Excerpts from:

The Secret of Happiness

Prototype Fictional Biography of Paula Dawson

Exhibition installationThe fictional biography was launched at an exhibition at the Ian Potter Gallery, University of Melbourne in March 1994. What follows is the Preface and Glossary from the prototype biography which was designed for the exhibition. The full text contained in addition a Table of Contents, Chronology, Credits, Index, but no text.

Biography still under construction


The prototype edition contains the life of Paula Dawson in its embryonic form. This `text-less' edition offers readers a view of the framework on which the final life will be woven. As a mere biographical shell, the identity presented here of Paula Dawson will probably appear to most as ghostly and fragmented. Given the current taste for forms which are broken and incomplete, this emptiness might actually be preferable to the final version in some readers' eyes -- it offers itself as a literary equivalent of `installation art' which provides space for visitors to move around and appear to make sense of the work for themselves. While the author is happy at this stage for readers to take whatever pleasure they can from its incompleteness, he would not like to alienate those who demand their story fully fleshed and plausible. This prototype is not intended to replace the final `seamless' version which will hopefully emerge in the future.

The challenge of this prototype version lies squarely in the hands of yourself, the reader. Never before have you been offered such an opportunity to have a say in the development of a biographical persona. You betThe hero of this narrative is still very much `under negotiation'. What you have in your hands is an `ambit claim': a certain habitus (the `key' to P.D.'s life should be accessible to attentive readers), intellectual milieu, biographical `scars' and a handful of concrete details. There is much yet to be determined. Will P.D. live happily ever after or does some cruel nemesis occur? How does P.D. confront her antithesis -- the parade leaders of world history? Was she visited by aliens as a child? Please avail yourself of any means by which your thoughts on this matter might be made known.


A lack of interest in scratching. The sufferer of this condition is fully capable of experiencing internal sensation, though this never manifests itself in the form of an itch. There is no known physiological correlate such as damage to subcutaneous nerve cells. The most likely cause is psychosomatic, perhaps due to a fixation of conscious attention on external objects. The existence of this condition has been of some concern to metaphysicians, who find in it disproof of Plato's argument that all pleasure is linked to the relief of pain (see Philebus).
The repetition of tactile sensation. The sufferer of this condition will unexpectantly re-experience touching an apparently trivial object, such as a long lost handbag, or the fur of a once stroked cat. None of these experiences are associated with memories that might be considered traumatic, such as the sharp corners one might encounter as an infant. The innocuous twinges of the lost object suggest a deeply rooted uncertainty about the passing of time. What has puzzled many about this condition is not so much its rarity, but that its incidence should never in fact have been recorded. No sufferers of this condition have ever been discovered. How is it that the body's ability to erase memories of physical contact should be so universal?
A flashback. Against the linear flow of time that characterises standard narrative, it is sometimes useful to include a glimpse back to a time before the current events. The linguistic structure housing this relapse often takes the form of: `Who would have thought, five years ago, when... that things would come to this.' (See final scene of Stanley Kubrick's film, The Shining.)
A defect of vision in which focal lengths appear in different planes; applies also to emotions.
The state of presence.
Computer Generated Hologram Fair go
deja vu
An uncanny experience of having lived the moment once before. Unlike analepsis (see above), this relapse occurs as part of an individual's consciousness. From a rational conception of time as a linear dimension, this condition appears to be a defect in the recogition of `presence'. From Nietzsche's understanding of the `eternal recurrence of the same', deja vu appears as the most normal ground for the experience of time -- the understanding of the present moment as unique and transitory thus becomes the exception. What is more exceptional is then the forgetting which characterises the bulk of lived experience, apart from the anamnesis which now and then slips through.
For an extended definition of holography and its variants, see Paula Dawson: A User's Manual (Volume 2 of fictional biography).
Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Relevent processes include: pulsed laser ablation of materials, both for patterning purposes as well as for the deposition of single and multi-layer thin films of semiconductors, photoconductors, dielectrics, metals, etc; laser, or lamp-assisted chemical vapour deposition of continuous and patterned thin films, atomic layer epitaxy; and focused laser beam-induced desorption, ablation, deposition or modification of thin films for marking, recording and mask production or repair.
Medium in which the world is made knowable Nonpostscopia
An inability to form afterimages. The sufferer of this condition is unable to experience the complementary colours and movements which follow prolonged staring at a single object. While no obvious disability appears to result from this condition, there are associated effects, such as an extreme resistance to hypnosis. The cause of this condition is thought to be an extremely intense emotional encounter with light in early childhood.
The experience of being the same as everyone else. The sufferer of this condition seeks objects which conform to a standard complex of features, such as: foods which are crisp, crunchy or fluffy; goods and services that are convenient form the focus of material needs; and locations which are warm and sunny. Physical mannerisms include frequent smiling, yawning when tired and clapping hands in the presence of performers. This condition is found around the globe regardless of climate, language and population density.
A love of light. Sufferers of this condition take pleasure from colourful and intense light phenonema such as sunsets, rainbows and lightning. Its incidence is often linked with the condition of normality (see above). In its more highly developed forms, it manifests as a particular appetite for poetic light events, such as sunlight filtered through a restless tree, or late morning sun on a steaming bathing pool. Photophilia complements scopophilia, which is the more active visual pleasure taken from gazing at particular things. This has its normal expression in the enjoyment at seeing beautiful objects such as flowers and the young Elvis Presley. Unlike photophilia, however, scopophilia has its perverse side, documented by Sigmund Freud, in the obsession with looking at the sexual parts of others.
Geological epoch which lasted approximately from one and a half million till ten thousand years ago. During it four major ice ages occurred. The first part of the quaternary period (see below).
A celebration of local cultures remaining after colonisation process.
A glimpse of things to come. The linear flow of time which accompanies standard narratives jumps forward to a future event which often tells of the story's outcome. The linguistic structure housing this leap forward often takes a form such as: `Little did she know that in five years time she would be...' (See opening scene of Clint Eastwood's film In a Perfect World.)
Geological period comprising both pleistocene (see above) and recent.
square theory
A philosophical moment which argues for the retention of universalist values (e.g., Euclidian geometry, dialectics, symmetry) within a relativistic framework (e.g., just one of many ways of looking at it). It arose as a necessary opposition to queer theory.
Black hole (literally, `meal of the stars').
virtual hologram
A hologram designed for the sightless. Witnesses must wear a pair of VR gloves on which resistance is felt which is determined by a computer generated sculpture.
Paula Dawson