Sunday, 29 January, 2012
Friday, 14 October, 2011
[The] notion of household products as psychological furniture is, when you think about it, a radical idea. When we give an account of how we got to where we are, we’re inclined to credit the philosophical over the physical, and the products of art over the products of commerce. In the list of sixties social heroes, there are musicians and poets and civil-rights activists and sports figures. Herzog’s implication is that such a high-minded list is incomplete. What, say, of Vidal Sassoon? In the same period … Sassoon made individualization the hallmark of the haircut, liberating women’s hair from the hair styles of the times-from, as McCracken puts it, those “preposterous bits of rococo shrubbery that took their substance from permanents, their form from rollers, and their rigidity from hair spray.” In the Herzogian world view, the reasons we might give to dismiss Sassoon’s revolution-that all he was dispensing was a haircut, that it took just half an hour, that it affects only the way you look, that you will need another like it in a month-are the very reasons that Sassoon is important. If a revolution is not accessible, tangible, and replicable, how on earth can it be a revolution?
“Because I’m worth it” and “Does she or doesn’t she?” were powerful, then, precisely because they were commercials, for commercials come with products attached, and products offer something that songs and poems and political movements and radical ideologies do not, which is an immediate and affordable means of transformation.
— Malcolm Gladwell, “True Colors: Hair dye and the hidden history of postwar America,” The New Yorker, 1999.
Tuesday, 23 August, 2011
The Novel as Manuscript, by Norman Dubie
—an ars poetica
I remember the death, in Russia,
of postage stamps
like immense museum masterpieces
wrapped in linen, tea stained,
with hemp for strapping…
these colored stamps designed for foreign places
were even printed during famine—
so when they vanished, so did the whole
the Berlin Wall, tanks from Afghanistan
and Ceausescu’s bride before a firing squad.
It had begun with the character of Yuri Zhivago
in a frozen wilderness, the summer house
of his dead in-laws, his
pregnant mistress asleep
before the fireplace
with flames dancing around a broken chair, piano keys
and the gardener’s long black underwear.
Lara lying there. A vulgar fat businessman
coming by sleigh to collect her for the dangers
of a near arctic escape…
But for Yuri, not that long ago, he was
a young doctor publishing a thin volume
of poems in France, he was writing
now at a cold desk
poems against all experience
and for love of a woman buried
in moth-eaten furs on the floor—
while he wrote
wolves out along the green treeline
howled at him. The author of this novel,
Boris Pasternak arranged it all. Stalin would
have liked to have killed him. But superstition kept him from it.
So, the daughter of Pasternak’s mistress eventually
is walking with a candle
through a prison basement—
she is stepping over acres of twisted corpses
hoping to locate her vanished mother…
she thinks this reminds her of edging slowly
over the crust on a very deep snow, just a child who believes
she is about to be swallowed by the purity of it all,
like this write your new poems.
Sunday, 14 August, 2011
The necessity of being up-to-date in order to obtain recognition explains why the concept of modernity is so frequently and so emphatically invoked by writers claiming to embody literary innovation, from its first formulation by Baudelaire in the mid-nineteenth century to the very name of the review founded by Sartre a hundred years later—Les Temps Moderne. One thinks of Rimbaud’s famous injunction (‘One must be absolutely modern’); also of the modernismo founded by Rubén Darío at the end of the nineteenth century, the Brazilian modernist movement of the 1920, and ‘futurist’ movements in Italy and in Russia. The rushing after lost time, the frantic quest for the present, the rage to be ‘contemporaries of all mankind’ (as Octavio Paz put it)—all these things are typical of the search for a way to enter literary time and thereby to attain artistic salvation.
— Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters, 2004 (trans. M. B. DeBevoise).
Thursday, 4 August, 2011
“Like the concrete wall, the word walldivides Europe linguistically. Some European languages, like German and French, form their words for wall from the Latin murus. So the German for Berlin Wall is die Berliner Mauer. English, Irish, and other languages use another Latin word, vallum, a more military word which means a rampart. In Irish it became fál, and its possessive form has found its way into the name of the political party, Fianna Fáil.
