February 2019

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”’.'

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.

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

Keep up with the SRB

Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter

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

December 2018

The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani

Godwin is Dead

'"It is not just that the left and right consider each other repellent," observes Jeff Sparrow in Trigger Warnings: Political Correctness and the Rise of the Right. "It’s also that they find each other almost incomprehensible." Trigger Warnings and The Death of Truth are notable contributions to what has become a deluge of books and articles trying to explain how we arrived at this point. They offer different diagnoses, but share some basic assumptions. Both propose that the peculiarity of contemporary discourse is, to a significant extent, a product of the culture wars.'

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?'

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. '