September 2019

Disrupting the Colonial Archive

While Archival-Poetics is predominantly text-based, I would not call it a book/s. Like most First Nations knowledge, it does not fit easily into Western categories. To me it felt more like a dream or a deep yarn or a walk through an exhibition – possibly all at the same time. The work is a collection, an archive in its own right, albeit a personal one.

The World The Gulf Has Built

The viewing platform of the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world, provides an exceptional view. On a clear day, you can see Dubai’s towers clustered along its highways and the scattering of urban megaprojects giving way to suburban sprawl. But clear days are increasingly rare on the Arabian Peninsula, due to rising levels of pollution—a significant product of this area’s fossil-fueled urbanization and contribution to climate change over the past 60 years.

Nervous Nostalgia

The two authors acknowledge tales of real displaced people, including refugees, as inspiration for their fictional stories. They express gratitude to be able to survive, live and write these books. In their narratives, the quieter moments of survival are most striking: how tasks considered mundane become crucial and inescapable. Robinson and Bishop invite their reader to imagine their own displacement, their own losses and even their own end.

A Breathing Exercise

So what to do with this ever-increasing urgency and anguish circulating in the atmosphere, and what might we learn from the republication of Watson’s book? What work does the wind do? What does it index? And what can a natural history of the wind possibly teach the Anthropocene?

Justin Clemens

Te’Ebrini

Still (and) Moving Images:
The Old Greeks: Photography,
Cinema, Migration

‘Beginning with his mother’s creased identity card from the era when Cyprus was colonised by the British Kouvaros links the great themes of twentieth-century migration to the affective structures provided by both photography and cinema that give a purchase for those lost and uprooted individuals swept up in these global eddies. His relatively short and multi-faceted meditation provides an analytical scaffold as well as a moving response to his own question—what do we owe our ancestors and the dead?’

In Real Life

The Other Way, The Other Truth, The Other Life: Simpson Returns

When we are faced with a world whose problems all seem ‘wicked’ and intractable, what is it that fiction can do? Isn’t it always more useful to confront real instances of the problems we face through journalism, political essays and opinion pieces, or non-fictional representations of lived experiences of all kinds? Won’t those kinds of non-fictional intervention be more useful? At the very least if one is to attempt to engage with these things via fiction shouldn’t the mode the writer uses be sombre realism? Isn’t the mode of satire, which derives its impact in large part through humour (however dark), simply disrespectful of the enormity of suffering that is being experienced? Isn’t it inconsequential in relation to how actual problems might actually be solved?

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

August 2019

Maggie Mackellar portrait
Sami Schalk Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction

Black Speculation, Black Freedom

Schalk’s captivating and transformative study challenges us to view the fictional worlds, characters, and ‘bodyminds’ generated within black women’s speculative fiction as more than mere escapist fantasy. Instead, the genre issues ‘politically astute’ commentary on our world, challenging the ‘supposedly fixed and knowable nature’ of race, gender, and (dis)ability and helping us to imagine marginalized groups outside of the dominant social and political scripts attached to them.

Whatever Could Have Happened?
John Hughes’ No One

‘What No One evidences is that a story can be told by other means, and that the question of how we narrate the traumas of the past need not be reduced to a choice between silence or speech. Abjuring both of these position, it embodies another form of storytelling that draws on the communicative potential of whispers and the intimations of sounds that inhabit our unconscious lives like strangers buried deep within.’

The Monster is Nobody at All:
Yellow City

‘Ellena Savage’s writing seduces with the masquerade of the conversational, drawing you into the muck of everyday life before unmasking the binds, political and otherwise, our lives are embedded within.’

The War on Life:
Animalia

‘Despite the fact that we, along with the horse, the wood swallow, the bulbine lily or the most invasive of weeds, cannot be excised from a broader universal network of being, there is still no possible escape from our stories being precisely that, our particular stories, endemic, to us. It is through the inexorably networked mechanisms of a French farm, a pig farm in the Tarn et Garonne of central-southern France, to be more precise, that novelist Jean-Baptiste Del Amo attempts to dramatise these distinctions within the context of ‘animalia’, the over arching super-category of inspirited materiality, and survivalism, that unites all animals.’

Urban Ecopoetry:
Michael Aiken

‘Michael Aiken is a unique voice in contemporary Australian poetry, and in our time of ecological crisis he makes significant contributions to the crucial task of reimagining and interrogating the connections between the human and the natural, the urban and the pastoral, human society and the earth’s diverse, dynamic, and fragile ecologies.’

The Chosen Ones

Ambition in twenty-first-century politics has none of the depths of field it acquired in the writings of Shakespeare or Webster. There’s something utterly banal about it, and about those who manage to fight their way to the top of the heap. In the words of one cabinet colleague, Morrison is ‘the sort of guy you would get to do your books, not make Prime Minister.