During the Cold War era language often emphasized our differences. In 1961, the year the Berlin Wall was built, Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard flew into space for the first time. They did the same thing, but we found different words to describe them: Gagarin was a cosmonaut and Shepard an astronaut.
But if we look a little more widely we find how much the European languages share. English language newspapers reported that the East Berliners had beenimmured, and, later, they carried pictures of the murals that spread across the Wall on its western side. Both words, immure and mural, come from the Latin root murus that the Germans use. In the East the Wall was known as theAntifaschistischer Schutzwall—the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart: German has retained its own traces of ‘our’ Latin word for wall.
In 1989 the division between the Berliners became so unabsolute and absurd that the people tore it down and so the Berlin Wall is not here for its fiftieth birthday. What remains are the vestiges of murus and vallum with which we can all trace our common heritage.”
Sunday, 10 July, 2011
Unlike letter writing, there never has been, and there never could be, an anthology of the best of postcard writing, because when people collect postcards, it’s usually for reasons other than their literary qualities. If there was such a book, I’m sure it would contain hundreds of anonymous masterpieces of this minimalist art, since unlike letters, cards require a verbal concision that can rise to high level of eloquence: brief and heart-breaking glimpses into someone’s existence, in addition to countless amusing and well-told anecdotes. Now and then one encounters in antique shops and used book stores boxes full of old postcards valued for their antiquity, their images and their stamps. The writing found on them most often tends to be in faded ink and hard to read. To anyone with plenty of time on their hands, I recommend reading a bunch of them. Postcards continued to be used by people of modest means to convey important family news long after telephones ceased to be a novelty. I once came across one that said:
Francis Brown died last night, funeral on Tuesday.
That was all there was. The image on the other side of the card was of a famous race horse from 1920s, so I immediately pictured Mr. Brown with a straw hat, a cane in his gloved hand and carnation in his lapel, stopping for a beer in a saloon before catching the streetcar to go to the track in Boston or San Francisco.
Thursday, 26 May, 2011
[T]he word [macadam] isn’t French. In fact, the word is derived from John McAdam of Glasgow, the eighteenth-century inventor of modern paving surface. It may be the first word in that language that twentieth-century Frenchmen have satirically named Franglais: it paves the way for le parking, le shopping, le weekend, le drugstore, le mobile-home, and far more. This language is so vital and compelling because it is the international language of modernization. Its new words are powerful vehicles of new modes of life and motion. The words may sound dissonant and jarring, but it is as futile to resist them as to resist the momentum of modernization itself. It is true that many nations and ruling classes feel—and have reason to feel—threatened by the flow of new words and things from other shores. There is a wonderful paranoid Soviet word that expresses this fear: infiltrazya. We should notice, however, that what nations have normally done…is, after a wave (or at least a show) of resistance, not only to accept the new thing but to create their own word for it, in the hope of blotting out embarrassing memories of underdevelopment. (Thus the Académie Française, after refusing all through the 1960s to admit le parking meter to the French language, coined and quickly canonized le parcmetre in the 1970s.)
— Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity
Friday, 6 May, 2011
Beyond the three parts of the world there is a fourth part across the interior ocean, unknown to us on account of the heat of the sun, in whose bounds the Antipodes are fabulously said to live.
— Wrote Isidore of Seville in his Etymologiae, some 1400 years ago.
Saturday, 30 April, 2011
It was true that local characters and scenes slotted effortlessly into a global script. Muscled teenagers in big shorts crowded the nation’s shopping malls. On neat estates where every house replicated its neighbour, young women pushed strollers containing babies of such plush perfection it was difficult to believe they would grow up to eat McDonald’s and pay to have their flesh tanned orange. There was comfort to be derived from this sense that the nation was keeping up with the great elsewhere. What claim does a new world have on our imagination if it falls out of date?
