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.
Loved Roz Chast’s book, surprised myself by loving it actually. Here is a link to my luxuriously long review of the book for the Sydney Review of Books:
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!).
Michael Hofmann on ‘The Zone of Interest’ from Martin Amis in the latest issue of London Review of Books – this must be one of the best reviews I have ever read in my life. Ever. I almost ran to my laptop to google him (Hofmann) afterwards. Hands and knees trembling. Devastating too, but I suppose Amis, of all people, can take it. First sentence: ‘I Read The Zone of Interest straight through twice from beginning to end and it feels like I’ve read nothing at all.’ From the middle: ‘He puts – I am afraid – the camp in camp’ (Amis’s novel is set in Auschwitz) or ‘And the governing idea of the book, that love purifies, or the right sort of love purifies (…), that’s best not even mentioned.’ At the end: ‘Speech tends to be colour, not weight; which of course is hopeless (when Mandelstam writes about Stalin, he writes about weight.)’ I will leave the last para for you to discover.
Reading David Finkel’s Thank You for Your Service. Blown away.
From p.86: ‘It is such a lonely life, this life afterward. During the war, it wasn’t that way, even in the loneliest moments, when somewhere in the big night sky was a mortar that was on its way down and there was nothing to do but wait for it. Over time, the war came to mean less and less until it meant nothing at all, and meanwhile the other soldiers meant more and more until they came to mean everything.’
What am I doing at this year’s Melbourne Writers Fest? Not much. But the two things I am doing, I am genuinely excited about:
A session about his work with philosopher Raimond Gaita (whose thoughts and words mean a great deal to me) plus a conversation with Wayne Macauley and James Ley about the limits of narrative. No fluff.
I’ve been asked to suggest a writing exercise for Writers Vic. I am not a friend of writing exercises, i.e. I huffed and puffed, but, finally, something did come to me that felt true. I call it ‘Mess it Up’.
I am saying a few things here, including:
If your each chapter starts with a richly conjured ‘significant episode’, which is meant to set the tone for the rest of the chapter and/or to suggest the big themes to be explored, perhaps you could have one chapter start with a thought, or a song, or a small encounter that isn’t oversaturated with meaning? Or perhaps you could start with an excerpt from a newspaper article or a TV show of the time, a dream, a 50-word description of the way women wore dresses and men wore suspenders in those long-gone days when your parents were young?