Imperfect by Lee Kofman

A Wound of One’s Own:
Imperfect by Lee Kofman

'The most affecting aspect of Imperfect is the very opposite of Kofman’s stated intent, that is, her writing about scars can’t help but invoke the sense of woundedness, actual or metaphoric that all women carry. Kofman refuses to conform to the straightforward narrative of a journey to self-acceptance, the ‘Ultimate Healing Act’ and instead acknowledges the complicated quality of her relationship to her body, its inability to be resolved.' 

Breaking Through the Lines:
Crow College by Emma Lew

After you read and re-read awhile, you adjust your first impression about the volatility of Lew-world. You comprehend that she builds most of her poems around verbal devices that serve as vacuum pumps rather than gelignite lumps. There are no fireworks. Instead, a lot of things suck.

The Story Place

‘One essential insight is that the art always means something different to those who made it from what it means to those who buy it; and is understood differently again by those who curate, exhibit, collect, and write about it. Perhaps this is the case with all art, but an added complication with the art of the Western Desert is that there is a secret/sacred dimension to the imagery which may not be disclosed to those without rights to it.’

July 2019

No Bouquets, No Touching Up:
Myself When Young

Some memoirs are written in tranquil mood and quiet spaces. Not this one. When Henry Handel Richardson sat down at her desk in September 1942 to contemplate her younger self, the sound of German bombing raids made writing almost impossible. Yet she found the task a welcome escape from the turbulent present. A novel in progress and a short story were put aside. Myself When Young was her last book. Although she did not live to complete it, her memoir opens a door to her past that she had kept firmly closed during her life as a writer.

Bleached Atmospheres of Dread

It is Hill’s capacity to keep broad political structures and the minutiae of personal experience and emotion in her sights at all times that makes this such a unique and powerful contribution to a field of literature which, to our shame, is still only just emerging.

A Fairy’s Tale:
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl tells a series of stories that we already know, but it achieves its familiar ends through decidedly unfamiliar means. Andrea Lawlor’s first novel presents us with the queer young adulthood of Paul, who possesses a seemingly magical skill: the ability to change form, to will his body into whatever shape he would like it to take.

Blood Calls to Blood

Faced with the instability of the people closest to her, Laveau-Harvie finds comfort in the mountainous landscape: the predictable changing of the seasons, the beauty of the ‘opalescent’ peaks and even the inhospitable nature of the jagged rocks. Laveau-Harvie calls the Rockies ‘practically a character in the book’. The other prominent ‘erratic’, then, is the Okotoks Erratic, a huge boulder deposited by glacial flow thousands of years ago which cracked and ‘fell in on itself’, and which ‘dominates the landscape’ near her parents’ ranch house. The story is bookended by the geographical and spiritual origins of this fissured rock. It offers hope for stability after a rupture, but is also a reminder of the family’s relative insignificance against the natural history of their home region.

The Revolution Will Not Be Automated

For the social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff, the meteoric rise of the tech industry brings with it worrying developments that should worry us – the general public – a lot more than they do, and the fact that most people are blasé about them is itself a matter of concern. The purpose of her book Surveillance Capitalism is to awaken the reader to a sense of ‘astonishment and outrage’ at Big Tech’s power grab and its effects on society.

The Drug of Otherness: The Returns by Philip Salom

The Returns portrays the acts of creating and engaging with art and literature as distinct modes of understanding. They are presented as processes that are analogous to, and perhaps even synonymous with, the paradox of selfhood, which decrees that we must live in a state of felt incompletion, constantly plunging into an uncertain future, striving towards some form of renewal or escape, but without ever really escaping ourselves, doomed as we are to drag around increasingly cumbersome sacks of old grievances and regrets.

Reading apparently

‘The pregunta’s cube sits in my imagination. It has begun to take on a meaning, a meaning that says, remember what you’re reading here Ali, it’s a poem by Joanne Burns, it can’t be translated, unlocked, puzzled out. It’s not for solving. It’s for reading.’

Cross-Stitch:
Sam George-Allen and Bri Lee

Both George-Allen and Lee are describing their experiences of realisation, of revelation, of feminist wonderment: that the way our culture has been built relies on the systemic mistrust of women.

Desk Work:
A Novel Idea by Fiona McGregor

The work of a novelist is hard, menial and often dull work. Despite this, the work of a novelist at least cuts against the dominant temporalities of work. Through a queer commitment to craft, and by showing us this process in A Novel Idea, McGregor gets us to think harder about what drudgery means, not only for her and her work, or even artists and cultural workers more generally, but for any life and any work.

Strange Things: New Australian Short Fiction

‘Honestly, what kind of topsy-turvy world are we living in?’ queries the narrator of one of the short stories in David Cohen’s The Hunter: And Other Stories of Men. The same thought occurred to me when reading a number of recent short story collections, where the banal gives way to the foreign, the ordinary becomes peculiar.

Living Things:
City of Trees by Sophie Cunningham

With an incremental power, this collection of essays invites us to be present absolutely to ourselves, our environments, our histories and our world. City of Trees is a deeply ethical and thoughtful call to consciousness, a call to see and feel being in and of the natural world.