But a stand of eucalypts in a park or the graffiti on an overpass might call up a vision of what malls and rotary mowers had displaced. Australia was LA, it was London; and then it was not. Here there was the sense that everything modern might be provisional: that teenagers, news crews, French fries might vanish overnight like a soap opera with poor ratings. The country shimmered with this unsettling magic, which raised and erased it in a single motion.
The past was not always past enough here. It was like living in a house acquired for its clean angles and gleaming appliances; and discovering a bricked-up door at which, faint but insistent, the sound of knocking could be heard.
— From The Lost Dog, by Michelle de Kretser
Monday, 7 February, 2011
To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognise it ‘the way it really was’ (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.
— Walter Benjamin, No. VI of the “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Illuminations
Tuesday, 2 November, 2010
Australia’s borders were a gift of nature. We did not have to fight for them. In our case, history and geography coincided, and we soon hit upon the idea that the single continent must one day be a single nation. What this means is that all our wars of conquest, all our forms of conflict, have been internal. Conquest of space to begin with, in a series of daring explorations of the land. This was a form of possession through naming and mapping, by taking the continent’s spaces into our heads, and at last into our imaginations and consciousness. We also set out to seize the land from its traditional owners through armed conquest, in a war more extensive than we wanted to recognise.
— David Malouf, in the Boyer Lectures, 15 November 1998:
“Lecture 1: The Island”
Thursday, 21 October, 2010
In the drear space of waiting, of slow elapse, Alice was unsure of how to spend her time. She tried to read the newspapers, but found herself sickened. War, refugees. Asylum seekers in Australia held in cruel detention. She was succumbing to the havoc of her many emotional misalignments. The country felt physically the same, but otherwise depressed her. History had given them this: the wounded and dispossessed held behind razor wire, contiguous, somehow, with green tracer lights at night preceding explosions, nineteen-year-old soldiers shooting nervously in the dark, tanks, bombers, missiles, grenades. Television collapsed distance: loss and war was everywhere, filling up eyeballs all over the planet. There was no limit, it seemed, to what might be shown, what thinnest apparitions might come to haunt you, what remote event, what fucked-up invasion, might veer into assaulting, hideous proximity. On the sofa, unrelaxed, Alice felt overwhelmed.
— Gail Jones, Dreams of Speaking, 2006.
Monday, 20 September, 2010
Modernity as time is…constantly producing and reproducing the conditions of uncanny figuration, aspects that return as potentially familiar yet misrecognised. Producing the time that it is comfortable with – ordering it in terms of progress and/or decadence, utopianism and/or nostalgia – modern culture endlessly reproduces a figural past that haunts it, a past in which the past as past, and the dead as dead, are forever ‘unplaced’.
— John Jervis, “Uncanny Presences,” Uncanny Modernity
Tuesday, 29 June, 2010
Stephen Fry demolishes the Catholic Church at the the Intelligence² Debate, October 2009.
Tuesday, 13 April, 2010
[W]hat does it tell us about race relations within this country or our international relations with our neighbours if, instead of seeing ourselves as a society of victims, we see our arrival as an invasion of opportunists? Among many vices one could characterize as universal there is a particularly nasty one - the lust to be seen as a victim. I was astonished and repelled a few years ago in Germany to read a lead article in a major publication claiming: “We Germans were the first victims of Nazism”.
We have our own version of this, complications and mitigating circumstances notwithstanding: by the story we habitually tell, we have made the tragedy of Australia a convict tragedy. Whereas the overriding tragedy always was, and still is, an Aboriginal tragedy.
— Australian writer Rodney Hall, “Being Shaped by the Stories We Choose from our History,” Alfred Deakin Lectures, Capitol Theatre, 2001.
Australian history is almost always picturesque; indeed, it is so curious and strange, that it is itself the chiefest novelty the country has to offer… It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies. And all of a fresh new sort, no mouldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises, and adventures, and incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened.
— Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)