in my hand, this is ruin in my breast pocket, where I keep my reading glasses. At such times he was as forgetful of her as he was of his suspenders and his Methodism, but all the same it was then that she loved him best, as a soul all unaccompanied, like her own.
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For others, it might not. That's one of the things about art — people disagree about it. You could almost say that if it doesn't make people argue, it's not art. It's not just because it's ambiguous; there's something else going on as well. Each of us brings our own experiences, memories and prejudices to a work of art and looks at it through that unique lens. In this sense, a work is made afresh by each reader, and even by the same reader at different moments. Each reader is enriched by the writing in a way unique to them. Far from being a weakness, this is one of art's sources of power.
Each time a work of art enters another consciousness, it shape-shifts to engage with what's already in that consciousness. We make the work of art ours. It starts to look as though art might have unique qualities relevant to the problem of resisting change. It can alter brains. And, once it's broken through, the new way of thinking doesn't feel like something that's come from outside; it feels like part of our very selves.
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