Languages of Loss and Renewal: A Wordweave│Narrowneck: A Communal Photo Journal

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This two-part collaborative post by James Dunk, Freya MacDonald, Christine McFetridge, Cameron Muir, Anastasia Murney, Lynda Ng, Kate Stevens, and Jamie Wang is the twelfth post in the Emotional Ecologies series edited by Sarah York-Bertram and Jessica DeWitt. In this series, contributors were asked to reflect on what role emotion plays in connecting humans to their environment and more-than-human beings.

“Languages of Loss and Renewal: A Wordweave”

a poetry performance

by the slow weavers

Lexicons and glossaries organise language into structures, defining words and fixing the relations between them. They also gather communities, real and imagined, humans and other-than-humans around their particular configurations of language and emotional valence. 

As we weave, slowly, spaces, times and matter are indexed through a spoken choreography of 





//Living things//

//Death words//






Radical hope

These new words, reclaimed words, portmanteau ones, draw connections and affect within more-than-human worlds, seeking to (re)story the past, mobilise the present, direct the future. In this collaborative, audio-based poem, we guide each other, and listeners to a slowing and a stillness. We find words of loss, and then listen anew for the sounds and words of life and connection. Through the arrangement of words and silence that are punctuated by, while holding onto, the tension of diverse emotions, we suggest paths of renewal that run through the silence of death and extinction into the untamed noise of life. 

This poem demonstrates the way our affects are changing – being changed and changing us – and weaving new, renewed communities together. It invites the listeners to record their own emotions and words that surface while listening, and attend to affective words and worlds in their own lives which carry a sense of history and connections to place.

slow weavers: James Dunk, Freya MacDonald, Christine McFetridge, Cameron Muir, Anastasia Murney, Lynda Ng, Kate Stevens, Jamie Wang

Narrowneck: A Communal Photo Journal

by James Dunk, Christine McFetridge, Cameron Muir, Anastasia Murney, and Jamie Wang

James: We came together from diverse disciplines to experiment with slow, relational scholarship, asking how in the Anthropocene people were reaching for new language to grapple with collapsing places, unaccountable losses, unwelcome novelties, and the looming presence of the planet. After meeting on screens through the long tail of the pandemic, our research collective spent three days together in real, proximate life, in a house looking over Narrowneck Plateau, from a ridge above the Megalong Valley in the Upper Blue Mountains, as well as spending time with two remarkable hosts. Richard White, a cultural historian who writes iconoclastically about Australian national consciousness, led us through his sloping Leura garden, flowers bursting in every colour. Paul Rhodes, a critical psychologist working on climate distress, showed us his studio, almost as colourful, where technologies of self were splayed across canvases and heavy paper on walls and shelves, propped up, laying down, chaotic and wonderful. We prepared and ate meals, washed dishes, walked and talked and wondered together, and wrote, and wrote. Those who couldn’t join us still joined us at a remove, walking and writing when we walked and wrote and calling into our midst. And we entered the bush each day – not climbing peaks, to ‘stand on top of rocks,’ as someone put it, but plunging down into green valleys watered by La Niña. We walked in silence, mostly, bodies and minds reaching out to the water, stones, moss, stone steps, mud, birdsong, fern, eucalypt, and the endless little symphony of the stream. We thought about how language captures these things and doesn’t, about what mediates between our selves and senses and these places, beings and formations.

Christine: This was my first trip as an uninvited guest on unceded Dharug and Gundungurra Country. I found myself drawn to the Megalong Valley and watched, almost obsessively, the ways the light and weather changed.

Annie: The light began to fade and then became bright again, the clouds shielding and accentuating the light, filtering out the red and orange of the sun and creating bursts of white. As we watched, speaking occasionally, I began to reflect on what it means to be out of sync, to anticipate the fall of night and be thrust back into day.

Cameron: But we’re wary of the sublime. We talk about the turmoil happening elsewhere, and even here in this protected, privileged place. We can feel elated, and we can feel the hurt in this ground, we can feel at peace in a shared moment, and we can feel pressing threats – all at once.

James: Morning. I sit above the valley hearing what might be a soundscape layered into what might be a landscape, a competition between the roaring of the nearby highway and the tentative chirrups and clipped songs of the birds of the valley, some tributary of the Megalong. Ancient fuels explode in a desperate, prozaic quest. The birds sings quietly. The mist slips away. The gums drip and shiver in a slow breeze.

