2006-07-12T10:42:12.730+10:00As of today, Intersecting Lines is no more. Unlike last time there will be no dramatic resurrection.
2006-07-01T22:19:45.746+10:00I've been on a bit of a spending splurge over the last two days. I got two DVD's (The Producers, Blazing Saddles), a book of How To Write Television Comedy, Dream Comics, Tintin in the Congo, Ha! Magazine, The Australian, and the Herald Sun. I also got A Sindy Adventure Story! Not this one: Sindy Adventures, it seems, are so rare that they haven't even made it onto the internets. However, the Adventure I have - The Curious Clock - shares certain characteristics with the others. Note the blue, white, and red sweater: Sindy wears the same on the cover of my book, along with the red hair-band and denim trousers. (And she's certainly a well-developed girl, isn't she? Excuse me ...) Note, also, the sidekicks - most importantly, her ten-year-old sister Patch (pictured to the right of Sindy). And note, finally, that an anagram of 'Sindy' is Snidy. Not that that's important or anything, I just felt you should know that. As it turned out, I was missing the first two pages, but I bet I can guess the beginning: 'I am so sorry, but I cannot come to the auction, my dears! I hope you have a WON-derful time!' Blonde, blue-eyed Sindy ____s, who was sixteen and tall for her age, flicked a strand of hair out of her eyes and looked in exasperation at her sister... You know how it goes. Anyway, it made for a pleasant Saturday afternoon read. You learn some interesting things about, for instance, people who live at places with name's like Rat Wharf: 'Mike Roake, Rat Wharf'. Fancy living in a place with a name like that!' Or: 'But I thought we'd decided that the burglar was Count Fersson?''That was what we thought last night - because of the clock, but we may have been wrong, Paul. The sergeant may have been right. It might have been a professional burglar, the sort of man who might live in a place called Rat Wharf.' Now, you or I might doubt that criminals actually do live at Rat Wharf. You might think, in fact, that people living at a place called Rat Wharf are just ordinary folks. Sindy, thankfully, is in no doubt of their felonious propensities, and she and her 'boy friend Paul' take her theory to the police station and inform the sergeant. At this point, Sindy's sister Patch actually gets into the action. And about time, too ... 'Excuse me, but could you tell me the way to Rat Wharf?' 'Rat Wharf!' He looked at her with something approaching horror. 'Why do you want Rat Wharf? A nice little girl like you has no business going to a place like Rat Wharf!' When she gets there: ... 'The only thing she noted in that first, horrified glance was that he had a cloth tied around the lower part of his face. She dropped to the ground ...' Nice little moment of pulpy writing there: action and reaction are all tied up in one 'first horrified glance'. It's all quite enjoyable. I had lots of fun spotting the moments of pulpy writing: the 'beaming smile' from the detective, and the melodramatic Count Fersson who has this beautiful line written about him: He was handsome in a dark, flashing-toothed manner, but for some reason Sindy did not like him. She did not trust him because he smiled only with his mouth. Smiling only with his mouth; I like that...(Cross-posted here.)[...]
2006-06-21T10:05:14.276+10:00There's been a bit of discussion lately about media bias, following the new appointments to the Literature Board and the ABC. I can't say I'm too phased by it, since bias is not necessarily a bad thing; strange as it may seem, you can be both objective and biased. But it's an interesting subject, if only because of the frequency with which it crops up in political disputes. So I thought I might put my two cents in, about media bias in general, and about bias in Australian publications in particular.***Firstly, it has to be said that broadcast media, in Australia at least, is much less biased than published media. Right-wingers are fond of attacking the ABC for having a left-wing bias, and left-wingers are fond of complaining about right-wing bias in the commercial networks. That's not really true; as Rachy pointed out in a conversation with me, the commercial networks are populist. You can't really slot this populism into a political category; they'll go for whatever rates. For instance, Sixty Minutes did a story this weekend about the chemical pollution caused by a large company operating in Botany Bay: as a political issue, this is closer to something the Australian Greens might be focusing on, rather than the two major parties, but it's hardly an example of overwhelming pro-Green bias.The ABC is not biased, either. It's probably different from the other stations in that it's self-consciously intellectual; it targets what are called the big ideas and the big issues, which is partly why it has so many programs focusing on religion and science and art and economics, even though none of them rate very well. I do agree that the ABC's board is biased, simply because I've been told by a person who worked for the ABC - a left-winger - that they were, overwhelmingly, old socialists. I just don't think that this has much of an effect on the content of the ABC shows. And why should I begrudge old socialists a job?So, as I said, the ABC is self-consciously intellectual. Overall, I think this has a negative effect on their shows, since it means they will accept most ideas that come to them with very little criticism. About two weeks ago, on the 7.30 Report, Kerry O'Brien interviewed John Howard about nuclear energy. O'Brien challenged Howard that he had not looked fairly at the alternatives, such as wind and solar power. There is some truth to this, because these proposed alternative energies are demonstrably inefficient, and more energy may in fact be expended in setting them up and taking them down than they produce themselves. In other words, the 'sustainable energy' alternatives most commonly put forward in the media are silly alternatives. Why should we consider the silly alternatives 'fairly'? By continuing to use the ABC as a platform to push these alternatives, O'Brien contributes less to the energy debate than to the general confusion in Australia which surrounds this topic.So, enough said about the ABC and the commercial networks.***Secondly, moving on to the published media, there are more extreme examples of bias. The most obvious reason for this is probably because of the predominance of opinion columnists; another example is the influence of Australian artists and creative writers on parts of this media.Quadrant, for instance, is a right-wing publication - it's John Howard's favourite journal, for starters. It's also an excellent read. The first editor was Australian poet James McCauley; the current poetry editor is Les Murray; several poems and stories are featured in each issue. The articles are often excellent, written with wit and insight, covering topics from the serious and academic to the light-hearted and trivial. Here's the intelligent response of one Quadrant reader:Well, I vote for The Greens at both state and federal levels and I buy Quadrant.As he points out in comments to that post, 'I don't think it's good policy to ignore what the other side is doing and thinking.'If anything, I lean to the right, but I agree with Dean; it's stupid to ignore peopl[...]
