April 2019

Robert Harris Redux

'Robert Harris is an Australian poet of the highest order. He is also a curmudgeon, a contrarian, a nature lover, a working-class Romantic, a navy recruit who detested nationalism, a lyrical memoirist, a historical dramatist and one of Australia’s finest religious poets.' 

Running Man: Coach Fitz by Tom Lee

Lee is by turns satirist and survivor of the New Victorianism. On a jog through Woollahra’s Trumper Park, Tom dreams conventional dreams of a house in the bush, a place for he and a loving partner to raise ‘a number of virile and sensitive children’ with landscape needs of their own. The middle-class dream is out of reach for now, but his religious devotion to physical fitness is the means by which he dreams it. He doesn’t just display the idea that ritual exercise on an organic diet is morally good, he believes it is spiritually good. Wellness, as we now call it—or sell it—is a condition devoutly to be wished, the hard-earned product of what Coach refers to as ‘lifestyle ambitions of a more enduring nature.’

Spooks and Plants:
on the crime fiction of Michael Wilding

'Back in the 1970s Wilding’s column for the alert, even radical, Nation Review was entitled ‘Paranoia’ and delved into possible modes of contemporary thought-control, even at times suggesting material was being ‘planted’ upon authors like himself. In the crime novels the detective Plant seems like his author’s own implantation, not just as the source of a reviewers’ joke, but a seed from which information might slowly burgeon before the reader’s eye.' 

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The SRB is an initiative of The Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University

March 2019

At The Limits of Liberalism: The Enigmatic Mr Deakin

Why then is Brett’s new biography important? It is important, because, written with conspicuous skill and economy, it is the leading continuation and affirmation of Deakin’s liberal-progressive life and work in our own troubled times of short parliaments and major geopolitical changes – the rise of China at a time of uncertainty about US leadership in the world today. It is important because, in those ways, it offers the most rational defence of Deakin’s nation against the changes he already saw the need to guard it against. But while the biography presents the face of liberal reason and a sharp, though still sympathetic psychological and political portrait, it generates a certain silence. Its greatest importance may indeed be that it takes us to the limits of its liberal comfort zone. For at that limit, it becomes possible to see how the biography’s minimal history represents the ongoing liberal denial of the geopolitical reality that was a mainspring of federation.

The New Natural Histories of Mushrooms

Fungi are integral to the functioning of ecosystems; we ignore them (and it seems that in our environmental legislation we do ignore them) at our peril. But this ignoring, sometimes bordering on outright hostility, is being slowly, partially corrected by a literature on fungi and a culture of fungal regard emerging (shiitake-style) from the woodwork (a woodwork they will perhaps go on to devour, if they’ve learnt anything from the wood-rotting fungi that Pouliot proudly claims have sunk more ships than all the naval battles since 1600).

Fascist Creeps

‘For once, the person that will be called a fascist is an actual fascist.’ In the manifesto disseminated before his murderous attack on Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, Brenton Tarrant proclaims openly the political tradition to which he belongs. But what, precisely, does it mean to be an ‘actual fascist’ in the second decade of the twenty-first century? We might tease out an answer through a selection of recent books, most of which take as their key reference point the US presidential election of 2016.

Second City

‘The Conundrum of the Instant’: on John Mateer

John Mateer, over a long career, has been a poet of distance and locale, working with a continental sense of poetics, traversing land and sea in an inquiry into the nature of an historically-framed instant.

Everything Is A Sham

What makes Moshfegh an uncommon writer is that beneath the scorn and the dark humour there lurks an authentic Swiftian disgust. Her work has a corporeal, rebarbative, scatological quality. She revels in the grubbiness of the human body, splashes the ordure around like a preschooler in a muddy puddle. Her characters smell bad. And this recurring note of fascinated distaste makes it hard to disentangle their misanthropy from their self-loathing.

Best in Show:
Australian Art Exhibitions: Opening our eyes

'The considerable achievement of this book has been to chart the various curatorial paths and strategies adopted by people working both inside and outside the official art establishment and the discussion of the fascinating intersections between these various paths.'

February 2019

The Hot Desk:
Working Hot by Mary Fallon

Working Hot is a novel about dykes in Sydney, written with an experimental verve that still dazzles today. Author Mary Fallon was 38 when she published it. I was 23, writing short fiction, working in Abbey’s Bookshop to pay the rent, and unsure of my sexuality. I remember reading The Kinsey Report out the back during lunch hour and being blown away by all the gay sex in 1950s USA. If, I calculated, there was the proverbial 10 per cent back then, surely now there were that many more. Indeed, in late 1980s Sydney, it didn’t take long to find sexy dykes, for this was the beginning of an explosion of queer female performativity in bars and at parties, overtly and often abjectly sexual, that has never abated, despite myriad oppressive forces. What the wildest girls did on stage infected our entire community, making Sydney one of the dirtiest, dykiest places on earth, if not the.

Worlds at Home: on Sneja Gunew

'It is, then, at the interface of the post-multicultural and the neo-cosmopolitan that Gunew locates her project, aimed at opening up a different engagement with a world in which older models for imagining the relationship between the local, the national and the global have lost currency. In calling her project pedagogical she clearly indicates its ambition: to teach new ways of looking at cross-cultural and global relations. However, she also insists that she has no intention of telling readers what to think. Hers is a ‘stammering pedagogy’, a tentative process ‘suggesting differences without providing comprehensive answers’. Her method involves forms of denaturalisation or estrangement as means to ‘enable receptivity to other ways of “being at home in the world”’.'

Fourteen of the Best:
Les Murray’s Collected Poems

'How then to deal with this vast collection of poems? Synecdoche may be the best approach. I’ve long asserted both privately and in print, and not always light-heartedly, that it is only by the poet’s best fourteen poems that he or she is remembered. Of course, the number is arbitrary; it could be thirteen,  fifteen or twenty but certainly not forty. A few poets have had to be posthumously content with one or two. Over time, however, due mainly to the work of successive anthologists and a few scholars, the poems that may once have filled six collections, or thirty, are filtered back to the fourteen or so that will reappear in anthologies every few years for the next century or two. This is not just laziness among compilers. There are good reasons why these fourteen should be re-run. Which then are Murray’s fourteen? I'

Ultima Thule: BlakWork by Alison Whittaker

Whittaker uses English as both an object of ridicule and a tool of empowerment. In subverting the conventional rules of usage, she makes it her own. In her hand, English does and says and tells a different story. Audre Lorde said that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. And they won’t. But Blak writers like Whittaker use these tools to carve out their own spaces to build other story – to re-story Country with the old stories, and to create new ones.