Godwin is Dead

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December 2018

How to be an Academic by Inger Mewburn review

Life Choices:
Vocation in a Casualised Work World

'In this era where most analyses of the university and academic labour thrum with words like ‘neoliberal’, ‘corporate’, ‘precariat’ and ‘para-academic’, we might be forgiven for greeting the term ‘vocation’ with a snort or a curl of the lip. Is it really possible – or more to the point, is it really desirable or fair? – for young academics today to consider their work a vocation, calling or mission? Surely, the marketised, casualised university has turned the idea of vocation into a sick joke, the kind of self-punishing ideal that Lauren Berlant describes as ‘cruel optimism’: ‘when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing’. Or has it? Can the people that academic and blogger Inger Mewburn calls the ‘New Academics’ – those who, like her, have never known a university that was anything but precarious, who are both the product of the contemporary university and its future workforce — can they have a vocation?'

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

November 2018

Solid Space: Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina and Art Comics

Comics seem to find critical acclaim in the mainstream only under certain conditions. First, they must deal with bleakly mature themes. Second, they must do so in a cartoony style that belies their seriousness, to paraphrase their mainstream reviewers. (What comics style isn’t somehow cartoony?) The graphic novel section in any given bookstore thus leans towards warzone journalism, family drama and wrenching confessionals. Despite constant reminders that comics have grown up, the non-comics reading public probably picture them less as a medium fulfilling its potential, than as one held back after class and tasked with writing multiple essays on very heady topics, as punishment for earlier mischief-making. Cementing but also subverting this image is Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina, which, in a first for comics, was longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize.

Man Out of Time by Stephanie Bishop cover

Loops and Layers

Time is fluid in Stephanie Bishop’s new novel Man Out of Time, an intimate portrait of a family breaking down. The narration is split between the points of view of Stella, her mother Frances, and her father Leon. Bishop captures the fluctuations of her characters’ consciousnesses so closely that the reader experiences narrative time in loops and layers as memories are uncovered and reintegrated into her characters’ thoughts. Leon is the man ‘out of time’ as he tries to salvage the family unit; his own perception of time is distorted by mental illness; and he ultimately runs out of time to save his own life.

Logic in the Ash

Hooper dug through court transcripts, documents and interviews to recreate the Black Saturday bushfires and inquest and to present a context for her account of Brendan Sokaluk’s crimes. If not handled carefully, reconstruction narratives can turn stories into unsolvable puzzles.  This is because they derive their narrative coherence from atomised sources that often conflict with each other. While Hooper does allow her multiple characters many digressions,  The Arsonist achieves its clarity through strict linear chronology.

Vegan the cookbook

Cookbooks of the Damned

While ideas don’t change all at once, they don’t just change alone, and some wave of slow change has been moving through the world, stripping the vegan of their ascetic tone and dressing them in liveliness, industriousness and fun. Like the pilot, the vegan accesses a special level of the world, an open sky of free passage and moral certainty. Like the skies, this level is attainable in theory, but in practice appears distant and inhospitable, the instruments for getting there arcane. As with gods, we find earthly ways to sample its texture.

Iron

Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

Taking Back the Island

Too Much Lip is, of course, not the first novel to include family violence or to expose its colonial roots. There are, however, risks with telling stories like these. Non-Indigenous readers could fail to recognise the strength of culture to mitigate intergenerational trauma, and not understand its roots in colonial violence and systemic racism. Some readers might see the Salters through an over-used deficit model, or believe they have the solutions to ‘fix’ Indigenous families. Instead, the Salters’ story shows how ineffective governments have been in trying to patch up the wounds of colonisation through paternalistic and draconian approaches.

Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin

The Drowned and the Saved: Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin

The work of ‘proving a hypothesis’ could hardly be more alien to Tumarkin. Instead, she is concerned with examining difficult events and experiences: paying attention, being emotionally and intellectually active, while refusing to let the consequences of tragedy, bravery, cruelty, care, or indifference go unnoticed, unexamined or unfelt.

A Drenched Texture

Like so many writers, I turned to this paltry profession precisely because I couldn’t handle the other, more demanding dimensions of life. As a demographic, writers struggle with what others regard as ‘reality’, and we are thereby driven to provide our own fictional supplements to the oppressive regimes of the real. For this reason, I’m generally disinclined towards anyone with a talent for fiction who is also a winner in other, realer ways. If a man is tall, handsome, and a deft hand at reality television – I ask what business he has wading into the nervous territory of writers, who have only their power to generate alternative realities to tranquilise their abnormal eccentricities.