2006-06-19T20:41:04.970+10:00Auden was a great poet but a bad modernist. He kept on attempting obscurity and slipping into lucidity. He made rhymes accidentally, and poetry incidentally. He really couldn't help himself. His earlier poems seem to be deliberately difficult: it's as if he has to force himself to write like Eliot. His words keep on threatening to make sense. I like Auden; he's definitely not the most modern of the modernists (which to some of them may have been the most important thing), but he was certainly the most talented.His themes are always interesting: he writes about the epic nature of teacups, and the heroic qualities of accountants. Maybe that was the difference between Auden and his contemporaries. Other modernists took the hero out of the man; Auden put the man back in the hero. He wrote about minor characters and their potential for greatness. Think about his miniature satirical masterpiece, The Unknown Citizen:... had everything necessary to the Modern Man,A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.Our researchers into Public Opinion are contentThat he held the proper opinions for the time of year;When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.He was married and added five children to the population,Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.In between writing the occasional masterpiece, Auden casually penned opera librettos, offhandedly put together verse dramas, and wrote the occasional bitchy sonnet about fellow poets:Deliberately he chose the dry-as-dustKept tears like dirty postcards in a drawer; Food was his public love, his private lustSomething to do with violence and the poor.I'm as befuddled as anyone about Auden's earlier poems; at Uni I wrote a dissertation including analysis of his work with Benjamin Britten, Our Hunting Fathers: I still have no bloody idea what it's about. But his obscurity - and he could be very obscure - is often a teasing obscurity. And often, this obscurity itself has to be limited, for instance, by putting it in the mouth of a character:Waking in her arms he cried,Utterly content:"I have heard the high good noises,Promoted for an instant,Stood upon the shining outskirtsOf that Joy I thankFor you, my dog and every goody."There on the grass bankShe laughed, he laughjed, they laughed together,Then they ate and drank:Did he know what he meant? said the willow-wren;God only knows, said the stare.Which is all quite interesting, so far as it goes; the double meaning in the last line is particularly effective.All in all, he was a smart cookie; sometimes, too smart. Nobody could understand what he was on about. But anybody who could write an entertaining, witty, and musical ten stanza poem about shit certainly had something going for him.Next: how to become a modernist, in ten easy steps![...]
Information regarding a notorious children's author's involvement in early-twentieth century occult organisation The Golden Dawn
KNOWN FACTS ABOUT AUTHOR:
|(image)||THE QUESTION: |
What proof do we have that P. L. Travers was actively involved in The Golden Dawn organisation?
Who knows how many spiritualist messages could be hiding in the outwardly simple, naive 'Mary Poppins' stories?
2006-06-11T22:32:14.906+10:00I grew up in Balranald. It's a country town near the NSW/Victorian border that nobody has ever heard of. When I tell people that I come from Balranald, I usually end up telling them it's near Swan Hill (a country city smaller than most city suburbs) and Hay. Hay is a tiny country town which everybody seems to have heard of, probably because it's on the Hay plains. And yes, they are certainly plain.*
2006-06-03T22:42:51.606+10:00... I found it in the dry corner of a shabby store in an abandoned suburb run by a dusty old Marxist, on a shelf clothed in spectacles and a beard. Isn't that how all stories start? Well, this one doesn't either.***In fact, I found it on the back wall of a large second-hand bookshop in Moonee Ponds, somewhere between the top shelf and bottom shelf. It was sandwiched between two or three Marcovaldos and one If, On a Winter's Night, a Traveller ... I hadn't read Invisible Cities for years, so I bought it.Invisible Cities - as you may or may not know - is an ingenious book by Italo Calvino. The concept is simple: Kublai Kahn questions Marco Polo about his travels, and Marco Polo replies, in a series of small, sharp vignettes, telling the Khan fantastic stories about the cities he has visited. The stories are loosely grouped together by a series of themes: 'Trading Cities', 'Cities and Signs', 'Cities and Eyes'.As the stories and the ideas develop, it becomes clear that, not only are the stories fanciful and fantastic, the loose theme around which the book is based - Marco telling stories to Kublai - bears little relation to some of the stories, which are often about twentieth-century cities, or even science-fiction cities (concepts alien to the world which Marco and Kublai inhabit.)***I sometimes wonder why more people buy new books at all. The only difference between second-hand books and new books is a few years. Why should something be better just because it's been published in the last two or three years?People have been writing for thousands, probably tens of thousands, of years. Old books aren't necessarily better than new books, either - but they are more likely to be better ...***The book was covered in Contact: obviously it had been through a library.A black-and-white price sticker on the back was dated 10/05/2006, for $15.37. It peeled off easily, revealing a yellow price sticker (used by a Melbourne University bookshop) underneath the Contact, dated 17/06/96, for $11.95.Details on the back revealed the book was a New York imprint that had originally costed $7.95 (American) - the difference in prices, incidentally, says something about Australia's ridiculous restrictions against the parallel importation of books.***Here's how the book opens. Even in translation, it is beautiful: Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his. In the lives of emperors there is a moment which follows pride in the boundless extension of the territories we have conquered, and the melancholy and relief of knowing we shall soon give up any thought of knowing and understanding them. As it turned out, my copy of Invisible Cities had been previously owned by a student probably studying for his or her exams; they had gone through the book, underlying certain phrases - and more often than not, whole pages. They had made a number of extremely pedantic, very literal 'interpretations' above certain words. The word "Braziers", they helpfully inform me, are "metal receptacles"; and a planisphere, I am officiously told, is "a map of half the celestial sphere".Some explanations are - I admit it - genuinely useful; others are bizarre and misleading: "Nubile girls", apparently, are "marriageable". And it's just plain irritating to be told - halfway through the book - that "hempen strands" are "made of hemp". Noooo!!!***But then, I guess that is the problem with second-hand books; more often than not, they come with a second-hand reader ...[...]
