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.
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.
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.
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.’
'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. '
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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.
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.
‘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.
'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’.'
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.
'Anthony Uhlmann has long been interested in the philosophical function of literature – not only its capacity to contain philosophical discussion, but the formal unfolding of the literary work itself as a philosophical act. St Antony in His Desert, Uhlmann’s first foray into fiction, is an unapologetically cerebral book, incorporating a key debate in the early twentieth-century clash between philosophy and physics.'
'pro-refugee sentiment within Australia has tended to find institutional expression in particular pockets of liberal sentiment – one of which has been the infrastructure of Australian literature. That’s the context for Boochani’s book, a text that emerges from a scaffolding of literary activism that it itself helped facilitate.'
'Like any self-respecting once-upon-a-time story, this one takes place in a world that is both strange and familiar, where the commonplace becomes magical and the most remarkable things are normal. Our hero, Peter, is a young boy who dwells in a snug little bark hut deep in the bush with Crooked Mick, an old bushman and the greatest buckjump rider in all the world.'
'From Armageddon to Ragnarok and the Rapture, humans persist in imagining the end of the world. The religious term is eschatology, and the literary terms are many. Some are jocular (Disaster Porn), or precisely denote a sub-genre (Post-Apocalypse, Solarpunk). Climate change or Anthropocene fiction is the latest variant on the theme, and if we believe our scientists — and woe betide us if we do not — these may be the final words.'
'Now, in The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City, Sinclair declares himself done with London as subject. These will be his last dispatches on and from the city which has made his name. The Last London is bracketed at beginning and end with the words of Great Fire of 1666 diarist John Evelyn: ‘London was, but is no more.’ In making this analogy with the disaster that razed seventeenth-century London, Sinclair affirms that twenty-first century London, too, has been destroyed. This time by a crew of gentrifiers, property developers, politicians, hyper-affluent transplants, and the creative classes. '
'What we have entered here is a mise-en-abyme of ekphrasis: the text and images of one book, and the description of a painting in a notebook, all contained within another book, call up a cascade of images for the reader of this novel about art.'
'Although the year in which the novel is set is not specified, it is tempting to view the work’s thematization of dreams in the context of the popular political slogan, ‘the Chinese Dream,’ which Chinese President Xi Jinping first proposed in late 2012, declaring that ‘everybody has their own ideal, pursuit, and dream. Today everybody is talking about the Chinese Dream. I believe the greatest dream of the Chinese nation in modern history is the great renewal of the Chinese nation.’ In The Day the Sun Died, Yan Lianke focuses on what may be seen as the nightmarish underbelly of this emphasis on progress. In his novel, dreams are not equated with an optimistic faith in future development, but rather symbolize the way the individual and collective past continues to haunt the present.'
It has at times been distressing to witness the media coverage of Kate and Rozanna Lilley’s story, as the intelligence, courage and nuance of their own accounts are temporarily obscured by blunt angles and agendas, by media interest driven in part by celebrity and the tropes of news, in part by various investments held in culture wars positions. But Kate Lilley writes poetry, and poetry offers a space for subjectivity that is not bound to the implied causality of narrative. Poetry can disrupt, evade, and effloresce.