We go to print almost exactly on the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, a historic crime that perfectly illustrates Auden’s point, given the unctuous, oily rhetoric of that time cloaking all the war’s most grotesque atrocities in the vocabulary of humanitarianism.
The release of The Hobbit over Christmas prompted me to re-watch Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. From the beginning, I thought the real genius of these films is in their spectacular design; it’s what has allowed me to gloss over their myriad faults, most of which can’t be laid at the feet of Tolkien.
When I was a teenager, my parents took my sister and me to the small town of Biella, in Piedmont, north-west Italy. There we met a small old man with wiry grey hair. He led us along the wall of the cemetery. Attached to the wall were small oval black-and-white photographs of young men whose ages ranged from around seventeen to thirty or so.
In the heterogeneous melting pot of immigrants and ethnic diversity that was the United States in the twentieth century, it made a particular kind of sense to talk about the ‘Great American Novel’. Indeed, it filled a crucial need: the idea that a single work of genius could capture the soul of the nation came to be attractive to writers and critics at a time when Americans were particularly concerned about unity.
If you google ‘queer Muslims’ you get over three million hits; ‘gay Muslims’, 121 million. Not all the resulting pages are positive or supportive, but many focus on attempts to reconcile same-sex attraction and Islam or on exposing the dangerous, sometimes deadly, struggle faced by many queer Muslims. Though it’s nascent, there is a movement challenging the notion that homosexuality and Islam are incompatible.
The draconian austerity packages imposed under the bailout agreements with the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank have led to unemployment levels comparable only to the Great Depression (a 26.8 per cent official unemployment rate in October 2012), to a recession equivalent to a prolonged war (the total contraction of the economy has been estimated at 23.5 per cent of GDP from 2008–2013), and to all kinds of social problems, including a rise in suicides and infant mortality.
On the Left there exists a different kind of German exceptionalism, if you like, in which the notion of Sonderweg (literally, ‘special path’ – the idea that a unique historical trajectory meant that Nazi Germany was a sure thing, a pre-determined fate) is repackaged to enable special German interpretations of all sorts, like that Germany is the absolute worst out of all the nations on earth, or that anti-Semitism has really always been an especially German beast.
Figure 1: My father was a great bird watcher. Whenever we took off to the bush or to the rainforest on a family picnic, my father would hang his binoculars around his neck expectantly.
In Tibet, 2012 was the year of great burning. By 10 December, the International Day for Human Rights, ninety-five ethnic Tibetans in the formerly Tibetan now Chinese territories of Qinghai and Sichuan, and in the Chinese-occupied Tibetan Autonomous Region, had set themselves aflame. Of these, seventy-eight are known to have died.
Released in 1998, Rowan Woods’ The Boys (featuring David Wenham and Toni Collette) is one of the most important films ever made in Australia. An intense and claustrophobic study of working-class suburbia in inexorable limbo, The Boys depicts three brothers, one menacingly dominant, the others wretchedly submissive, spiralling toward the commission of a horrific crime that is only ever alluded to in the narrative.
We live in a winter of disconnect. As the permafrost melts and global warming accelerates, bringing us to the cusp of catastrophic environmental changes, governments and corporations continue their campaign of denial.
In the foyer of the Congress Center Hamburg, free bottles of Club-Mate, the high-caffeine herbal cola favoured by hackers, were being distributed from bikes, the riders threading their way between table upon table of black-clad guys and gals hunched over laptops: tacktacktacktack, furious fingers on shallow keyboards against a constant chatter of techno music.
She was unaccustomed to the light. The screen door banged behind her as she rested a burnt frying pan on the rail. A cloud of dust rose over the paddock where the men were harvesting. She shaded her eyes.
Day 1: Aljazhab.
The oldest city in the world seems a likely place to find ghosts. The cab plunges into a hot, dusty turmoil of traffic, crowds and distorted calls to midday prayer.
I’m not sure if I’m following a trail left by goats or on the human path as I attempt to circumvent the farmstead
I imagine you chopping the heads off eel
catfish blossoming from the underside of fir
trees tangling with the pneumatic branches of the law
Amber sand melts through warped fingers, cracked and calloused,
baring the lifeline of a time-stained palm. Pink cuticles tampered by teeth, and nails.
The hourglass empties. Silent. Breathless now. Like your lungs,
Throughout the summer, while reading for the Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Poets, and as a terrific heatwave bled fire and brimstone across the land, the sentence ‘Sometimes it’s just about an honest, well-crafted poem’ leapt over and over through my thoughts like a cool dolphin springing from waves in an apparition of a distant inland sea.