2006-05-29T15:07:24.823+10:00Sarsaparilla is a new group blog, "conceived as a kind of small-scaled and laid-back literary-arts-media forum, liberally infused with the most appealing attributes of the weblog form." In other words, it's about books, films and stuff like that. (You can see why I wasn't asked to write the general introduction.) The blog's line-up is very impressive, even if it does include the occasional shady character such as yours truly. (Yes, I am now involved in three blogs that I don't have time to write for.) So go, now! Read!
2006-05-24T18:59:20.123+10:00Some books must be impossible to illustrate. Imagine, for instance, being responsible for the illustrations in a book titled 'An Illustrated History of Nearly EVERYTHING.' You wouldn't know where to start.
The LIJ editor rings you with your assignment for this month. Joey Jo Jo, here's your assignment: I need a snappy illustration for the exciting May 2006 lead story. That story? "Targeting civil remedies - effect of consent judgments on third party contribution claims."But it would be interesting to see other works of literature illustrated. A classic like Apuleius's The Golden Ass would be one thing, while the Greek fable Pandora's Box would be another thing altogether. The medieval carol I Have a Gentil Cock will probably never be published on its own, but there must have been several books published with the title Gay Paris. And how about being the cover artist charged with the task of illustrating Philip Roth's Kafka parody, The Breast:
"Targeting civil re--"?! How the hell do you draw that? (There's a reason "effect of consent judgments on third party contribution claims" is not on a card in Pictionary.)
Professor of comparative literature David Kepesh wakes up one day to discover himself in the hospital, having been transformed into a 155-pound female breast. The ensuing 89 pages depict his rationalization for such a sudden and drastic change, his trying to convince himself and others - his girlfriend, his father, his doctor, and a university mentor - that he has only gone insane, and his quest to satiate an ever-present, raging libido.On the one hand, obscenity lies; on the other, obscurity: how to navigate your way between this artistic Scylla and Charybydis?
2006-05-23T14:03:50.856+10:00Browsing in Reader's Feast the other day, I noticed that Penguin seem to have expanded their range of silver-spined modern classics. That, or Reader's Feast has broadened their ordering policy to include a handful of obscure titles, i.e. books not written by a member of the Amis family. Whatever the case, I grabbed a copy of Aharon Appelfeld's Baddenheim 1939 (been on my to-read list since forever) and noted the titles of a few others for future purchasing.
