From CC (and keep these witty contributions coming. Wonderful! eds.)

The Alchemy of Our(UWS)oborotic sustainablilty

‘Bringing Sustainablility to Life’
(http://www.uws.edu.au/sustainability/sustainability)

The ouroboros is a snake that bites (or eats) its own tail. Last week Jan wrote asking us to celebrate ‘diversity’ at the same time the looneyversity contemplates reducing its offerings in favour of a(n) (un)palatable special blend of limitless virtual ‘pud’ (it might look edible to some, but where’s the nutritional value in lite fast food?). This week it’s an email from Gary that’s giving me indigestion. In a novel form of sustainability (a self-proclaimed priority ‘value’), we’re being asked to financially support our own students through ‘Staff Giving UWS Community Scholarships’. Gary writes that ‘[t]hrough UWS Staff Giving you can make automated, regular donations from your pre-tax salary to support our students’. Give us a go, Gazza. Some of us are already hit at least twice. We pay our taxes, and support our kids while they’re at a looneyversity somewhere racking up their hefty pre-mortgages. As it is, many of us donate through forms of unpaid labor, and through subsidizing our professional activities (conference travel, anyone?). The Staff Giving Scholarships make a nice story, presumably this is why we need an online ‘Giving Newsroom’ devoted to the process of broadcasting donation. Perhaps we could have a ‘Newsroom’ for the imminent cuts to student ‘choice’ (aka scholarly diversity), or for staff dissatisfaction with the performance of senior management? Or, more in keeping with the traditional role newsrooms play in the monitoring of crises, how about one for the fact that such a low percentage of staff feel emotionally well at work (almost half presumably don’t)? I’m perplexed as to how the SGS’s amount to anything more than a tiny ‘hill of beans’ in a financially mined looneyversity market-place where students spend more and more money they can’t afford on less and less? Which brings me back to the ouroboros, the figure that, in our times at least, unites the mouth and the anus. The magic pudding is really a black hole. Mythologically, the ouroboros represents self-generation and rebirth. It was also used as an alchemical symbol in the practice of a pseudoscience that sought the transformation of base elements (kinds of excremental matter, if you like) into gold. In contemporary times, with our disdain for animal rights and good nutrition (we grow and harvest animals for food that have been fed their own corpses which is how ‘mad cow’ disease spread), the figure of the ouroboros takes on a different fundamental meaning. We’ve learnt to devour rather than regenerate ourselves. Thomas Harris was onto it. Navigating the ‘Giving Newsroom’, I’m faced with the option of making a bequest which I’m told is ‘a powerful way to support the University of Western Sydney in perpetuity at a level that may not be possible during your lifetime’. So death is no escape, after all. In an exercise in sustainability, in what turns out to be an alchemically inspired recycling process, I’m confronted with the possibility of commodifying my lifeless remains, miraculously converting excrement (pace Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror) into a shiny buck. It all leaves a rather bad taste in my mouth.

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