I am teaching a course @ Writers Vic called ‘The Hard Bits in Literary Non-Fiction’ (my title, my course) – the focus is on some of the most difficult-to-get-right aspects of writing literary non-fiction of any length. Ethics. Voice. Integrating Research. 3 consecutive full Saturdays in October.
Here is a link to an essay commissioned by Right Now – an online media organisation dedicated to monitoring and analysing – in great and necessary depth – human rights issues in Australia. They are a not-for-profit yet have managed to secure funding (Roselina Press! well done!) to pay writers real money for a series of focused, long essays. I don’t need to say anything about how it feels these days,in our sunburned country, to be paid real money for a longform piece on a topic of immense importance, do I? Mine is on how a great many of the first-gen thinkers and public intellectuals have been effectively barred from participating in Australia’s public life from 1940s to the present day. The big question: how can we account for the on-going disinterest, contempt even, shown by the mainstream Australian society to the vast immigrant intellectual capital? The essay is illustrated rather strikingly (I think) by Steve Tierney. This pic on the left is his work.
Here is a link to my review of ‘If This Is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck, Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women’ by Sarah Helm published in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald last Saturday.
Sunday just gone – Women of Letters’ February salon at Northcote’s Regal Ballroom. Topic – Letter to Rude Awakening! The start of my letter:
Dear Rude Awakening, hello. I realise now you came to me three times.
First, you were a Musician. People would get under each other’s skin to your music. Love songs. Set in half-forgotten cities that lay, like camels, in sand and dust. With retired coronels left behind by history. A god-shaped hole or a hole-shaped God. Love songs, but not how-deep-is-your-love love songs. One day, not in Australia mercifully, you became a star. Now hundreds of thousands of people were falling for each other, fucking, feeling their hearts beat and bind, to your songs. And somehow in this Ascent of yours, which felt, yes, almost inevitable, your very modest capacity for love and friendship, the unfeelingness of your heart, the scale of your self-involvement, never entered the frame.
How is it that most of Melbourne hasn’t heard yet about Sally Smart’s Shadow Trees Installation in the Docklands? This – more so even than my own children – makes me feel like I understand nothing. The installation is spectacular, inexhaustible to the eye and the mind, more inventive and original than most public art out there (I mean it), able to speak to any and each age. What more can anyone need? I’ve reconciled myself to books of the deepest power and originality disappearing without a trace, but a 12-metre-plus extraordinary public art installation that is illuminated at night and quite possibly visible from the near outer space?
[The images are by Sally Smart]
Not by way of a disclaimer: Sally is a friend. I wholeheartedly admire her and her art. I also wrote a poem etched into the bluestone paving between and around the Trees. You can read the poem HERE.
I watched Sally conjure this work and breathe it into existence – a Herculean labour and one of the greatest and most galvanising experiences of my creative life.
Where? At the junction of Bourke and Collins Streets, Victoria Harbour, last stop on Route 48 along Collins Street. Across a playground and a rectangular patch of grass from the Docklands’ new library, which, in itself, is a thing of beauty.
Chast is giving over a whole multi-tracked, multi-voiced, sensory feast of a book to something – something barely bearable sometimes, and infused with pain and dread always; something that gets sprinted past, or poeticised to within an inch of its life, or else chronicled with a deadly, breathless earnestness (in these matters earnestness can be deadly) – and she does it in such a way that I could not tear myself away from her book.
Why? How? Art Spiegelman said comics are the art ‘of turning time back into space’. Mark Twain said humour equals ‘tragedy plus time’. It must be some alchemic melding of the two. Chast lays down her parents’ final years, page after page, panel after unexpected panel, and the spatialisation of that extraterrestrial-seeming timeless time is part of the book’s magic, together with the gaps and cracks opened up between the verbal and visual tracks, the constant little fireworks set off by words and images rubbing against each other, riffs, deepenings, silences, gliding rhythmic shifts – and humour too, the sort that brings us closer than pathos or stripped-back somber witnessing can to the tragedy of a human’s protracted, anguished decline. Then there is the way the form itself allows Chast to slide hither and thither, as if on a well-oiled flying fox: side to side between different emotional and narrative registers; up, down and around through time.
A link, if I may, to my review of a new American book on cowardice. Big subject, meaty (as they say) and strangely little-thought-about. If you get far enough into the piece to spot ‘superficial’ in a sentence, please mentally replace it with ‘surfacy’ (subs!).