2006-05-20T11:27:04.236+10:00I've just finished reading The Shape of Further Things, by Brian Aldiss. I was halfway through it before I realised I had no idea what he was talking about. It starts off as a discussion about the future before slipping into several chapters about dreams, which merge into a personal history of science fiction, concluding in a chat about the relevance of the moon landings. The book has themes, but I don't know whether it has a Theme. Its chapters all lead, one into the other, but I'm not sure whether they go anywhere; the book itself could be said to have the same structure as the conversation Aldiss records in Chapter 11, where he attends his first science-fiction convention:
2006-05-12T21:46:38.236+10:00W. B. YeatsCast a cold eyeOn life, on death:Horseman, pass by!Yeat's poetry was an allegory of a metaphor of a symbol representing something that represented something else. I have no idea what he really wrote about, but I love the way he wrote about it:I went out to the hazel-woodBecause a fire was in my headNow, when you first read this, you think: a fire? In his head? Is this what happens when you put too many jalapeno peppers in with your baked beans? Ouch!It's a bizarre metaphor, whatever it means, but the poem that follows has such a light turn of phrase, that you almost don't care.Amongst other things, Yeats was an initiate into a occult society known then as 'The Golden Dawn', and known nowadays as 'weirdos'. They believed in reincarnation and possession and tarot cards and speaking in tongues and just about everything other thing possible to believe in. He got involved in some pretty strange activities; once he hypnotised his wife and got her to take 'dictation' from the spirits. He was so interested in the results that he made her write a whole book this way.I'm not even sure if he was a modernist, since he prefeferred writing about the past to writing about the present. Though I guess his poem Easter, 1916 qualifies him as a modernist:All changed, changed utterly:A terrible beauty is born.Just imagine him calling his wife a 'terrible beauty'. "Terrible beauty? Really, William! I don't know about you! Were you hit on the head by a tundish as a wee sprat? Terrible beauty! Hmmmph!"Still, he was a great poet precisely because of his ability to write lines that were simultaneously incomprehensible and able to catch your breath:Nor law nor duty made me fight;Nor public men, nor cheering crowds;A lonely impulse of delightDrove to this tumult in the clouds.I balanced all, brought all to mind:The years to come seemed waste of breath,A waste of breath the years behindIn balance with this life, this death.Whatever the fuck it means, it's beautiful.Yeats also has had the distinction of meeting James Joyce. Joyce said, "You are too old for me to have any effect on you." Yeats later said of Joyce something like the following: "That is the most arrogant and most talented young man I have ever met." James Joyce Thou art, I vow, the remarkablest progenitor bar none in this chaffering allincluding most farraginous chronicle.Joyce wrote a lot of words and not so many sentences. His earlier books (Dubliners, Exiles, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) have both in a more or less pleasant arrangement. In his later books (Ulysses and Finnegans Wake) the word-to-sentence-ratio dips wildly in favour of the words. Certainly there are enough sentences in the first chapter of Ulysses to make it readable. In the third chapter, Joyce starts writing in his stream-of-consciousness style - meaning that he puts down any random thought that comes into his head down, in a disordered manner, on the page; and passes it off as the random thoughts that come into his characters heads. Full stops and colons start scattering in wild profusion about the page, but they don't seem to divide any noticeable sentences. They're just there to provide a little variety. It gets to the point where you start wondering who thinks what, when, and how; and you realise you've started getting the characters all mixed up.Then, just to mess you up a bit more, Joyce throws in a ridiculous amount of classical references which nobody - certainly not he himself - could understand.By the last chapter, Joyce even does away with punctuation, and you get the thoughts of a character jumbled together in one great thing. I think about twenty pages into this he throws a full-stop down, I don't know.Most of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are unreadable. I thin[...]
2006-05-10T10:13:39.936+10:00I wish I hadn't borrowed a copy of The Age from my flatmate. Then, I wouldn't have seen this article by Leunig. The piece ends, "The audience explodes, the directly hurls me through a hole into the blazing light and there is St Peter, played by Andrew Denton, beaming and waiting to unmask me - a record of my life and a large coil of rope in his arms and the two pretty little chairs facing each other one-on-one: a picture of dignity and balance." It is chillingly captioned: "This is the first of an occasional coumn by Michael Leunig that will appear in A2".I also wouldn't have seen an article by Linda Jaivin, portenously entitled, Inspiration from behind the wire."Why did comic writer Linda Jaivin turn her attention to asylum seekers?" asks the introduction. "Because of a simple desire to change the world." My reaction to this: Linda Jaivin is a comic writer? Previously, I'd only heard of Jaivin as an erotic writer who for years had been doing minor book reviews on the pages of the Fairfax papers, and appearing occasionally on boring ABC Arts shows. Her ridiculous hair-dye and large glasses may have inspired a generation of women in older-middle-age who frequented libraries and bookshops, but that's all.But, as it turns out, Jaivin not only 'sees' herself as a comic writer, she places herself amongst the best:There is a long tradition of comic writers making big, important political statements. Remember Aristophanes? ... In Aristophanes hilarious Lysistrata, the woman of Athens go on a sex strike in order to force their men to stop the fighting. The men grow visibly - very visibly - frustrated and the women win. Aside from the arrogance of this claim, Jaivin's interpretation of the play is stupidly simplistic. In Lysistrata the women become just as sexually frustrated as the men; and nobody desires to end the war because of any high minded Platonic ideals about a perfect society: one of Aristophanes main complaints about war is that it pushes the price of eels up. Jaivin therefore ignores some important context - that context being the rest of the play.As far as I can see, Jaivin makes this interpretation of Aristophanes either because she is genuinely mistaken, or because she simply wants to align herself with a political ideology. (During the Iraq war, anti-war activists arranged for the play Lysistrata to be acted around the world as a 'protest' against the war; the plot of the play coincided nicely with the anti-war stereotype that 'men' cause war, and 'women' are the peacemakers. Just for once, I'd like to see anti-war activists admit that this stereotype was first popularised by an active member of the patriarchy, at the time when the word 'patriarchy' may have had meaning).Apparently, Jaivin wants to 'change the world'. What her aims are, it's not certain. Possibly she wants to see an end to detention centres, though I'm not sure whether she wants to replace them with anything.The same ambiguities emerge in The Age's review of Jaivin's book:... it is the architects and tradesmen behind a policy that doesn't give a rats about the human beings confined by it - those who callously disregard the human rights of refugees - who appear un-Australian. It's easy to make sniping judgments like this. But of course, if you favour a system of orderly immigration - and I'm sure most Age readers would - where people's claims to refugree status are assessed, then you will probably have to have some sort of detention system. It's either that, or letting people freely into Australia, and then keeping an eye on them through police/federal surveillance, regular check ups ... neither choice is pretty.And inevitably, when refugee claims will have to be processed by a bureaucratic system. [...]