Arthur Rimbaud in NY (Subway)

Howl Sky

Click Here For What We Do by Pam Brown

A Nose For Furphies: Click Here For What We Do by Pam Brown

Pam Brown’s poems are not inimical to close reading, but they do resist it. What they seem to encourage, however, is a new mode of conceptual criticism: one that thinks about the conceptual on the line – and even the word – level (rather than that of the project, say). The short poetic segments that make up each whole provide (potentially infinite) new takes on the matter at hand: as extensions, corrections, additions, relocations. Brown’s poetry suggests reading as an active process: the poem being made as you read, not the poem waiting for your interpretation.

Imaginative Expansions

Beveridge’s fascination with the tactility and suggestiveness of names is really only a part of her interest in the sounds of the language themselves. It’s something we expect from lyric (or lyrical) poets but it isn’t always as overt and developed as it is in Beveridge’s poems.

Mrs Osmond by John Banville

The Ghostwriters of Henry James

Tales from a Master’s Notebook is an appreciation of James’s creative imagination. I mean, it is an appreciation in the strong sense in which James used that word, to denote not a languid state of passive admiration, but an active process of interpretation and production, both critical and creative, whereby the maximum value of a situation could be discovered and set forth. Appreciation in this sense is central to James’s conception of art. ‘My report of people’s experience – my report as a “story-teller” – is essentially my appreciation of it’, James wrote in the Preface to The Princess Casamassima, ‘and there is no “interest” for me in what my hero, my heroine or any one else does save through that admirable process.’

No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani
The Sydney Wars by Stephen Gapps

We Are All Truth-Tellers Now

'Cultural scholarship is usually contentious, let alone the kinds of scholarship that infer knowledge about the deep past from limited and fragile sources, but points of scholarly consensus around the autochthonous culture of Australia before and during the transitional phase of European ‘contact’ and then European colonisation have emerged and joined over the last 60 years or so to form extraordinary history, a history that Indigenous narrative traditions were always inviting the non-Indigenous imagination to engage with. '

October 2018

The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins

Found by Trouble

The authors share a lyrical sensibility and a finely-tuned sense of how the fantastical and the mundane, the hopeful and the brutal, are woven together in the stories which define our communities.

Piano Man

In his pronouncements on art throughout this book, Unsworth constantly reiterates that he saw very little art, read very few art magazines and arrived at his own conclusions – whatever parallels seemed to be apparent were simply happy coincidences and fortuitous parallel trajectories. At least, that is the position adopted in this book, where the artist’s voice is omnipresent and the intentional fallacy is not a consideration.

The Lakeside House

Melaleuca, the little yellow cottage Judith and Jack once owned...

Crudo by Olivia Laing

Some Devoted Act of Seeing:
Crudo by Olivia Laing

In Crudo, Laing’s most recent book and her debut novel, the ground has shifted again. She is still an outsider – this is, for Laing, the natural position for an artist – but her point of view – an auto-fictional eye, principally narrated in the third person, who borrows from the life and work of Kathy Acker – is directed towards the inner life and the picture theatre of the mind.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Our Root Problem: The Overstory by Richard Powers

‘Words before words’: in opposition to several hundred years of humanist ideology, Powers’ twelfth novel insists, from its very first page, on meaning as something other than, and more than, the projection of culture upon nature’s blank screen. Trees, we will later be told, are ‘making significance, making meaning, as easily as they make sugar and wood from nothing, from air, and sun, and rain’. Indeed, Powers strives throughout to suggest how the would-be-autonomous sphere of human meaning depends upon those deeper orders that it has, in the modern era, gone to such pains to dismiss.

Intertwining

Jill Jones. Photo by Annette Willis
Heaven, in a way, by Rodney Hall

Little Heart

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

A Family of Disguises

'This preoccupation with the secret histories woven through the pages of official histories is signalled by the novel’s unattributed epigraph, ‘most of the great battles are fought in the creases of topographical maps’. It’s an extension of Ondaatje’s larger preoccupation with the question of how we understand and imagine ourselves into being, or more specifically, the ways in which that process is always provisional, subject to change and able to be shed, sometimes more than once. As Olive Lawrence tells Nathaniel and Rachel, ‘your own story is just one, and perhaps not the important one. The self is not the principal thing’.'

Fieldwork

What are we doing here? by Marilynne Robinson

Attack of the Numinous

Robinson may be the moderate face of American religiosity, but she takes some pretty wild swings. The more you read her essays, the more it becomes apparent that she is positing a few simplicities of her own. Whatever manifestation of modern thought she happens to be criticising, her argument is basically the same: she proposes, in essence, that such thinking is too narrow, that it ignores or denies aspects of lived experience, and that its understanding of human nature must therefore be considered inadequate. She returns again and again to the core claim that modern thought is, as she puts it in Absence of Mind (2012), a ‘closed circle’ — by which she means, quite specifically, that its assumptions do not and indeed cannot account for her personal experience of religious belief, her intuition that the universe is a place of wonder and abundant meaning.