It’s been odd in recent days to witness so much political manoeuvring around a document that no-one outside the upper echelons of the world’s power elite has seen. When the rest of us are finally allowed to read the final text of the Trans Pacific Partnership, we’ll be able to make better sense of the contortions of politicians on all sides of the ocean. Right now, it’s like watching a succession of clumsy people, all of a certain age, fencing with a ghost.
Colonial comparisons are odious, as are imperial ones. There’s something a little bizarre in sections of the Australian public flagellating themselves over national policy because, say, a small number of Germans are rushing to train stations to welcome refugees. Or because Germany’s government, for a variety of reasons, many of them realpolitik, has opened up a massive refugee intake, perhaps 800,000 over a number of years. Suddenly, our policy is ‘our great shame’ as shown up by Europeans. A simplistic narrative is taking over: they are urbane and civilised; we are rednecks and arseholes.
I have such a case of ‘Imposter Syndrome’. I find it really hard to believe that my work is any good at all. I thought that it would go away once I was published, but I can always seem to explain that away (got lucky; they didn’t have anyone better; they took pity on me as a friend/emerging writer, etc). I find myself not applying for prizes or submitting to publications because I’m so intimidated by the competition.
Consider the most powerful arguments in favour of defunding and deregulating the tertiary sector. A university education is an investment in oneself: it grants new skills and knowledge that will make one more employable and boost one’s future earnings. As such, it is only fair that students are made to bear all or most of the costs of this investment, because they will be the beneficiaries. Further, look at the statistics regarding those accessing higher education: the privileged are overrepresented across our universities, and in our relatively prestigious Group of Eight institutions in particular.
One of the legacies of Tony Abbott’s prime ministership will surely be his tendency to misspeak. His worst lapses need no repetition, no explaining. Most of us have his best-of unfortunately committed to memory, and the quotes tend to be self-evidently racist /sexist /homophobic /Islamophobic /xenophobic /blisteringly ignorant of everything from climate change science to the importance of land and country to First Australians. Really, he covered a lot of ground.
During the recent Melbourne International Film Festival, I had an interesting discussion about whether genre films can ever deal with important social issues in a way that is not titillating or exploitative. One example of a genre film that does, shown at this year’s MIFF, is Peter Weir’s 1977 film, The Last Wave. The Internet Movie Database classifies The Last Wave as a ‘drama/mystery/thriller’ but it is also laced with supernatural/occult tropes popular in many horror films of the seventies. It’s a story about weather and the climate, in a way that can now be viewed as a remarkably prescient.
In the acknowledgements of Foreign Soil, I credit Francesca Rendle-Short, Sam Twyford-Moore and Paddy O’Reilly, the judges of the Victorian Premiers Award for an unpublished manuscript: who in selecting Foreign Soil, made the bravest of decisions where others may well not have. This acknowledgement was carefully and painstakingly worded: what Indyk said recently in his Sydney Review of Books article about the commercial element of literary prizes is true, at least in part. Nobody wants a book or manuscript to win a prize and not be published or sell well.
Although she is a year older than me, about the only thing that Lena Dunham and I have in common is that our introduction to computers was through Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. Last week, the creator, writer and star of acclaimed HBO series Girls launched her latest project, Lenny Letter. A collaboration between Dunham and Girls producer Jenni Konner, the enewsletter aims to provide ‘a snark-free place for feminists to get information: on how to vote, eat, dress, f–k, and live better’.
A few weeks ago, Radio National’s Life Matters featured a discussion on the latest refugee crisis, with a focus on the emotional response evoked by the photograph of the drowned Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi. While a couple of panellists – and most callers – called for an empathetic response that extended beyond politics, one of the interviewees, sociologist Klaus Neumann, suggested that an emotional reaction is likely to be fleeting, and that we need to go deeper.
I live in the US now, and watch with a growing sense of fear and horror as women’s rights to reproductive care are gradually, methodically, stripped away by the states. Abortion clinics are closed; women are made to wait unreasonable periods of time and travel impossible distances; women in some states are forced to undergo an ultrasound before they can get an abortion, which is not very different from being raped with a thing they euphemistically call a wand, with its magic powers of showing you your own insides.
Naturally, nobody with a reasonable amount of literary education can fault the main argument of these estimable critics: that the quotidian is celebrated while the masters are silently passed over. Not so different was it in the time of Thomas Browne. And it may be helpful to remember that no less an eminence than André Gide rejected the manuscript of Swann’s Way. The history of literature is replete with such mistakes and missed opportunities.
When my grandmother developed Alzheimer’s disease, she started to get me confused with her son, who had moved to Brazil at what was then my age. As a result of this, and of the feelings of guilt she still harboured towards him, seeing me had the effect of making her anxious. It was only through conversation that she became calmer to the point where we could enjoy each other’s company.