2006-05-09T17:59:04.003+10:00It’s pretty much a given that, these days, anybody who finds themselves purchasing a book on the poetic strength or authorship of its dustcover blurbs is not the sort of person you would trust to, say, drive a train, or babysit your children (unless your children are McCain pizza pockets, and you want them warmed up in the microwave and ready to eat when you stagger home drunk from the opera), or fall asleep at night without drowning in their own sputum. Andre Mayer agrees, and has written a fine little article on the reckless art of book blurbing (Dave Eggers is in there, the little cunt). Book blurbs by other authors are nothing but literary back-scratching (Who knows when the upstart writer you condescendingly call “the next big thing” will actually become the next big thing, rendering his blurb on your new book more valuable than your blurb on their old book?), and even professional reviews (if such a thing existed) can be manipulated as easily as a little crippled girl with Down syndrome and pipe cleaners for limbs. Not that it matters, because these days you’ll have a hard time finding a negative review of a book in a newspaper – the literary cognoscenti, desperate to maintain (or indeed establish) relevance, prefer to hedge their bets by spoofing equally over every new release, because eventually something that they pretend to believe to be brilliant will achieve mass appeal, or, even rarer, will actually be brilliant. Dustcover blurbs by other authors are a strange beast for another reason: they tacitly suggest that the blurber is a wiser authority, and a greater writer, than the blurbee. A big-name author giving the thumbs up to a small-time novice is something guaranteed to shift a few units, whereas a nobody telling you how fantastic something is is hardly going to inspire you to drop what you’re doing and make haste to the nearest A&R. Problem is, big-name authors become big-name authors because they have mass appeal, which, more often than not (the masses being what they are), means that they either already suck, or are going to start sucking with their next release. People who suck telling you to buy shit you don’t care about is a recipe for widespread stupefaction. Anyway, the only reason I started in on this piece is because I wanted to try my hand at some book blurbs. Exactly like Thus Quote The Maven, More Fake Reviews, and More More Fake Reviews, except with sufficient distance between posts with identical conceits that hopefully you'll have forgotten about the others and think this clever and original. Submit your own for fabulous prizes! “A book so good that, were it a woman, you would have to observe her from a distance, perhaps hidden by some shrubbery, carefully memorising the usual route she takes home from work, plus other particulars, such as the code to her building, and then, one evening just as she is fresh and pink and scrubbed, emerging warm from the shower and preparing for bed, you leap from the cupboard, bind her hands and feet, and repeatedly rape her. And you can't keep something this wonderful to yourself, so you've told some buddies, and they're there too." “An hallucinatory experience, with sentences so dazzling and unique, and a style so very fresh and warm and beautiful that, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably shit your pants and not even notice it until hours later when your wife gets home and she screams at you OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SMELL HAVE YOU SHIT YOURSELF AGAIN, YOU HORRID LITTLE PRICK?” “Reading this book, I came so often, and so hard, that I paralysed myself, and my body was not discovered for weeks, having died from a combination of starv[...]
2006-04-30T23:32:34.433+10:00Disclaimer: This isn’t going to be very good, but I thought somebody should make an effort.Having just finished watching Mirrormask with the wife, I have to say that I’m glad it had only a limited budget, else it might have been even longer and more interminable than it was. There are some halfway cool and moderately creepy parts in it, but mostly it’s fucking stupid and senseless. To people who actually know who Neil Gaiman is, he’s generally recognised as the writer behind the Sandman series of comic books, which DC Comics published between 1988 and 1996, and continues to republish regularly, launching a new edition of the collected trade paperbacks (ten books collecting 75 issues), or TPBs, approximately every week. I was into these books for a while a few years back, and I think I got up to about the sixth seventh trade before giving up on them. Firstly, because they are pretty expensive (nearly $30 per volume), and secondly because the art is uniformly shocking across the entire series (despite a roster of pencillers, inkers, and colourists, which one would think would overcome any problems with artistic burnout or exhaustion). Thirdly, I gave up on them because it was all a bit wank, really. It’s hard to really explain why I think this. Comic book series, like television series, generally consist of a series of “arcs” built into a series of stories. So you have the 75 issues, the “Sandman tale”, and inside those 75 issues you have a couple of dozen different stories, and each of those stories straddles maybe six or seven “arcs”, which are usually character arcs. It takes a lot of planning, I would imagine, to develop this sort of multithreaded storytelling, especially over such a period of time, and to Gaiman’s credit he pulls it off pretty well. Each of the multi-issue or one-shot stories are excellent, and what arcs I was able to detect were also reasonably well executed. As standalone books they would all be pretty good, but the problem is the central character of the Sandman, some sort of god, who looms over the entire series, and Gaiman’s problem was that, for the sake of cohesiveness, he had to link all of the stories, somehow, to the Sandman character. This is where the series fails, because the vast majority of those links are pretty tenuous. Should we be concerning ourselves with the actions and motivations of Sandman, or with the characters in the stories, or what? When I actually stopped to think about it, I realised that despite Gaiman’s writerly chops, my interest was waning – I no longer cared about Sandman because I had been given no reason to, and for a book called Sandman, that’s a bit of a problem. It pulls you in too many directions at once. Supporters of the series will tell me that I am an idiot or a philistine with a short attention span, but the fact of the matter is I just don’t care to spend $300 on shitty drawings and a cobwebbed plot that has no real reason to exist. Perhaps one problem was that I was taking the books in one big dose over a period of weeks, when the story itself was told over close to a decade, but I don’t think that’s it – Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher series, which was 66 issues long, can easily be read in one sitting (though you wouldn’t). The art is excellent, the violence cheering, and the stories and arcs reasonably compelling. The central character, Jesse Custer, turns out to be a bit of a knob near the end, and if you think about it too hard a lot of the conceits of the series turn out to be fairly emba[...]