Cameron: Here’s a little test – practice attentiveness to place with little prep for the location itself. Usually I immerse myself in the history and words of a given area – its deep history, Indigenous histories, continuing entangled histories, poetry and art. Then, its species and ecological interactions, before finally, spending time walking and listening. History, poetics, ecology, presence/attention. It’s a sort of process, or practice, or ritual, for finding a way along, acknowledging its richness, gaining some sense of its agency and communication and buzzing connections between things. Then it might speak to you.

Annie: We walked down to the Pool of Siloam in silence, treading carefully and deliberately on the sandstone steps, slick with leaves. The original Siloam is the lowest place in the city of Jerusalem, used by pilgrims for ritual purification. When we reached the bottom, I stood and watched the steady flow of water over layers of rock. I dipped my hand into the cold, clean water.

Cameron: Active falls are gushing all around us, the overhangs trickling with the filtered water of recent rains, dripping on our heads, splashing on the path. The sandstone steps we’re walking on were quarried from ancient sediments laid in shallow oceans and lakes. Streams spent millions of years incising into the rock to create the valley we’re descending. Eventually, we slow our walking and our minds. This seems to be a theme for us.

Christine: We returned again and again to ‘care’, guided by Thom van Dooren’s writing, aware of its complexities but sensing its crucial role in this project, to the space we shared—care-fully—with each other and the non-human world around us. The wordshop privileged relationality: after years of recurrent lockdowns, spending time with friends to share meals and many cups of tea, while thinking critically and theorising about our work together, was restorative.

Annie: We put a question to the cards, and to each other: how should we produce a collaborative piece of writing. As we uncovered the cards, our reading became more textured and nuanced as we drew relationships between them and constructed interpretive layers.

James: Situation: a calmness, finished with some task, surveying, sending out ships, looking for new things. The problem is the receptive, responsive, relational: we may not simply stride out and do as we please, but must listen, wait, receive, respond. The recent past is a sword carving the sky. The near future, leaving the city, or tower, in freedom. The wands call effortlessly, with a magnetic power.

Annie: A possible outcome: the Moon, the card of the imagination, madness and ‘lunacy’. Embrace the strangeness within, join with the creatures that crawl out in the full moon. What is the ‘id’ wildness that comes to the surface, the uncontrolled sensations that cannot be tamed? The lunar is to think with animals and monsters, dreams and hallucinations, to displace the disembodied intellect. 

Two historians overlook the Narrowneck plateau
Photo by Cameron Muir.

Jamie: How does the forest feel that day, was the air damp were the trees chatty? Did you touch the leaves, did they touch you back? A few weeks ago, my half body and I were in another body of greens. We were told: walk as if your feet are ears (from Pauline Oliveros’ way of deep listening). My feet tried to map—my pulse to contexts to the gills I might once have had to the sonic world of the forest, but my mind was louder than my ear. I realised: my feet were deaf, just like I no longer could hear the moon. Your card remembers the moon, the wolves and their calling, for one other. When did the moon stop talking to us, from the day a flag was planted in its tongue? If we could look further hear deeper touch more gently taste respectfully smell the trepidation and joy in the air, do we then, have hope to become with a wider world?

James Dunk is a research fellow in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Sydney. His current research projects explore planetary health and Australian eco-anxiety and he co-leads an interdisciplinary project on climate distress.

Freya MacDonald is a Doctoral Fellow at SEI and a PhD candidate in the Department of English at the University of Sydney. Her research interest is in fictive representations of lived experiences of and emotional responses to the climate crisis in Australia. 

Christine McFetridge is a settler New Zealander based on unceded Wadawurrung Country. She is a photographer, researcher and writer, and a PhD candidate and sessional staff in the School of Art at RMIT University.

Cameron Muir is a writer and environmental historian. He is co-editor (with Kirsten Wehner and Jenny Newell) of the literary anthology, Living with the Anthropocene (2020).

Anastasia Murney is a sessional academic at the University of New South Wales and currently teaches across contemporary art, activism, and environmental humanities. Her thesis on feminist speculative fiction is currently being translated into a book entitled Messy Aesthetics: Anarcha-feminist Worldmaking.

Lynda Ng is an Honorary Associate with the School of Languages and Cultures at the University of Sydney. She is a postcolonial scholar and the editor of Indigenous Transnationalism: Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria (2018).

Kate Stevens (Pākehā/settler) is senior lecturer in history at the University of Waikato, Aotearoa New Zealand. Her research focuses on comparative histories of environmental, legal, and economic exchange in the Pacific world.

Jamie Wang is an environmental humanities researcher, writer and poet, and a Research Assistant Professor in the department of literature and cultural studies at the Education University of Hong Kong.

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