2006-04-16T18:00:42.280+10:00We're into the third day of the Easter long weekend in Melbourne, and the weather's wonderful. Slight showers are followed by the sun coming out from behind the clouds. The night air is sharp and cool, and the whole city is calm. It's my kind of weather, alright. It might seem a bit odd to non-Australian readers, but if you ever experience the Australian summer - good for inducing sweats and rashes and attracting flies and mosquitoes; not good for comfort or relaxation - you might see why winter is my favourite time of year, and Melbourne is my favourite city.We've still got a day and a half of the long weekend to go, and I plan to spend most of it reading. Suitably enough for this time of year, the two books I'm reading have a rather pious theme.Phantastes is the first book written by George Macdonald, a Christian and mystic from Scotland who fell under the influence of the German romantics. It's a nineteenth century fantasy novel, with a free-flowing, dreamlike plot; a little like the Alice in Wonderland books, but written with a slightly more allegorical intent.I first came across Phantastes on the seventh floor of Fisher library, an unlikely, gigantic, nine-and-a-half-storey bookshelf in the middle of Sydney University campus. I'm not sure how, exactly, I came across it; I think I'd read of Macdonald's name in connection with C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton and went exploring for other books written by him. I have to say Phantastes was well worth finding.The other book I'm reading might seem to go a little against the spirit of this weekend:The Devil's Dictionary is, to my knowledge, the only book Ambrose Bierce ever wrote. I could be very, very wrong about that, though.I've always been fond of fictional lexicons, and made up dictionaries (see as an example my latest Poet's Dictionary post), although I have to confess that comic writers today have overused the idea. Bierce's work may or may not have been the first 'satirical' dictionary; so if you like, you can blame him for starting it all. If only The Devil's Dictionary wasn't so damned good!Bierce uses what appears to be a narrow idea - a book of definitions - to ridicule all the established piueties and opinions of his time. The book is compiled, like C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, by an imaginary diabolic figure: probably Satan himself. And - again like The Screwtape Letters - it's best read with this in mind. It's full of cheery advice to the pious Christian on how best to land themselves in hell. Definitions are occasionally illustrated by short, satirical poems, mostly of Bierce's own invention.The definitions are sharp and precise, but occasionally - very occasionally - they become fanciful. 'Chimpanzees' are defined as a 'species of pansy grown in Africa'; Abelians as a 'religious denomination' who unfortunately flourished at the same time as 'Canians, and are now extinct'. I guess Bierce's idea was to lighten the harsher satire with more fanciful passages; and it works well.Perhaps the last word should be left with Bierce - or is it Satan?Dictionary: A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic.(Cross posted here.)[...]
2006-04-14T14:22:59.983+10:00Oh boy - if there's one thing I hope to find in my Easter Stocking this year, it's The Dolls’ Revolution: Australian Theatre and Cultural Imagination by Rachel Fensham, Denise Varney, Maryrose Casey and Laura Ginters. Set aside the fact that a book about Australian theatre written solely by men would be immediately labelled irrelevant, nothing more than further evidence of male hegemony in the Australian cultural landscape, and you’re left with a book that I still can’t imagine anybody ever reading. Theatre is of course the poor man’s BitTorrent, but according to Glenn D’Cruz, who writes the review for this particular book, it turns out that certain theatre artists have “played a crucial role in articulating a new Australian identity, which defined itself against the Anglophile ethos that dominated Australian theatre until the late ‘50s.”That sounds pretty self-aggrandizing to me. Have you ever met a person who reads mainly comic books and graphic novels, and is eager to announce at every opportunity that they are art of the highest order? I dig comic books, sure, and just knocked over Daredevil: Born Again and V for Vendetta, written by Frank Miller and Alan Moore respectively, who are two of the best writers in the business, and I would probably even go so far as to recommend stuff like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns to people completely unfamiliar with the medium of graphic storytelling, but would I ever claim that Alan Moore and Frank Miller “played a crucial role in articulating a new British/American idendity”? Not even if I was padding out a review of a book about them.I also used to play stuff like Dungeons & Dragons and Shadowrun, and would possibly consider getting into D&D again if they weren’t constantly revising the rules and forcing you to purchase ten new “core” rulebooks at $60 apiece every three months. It’s good fun, a great way to spend a few hours with some buddies. It gets the creative juices flowing, fires up the imagination (for better or for worse, probably the latter, I would have never “become a writer” if I hadn’t played D&D and read comic books at boarding school), and the old 2nd Edition with its THAC0s even used to help you with your maths. In fact, playing D&D is of more intellectual value than watching any number of plays, and it’s certainly more enjoyable.But would I say that Ernest Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, creators of Dungeons & Dragons, played crucial roles in articulating national identities? I most certainly would not, but I would certainly say that they played crucial roles in articulating generational identities. The “information age” that we currently wallow in was founded on the back of role-playing nerds from the 70s and 80s. Nobody would give a shit about computers if it hadn’t been for the computer game Doom, released in 1993 (I actually knew that date without having to look it up) and developed by the biggest bunch of outsider RPG-playing geeks that you’re ever likely to meet. I can’t find any evidence of it but I’ll bet you good money that Bill Gates used to be a level 12 elf ranger, awake at nights worrying about getting the 6000XP he needed to go dual-class. And I’ll even go further by saying that if Bill Gates and John Romero hadn’t been picked on when they were kids, we sure as shit wouldn’t be living in the world we live in today.So what does this have to do with The Dolls’ Revolution? Absolutely noth[...]
2006-04-04T23:35:53.266+10:00It only took me an hour to read Kurt Vonnegut's most recent book, A Man Without a Country. It is not a substantial book in any sense. Variously promoted as memoir, as polemic, as a summing up, it actually resembles the kind of structureless, extempore lecture a curmudgeonly relative might launch into on Christmas Day. Vonnegut trumps my relatives, at least, by being personable and witty, and capable of expressing anger and dismay without embarassment or hysteria - he's the great benevolent uncle I never had. So even though this book is slight, it is a pleasure to once again hear his voice.
2006-04-01T12:55:42.400+11:00Way back in 1993, a thick-ankled young lass from Brisbane, Helen Dale (nee Darville), won The Australian/Vogel Literary Award, one of Australia’s highest literary accolades (just as a pile of rabbit droppings would be the highest point on a perfectly flat expanse of desert), for a little book called The Hand That Signed The Paper. As though two surnames wasn’t already enough, the book was released under the pseudonym Helen Demidenko, and in 1995 her efforts were rewarded with a Miles Franklin Award (picture horse manure). I never read it, but the rest of Australia was going nutty for The Hand That Signed The Paper, a story of Ukrainianism, Stalinism, and Nazism, and finally Australianism. Naturally, when you’re dealing with Nazis, it is considered criminal to not go on and on about the Jewish experience (even if the whole conceit of your project is to examine the Holocaust from a different perspective), so the book was also accused of anti-Semitism, and in the wake of the Franklin, plagiarism. The isms were coming thick and fast and eventually it came to light that Demidenko was a hoax, her real name was Dale/Darville, the book was total fiction, the Mile Franklin judges were frauds, and the Australian literary landscape was, as already alluded to, a perfectly flat and featureless expanse of mediocrity. But nevertheless, Australia had been betrayed! Who did this woman think she was, writing a book and then getting it published and then getting positive reviews and then receiving awards for it? False pretenses or not, the very fact that the awards were granted on the basis of the plot and alleged inspiration of the book, rather than on the quality of the writing, then the awards themselves may safely be considered farcical and useless. And it seems that Australia’s literary elite is still not quite done with Miss D. In The Age today, a piece with the heading UNMASKED NOVELIST SNAPS has appeared, wherein a recent column by Helen Dale that appeared in Australian Skeptic has fomented the input of one Simon Caterson, journalist (and probably poet in his spare time). We learn that, recently, Dale has been studying in London to be a ninja, and has also become a lawyer, or judge’s associate, whatever that is (further counterfeit?). She has also been cultivating the look of a Byron Bay fish ‘n’ chip shop worker. But according to Caterson’s headline she has “snapped”, because she wrote this thing in Australian Skeptic, lambasting the Australian literary community (hell hath no fury; she should be careful), the media, and various and sundry for their involvement in what she claims was never anything more than a work of fiction based on a few stories related to her by some old Ukrainians. I don’t really care about the particulars of the case, so you are welcome to research them for yourself. Caterson does not spare Australian Skeptic, either, and ends his article with a snippy “the magazine did not verify the article’s content”, after taking pains to tell us that the mag is all about the careful investigation of “charlatans, hoaxes, Holocaust denial and racism and racial theories”. Aussie literati certainly enjoy their controversy, and after the James Frey thing in the US, probably felt left out, and since nothing fresh was going on, decided to unbury Demidenko. But what is the point of my poorly-structured rant? Simply this: in the very same edition of The Age, much approval is heaped upon Theft: A Love Story, by needledicked “Australian” author Peter Carey (w[...]
2006-03-30T20:58:01.476+11:001. Surrealism, New Realism, and FruitsaladismModernism began in the evening hours of October 3, 1908, in a medium-sized garret in Paris, France. The owner had previously bought a small, closet-sized garret, but due to a recent demand for artistic garrets, he had upgraded to to a medium-sized garret in order to live his life of artistic penury and starvation in a little more comfort.The people present in this garret were Utge Mitke, a painter from Poland; Mahra Uhle, a preminist* from Germany; Oswald de L'Empriere, a novelist who lived by the Seine (although he had not yet actually written a word); and T.S. Eliot, depressed, from America.Up until that point, artists had been living in the past. But eventually, the past must pass into the present, and that is what it did that morning, with an audible thud.All of the artists were standing around, wondering what to do now that the present had finally arrived. Mitke was listlessly painting a still-life of apples and oranges, Uhle was expounding to the room her radical preminist theories, L'Empriere was thinking about the novel he hadn't written, and Eliot was depressed.Suddenly, L'Empriere strode across the room, took an apple out of the still life that Mitke was painting, and bit into it. The rest of the room was astonished, but, as Eliot later explained, it was as if the Real World had finally caught up with the artistic world.Announcing this as the first act of surrealism, L'Empriere flung the apple onto the floor and left the garret.The next day, L'Empriere and Mitke invented the second great artistic movement of modernism: Fruitsaladism. L'Empriere took all of the fruit out of a still life painted by Mitke, and diced them up into a delicious fruit salad, which he then fed to the crowd of onlookers. They continued in this way for one month, until the Parisian Chefs Union ran them out of town. To this day in France, putting things made out of oil and turpentine in your mouth have been a strictly culinary act.L'Empriere and Mitke went on to perform many other great artistic acts: instead of painting an apple, Mitke and L'Empriere would allow the apple to paint them (they called this 'New Realism'**). In a final, great artistic act, L'Empriere allowed himself to be eaten by the apple. He never survived his death, and so, to this day, we don't know what to call this artistic movement.Many people considered this great concluding performance a comment on the war. Unfortunately, it was 1938 at the time, so people weren't quite sure what war he was referring to.* A preminist is a proto-feminist.**This may or may not have been the inspiration for F.D. Roosevelt's political plan, which he was originally to call 'The New Dealism'2. Eliot and SmudgerModernism had soon become a worldwide artistic movement, with many adherents and practitioners. One highlight of this movement was the publication of T. S. Eliot's poem 'The Wasteland'. Another highlight was the publication of T. B. Smudger's poem 'The Scrapheap'. Eliot's work is too long to be quoted in part, and Smudger's masterpiece is too short to be quoted in full without leaving a lot of extra space, but part of it goes:God, my life is crap.Wei la la la laJug jugThose are the pearls that were his eyes! *As you can see, Smudger was a master of the metreless quatrain, as well as the quatrainless metre.*The rest of the poem is a lot of artfully-placed blank space.3. The Second Ever Performance Of ...Another modernist of distinction was Elge Gonthe, a native Bulgarian who h[...]
2006-03-29T21:01:22.703+11:00When I first became truly interested in reading as a pleasurable pursuit, rather than as a way to avoid beatings from my schoolteachers, I had to rely mainly on the books of others for my consumption, for, being a child, I was earning very little money, and despite my newfound passion, what little money I came across or stole from my mother’s purse went immediately towards video games or little white paper bags filled with jellies, purchased at the corner shop. So most of the time it was visits to the library (even back then I hated the fucking things, and still do, and will continue to do so forever), or I would scratch through my parent’s bookshelf in the front lounge.It was a fine bookshelf, the one in the front lounge. Cast iron and redwood, around three meters long, three shelves high (the bottom shelf easily dismissed, packed as it was with my mother’s gardening and cooking portfolios), with, at a guess, a hundred and two score and a bit books in it. I worked my way from left to right. There was a lot of shit, of course, but a decent proportion of good stuff: Conan Doyle, Evelyn Waugh, Morris Lurie, Lennie Lower (which reminds me: I have to track down some of his books and see if they were as piss-funny as I remember them being), Spike Milligan (his war biographies), Roald Dahl, Dorothy Parker, Rider Haggard. I read them all and when the supply was exhausted I kept going back, but this time, it was to discover all the stuff inside the books.My parents, it turned out, were inveterate placers-of-things-in-books. Newspaper clippings, postcards, pamphlets, patches, vegetables, letters, envelopes, bookmarks (of course), photographs, you name it. At the time I thought it was odd to keep things inside books (I still think this, and don’t do it myself), and one day I went through every single book in the house, leafed through every single page, and removed every single thing. I put them all in a manila folder and presented the folder to my mother, who immediately instructed me to return the items to their rightful places before dad got home. Not wanting to go back and put every single thing back where I found it, I just through the objects into random volumes. Thus many thin books swelled visibly and could not be reshelved before severe modification.The point I’m trying to make is that I enjoyed finding things in books back then, as I enjoy it now. I always flick through likely-looking books at secondhand stores, to see what people have put in them. I found an old twenty dollar note a few years ago in a book at a store in Brisbane. Being penniless I naturally kept it and furthermore never again returned to that bookstore, because if the guy’s pricing his product (quite outrageously, if I recall) without even examining it, then fuck him and I hope he goes broke. Apart from the money, a photocopy of somebody’s birth certificate and a black-and-white picture of a vagina I don’t believe I’ve ever found anything really good, but a lot of the stuff is pretty interesting, especially those newspaper clippings that don’t seem to have isolated any particular article. You know the ones – you find an upside-down ‘L’ newspaper clipping, yellow with age, but it seems to be entirely random, and hasn’t followed the margins of any particular story. It’s like somebody just wanted to be fancy with a pair of scissors. I don’t know. Anyway, I’m a little drunk, but I was wondering: what goodies have youse found inside boo[...]
2006-03-29T18:34:49.093+11:00(image) I know that absolutely nobody is annoyed by this, but honestly, this is properly my last one.